This blog represents most of the newspaper columns (appearing in various Colorado Community Newspapers and Yourhub.com) written by me, James LaRue, during the time in which I was the director of the Douglas County Libraries in Douglas County, Colorado. (Some columns are missing, due to my own filing errors.) This blog covers the time period from April 11, 1990 to January 12, 2012.

Unless I say so, the views expressed here are mine and mine alone. They may be quoted elsewhere, so long as you give attribution. The dates are (at least according my records) the dates of publication in one of the above print newspapers.

The blog archive (web view) is in chronological order. The display of entries, below, seems to be in reverse order, new to old.

All of the mistakes are of course my own responsibility.

Wednesday, November 26, 2003

November 26, 2003 - Traditions

I had, depending on your viewpoint, the good or the bad luck of being raised in something of a religious vacuum.

For one summer, I went with my neighbor to the Seventh Day Adventist Church. Later, my family belonged for about a year to a United Methodist Church, whose new minister greatly appealed to young people. He was a compelling and intense speaker, with a fresh, contemporary take on Christianity.

Everybody else liked him, too. They actually had to knock out the back of the church to add more seats. Then, after about six months of delivering fascinating, entertaining, and often deeply moving insights into the life and mind of Christ, he abruptly shifted his ministry. He called upon his congregation not just to admire Jesus, but try to follow His lead. That proved, alas, less popular.

Throughout my life, I've known Jews, Catholics, Episcopalians and members of the Greek Orthodox Church. These are all people with a rich and complex tapestry not only of belief, but of something that was pretty much absent in my house: ritual.

Of course, ritual isn't the exclusive province of religion. It seems that almost any human institution develops patterns of behavior that tend to become very stylized.

Some people find deep comfort in such ritual. The idea seems to be that things change in life, too many things, maybe. You get older. People die. Good things come to an end.

Ritual is a bulwark against change. It says, "This is something you can count on."

Ritual also promotes both community and conformity. Whether it's a ritual of dress, or speech, or of more subtle behaviors, rituals say, "I belong to this group of people."

This week's holiday, certainly qualifying as a uniquely North American ritual, is Thanksgiving. While it began as an entirely religious observance (in 1619, near what is now Charles City, Virginia), it became a national holiday in 1789. Interestingly, President George Washington expressed strong misgivings about this merger of religion and politics.

These days, Thanksgiving is mostly a secular observance. It was nonetheless an enduring ritual even in my childhood home. There were some dishes we had that you just couldn't hold Thanksgiving without (turkey, of course) -- and some of them distinct to my family ("24 hour salad," mostly canned fruit and whipping cream).

And despite my stunted appreciation of ritual, I have held onto Thanksgiving. I not only like to eat, I like the whole idea behind Thanksgiving. That is, that we should give thanks, that most of us live lives of abundance, and that as the days shorten and the nights grow colder (finally!), that we can greet the winter with snug and well-provided homes.

It is my hope that among those provisions, you have laid in a healthy and diverse collection of books, music, and film, all supplied by your local library.

All Douglas County Libraries will be closed on Thanksgiving. In fact, we will also be closed on the evening before, the better to allow our staff to prepare feasts for their families.

From all of us to all of you, thank you.

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