In St. John’s Apocalypse, God declares to all of creation: Behold, I make all things new.
Growing up, I heard that sentiment in the sense that, at the end, God will make a different Heaven and a different earth. They will be “new” in the same sense as a new pair of shoes from the store is “new.” But then, a New Testament professor in undergrad clarified that a better translation might be something like Behold, I renew all things.
There will be a (re)newed Heaven and a (re)newed earth. God is not making a new Heaven and a new earth, he is making the only Heaven and the only earth new. He is renewing it. The sentiment that I grew up understanding was rooted in a consumerist, throwaway culture in which we repaired very little. Even now, I buy new shoes when my old ones wear out. I don’t get them repaired (renewed). I don’t darn my socks. I don’t patch my pants or my shirts.
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Amanda and I found a house last week (it’s the house in the picture at the top of this post), though we haven’t moved in yet. The man who owns it is a kind and reasonable man. He is slow and methodical (reminds me of my grandpa, though he is much younger), and is refurbishing the house himself. It should be ready before we move in.
I am tempted to view this house as a “new” house. After all, it is “new” to us. But it’s not really new, not in the “brand-new” of our culture. It was built in 1983. I don’t know how many people have lived there, but the current owner bought the house in 2008. He got married a couple of years ago, and so moved out. He rented the place for a year to the people he calls “the tenants from Hell.” To repair the damage caused by these tenants, he is refurbishing the house with new floors, new appliances, new doors, new fixtures.
This house, with so much life and death, is being made new. And we, as new tenants, will be part of that. And we will be renewed tenants. We have rented before, having established a household before. The household didn’t disappear when we moved to Dallas or moved out of our apartment. But, in our renewed house, we will renew our household.
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I think that Fall is my favorite season. I used to think it was winter (mainly because of the cold), but I like the Fall better. I am abnormal in that I dislike Spring and hate Summer. Perhaps this is caused by my experience of Texas, but I think it is largely related to the fact that I have a melancholy spirit.
I don’t like or trust flashy or glitzy things. I dislike loud noises and large crowds. I am highly introverted and am afraid of meeting too many new people at once. I really hate the noon sun, or any kind of direct light–especially fluorescent light. I use a copious number of lamps to light my house and office (when I can) so that I do not have to turn on the overhead lights. I sit in darkness and wait for dawn every morning. Dusk is, perhaps, the most exhilarating part of my day.
I like Fall because the leaves are beautiful in death–hopeful in suffering. I like the Fall because it comes with the season of Advent, the first vague hope of a cold incarnation. I like Fall because that’s when school starts, because I get to experience new classes and new students. Fall is a time of a kind of renewal, a kind of recharge after the flame and glare of an overbearing summer.
The Summer sun bleaches me dry, but the Fall clouds and rain help restore me to myself. And to the world.
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I start at UTA next week. I have new instructor (including GTA’s and contingent faculty) orientation on Monday, new GTA orientation and the annual First Year Writing faculty meeting on Tuesday, and a reception for new PhD students in the College of Liberal Arts on Wednesday. I teach my first classes next Friday.
To the UTA English Department, I will be a new student and colleague. And UTA will be new to me too, especially since I have only ever spent time in Higher Education at one institution. But this newness does not imply a clean break from the past. I am not a “new” student, nor am I a “new” teacher. I am renewed as each in the UTA context, but I carry over my own experiences, knowledge, and skills.
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Wendell Berry offers a stinging critique of the American obsession with newness (in the consumerist sense). He writes:
It is plain to me that the line ought to be drawn without fail wherever it can be drawn easily. And it ought to be easy (though many do not find it so) to refuse to buy what one does not need. If you are already solving your problem with the equipment you have–a pencil, say–why solve it with something more expensive and more damaging [a computer]? If you don’t have a problem, why pay for a solution? If you love the freedom and elegance of simple tolls, why encumber yourself with something complicated?
He goes on to describe the ease with which he refuses to own a television or a computer, but also his disease with owning a truck and using a chainsaw to cut wood. The problem with our fascination with new things is that we end up destroying so much that is good in our desperate reaching for “progress.” This is true of anything from liturgy in the church to food production to teaching: we are oriented toward the next thing, the new thing. We believie in the myth of infinite progress. But this is the sin of chronological snobbery.
I love the Fall because it insists that there was a time before us, before our culture, before our vision of the world. Fall offers a glimpse of cultural history, a clear memory of a time of harvest. Pumpkins (even when reduced to “spice” and blended into a Starbucks monstrosity) force us to remember. As does Thanksgiving. As do the falling leaves.
The newness that Fall offers is not novelty, it is not so much the sudden sprout in a garden, the beginning of a birdsong; rather, Fall offers us a renewal of identity, a renewal of self. A recapitulation of the old in the dance of creation.
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For, as St. Paul writes to the Corinthians: old things are passed away; behold, all things are become new.