Tradition Doesn’t Have to Suck

Before moving to Asheville six months ago, I ventured into an independent bookstore here with a friend. Malaprop’s, the place is called — a play on “malapropism,” a term for a comedic way of misspeaking. Think Michael Scott of The Office. Said the well-meaning Dunder-Mifflin manager: “I am not one to be truffled with.”

Anyway, I’d visited Malaprop’s numerous times prior. I once worked a summer at nearby Camp Ridgecrest, and I’ve passed through Asheville in the years since. It’s one of my favorite stops in the city, a quirky collection of zen and Buddhist literature and a column decorated as an elaborate tree trunk.

And right there by the faux-tree stands a spinning column of magnets.

The rectangular magnets all say “YAY!” this and “YAY!” that with every noun you could think of, ranging from WIZARDS to PIE.

Before moving to Asheville, I took a picture with a YAY! TRAVEL! magnet. Since my move here, I’ve had friends and family visit, and I’ve inadvertently instated a tradition: having my loved ones take their own “YAY!” picture with the magnet of their choosing.

I’ve created an album on Facebook with all my “YAY!” pictures and visitors — my parents, my siblings, and friends from multiple states. It’s become a silly little thing I do, collecting these jolly pictures, but it’s also something more.

It’s not just a silly little thing; it’s a thing now, sans the silly little. A tradition.

My very own tradition.

YAY. #malaprops #asheville #ashevillenc #travel

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Since starting this new chapter in Asheville, I’ve been learning the vital importance of tradition. Of doing the same thing and seeing the same place and meeting the same people again and again to the point of an uncomfortable yet assuring familiarity.

I’ve not really known this feeling since I was a child.

I experienced countless traditions as a kid. Walking to the library and my grandparents’ house. Riding my bike to the Methodist church parking lot with my siblings. Playing baseball in the backyard. Santa Claus riding on a firetruck through the neighborhood.

At the time, I never thought of any of these things as traditions. They were just things I did with my family. Things we did together. Things that connected us to the place we called home.

Somewhere between my upbringing in Pennsylvania and my adolescence in Georgia, the concept and value of “tradition” lost its way. Any repetitive things I did down South — church alone every Sunday, school alone most weekdays — lost meaning.

It’s harder to look back on my Georgia years and remember enjoyable tradition that endured. Dairy Queen runs here, walks to the park with my dog there.

Tradition and, thus, my connection to a place wasn’t strong. So, I left.

I left in search of tradition elsewhere — though I didn’t know that’s what I was looking for at the time.

Tradition Doesn't Have to Suck

For years, the concept of tradition in religion turned me off. Those creeds and hymns and stained glass windows were just so old and tedious and, well, boring. Void of emotion and life.

I mourn for the people trapped in the purposeless void of religious tradition.

But I realize now how people can and do draw life from tradition. Religious tradition included. I certainly drew life from religious traditions as a kid — our daily family devotions, weekly church gatherings, bimonthly father-son church outings, and annual VBS excursions.

Tradition grounds you, and tradition reminds you of what you believe in and live for. Tradition means your childhood and your adulthood don’t have to be all that different. Tradition means your tomorrow can still have joy and meaning as it does today.

Tradition means you can have a home today like you had a home then.

I’ve been thinking a lot about tradition and home these last few months in Asheville. Of roommate meetings week after week, of Snapchat stories morning after morning, of blogging here and blogging there and working on my book day after day after day. Connecting these days to weeks to months. And maybe one day years.

I may still have theological disagreements with some of the more “ancient” religious traditions out there, but I better understand the appeal. I better see the appeal in never leaving your hometown for 50 years. I get why those “stubborn folks” do the same old things over and over.

I reckon I’ll always be someone who craves newness. Always roaming and wandering in search of the next big thing.

But I’m learning to stay. I’m learning to hit replay.

I’m learning to say “YAY!”

What about you, friends? Do you struggle with tradition and change?

  • Dad

    In honor of (and in the tradition of the Zuniga heritage that your grandfather started), I will quote a movie…Fiddler on the Roof

    [Opening line, Tevye speaking to the audience]
    “A fiddler on the roof. Sounds crazy, no? But in our little village of Anatevka, every one of us is a fiddler on the roof trying to scratch out a pleasant, simple tune without breaking his neck. It isn’t easy. You may ask, why do we stay here if it’s so dangerous? We stay because Anatevka is our home. And how do we keep our balance? That I can tell you in one word: Tradition!
    Because of our traditions, we have kept our balance for many, many years. Here in Anatevka, we have traditions for everything: how to how to eat, how to sleep, how to wear clothes. For instance, we always keep our heads covered, and always wear a little prayer-shawl. This shows our constant devotion to God. You may ask, how did this tradition start? I’ll tell you. I don’t know. But it’s a tradition. And because of our traditions, every one of us knows who he is, and what God expects him to do.
    Traditions, traditions. Without our traditions, our lives would be as shaky as… as… as a fiddler on the roof!”

    Sometimes we do not know how traditions are started. Sometimes traditions start out of the blue or out of necessity at some point in time. Sometimes, traditions outlive their usefulness, especially when importance placed upon them exceeds the importance placed on deepening our fellowship with the Lord. Matthew 15: 1-9 says this:
    15 Then scribes and Pharisees who were from Jerusalem came to Jesus, saying, 2 “Why do Your disciples violate the tradition of the elders? For they do not wash their hands when they eat bread.”

    3 But He answered them, “Why do you also violate the commandment of God by your tradition? 4 For God commanded, ‘Honor your father and mother,’ and, ‘He who speaks evil of father or mother, let him be put to death.’ 5 But you say, ‘Whoever shall say to his father or his mother, “What you would have profited from me is a gift to God,” 6 will be free from honoring his father or his mother.’ So you have made the commandment of God of no effect by your tradition. 7 You hypocrites, Isaiah well prophesied of you, saying:

    8 ‘These people draw near to Me with their mouth, and honor Me with their lips,
    but their heart is far from Me.
    9 In vain they do worship Me,
    teaching as doctrines the precepts of men.’”

    To again quote Tevye, “Traditions, traditions…where would we be without our traditions?”
    If the tradition is honoring to God and it does not become like a god to us, then these are great ways to remember how faithful He has been to us. If the tradition becomes burdensome and replaces true fellowship with Him and we rely more on the tradition than our faith in Jesus, then truly…
    “our lives would be as shaky as… as… as a fiddler on the roof!”

    • Good stuff, Father! The concept of tradition can go both ways, for sure. Learning to embrace more the life-giving kind and less the lifeless kind.

  • Richard

    Thank you for including me in on your tradition, I had a wonderful time!

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