This is my annual post about how I hate the summer and love the fall. This year, I just updated to reflect my current context a post I had written on this topic two years ago. You can read the rest of the posts in this genre here, here, and here.
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In the book of Revelation, 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, the kids, and I have been out of our house since June 9th. That was the day that we discovered stachybotrys growing in our bathroom walls. That was the day we packed our bags and moved out of the house we had moved into just six weeks earlier. We still aren’t back in the house.
The mold remediation company we hired has, over the last two weeks, removed several walls, pulled up all of our carpet, and thrown away any item that could have retained mycotoxins from the mold. Essentially, our house has been gutted. Once they are finished with the demolition and the cleaning, our general contractor will put a new roof on the house and will also rebuild the inside. We are blessed because insurance is paying for everything (thank God), but we still have had our most stressful summer to date (and there have been a few doozies) living out of our suitcases with a toddler and an infant.
And yet, the more I reflect on it, the more I realize that our house is being made new. It is not really new, not in the “brand-new” of our culture. It was built in 1994. I don’t know how many people have lived there, but the people we bought the house from had owned it since 2009. In finding the mold (the story of how we found the mold is pretty miraculous, actually), in excising it from our house, and in rebuilding the interior, we are renewing it.
This house, with so much life and death, is being made new. And we, as new homeowners, are also renewed. Our family, our household that has existed in exile for 2 months, will soon come home.
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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 classroom 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; they are 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 teach a renewed curriculum to 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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The school year officially starts for me this coming week. I will be returning to my school for my second year as a teacher. We will have meetings, time to work on our classrooms, and time to make lesson plans and revise curriculum for a week or so before the students return.
To my school, I will be a returning teacher. But I will bring with me a year’s worth of plans and a summer of new experiences. I am returning to a familiar environment (for which I am deeply grateful; I cling to familiarity like a drowning man clings to a raft. As my dad says, “get in a rut and stay in it.”), but I am also returning to a changed environment with new colleagues and students. I am not a new teacher, of course, but I am renewed.
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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 dis-ease 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 believe 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 Paul writes to the Corinthians: old things are passed away; behold, all things are become new.