Theologian’s Almanac for Week of May 19, 2019

Theologian's Almanac 5/19/19

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, May 19:

May 19 is the birthday of Malcolm X, born Malcolm Little in Omaha, Nebraska, in 1925.  When he was a young boy, white supremacists set fire to his family’s home in East Lansing, Michigan, killing his father (the police later declared it a suicide) and so traumatizing his mother that she later entered a mental institution.  Arrested for larceny as a young man, Malcolm spent his time in prison reading books - and eventually joined the Nation of Islam, for whom he served as a minister upon his release, soon rising to national renown. He took the name “X” to symbolize his stolen African heritage, and advocated a fierce defense of black rights and dignity “by any means necessary.”  He broke with the Nation of Islam in 1964, and the same year made the Hajj pilgrimage to Mecca, Saudi Arabia, where he met Muslims from a wide range of cultural and ethnic backgrounds - and so returned to the United States with a new message of racial cooperation. He was assassinated soon after, in 1965; he was 39 years old.

May 22 is the anniversary of the debut of Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood, introducing generations of young children to ideas of kindness, diversity, peace, and even death and grief - eventually becoming the longest-running children’s program on television.  Fred Rogers was a Protestant pastor who considered the show to be his ministry. Rogers said: “The world is not always a kind place. That’s something all children learn for themselves, whether we want them to or not, but it’s something they really need our help to understand.”  One of his trademark cardigans hangs today in the Smithsonian Museum in Washington, D.C. Here’s a lovely gift from Rogers, “One Silent Minute.”

May 23 is the birthday of poet Jane Kenyon, born in Ann Arbor, Michigan, in 1947.  Kenyon’s grandmother was a fire-and-brimstone Methodist, frightening Kenyon as a child, and eventually leading her to withdraw from religion.  But she returned to Christianity later in life, and many of her later poems explore theological territory. She translated the work of the Russian poet Anna Akhmatova, and attended a local Congregational Church in New Hampshire.  When asked if her newfound faith influenced her writing, she said, “My spiritual life is so much a part of my intellectual life and my feeling life that it’s really become impossible for me to keep it out of my work.” Here’s an example, and another. Her advice for living: “Be a good steward of your gifts.  Protect your time. Feed your inner life. Avoid too much noise. Read good books, have good sentences in your ears. Be by yourself as often as you can. Walk. Take the phone off the hook. Work regular hours.”

May 23 is also the birthday of Margaret Wise Brown, author of the classic, Goodnight Moon (1947) - which she wrote out of frustration that the children’s literature of her day didn’t include familiar, everyday objects children could relate to - as well as one of best (implicitly) theological stories of the twentieth century, Runaway Bunny (1942).

May 24 is the birthday of Bob Dylan, born Robert Zimmerman in Duluth, Minnesota, in 1941.  Dylan received the Nobel Prize in literature in 2016, and in his songwriting, turned frequently toward theological subjects, including three consecutive albums focused on Christian themes and ideas.  Here’s The Gospel According to Bob Dylan. And here’s a little known Dylan fact: in 1963, he and Joan Baez performed on the Lincoln Memorial stage at the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom, and then looked on as Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King delivered his “I Have a Dream” speech.

May 25 is the birthday of philosopher, poet, and essayist Ralph Waldo Emerson, born in Boston in 1803.  His aunt, Mary Moody Emerson, introduced him to a wide range of philosophies and spiritual ideas, including the Hindu scriptures he would revisit in later years.  As a teenager at Harvard, he began keeping journals, which he called his "savings bank" - and suggested to his friend, Henry David Thoreau, that he should do the same.  He served as pastor of Boston’s Second Church, but after a leave of absence in the mountains of New Hampshire, he decided to resign: “I have sometimes thought that, in order to be a good minister, it was necessary to leave the ministry.”  In his book, Nature (1836), he first introduced the concept of Transcendentalism, the idea that spiritual insight could be gleaned directly through intuition, since divinity pervades all of nature, including humanity.  He said, “Live in the sunshine, swim in the sea, drink the wild air.”