Reflections on tradition and community

My friend Marc, had some questions regarding tradition and community in response to my reflections on our ceremony, and I think it’s worth a post.

I am curious to know what place (if any) you think tradition has in the concept of community. Communities are constantly changing — people come and go, they age, structures are built and torn down, etc. — but perhaps ceremonies (weddings, graduations, national anthems sung before ball games, etc.) play an important role in maintaining a steady hand amid all the flux. Certainly, there are plenty of ways to have a wedding, but at what point is a wedding no longer a wedding and becomes something else? Is it OK if it becomes something else entirely? How does that affect the community? Are certain communities more adaptable to change and, if so, is that adaptability something that can be intentionally developed or does it just happen?

I am currently working toward a Master’s in Public Administration, so I am so eager to hear your thoughts about tradition, change, and how communities can address the two. (Government is infamously slow to change, but I think the public’s longing for tradition can play a big role in that.)

There is a huge place for tradition, ceremony, and ritual in community. As Marc said, communities are constantly changing and yes, government has been slow in adapting… I would say, to an extent, religion has as well. Tradition helps us stay grounded in history which is absolutely essential if we are to adapt to change well. It’s a paradox really. Adapt yet ground in history. So, we as a community must know and celebrate (or even lament) our history, and yet we must continue to build new ways of doing ceremony and ritual.

Tradition often gets developed unintentionally, but ritual and ceremony MUST be developed intentionally. I would say that for ALL ceremony and ritual, there must be an intention to form them in a way that is true to a community’s way of being together. This is where churches have missed the mark, I think. Many church communities, do not have their own rituals. They borrow from others… and often this is because they do not spend enough time together to really have a “way” they do things. I often say that we need to stop trying to build and maintain churches and call them communities… we need to start building communities and calling them churches. Ceremony and ritual are a major part of this.

Many traditions are meaningless and non-transformative to those who participate in them. People get “good vibes” because they feel comfortable and secure knowing “this is the way we’ve always done it.” There is a difference between ritual and routine. A truly community forming ritual demands involvement, challenge, and reflection.

I should also say that I don’t think that governments are going to be the ones who answer the community’s longing for tradition and need for change. Local community led by true elders is the answer. Government is notoriously adolescent and ego-centric.

What are your questions about community?

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