Century Marks

Century Marks

Prayer breaks

Over 50 Muslim employees walked off the job at an Ariens manufacturing plant in Wisconsin after being told they no longer could take prayer breaks during the work day. Ariens, which manufactures lawn mowers and snowblowers, said they want Muslims to pray only during the usual ten-minute breaks that all employees get. “Nobody complained to us about our prayers,” one of the Muslims said. “People take breaks to go to the bathroom and nobody says anything about that.” A company spokes­person said the Muslims’ prayer breaks were disruptive on the assembly line (Daily Mail, January 20).

Choir abuse

Allegations that more than 200 boys in a Catholic-run choir and two connected schools in Germany were abused over the span of several decades, some of them sexually, have brought the church’s abuse scandal uncomfortably close to Benedict XVI. The former pope’s older brother, Monsignor Georg Ratzinger, directed the Bavarian choir during that time. A lawyer hired by the Diocese of Regensburg last year to look into the allegations of abuse between 1953 and 1992 said that at least 50 of the 231 alleged victims made “plausible” claims of sexual abuse. When reports of sexual abuse in the 1,000-year-old choir first surfaced publicly in 2010, Georg Ratzinger insisted that he was unaware of them. The cases are too old to be prosecuted (RNS).

Liberating exegesis

Rachel Mikva, who teaches Jewish studies at Chicago Theological Seminary, says that she introduces her students to the rabbinical tradition of interpreting scripture so they learn that there is not necessarily only one right interpretation of texts. Jewish exegesis is dynamic, multivocal, provisional, and can even be contradictory. Jewish interpretation liberates the students to a sacred discontent that allows not only protest against the status quo but against God as well (Theological Education, vol. 50, no. 1).

Alternative discipline

Restorative justice programs are gaining popularity in public schools because they contribute to dramatic declines in disciplinary problems, improve the social environment, and increase academic performance. Typical is the program in Pittsfield, New Hampshire, where low-level offenses are handled by a student-run justice committee, supported by administrators and teachers. The goal of these programs is to address underlying issues, encourage offenders and victims to talk through the issues, and see that offenders make amends to victims and the larger community (Atlantic, December 29).


The novelist Pico Iyer and others have seen parallels between monk and author Thomas Merton and songwriter Leonard Cohen. Both started practicing Zen while remaining firmly in their own religious traditions (Merton was a Catholic, Cohen is Jewish). Both spent time in monasteries, but they were monastic in their own particular ways. Both struggled with unresolved sexual issues and attempted to integrate the sacred and the spiritual. Both have been a source of inspiration and provocation to thousands. The two never met, but after spending five years at a Zen monastery in California, Cohen accompanied his abbot on a visit to the Abby of Our Lady of Gethsemani where Merton had been a monk and hermit (Presence, December).