May 24, 2018
I am trying to make sense out of the “power” of tradition. It seems to me that traditions are declared to be powerful, symbolic, fussy, senseless, useful or useless – depending on the meaning with which we infuse them. They can sustain life or suck it right out of you when you buck them.
Work with a couple preparing for marriage! Even those who have a tangential relationship (at this point in their lives) to any Christian Community are horrified at the thought of changing things associated with wedding day liturgical traditions as they understand them – even those that have long since lost their meaning. Tradition has power!
Come to any Episcopal parish as the new priest. You will eventually be told in no uncertain terms (either directly in honest conversation, or through overheard gossip, or if you are truly blessed, that ever popular anonymous complaining note) that there are certain ways of doing things in this place, there are certain people who must always have their way in this place – concluding in the choral anthem: “but we’ve always done it this way” or “but we’ve never done it this way!” The power of tradition, for good or for ill.
That’s just an ordinary part of “church life.” So translating this insight into life out in the world, acknowledging the rights of all citizens and the need of the rule of law, even unpopular laws, even laws that may have outlived their original intent, I have observations to make and questions to ask:
Wasn’t the high school experience intended to be the educational locale where the rites of childhood pass and where intellectual growth and curiosity were to accompany the reality of physical maturation? Wasn’t high school, admittedly never a perfect place, still a place of growth, challenge, awkwardness, friendship, and learning? We learned about ourselves and others. We made mistakes. Our teachers were either friendly or unfair. We began to understand and to be understood.
I know those years were not “perfect perfect,” but wasn’t there at least a longstanding “tradition” in this nation that our children would be safe? Wasn’t there a tradition that when you sent your daughter or son off to class, you wouldn’t have to wonder whether yours would be the next school bathed in blood from gun violence? We were intended to hold our children in our arms, but not cradle their lifeless bodies as the targets of rage.
Wasn’t school the place for education and growth? So I wonder: what happened to the power of those traditions? Please don’t tell me that merely waiting for the next murders in our schools (and praying it does not occur in our town) is now becoming a new and acceptable tradition!