It is the 30th 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 1958.
In 1958 Boris Pasternak won the Nobel Prize in Literature for his book “Dr. Zhivago.” However, the story of the medic and poet during the Russian Civil War was not necessarily what it seemed. Pasternak had been a famous author and poet in the USSR. However, his work was said to contain a dangerous strain of individualism and implicit criticisms of the Soviet system. He was banned from writing his own literature and was only allowed to translate approved works into Russian.
Upon hearing that he had written an 800-page magnum opus that could not be published in the USSR, the CIA under Allen Dulles, with Eisenhower’s approval, decided to print copies to get back into the Soviet Union secretly. At the 1958 World’s Fair in Brussels, the CIA, with help from the Vatican, distributed miniature paperbacks of the world on onionskin paper to thousands of students from the USSR. The CIA’s covert financing and publishing were top secret. The story was only declassified in 2014.
Also, in 1958, Nigerian author Chinua Achebe published his monumental “Things Fall Apart.” The title of the book comes from the poem “The Second Coming” by W.B. Yeats. You might remember this famous section:
“Turning and turning in the widening gyre
The falcon cannot hear the falconer;
Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;
Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,
The story takes place in a fictional African village. Part of the drama occurs when the village encounters white European missionaries. The book has sold over 8 million copies and is the most popular book in African literature. If you haven’t read it, the Almanac research team bids you do so.
On the topic of literature in 1958, it was on this day, the 30th of September in 1958, that the author, daughter of the Lutheran church and chronicler of Pennsylvania’s Christian minority sects, Elsie Singmaster died.
Singmaster was born to a Quaker mother and a Lutheran father, also the granddaughter of Macungie, Pennsylvania’s first mayor. In 1887 her family began to work with various ministries in the Northeast. She began to observe the practices of the Mennonites, Dunkers, and others in the Pennsylvania Dutch tradition. Quickly: This is your yearly reminder that the Pennsylvania Dutch are, in fact, German. They were the Pennsylvania “Deutsch,” which is German for German.
Elsie married, but while she was pregnant, he died. The child was also lost in childbirth. Elsie would go on to live on the campus of Gettysburg Lutheran Seminary, where her father was a professor and later president. Living here would also give her fodder for her writing. She wrote several pieces on the famed battle near the site of the Seminary. In 1917 she wrote a biography of Martin Luther on the 400th anniversary of the Reformation.
She would write for the Atlantic, Ladies Home Journal, the Saturday Evening Post, among other publications, and her work appears in many anthologies. She won both the O. Henry Award for short stories and the Newberry Award. Elise worshipped at Christ Evangelical Lutheran Church in Gettysburg and served in that church until she passed away on this, the 30th of September, in 1958.
The reading for today comes from Frances Ellen Watkins Harper, her “That Blessed Hope.”
Oh touch it not that hope so blest
Which cheers the fainting heart,
And points it to the coming rest
Where sorrow has no part.
Tear from heart each worldly prop,
Unbind each earthly string;
But to this blest and glorious hope,
Oh let my spirit cling.
It cheer’d amid the days of old
Each holy patriarch’s breast,
It was an anchor to their souls,
Upon it let me rest.
When wand’ring in the dens and caves,
In goat and sheep skins drest,
Apeel’d and scatter’d people learn’d
To know this hope was blest.
Help me to love this blessed hope;
My heart’s a fragile thing;
Will you not nerve and bear it up
Around this hope to cling.
Help amid this world of strife
To long for Christ to reign,
That when he brings the crown of life
I may that crown obtain.
This has been the Christian History Almanac for the 30th of September 2020 brought to you by 1517 at 1517.org. The show is produced by the medic, poet, and falconer, 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.