It is the 2nd of September 2020. Welcome to the Christian History Almanac brought to you by 1517 at 1517.org, I’m Dan van Voorhis.
The year was 1973.
It was a tumultuous year. The Vietnam War came to an end and as that quagmire ended, another one began with the investigation into President’ Nixon’s re-election committee and charges of a break-in at the Watergate Apartments. Nixon’s Vice president, Spiro Agnew, also resigned this year.
In 1973, the IRA’s bombing of locations across Manchester coincided with labor unrest and the introduction of the three-day workweek on account of coal and oil prices skyrocketing. The Yom Kippur War also began this year when Syria and Egypt attacked Israel on Yom Kippur.
The 1973 Academy Award for best actor went to Marlon Brando for his performance as Don Corleone. However, many of the major awards were not won by the “Godfather” but the other big picture of the year, Bob Fosse’s “Cabaret.”
The winner for the best documentary at the 1973 awards was a curious film entitled “Marjoe.” It documented the life of former child evangelist Marjoe Gortner. At 16, after suffering abuse from his parents, he ran away to join the hippie counterculture in Los Angeles. While claiming he never was a believer, he continued to preach despite the pangs of guilt he had for taking money from actual believers. It was critically acclaimed but the only known original copy was thought to be lost for good. In 2002, the original negatives were found and the documentary is now available to stream.
In 1973, the Miami Dolphin capped off their perfect season with a Super Bowl victory. The Oakland Athletics won the World Series behind the play of MVP Reggie Jackson and the New York Knicks won the NBA Championship. That championship 47 years ago was the last one for the storied Knickerbockers. I think it’s time we start talking about a curse.
In 1973, 47 years ago Neil Patrick Harris was born. That’s right, Doogie Howser is 47 years old. Also born that year were comedian Dave Chappelle and musician/producer Pharrell Williams. In 1973, several prominent people died. 36th President Lyndon Johnson died at 64. Playwright Noel Coward died in 1973 as did Pablo Picasso and Bruce Lee.
And it was on this, the 2nd of September, in 1973, that John Ronald Reuel Tolkien died. A hero in the Catholic and Anglo-Catholic world, the professor and author of both “The Hobbit” and “Lord of the Rings” died at the age of 81. We will not give this author the standard biographical rundown as so much of his life and work is widely known. Tolkien was born in South Africa and moved to England. He was especially fond of his aunt’s estate and garden. She called it “Bag End.” Both of his parents died before the young man who went by the name “Ronald” was 12. A Catholic friar became his legal guardian and Ronald stayed faithful for the rest of his life to the church that raised him.
The WWI veteran was a scholar of medieval literature and was fascinated with Anglo-Saxon myths. His first popular work, “The Hobbit,” was based on bedtime stories he told his children. The later “Lord of the Rings” trilogy was a darker adaptation of similar Anglo-Saxon mythologies with a Catholic moral center. Tolkien had a much written about friendship with his fellow Medieval scholar, C.S. Lewis, and is said to have helped guide Lewis’ conversion. Tolkien however was unhappy with Lewis for becoming a protestant, even if of the high Anglican variety.
In 1972 Tolkien was made Commander of the Order of the British Empire by Queen Elizabeth. The South African scholar, author, and son of the Catholic church died the following year, on this, the 2nd of September, in 1973. J.R.R. Tolkien was 81 years old.
The reading for today is a little different than other days. In honor of Tolkien’s death on this date, we will hear a bit of hope from a denizen of Middle Earth. This is the famous passage from Samwise Gamgee encouraging both himself and Frodo in their darkest hour. For Tolkien, the darkness passing and the sun shining would be direct results of the Gospel.
“I know. It’s all wrong. By rights we shouldn’t even be here. But we are. It’s like in the great stories Mr. Frodo. The ones that really mattered. Full of darkness and danger they were. And sometimes you didn’t want to know the end. Because how could the end be happy?….But in the end, it’s only a passing thing, this shadow. Even darkness must pass. A new day will come. And when the sun shines, it will shine out the clearer.”
This has been the Christian History Almanac for the 2nd September 2020 brought to you by 1517 at 1517.org. The show is produced by a man for whom second breakfast is the third meal of the day, 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.