Century Marks

Century Marks

Snake handler

Mark Randall Wolford, a snake-handling preacher from West Virginia, died last month from a rattlesnake bite during a religious meeting. As a boy Wolford had watched his own father, also a snake-handling preacher, die an agonizing death from a snakebite. Snake handling by Pente­costal preachers began in an east Ten­nessee church in 1909. The practice is based on Mark 16, which promises that followers of Jesus will be able to handle snakes and drink “any deadly thing” without being harmed (MSNBC News, May 30).

Watch and pray

Prayer is the ground of Christian faith and a test of theology, says Jürgen Moltmann. We can’t say things to others about God that we haven’t already said to God in prayer. In prayer, Moltmann says, we see the world with the eyes of God. But the biblical command is not to pray but to watch: “To pray means to open one’s eyes and watch what is happening, what is coming, the dangers and the opportunities.” Images in the catacombs show that the early Christians prayed with open hands and open eyes (interview in Third Way, June).

Happy readers

There’s an adage in journalism that for every angry letter received there are ten happy readers who don’t bother to express their satisfaction. That formula was turned on its head when Susan Reimer wrote a piece critical of the Vatican, saying that it’s hard to be a Catholic woman these days when church leaders are putting pressure on American nuns. Her editor warned her that the long knives would come out; a friend predicted a cross burning in her yard. Instead, among some 60 letters she’s received, only two—both from men—were negative. “I am convinced that the church is not Rome,” one woman responded. “I am convinced that the church is the folks I worship with every Sunday, the volunteers that I work with every Saturday . . . the nuns who work in the nursing homes where my mother was a patient until she died, the volunteers who work with immigrants, both documented and undocumented”
(Baltimore Sun, May 23).

United front

After years of preparation, a new Christian denomination was formed last month in France when two synods met in the eastern town of Belfort, a location historically important in the growth of Protestantism. Called the United Protestant Church of France, the merger is not for economies of scale but to make a more united witness to the gospel. The merger of the Reformed Church of France (ERF) and the Evangelical Lutheran Church of France (EELF) was first proposed in the 1960s but was resisted by Lutherans who feared they might be absorbed. A new proposal was launched in 2001, and the nearly unanimous decision to merge was taken in 2007 (ENInews).

Thinking about death

Chaplain Rob Ruff encourages people to start early in life to prepare for death. Think about your death a moment or two each day, he says, keeping in mind that death is a natural part of life. Don’t give in to the idea that to think about death will somehow make it happen. Make a list of the things you want to do before dying and then check them off. Prepare an advance medical directive, designating who you want to make decisions for you if you can’t make them yourself and what your end-of-life preferences are. Use your prayer life to prepare for death. Finally, say the most important words to the most important people in your life: Forgive me. I forgive you. Thank you. I love you (KevinMD.com).