Aug 22, 2006
Jaroslav Pelikan was not a historian easy to characterize. Most historians of Christianity pick some small subfield from the past, which becomes the focus of their research and writing. The really good historians will push back the boundaries of what is known in their subfield or find new and imaginative ways to read old evidence from it.
It is a measure of my anguish and my desperation as a Jew and an American that I write now in this magazine. While death stalks the skies of Haifa, while bombs and missiles rain down on Beirut and what is left of southern Lebanese cities, my country gives Israel a green light—and expedited weapons shipments—to create a “new Middle East” out of blood and rubble. Condoleezza Rice has the nerve to use the term “birth pangs” to characterize the destruction of Lebanon and the killing of civilians.
These days the Youngstown, Ohio, band Glass Harp is known only to a small group of classic rock scholars and acolytes, but during its 1970s heyday the group opened for the likes of Alice Cooper, Traffic and the Kinks. It is said that Jimi Hendrix, when asked how it felt to be the best rock guitarist alive, replied, “I don’t know. Ask Phil Keaggy.” Keaggy, now a Christian music veteran, was then Glass Harp’s lead guitarist, and not long out of high school.
Emotionally complicated and deeply compassionate, Heading South, by the French director Laurent Cantet, approaches a delicate subject—sex tourism in Haiti in the late 1970s—with a mixture of frankness and tenderness. The frankness is in the treatment of the sexual relationships that the middle-aged women (mostly from the U.S. and Canada) form with the young men they meet on the beaches of Port-au-Prince. The tenderness is in the depiction of the two female protagonists.
As an heir of the Methodist tee-totaling commitment, I grew up with a clear sense that alcohol is dangerous and to be avoided. I heard stories of John Wesley’s critique of drunkenness in 18th-century England, of how Welch’s grape juice was introduced by a Methodist layman as an alternative to wine for communion, and of the links between drunkenness and other sinful behavior. My father regularly invoked Frances Willard, the Methodist laywoman who was a leader of the temperance movement, as one of his heroines.
If there is one sure curse in this world, it’s mineral wealth. Is there gold or diamonds or oil beneath the surface of your land? Then count on poverty, gross inequality and autocracy above. Of all the possibilities, coal is the worst, dirty in every way. When it’s burned, it fills the air with carbon, powering the global warming now unhinging the planet. But before that silent tragedy can take place, there’s a noisy horror—the kaboom of exploding mountains across the southern Appalachians.
How dare he? When retired Anglican archbishop Desmond Tutu spoke in a Seattle cathedral, the audience was prepared to applaud him for his part in ending the apartheid regime in South Africa. However, people were apparently miffed when Tutu criticized members of the congregation for not bringing their Bibles to church. Few shook his hand as they left the cathedral (Thomas Trzyna, Blessed Are the Pacifists, Herald Press, forthcoming).