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FIRST-PERSON: British tradition & a lesson for Americans

ALEXANDRIA, La. (BP)–I turned on the television Friday with the intent of watching the morning news. Instead, I was confronted with the wedding of Prince William and Kate Middleton. I switched channels not once, not twice, but three times and I soon discovered every major network was focused on the Royal Wedding.

Since there was no escaping the regal nuptials, I decided to watch for a bit. I was immediately struck by the pomp and protocol of the proceedings. Rather than a celebrity circus, which is what I expected, what I encountered was an elegant affair deeply rooted in tradition.

The Royal Wedding was much more than a regal photo op. It was even more than two people exchanging wedding vows. It was a celebration of the monarchy — the commemoration of British tradition.

While I may not fully understand the British devotion to the monarchy, I can appreciate the Brits’ desire to cultivate a tradition that has historical relevance and meaning. Though the monarchy is mostly symbolic these days, symbols — especially those anchored in tradition — do serve a purpose and do convey meaning.

The Concise Oxford English Dictionary defines tradition as “the transmission of customs or beliefs from generation to generation.” It is derived from the Latin “tradere” or “traderer” meaning to transmit, to hand over, to give for safekeeping.

Tradition is important to a culture. It helps to give a nation a sense of historical roots. Tradition celebrates meaningful realities and unites generations around shared values.

According to author Jim Black, tradition is not just important, it is vital. In his book, “When Nations Die,” Black identifies 10 areas that signal a culture is on the brink of self-destruction. One of the danger signs a society is in trouble is the “loss of respect for tradition.”

“What gives [national] life meaning is not our individuality and independence but the fact that we are part of the greater tapestry of culture,” Black writes. “Culture and tradition are interwoven at every stage of … national life, and to assault one is do damage to the other.”

England, as well much of western civilization, is in the midst of a great cultural upheaval that seeks to divorce current culture from its past. In such a time as this, the Royal Wedding is a sign of health for the United Kingdom.

Brits young and old gathered in London to celebrate tradition. They joined voice singing traditional songs. They observed a wedding steeped in formality, replete with traditional vows. A nation weakened by post-modern thought paused to take part in a celebration permeated with tradition. It seems the UK is not quite ready to fully surrender to post-modern nihilism.

Americans would do well to learn from the British celebration of tradition as represented in the Royal Wedding. Currently, we in the U.S. are struggling with a lack of understanding and appreciation of significant tradition.

Respecting and celebrating traditional symbols like the American flag, the Pledge of Allegiance and even the National Anthem are increasingly being derided and denounced by many in the U.S. Post-modern thought labels such displays as, at best, meaningless and, at worst, jingoistic.

Symbols like these transcend age, race, gender and creed. Flying the flag, reciting the Pledge and singing The Star Spangled Banner unite U.S. citizens around the ideals of America embodied in the Constitution and yes, even the Declaration of Independence.

The observation of special days to honor veterans and those who gave their lives during times of war not only pay homage to the sacrifice of individuals, it also highlights the notion that the ideals of America are worth defending. I fear that days set aside to honor sacrifice are in the process of losing their meaning and are becoming just dates on the calendar.

There also seems to be a concerted effort to divorce the celebration of certain religious holidays from their true meaning — at least publically. One example is Christmas, which is the commemoration of the birth of Christ. The religious reality is being replaced with the idea of the celebration of winter. The move seems to be a blatant attempt to downplay the significant role Christianity has played in the history of the United States.

If significant American traditions — historical and religious — are allowed to be watered down, transformed or ignored altogether, it will not be a sign of secular progress; rather it will be a sign that American is less than healthy.

While some will view the British celebration of the Royal Wedding as excessive and pointless, it is actually a healthy sign that many Brits still possess a healthy respect for tradition. America would be wise to take note.

Respect for tradition is a way of cultivating history. “If a society abhorrent of tradition has little time for the past,” someone once wrote, “a society proudly ignorant of the past is far worse.” And a nation proudly ignorant of its history has only a bleak future in store.
Kelly Boggs is a weekly columnist for Baptist Press and editor of the Baptist Message (www.baptistmessage.com), newsjournal of the Louisiana Baptist Convention.

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  • Kelly Boggs