June 2021 Connection

Traditions: The What, the Why, and the That

Each summer, my family would take a two-day road trip out east to Martha’s Vineyard in Massachusetts for a few weeks of vacation. This was all due to the beautiful gift of tradition my grandparents gave to our family when, in 1960, they bought a small little gingerbread cottage in the Oak Bluffs campground. It was there that we’d gather just about every summer with friends, traditions and memories. One tradition we had, no matter the circumstances, is that we’d listen to Carly Simon’s song, “Never Been Gone,” a song she’d written while on the ferry to Martha’s Vineyard, as we’d disembark the ferry with our feet planted firmly on the island home.
The list of traditions went on from there, of course! Pancakes at Linda Jean’s restaurant, rides on the Flying Horses Carousel, one of the oldest remaining carousels in America (you can still catch the brass ring to win a free ride), fresh donuts at midnight from Backdoor Donuts, cookouts on the beach at the Menemsha fishing wharf, a last-night pizza at Giordano’s, etc. The list goes on and on.
The other day, I was driving down Center Rd toward Flint when I had this overwhelming desire to hear “Never Been Gone.” It has become a little trick of mine when I just need to escape for a few minutes. I swear I can smell the saltwater as the song plays. As the song played, I found myself remembering all the trips we took as kids, as teens, and even into adulthood to this home away from home. I remembered the many little things my sister and I would do with my parents each trip. I recalled the little traditions that somehow made these weeks away into an almost sacred time.
I also remembered how it felt when Stephanie and I first took our kids to Martha’s Vineyard when Matthew and Micah were just 2 years old. I began to smile as I thought about the traditions we’d created in subsequent trips – early morning walks, walking donuts (so mom wouldn’t find out), trips to the beach, and those same Flying Horses. But we’ve also mixed in new traditions. Things that will just be ours.
It’s funny how traditions work, isn’t it? We rarely know that they are traditions when they’re being formed. It’s later as their repetition becomes meaningful that we realize their importance. However, that being said, I often wonder what is most meaningful to us about traditions? Is it the activity or action being repeated, or is it what that activity or action represents to us? I realized as I listened to Carly Simon sing that the latter is the case. The song is beautiful, and it will always be one of my favorites. But as I hear it, I can still picture my dad driving off of the ferry. I can still smell the coffee my mom would brew in the morning. I can still hear the carousel music play in the background, and feel the sand between my toes. For me, that song will always be about family. It will always be a meeting place for me and my dad’s memory. It will be played at family gatherings and everyone will just have to suffer for a moment as my mom, sister and I sing along at the top of our lungs.
The same is with traditions in the church. We base traditions on actions and activities: the singing of Silent Night on Christmas Eve; the movement of an action item from one committee to the next for votes and vetoes; choirs, classes, and more. The truth, though, is that over time, the actions we take may change. They have before, and they will again. But that doesn’t mean that the traditions disappear or that we’re being less faithful than those who took charge before us. It means that the tradition of faith is not wrapped up in what we do or even how we do it. Instead, the tradition of faith is wrapped up in that we do it: that we worship, that we serve, that we give, that we share, and that we witness.
I am immensely grateful for those who have been a part of the tradition of the church. Though the way we serve as a church may change as we discover, evolve, and grow, the tradition remains the same: faithfulness.
Pastor Brian
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