Tradition and transformation

“a practice or worldview handed down from past generations.”

“a significant change in form or condition: e.g., an egg changing into an animal; a larva changing into an insect” — implying a decisive break with the past.

The new name of this blog, “Tradition & Transformation”, is an oxymoron. It would seem impossible to preserve the past and simultaneously cast it aside. And yet, it happens all the time.

There’s no such thing as an idea that arises ex nihilo:

The Latin phrase ex nihilo means “out of nothing”. It often appears in conjunction with the concept of creation, as in creatio ex nihilo, meaning “creation out of nothing” — chiefly in in philosophical or theological contexts, but also occurs in other fields.

In theology, the common phrase creatio ex nihilo (“creation out of nothing”), contrasts with creatio ex materia (creation out of some pre-existent, eternal matter) and with creatio ex deo (creation out of the being of God).

The phrase ‘ex nihilo’ also appears in the classical philosophical formulation ex nihilo nihil fit, which means “Out of nothing, nothing comes”, and which was considered a proof of the existence of God.

Ex nihilo when used outside of a religious/metaphysical context also refers to something coming from nothing. For example, in a conversation, one might raise a topic “ex nihilo” if it bears no relation to the previous topic of discussion.

“Out of nothing, nothing comes”. Which is to say, every thing arises from some earlier thing; every “new” idea arises from existing ideas. At one and the same time, we have tradition (existing ideas) and transformation (the “new” idea). The new idea decisively breaks with the past; yet that very past provided the raw materials which gave birth to it.

We even have a popular expression which captures this paradoxical human reality: “the same, only different”.

The principle applies in the realm of art, religion, science — every aspect of culture and human society.

I plan to make this principle the organizing motif of my blog from now on. Previous posts (since April 2005) have always been about whatever topic was preoccupying me at the moment. (Sometimes the “moment” lasted for a year or more. I am rather obsessive/compulsive in my pursuits.)

When my son Benjamin joined me as co-blogger, our primary focus was on politics. (Indeed, politics had preoccupied me for more than a year before Benjamin’s arrival, during the run-up to Barack Obama’s election.)

With Benjamin’s departure, it seemed like a good time to revisit the purpose and focus of the blog. Goodbye, punditry.

The intersection between tradition and transformation — between pre-modernity and modernity — has fascinated me for a long time. That is the case with respect to Christianity; likewise, with aboriginal culture.

Laurie Houseman-Whitehawk, Circle of Life, 1995Laurie Houseman-Whitehawk, “Circle of Life,” 1995

At least two topics will be regular features on the blog: exploration of scripture texts, and analysis of art (particularly aboriginal art, which is strongly rooted in tradition). But I think the principle has a broader application.

Art, religion, science, and culture: old wine in new wineskins.

That’s the motif! We’ll see what emerges as the months pass. And I suspect I’ll still offer occasional posts on other topics, when I am sufficiently motivated to do so.


Laurie Houseman-Whitehawk’s “Circle of Life” was exhibited in Beyond Tradition, at the Great Plains Art Museum, at the University of Nebraska–Lincoln. The exhibit celebrated “Native American artists active in the past 50 years whose work expresses innovations while affirming the continuity of past and present.”


4 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. billarends
    Aug 28, 2009 @ 14:50:54

    I love the way your Blog evolves. In these days when personal blogs seem to have “jumped the Shark” so to speak, your seems to evergreen itself, likely as you change. I was dismayed to see Benjamins departure his input was interesting.


  2. Stephen
    Aug 28, 2009 @ 15:30:18

    I’m a bit of a restless spirit, which is why “tradition and transformation” is a dominant motif in my thinking!

    I agree with your point about not getting stale. I have to keep things interesting for myself, if they’re going to be interesting to anyone else! When I moved to WordPress, I chose the url “itsmypulp”, even though the blog was called “Outside the Box” at that time. I was already thinking ahead: the url will remain the same; the blog name will change from time to time.

    I liked having Benjamin here to offer an alternative perspective. There’s no doubt, his departure is a loss for the blog.


  3. bridgett
    Aug 28, 2009 @ 18:48:16

    I’d like to see more scripture. That’s what brought me to your blog in the first place–an evangelical-ish voice that didn’t drive me crazy.


  4. Stephen
    Aug 30, 2009 @ 07:35:19

    “Evangelical-ish” is an apt description. I’m far from evangelical in my convictions, I regret to say. But one of the things I appreciate about liberal scholars is how closely they scrutinize the Bible texts.

    It seems to me that the text is always the proper starting point for Christian discussion. My orientation to the text is what makes me appear “evangelical-ish”.

    Besides, I just love doing careful exegesis. FYI: I have scheduled a post on the resurrection body for tomorrow (Monday) evening.


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