Theologian’s Almanac for Week of May 12, 2019

Theologian's Almanac for Week of May 12

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 12:

May 12 is Mother’s Day, first celebrated in 1908 at a Methodist church in Grafton, West Virginia, honoring Ann Reeves Jarvis, a peace activist who had cared for wounded soldiers on both sides of the Civil War.  Her daughter, Ann Jarvis, campaigned tirelessly for a national day to honor all mothers, and in 1914, President Woodrow Wilson signed the official proclamation into law. Almost immediately, companies began selling Mother’s Day greeting cards, flowers, and gifts - and Ann Jarvis, soon disgusted by the holiday’s commercialization, filed lawsuits against Hallmark and other companies to try and stop them.

May 12 is also the birthday of Florence Nightingale, the founder of modern nursing.  She was born in 1820 to a wealthy English family, and as a young woman, she wrote to a friend: “God called me in the morning and asked me would I do good for him alone without reputation.”  She visited a Lutheran religious community in Germany, and after observing the deaconesses care for the sick and destitute, she stayed for four months of medical training.

During the Crimean War, Nightingale and her team reduced a British military hospital’s death rate from 42 percent to 2 percent, mostly by introducing sanitary reforms.  Insisting that patients require personal care, and she roamed the hallways at night with a lantern, speaking with the wounded and eventually becoming known as the “Lady with the Lamp.”  Her mathematical skill was equally illuminating: she was an excellent statistician, and created groundbreaking diagrams to help explain the spread of contagious disease.

May 14 is the birthday of filmmaker and philanthropist George Lucas, born in 1944 in Modesto, California.  Getting started in the early 1970s, he said, “I saw that kids today don’t have any fantasy life the way we had - they don’t have Westerns, they don’t have pirate movies...”  And so he set out to make a kind of outer space Western, channeling the Buck Rogers comic strips and Flash Gordon movies he’d loved growing up - all organized around a classic “hero’s journey” story, inspired by Joseph Campbell’s The Hero with the Thousand Faces.  He had a hard time pulling together support for the project, but in the end, 20th Century Fox rolled the dice.  The result was a juggernaut, a series of films one critic later called, “the closest thing to shared religious belief among contemporary Americans.”  Later this year, “The Rise of Skywalker,” the ninth and final film of the original Star Wars saga, will arrive. May the Fourteenth be with you!

May 15 is the day Pope Leo XIII issued Rerum Novarum, “Of New Things,” the 1891 encyclical addressing labor practices, now considered a foundational document of Catholic social teaching.  Leo wrote of a moral obligation to pay a fair and living wage, addressing employers directly: “be mindful of this — that to exercise pressure upon the indigent and the destitute for the sake of gain, and to gather one’s profit out of the need of another, is condemned by all laws, human and divine. To defraud any one of wages that are his due is a great crime which cries to the avenging anger of Heaven.”

Thus Leo inaugurated a new chapter in the history of the Roman Catholic Church, in which social justice became viewed as integral to faithful orthodoxy, and the Church stepped forward to articulate official positions on issues of labor, war and peace, governmental responsibility, human rights, and care for creation.

May 15 is also the 150th anniversary of the National Woman Suffrage Association, formed by Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Susan B. Anthony in 1869.  At the time, the 15th Amendment was being considered, granting voting rights to African-American men, but not to women.  Stanton and Anthony argued fiercely that the only voting rights amendment worth supporting would also include women, and their objection proved prescient: the men-only amendment passed, but it would be another 50 years before women could vote.  Over the decades, the two women made a formidable team: Stanton raised a family, did the research, and wrote the speeches; Anthony never married, travelled the country, and delivered the speeches Stanton had written.  Stanton put it this way: "I am the better writer, she the better critic… and together we have made arguments that have stood unshaken by the storms of thirty long years; arguments that no man has answered."

May 16 is the birthday of writer, historian, and radio personality Studs Terkel, born in New York City in 1912.  Famous for his oral histories of ordinary people, Terkel said of interviewing what might also be said of pastoral care: “It isn’t an inquisition; it’s an exploration, usually an exploration into the past. So I think the gentlest question is the best one, and the gentlest is, ‘And what happened then?’” Among other books, Terkel is the author (or “interviewer”) of Will the Circle Be Unbroken: Reflections on Death, Rebirth, and Hunger for a Faith.

May 17 is the 65th anniversary of Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka, the unanimous Supreme Court ruling in 1954 stating that racial segregation in public schools violated the Constitution’s Fourteenth Amendment guaranteeing equal protection under the law.  The ruling completed the reversal of Plessy v. Ferguson, which in 1896 permitted “separate but equal” public facilities. Brown v. Board of Education was a momentous decision, but in many ways is still being worked out: it would take many years for integration to be widely implemented, and de facto school segregation still exists in many American communities today. In fact, such segregation is getting worse, not better. Here’s the remarkable opening statement by Rep. Robert C. “Bobby” Scott at a recent hearing of the House Committee on Education and Labor, which Scott chairs. The hearing was entitled: “Brown v. Board of Education at 65: A Promise Unfulfilled.”