Century Marks

Century Marks

Dial-up confession

A new application for smart phones is being marketed to assist Catholics in making confession. Using the Ten Commandments, the application asks a number of questions to help Catholics identify their sins, as in "Have I wished evil upon another person?" or "Have I used any method of contraception or artificial birth control in my marriage?" When the questions for self-examination are completed, users get a checklist of their sins with a suggested prayer of penance, followed by an inspirational message. A Vatican spokes­person has warned that the application, while a means of preparing for going to confession, cannot take the place of a priest (AP).

Behind the statistics

A mantra of public school critics is that U.S. schools are failing and falling behind standards attained by countries like China. These claims are often made by private funders of education, like the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, and often by those who promote the privatizing of schools. But some recent studies have shown that the problem is not public schools but poverty. American students rank first in reading and science and third in math when the sample is from schools where the poverty rate is less than 10 percent. Even in schools where poverty levels are between 10 and 25 percent, students still rank first in reading and science. The problem is that in 20 percent of schools in the U.S., poverty rates exceed 75 percent (Dissent, Winter).

Good out of bad

 Pastor Terry Jones's plan to burn the Qur'an in Gainesville, Florida, last fall sparked outrage around the world. But Jones's stunt ended up deepening interfaith ties in Gainesville. Dennis Schuman, a leader at P'Nai Or Jewish congregation, says Jones "probably did more to cement interfaith cooperation in Gainesville than any of the rest of us have accomplished in our entire ministerial careers." Larry Reimer, a United Church of Christ pastor in Gainesville, notes that an interfaith coalition was formed to plead with Jones not to burn the Qur'an, and as a result 25 religious communities agreed to share common readings at their worship services on September 11–12. A monthly interfaith clergy lunch continues to be held, and interfaith study groups have sprung up. Ties have been forged between Muslim and Christian congregations, and plans are being made for Jews, Christians and Muslims to jointly sponsor a House of Hope built with the help of Habitat for Humanity.

Shared burden

During a particularly bleak time in apartheid South Africa, theologian Peter Storey visited an Anglican convent outside Pretoria and discovered that the sisters maintained a 24-hour prayer vigil on a rotating basis. One sister explained, "You church leaders have a big job to do, and you're al­ways so busy that we wonder whether you spend the time you should in prayer. We try to carry some of that load for you." Although she had never met Storey, she said she knew him quite well. "Your name comes up every day be­tween 5:00 and 6:00 p.m." (Weavings, 26:2).

Truth telling

Emory University has issued a statement acknowledging its involvement in slavery. In the pre–Civil War era, every president of the Atlanta university and most faculty members were slave owners. The school used slave labor in constructing buildings. The university also mounted theological arguments against abolition and played a major role in the schism of the Methodist Episcopal Church over the issue of slavery. In 1902 it ousted a professor for publishing an article on the horrors of lynching (InsideHigherEd.com, January 25).