Sunday, January 3, 2016


This story is from Nepal, as shared by Tuula Valkonen in her book Deep Talk:

There was a monastery at the edge of the desert, where the people and animals gather around the water and trees.

As a teacher and his students were beginning their evening meditation, the cat that lived in the monastery began to make a lot of noise.

The teacher declared that the cat should be tied up for the duration of the meditation.

Years later, the teacher died, but the cat was still always tied to the post every evening.

When the cat finally died, they got a new cat which was also tied to the post every evening.

Centuries later the teacher's follower's followers wrote theses about the religious significance of tying the cat to the post during meditation.

I wonder what traditions we have in our community.  I wonder what are necessary.  I wonder what are not necessary.

Tradition, familiarity, comforting actions are all important to us as humans and as members of a community.

Mothers teach their children how to hold their mouths when they make biscuits so that they will have the fluffy yummy kind and not the hockey puck kind. Fathers teach their children to wear the stinky jersey and sit in the right seat when watching their favorite team play so that the team will win. Parents teach their children how to pray in the right way, not a frivolous or superstitious way (like the neighbors).

New Year's Day, I ate Hoppin' John, pork, and collards because it is the tradition.  I learned that other people MUST eat black eyed peas, but they don't make them into hoppin' john.  I learned some people think it's bad luck to do laundry on New Year's Day, a fine tradition in my mind.

Unless we freak out if our tradition is not followed or unless that stinky shirt is REALLY stinky, we can have our traditions and superstitions and quirks without harming ourselves or others.

Tradition can be very important.  They are part of our story.  Who we are.  Moses and the Hebrew people didn't spend 40 years in the desert because God was using Google Maps.  They needed time to learn what it meant to be free people of God.  They needed time to learn their traditions.

The break down of tradition can be chaotic.  Colonialism destroyed the traditions of the indigenous people, often putting a broken, illogical tradition in their places.  When the Colonizers left, they left a void that was often filled with a patch-work of half-remembered traditions and new ideas that didn't always fit.  And so we have the Taliban and Isis, and authoritarianism instead of community.

When someone dies, mostly you don't have to come up with a way of celebrating life and grieving loss.  We have traditions.  We have traditions for weddings, baptisms, bar mitzvahs, quinceaneras, and graduations.  We have traditional food and festivals.  We don't always follow them, but they are there to fall back on.

Tradition helps us know how to act.

And then their are The Traditions.

The ones that exclude.  The ones that belittle.  The ones that are dangerous.

The priest is always a man.  It's a tradition.
Only white people are members of this club.  It's a tradition.
But we always make freshman drink until they puke.  It's a tradition.

We find reasons for our traditions, we write theses.  It's always been like that.

Our family traditionally drinks its collective self into a coma and dies just after procreating. It's tied to our ancestry as great warriors and farmers.   It's always been like that.  It's a tradition.

Our voters traditionally choose the dimmest bulbs on the porch to make laws --- it keeps them busy so they won't ruin the family business.  It's always been like that.  It's a tradition.

Our church traditionally is lead by clergy and lay people who consider themselves to be as close to flawless and possible and therefore feel comfortable casting the first, second, and third stones. They are confident in their knowledge and goodness.  It's always been like that.  It's a tradition.

I wonder which of our traditions have value.

I wonder which are cats tied to posts at the edge of a desert?