Labor Day South of the Equator

I used to think (I avoid assuming because of the consequences) that the rest of the world followed the general contour of the seasons in the United States.  Is that a consequence of American greatness and status as leader of the free world?  Perhaps.

But now I am woke.

While still flying solo last night I viewed a documentary about beach resorts in Argentina, Balnearios.  It was pretty good.  It was more orchestrated than some documentaries, but provided a glimpse of Argentinian life that fascinates. I give it three stars.  The cats are still voting.

One aspect that struck me was that summer there is our winter.  Of course, since I spent time in Brazil a couple decades ago during the month of February, I knew that their summer matched our winter.  But since I was teaching at a seminary and classes were in session (which they also seemed to be at the affiliated university), I had assumed that the school year below the equator lined up with ours in North America.

I saw vividly last night what this website confirms (by the way, I checked to see about South Africa and discovered they have four terms that run almost the entire year):

The school year in Argentina runs from March to December and lasts about 200 days. Schools are closed for national holidays, such as Good Friday and Easter, and two weeks in July for vacation. Normally, public elementary schools are in session four and a half hours each weekday. Saturdays are generally reserved for extracurricular school activities. Often, a school will have a morning and afternoon session, allowing pupils and teachers to choose their sessions. Some elementary schools offer evening classes for adults.

Imagine that. Stocking up on notebooks and pencils about the same time you are throwing out Christmas gift wrapping and determining this time really really to lose a few pounds.

What may even be harder to conceive is not having a Christmas recess from classes because the school year just ended.

Talk about American myopia.

Postscript: Ellen Marie Jones and Jay Glenn Hart were married on this day seventy-five years ago at Metropolitan Baptist Church (now Capitol Hill Baptist). Need to mention this here since in heaven, where they are, there’s no marriage and so likely no wedding anniversary celebrations.

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Newsflash: My Parents were Right

The world is not a safe place.

Even the University of Chicago agrees with Ellen and Jay Hart:

Looking for safe spaces on campus or trigger warnings on a syllabus?

Incoming students at the University of Chicago have been warned they won’t find either in Hyde Park.

They all received a letter recently from John Ellison, dean of students, which went beyond the usual platitudes of such letters and made several points about what he called one of Chicago’s “defining characteristics,” which he said was “our commitment to freedom of inquiry and expression.” Ellison said civility and respect are “vital to all of us,” and people should never be harassed. But he added, “You will find that we expect members of our community to be engaged in rigorous debate, discussion and even disagreement. At times this may challenge you and even cause discomfort.”

To that end, he wrote, “Our commitment to academic freedom means that we do not support so-called trigger warnings, we do not cancel invited speakers because their topics might prove controversial and we do not condone the creation of intellectual safe spaces where individuals can retreat from ideas and perspectives at odds with their own.”

What I (mmmeeeeEEEE) can’t fathom is parents rearing children to expect that the world will be safe. I thought this was the age of the helicopter parent, the one who is always worried about something going wrong. Or is it that helicopter parents have been so successful in keeping their children from danger that the kids really do think the world is a safe place, and if it is not something’s wrong?

Return of the Bible Thumper

Bill Smith tries to pull the church calendar out of the solar year:

Does Dr. Hart really think that the solar year and the interadvental age are at odds with one another? Does not the interadvental age consist of some finite number of solar years? Does living in this interadvental age mean not recalling the works of Christ by which the corner of history was turned and we entered the last age? And how is focusing one’s mind on the redemptive works of Christ by following the Christian year contrary to setting one’s mind on Christ?

Well, what does the Bible say?

Jesus told us how to remember him, right?

18 For I tell you that from now on I will not drink of the fruit of the vine until the kingdom of God comes.” 19 And he took bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it and gave it to them, saying, “This is my body, which is given for you. Do this in remembrance of me.” 20 And likewise the cup after they had eaten, saying, “This cup that is poured out for you is the new covenant in my blood.” (Luke 22)

Isn’t it enough to remember Christ weekly in Word and Sacrament?

I seem to recall Paul also saying something about where we should direct our thoughts. I remember. It’s about Christ in heaven not Christ on earth.

1 If then you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. 2 Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth. 3 For you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God. 4When Christ who is youra life appears, then you also will appear with him in glory. (Col 3)

Passages like these may not be slam dunks, but can’t the church-calendar people at least interact with scriptural injunctions about remembering and thinking, or is it the case when the church calendar comes in the Bible goes out?

Here’s the thing: when I think of my beloved parents, I have lots of memories to which I might turn. My mother behind the driver’s wheel, my father rubbing my cherub face on his two-days of stubble while he recovered from surgery, my parents’ singing duets to enraptured cousins, aunts, and uncles during summer vacations (yikes!). I also sometimes think of what their intermediate state might involve (and I know it doesn’t involve looking “down” at me or hearing my prayer requests).

But my parents aren’t Jesus. Duh. How I think about my Lord is on a different order of importance. And get this — the Bible gives some instruction about how I should remember and think about Jesus. Replaying his life and participating in it (Lent) or thinking that I’m preparing for the savior’s birth (Advent) don’t make sense.

Birthdays

Picking up on yesterday’s reflections, what if my father were alive to read the post about same-sex marriage?

Chances are he wouldn’t have read it. I don’t think he or my mother ever owned a computer.

But what if I read the post to him? My sense is that he would have did what he did most of the time. He would have listened, asked a few questions, and maybe even asked me for something more to read about the subject. If my mother were in the room, my father would have been pleading with her — not always the most open-minded of people — not to become too upset at the boy.

And so I live with this odd sense of being one part my father when it comes to the culture war stuff, and one part my mother when it comes to the Lord’s Day and worship stuff. Call me conflicted.

And also call me despondent at least for today because this would be Jay Hart’s birthday if he were still alive. I know some celebrate June 11 as the birthday of the OPC. But fourteen years before the OPC started its ministry, my dad was born in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania among the Pennsylvania Germans who, thanks to the great war, became the Pennsylvania Dutch.

As much as I don’t think my father would have minded my questions from yesterday, I know he would have objected to yesterday’s Phillies’ game. So glad he doesn’t have to endure this season.

Troubling

Rod Dreher continues to acquire material for his next book — the one on the Benedict Option. (Make that Benedictine Option and I’m there — like yesterday.) And he posts this from a Protestant pastor who supports the notion of some kind of cultural resistance:

I just wanted to let you know that your writings about the Benedict Option have moved me deeply. Your thoughts, plus the guidance of the Spirit, led me to propose a youth discipleship class for the teenagers in our church to our Pastor — a proposal that he quickly endorsed.

A line that you had in a recent blog post “If they’ve heard anything from the Church, it’s something like, ‘Don’t do this because the Bible says not to’ — which is not enough in this time and place.” is exactly what we are trying to combat. It is almost word for word what a youngish (~25) member of our church told me a few weeks ago. She said that when she was growing up and would ask if she could do something that was verboten, her parents would tell her, “No, you can’t do that.” “Why?” “It’s against our religion.” No further explanation was given.

So we are putting together this class and starting it with hard questions. Why do you go to church? Would you go to church if your parents didn’t make you? Is God important to you? Why?

From there, it will lead into discussions about our doctrines, the importance of prayer, how to pray, how to read/study/meditate on the Bible, holiness, how to handle failures, etc. When we start discussing the things that the Lord hates, we aren’t just going to point at the Bible and say, “God says no, so don’t.” One of the questions we will keep bringing up is, “God said don’t do X or that he hates X. Why would God say that?” We want them to be able to put those admonitions into a larger framework.

Why did God say that? Wasn’t that the Serpent’s question to Eve (of course, in a figurative way, vd,t)? Why isn’t a thus saith the Lord sufficient for not doing something? Does this pastor really think he can go behind the curtain of God’s prescriptive will and come back alive?

Speaking from my own experience, parental instruction not to do something, backed up by serious consequences for the backside at younger stages and coping with parental disapproval at later ones, was an effective moral code. Did I observe it? Of course, not. Now that the parents are in the grave (and not eavesdropping on everything I say or think), I can admit that the first movie I saw in a theater was Straw Dogs. How did a 14-year old get pass the ticket taker? I looked old for my age. What did I tell my parents, who specified that their boys were not allowed to go to movies? I told them I went to the Mall, which was sort of true. But on the whole I broke at least 2 commandments that night — the fifth and the ninth — and if you’re keeping score at home with Greg the Terrible, watching this movie likely broke the seventh as well.

But the lesson here is not how to fool fundamentalist parents. It is that a firm set of moral guidelines, even without elaborate moral reasoning apart from the appeal to authority, was as remarkably good way to grow up. I obtained a clear sense of living inside or outside that moral code and I couldn’t blame anyone but myself if I got caught and had to face the music.

It seems to me in a just sayin’ way that if you want a real Benedict option, it is not to turn adolescents into people who can compete with Benedict XVI or Alasdair MacIntyre on virtue ethics. It is rather to create a moral universe akin to Benedict’s monastery where those who belong to the community have a clear sense of what’s right and wrong on the inside and how that differs from the world outside. In other words, respecting authority is more important than explaining why authority is important.

Postscript: this was NOT my experience:

Sadly, in spite of my Christian upbringing, no one ever told me what was wrong with the hook up culture. In fact, sex before marriage was encouraged by much of my Christian family and by the unanimous agreement of my Christian friends, who both mentioned preventing unwanted pregnancies, but never voiced the option of abstinence. What is worse, I never heard about the topic of sex in church. It was not until my involvement with a Christian campus ministry that I heard someone speak against premarital sex using biblical teaching.

This being my experience, I urge the Church, particularly parents raising children in the Church, to speak out on this issue and embrace the God’s intention for sex. Parents, do not make your child wait until he is a legal adult to hear about it from someone else. Talking about it may be awkward, but it could save your child from making a huge mistake and dealing with a lifetime of baggage for it.

Jay and Ellen Hart didn’t talk about the mechanics but Don and Darryl knew full well that sex outside marriage was verboten (inside marriage, well, okay, if you must).

When Blogs Imitate Facebook (I guess)

I am back on the road, this time heading to the Academy of Philosophy and Letters annual meeting not in Linthicum but Linthicum HEIGHTS, Maryland (outside Baltimore). This should be an intellectually stimulating time and also personally depressing (if you care about the local and traditional).

I have made a pit stop in Hancock, Maryland, just over the Pennsylvania and West Virginia borders. The only resemblance to Turkey is that cell phone coverage is spotty. I took a pleasant stroll along the Chesapeake & Ohio Rail Trail and tried to call the Mrs. but wireless antennae would not cooperate. The drive has provided time for a few reflections (beware: all about me).

Birthday cake deprivation: my parents would have celebrated their birthdays this week. Ellen Marie Hart was born on this day in 1923. Jay Glenn Hart came into the world on June 11, 1922. I miss weeks crammed with birthday cake. I miss the people who supplied the ingredients and baked the cakes more.

Ohio giveth and Ohio taketh away: I have made the drive between Hillsdale and the East Coast several times now and I give the rest stops on the Ohio Turnpike high marks (not to mention that the 70 mph speed limit gives ample joy). Compared to the virtuous commonwealth of Pennsylvania’s or Michigan’s, Ohio’s stops are attractive, spacious, and easy to use. Whether construction materials — they are all brand new — will age well is another matter. But what’s up with the miles of highway narrowed for road construction and workers only doing repairs in a fraction of the hazard area. Traffic has not been terrible so having lanes reduced from three to two has not been onerous. What is a pain is the reduction of speed to 50. I find this unusual and objectionable if only because on two-lane roads in America, outside city environments, the speed limit is always 55. One explanation might be that drivers need to slow down for workers. But why slow down for all seven miles when the workers are located in one tenth of that space? It makes me wonder if Ohio had an excess of 50 mph signs and needed to use them.

What are Jimmy and Bunk up to these days? Music is almost as evocative as smell. Today when I played Thom Yorke’s solo cd, one song in particular reminded me of The Wire. It must be that I bought the cd when Mrs. Hart and I were deeply embedded in our first viewing of the series. I miss those characters and am still reeling from the end of the series when we had to say so long to them.

Stephen Daldry rules: another disk I played was the soundtrack from Billy Eliot. This was Stephen Daldry’s first stab at motion-picture directing. It is a wonderful movie and chokes up this vinegary Calvinist in ways reminiscent of dad, Jay Hart, who was a genuine weeper. From Billy Eliot, Daldry went on to direct The Hours, The Reader, and Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close. All of these are worthy of four stars and as many thumbs as you can find to put in the up position. The man knows how to pick good material and what to do with it.

Nothing could be finer: is there any prettier view than having the Appalachian Mountains on the horizon? (Having recently rewatched The Trip, I will grant that the Lake District gives the Blue Ridge region a real run for the money.) Granted, the East Coast’s mountain range would only count as hills in places like Turkey and Southern California. And they don’t have the grandeur of the Rockies, Alps, or Pontic Mountains. But the Appalachians possess a subtlety that should appeal to Reformed sensibilities shaped by the power of simplicity and order.

Of course, as our nemesis, PLM would remind us, all of this proves with utter certainty, epistemological and metaphysical, the truth of 2K.

He Was a Coach, Not God

Joe Paterno was three years younger than my father and JoePa outlived dad by almost two years. I admired both men greatly, partly because of their decency which may have been responsible for their moral naivete. Recently Angelo Cataldi became indignant over Paterno’s remarks to the Washington Post that even if the report to him about Jerry Sandusky’s antics in the shower were more specific, the head coach wasn’t sure what he would have done because he did not know what man-rape was. Angelo could not imagine someone being that ignorant in the ways of the world. I can. My parents and parents-in-law were of the same generation as JoePa, the so-called “Greatest,” a demographic of Americans not reared on HBO and totally lacking in knowledge of gentlemen’s clubs and lap dances. Of course, Angelo knows all about the black side of sexual conduct because his regular guests are strippers and he admits to surfing for porn in off hours. But that doesn’t prevent Angelo from being outraged over JoePa’s innocence. This is where we are culturally — those who know the perversions tarnish the reputations of those who don’t. (And can anyone imagine the human resources officers at Penn State calling in JoePa at the age of 75 to attend a seminar on man-boy relations?)

My dad died a Penn State fan but it took him a while to warm up to the Nittany Lions’ head coach. The problem was JoePa’s reaction to the 1969 National Championship game. To put that incident in perspective, I resort to a story at ESPN:

The Nittany Lions went 5-5 in 1966, and Paterno responded not only by designing a new defense, but by shifting his best talent to that side of the ball. In the third game of the 1967 season, Penn State almost upset No. 3 UCLA, losing 17-15. The Nittany Lions fell to 1-2. However, they didn’t lose another game until 1970.

Penn State won the last seven games of the 1967 season, tied Florida State, 17-17, in the Gator Bowl, and went 11-0 in each of the next two seasons. In 1968, Penn State finished second to undefeated, untied Ohio State. In 1969, the Nittany Lions finished the regular season ranked third behind No. 1 Texas and No. 2 Arkansas, who played on Dec. 6. President Richard Nixon not only attended the game, but after the Longhorns won, 15-14, with a dramatic late-game touchdown, he declared them national champion.

In his career at Penn State, Paterno, a Republican, befriended almost every Republican president. He gave a nominating speech for George H.W. Bush at the 1988 Republican Convention at the Louisiana Superdome, the same building where Penn State had won Paterno’s first national championship six seasons earlier. The Penn State media guide included photos of Paterno with Gerald Ford, Ronald Reagan and George W. Bush.

But after the 1969 season Paterno had little regard for Nixon. Paterno’s most famous line regarding a president came in his commencement address at Penn State in 1973, as the public had begun to realize that the Watergate scandal had reached the Oval Office.

“How could Nixon know so little about Watergate and so much about football?” Paterno asked. A year later, Nixon resigned from the presidency.

In 1973, the Nittany Lions went 12-0 but finished only fifth in the nation. Disgusted with the polls, Paterno declared that “the Paterno Poll” had named Penn State No. 1 and had national championship rings made for his players.

That kind of self-congratulations did not sit well with Jay Hart. Nor did Paterno’s dismissal of Nixon. Although my parents had not voted for Nixon in 1968, they were law-abiding Americans who respected the president as something that came with being a citizen.

Over time, the Harts warmed to JoePa and Penn State. How could you not with a coach that played by the rules, worked to make his students study and graduate, and won on top of it all? JoePa had a work ethic, sense of duty, and integrity — despite coming from the wrong Christian faith — that even fundamentalist Protestants could admire.

I am sad that JoePa is no longer among us. My father and I shared too many good times cheering on the Nittany Lions for me not to think that I have embarked on an era of life, begun by dad’s death and now underlined by JoePa’s, that will be marked by the absence of the Greatest Generation. They certainly had their faults. But they were better than we are. For that reason I am glad that JoePa will be spared further assessment by that Generation’s ungrateful, disrespectful, and morally bankrupt children.

Time Heals Wounds

Today is not only the birthday of the OPC. Closer to home it is also the day my recently deceased dad was born. This is not the place or the time to begin sorting through my relationship to him, but a number of thoughts come to mind on this June 11th.

When I first heard my father had died, I was on my way to the emergency room of a downtown Philadelphia hospital. I had fed the livestock, Cordelia and Isabelle, and during the procedure the lid to the can of cat food made a huge impression on the index finger of my left hand. The gash which would not close after an hour of tinkering was my penalty for kitchen awkwardness. After four hours at the hospital, I took five stitches. The wait in ER gave me time to sort out the logistics of burial and memorial service with my brother.

I was – and still am – glad for that cut because the scar not only reminds me of dad but also the wound that I still feel over his loss. And even if it has healed, and will continue to just as my own spirits have rebounded to some degree, it will always be a reminder of my great loss (because my father was a great man). In which case the cut was a providential form of self-mutilation. I may have been tempted to do so on my own, but cutting the body is not a proper way to honor God’s good creation. So rather than having a stud in my tongue or a tattoo on my left buttock cheek, I have a scar on my left hand. I can live with that. This day I even relish it.

On or before June 11th I usually buy my dad a birthday gift. In later years when he and my mother were both in a nursing home the challenge of buying something that he could use became greater. Now that I no longer need to buy a gift, I wonder what my failure as a consumer will do to our ailing economy. In fact, I wonder what the effects of death are generally for the economic health of a nation. Clearly, the funeral and flower industries benefit. And the federal government breaths a pint-size sigh of relief to have one more of its citizens off its role of Social Security beneficiaries, not to mention the inordinate expense of Medicare. But if a death brings savings for some and expenses for others, it also means none of the purchases that go with birthdays, Fathers’ Day, anniversaries, and the annual spending spree we call Christmas.

So to do my part for the economy, I’ll have to go out and spend on some “spirituous” refreshments. If I drink enough tonight to spend the amount I’d normally use to buy a birthday gift, the elixir may not only further heal my wounds but pickle them.