Theologian's Almanac for Week of October 6, 2019


Welcome to SALT’s “Theologian’s Almanac,” a weekly selection of important birthdays, holidays, and other upcoming milestones worth marking - specially created for a) writing sermons and prayers, b) creating content for social media channels, and c) enriching your devotional life.

For the week of Sunday, October 6:

October 6 is the day in 1683 the first Mennonites arrived in what would become the United States.  Francis Daniel Pastorius, a German lawyer and teacher, founded Germantown in Pennsylvania.  After eating with a group of Native Americans, Pastorius wrote that they “have never in their lives heard the teaching of Jesus concerning temperance and contentment, yet they far excel the Christians in carrying it out.”  In 1688, he wrote to slave-holding Quakers in Germantown, urging them to free their slaves - the first formal abolitionist protest by European immigrants in the American colonies.

October 7 is the birthday of Desmond Tutu, born in Klerksdorp, South Africa, in 1931. For his leadership in opposing apartheid in South Africa, he was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1984; two years later, he elected to be the first black archbishop of Cape Town, the head of the country’s Anglican Church.  In 1995, President Nelson Mandela appointed Tutu to lead the Truth and Reconciliation Committee, investigating apartheid-era human rights abuses.

Tutu said: “When the missionaries came to Africa they had the Bible and we had the land. They said, ‘Let us pray.’ We closed our eyes. When we opened them, we had the Bible and they had the land.”

And again: “How does peace come?  Peace doesn’t come because allies agree. Allies are allies — they already agree!  Peace comes when you talk to the guy you most hate. And that’s where the courage of a leader comes.”

October 8 is the day in 1971 that John Lennon released his second solo album, Imagine.  The title track was the best-selling song of his solo career.  It’s often understood as anti-religious (“ religion too…”), but Lennon insisted otherwise.  He and Yoko Ono had received a prayer book, he explained, and that book inspired him to write the song as a kind of “positive prayer.”  He put it this way: “If you can imagine a world at peace, with no denominations of religion - not without religion but without this my-God-is-bigger-than-your-God thing - then it can be true.”

October 10 is the day in 1881 Charles Darwin published his last book.  Entitled, The Formation of Vegetable Mould Through the Action of Worms, it was his most successful book during his lifetime.  The very ground we walk on, he explained, has passed through the bodies of worms, creating the rich soil on which all land-based life depends.  He estimated that at least 53,000 earthworms are at work in any given acre of land - and so Darwin wrote rhapsodically of the earthworm as an “unsung creature which, in its untold millions, transformed the land as the coral polyps did the tropical sea.”

October 11 is the birthday of Eleanor Roosevelt, born in New York City in 1884.  During WWI, she visited wounded and traumatized soldiers in European hospitals.  Later, during her husband's presidency, she campaigned tirelessly for civil rights issues - not universally popular causes in the 1930s and 1940s.  She then pressed the United States to join and support the United Nations, and eventually became the country’s first delegate, chair of the U.N. Commission on Human Rights, and leader of the drafting of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

She said, “Religion to me is simply the conviction that all human beings must hold some belief in a power greater than themselves, and that whatever their religious belief may be, it must move them to live better in this world and to approach whatever the future holds with serenity.”

And again: “A woman is like a tea bag.  You never know how strong she is until she gets into hot water.”

And one more: “You wouldn't worry so much about what others think of you if you realized how seldom they do.”

October 11 is also the day in 1962 that Pope John XXIII convened the first session of the Second Vatican Council, also known as Vatican II, with the goal of bringing the church up to date with the modern world - or as the pope put it, “to let in some fresh air.”  Thousands attended, from bishops to laypeople to non-Catholic observers. Some of Vatican II’s more notable results were that priests were encouraged to perform mass in local languages (rather than in Latin) and facing the congregation (rather than facing the altar); and a revolutionary new openness to other religions.  Roman Catholics had been discouraged from visiting any other houses of worship; now they could attend the weddings, funerals, and bar mitzvahs of their non-Catholic friends and neighbors. The church also acknowledged and affirmed for the first time its shared history and kinship with Judaism. Before Vatican II, the Jews were often viewed with suspicion as “Christ-killers” - a perspective Vatican II decisively repudiated.  One prominent American rabbi said the change “had the effect that the sun has when it comes up and interrupts the night… It provided an entirely new day. It changed everything.”

October 11 is also the birthday of Thich Nhat Hanh, the writer and Buddhist monk born in Quang Ngai, Vietnam, in 1926.  One of the most accessible, elegant, compelling translators of Buddhism to audiences in the Western world, he has published more than 100 books, including Peace Is Every Step; Living Buddha, Living Christ; and The Miracle of Mindfulness.

Here’s a taste of his work: “When you plant lettuce, if it does not grow well, you don't blame the lettuce.  You look for reasons it is not doing well. It may need fertilizer, or more water, or less sun. You never blame the lettuce.  Yet if we have problems with our friends or family, we blame the other person. But if we know how to take care of them, they will grow well, like the lettuce.  Blaming has no positive effect at all, nor does trying to persuade using reason and argument. That is my experience. No blame, no reasoning, no argument, just understanding.   If you understand, and you show that you understand, you can love, and the situation will change.”