Friday, August 7, 2020

The year was 1847, and we remember George Rapp. The reading is from Walter Brueggemann, “The Prophetic Imagination.”

It is the 7th of August 2020. Welcome to the Christian History Almanac brought to you by 1517 at, I’m Dan van Voorhis.

The year was 1847.

Perhaps first and foremost, it was the year that hospitals got a lot cleaner. Joseph Lister, an English physician, was reading up on Pasteur’s theories about microbiology. Lister used these advances to suggest the existence of particles too small for the human eye that could cause infections in open wounds. Not only is Listerine named for this pioneer in antiseptics, but he is also considered the father of modern surgery.

Second, to clean hospitals, 1847 brought us the culinary invention that would rock the world. Captain Hansen Gregory of Maine and his crew were fond of the Dutch treat, the olykoek. This was a ball of dough deep-fried in oil. The crew, however, found that in making these, the edges fried nicely, but the center was usually undercooked. Gregory decided to cut out the center of the cake, eliminating the problematic undercooked section. The olykoek with a hole in the middle is now what we call a doughnut.

1847 also saw the printing of the first postage stamps. They were 5c and 10c apiece. In 1847 Michigan became the first state to abolish the death penalty.

For one of the first times in American history, much of the action in the US was taking place in the west. In 1847, The Mexican American war was taking place. The battles of Molino Del Rey and Mexico City were turning points in the war. And after the Battle of Buena Vista, future President Zachary Taylor became a national hero. In the same year, John C. Fremont was named Governor of the new territory of California. Fremont would go on to run for President of the United States unsuccessfully.

Also, out west, Brigham Young and 147 other Mormon pioneers settled in the Salt Lake Valley. This would become the international center of the Church of Latter-day Saints.

It was a pretty remarkable year for births in terms of what some of the newborn babes of ‘47 would go on to do. Thomas Edison and Alexander Graham Bell were both born. Of course, we are all indebted to their inventions. To balance out the year, Jesse James and James Bailey were born. They would, of course, popularize the scourges that are train robberies and big top circuses.

1847 saw the death of Virginia Clemm Poe. The wife of Edgar Allen was only 24. They were also cousins that married when Virginia was 13. So at least they had 11 years together. Felix Mendelssohn also died tragically young in 1847. The German composer was only 38 when he died of a stroke.

And it was on this, the 7th of August, in 1847, that George Rapp, the German American religious pioneer, died. Rapp was born in Wuerttemberg in 1757 and had been arrested in 1791 for preaching without a license as well as against the local Lutheran church bodies. Rapp was convinced that rationalism was killing the German church, and so, with the works of the Lutheran Pietists, he set out to the new world with hundreds of other disaffected German Lutherans.

In Pennsylvania, he devised a form of communal living he thought best mirrored the New Testament church. All things were held in common, and celibacy was the rule. You may be thinking, “I’ve heard of this guy before,” and you might be right. Or you’re getting him confused with the dozens of 19th century sectarians who taught similar things. This is another reminder that post 2nd Great Awakening Christianity could get pretty nuts.

The community became rich as well-known weavers and soon bought 27,000 acres in Indiana. They called this settlement New Harmony. They eventually sold that land to Robert Owen, who took out the Christian aspect but kept it communal. The so-called Rappites followed George to a new settlement named “Economy.” It was just outside of Pittsburgh. Rapp, (who looks like a grown-up garden gnome if you do a Google image search), was seen as increasingly overbearing, and some of his followers left for other sects. Theologically, Rapp was a millenarian, an esoteric, and sometime alchemist. He had claimed that Jesus would return before his death. When he died, many of his followers left the movement. The commune ceased to function in 1906. William Rapp, born in 1757, was 89 when he died on this, the 7th of August, in 1847.

The reading for today comes from the Old Testament scholar Walter Brueggemann. This from his book “The Prophetic Imagination.”

“Jesus knew what we numb ones must always learn again: (a) that weeping must be real because endings are real; and (b) that weeping permits newness. His weeping permits the kingdom to come. Such weeping is a radical criticism, a fearful dismantling because it means the end of all machismo; weeping is something kings rarely do without losing their thrones. Yet the loss of thrones is precisely what is called for.”

This has been the Christian History Almanac for the 7th of August 2020 brought to you by 1517 at The show is produced by a man who has put a pox on the powdered cake donut, Christopher Gillespie. The show is written and read by Dan van Voorhis. You can catch us here every day. and remember that the rumors of grace, forgiveness, and the redemption of all things are true…. Everything is going to be ok.

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