Category Archives: friendship

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

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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.

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Guest Post from Sarah Etter, 8th Grade Author, on C.S. Lewis’ Trilemma

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Sarah Etter with her editors, Ned Bustard and Greg Thornbury

Sarah Etter is a dear, dear friend of mine. Actually, I’ve known her all of her life. She is the daughter of one of my very best friends, Bruce Etter, who faithful readers of TBYFA will remember recently included me in some interviews for a history series. He interviewed me on Jean-Jacques Rousseau, and also hosted a roundtable discussion with John Fea and me on whether or not America was founded as a Christian nation.

Sarah is thirteen years old, and finishing up her eighth grade year as a student at Wilson Hill Academy where her father serves as head of school. What is really special about Sarah is that she is a contributor to Bigger on the Inside: Christianity and Doctor Who, edited by Gregory Thornbury and Ned Bustard. She is one of the most impressive students I’ve ever seen–truly. She is the only eighth grader I’ve ever known to contribute to a work edited by such towering figures as Thornbury and Bustard. I am honored to share this essay that she wrote especially for us here at the blog.

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Sarah writes about C. S. Lewis’ famous Trilemma, but she gives us a fresh and very interesting perspective on it. Here’s Sarah–read and enjoy.

The enchanted world of Narnia has brought charm to the world since 1950. It is a world of silver seas, growing lampposts, and valiant mice. C.S. Lewis’ story has impacted the world internationally, selling over 100 million copies in 47 different languages. Outside of literature, Lewis was also a world-renowned Christian philosopher, writing dozens of theology books on ultimate issues, arguing from a Christian perspective. In Mere Christianity, he explained his famous theory, the “Trilemma”, which states that when it comes to answering the question, “Who is Jesus?” we have three choices: Jesus is a Liar, a Lunatic, or Lord. Later on, the idea of “Legend” became a fourth “L” option.

The Chronicles of Narnia are well-known for their powerful Christian allegories. They are clear, fresh, evident, and enjoyable. Lewis clearly meant to communicate deep theological meanings. One example has to do with three main villains of Narnia. A closer look reveals that these notorious bad guys resemble the three views of Lewis’ Trilemma. Whether or not Lewis intended such a connection is not clear, but Jadis, Miraz, and The Emerald Witch correlate with Liar, Legend, Lunatic.

In what is likely the most famous Narnia story, The Lion the Witch and the Wardrobe, we watch Aslan, (an allegorical figure representing Jesus), die for Edmund. This has become one of the most famous allegory to the crucifixion and substitutionary atonement in all of children’s literature. However, maybe The White Witch represents more than just Satan. In The Magician’s Nephew, we learn The White Witch’s (Jadis) back story and character. One of the most revealing scenes in this area is Narnia’s birth, where Aslan’s sacred voice creates a blooming life to an infant Narnia. As Digory and Polly look on Aslan with humbled and perplexed eyes, Jadis is repulsed. She throws her lamppost at Aslan’s head in an act of defiance, loathing the life and magic that Aslan is performing. Later on in the book at the garden, she declares that Digory has a false view of Aslan. Jadis is essentially saying that Aslan is a liar. It’s very common today to divide ourselves up into those who believe Jesus existed and those who don’t. Lewis says that is not legitimate. He says that out there, in the world, there are people who wouldn’t doubt Jesus’ existence for a second. A man named Jesus walked the earth? That’s right. But he was a liar. Son of Mary? Sure. Son of God? Certainly not. Jadis wants to plant doubts in Digory’s mind about who Aslan truly is. She seeks to plant thoughts into the back of his mind and toys with his desires. What has Aslan ever done for you? What about your mother? She is pinning deceit onto Aslan. People like Jadis want to turn us against God, and it is often difficult not to listen to them. But, as all heretics do, Jadis makes a mistake when she tries to turn Digory against Polly.

The Lady of the Green Kirtle, the Emerald Witch, the malicious Queen of the Underland, is the villain who makes all of us cringe at the sound of her name in The Silver Chair. Though she appears less often than Miraz or Jadis, her impact on Narnia is just as powerful. Sly, cunning, and gorgeous, she very much reminds us of Jadis. But just as compelling as her character is the theological meaning embedded in her character. When Eustace and Jill boldly claim their belief in Aslan, the witch shuts them down, declaring this as lunacy. Aslan is not a lion; that is insanity. Jesus was not the Son of God, that is madness. We know this is not true. But Eustace, our great hero, whose skin was torn from him by Aslan’s own paw, whose dirt and monstrosity were washed away, who treaded the Silver Sea and touched the end of the world, to this heresy he succumbs. He collapses. Not by physical force, just by a pretty face and some sweet sounding spell and he is useless. What a depressing depiction of how easily we break. The Lady of the Green Kirtle claims Aslan is essentially a lunatic, and Eustace falls right at her feet. It’s not just in Narnia that Christians are confronted with this view, and it’s just as life threatening here as it was for Eustace and Jill.

In Prince Caspian, we read of Miraz’s ancestors, the Telmarines, who invaded Narnia in year 1998, the last year of the Dark Age, the first year of the Telmarine Age. This was 983 years after the Pevensies left Narnia in 1015. In approximately 2263, Miraz killed his brother, Caspian IX and took the throne, and then in 2303 attempted murder on his nephew, Caspian X. Miraz thinks his greatest strength is rationality. Miraz mocks the fairytales of Old Narnia. This sounds strangely close to the part of the Trilemma that others added later on. “Legend” represents the people who think that Jesus never existed. This is clearly the view Miraz has of Aslan. These people are everywhere in our world today. Just look at Miraz, he, the great Telmarine king, he, who laughs in the face of legends, he, who is rational and intelligent. He cares nothing for Narnia, but forbids anyone around him to speak of it. He firmly denies the existence of the kings and queens of old, and yet is hesitant to duel Peter. He declares it all as legend, which matters not, he doesn’t care for it all, and yet the very name of Aslan makes his blood boil. In our society, and Lewis’ as well, people claim God is dead.They are skeptical of God’s existence, but God still infuriates them. Miraz is a picture of those who claim Jesus is a legend.

Lewis depicts these heretics as witches, tyrants, and snakes, each one attacking Aslan with a different weapon. It would be unwise to take that depiction for granted. In Aslan’s story, these people are villains, and line up too well with Lewis’ opposing beliefs against Jesus. Of course, there is one more category Lewis believed in that I have not spoken of. Now that we have observed the violent Jadis, the dictatorial Miraz, and the cruel-hearted Emerald Witch, there is one more. And while the first three have been constant in our time and in Lewis’ day as well, in the fictional realm and the real realm, this one is more eternal, more impenetrable, and more triumphant than any of the others. While Jadis is slain, and Miraz is killed, and the Emerald Witch is slaughtered, this one stands tall and vibrant, and remains victorious when all others fail. And when the earth shatters and the stars rain down from the heavens, when all others recoil in fear, they will not falter. These are they who believe in that Jesus is Lord and not a liar, not a lunatic, and not a legend.

Guest Lecturing at Houston’s College of Biblical Studies

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My profound thanks to Phil Sinitiere of Baldblogger fame for inviting me to join his American religious history class at the College of Biblical Studies in Houston this coming Monday evening. I am really looking forward to it, and am honored to receive the invitation.

Phil is an American historian who focuses on religion and culture, race and religion in America, and African American studies. He is the author of Holy Mavericks: Evangelical Innovators and the Spiritual Marketplace (with Shayne Lee), co-editor of Christians and the Color Line: Race and Religion After Divided By Faith with J. Russell Hawkins, and co-editor of Protest and Propaganda: W. E. B. DuBois, the Crisis, and American History with Amy Helene Kirschke. He is an award winning teacher of World History, American history, African history, African American religion, and many other courses. Phil is a true scholar and gentleman, and I am honored that he asked me to spend some time with his class.

We’ll be talking about American exceptionalism in the nineteenth century as it diverged into two civil religious expressions during the 1840s-1860s. One of these expressions is represented in the writings of John L. O’Sullivan, editor of the United States Magazine and Democratic Review and the person responsible for coining the term “manifest destiny.” O’Sullivan’s brand of exceptionalism was heavily nationalistic, overtly Anglo-Saxonist, strongly expansionist, and based on an Enlightenment style certainty in the ways of providence. Manifest destiny is the brand of exceptionalism I am classifying as “closed exceptionalism” in my forthcoming book.

The second expression of nineteenth century exceptionalism is represented by the speeches and writings of Abraham Lincoln. Lincoln’s exceptionalism was based on an objective and universal conception of justice. He derived his exceptionalism from the Declaration of Independence, which he elevated to near-biblical status. His clear conception of right and wrong animated his views on patriotism, slavery, and disunion. And his humble agnosticism regarding God’s providence set him apart from almost everyone else of his day. While he regarded the United States as the “last, best hope of earth,” he believed that the nation was fallible, as was clearly seen in the nation’s failure to do right by African Americans and prevent the Union from breaking up. But he also believed the nation had an innate instinct to strive toward the right, and it was Lincoln’s mission to set the nation on that path. I am calling Lincoln’s expression “open exceptionalism.”

The students will be reading a couple of primary texts in preparation for the lecture. The first is O’Sullivan’s “Great Nation of Futurity,” in which he wrote that America represented a formal break with the past. America was God-ordained to be the nation at the tip of the spear of human progress. The second is Lincoln’s December 1, 1862 Annual Message to Congress, in which he made his famous statement, “Friends, we cannot escape history.” He advocated for a new way of thinking about the abolition of slavery, but his proposed solution represents a step on the way of his own moral and intellectual development on the subject.

Phil is helping me out immensely by inviting me to come and teach on nineteenth century American civil religion and exceptionalism. I also owe him big time for reading and offering suggestions on the drafts of my chapters. He loves a good philly cheese steak, and he definitely deserves a lifetime supply. Thanks a lot for your help and friendship, Phil!

Men, Be Devoted to the Women in Your Lives

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Jasper Dorsey, my grandfather, is by far the most honorable man I have ever known. His long career of service to others made a difference in the lives of countless people transcending generation, race, economics, and creed. There is no way I could ever do justice to the meaning of his life by anything I could say. I hope that the significance of my life in some way holds a candle to his.

I was contacted today by Dick Yarbrough, a Georgia columnist and a close friend of my grandfather’s. My grandfather wrote a column that appeared in over forty newspapers in Georgia from 1983 to his death in 1990. One of his last pieces was a tribute to what he called, “The Women in My Life,” and he wrote it shortly after his wife, my grandmother, died in March, 1989.

Mr. Yarbrough was contacting me to ask about that piece. Interestingly enough, the piece was so compelling to so many, that it ended up being included in the Congressional Record of the 101st Congress by Rep. Buddy Darden of Georgia on May 4, 1989. Mr. Darden, like Mr. Yarbrough, was mentored as a young man by my grandfather. He included it in the daily proceedings of the Congress as a tribute to his friend and mentor, and because it expresses a kind of lifelong devotion, admiration, and love that ought to animate every like relationship men hold with the women in their lives.

Here is what Papa wrote on March 31, 1989–

Your indulgence for a moment please, because this is a love story. It is about the women in my life.

Neither time nor space is adequate to do justice to any of them; so, this is merely a tiny tribute to their magnificent influence upon my life.

If being cherished and loved is real wealth, and I believe it is, then no man is truly richer than I. They are always gentle on my mind and memory. They are my pleasingly unforgettable characters, each in a special dimension.

The first woman in my life was my Mother. Annie Robertson Coryell Dorsey (1893-1967) was born in Marietta, GA, married John Tucker Dorsey there in 1912 and lived among friends in that small town her the days of her useful life.

She gave me the secrets of happiness: Not so much in doing what you like, but in liking what you have to do; if you want happiness, try giving it away to others; and to always be useful. She believed anyone could make a difference if they tried hard enough. She taught me her religious faith by the way she lived.

People who lacked vision irritated her, especially politicians or church leaders. She often quoted the scriptures to them on the subject, always with a smile and with an affection, impatient admonition. She had no pretensions and possessed true Christian humility. My Mother took her religion seriously.

Patient with ignorance or inexperience in the unlettered, my Mother was intolerant of bad manners or things she considered wrong or anyone’s failure to try. Her levels of energy and enthusiasm were so high that if she wanted you to do something, it was easier to just do it, than to try explaining why you couldn’t.

Another woman in my life was Sally Cobb Hull Weltner (1887-1957). As my wife’s mother, she thereby gave me my life’s greatest asset. One of the least judgmental of women, she even learned to love me, after a while. Her five children were marvelously taught by precept and example to love God and their neighbor as themselves. In her last illness she also taught them courage and a stoic acceptance of pain she could not change.

The youngest woman in my life is Sally Hull Dorsey Danner, our daughter. She has inherited all the good qualities of her Mother and both her grandmothers and none of my aberrations. She has a unique quality of enthusiasm for things she supports and a compelling ability to organize others to produce exciting events.

These women shaped my life in inspirational and highly motivational ways. All are unique characters whose tolerance of me was exceeded only by their affection. It’s especially pleasing that so many others agreed with my assessment. They made my success possible, they also made it necessary.

The woman who gave a marvelous dimension to my life was Callender Hull Weltner Dorsey (1915-1989). Ours was a college romance. Marrying her over fifty one years ago was the best thing I ever did. Her decision to share her life with me was my greatest gift. The years flowed by so swiftly and excitedly—none have been better than those.

She had a spritely personality, a lilting laughter, a remarkable sense of humor, an unlimited intellectual capacity, infinite charm, a keen sense of understanding people, and great compassion for the unfortunate. She was different, in the nicest way.

We lost her March 15 after a long, painful, and wasting illness. She faced it with great courage and a light-heartedness which made her friends proud.

The women in my life have been lovely, charming and unique. “Age could not wither them, nor custom stale their infinite variety.” They’ve been great fun. More than that, the have been awesome.

John Fea Writes on His Visit to Darrington

John Fea speaking at North Oaks Baptist Church

It was a huge honor to host John Fea of Messiah College to Houston this past weekend. I had a wealth of time to spend in conversation with John while he was here. We also had the privilege of having John over to our house for dinner. My girls had their opportunity to “show off” while John (who also is father to two girls) enthusiastically and sincerely played along! John also gave me great advice on how I am approaching American exceptionalism for my second book.

Last Friday, John spoke to the inmate students at the Southwestern Seminary Darrington Unit extension. He writes about his experiences on his blog here. His presentation was excellent, and the students were deeply engaged. The students were thrilled by his visit, and treated him like royalty.

John also spoke to the congregation at North Oaks Baptist Church. Here, he gave another great presentation, and the folks presented him with good questions and very nice feedback. We sold about fifty copies of Was America Founded, and John gave a book signing.

Thank you, John, so much for coming. You have been a wonderful mentor to me, and a good friend.

Exceptionalism and Christian Citizenship

Got all settled back in Houston, Texas after being at Gordon College for the Conference on Faith and History. It was such a wonderful time being in New England, and it was equally uplifting being in the presence of so many first rate Christian historians. I enjoyed traveling with my colleague, Miles Mullin, who teaches church history at Southwestern. I also enjoyed fellowship over breakfast with John Fea of Messiah College. And it was a real pleasure to meet some new friends, such as Fred Jordan of Woodberry Forest School in Orange, VA (10 miles from my old house and my dad’s alma mater), Jerry Summers of East Texas Baptist College, Barry Hankins of Baylor University, Nicholas Pruitt, Ph.D. student at Baylor, and Jay Case of Malone University.

I presented a paper giving a brief (understatement) history of exceptionalism since 1630 and a critique of the concept. Americans have always understood themselves in exceptionalist terms, and this exceptionalism has consistently manifested itself as a theological commitment. Divine chosenness and a divine mission have been common themes in the way exceptionalism has been expressed since John Winthrop declared Massachusetts Bay to be a “city on a hill” in 1630.

But if exceptionalism is to be defined in theological terms, then it must be problematic for the Christian. American exceptionalism, in short, confuses salvation history with Christ as the focus with American history. It supplants the Christian doctrines of election and mission and makes America the subject of those doctrines, which is inappropriate. However, it is possible for a Christian to accept a notion of exceptionalism, provided that the notion does not carry a theological message with it.

So that’s what I said in my paper. I was amazed at how much has been written on American exceptionalism. There seems to be some more work to be done on this idea, particularly on the theology of exceptionalism. We’ll see where it leads.