Did Jesus Christ ever have an erection? John Marks poses that question to his Christian friend Craig Detweiler in the film Purple State of Mind, which is showing in limited release and available on DVD (see www.purplestateofmind.com). As the title suggests, the film is about what happens when red-state and blue-state types mix it up.
So here we go again. The grit of darkened seasons past between the eyes, across the brow. The purple cloths of grief, tall cloistered candles, numbered days. Six more weeks of wintered trudging through a wilderness bereft of alleluias. All this to show that everything we know— and are—is dust and will return in just the way it came and always has come. Yet, here and there, bent brave above the snow the clustered Lenten rose bleeds color from pale sunlight, gently points itself toward a cross, an emptied cave, that bright unending summer glimpsed in childhood, and forever after longed for past the terminus of measured time.
Viewing Bill Guttentag and Dan Sturman’s Nanking is emotionally devastating. The film is a record of the Japanese occupation of Nanking in 1937, which entailed unimaginable cruelty. In addition to the wholesale slaughter of the Chinese, the Japanese committed 20,000 acts of rape in the first month of occupation, according to the Tokyo Tribunal on War Crimes, convened after World War II.
Here’s your Ash Wednesday story. A mother carries her tiny daughter With her as she gets ashed and the Girl, curious and wriggly, squirms Into the path of the priest’s thumb Just as the finger is about to arrive On the mother’s forehead, and the Ashes go right in the kid’s left eye. She starts to cry, and there’s a split Second as the priest and the mother Gawk, and then they both burst out Laughing. The kid is too little to be Offended, and the line moves along, But this stays with me; not the ashy Eye as much as the instant when all Could have been pain and awkward But instead it led to mutual giggling. We are born of dust and star-scatter And unto this we shall return, this is The Law, but meantime, by God, we Can laugh our asses off. What a gift, You know? Let us snicker while we Can, brothers and sisters. Let us use That which makes dark things quail.
Between 1990 and 2010, Iowa lost over 500 churches. The numbers reflect migration from rural to urban areas and the fewer number of people who identify with a faith community. The decline in churches is having a direct effect on the social fabric of the state. According to research at Iowa State University, nine out of ten rural people said they rely less on their neighbors than they once did. Surviving churches have gone back to older patterns to find leadership, engaging itinerant pastors or lay leaders. Some are surviving through cooperation with other denominations or with ethnic Christian groups (Pacific Standard, January 20).