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Servants of the people

Servants of the people

Servants of the people

Edward Muir is president of the American Historical Association. In the May issue of that non-profit’s magazine, “Perspectives on History,” he wrote a column he entitled, “The United States Needs Historians.”

Muir states in his thesis, “Our culture needs historians who can look behind today’s headlines and the latest ‘fake news’ to think about longer patterns in the past, even as they engage in current struggles.”

Yet, Muir begins with a two-minute scene from the Ukrainian television series, “Servants of the People.” Yes, the series is fiction, but the scene makes a clear point.

The lead character is Vasily Holoborodko, a divorced high-school history teacher.

In Episode 1 of Season 1, he is standing in a classroom teaching his high-school students, when the principal interrupts his class, and orders all the students to leave and help construct voting booths outside for the upcoming election.

The students obey and leave, but Vasily turns on the principal and demands to know, “Why do you not pull the students from the math class?” The principal offers a flimsy answer that indicates his preference for math over history.

This upsets Vasily and launches him into a rant. He shouts,

“Mathematics is valued as a science, and that is all very fine! Then we wonder why our politicians make the same mistakes when they enter the halls of power. Because they are great mathematicians. They know how to divide and subtract. That’s all!

“They force kids to assemble voting booths. Why is it a hard knock life? Because our choice begins in a voting booth, when we vote for the lesser of two (poor candidates.)”

Through a window, one of Vasily’s students records this rant on a phone and posts it on the internet. It goes viral. Voters elect Vasily Holoborodko President of Ukraine.

This is fiction, from a 2016 television series, but the actor who played Vasily was Volodymyr Zelenzkyy, who in real life, in 2019, was elected President of Ukraine, which proves that, on occasion, fact does follow fiction.

Muir states, “In the United States, critics of honest history are coming for history teachers, as they already have in Turkey, Hungary, and Poland.

“There are still those willing to exploit the paranoid style and blind ignorance of the [John] Birchers and the like for their own purposes, but that those who fought them in word and deed had to keep at it.”

I agree. The U. S. needs historians to beat back the lies, distortions, and foolish challenges that others throw at them, but the profession has fallen on tough times.

Last August, the American Historical Association issued a “Jobs Report” that stated that “the average number of available new ‘tenure track’ university jobs was 16 percent lower than it was for the four years before the pandemic.”

It also stated that “only 27 percent of those who received a Ph.D. in history in 2017 were employed as tenure track professors four years later.”

Daniel Bessner, a history professor, stated in “The New York Times,” last January,  “It’s the end of history, and the consequences will be significant. Entire areas of our shared history will never be known because no one will receive a living wage to uncover and study them.”

Last month’s crop of high school graduates will decide this summer what subject she or he will study at college in August: a form of math or science, or a form of the humanities, including history and English. That choice will have life-long consequences.

I say, “choose wisely, but if you can, study both,” history for the wisdom received from reading thick history textbooks, and numbers fluency for a better paying job. Let no one say about you, that the only thing you know is “how to divide and subtract.”

Explo ’72

Explo ’72

Explo ’72

This last week I watched the new Lionsgate film, “Jesus Revolution.” The film did better than expected, grossing $50 million in the first months after its release in February.

The screenplay is based upon a memoir that Greg Laurie, and co-writer Ellen Vaughn, published in 2018, “Jesus Revolution: How God Transformed an Unlikely Generation and How He Can Do It Again Today.”

I knew nothing of Greg Laurie when I watched the movie, but since then, I have learned that he is a long-time pastor, fifty years now, at a megachurch called Harvest Christian Fellowship in both Riverside and Irvine, California.

The screenplay includes four people: Greg, his girlfriend Cathe, a charismatic bearded hippy named Lonnie Frisbee, and a former Foursquare pastor named Chuck Smith.

In the early 1970s, Greg was in high school and lived with his alcoholic mother in a trailer house parked at Newport Beach. Throughout the film, he struggles to find his way, to re-create a more stable home and family, and find a career.

He heads down the wrong path for a short time, but other people, including Cathe, Lonnie, and Chuck, redirect him.

Lonnie and Chuck agree to conduct a mass baptism on a Saturday at Pirate’s Cove, at Newport Beach. Over the next several weeks, the two men baptize hundreds and then thousands of young people in the Pacific Ocean, including Cathe and Greg.

A break between Lonnie and Chuck over the appropriate style of worship at Calvary Chapel forces Greg to choose between them. Lonnie heads to Florida.

It is the film’s final scene that resonated with me. It is that of Explo ‘72, in Dallas, Texas, a gathering sponsored by Bill Bright’s organization “Campus Crusade for Christ.”

High school and college-aged students from across America showed up from June 12 to June 17, 1972, for a week of training in mission work, fifty-one years ago this month.

Three weeks after I graduated from Sterling High School, in May, I made the trek to Dallas. My ride dropped me off at Dallas Baptist College, and I checked into a dorm.

Days we attended seminars on campus, where instructors tried to teach us how to minister door-to-door, by passing out tracts. Afternoons we knocked on doors.

Towards evening, city buses would haul us to the Cotton Bowl, where we listened to a series of vocalists, bands, and sermons, including Johnny Cash, Kris Kristofferson, and Andre Crouch. Billy Graham spoke mid-week.

The final scene of “Jesus Revolution” shows a clip of Billy speaking to a crowd of almost 80,000 students, in the Cotton Bowl. He wore a powder blue suit, white shirt, and tie.

In that clip, he says, “This is a demonstration of the love of God by tens of thousands of young people, saying to the world that God loves you. It’s the Jesus revolution that is going on in this country.” Pictures of the actual Greg, Cathe, Lonnie, and Chuck follow.

At Explo ‘72, I did not see many, if any, hippies or flower children, like those seen at Haight-Ashbury in San Francisco. Those who attended were typical high school and college-aged students, who wore normal clothes, shoes, and sported no beards.

I think the film makes a mistake by conflating as the same two distinct organizations, Chuck and Lonnie’s “Jesus Movement” in southern California, and Bill Bright’s “Campus Crusade for Christ,” a college-oriented ministry spread across the fifty states.

In all, I thought the movie was worth watching. Kathy Schiffer, a journalist, said, “If you’re old enough to remember the 1960s and ’70s, you’ll find Lionsgate’s upbeat new film ‘Jesus Revolution’ to be a walk down memory lane.” Indeed, it was, especially the music.

I might mention that Kelsey Grammer, of “Cheers” and “Frasier,” plays Chuck Smith, and that Jonathan Roumie, of “The Chosen” television series, plays Lonnie Frisbee.

Native Americans and education

Native Americans and education

Native Americans and Education

In “National Geographic’s” May edition, the writer Suzette Brewer, member of the Cherokee Nation, wrote an article about “the some 500 federally funded boarding schools for Native children opened in the U.S and Canada in the 1800s.”

Catholic or Protestant missionaries, intent on converting the students to Christianity and to white men’s culture, oversaw many of these schools, all designed to indoctrinate the students in the missionaries’ specific theology.

Brewer calls these schools “places of horror and shame.”

The children were separated from their homes, brothers, sisters, parents, aunts, uncles, cousins, and grandparents. They were beat if they spoke their native languages. Their hair and braids were cut. They were told to dress in white people’s clothes.

They were forced to work for long hours for little, if any, pay, in local homes.

Many of the older ones gave up and ran away, but professional trackers tracked them down and brought them back. Thousands died at the schools over the decades due to disease, poor nutrition, suicide, or under mysterious circumstances.

Eugene Herrod attended Carter Seminary in Oklahoma, and says now that, “Corporal punishment was rampant, but the emotional isolation was the hardest.”

“The familial dysfunction that was occurring in our communities and in our families was a result of this government obliterating a well-conceived and well-built tribal society that had lasted and endured for centuries.”

The educational results out of these boarding schools “were abysmal.”

At Carlisle Indian Industrial School in Carlisle, Pennsylvania, Suzette Brewer declared, “Only a few hundred students of the many thousands who were enrolled during the school’s 39-year history received high school diplomas.”

Carlisle’s founder Richard Pratt stated his school’s mission: “Kill the Indian in him and save the man.” There is little evidence he achieved either goal for most of his students.

The most famous alumni out of Carlisle was Jim Thorpe, a gifted athlete with talents in football, baseball, and track and field. He attended Carlisle off and on from 1904 until 1913, but it is questionable if he received a diploma.

One Native American boy who avoided the boarding school route was Sherman Alexie, who was born on the Spokane Indian Reservation in 1966, just three years before Lyndon Johnson’s administration shut down the boarding school program.

Sherman was smart. He read books. In an essay entitled, “The Joy of Reading and Writing: Superman and Me,” he says, “I learned to read with a Superman comic book. A smart Indian is a dangerous person, widely feared and ridiculed.

“We were Indian children who were expected to be stupid. Most lived up to those expectations inside the classroom but subverted them outside. They struggled with basic reading in school but could remember how to sing dozens of powwow songs.

“As Indian children, we were expected to fail in the non-Indian world. I refused to fail. I was smart. I was arrogant. I was lucky. I read books late into the night.”

Sherman chose to attend high school off the reservation, and there he succeeded. He became a writer and a poet. Today, he speaks to students in classes on the reservations, and he challenges them to read and to write, to try to succeed with books.

He says that “some students look at me with bright eyes and arrogant wonder. Then there are the sullen and already defeated Indian kids who sit in the back rows and ignore me. The pages of their notebooks are empty. They carry neither pencil nor pen.”

The boarding school program joined government to church, with the loftiest and noblest of intentions, but the Indian boys and girls who were shoved through that program suffered incalculable damage: isolation, violence, and crushed spirits.




This past week I listened to Craig Wortmann’s book, “What’s Your Story: Using Stories to Ignite Performance and Be More Successful.” Craig encourages readers to place their stories into a matrix of sixteen cells, four columns by four rows.

He identifies four columns, top to bottom: success, failure, fun, and legends. A success story is how a project succeeded. A failure story is how a project failed. A fun story is a joke. A legend story is a once-upon-a-time story, that of a hero.

The idea of a matrix appears too complicated, a spreadsheet to arrange jokes. Ronald Reagan kept it simpler. He wrote his stories on 3 x 5 cards and kept them in boxes. To write a speech, for example, to inspire, he withdrew cards from his stack.

Rodney Dangerfield did not have a matrix, because he told only one type of story, his repeated failures, for he played the role of a born loser. His was a continuous failure.

“When I was a kid, my dad took me hunting, and we shot a deer. He put the deer inside the jeep on the passenger side, and he hung me on the front bumper.”

“When I go out on a date, I invite two girls. That way when I fall asleep, the two girls can talk to each other.”

Rodney’s tale of woe, all fiction of course, was, for some, funny, not for others.

Abraham Lincoln carried in his mind a treasure chest of stories, jokes, and anecdotes to make a legal or political point. At times, he acted as a clown or a jester, to disarm an opponent, to avoid being challenged or bullied into a wrong choice or action.

For example, he told a story about how a dad advised his son to take a wife. “Ok, dad,” the son replied. “Whose wife shall I take?” An example of miscommunication.

Lincoln also told a story about a farmer who suffered from seven skunks, who lived near his chicken house. One night the farmer shot one skunk, but because it caused such a stink, he let the other six go.

By this story, Lincoln justified firing just one cabinet official, rather than all seven.

Lincoln’s Secretary of War, Edwin Stanton, grew exasperated by Lincoln’s repeated use of rural, countrified, low-base stories.

In Stephen Spielberg’s movie Lincoln, Stanton shouts at the President, “Oh, no, you’re going to tell another one of your stories! I can’t stand to hear another one.”

Craig Wortmann says that our lives today lack a balance of appropriate stories, a syndrome he calls SDD, Story Deficit Disorder. We need both failure and success stories.

Instead, we endure a blizzard of bullet points and bytes, a laundry list of dull and boring facts, that lay there on the page or the screen, lifeless and uninspiring.

Like small children, readers cry out, “Come on. Tell me a story!”

The rage today is to tell “a struggle turned to success” story: “low then high; first perseverance, then achievement; all struggle redeemed; the more struggle the more redemption.”

Stephen Marche, A New York Times Book Review writer, stated his opinion.

“I hate those stories. Don’t tell me about how it’s all going to work out. Don’t show me J. K. Rowling scribbling her first Harry Potter book in cafes, a jobless single parent dependent on welfare.” Most storytellers never experience a single moment of success.

I say that the best stories of all are factual stories from the past, in a word “history.”

The historian does her best to get it straight, true, with little opinion tossed in. Her written account reads like a gossip who repeats details drawn from a family’s closet.

Some do not like to read history for that reason. It reveals events too personal and painful. One person said this about the past, “Listen, we know it happened, but why say so? Why tell it? It is unnecessary. So it happened! Fine!”

Every storyteller should know his or her audience and respect their feelings.

Today, tell someone a story: a funny story, or a story that delights, or one that makes a point. It is natural for human beings to want to hear a good story.

Roger Williams and William Shakespeare

William Shakespeare was born close to April 23, 1564, in Stratford-on-the-Avon, in England, 100 miles northwest of London. Roger Williams was born either as early as December of 1603, or as late as April 5, 1604, in Smithfield, a section of London.

Shakespeare’s father, John, was a glover in Stratford-on-the-Avon, in that he stitched gloves out of animal skins. Williams’s father, James, bought, sold, and traded textiles.

Shakespeare became a famous playwright in London at the Globe Theater, but Williams sailed to Massachusetts in 1631, and later founded Providence, Rhode Island.

Shakespeare died close to his 52nd birthday, on April 23, 1616, in Stratford-on-the Avon. Roger Williams died in early March of 1683, near his 79th birthday, in Providence.

Shakespeare was forty years old when Williams was born, and Williams was twelve when Shakespeare died. Thus, their lives overlapped by twelve years, although Williams enjoyed seventeen more years of life than did Shakespeare.

Shakespeare knew nothing of the lad Roger Williams, but Roger might have heard talk about Shakespeare. By the time of his passing, Shakespeare was famous across most of England, and was considered one of the country’s premiere playwrights.

In 1623, when Roger was near his thirtieth birthday, John Heminges and Henry Condell published Shakespeare’s First Folio, a collection of thirty-six of his plays. It sold well. The publisher’s printing run was an estimated 750 copies. People knew his name.

The distance from Roger Williams’s home in Smithfield to the Globe is a little over a mile. Smithfield lies in the northwest corner of London, north of the Thames River, and the Globe is along the south banks of the Thames.

On occasion, the two men’s works approximated each other.

Shakespeare included fairies in his play A Midsummer Night’s Dream: Peaseblossom, Cobweb, Moth, and Mustardseed. Williams included two winged beings named Truth and Peace, who converse in his most famous work, The Bloudy Tenent of Persecution.

Three of Williams’s comments: “I humbly desire to say, if I perish, I perish. It is but a shadow vanished, a bubble broke, a dream finished. Eternity will pay for all.”

“We remember we are but strangers in an inn, but passengers in a ship, and though we dream of long summer days, yet our very life and being is but a swift short passage from the bank of time to the other side, or [to a] bank of a doleful eternity.”

“This life is a brief minute, eternity follows.”

Three of Shakespeare’s passages: In A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Puck says, “If we shadows have offended, think but this, and all is mended, that you have but slumbered here while these visions did appear.”

In The Tempest, Prospero says, “Our revels now are ended. These our actors, as I foretold you, were all spirits, and are melted into air, into thin air. . . . We are such stuff as dreams are made on; and our little life is rounded with a sleep.”

Also, in The Tempest, Prospero says, “Now I want spirits to enforce, art to enchant, and my ending is despair, unless I be relieved by prayer. . . . As you from crimes would pardoned be, let your indulgence set me free.”

Most likely Roger Williams never attended one of Shakespeare’s plays. When young he studied for the ministry, and when older he lived in Providence.

Although Roger sailed back to London twice when an adult, he most likely did not attend a play at the Globe Theater, entertainment that clergymen frowned upon.

Yet what an opportunity! What if he had sat on a bench in the Globe theater in the mid-seventeenth century and watched King Lear, Macbeth, Hamlet, and Romeo and Juliet performed? For Parson Roger Williams, it would have appeared magical, amazing!

Roger Williams vs. the Puritans

Roger Williams vs. the Puritans

Roger Williams vs. the Puritans

Last time in these pages, I mentioned Jonathan Winthrop’s “city on a hill” sermon, “that all the eyes of all people are upon us.” Winthrop considered himself a type of Moses who was leading his people, like Israel, to a new land, to build a new Jerusalem.

This is spelled out in John Barry’s 2012 book, “Roger Williams and the Creation of the American Soul: Church, State, and the Birth of Liberty.”

Winthrop and his fellow Puritans believed the city on a hill should have a church and a state, and that the two should work together, like left and right hands. In essence, Winthrop wanted to build a theocracy, in New England, in 1630.

The Puritans expected the magistrates to support the church by compelling people to attend worship, to recite oaths, to pray prescribed prayers, and to tithe.

Those who refused to obey their laws paid fines, were jailed, were locked into stocks, suffered the loss of their ears, were banished back to England, or were hung.

In turn, the clergymen were expected to support the magistrates by providing Biblical justification for dispensing punishment, and by confirming the magistrates’ edicts.

John Barry pointed out that one early Puritan to Boston disagreed with this well-oiled theocratic machine, and that was Roger Williams, an Anglican clergyman, who argued for a freer, more liberated, society.

Roger insisted that a wall should separate church from state, creating two spheres of authority, and that one sphere should not overlap or support the other.

Roger’s view was unique in Massachusetts, in England, in the entire world.

He arrived in Boston in 1631, and right away he stirred up controversy. The Puritans heard him out, but they thought his idea dangerous, that their plantation would fail if they implemented his idea.

He told his fellow Puritans that their government has no authority over the first four Ten Commandments, what he called the First Tablet: no other gods, no graven images, no swearing of oaths, no compelling attendance at worship on a Sabbath.

Those four commandments were private, between God and a man or a woman.

Roger explained that he believed that the state did have authority over the last six, the Second Tablet, because those pertain to human beings’ relationships with others.

Winthrop, the magistrates, and the clergyman in Boston could make no sense of this. Why, they wondered, would he divide the Ten Commandments into two tablets, and expect obedience to the second, but not the first.

Roger urged Massachusetts toward religious freedom, to a free conscience, where all can believe what they want and speak what they believe, without state interference.

A twentieth-century colonial American historian Perry Miller said that Roger Williams is “always there to remind Americans [to] no other conclusion but absolute religious freedom was feasible in this society.”

Out of fear of a loss of their power, the magistrates disagreed, brought Roger to a trial in October of 1635, and voted to banish him from Massachusetts. He fled into the wilderness in January of 1636, and alongside the Narragansett Bay began a new colony.

Rhode Island’s government implemented Roger’s idea, wrote freedom of conscience into its charter. Members of other religious faiths heard the welcome news and poured into the colony: Catholics, atheists, Quakers, Jews, Baptists, and others.

Roger welcomed them all. He disagreed with their religious faith, especially the Quakers, but he permitted them to worship as they wanted in Rhode Island, with no harassment or persecution from Rhode Island’s state government.

John Barry wrote, that then Rhode Island was the freest society in the known world.