Century Marks

Century Marks

Polite company

Death cafés started in England and are catching on in the United States. Usually held in coffee shops and led by social workers or chaplains, death cafés allow people to talk about death and address such issues as advance medical directives, physician-assisted dying, funeral arrangements, and the hereafter. There is a website: deathcafe.com (USA Today, April 7).

Why the bird sings

A teacher told his students that “God is the Unknown and the Unknowable.” Then why speak about God at all? they wondered. The master replied with a question: “Why does the bird sing?” Anthony deMello (1931–1987), a Jesuit priest in India known for integrating Western theology and Eastern spirituality, liked to tell that story to his own students. DeMello adds that the bird sings not because it has a statement, but because it has a song. Likewise, a master’s words need not be understood to awaken something in one’s heart that goes beyond knowledge (Spiritual Life, Spring).

Jesus the Jew

Post-Holocaust Christian theology has learned to take seriously the Jewishness of Jesus. This has had the salutary effect of encouraging some Jews to take Jesus and the New Testament more seriously, says Jewish scholar Edward Kessler. Jewish scholars such as Pinchas Lapide, Géza Vermes, David Flusser and Amy-Jill Levine have even made Jesus and the New Testament the object of serious study. Lapide concluded that Jesus’ resurrection actually happened, because he could find no other explanation for how Jesus’ disciples became a jubilant community of believers so quickly after the crucifixion (Theological Studies, March).

Mission field?

Adoptions of foreign children have been increasing among some American evangelicals, with children coming from African countries like Ethiopia, Uganda and the Democratic Republic of the Congo. Adoption is often an extension of pro-life beliefs, a way to address world poverty and a means of evangelizing children. It is also seen as a way of emulating God who through Christ has adopted humanity. Of the 201 accredited adoption agencies registered with the U.S. State Department, over 50 are explicitly Christian, not counting the Catholic agencies. Some families in the U.S. have been suspected of neglecting and abusing adopted children. From 6 to 11 percent of international adoptions fail. The failure rate for children adopted as adolescents is about 25 percent (Mother Jones, April 15).

Music of the heart

When Joel Kurz was a seminary intern at an inner-city Lutheran mission, he encountered an alcoholic who told him to “learn number 123 in the red book.” Number 123 in the Lutheran Service Book and Hymnal turned out to feature the tune “Down Ampney,” composed by Ralph Vaughan Williams for the 15th-century text “Come down, O Love divine, / Seek thou this soul of mine.” Vaughan Williams had requested that this hymn be sung at his funeral. Kurz later discovered the alcoholic man had been working on a doctorate in music when his wife and son were killed in an auto accident. Kurz concluded that the man must have identified deeply with the plea in this hymn (Weavings, May/June/July).