“Tradition means giving votes to the most obscure of all classes, our ancestors. It is the democracy of the dead. Tradition refuses to submit to that arrogant oligarchy who merely happen to be walking around.” G. K. Chesterton
My twin brother has recently become engaged in tracing our ancestors using DNA technology, and he has uncovered fascinating details about our family. The most interesting is a man from Oklahoma who is a total stranger, and yet is nearly a perfect Y chromosome match. Turns out that his father, whom he never knew, was named Underwood. I have also seen the 1855 discharge papers of a previously unknown relative who was released by the Union army at Vicksburg. There are ongoing questions about an area in western Tennessee with such landmarks as “Underwood Crossing,” and yet we have found practically nothing about our Underwood ancestors who settled that area.
The above Chesterton quote has been sitting on my desk for about a year now, and it has changed the way I think about things. It has also changed the way I pray. I now spend a few minutes each day giving thanks for those who came before me, and asking God to give me a richer perspective about my place in the universe and my role in life. My father used to warn me about what he called the “tyranny of the moment,” the tendency to believe that what just happened will somehow determine the entire future. His life had forever been changed by what happened on December 7, 1941, and so he had the unique ability to say about most events, whether good or bad, “it is of no real consequence.”
We are currently mired in a cultural moment that is unusually narcissistic and myopic. Because we don’t cherish our history, we have difficulty envisioning our future. We walk around chained to our smartphones like felons in handcuffs, and each tweet produces a new “tyranny of the moment.” We have lost our perspective. I’m all for Chesterton’s idea of giving more votes to our ancestors, thereby acquiring a bit of modesty about our own importance and our own moment in time. I have a feeling that we will experience our newfound humility as nothing less than God’s grace.
Rev. Don Underwood