Who doesn't love traditions? They. are. everywhere. The FUN thing about traditions, after all, is that they are meaningful because they are passed down from one generation to another as important. For example - the fact you like your tea when the sun comes up? Not a tradition - that's a preference if it is just your personal thing. The fact that your parents did it, you do it, and you'll pass it on to your children, does make a tradition. Everyone loves traditions. Methodists sure do, even to the point of using it to come to theological conclusions.
Traditions pervade our lives and give meaning to the smallest actions. They often usher in the most "meaningful" events of our lives as well.
Yet as Fiddler on the Roof, the United Methodist Church, and any "outsider" can tell you, traditions can stand between people. Often times, tradition exist for that very reason. To determine who is in and who is out.
Is this a good thing? Is it bad? Who controls traditions? When do you shut them down? When do you start them up?
There are three fierce myths about traditions that I think need to be put to rest:
- Traditions are only for old people. Have you ever been to Camp Winnataska? Or Sumatanga? There are traditions at every summer camp. Some of them simple, some complex. But the intended targets for such traditions are always young. Traditions are for young people too! I say this for two reasons: 1.) Traditions are always the transmission of meaning from older to younger. 2.) Young people LOVE traditions. Sure, they may reject the traditions of their elders, but they simply form their own traditions. In a lot of ways, I think young people care more about traditions than older folks.
- The oldest traditions are the most important. "But we've done it FOREVER!" C'mon - forever is a long time and you've only been a part of it for... what... two years? The only people who make this argument are people who don't like your tradition (or lack of appreciation for theirs) and want to make their own seem more important. Sure, it may be really cool that the Catholic Church uses the same liturgy every where in the world and it is always in Latin. But that doesn't make it more important than doing it in the local vernacular. Longevity does not outweigh relevance. Besides, there is a false sense of "old" everywhere. Companies, churches, books, families, and societies constantly try to tie their traditions into the past. Remember the DaVinci Code? One of Dan Brown's greatest literary tricks is to infuse meaning by tying back into a past tradition. Remember the Illuminati? Real. Secretly battling the Catholic Church over the centuries? Not real. But a false sense of tradition is established, all the same. To say that the oldest traditions are really the most important is to argue that returning to where we once came is preferable to determining our own meanings of life. I could use the same argument to say America should be a monarchy or we should still be living in caves. (Tradition!!!!)
- Traditions never change. Probably the biggest myth is that traditions are always and forever will be the same. Traditions are constantly changing. With every iteration, every generation, ever conversation about what makes a tradition so great, it changes. Traditions are as fluid or important as the people who are involved. No tradition survives intact over more than a single generation. I know there is this lament across America right now that Christianity (and the nation) are changing beyond all hope. Traditions of old are being discarded and we are slipping into being a godless, horrible place to live. Seriously?! Christians from 1300 AD would not recognize what we call Christianity. Christians in 3000AD also won't have any clue. One generation laments the ever changing world - it hasn't always been like this, and by the grace of God it won't always be like this.
This is part of the beauty of our world and of our God. Traditions are for everyone. New traditions spring up everywhere and they are valid to determining meaning. Traditions are always changing, and this isn't a bad thing.
You have any traditions you really love? Any you'd like to see go?