A Tribute to My High School History Teacher, Dr. Doug Frutiger

IMG_2458

Dr. Frutiger’s note to me in my senior yearbook. It reads, “John, The daily handshake, the warm frown and the incessant ‘Why not, Frutiger’ or ‘No way, Frutiger.’ What will I do without them? Actually, I’m looking around the room and find that you’ve walked out of class. I wonder where you are. Well–maybe I’ll be OK without you next year. Hope you find something of value at Furman.” -Doug Frutiger

I graduated from the old North Fulton High School off Peachtree Road in Atlanta, Georgia in 1988. North Fulton ceased to exist when the Atlanta City School System, in all its wisdom, decreed its death through a merger with our bitter rival, Northside High School. This merger happened in the early 90s, and the result was North Atlanta High School. I know nothing about North Atlanta, but I am told it is an excellent school.

It must be, because many of my teachers–and we sat under exceptional teachers at North Fulton–went on to teach at North Atlanta for many years. I have especially fond memories of Mrs. Pringle, my algebra teacher; Mrs. Wright, my English teacher; and Mr. (now Dr.) Frutiger, my history teacher.

I was enrolled in North Fulton’s International Baccalaureate program, along with 25 or so other students, during my junior and senior year. I had Dr. Frutiger for world history junior year; economics and history of Canada and Latin America senior year. IB has always been unique and innovative, but it was seriously so during the 80s when I was in school. Dr. Frutiger was among the most inspiring teachers I have ever had in all my years lugging a backpack to class as a student.

He and I remain in contact through Facebook. He is always encouraging whenever I post updates on my writing and publishing. He is likely surprised I amounted to anything. The day I asked him to sign my senior yearbook, my good buddy John Speaks (currently a State Department official based in Turkey) and I decided to head off campus to secure a couple of C0-Colas at the Tenneco station adjacent to campus. This, of course, was a serious breach of school policy (we were likely inspired by Ferris Bueller). But Dr. Frutiger, understanding and merciful as he was, saw the humor in it. Luckily for us. We were set to graduate in a matter of days.

I’m not sure if he remembers this or not, but I remember the first day of class with him at the beginning of my 11th grade year. He gave a lecture on “Criteria for Civilization.” He listed 10 general criteria on the board and then we spent the remainder of class discussing them. I will never forget that lecture he gave in the fall of 1986. It challenged the most basic of my assumptions. As a teenager, I had always considered “civilization” in purely Western terms, but he masterfully argued that civilization is borne out of humanity, not a particular ethnicity or culture. It was the first time I ever thought outside of my Ameri-centric perspective. From the first day of class, and for the next two years, he challenged my thinking, helped me improve my writing, gave me the tools on how to think historically, and demonstrated by his example the life of a scholar and a thinker. He was the first teacher I ever had who was pursuing a PhD in history, and I remember wanting to be just like him–a teacher, a learner, a writer, and a historian.

Dr. Frutiger taught for many years after the joy of having me as his student (see the above note for an idea of how wonderful I was). He inspired hundreds, thousands of students by his life and example. I cannot thank him enough for his labors, and I hope that I can be an inspiration to my students in some small way like he was to me.

Considering Tocqueville’s Democracy in America in Historical Context

Cole_Thomas_The_Course_of_Empire_The_Arcadian_or_Pastoral_State_1836.jpg

Thomas Cole [Public domain], “The Arcadian, or Pastoral State,” via Wikimedia Commons

Looking for a new abridgment of Alexis de Tocqueville’s Democracy in America? Then look no further. You will have to wait until early November for the release from Lexham Press, but my Democracy in America: A New Abridgment for Students will (hopefully) fill a need. Tocqueville’s Democracy is two volumes–the first volume was published in 1835 and the second followed in 1840. The entire work is about 305,000 words–my abridgment consists of 150,000 words. Many abridgments of Democracy are far too short, so my contribution is designed to offer an accessible abridgment that isn’t cut to the quick.

This September, I will be giving a lecture at the Acton Institute in Grand Rapids, Michigan entitled “How to Read Alexis de Tocqueville’s Democracy in America.” Alexis de Tocqueville (1805-1859) is one of the most recognized names among readers of American political science, philosophy, and history. Most people who are familiar with his name also know that he wrote one of the most important books of modern times dealing with American social ideas and institutions—Democracy in America (1835/1840). While Tocqueville’s name is well known, and his book is frequently referenced and quoted, many who attempt to read the two-volume work find themselves disoriented in what seems to them a howling wilderness of minutiae and esotericism. Still others labor within the work as though it were a diamond mine, hacking away at it in search of usable quotes to deploy for narrow ideological purposes, or to cast Tocqueville as a prophet with warnings for present-day Americans to heed his clairvoyant wisdom. Finally, there are others who simply rely on experts to break it down into bite-sized pieces, in order that they may understand the gist of Tocqueville’s classic before moving on to more recent (and comprehensible) books.

Like any book, we should read Tocqueville’s Democracy with its historical context in mind. Tocqueville wrote his work as an outside observer, not as an American. He wrote as a critical bystander, not as an admirer. And he wrote as one who saw first hand the effects of revolution on his family and his country. Furthermore, he was describing a snapshot of an America that is long gone—Jacksonian America, to be precise. And also, Tocqueville thought of New England as the frame of reference for America. New England left a deep impression on Tocqueville, and so he saw most things outside of New England in relative terms.

Tocqueville’s Democracy is a classic for good reasons. It is an historical artifact, but it is not valuable only as such. But to fully appreciate, grasp, and utilize the work, we must understand how to receive it in our own times. When we join historical with philosophical thinking in our chewing of Democracy, then we may find ourselves most ready to digest and absorb it.

If you’re in Grand Rapids on September 29, drop by the Acton Institute for a noon lecture and Q&A. Would love to see you!

Are the Resurrection Accounts in the Gospels Contradictory? Part IV

Easter is never over. Here’s Part IV–summarizing Parts I-III–

To Breathe Your Free Air

jesus-resurrection1

Let’s summarize our findings in this last part of the series on whether or not the gospel accounts of the resurrection are contradictory.

I am going to list all the events that are pertinent to the resurrection in chronological order. You can use the key below to reference each event as narrated in the gospel accounts.

Directions: Each event is listed in chronological order according to the gospel accounts. References are cited by the following code

a—Matthew 28

b—Mark 16

c—Luke 24

d—John 20-21

e—Acts 1

f—I Corinthians 15

g—Acts 9

The appropriate citations that correspond to the specific reference are given in superscript following the event.

  1. Mary Magdaleneabd, the other Maryab, Salomeb went to the tomb at early dawnabcd on the first day of the week.abcd

2-4 occur while the women were en route to the tomb.

  1. There was an earthquake.a

View original post 753 more words

Are the Resurrection Accounts in the Gospels Contradictory? Part III

Here’s Part III of the four part series on the gospel accounts of the resurrection–

To Breathe Your Free Air

The_Ressurrection_of_Christ

We have considered the questions about what the angels were doing and saying on the morning of the resurrection. Let’s take a look at the troubling apparent contradictions found in Mary Magdalene’s activities, and also those of Jesus himself.

Matthew, Mark, and Luke are known as the Synoptic Gospels. New Testament scholars call them by that name because they are very similar in their content. Anyone who has given a cursory glance at these three gospels can readily see how similar they are.

But John’s gospel is different than the others. It does not contain any parables. And it is more theological than the Synoptics. So, we would expect to see wide agreement between the Synoptics concerning the details of the resurrection—which we do, especially in the sayings of the angels to the women as they perplexedly stood in the empty tomb.

John says that “on the first day of…

View original post 761 more words

Are the Resurrection Accounts in the Gospels Contradictory? Part II

This is Part II in a series on the gospel accounts of the Resurrection. Part III forthcoming later…

To Breathe Your Free Air

Paolo_Veronese_-_The_Resurrection_of_Christ_-_WGA24817

In Part I, we considered several apparent contradictions in the four gospels’ accounts of Jesus’ resurrection. To recap, if Jesus did not rise from the dead, then the Scriptures have no meaning to us whatsoever, according to the Apostle Paul in I Corinthians 15. If the accounts of the resurrection are unreliable, then we have no reasonable basis to believe the resurrection occurred. So the gospel accounts of the resurrection of Jesus Christ are central to the Christian faith.

An apparent contradiction is not the same as an actual contradiction. To have an actual contradiction, you have to have an assertion that takes the following form:

  1. There is a tree growing in the pasture ten yards from the southwest corner of the fence.
  2. There is not a tree growing in the pasture ten yards from the southwest corner of the fence.

Either there is a tree at the specified location…

View original post 675 more words

Are the Resurrection Accounts in the Gospels Contradictory? Part I

This is Part I in a four part series on the gospel accounts of the resurrection of Jesus Christ. I posted these last year. Hope you’ll find them helpful and edifying this year, too.

To Breathe Your Free Air

b0ad9706-26fa-4b67-a7eb-ddf31b93e239

The Apostle Paul wrote in his first letter to the Corinthians that every assertion of the gospel rests on the truth of Jesus Christ’s rising from the dead on the third day. He wrote, “. . . if Christ is not raised, then our preaching is vain, your faith also is vain. . . . For if the dead are not raised, not even Christ has been raised; and if Christ has not been raised, your faith is worthless; you are still in your sins” (I Cor. 15.14, 16-17).

In other words, if Jesus did not, in fact, rise from the dead, then nothing that is affirmed in the New Testament is true. In fact, nothing in the Old Testament is true either, because as Jesus himself said, “[the Scriptures] testify about Me” (John 5.39) and “Do not think that I came to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I…

View original post 789 more words

Memories of the Confederacy and Black Lives Matter

Lee_Park,_Charlottesville,_VA

Lee Park, Charlottesville, Virginia

I have written about my family’s Confederate heritage in the past here at the blog (see here and here). My grandparents were like second parents to my brother and I growing up. They sought to instill in us an appreciation and love for our Southern heritage and for our ancestors who helped shape it.

As a child and as a young man, I idolized my grandmother and grandfather. In many ways, I still do. They died when I was in my early twenties–and over twenty years after their deaths, I still have the urge sometimes to pick up the phone to call them (I still remember their phone number with the same ease I remember my date of birth; and I still carry their house key on my key ring). Their portraits hang in my house and I keep their memory alive by talking about them with my children. So, it is sometimes hard to distinguish between my love for them and my yearning to honor their memory from how I think about the South with all its historical complexities. I love the South and much of its history because I associate it with my family, to which of course I will always be devoted.

And yet, I am ashamed that my ancestors were slave owners, and that some of them were instrumental in defining the pro-slavery positions argued in public discourse during the 1840s and 50s. Some of my ancestors served as senior officers in the Army of Northern Virginia and another in the Confederate Senate. After the war, some of my ancestors’ former slaves continued to serve as domestic servants. I wrote about some of those former slaves here.

On the issue of the propriety of displaying Confederate monuments in public places, my views have changed over the years. If you had asked me five years ago about whether or not it was appropriate to display monuments commemorating the Confederacy, I would have advocated for it strenuously. But spending time reading Frederick Douglass, Sojourner Truth, W. E. B. Du Bois, Carter Woodson, MLK, Jr., Malcolm X, Cornel West, and other African-American writers; after building building relationships with scholars of African-American history like Phillip Luke Sinitiere, Edward Blum, Edward Carson, Keisha Blain, Robert W. Williams, Vincent Bacote (a theologian), and others in the African American Intellectual History Society; after teaching in the Darrington prison, which is predominately black (and see Michelle Alexander’s book, The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness); and after reflecting on biblical teachings on unity in Christ and neighbor-love, I have come to see this issue of Confederate monuments in a different way.

For example, in my former home of Charlottesville, VA, an equestrian statue of Robert E. Lee has kept vigil over the city square adjacent to the courthouse since the 1920s. It is an impressive statue, and the park where it sits, Lee Park, is beautiful and tranquil. Recently, a fifteen year old Charlottesville High School student started a petition to have the statue removed and to rename the park. The city council has taken up the issue and will decide on the fate of the park in the next month or so. As you might imagine, the issue is extremely controversial.

I recently co-authored a piece over at Then and Now with Edward Carson on this issue. In reflecting on the student’s petition, I am left to ask–who exactly is making the request that the statue be taken down and the park renamed? Is this a group of foreigners? Are they carpetbaggers? Are they outsiders? Or are they members of the community fully vested in its interests? In other words, are the people Charlottesvillians? Virginians? Americans?

If they are outsiders, then their request should be taken with a grain of salt. But if they are full fledged members of the community, then their voices should be taken seriously even by those who would disagree.

Consider a historical parallel. All over the colonies during the 1770s and 1780s, Americans were removing statues of George III. They did so because he no longer served as an appropriate symbol of the people. They were no longer his subjects. And it was entirely appropriate for them to remove those statues. Furthermore, the people hauling down the statues were not Frenchmen or Spanish interlopers. They were Americans. They had the legitimate emotional, political, logical, and historical bases to do so and nobody objected by calling on the historical value of statues of the king of England.

Robert E. Lee–notwithstanding the nobility of his character, his Christian faith, or even his magnanimous attitude after the war–is not a unifying symbol in Charlottesville, or anywhere else. As a symbol, Lee is divisive. To significant elements of our local communities all over the South, Lee is a repelling force. The question of whether or not he should be divisive as a symbol is another question. The fact is, he is.

The last thing Americans need is one more thing to divide them. We are already incurably divided up into factions so much so that another civil war actually seems possible. It is unfortunate indeed that no matter what happens with Lee Park–whether the statue stays or goes–the decision of the city council is going to be divisive.

But here I will offer some unsolicited advice to my friends who would advocate for keeping the statue. First, I am one of you. I have more than my share of Confederate heritage credentials. My great great great grandfather was Thomas R. R. Cobb, chairman of the Confederate Constitutional drafting committee, brigadier general under Longstreet, killed in action at Fredericksburg after hurling back the main Federal assault six times from the Sunken Road. My great great great uncle, Howell Cobb, was former Speaker of the US House of Representatives, Secretary of the Treasury under Buchanan, major general in the Confederate army, and Confederate Senator from Georgia.

Second, we who love our Southern heritage need to honestly investigate the impact of our ancestors’ actions on black persons. We need to ask–why do African-American persons react the way they do to Confederate soldiers and statesmen? Why does the pain of slavery endure after all these years? How would we see a statue of Lee or Forrest or A. S. Johnston if we were black and growing up in a small Southern town? And what would we think about Confederate memorials if 7/8 of the period of our experience on this continent since 1619 was defined in terms of slavery or state sponsored apartheid?

Or let us think of the issue another way. What would we as Americans think about a statue displayed in a public park of George III? Or Santa Anna? Kaiser Wilhelm II? Yamamoto? Rommel? Ho Chi Minh? Saddam Hussein? Osama bin Laden? What do all of these figures have in common? The United States was at war with each of these leaders, and many of us can claim family members who fought and died to defeat them.

If black people are Americans, does it not make sense that those Americans would recoil from commemorating the enemy of their country?

We who have emotional attachments to the Southern Confederacy can honor our ancestors’ memory without continuing to ignore and marginalize the historical experiences of our fellow citizens who are African American. We can honor our ancestors’ memories, remembering that they were not gods, but sinful men and women. In honoring them, we must apply honesty and humility when we remember the meaning of their lives’ work, work which was not always performed for the flourishing of all persons. I know that my grandparents would not want me to deify them, but to remember them with honesty. I like to think that my nineteenth century ancestors would want the same.

A fellow conservative recently accused me of being PC friendly the other day because I said that there are valuable aspects to the Black Lives Matter movement. Everyone–especially Christian people–should affirm the human personhood of black people. I don’t agree with everything associated (fairly or not) with Black Lives Matter. However, I do think that the statement “black lives matter” is true, and deeply meaningful given that American society has not historically affirmed the truth of that statement.

It is tragic indeed that African American persons often think they need to make the statement at all. It is also sad that more Christian people do not rise up in solidarity with black folks who see the necessity of making the statement.

Count me in as a white Southern conservative Christian who stands in solidarity with African Americans. From a Christian perspective, this seems to be a no-brainer: black lives matter.