Two years ago I had the chance to spend some time in the land of my Granberg surname forbears: Sweden. My grandfather emigrated from Sweden in 1896 as a fourteen year-old runaway. This week my son Joshua and I traveled 600 km upcountry into the Swedish heartland to visit the town of Nås, where my greatgrandfather was the parish's proeter, an upper-level parish priest in the Church of Sweden (Lutheran).
It was a great experience for Josh and I to delve into our family history together. It also raised questions about heritage, it's impact, and it's benefits. In America today where religious associations are breaking down and a more non-denominational religious experience is growing the idea of religious heritage has a bit of a bad rap.
This raises my question: can heritage be good?
My personal answer is a mixed yes and no--here it is:
Yes, heritage is good.
1. Heritage let's us know where we came from; it gives us history. History can tell us both what to hold on to and what shouldn't. Without history we're adrift in mire of choices. It's something like my great-grandfather who, obviously, was not an easy man to live with since my grandfather ran away from home at age fourteen. Yet our family has an active, vibrant faith.
2. Heritage provides stability. The Vasa Museum in Stockholm was built to house the royal Swedish warship Vasa which sunk in 1628--on her maiden voyage while still in Stockholm harbor! The most lavish and modern warship in the fleet couldn't get out of the harbor because she wasn''t appropriately stable.
3. Heritage provides a group of people whom we know and who know us.
No, heritage is not good.
When heritage solidifies and becomes the standard for acceptance it loses it's ability to address the issues the future has brought to today. Heritage, by definition, addresses the issues and challenges of yesterday. In fact, heritage is the collection of answers that early generations faced in their present. But they are no longer our present.
In the end heritage is a two edged sword. On one side it provides direction, continuity, and foundation. On the other side it can be formulaic, narrow, and a sign of irrelevance. What heritage can do for us best is to give us clues and examples as to how we can seek answers for the questions of today. It can hurt us when we look to heritage for answers already made.