Today we had the Kirkin’ of the Tartans in church. I really enjoy the Kirkin of the Tartans. The wild skirling of the bagpipes, instruments which should never be played indoors, playing “Scotland the Brave,” in a church in which secular music is forbidden at weddings. The defensive apologia for celebrating the Scottish heritage of a church which is filled every Sunday with a multi-racial group, the oddly pagan business of blessing pieces of cloth, the lame children’s message in which the pastor tries to hook the tartans of families up with our all being part of the family of God, the annual singing of Scottish songs and recitation of Scottish prayers which we otherwise rarely use. It is not theologically defensible, but it is one of our most colorful and noisy Sundays, so I enjoy it nonetheless.

The tartan above is the McKenzie tartan, the one which I and my children would be allowed to wear if we wanted to join in the ceremony. Mary Henderson, daughter of  Scots immigrants, married a carriage maker from New York in Alabama and then died tragically young in childbirth, leaving a daughter who provided for us almost the only Scottish twig on our family tree. The other was Aoife McMurrough, a medieval woman who had quite an exciting life, but so long ago that we can hardly feel entitled to call ourselves Scots because of her. This tartan might be hers. Who knows, though? It was so long ago.

The point of having tartans to declare your clan identity might well have been the same as the supposed reason families had their own knitting patterns. The story is that a particular pattern of cables or other stitches would identify drowned sailors for their families. Perhaps a tartan would allow a family to recognize their war-torn soldiers. Or perhaps they allowed one to pass safely through a war-torn area, in spite of the bagpipes whipping everyone up. In recorded history, the tartans were a sign of nationalism.

It’s a far cry from there to our modern way of wearing other people’s advertising on our bodies, isn’t it? Does displaying the words “Old Navy” on your chest or “Mudd” on your bottom express such noble sentiments? Maybe it is more like wearing your school sweatshirt.