Hallowed ground: My civil religion vacation

The carnival barker atmosphere that greeted us outside Manhattan’s South Ferry subway station was, unexpectedly, just what we’d been looking for. Guides in blue shirts sought to usher my family this way or that toward some more profitable version of the Statue of Liberty experience. A half-dozen kiosks offered us their immodestly priced wares as we wended our way through Battery Park toward the ferry.

We were immune to the commercial blandishments. But we found the hustle and bustle oddly charming. We live in the parsonage of the Lutheran church where I serve as a pastor, and this provides us with all the high-mindedness and meaning we could ask for. Soren, my five-year-old, seems to enjoy the heroic swirl of prophets, apostles, saints and sacraments in which he passes so much of his life. He bows toward the altar when we’re in the sanctuary, and he teaches his friends to dip their fingers in the font and mark a cross on their foreheads.

But I can’t help worrying that all that reverence will one day be too much. What our summer vacation needed was a place like South Ferry, where the air was fresh and crass and unconsecrated and where the daily impulse to be decent of language and purposeful of action was a thousand miles away.