When my children were younger, they used to call the first Sunday after Labor Day weekend “Opening Day.” They were referring, not to that long-awaited day in early April when the first major league game is played, but to the Sunday when our life as a family began once again to be determined by the rhythm of the church year, church activity and my weekly sermon preparation.
I am probably not alone in deploring both the suicide bombings carried out by young Palestinians against pathetically vulnerable Israeli civilians and the now predictable military attacks by Israel carried out against pathetically vulnerable Palestinian civilians.
One of the reports the stated clerk makes to the General Assembly of my church when it gathers for its annual meeting is about statistics: how many members we gained and lost, how many infants were baptized, how much money the people put in the plate. For Presbyterians—and in varying degrees for Methodists, Episcopalians, Lutherans and others—this is a sobering moment.
I have a dim recollection of Jeremy Bentham’s utilitarian philosophy from a course in college. Utilitarianism appealed to me at a time when I was more certain of myself intellectually and more academically confident that I have been since. It had something to do with being a sophomore, I believe. For utilitarians, moral behavior is that which increases happiness and reduces human suffering.
In his book Take Time for Paradise: Americans and Their Games, A. Bartlett Giamatti, who was president of Yale University and commissioner of Major League Baseball before his death in 1989, argues that we can learn far more about a society by studying how it plays than by examining how it goes about its work.
James Fenimore Cooper Jr. and Margaret Bendroth are rummaging through church attics and basements in the New England states, especially Massachusetts, looking for records of early American life. Some churches are reticent to part with old documents, but the two historians point out how vulnerable the documents are and offer to keep them in a climate-controlled rare book room at the Congregational Library in Boston. Among their findings: a church in Middleboro possessed an application for membership submitted in 1773 by a slave (New York Times, July 29).