Every community has traditions, rituals that speak deeply of who they are as a people. But traditions need to be nurtured, for neglect can result in misuse and misunderstanding. Now, while this surely applied to religious traditions, what I have in mind here are family and friendship traditions, for the close relationships in these communities often magnify the effects of neglected traditions, causing much harm.
One of my communities has a tradition that has begun to cause such harm. Four characteristics seem to be primary causes of this harm: social expectations, event focus, forgotten purposes, and showiness. Transformation of this tradition is possible and necessary.
Social Expectations. We need not change the expectations, but we must change their object, placing the expectations on ourselves rather than on others. While the social expectations remain flexible, two relational expectations are required. First, we must expect to help others. Second, we must expect to lovingly exhort others when the expectations they place on themselves are unreasonable.
Event Focus. Traditions become harmful when the event becomes more important than the people who hold the tradition. The focus on people must inform not only the practice of the tradition, but also the very space in which the tradition is kept. The space ought to intentionally foster relationship. Further, the known skills of persons in the community can be incorporated into the tradition, increasing the focus on persons and the general sense of group responsibility.
Forgotten Purposes. If the purpose for the tradition is truly valued, then let us speak it aloud and put it into practice. Rehearsing the purposes as community and training one another in creative expression of those purposes will go a long way to transforming and breathing new life into a tradition.
Showiness. Focus on the event can result in unnecessary showiness and complexity. Focus on persons makes space for simplicity. When we have one another, we do not need many things, but only a few things. Together, we can figure out how to do this in a way that honors our God and expresses our love.
I have been intentionally vague here, for this is a live issue with real people involved. What the outcome will be, I do not know, for we are still in the early stages of transformation. Only time will tell.