September 06, 2013
Melissa is contributing a series on the intersection of etiquette and the gospel. You can view her first post here, her second here, her third here, her fourth here and her fifth here. This post is the last in her series.
As I traveled to Minnesota, I was reading what Emily Post had to say about travel etiquette (I took a car, a train and a few planes to get here for a wedding), which, ironically, was the last section in Etiquette. And as the commuter rail brought me from Minneapolis to the suburbs, I finished the book. Dusk was settling in (and if you’ve never gotten to experience the vesper light of the Midwest, you may not have truly lived) and I had arrived, quite literally, at the end of a journey.
The last 300 pages are about celebrations, giving gifts and weddings. These are all traditions that have been passed down. (I’m not the first person to come up with bringing flowers to dinner.)
The essence of tradition is the fact that it is passed down from generation to generation. Someone said to me, “I think it’s good to know the rules of etiquette, but it just doesn’t exist anymore. People pass on fewer and fewer parts of etiquette until it is just gone.”
At the start of this series, I mentioned that our generation has a skewed view of etiquette, believing that one can be pretentious by abiding by rules of conduct. But the last five weeks have proven to me over and over again that it only betters my ability to love others.
So why is it that I had a skeptical view going into this? Why is it that others have had reservations about this project as a whole? The root of our pessimism may very well be self-preservation. It’s simpler to do my own thing. Putting forth effort to write notes and extend hospitality is something that feels forced at times, but I’ve not been able to shake the feeling that when I do those things, I am carrying on a great tradition. I’m writing notes because my mother did and because her mother did.
And there lies our problem: Letting go of etiquette means losing our connection with past generations. And what we think is making our own lives better is actually distancing ourselves from those who have gone before. Those who neglect history are doomed to repeat it. Those who disconnect will be isolated.
And therein lies the solution that Paul puts forth. If theology is the great tradition, and so much of Israel’s honoring of the Lord involved remembrance, perhaps there is a trace of the gospel in every act we undertake to love others that has been passed down to us.
The Jewish New Year was this week. The year 5774 is upon us. And while I’m one of the only Jewish people on campus, I knew that I needed to celebrate it with others. Because it’s been passed down and if I neglect it, making some excuse like “I don’t have time,” it will be forgotten.
So, in the 10 minutes before I left to catch my train to Boston and get on a plane to Minneapolis, I invited some friends to join me in welcoming the New Year. And we dipped apples into honey and I asked the Lord to let this New Year be a sweet one. And I stumbled awkwardly through Hebrew prayers, and in that moment I understood why I love etiquette. Because when you start living a life under these traditions, it does feel awkward. And it’s like slowly reading Hebrew. And just when I think that it might not be worth it, I finish the act and breathe deeply, knowing that thousands in years past and even in that moment whispered the same prayers. And asked God for a sweet New Year. And I am united to them.
Paul reminds us about our unity through conduct when he writes, “And above all these, put on love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony. And let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in one body…Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom…And whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything to in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him” (Phil. 2:14-16a, 2:17).
Emily Post wrote in 1922, “Good taste or bad is revealed in everything we are, do or have.” Friends, we have been given the gospel and we are called to pass it down to future generations. Let us teach them what good conduct is. Let us remind them what proper etiquette looks like. And may they know because of our actions that they are loved by the One Greater than us.
Melissa Zaldivar is an MATH student from California. She loves golf, theology, Jewish holidays, people falling in love, Jonathan Edwards, chocolate chip cookies, her adorable niece and telling stories. When she's not filming and photographing weddings, you can find her reading news articles, watching Parks and Recreation or playing Super Smash Bros.
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