Thursday, February 28, 2013

Assuming tradition that we know

Warren J. Blumenfeld, Associate Professor for the School of Education at Iowa State University, begins his provocative article on Huffpost Religion with a story:

On a cold and windy day this week, outfitted in my warmest winter outfit from head to toes, I entered the Memorial Union on our campus with the intention of mailing a package to my cousin in Portland, Ore. Soon after I pulled open the door through my double-layered gloves and entered the Gold Star Hall, replete with its lovely stained glass windows and the names of Iowa State University students who had fallen in war engraved proudly on the walls, a young man, who had been walking behind me, hurried his pace. 
Overtaking me and looking directly into my eyes, he commanded: "Sir, you need to take off your hat!" 
The door through which one enters the Memorial Union displays a prominent sticker announcing: "If you are able, please take off your hat as a sign of respect." 
I clearly, though firmly, responded to the young man that "Taking off one's hat stems from a Christian tradition. I am Jewish, and to us, we cover our heads as a sign of respect." The man's mouth distorted irritably as he mumbled something under his breath, and he walked down the stairs, possibly on his way to the food court, or maybe to enter the Memorial Union Chapel to compose himself beneath the seven-foot Christian cross while seated upon the pews bearing chiseled crosses on its sides, on our publicly tax supported land-grant university campus. 
The tradition of removing one's hat began in medieval times with men in Christian churches as a sign of respect to God. A number of other religious and cultural traditions, however, including Judaism, Islam, Sikhism and others, show respect for God and for individuals by covering one's head. 
As the old saying goes, the fish is the last to see or even feel the water because it is so pervasive, and therefore, the fish take the water for granted. Often, those beings situated outside the water can, in effect, perceive the water's existence with its edges, depths, surfaces, consistencies and reflections.

Most of Blumenfeld's article, Christians, Fish, and the Removal of Hats, is a call for awareness of the many "Christians standards" that have entrenched into our American society, and a plea for an appreciation of multiculturalism.  

I share Blumenfeld's goals here, but would still be pleased to see the beginnings of an even smaller change:  a challenging of one's self when someone doesn't follow your understanding of a traditional action.  Perhaps there is good reason why someone chooses to do something differently from the norm, and perhaps the opportunity to gain insight to something different outweighs our tendency to take offense.

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