Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Don't say tradition, say heirloom, say heritage

Pastor Hall has gotten me thinking about tradition. Granted, he doesn't use the word itself, but I think he is basically describing the fact that we have received many traditions in the Church, and it is arrogant to just blow them off.

Thing is, tradition can be seen as a dirty word. A tradition is almost understood sometimes as a specific, local, quirk. Something quaint. Something hokey. How can we teach the importance of tradition? I say by using the image of an heirloom.

Let us say your grandmother comes to visit one day, and she brings with her a small jewelry box. She says, "This box belonged to *my* grandmother. She brought it with her on the boat from Germany. It had been carved by her father as a going away gift. I think it is time to pass it on to you." Now, that box might not be your particular style in fashion, it may not be hip and cool - but would you not graciously accept it? In fact, would it not just destroy your grandmother to say, "Eh, I don't want that, it's an old piece of junk"? No, you take it, even if it isn't profound to you. And as time goes by, you appreciate what you have received more and more (I write this looking at the 30s radio my grandmother sent with me 4 years ago that I hadn't really, really, wanted. Now I can't imagine my front room without it, or at least have a hard time doing so).

The Liturgy of the Church is something we have received - not just from our grandmother, not just from our great-great-grandmother - but from dozens of generations back in the Church. We say the same Creed, pray the same prayers in the collects as Walther did, as Luther did, as Augustine and Ambrose did. That's a profound heirloom.

But what of reintroducing things that had been lost or ignored? Another story. Let us say you are at your parents' one day, and you see an old, carved jewelery box tossed in a box in a closet, and you pull it out and ask your mother what it is. And she says, "Oh, it's just a piece of junk that I got that from my grandmother. It had been her grandmother's - her dad or something had made it." Could you not ask that for your own, treat it properly, and rejoice in recovering your heritage?

Over time we learn (apparently unless we are baby boomers - sorry, I had to throw that in there) that we are part of a world much larger and long-lived than ourselves, that we are here for a brief time and prepare and preserve things for those who come after us. We see this even in the world - why should we not understand it with the Church?


Mike Baker said...

Rev. Brown,

Excellent post. As a former progressive, I will tell you that the majority of the apathy (and sometimes contempt) toward tradition is out of ignorance. As one learns the value of a particular heirloom, the appreciation for these precious gifts grows. That teaching has to be done in a spirit of love, of course.

As you teach this heritage to people who have never encountered it before, the delightful surprise that you often get in response is better than watching Antique Roadshow.

Past Elder said...

Here's one boomer that with you all the way.

I'm 57. Part of the generation that made adolescence into an adult lifestyle.