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).

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).

Locked up

"More African American men are in prison or jail, on probation or parole than were enslaved in 1850, before the Civil War began," Michelle Alexander told an audience in Pasadena, California. Author of The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness and a law professor at Ohio State, Alexander said most of the increase in prison rates among black and brown men is due to the war on drugs, which is conducted disproportionately in low-income communities among people of color. Men with felony convictions have difficulty getting housing and jobs once released, and 70 percent of them return to prison within two years (ushrnetwork.org).