Friday, July 23, 2004


I watched Fiddler on the Roof the other night.  I hadn't seen it in a few years.  My teenaged son had never seen it.  He must have like it because for the next two days he was going around the house singing "If I were a rich man, deedle, diadle, diadle..."

The story of Fiddler on the Roof centers around Tevye, an honest, hardworking Jewish man who clings tenaciously to tradition.  Tevye, his wife and five daughters are part of a tight-knit Jewish community living in a small village in Russia.  They do things the way they have been done for as long as anyone can remember.  For Tevye, it's the traditions that help them remember who they are and stay balanced in an uncertain world. 
Times are changing in Russia however; both  socially and politically.  The tide of change is gradually coming to Tevye's little village and will eventually sweep him, his family and his beloved traditions away.  His daughters make marraige choices that run counter to tradition.  Each daughter is successively bolder than the previous one in her disregard for the traditions of the her father.  Each time, poor Tevye is stretched and has too choose between his love for his daughter and his devotion to tradition.  Eventually he reaches the point of utter exasperation and exclaims, "If I bend any further I'll break!"  

The tide of change finally becomes a tidal wave as the Jews are forced by the Russian government to leave the country.  Tevye watches as the people he's known all his life, not to mention his family, move off in different directions; probably to never see each other again.

As I watched Fiddler on the Roof, it struck me how much the story is a parable of the state that the American church finds itself in today.  Caught in the current of changing times, the Institutional Church clings to it's traditions as it's children increasingly eschew them and move off into new directions.  For roughly 1,500 years the church was at the center of Western culture.  This was the Age of Christendom.  But the cataclysmic series of events known as the Reformation weakened the foundation of Christendom to the point that it began to crumble.  Over the past 300 years, that crumbling has picked up momentum to become a landslide.
Now, as we move into a new age; generally referred to as Post-Modernism, the pace of Christendom's tumble towards irrelevency is accelerating.

What this means is that the church as an institution in Europe and North America finds itself no longer in the position of authority, respect and influence that it once held.  It is becoming marginalized. 

Some, like Tevye, will fight the tide, all the while crying out "Tradition!".  Others will learn to surf the waves of change.