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Where are the prophets?

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This is a guest essay from Jason Smith. He holds a Ph.D. in theology from Vanderbilt University and, by his own admission, writes about sports, theology and philosophy on the internet sometimes. He teaches at Tougaloo College in Jackson, Mississippi. Earlier this year, he explored the morality of college football returning to play during the pandemic.

When I was a sophomore at the University of Georgia I decided, like a lot of nerdy sophomores in college do, to watch all of the 1001 Movies You Have to See Before You Die. I realized pretty quickly this was a terrible idea because I did, in fact, have to attend class and read books.

I settled instead on the 100 Greatest Movies from the American Film Institute since 100 is less than 1001 and got to work filling in the gaps of my cinematic knowledge.

One of the movies that has stuck with me is On the Waterfront, the Elia Kazan Best Picture winner starring Marlon Brando. You’ll know it as the “I coulda been a contender!” movie, if you know it at all.

The only thing I knew about On the Waterfront going into it was that line. I had no idea that the plot revolved around a mob boss taking over a longshoreman’s union and black balling a washed-up prize fighter — a prize fighter whose career he himself soiled after convincing him to throw a fight.

I’m not sure I would’ve found that all that interesting but for the inclusion of a priest — Father Barry, played by Karl Malden and his legendary schnozz.

Father Barry has stuck with me because he was the first time I saw a fictional representation of a Christian minister advocating for economic justice. I was used to priests and pastors in movies symbolizing a hypocritical hyper-morality that had to be sloughed off, institutional corruption that had to be fought, or a benevolent yet myopic concern for the soul and the soul alone.

Finding meaning on Palmour Street

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This is a guest essay from Matt Boedy, a professor of English at the University of North Georgia who teaches in its First Year Composition program, as well as upper-level courses in writing and publication. He is the author of Murder Creek, chronicling the story of the last man to die in Georgia’s electric chair, and Speaking of Evil, an examination of the question of why God would allow for the existence of evil through a rhetorical prism.

The old black and white film, scratchy now with age, begins with a little boy – a Black boy, maybe six or seven – running down a dirt road.

What sounds like a soft flute creates a happy soundtrack as the boy scrambles onto a front porch to meet his mother. Then the camera pans to the porch swing, where his father sits next to another child. Our running boy bounces into his father’s arms.

The voiceover narrates: “Can parents help their children grow up? Let’s see how one couple is trying.”

The viewer is introduced to a family living at 511 Palmour Street in Gainesville, Georgia, circa 1949. The three numbers are posted just above the mail box next to the front screen door as seen in the introduction or “trailer” to the film.

This family – given a fictional surname – are real people acting out a beneficial public mental health message.

‘A right jolly old elf’

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Photo courtesy of @OfficialSanta

It’s Christmas Week, and we figured there’s no better topic to dive into this week at Beyond The Trestle than that of a big guy himself – Santa Claus. 

The world’s most famous gift-giver has a history that spans more than 1,700 years, with geographic roots that are as diverse as Asia Minor and Scandinavia. He’s been viewed as a cheerful, round grandfather figure who delights in the joy of children, as well as a truly weird, fairly terrifying hairy beast that demands offerings and sacrifices.

Fortunately, the story of Santa today is one of merriment and joy. So, in the spirit of the season, we’ve decided to dive into the history of Santa by asking a few key questions and sharing the origins of his story.

Let’s dive in.

Wrestling with the Hall of Fame

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Photo courtesy of Marc Lancaster

In the years before I crossed the threshold to become a Baseball Hall of Fame voter, I always swore I wouldn’t be one of those writers who yo-yoed on candidates from year to year. 

Some voters’ apparent distinction between a “first-ballot” Hall of Famer and a run-of-the-mill Hall of Famer — like the handful who dropped previous support of other candidates to vote for Derek Jeter and no one else last year — made no sense to me. Hall voting is mostly, though not entirely, a function of statistics. And it’s not like any of these guys’ statistics change from year to year once they retire. 

Yet there I was late last month, agonizing as always over which boxes to check, reevaluating a couple of players who have been on the ballot for years and never received a vote from me. 

COVID Vacation, Vol. 1: Freeways & Face Masks

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Photo of the Batesville (Arkansas) Speedway courtesy of Joe VanHoose

This was supposed to be a big vacation year for me.

After moving back to Athens in February, I had laid out a fairly long list of festivals, three-day weekend vacations and races to go see this year: the Shaky Knees and Sweetwater music festivals, my annual trip to the Indy 500, visits to Martinsville and Darlington for some NASCAR races, and a few days out in Colorado at the end of summer to play some golf with a few of my oldest friends.

So much for best-laid plans. By the end of May, it was clear that most all of these events and trips were off. From March through June, I hardly ventured outside of my house. And it was eating at me.

I was ready to cancel the Colorado trip, too. As a guy with Crohn’s Disease (an autoimmune disorder) who takes bimonthly doses of an immunosuppressant drug, I thought flying may be a bad idea.

Then, one night, it hit me: I could just drive there. Man, what a trip that would be. I could eat a lot of good takeout food, check out a lot of state parks and see plenty of sights that I had not seen before. Heck, I could take a full two weeks off to do it.

There is no moral path back for college football

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Photo courtesy of Pixabay

This is a guest essay from Jason Smith. He holds a Ph.D. in theology from Vanderbilt University and, by his own admission, writes about sports, theology and philosophy on the internet sometimes. He teaches at Tougaloo College in Jackson, Mississippi.

Making moral decisions requires knowledge.

This might sound counter-intuitive at first. After all, isn’t living ethically more about doing the right thing — about carrying out a certain series of actions — rather than just knowing stuff? That instinct can seem right, but put it under even mild scrutiny and the appeal of it almost instantly disappears.

Let’s channel Chidi Anagonye from The Good Place for a moment.

If you subscribe to Deontology as a moral philosophy, this requires that you deduce ethical maxims that apply to all persons in all situations. In other words, there are moral rules that apply to everybody all the time, but the universe requires you to use your reason to figure them out—to deduce them. Sure, you have to follow those maxims, to do them, but first they have to be deduced. You have to go through a process of discernment and arrive at knowledge of the universal rules and, after that, you’re good to go. But the deducing comes first.

Augusta’s parallel economy

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Photo of The Executive Club courtesy of its website

It’s all about knowing your angles.

If you’re going to fit 35 cars onto a little less than an acre of property in a way that offers them the ability to actually get in and out in one piece, you really have to map out where each vehicle can go. You can park trucks in the back since there is more room to turn around, but you can fit smaller cars up front and possibly squeeze in one or two extra customers.

For nearly 70 years, my grandmother has lived in a modest, but lovely brick ranch home on Magnolia Drive. The street is so named because if you extend Magnolia Lane, a particularly famous tree-lined stretch of painted green pavement, across Washington Road the two roads would almost perfectly fit together. 

Living in such close proximity to arguably the most famous golf course in the world hosting arguably the most famous golf tournament in the world has its perks, and I, along with other family members, took advantage of them. From my elementary school days in the 1980s on, we’d gather at her house, wave our arms in a windmill fashion and funnel in 30-plus cars each day.

The redeye(s) to Mississippi

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Photo courtesy of Joe VanHoose

I had no good reason to check into a king suite at the Hampton Inn in Tupelo, Mississippi the evening of Friday, Sept. 23, 2011 — well, the morning of Sept. 24. I still had tickets in my pocket to the Florida-Kentucky football game in Lexington scheduled for that evening. I didn’t even have a change of clothes. 

Nevertheless, I slid in the room key, used the complimentary toothbrush and toothpaste to scrub away the lingering taste of fried chicken and beer, and slid into the king-sized bed. I looked at the clock on the nightstand. It was way too late. 

But as my head hit one of the five pillows on the bed, I was entirely too awake.

Huh, so that’s what Adderall does.

COVID Vacation, Vol. 2: Donuts everywhere

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Photo of Grand Elk Golf Club in Tabernash, Colorado

Earlier this year, Joe VanHoose decided to take a cross-country road trip to see how the rest of the country was dealing with the COVID-19 pandemic. In Part Two, he visits Oklahoma, sees the end of the world in North Texas and takes up hiking in Colorado. Check out Part One here.

Friday, August 21, Edmond, Oklahoma

After a full 24 hours into my road trip, I was starting to see how many states seemed to have a handle on COVID-19. On Friday morning, I drove out of Arkansas, stopping at the Donut Palace south of Batesville on the way. I was greeted with a large, plexiglass shield that separated me and the shop worker, who used tongs to carefully grab the donuts I was pointing to.

These were the best donuts on a trip full of them. I’d never tasted a glaze that was so thick and rich. Now six weeks removed, I still think about those donuts and wish that Arkansas was a bit closer.

Not that there was time to linger. I was due to meet up with my old boss and good friend Dave outside of Oklahoma City for the weekend.

Dave and his two sons had been quarantining in style, getting a lot of use out of the swimming pool in the backyard and the music studio complete with all the instruments that I kind of know how to play.

COVID-19 Road Trip, Part III: Revelations and Return

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Photo courtesy of Joe VanHoose

I didn’t meet an unpleasant person in Colorado. Nor did I meet anyone who wasn’t wearing a mask.

Florissant wasn’t much of a town, but everyone wore their mask at the market next to its one stoplight. The same scene occurred in Divide. Up the road, Idaho Springs had moved its entire downtown outside. At the Kum & Go at the end of the street, not only did the clerks enforce wearing masks, but they made sure to keep my friends and I from getting too close to the pizza counter.

At the end of the long weekend, I dropped off my buddies at the Denver airport and headed east. My friends are sure that everything surrounding COVID-19 is overblown. They were quick to bring up the latest CDC data about how few people are dying due to COVID alone. They weren’t happy about having to wear masks everywhere, but they did it just the same.

They believe personable responsibility should dictate our response to this global pandemic. I agree.

I believe we all have a responsibility to contribute to the communities we are in, and public health is part of that contribution. If me wearing a mask and staying away from people can make a me-sized dent in dealing with the pandemic, that’s all I can really control.

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