Last Thursday my husband and I headed out to Kansas Our son just took company command in the 1st Infantry Division. We’re so proud! And we were so happy and grateful to be there with him and his lovely bride who is also an Army officer and awaiting her company command in the new year!
We had a great time with them, though much too short. I did enjoy being around Soldiers again, as well as hearing and singing the Army song. It has only been a few months, but it seemed much longer as I was standing there looking at my son and his company of Soldiers before us. A once in a lifetime event that I am so thankful his dad and I got to experience!
I often think it’s a shame that the traditions of the Army are not witnessed by the civilian population. Of course, if you’re not ‘of the Army,’ you cannot truly appreciate what’s going on during many of these ceremonies. Oh, I can briefly explain what’s happening, but the ‘why’ of the tradition, the purpose that it serves, is much more compelling and that is what an uninitiated onlooker needs to understand.
I’ve often thought that the traditions of the Army are one of the things, and a very important element, that makes it special. There are so few traditions left in modern society, within our culture, so it’s difficult for many to relate, to understand the profundity of them.
There is a difference between tradition and history or tradition and heritage. Tradition is living and relevant or it’s just a custom or a convention. Christmas, for many in our culture, is just about Santa Claus and giving and receiving gifts. We have a whole mythology about Santa and reindeer and chimneys and trees. But there is no real answer to the question ‘why’ for all of those things. We can say it’s because its what we’ve always done, but that is not a reason and that is not tradition.
Most communities of any size in the U.S. have large fireworks displays each 4th of July to celebrate the signing of the Declaration of Independence. But few could tell you why we set off fireworks. Or what the signing of the Declaration meant for what would become this country. Once again, the fireworks displays and the commemoration of the document’s signing by the Continental Congress are part of our heritage, but not tradition.
Tradition is a handing on or teaching of what we’ve learned and know. It is still relevant and of interest to those who hold the information and should be, if those individuals are doing it right, to the people who are receiving or learning the information, the beliefs, the meaning behind the action.
If you can’t explain the reason, give the meaning, answer the ‘why’ question, you may as well dispense with the ceremony, action or event. Because it’s meaningless, an empty exercise, and so it is at best a diversion, at the worst, a waste of time.
I think that’s a dilemma we should all work to ensure has a solution if we really care about the concepts and the beliefs that our institutions enshrine. Whether it’s the country, the Army, or Christ’s Church, we need to share what we know when we know it, and give the reasons for our belief in that system of government and the documents that seek to preserve that way of life, or in the doctrine and the importance of the symbolic actions involved, or in the love and the mercy of God who sends His only Son to bring us to Himself and make us the Body of Christ.
It’s not easy; none of it’s easy. But it’s important. I’d say it’s even crucial. Or each succeeding generation will find our traditions less and less important as they become less and less relevant. We who still know will have no one to blame but ourselves when those coming behind us are unaware, even ignorant, of the reason things exist or occur.
Someone once said that we are constantly in need of educating a new group of citizens about our history because children continue to be born and people from other nations continue to flock here to be a part of this grand experiment. But they need to know why it’s so grand. The same is true of those who join our Military and those we want to join us in a belief in God. It’s so easy to talk to a child about Santa Claus. When did it become so difficult we don’t even try to talk to a child about their Savior?
Well, I’m probably just rambling now, but I do worry about such things. And I have tried to do something about keeping our Army traditions alive. And with this blog I try to do something to keep our Church’s traditions alive. I suppose it’s time to work a little harder on both of those things, as well as teaching those who do not know about our nation and its traditions and the beliefs our founders wanted to pass on, as well. I hope this encourages you to consider how you can help answer the ‘why’ questions, even if nobody asks them. Traditions give meaning and context to our lives. We need them. Always have, always will.