Monument District

Last Thursday I went to the Kennedy Center.  I was there merely to pick up tickets, but in the early morning it was quiet except for a lawnmower and a minimum of the unavoidable DC traffic.  I was struck for the first time by the monumental quality of the building.  Of course I can read, inscribed on the side, that the full name is the John F. Kennedy Memorial Center for the Performing Arts - no wonder it is commonly shortened! - but I had only been there before after dark.  In the sunlight, it stands out brilliantly: a curious fusion of modern design and classical references.  In its form it draws on the architectural traditions dating to Greek temples; in material it is often modern: the columns are steel, not marble.  And the interior, of course is the series of lovely theaters, making the entirety a temple of sorts in form and function to Art in its Modern-Romantic conception.

The Lincoln Memorial is more familiar to most people; the striking outside, again reflecting classical temples; less remembered is the quiet inside.  Where the Kennedy celebrates - gilding, and flags in all colors hanging from the ceiling - the Lincoln reflects.  In a strange way, the interior of the Lincoln Memorial is an intimate space: a fitting monument for a great man who was, at least in legend, also very much a man of the people.

I also visited the World War II Memorial.  It is different once again: an open-air space, proclaiming and preserving in wind and weather the uncommon achievements and valor not of one great titan but of thousands of "ordinary" people.  A simple oval, with columns standing over it and water running through it; not the cheerful bubble of the Kennedy fountains, or the calm of the Reflecting Pool, but grandeur evoked by a small artificial fall and a single large pool with fountains arranged in classical patterns.

Today, four days later, is Memorial Day.  Where I have briefly noted the contrasts between these three great structures, all are meant to endure - and more than that, to suggest endurance and timelessness by their very construction.  Stone for the buildings, or steel: things meant to last.  Water: essential for life.  Gold: the symbol of timeless value.

We know the greatest monuments crumble in time, and the greatest human actors have had their flaws, but.  It is appropriate for these buildings to be the best, the longest lasting, the most beautiful and stately, in order to commemorate great men and their accomplishments: men who achieved great human things and stand for us for virtues we should value: courage to do what is right, vision of lasting ideals.  We do not remember these men, leaders and soldiers, for being "pretty okay people" but for what they did.

The challenge is not admiring the men, or their monuments.  The challenge is not the artistic evaluation of these piles of stone.  The challenge is to live up to the model.


Not Even as a Scribe

One comment I have gotten on my refereeing over the Spring - as I move on to the bigger and better world of high school games - is that I lack "confidence".  It has taken me quite a while to figure out exactly what this (probably) means, because in one sense confidence is not a problem for me.  I am, for the most part, quite capable of carrying on in my opinions regardless of what anyone thinks.  So, confidence as such is not exactly the problem.

It would be more accurate, I think, to say what is lacking is presence, in the stage sense.  I came to this conclusion following a sequence of two games, at the same school, dealing with the same coach.  The first I centered; the second I was on the line.  The comments the assessor gave me at the end of my game were generally positive but focused on this lack of confidence and some problems with what we call mechanics - the signals used to communicate fouls, goals, restarts, and so forth.  The coach was not happy with me in general - but then, he lost.

Then in the second game I noticed the center was, probably, worse than me in some ways mechanically.  His positioning was better than mine; but his signals were largely muted and occasionally inaccurate.  What he did have, though, which I find hard to hold on to, was control of the game - a parent said afterwards it was the best refereeing he'd ever seen, which almost certainly is not true but speaks volumes for the game control he did have.

There are, I think, three ways to referee a soccer match and still maintain control.  From worst to best, you can enforce The Rules, you can call "Your Game", or you can call The Game.  Learning and enforcing the rules is where anyone has to start, of course; without the rules - at least in essence - anything higher is impossible.  This is where I find myself most of the time, still - and it is problematic for two reasons.  If you make mistakes (as I do with some regularity) you call your understanding and judgment into question.  Or, if your understanding does not match the expectations the spectators, or worse, the coaches' - or worse yet, the players' - you can lose their goodwill: especially dangerous if your expectation has let the game become too "loose", that is, violent.  But the second problem is that, even when done right to exacting standards, you run the danger of coming off as, for lack of a better term, a legalistic jerk.  But at least you have the game under control.

It is therefore necessary to move on at least to the stage of being able to call "Your Game".  I would say - as an observer - that this is where the other ref I mentioned is.  The central hallmark at this stage is that the referee has internalized the rules and more importantly the flow of the game, so that the result is a consistent standard resulting in clarity and control.  The important word there is "consistent".  Many stupid mistakes are forgiven if you make the same stupid mistake for everyone.  Lack of precision is okay if you are consistently imprecise, and do not miss anything big.  For myself, the diagnosis to get here is, I think, either to watch many more games or start playing again - probably both - and of course to continue to referee, and more carefully.

Finally I suppose a referee can call The Game.  The rules are known; consistency is achieved; the mechanics are there; and the game is allowed to play out as it should.  A well-called match on the premier or international level will, I think, reach to this ideal (though poor decisions may reduce a crew to trying to call "Their Game" or even "This One Game That How Did We Get Here?")


False Premises

South Carolina amended its state constitution to define marriage as a union between a man and a woman.  I am still not sure why this requires a Constitutional amendment - a dictionary, a world history course, or a biology textbook should any of them be sufficient.  But here - especially with that last - we reach a problem.

After fighting for "sexual liberty" and so forth for lo these many years now, the liberal left has reached the point where suddenly they cannot talk about sex within the one context it has always been approved because the biological facts of sex ruin the case for their cause du jour - "gay marriage".  Two men cannot have a kid.  At this point, the homosexual lobby is falling back on rhetorical silliness.  I have been told to "stop focusing on the sex" - what, are we to be repressed now?  I thought that was bad - and realize that marriage involves more than just sex.  Love, affection, friendship, and so forth are the keys.

Speaking historically, we could (sweeping generalization here!) say this is largely a legacy we owe to the ideals of the late Medieval courtly ("romantic") love affair - usually very much extra-marital, whether or not merely Platonic (and mostly not) - being co-opted by various people and applied to marriage.  This is not a bad thing by itself.  Even on Biblical grounds, we are told that, "It is not good for man to be alone."  (Yes, I am a bachelor.  Obviously I think the statement is a generality.)  Even without children, marriage is a good thing.  But when passion is the measuring stick and the expected number of kids is 1.4 or something, we see where the argument for homosexual marriage comes from.  Two children per family will not maintain the human race or the culture producing them; clearly something else has become more important.  (To say nothing of divorce.)

If this is the only criterion, that "two people love each other very much", then of course there is no reason to object to homosexual "marriage", especially as a civil institution.  It is little more than a formality, an affirmation, a legitimizing token - the $500 tie, as it were, to proclaim that here stands a wealthy man.

So I find it impossible to get extremely upset by the "gay marriage" lobby and its nonsense, because it is a symptom, not really a cause (and Paul's description in Romans of the progression of cultural decline and depravity is consistent with this view, if not specifically laying it out).  The other reason I find it hard to get upset about it is that I am still somewhat bemused by the phenomenon.  It is somewhat like arguing with a fifth grader, and not just any fifth grader, but the fifth grader who had somehow never heard the rhyme that runs,
First comes love, then comes marriage,
Then comes the baby in the baby carriage.
Banal and terrible verse, of course, but at least it knows the order in which things naturally work - the order which makes homosexual "marriage" not an abomination so much as an absurdity.