Century Marks

Century Marks

Prison ministry

Writing about Prison Fellowship, founded by the late Chuck Colson, Mark Oppenheimer points out that there have been two impulses behind incarceration in the U.S. One, with Christian underpinnings, focused on reforming the imprisoned; the other, which took hold especially in the South during the era of slavery, promoted harsh living conditions and punitive labor (think chain gangs and labor farms). Colson advocated for less crowded, more humane prisons. His critics say that Prison Fellowship doesn’t challenge the prison system so much as work toward the spiritual reformation of individual prisoners. Studies are mixed on whether such a ministry turns prisoners away from a life of crime once they’re back on the street (New York Times, April 27).

Time-out

Flora Slosson Wuellner witnessed a congregational business meeting in which deliberations would cease after every half hour and the congregation would sit in silence for five minutes, attending to the Spirit’s promptings. People would take turns holding a stopwatch. After the silent periods, “the tone of the talk and planning changes, attitudes changed, disagreements were handled differently, fresh options were envisioned,” Slosson Wuellner says (Weavings, May).

Hot air

Baseball commentator Tim McCarver has been ridiculed for suggesting that global warming is to blame for an increase in the number of home runs hit in the major leagues. To a point he’s correct. Balls carry better in warm, humid air. The increase in global temperature does track with an increase in home runs. However, other factors are involved, including changes in athletic ability, batting and ball technology and pitching styles. One physicist argued that a two-degree rise in temperature could lead to a 1.75 percent increase in home-run odds. A climatologist argued that an increase in carbon emissions makes the atmosphere heavier, which should result in fewer home runs (Washington Post blog, April 30).

Real spirituality

The Vietnam War underscored for Ismael García the colonial status of Puerto Rico. An inordinate number of Puerto Ricans were drafted to fight that war, even though they couldn’t engage in electing the people who were responsible for it. García was also disappointed in the church at the time, because he thought it ignored social and political realities on the island and focused instead on whether it was appropriate for women to wear slacks and how long men’s hair should be. In time García, who became a Christian ethicist, discovered Christians who modeled a life of social activism and inner spiritual devotion. He identified three traits of these Christians: they view God as sovereign in all spheres of life; they are committed to projects and concerns larger than their own personal interests; and they know that faithful living entails social analysis and cultural interpretation (“On Spirituality,” in A Spiritual Life, edited by Allan Hugh Cole Jr., West­min­ster John Knox).

Sing out

People still sing together in churches and ballparks, but what is absent in America, say Karen Loew, is “community-oriented, community-building, sometimes spontaneous” singing. One obstacle is the lack of a common repertoire of songs. “Since we’re out of practice as a society, the person who dares to begin a song risks having no one join her.” Protest movements have long been known by their music. While the Occupy movement has incorporated some music, it has not generated original music (Atlantic, March).