Theologian’s Almanac for Week of June 16, 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 16:
June 16 is Father’s Day, the third Sunday in June each year, a holiday with roots in two early-twentieth-century occasions: a commemoration for fathers killed in the December 1907 explosion at a West Virginia coal company, and a 1910 celebration inspired by a Civil War veteran and widower who raised six children on a farm in Washington State.
June 17 is the birthday of John Wesley, considered the founder of Methodism, born in England in 1703. (June 17 is his original birthday, according to the English calendar of the time; newer calendars reckon his birth date as June 28.) The term “Methodist” was originally derisive, used by some of Wesley’s classmates at Oxford because of his methodical style of study, prayer, and fasting. Wesley traveled on horseback throughout the English, Scottish, and Irish countryside, preaching to all he met. He was a lifelong Anglican; his idea was to form small groups for regular prayer and Bible study within the Anglican church. But when Methodist missionaries brought his approach across the Atlantic, it quickly spread under its own denominational banner - and by 1850, the Methodists were the largest denomination in the United States, widely popular among colonists along the frontier, as well as among African Americans, both slave and free.
June 19 is Juneteenth, also called “Freedom Day” or “Emancipation Day,” symbolically marking the end of slavery in the United States. President Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation in 1863, but it only applied to slaves in the Confederacy, and its enforcement depended on the presence of Union troops - and those troops didn’t arrive in Galveston, Texas, one of the southernmost outposts of slaveholding territory, until June 19, 1865. Celebrations of the holiday have ebbed and flowed over the years, and are on the upswing today, especially (but not exclusively) in African American communities. The day is typically marked by African American music, food, dance, literature, and readings of the Emancipation Proclamation.
June 19 is also the birthday of Blaise Pascal, the religious philosopher, mathematician, and physicist, born in France in 1623. Pascal invented the first mechanical calculator for sale to the public, the syringe, and the hydraulic press, as well as early forms of probability theory and integral calculus. Though his family wasn’t religious, he was deeply impressed with two Christian mystics who cared for his father during an illness, and he converted to Christianity. One night in November of 1654, he experienced a divine vision he later called a “night of fire,” poetic notes from which he scribbled down on a piece of paper, and then sewed the paper into the lining of his coat, so he could keep it close until his death. The year after his vision, he left Paris to live in the Abbey of Port-Royal, where he wrote his most famous (though unfinished) book, Pensées (“Thoughts”).
Here are two of his thoughts:
1) If you don’t have faith, Pascal wrote, try acting as though you do. Do the things that a faithful person would do, and over time, you may well find your actions leading your heart and mind in faithful directions. In other words, don’t worry too much about what you believe; focus instead on your actions, on how you are living, and your convictions will follow.
2) In what has become known as “Pascal’s Wager,” Pascal argued that, while definitive proof of God’s existence exceeds our grasp, this shouldn’t surprise us. Whenever we face ultimate, unanswerable questions, we are unavoidably in a position of “wagering”: either we bet on the idea that God is real, or on the idea that God is a fantasy. And if God is real, Pascal reasoned, there is a great deal to be gained by believing and acting as if God is real (and a great deal to be lost if we don’t!); and if God is a fantasy, there’s comparatively little lost no matter what we do. So it makes more sense, he concluded, to “wager” that God is real - and by extension, to live our everyday lives accordingly. This famous idea is often misunderstood as a kind of clever “proof” of God’s reality - but that’s the last thing it is. Pascal’s starting point is that such “proof” isn’t possible. Rather, his idea amounts to a recognition that genuine faith doesn’t involve proof or certainty, but rather a humble and courageous “betting our lives” on God.
June 19 is also the day the Civil Rights Act of 1964 was passed by the United States Senate. Often considered the most significant United States civil rights legislation since Reconstruction, the act prohibited discrimination based on race, color, religion, or national origin in employment, voting, and the use of public facilities.
June 21 is the summer solstice, the first day of summer, the longest day of the year in the Northern Hemisphere. What makes for summer’s heat isn’t Earth’s distance from the sun (we’re actually three million miles farther away than at other parts in the planet’s orbit), but rather the tilt of Earth’s axis. For this section of our orbit, since the Northern Hemisphere is tilted toward the sun, we spend more time each day receiving more direct sunlight. It isn’t much of a tilt - just 23.5 degrees - but it causes the annual swing between winter’s cold and summer’s heat. It’s the length of summer days, then, the long daily dose of more direct sun, that makes the flowers grow and the mercury rise. Happy Summer!