Century Marks

Century Marks

Independent study

The One Laptop per Child organization dropped off computer tablets in two remote Egyptian villages. The tablets were preloaded with alphabet games, e-books, movies, cartoons, paintings and other programs. The organization wanted to see if children could teach themselves to read without any help from instructors. Within five days the kids were using 47 apps each, after two weeks they were singing ABC songs, and within five months they had figured out how to use the camera (MIT Technology Review, October 29).

Normal belief

A Florida state judge has ruled that a schizophrenic man sitting on death row can be executed despite the fact that the legally insane are not supposed to be executed. The reason, the judge ruled, is that this murderer believes he is the “Prince of God” who will some day sit at God’s right hand. The judge said that since this is a normal Christian belief, it doesn’t prove the convicted man is crazy (The Week, October 26).

Strangely familiar

The King James Bible, Shakespeare and the Book of Common Prayer shaped the English language more than any other literature. The BCP, which is celebrating the 350th anniversary of its 1662 edition, was largely the work of Thomas Cranmer, who was appointed archbishop of Canterbury by King Henry VIII. Cranmer borrowed freely from the Sarum Missal, the Latin liturgy that the English Catholic Church had used for centuries, and he wrote many original prayers and collects. Cranmer wanted this prayer book to be for the people, not just the priesthood, so he used ordinary phrases and biblical similes, some of which live on in our language today (“for better, for worse,” “from ashes to ashes,” “peace in our time”). Echoes of the BCP can even be heard in the writings of secular authors like Virginia Woolf and Samuel Beckett (New Yorker, October 22).

Keep it short

A vicar asked the duke of Wellington what he would like his sermon to be about. “About ten minutes,” the duke replied (Tolstoy on War, edited by Rick McPeak and Donna Tussing Orwin).

Tending to the neighbor

Marilyn McEntyre suggests some very practical ways that American Christians can work against a self-centered consumerism and toward concern for the neighbor and community. Begin every day for a month asking the question, “What can I share today? . . . What do I have that might be given away?” See if a room at church can be found to use as a “sharing station” where tools, utensils, clothing or books could be stored for others’ use. Talk on the phone with someone who may be lonely for 15 minutes two or three times a week. Host dinner-and-documentary nights to discuss public problems with a view to finding and working at solutions. Commit to a steady-state household: if something new comes in, then something else goes out. “Who is my neighbor?” is a question we cannot afford to consign to cliché, McEntyre says (Weavings, November–January).