Thursday, May 21, 2015

line of demarcation

...because sometimes enough is enough.

Here's a recent Rod Dreher post at The American Conservative. Dreher's reading audience must number in the thousands for it surely displays a wide diversity of perspectives. Thus many of Dreher's posts involve letters/emails from his readers.  This involves a woman explaining her re-conversion to Roman Catholicism.  The light begins to shine when she confronts the unavoidable ridiculousness that characterizes much of modern thought regarding gender. 

At that moment my lifelong assumption of a culture of shared Logos was shattered. I wish I had said something obvious, but I was mute -– it felt as if we were suddenly all thrust into a bizarre alternate reality where even one’s identity as a male or female was subject to erasure by a ham-fisted cultural elite.

I thought about this incident for days. I was shocked to the core that a well-educated person of some importance in academia could say something that, at least on the face of it, appeared not only nonsensical, but deeply threatening to human dignity and freedom.
Thus, one either succumbs to the madness, or returns to church to take a stand.

At the end Dreher's reader concludes:

Orthodox Christianity and Catholicism contain a vast profusion of ideas over a span of two thousand years – ideas of God, Heaven and Hell, the purpose of life, art, beauty, social good, and human exceptionalism, excellence, and nobility.

Orthodox Christianity is a vast room filled to overflowing with a profusion of inexhaustible gifts. Protestantism appeals more, perhaps, to the need of Americans for a simplified approach, a streamlined emphasis on the Gospel as opposed to history, art, and the whole mysterious drama of the saints depicted within the walls of cathedrals.

 Usually Dreher contributes his own copious, insightful commentary. Readers know how much I appreciate Rod's writing and arguments, so it's interesting to see him here grant the entire space to his contributor.  As usual there is much to contemplate there:  the recognized regret of failed action, realized new convictions, appreciation for the broader traditions around us, and rediscovering a spiritual home that stands ready to welcome us all home...even if we might be newcomers (as Dreher and I are). Read it all here.

Reading this post made me think not of rants against American academic foibles, nor accelerating cultural/spiritual rot, nor more rhapsodic reminders that "beauty will save the world" (although it will--never doubt that).  Oh no.  This reminded me immediately of my beloved Wabash College.

Wabash archivist Beth Swift provides the full story here.  Back in the Victorian days as the American college experience as we know it in the 20th and 21st centuries emerged, the Wabash student body--which was and remains proudly all-male--gathered to discuss the College's sports teams.  One student suggested heliotrope:

At this point--much like Dreher's contributor above wished she had done--another student hopped up and shouted: "Heliotrope, hell! We want blood! So, Scarlet it is." 

Like all great narrative traditions--and don't be mistaken, attending a college is participation in a narrative tradition...our place, our teams, our rituals, etc--Wabash has celebrated this ever since.  Perhaps wisely Bill Placher did not mention this when gently guiding a bunch of 19-year-old boys/men through Alice Walker's The Color Purple in 1989.  Furthermore, given what has transpired in gender and sexual politics, one can scarcely imagine what Wabash would be like today if it remained all-male with its sports teams decked out in heliotrope.    Thank God a few years later, inspired by the scarlet-clad teams, two Wabash graduates penned Dear Old Wabash, the nation's longest college fight song.  A musical and lyrical challenge, the song celebrates scarlet, the "gorgeous dye of the color we love so well."

It's not merely "red," just as heliotrope isn't merely "purple."  The song, like the story that gave rise to it, also represents a choice--and a choice that's decisive, celebratory, and inspiring.  Are there other teams and schools that wear red, even scarlet?  Of course, but in this story it is ours.  This identification, this line demarcating 'us,' resonates behind Dreher and his contributor who confronted the spiritual and intellectual abyss that modern academic life seems content to throw itself into.  Pulling us back from the line is the apostolic Christian tradition--Catholic and Orthodox--whose multivalent resources offer so many points of contact.  True, Americans might prefer, at least initially, the simpler explanations of evangelical Protestantism, but too much simple sugar can very easily lead to type II diabetes...and simplistic spirituality and/or unwitting intellectual pride can often lead to spiritual diabetes.

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