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Traditionally Speaking
By Aaron Johnston June 28, 2004

I organized a picket line in front of our chapel this past Sunday. It took a little doing, but I was able to convince all the dads in our ward to carry signs that read, "Flowers for Fathers." We all marched around in a circle and shouted, "Lend us your ears. And give us boutonnieres."

You see, we fathers feel like we deserve the same recognition on Father's Day that mothers receive on Mother's Day. We want a flower. And just in case the whole mother-flower thing isn't currently a practice in your ward, allow me to explain.

Years ago, someone started the tradition of having all the mothers in a ward stand during sacrament meeting on Mother's Day and receive a flower from the ward.

When I was a deacon, this was one of our duties. We each grabbed an armful of sweet-smelling flowers, walked among the congregation, and gave all of the women a much-deserved token of appreciation.

But on Father's Day, no such tradition exists -- at least not in any ward that I've ever attended.

Yes, the Primary children sing I'm So Glad When Daddy Comes Home, but that's about it. Mothers, on the other hand, in addition to their flower, typically get two Primary songs: Mother, I Love You and I Often Go Walking

Do I sound bitter? I'm not really. In fact, in case you haven't already guessed, I didn't really organize a picket line. And to be honest I don't even want a flower.

But I do want a universal remote.

Wouldn't that be cool? Just picture it. All the fathers stand on Father's Day and get a universal remote, one that works for the TV, the DVD player, and the VCR. Now that's a token of appreciation.

Or maybe we could all get a tool set. Or a big T-bone steak. Yeah, men love steak.

I can see it my mind: I walk into the foyer at church and there's Jimmy, a young deacon in our ward.

"Morning, Brother Johnston," Jimmy says. "Happy Father's Day."

"Thanks, Jimmy," I say. "And medium rare this time, okay? I don't want to have to send mine back again this year."

"No sweat, Brother J. Medium rare. Got it." Then he turns back to the grill where he's got a few slabs of meat already cooking.

OK, this is a bad idea. But it does make me wonder about the traditions we do practice in this church, especially those that don't appear in any official church handbook.

Where do they come from? Why do we follow them? And what would happen if they suddenly stopped?

Take flowers on Mother's Day, for example. Personally I'm not opposed to this tradition. I think it's wonderful. But as far as I know, no where is it written that this is something we're supposed to do.

And what would happen if we suddenly stopped passing out flowers? Well, I'll tell you. You'd have a lot of angry women on your hands. Some would feel jilted, forgotten, and unappreciated.

And that's the danger with traditions. Over time we begin to think that we have to do them, that to not do them is wrong.

Here's another example. Immediately following every baby blessing, the father of the child traditionally holds up the infant for all the ward to see.

"But what's so bad about that?" you may ask. "Isn't the father presenting the baby before the church? Isn't he supposed to do that?"

Well, no and no. There isn't anything wrong with it, of course, but lifting the baby is not presenting it to the church. If anything, that's what the blessing does. Nor is the father supposed to do it. He can, of course, if he so chooses, but he doesn't have to.

But personally, I don't like this tradition. It terrifies me. Every time it happens I'm afraid the father is going to drop the baby.

"Don't do it," I want to shout. "Hold that baby tightly. Keep her wrapped in your arms. Lifting her high like that makes you hold her in an unnatural way, one that you're not accustomed to and therefore may do incorrectly. If everybody wants to see the child, let them come up to you afterwards."

This isn't simple paranoia. I'm not crazy. I'm a father. I want babies to be safe. If Michael Jackson is a fool for holding his baby up for fans, then why aren't we?

But Michael Jackson was standing on a balcony, you say. And yes, that's true. But the only difference between his circumstance and ours is the distance to the ground.

Well, that and the fact that Michael Jackson has some serious psychological problems and most dads in the church do not.

But my point is this: fathers do this because it's a tradition. Sure, they're proud of their child and want to show him or her off, but no one in their right mind would do this if it were not already a tradition.

When I blessed my son, for example, I did not want to lift him up. It was too risky. In fact, I had decided that after the "Amen" I was simply going to scurry back to my seat.

But I gave in. I felt all eyes on me and I gave in to tradition. I only lifted him two inches higher, mind you, but I did in fact lift him.

Now, what would have happened if I hadn't? What would have happened if I had stuck to the game plan and ran back to my seat?

Answer: people would have assumed that I had forgotten to lift him up. They wouldn't assume the truth: that I chose not to follow tradition.

And what about missionary farewells? Remember those? The church put the kibosh on that practice a few years ago, but it's still a good example of what can happen when a tradition gets out of hand.

For the unfamiliar, it used to be that when men or women left to serve a full-time mission, their home wards would hold a missionary farewell during sacrament meeting. This usually consisted of all the members of the person's family getting up and talking about what a swell guy or gal their brother, sister, son, or daughter was.

Rarely would you hear any doctrine. Rarely were these meetings about Christ. These were meetings about the missionary.

If you know any of the words to In the Hollow of Thy Hand, you know the meetings I'm talking about.

Now, I don't mean to imply that all traditions are bad. They're not. But we do need to be careful to differentiate between the ordered practices of the church and the traditions we've created. The former is crucial to our growth and salvation, the latter not so much.

Which also means that we should respect those who choose not to participate. If a dad doesn't hold up his baby, for example, we shouldn't think less of him. And if the bishop doesn't ask the child graduating from Primary to recite one of the Articles of Faith, we shouldn't think less of him.

Because traditions aren't things we're supposed to do. They're things we can do -- that is, until our leaders tell us otherwise.

And unless I'm mistaken, I haven't heard any leader say we can't have steak. So, Jimmy, don't let me down.

Copyright © 2004 by Aaron Johnston

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