Theologian's Almanac for Week of September 15, 2019

SALT Theologian's Almanac 9-15-19

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, September 15:

September 15 is the day in 1963 that a bomb went off in the 16th Street Baptist Church in Birmingham, Alabama.  One of the most segregated cities in the country, Birmingham was a key battleground in the Civil Rights Movement, and the church was a common meeting place for movement leaders.  Four schoolgirls — Cynthia Wesley, Carole Robertson, Addie Mae Collins, and Denise McNair — were killed in the terrorist blast, and more than 20 other church members were injured. The press reports were vivid: “Dozens of survivors, their faces dripping blood from the glass that flew out of the church’s stained glass windows, staggered around the building in a cloud of white dust raised by the explosion. The blast crushed two nearby cars like toys and blew out windows blocks away...  Parts of brightly painted children’s furniture were strewn about in one Sunday school room, and blood stained the floors.”

A member of the Ku Klux Klan, Robert Chambliss, was convicted of dynamite possession without a permit, and so was sentenced to a $100 fine and six months in jail - but was found not guilty in the murders of the four girls.  A subsequent investigation revealed that the FBI, at J. Edgar Hoover’s direction, had suppressed key evidence against Chambliss. He was retried in 1973, found guilty, and sentenced to life in prison. Two of his accomplices were tried and convicted in 2001 and 2002.

Sept 19 is the birthday of author William Golding, born in 1911 in Cornwall, England. In 1940, he served in World War II in the Royal Navy, and became deeply troubled by what he saw in the war.  For example, he faced a gut-wrenching quandary when he learned that a ship under his command would have to cross a minefield in order to arrive in time for the D-Day operations.  He couldn’t decide whether to risk the lives of his own crew in the minefield, or the lives of all those participating in D-Day who needed their help. In the end he decided to risk the journey - and only later learned that the minefield was fictional, put on a map to fool the Germans, so his moral dilemma had no basis in reality.  He found this experience, and many others like it, profoundly disorienting. “I began to see what people were capable of doing,” he later said. “Anyone who moved through those years without understanding that humanity produces evil as a bee produces honey, must have been blind or wrong in the head.” Informed by his wartime experiences, and also by his later work as a schoolteacher, he wrote a novel that became a classic of 20th-century English literature, exploring the shadow side of fallen human nature.  Translating the Hebrew name, “Beelzebub,” into its literal English equivalent, he titled his novel, Lord of the Flies.

September 20 and 27 have been designated as international “climate strike” days, building on the Fridays for Future student strikes inspired by Swedish teenager Greta Thunberg (here’s an interview with her, and a sketch of the global movement she’s helped inspire). These dates were chosen to surround the upcoming major U.N. Climate Action Summit on September 23 and the Youth Summit on September 21. The strikes have now attracted support from unions and political parties around the world, as well as from Amnesty International and other global organizations. Led by young people, they’re for all ages: click here or here or here to find an event in your area. And here are some ideas for supporting the strikes even if you can’t leave work.

September 21 is the birthday of Girolamo Savonarola, born in Ferrara, Italy, in 1452.  A Dominican monk in Florence, he gained a reputation for fiery, prophetic preaching.  His sermons and speeches against tyranny made him popular with the people, but unpopular both with Florence’s ruling family, the Medicis, and with the wider church hierarchy.  On one hand, he advocated - and briefly helped create - a modern form of democratic rule in Florence; on the other hand, in his moral zeal he organized “bonfires of the vanities,” destructions of certain books, art, and other objects he and his followers considered decadent. At the same time, he spoke fervently against church corruption, and in 1498, at the age of 45, was executed - a forerunner of the Protestant and Catholic church reformers who followed in the sixteenth century.

September 21 is also the birthday of Canadian singer-songwriter, poet, and novelist Leonard Cohen, born in Montreal in 1934.  He began as a poet and novelist, but despite some early critical success, had trouble making ends meet - so he moved to the United States to become a songwriter and folk singer.  His most famous song, "Hallelujah," has been covered by nearly 200 other singers in several languages. Cohen famously wrote: “There is a crack in everything, that’s how the light gets in.”