Century Marks

Century Marks

Strangers’ eyes

Sara Miles, author of Take This Bread and Jesus Freak, said she has never visited a church that was unfriendly or hostile to her, but she’s visited many churches at which she didn’t know what to do in the liturgy. When that happens, she said, you feel like you don’t belong. She challenges worship planners and congregations to consider: “If someone walked into your church for the first time, what would she or he think you think you’re doing?” (Washington Island Forum, June 25–29).

Heavy church

When megachurch pastor Rick Warren baptized by immersion some 800 congregants in under four hours, it occurred to him that his members were overweight. He himself was 90 pounds over a healthy weight at the time. Warren instituted the Daniel Plan, a diet based on the book of Daniel, in which four Jewish boys refuse to eat the king’s meat and wine in order to remain fit. The Warren diet prescribes eating 70 percent unprocessed fruits and vegetables and 30 percent lean protein, whole grains and starchy vegetables. It recommends exercising and joining a support group. About 15,000 people have joined the program, some online. Warren’s church lost a collective 260,000 pounds in the past year (Time, June 11).

Right on Israel

A segment of the American and Israeli Jewish community lives by the slogan, “Right on Israel, left on everything else.” Shaul Magid, who teaches Jewish studies at Indiana University, asked one of his Jewish students about this bifurcation. She said her loyalty to Israel had to do with a divine connection to the land. In other words, “right on Israel” isn’t about politics; it is about spirituality. The problem with this, says Magid, is that the universal commitment to justice gets lost in the particularist devotion to a piece of land. How do you square a “commitment to freedom, justice, civil rights, pacifism, and equality with Israel’s continued occupation that includes systematic discrimination against the Palestinian population?” he asks (Times of Israel, July 1).

Nothing special

One of the most discussed commencement addresses this year was titled “You are not special.” It was given by David McCullough Jr., a popular teacher at Wellesley High School in Massachusetts. “If everyone is special, then no one is,” he told the graduates. “By definition there can be only one best. You’re it or you’re not.” When the speech went viral, McCullough was subjected to numerous media interviews, including an appearance on CBS’s This Morning. McCullough encouraged graduates to pursue learning for its own exhilaration, not for material advantage. “I urge you to do whatever you do for no reason other than you love it and believe in its significance”  (YouTube, June 7, and Newsweek, June 18).

Race factor

People are notoriously reluctant to reveal racial prejudice when completing a survey. One new way to measure racial prejudice is to analyze racially charged Google searches. Since 2008, “Obama” has been a prominent name in such Internet searches. West Virginia is the state with the highest racially charged search rate. Other centers of activity include western Pennsylvania, eastern Ohio, upstate New York and southern Mississippi—all areas where Obama did worse in the 2008 election than John Kerry did in 2004. Without the race factor, President Obama would have won the electoral vote by an even wider margin than he did. In 2012 the race factor could cost him crucial states like Florida, Ohio and possibly Pennsylvania (New York Times, Campaign Stops, June 9).