Oct 31, 2006
Dietrich Bonhoeffer reminded us that grace is free but not cheap, gratis but not banal, gratuitous but not superfluous. The reformers of the 16th century defined the cost of grace by a single word: repentance. Repentance comes about when “terror strikes the conscience” (Melanchthon). Only thus can grace be truly free: in recognizing our sin, we are left without any bargaining chips, without appeal and defenses.
When I visited the Cathedral of the Icon of Kazan in St. Petersburg, Russia, a crowd was lined up waiting for a closer look at the storied image of Our Lady of Kazan, one of the most revered icons in Russia. After watching the scene for a while, I decided that two kinds of people were in line. Some were tourists, there for a quick look at the icon. When it came their turn to stand in front of it, they examined it this way and that, high and low. They looked like pawnshop appraisers. Others behaved differently: they bowed or knelt for the brief time allowed them in front of the icon.
Hispanic Methodists in northern Illinois do not often receive national press coverage. But since one of their number, Elvira Arellano, took refuge from U.S. immigration officials in her Methodist church on the West Side of Chicago, the media have sensed a drama unfolding: Would immigration officials, in their effort to deport Arellano, march into Adalberto Memorial United Methodist Church and drag Arellano and her seven-year-old son away? Is a new civil rights movement being launched, with Arellano playing the part of Rosa Parks?
I have been involved for 25 years in fruitful conversation with Muslims, and I have read the Qur’an and a lot of literature about Islam. But I confess that Emperor Manuel II Paleologus (Paleologus meaning Old Word) was not on my mind before Pope Benedict XVI launched his entry into the newsrooms of the world.
Gracing the cover of Paul Simon’s album Surprise (Warner Brothers) is an image of a wide-eyed infant. It’s a fitting one, as this album represents a potent artistic rebirth. Rather than singing silly (if catchy) ditties about 50 ways to leave your lover or about smoking a jay before taking the stage, Simon tackles themes of faith and the quest for meaning with a Jacob’s determination. The result shimmers much like the other image on the sleeve: placid water that, judging by the content of this album, runs quite deep.
I made a weekend visit to an Amish community in northern Indiana just days after the funerals of the Amish schoolgirls shot in a Pennsylvania schoolhouse. I happened to pass a schoolyard outside a one-room schoolhouse where a dozen or so Amish children were playing and staring out through the fence. It gave me chills.
Television cemented stardom in the 1950s for many celebrities of radio, vaudeville and motion pictures—Lucille Ball, Milton Berle, even Alfred Hitchcock. The first TV star created by the infant medium was George Reeves. A capable actor with a Roman jaw, cast as Stuart Tarleton in Gone With the Wind (1939) and consigned to mostly forgotten pictures in the late 1940s, Reeves was offered the lead in a syndicated television program that was without sponsorship until two years after filming was completed. Take the money, his agent advised; nobody will ever see the silly thing anyway.
Now that the dust has settled from l’affaire Regensburg, it’s a good time to think about what makes for genuine interfaith dialogue. One thing is clear: the reactions to Pope Benedict XVI’s address, as reported by the media, allowed little scope for dialogue. People took sides with tedious predictability. Self-righteousness, bad manners and exploitation of irrational resentments were for too many the order of the day. With interfaith relations so bedeviled, one imagines the devil clapping his hands with glee over the opportunities to manipulate our fears and pervert our ideals.
First Pluto, now limbo: The Catholic concept of limbo is about to be put out of business. Pope Benedict XVI is expected to disavow the place where unbaptized babies and those who lived before the time of Christ were thought to live for all eternity—on the limbus of heaven; that is, on its border, according to speculation by St. Augustine (Philadelphia Inquirer, October 6).