Theologian’s Almanac for Week of June 2, 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, June 2:

June 2 is the day the Salem Witch Trials were convened in Salem Town, Massachusetts.  The mass paranoia had begun in January of that year, 1692, when a few preteen and teenage girls, including the daughter of the village’s minister, began having fits and reporting the sensation of being poked or pricked.  The village doctor, unable to diagnose a cause, concluded that they must be bewitched - which led the adults to pressure the girls into naming their assailants. No doubt picking up on the prejudices of their elders, the girls blamed Tituba, the minister’s slave; Sarah Good, a local homeless woman; and Sarah Osborne, an outcast who rarely attended church services.  Local residents were aghast at the report of witchcraft, and soon “respected churchgoers,” too (including some who had the presence of mind to question the children’s credibility) fell under the growing cloud of suspicion. Paranoia stirred up paranoia, with some exploiting the atmosphere to play out quarrels or settle old scores. In the end, over 200 people were accused, and 19 were found guilty and sentenced to execution (14 women and 5 men).  Some of the judges and examiners later expressed remorse or formally apologized to their congregations for participating in the mob mentality, or for failing to speak out against it. In 1695, examiner John Hale wrote, “Such was the darkness of the day, and so great the lamentations of the afflicted, that we walked in the clouds and could not see our way.”

June 4 is the 30th anniversary of the Tiananmen Square confrontation, the day Chinese troops stormed square in Beijing, cracking down on students’ pro-democracy demonstrations.  Ordinary workers had gathered along nearby roads in support of the students; they tried to block the advance of the tanks toward the square, and many lost their lives in the process. The students left a message written on the wall behind them that said, "On June 4, 1989, the Chinese people shed their blood and died for democracy." The famous photograph of a student staring down a tank is one of the most influential revolutionary images of the 20th century.  The identity of the steadfast student - and his fate - is unknown.

June 4 is also the 100th anniversary of the 19th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, giving women the right to vote.  The coming 2020 elections, which may well include a woman as a presidential and/or vice presidential candidate, will be the 100th anniversary of the first elections in which women voted in the United States.

June 5 is the anniversary of Robert Kennedy’s assassination.  Kennedy had just delivered a victory speech at the Ambassador Hotel after winning California’s Democratic presidential primary, and was exiting via the hotel kitchen.  A 17-year-old busboy, Juan Romero, was shaking Kennedy’s hand when the shots rang out. As several people tackled the assassin, Romero knelt next to Kennedy, and put a rosary in his hand.

June 6 is the birthday of poet Maxine Kumin, born in Philadelphia in 1925.  Growing up, she was an avid swimmer, and trained to become an Olympian as a teenager.  She also loved writing poems, and eventually became a major poet and teacher of poetry.  Here’s one of her masterpieces, bringing together her interests in swimming and spirituality.  And here’s a glimpse of her teaching style: she would routinely ask her students to memorize 30 to 40 lines of excellent poetry a week, the better to internalize what great verse feels and sounds like.  “The other reason,” she said, “as I tell their often stunned faces, is to give them an internal library to draw on when they are taken political prisoner. For many, this is an unthinkable concept; they simply do not believe in anything fervently enough to go to jail for it.”

June 8 is the birthday of architect Frank Lloyd Wright, born in Richland Center, Wisconsin, in 1867.  Wright would tell his students: “Study nature, love nature, stay close to nature.  It will never fail you.” He used natural building materials and finishes like stone and wood, never painting them, and his designs were horizontal, with low rooflines, so that the structures would blend in with the landscape.  He designed several sacred spaces over his career, including Unity Temple in Oak Park, Illinois, built in 1908 and now considered one of the first examples of modern architecture.