Century Marks

Century Marks

Ashes to ashes

On Ash Wednes­day Sara Miles walked in the Mission District of San Francisco with about a dozen others, all dressed in black cassocks, offering people the imposition of ashes. A mother un­wrapped her week-and-a-half-old boy and held him up. Miles crossed his forehead with ashes and said, "Remember you're dust and to dust you shall return." The mother said, "Thank you"—as did everyone else who received the ashes that day. Why, Miles wondered, would people say thank you when told they're going to die? "Because it's the truth," she decided. "And ashes on the skin show that, despite all the lies of our culture, nothing is hidden, or pretend, or made-up anymore. We are walking, the Gospel tells us, in the light" (Journey with Jesus, April 17).

Come, y’all

A central Florida church has gotten attention because of its highway billboard that says: "Scumbags Welcome!" The pastor has been deluged with calls, split evenly between those who like the sign and those offended by the choice of words. The pastor said the sign was intended not to demean anyone, but to convey Jesus' welcoming attitude toward all sinners (AP).

Textual kindness

One of the marks of an educated person is the ability to engage in critical thought. Literature professor Heidi Oberholtzer Lee argues that much of what passes for critical thought in higher education is just critical. She tries to inculcate in her students a spirit of humility—to listen, value and engage the writers, to see what wisdom one can learn from them, before engaging in a hermeneutics of suspicion. She wants her students to display humility not only toward one another but also toward the texts they read. She calls it an act of "intellectual hospitality" (Christian Scholars Review, summer 2010).

Preliminary judgments

The poet W. H. Auden had a way of judging books that can apply to all kinds of art. "For an adult reader," Auden said, "the possible verdicts are five: I can see this is good and I like it; I can see this is good but I don't like it; I can see this is good, and, though at present I don't like it, I believe with perseverance I shall come to like it; I can see that this is trash but I like it; I can see that this is trash and I don't like it" (quoted by Alan Jacobs, The Pleasures of Reading in an Age of Distraction, Oxford University Press, forthcoming).

Bad memory

When John Bowlin visited northern Romania and southern Moldova, he was struck by the fortresslike structures of many of the monasteries. Some of them are known for beautiful frescos that adorn the exterior walls. Bowlin was troubled by a recurring motif that showed the sack of Constan­tinople, with images of Christian martyrdom, Turkish cruelty and rabbis leading the charge against the city. When Bowlin asked about these images, he was told: "Remembering the dead helps us keep our enemies in mind" (Scottish Journal of Theology, February).