That Touch of Autumn

Did you feel it this morning, that touch of Autumn?

Those of us in the Nation’s Capital woke up to temperatures in the 50’s and 60’s – that’s in the 12-16 degree range, for my non-American readers.  With low humidity and a crispness in the air, it was the first real sign that Fall is on the way.  Yes, it will be hot and humid later, and yes, it will be hot and humid all weekend for those of us who did not have the possibility of getting out of town this weekend for the Labor Day holiday.  However, this morning was quite the preview of coming attractions, since for me Autumn is the absolute best time of year to be in Washington.

It’s rather appropriate that this first hit of Autumn to come fell today, when the Church remembers the martyrdom of St. John the Baptist.  You’ll remember from the Bible how St. John was executed when Salome, step-daughter of King Herod, asked for the prophet’s head as a reward for her dancing.  Like Salome, this is the time of year when the Earth, in this part of the world, begins to drop her veils, one by one, until by Winter she is completely bare.

Now for those of you who are “Team Summer”, and who like this scrivener live in an area with distinct seasons, this is the worst of all possible worlds, I know.  You enjoy being sweaty, dirty, and sunburnt.  You enjoy being attacked by insects, or being stuck in transit/traffic for hours when the air conditioning doesn’t work.  You enjoy the chaffing of sandals or flip-flops tearing up the back of your heels, or constantly adjusting those shorts that bunch up when you sit down.  In other words, you like to suffer.

For the rest of us, deliverance is at hand.

It’s soon time for clothing where anyone can both look good and feel comfortable, not just the genetic anomalies.  Drinks can be lingered over and savored, rather than rushed down before the ice melts.  The food will be flavorful and filling and bountiful, not limited by the phrase, “It’s so hot I’m not really hungry.”

There will be celebrations to prepare, requiring far more attention than the three Summer holidays of Memorial Day, Independence Day, and Labor Day, which generally involve, at best, a trip to the grocery store for some burgers and buns, and not much else.  Yet as Autumn gets underway, Halloween leads to Thanksgiving, and Thanksgiving leads to Advent, and Advent leads to Christmas. Many of us even get Columbus Day and Veteran’s Day thrown in for good measure, just to have some extra time off or a change of pace.

Now be assured, I’m not forgetting the importance or the significance of any of these holidays, before someone starts to complain.  Rather the simple truth is, Autumn is a time for celebration. We gather in the products of the land, and we enjoy the hard work that went into growing them, and we have very fun ways of going about doing so which do not involve the charade of pretending that we can still live out in the open air like our ancient ancestors did, so long as we have enough propane for the grill and citronella for the tiki torches.

No, give me the cold honesty of Autumn over the pretend joys of Summer any day.  The Fall reveals character. I’m looking forward to seeing the colors of the geology and chemistry of the planet, now hidden under a mask of chlorophyll.  As growing things go dormant, each leaf reveals a uniqueness belied by the uniform green, no two the same.  We see things as they are, not in uniformity but in a huge range of colors and shades of colors, everything from scarlet red to mustard yellow to deep purple.

And similarly, when we can all get out of the blazing sun and actually sit down and see each other, without the need for sunglasses or umbrellas or the like, the chill causing us to draw a little bit closer together for warmth, I believe we’ll all be the better for it.

Detail of "Salome Dancing Before Herod" by Gustave Moreau (1876) Armand Hammer Museum, Los Angeles

Detail of “Salome Dancing Before Herod” by Gustave Moreau (1876)
Armand Hammer Museum, Los Angeles


>Candy Corn, BBQ and Sarah

>My neighborhood of Georgetown is a marvelous place to live throughout the year, but particularly during the autumn. The variety of buildings dating from the 18th to the 21st centuries give it architectural diversity, with interesting variations on every block, all superimposed upon a largely Georgian-era, English country town grid. When taken in combination with the large number of mature trees and gardens throughout the village, this time of year is a photographer or flâneur’s delight as front steps are decorated with pumpkins and piles of multi-colored leaves begin to accumulate along the brick and cobblestone paths. And most residents of D.C. know that Halloween on M Street is Georgetown’s slightly tamer and chillier version of Mardi Gras in New Orleans.

However for a truly chilling Halloween, the place to be this October 31st is Canton, North Carolina, where the Amazing Grace Baptist Church will be setting a bonfire to burn non-King James translations of the Bible, as well as books on spirituality by authors such as Blessed Mother Theresa of Calcutta, Pope Benedict XVI, and The Rev. Billy Graham. According to Marc Gizzard, pastor of the church, the King James translation is the only true translation of the Bible, and all other translations are “satanic”. “I believe the King James version is God’s preserved, inspired, inerrant, infallible word of God… for English-speaking people,” he declares. So he and his congregation intend to, for lack of a better description and apparently without considering the ironic implications of such an event, give Satan a burnt offering on Halloween during their church barbecue.

A movement to say that a 17th century translation of the Bible is the “infallible” Word of God, rather than the text written by the prophets and evangelists, is illogical. On an experiential level, the King James version has had to be corrected at least 20 times since its original printing due to some whopping errors, such as the case of the infamous “Wicked Bible”, where the word “not” was omitted from “Thou shalt not commit adultery”, or the “Camel Bible” where Rebecca and her “damsels” was translated as Rebecca and her “camels”. From a purely semantic standpoint however, I was pleased to see that Karl Keating agreed with my initial head-scratching: I am not sure than an inanimate object can be “infallible”, since a book does not ACT – to be fallible or infallible requires some degree of decision-making capability.

However aside from this type of discussion – and a discussion about the inerrancy of the Bible should be a discussion rather than a publicity stunt – the key point is something I have been considering since yesterday, when The American Papist wrote a piece critical of comedienne Sarah Silverman’s nonsense about selling off the Vatican to feed the poor, a matter which in fact we discussed briefly last evening at an enjoyable local venue. Does a YouTube video or a book burning, both of which are essentially blasphemy, require extensive public refutation? I have always found blasphemy to be rather a pathetic sin, since we tiny bags of bones and fluids can’t exactly injure God in any way. The real sin of blasphemy is that of causing scandal to others, and perhaps for that reason a detailed refutation is indeed necessary at times; the problem with this, I fear, is one of invincible ignorance.

In any case, since more skilled writers and commentators than I, dear reader, will weigh in on these subjects, I leave it to them to make the reasoned arguments in refutation of book burning or auctioning off the Sistine Chapel. I would suggest that those particularly disturbed by either Mr. Grizzard or Ms. Silverman take advantage of the resources available to understand why their arguments are incorrect. For my part, I am looking forward to candy corn, coming up with a costume, and enjoying the fact that Halloween falls on a Saturday this year.