Century Marks

Century Marks

Old battle

Roger Williams, who founded Rhode Island, believed that freedom of religion and political freedom were inextricably linked. Pagans, Jews, Turks and even anti-Christians should be given the freedom to worship as they wished, or not worship at all, he believed. Current public debates about the role of religion in public life go back to the conflict between Williams and the Massa­chusetts Puritans. The Puritans wanted to create a Christian commonwealth. Williams created a government that was based on the will of the people and didn't depend on God's blessing. Williams set the tone for the U.S. Constitution, which doesn't mention God or invoke God's blessings on the country (John M. Barry, author of Roger Williams and the Creation of the American Soul, in the Los Angeles Times, February 5).

Kudos

John M. Buchanan, editor/publisher of the Christian Century, has been named winner of the 2012 David Steele Distinguished Writer Award by the Presbyterian Writers Guild (PWG). "In recognizing John Buchanan, the Writers Guild is mindful of John's concise, yet often profound editorial columns in the Christian Century which have provided the church with continuing guidance and inspiration," said J. Barrie Shep­herd, chair of the PWG award committee. Buchanan retired from pastoral ministry at the end of January after 48 years—the last 26 at Fourth Presby­terian Church in Chicago. He continues to serve at the Century (PCUSA News).

Ecclesial spectacle

Like most presidents in the modern era, Harry Tru­man's church attendance while vice president and president was erratic. He didn't give advance notice of when or where he would attend, typically showing up just before the service began in order to minimize distractions. He wrote a note to the minister of the First Baptist Church in Washington that "it now re­quires so many people to get me around there is no pleas­ure in going anywhere." To the pastor of his home church, Grandview Bap­tist in Grandview, Missouri, he said: "I don't want people to come to church to see the president. They ought to go there to worship God" (David Holmes, The Faiths of the Postwar Presidents: From Tru­man to Obama, University of Georgia Press).

Sacred and profane

The Solo­vet­sky Monastery is one of Russia's most important. Founded early in the 15th century by two monks in search of solitude and seclusion, it is located on the largest of the Solovetsky Islands, 650 miles north of Moscow, just outside the Arctic Circle. Even before the Soviet era the monastery contained prison cells for enemies of the authoritarian czars. The monks served as prison wardens. Stalin turned the monastery into a gulag where he brutally imprisoned his most hated enemies. Half of the some 80,000 prisoners it held between 1923 and 1939 died there. The Soviets opened a museum at Solovetsky in 1967, and in 1990 monks reclaimed the monastery (The Atlantic, January/February).

The unanticipated galaxy

Poet Donald Hall, 83, teeters when he walks. He stopped driving at age 80 after having had several accidents. He spends much of his time looking out his window—at the birds that come to his feeder, at squirrels ("tree rats with the agility of point guards"), at the barn on his farm or at the workers in the fields where he and his grandfather used to cut hay with a horse-drawn mower. "However alert we are, however much we think we know what will happen, antiquity remains an unknown, unanticipated galaxy," Hall writes. "It is alien, and old people are a separate form of life" (New Yorker, January 23).