Culture and Tradition: The Cauldron

Culture includes all of these forces that shape and contain our lives: social structures, unwritten customs and rules, language, religion, art and literature, forms of government and economic systems.  Culture is the great cauldron from which our giftedness pours forth, that we celebrate as Unitarian Universalists and every week that we gather in our sanctuary.  Culture, however, is not sacred, and it is not magic.  A spoon is just a spoon.  It can be used to make marvelous food, to allow us to taste and enjoy that food.  Spoons have also been used to abuse  children.  There’s nothing sacred about a spoon.  The same thing can be a tool of beauty or a tool of horror.

So, how will we  use and enter into and ponder and inquire about and stretch our understandings of culture? In every single instance that you and I are shaped by our cultures, are proud of our cultures, are secure in our cultures, others who come from different cultures are shaped, too.  They are proud, too.  They are secure, too.  At every point that aspects of our cultures tend to blind us to those who are different, so too do the cultures of others tend to blind them to who we are.  How do we simultaneously enjoy and share the riches of our cultural experiences and find ways to challenge the ignorance built into those same traditions?

What stories shall we tell?  What language and dialect will we use? Will we ask good questions of our own practices?  Will we enter into the experiences of others when they tell us their stories? Can we use the art of inquiry to gently challenge those in our culture who have not considered the harmful considerations of a cultural piece?

The prior question for us to ask ourselves may be this: do I want an open door policy into my culture?  Culture and tradition has served and continues to serve to make groups of people feel secure as a community. Implicitly, then, communities of people are frightened of others outside of their community.  An open door policy into my community means that I have to give up some sense of security in my culture and tradition in the hopes of understanding and welcoming those who do not share the same culture and tradition. Why would we want to do that?  Why wouldn’t we want to do that?

Cauldrons are large containers in which many ingredients can be combined and boiled together over a long period of time.  We come from a cultural cauldron that is far more ancient than any of us.  I am beginning to imagine a new  cauldron into which elements of many other cauldrons begin to combine.

Bob Patrick

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