Century Marks

Century Marks

Virtual sacraments?

The Church of Scotland is launching a two-year study of online interaction with the church and questions this raises about membership and sacraments. The church, known as The Kirk, has seen its rolls fall by almost one-third between 2004 and 2015 to just under 364,000 members. The church’s Legal Questions Committee is pushing for “a wide-ranging review of practice and procedure which is impacted by the use of new technology in church life.” David Robertson, moderator of the Free Church of Scotland, whose members broke from the Church of Scotland in 1843, said: “At best it is a cheap gimmick, at worst it comes across as yet another desperate attempt by a declining national church to shore up its numbers and justify its existence” (RNS).

Poor getting poorer

American households in extreme poverty increased between 1996 and 2011. One reason is that jobs were harder to find in 2011. Another reason is that Congress replaced the welfare program with Temporary Assistance for Needy Families. Benefits under TANF are harder to get, and parents without a job can find themselves penniless. States still receive federal funds to help pay the TANF benefits, but they are free to set their own eligibility requirements and shorten the length of time recipients can receive assistance. States can also divert TANF aid to other causes, such as financial aid for college students or prekindergarten programs, incentivizing them to be stingy with people in poverty (New York Review of Books, June 9).

Power of positive spirituality

A study of HIV-positive men and women showed that those who engaged in spiritual practices had a two to four times greater chance of survival than those who didn’t. The researchers began interviewing people at the mid-stage of their disease. The researchers asked participants whether they prayed, meditated, went to religious services, were grateful to God for what they had, or believed that God could forgive them for wrongdoing. The findings showed that the way people focus on the meaning of life and relate to God can affect health, even in the case of HIV. Roughly one-fifth of the participants engaged in “positive spiritual reframing” of their disease, seeing it as a way God was using them, for example. These people had a survival rate four times greater than that of the others (Atlantic, May 6).

Mixed message

The Mariinsky Orchestra from St. Peters­burg, Russia, performed a concert in May in the ruins of Palmyra, Syria. The concert was directed by Valery Gergiev, who until recently was the principal conductor of the London Symphony Orchestra. Gergiev is also a supporter of Russian president Vladimir Putin. Gergiev said the concert was a protest against the violence and barbarism of the Islamic State, which while occupying Palmyra damaged a number of historic sites and used the ancient Roman amphitheater to execute prisoners. The city was taken back from ISIS by Syrian forces backed by Russian airstrikes. Western observers said the concert was a propaganda ploy by Russia to suggest its involvement in Syria is benevolent (BBC, May 5).

What Jesus did

Although Jesus is called teacher in the Gospel of Mark, that Gospel includes little of the teachings of Jesus. His parables confound his listeners rather than leading to greater understanding. Jesus’ teaching in Mark is performative, says Brian Blount; Jesus taught by the way he lived. He doesn’t teach love as a concept, he acts it out by touching lepers and allowing diseased people to touch him, engaging women as equals, associating with the marginalized, and breaking laws that don’t promote human well-being. If we want to teach the reign of God as Jesus taught it, then we need to craft a curriculum that does more than inform (Interpretation, April).