Century Marks

Century Marks

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).


Last month a car drove through the front doors of the Happy Corner Church of the Brethren in Clayton, Ohio. The driver drove the car around the sanctuary, causing extensive damage. The driver then abandoned the car, which was thought to have been stolen (WDTN, January 19).

Nietzsche in America

In the years surrounding the turn of the 20th century, some American intellectuals were infatuated with philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche. People as different as William James, H. L. Mencken, Margaret Sanger and Ayn Rand were attracted to his ideas and the tortured personality that produced them. How could this son of a Lutheran minister declare that God is dead and rail against the idea of universal truth? Some Christian leaders pushed back at Nietzsche, notably theologian Walter Rauschenbusch. As a social gospel proponent, Rauschenbusch saw in Nietzsche's philosophy an expression of the brutal nature of laissez-faire capitalism (Wilson Quarterly, Winter).