Poor criteria: When writer Paul Wilkes helped start a ministry to the poor and homeless in Brooklyn, supporters discussed whether they should use some criteria to identify the truly needy. Wilkes's spontaneous response was: "Just that they come to us, literally begging, says enough. Let's not humiliate them further. I didn't see Christ applying a means test. We're not going to either" (In Due Season, Jossey-Bass).
Outside the gate: Three British doctors started a hunger strike last month in Egypt because they’ve been denied access to Gaza via the Rafah crossing. Their aim is to start a cardiac surgery unit in Gaza City to train medical students and junior doctors. They want the British embassy to pressure Egypt to grant their passage (Guardian, May 19).
Happy today: When life is grim, columnist Mary Schmich likes to ask people, "What's making you happy today?" She doesn't ask, "Are you happy?" That's a "black hole" of a question, she says, that can lead to equivocation and existential dread. Her question, instead, assumes that there's always something, no matter how grim life is, that can be a source of gladness, however small or simple—like a flower or a bird, a skyline or a full moon, or just a cup of coffee (Chicago Tribune, May 1).
Living with contradiction: As a youth Garret Keizer was troubled with contradictions in Paul's letters. He raised the issue with his pastor, who pointed out a contradiction that Keizer hadn’t noticed: in Galatians 6 Paul says both that we are to bear one another’s burdens and that we are to bear our own burdens. But Keizer now doesn’t think this is a contradiction. We need both imperatives, Keizer says—self-reliance and social responsibility. “The trick is to get them to kiss” (Harper’s, April).
Theology for buffaloes: Donald Shriver Jr. recalls when a publisher sent the library at Union Theological Seminary in New York a copy of Kosuke Koyama’s ground-breaking book Water Buffalo Theology. “The book landed on a discard shelf outside the library door," says Shriver. Soon afterward, Union named the book's author its professor of world Christianity. Koyama died last month at age 79 (ENI).
First parishioner: Aides and friends of President Obama have been quietly visiting churches in Washington, D.C., to help the first family find a spiritual home. The Obamas are looking for a church whose beliefs match theirs and one that has a youth ministry suitable for their daughters and is active in helping the needy. Security logistics are also a factor (Boston Globe, March 22).
Thanks to Darwin: Mark A. Throntveit and Alan G. Padgett of Luther Seminary argue that Darwin’s work frees us to read the Bible on its own terms and helps us to realize that science and the Bible have different, and not necessarily conflicting, agendas. “Science seeks answers to questions of what and how, while biblical interpretation seeks answers to questions of who and why.” The Genesis accounts of creation are less about the origins of creation and more about the ordering of chaos and forming of relationship with us humans (Word & World, Winter).
Forget retirement: Because no one can afford to retire, says columnist Gail Collins, we should get used to the idea of a 75-year-old person fixing our car or removing our tonsils. In fact, we should start thinking of everyone as 20 years younger than they actually are. “Then you will feel much better when the 80-year-old postman delivers your mail and it includes a request for money from your 38-year-old offspring doing post-post-post-doctoral work at Ohio State” (New York Times, February 12).
Spin cycle: The American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials recently approved a national network of bi cycle paths and lanes of over 50,000 miles. Called the U.S. Bicycle Route System, it will largely incorporate existing trails and roadways. The success of the system will depend on state highway departments and agencies that oversee roads and trails (Bicycling, March).
What Abe might say: Lincoln biographer Ronald C. White Jr. imagines what counsel Lincoln might give President Obama: Write your own speeches, especially the major ones. Take time for contemplation and reflection amidst the pressures of the office. Don’t rush into solutions for the formidable problems. Value ambiguity, the ability to see reality in its complexity—that is a sign of humility, not weakness (Wilson Quarterly, Winter).
Signs of the times: An atheist group in the United Kingdom is posting signs on buses that say: “There’s probably no God. Now stop worrying and enjoy your life.” An American group posted a similar message on buses in Washington, D.C.: “Why believe in a god? Just be good for goodness’ sake” (New York Times).
Older and wiser: Henry Alford, 46, has written a book about old age based on conversations with more than 100 people over 70 (How to Live). Althea Washington, a retired school teacher, lost her husband and house in Hurricane Katrina and now lives in a small apartment close to train tracks. When asked how she's coping, she responded: "Can you hear that train? As long as it stays on its tracks, I'll stay on mine" (USA Today, December 30).
Disarming: A Christian women's group in Japan has produced New Year postcards, in English and Japanese, to promote a war-renouncing clause in the country's 1946 constitution. Some politicians have in recent times tried to amend this clause. Tens of millions of New Year cards are delivered throughout Japan on January 1 (ENI).
Voices of 2008“I have come to the conclusion after two years of debate on immigration without success that it’s going to take the love of Jesus Christ to bring people together.”—Senator Chuck Grassley (R., La.), speaking on the contentious subject of immigration reform
Turnout: Many observers expected this year’s presidential election to be marked by massive turnout by blacks and young people. What happened? The Washington Post (November 16) reports that black voters made up 13 percent of the electorate in 2008, compared to 11 percent in 2004, and voters under 30 were 18 percent of the electorate this year, versus 17 percent in 2004.