It is the 28th of August 2020. Welcome to the Christian History Almanac brought to you by 1517 at 1517.org, I'm Dan van Voorhis.
The year was 1828.
It was the year that "American English" was born, with the publication of Noah Webster's "American Dictionary of the English Language." The largest-ever dictionary took him 22 years to complete. Webster was fluent in 26 languages and enshrined many words in the official American lexicon, such as skunk, hickory, and applesauce. He had also made a few suggestions for American spellings of English words that didn't catch on, such as spelling thumb without the "b" on the end, island without the "s" in the middle, and daughter as "d-a-w-t-e-r."
In 1828, America saw the birth of Jacksonian Democracy with the election of Andrew Jackson. The first president from the southern states had been denied the office four years prior in the so-called "corrupt bargain" that put John Quincy Adams in the Executive office. It would be the first of four times in American history in which the person with the most popular votes did not become president. Elected in '28, Jackson became the only president in American history to have killed someone in a duel.
Germans in 1828 were a twitter with the news of Kaspar Hauser, the feral boy who appeared on the streets of Nuremberg. He was unkempt, wearing strange clothing and walked hunched over. Unable to speak, he had with him a note that said he should be taken in or hanged. As he learned to talk, he told the story of being kept in a small windowless room with only bread and water. He said his only companion was a rocking horse. Later it was suggested that he was royalty, kidnapped, and reported dead. Controversy and fame surrounded the mysterious man's life. Years later, he was murdered in a court garden. Today a plaque reads at this site, in Latin, "Here a Mysterious Man was Killed in a Mysterious Way."
It was an important year for the literary world in terms of who came into the world in 1828. Giant of science fiction, French author Jules Verne was born in 1828. Also born in 1828 was Norwegian playwright and director Henrik Ibsen. And it was on this, the 28th of August in 1828 that author, anarchist, and Christian, Lev Nikolayeviç Tolstoi, or Leo Tolstoy was born.
Tolstoy is considered perhaps the greatest novelist of all time for works such as "War and Peace" and "Anna Karenina." He grew up the son of aristocrats and studied at the University of Kazan. Rejecting the Christian faith in favor of enlightenment optimism, instead of a cross around his neck, he wore a medallion with a portrait of Jean Jaques Rousseau. He lived in relative peace as a novelist, although he became something like a war reporter during the Crimean war. Having considered the human condition in various ways through his writings, it later became personal.
In his work "My Confession," he described being alone in the cold dark and being seized by a sense of futility. He considered death not only as the end of life, but that death guaranteed that nothing could have value in life. Horrified, he began to look for answers. Tolstoy looked to the poor and marveled at their ability to live peacefully and with hope. Encouraged by this, he began reading the Bible and, by his own account, became a Christian. His theology was strongly affected by the poor in Russia and his reading of the Sermon on the Mount. He became a staunch critic of the state and argued that Christianity, rightly understood, implied enmity with the government. As an anarchist, he also believed that non-violence was consistent with the Gospel. His work on non-violence would influence both Gandhi and Martin Luther King, Jr.
Excommunicated from the Russian church in 1901, Tolstoy was ever the iconoclast, rejecting both literary and theological schools. His theology was steeped in much of 19th-century modernist thought, and few would today read his works for their doctrinal positions. However, his conversion and radical call to abandon the kingdom of this world would place him in the grand tradition of reforming rabble-rousers who fought the influence of the kingdom of man to help realize the kingdom of God. Tolstoy died in 1910 from heart failure while waiting at the railroad station. Born on this, the 28th of August, in 1828. He was 82 years old.
The reading for today comes from another political radical and Christian, Dietrich Bonhoeffer. This is from his preface to his work "Discipleship."
"When holy scripture speaks of following Jesus, it proclaims that people are free from all human rules, from everything which presumes, burdens, or causes worry and torment of conscience. In following Jesus, people are released from the hard yoke of their own laws to be under the gentle yoke of Jesus Christ … Jesus' commandment never wishes to destroy life, but rather to preserve, strengthen, and heal life."
This has been the Christian History Almanac for the 28th of August 2020 brought to you by 1517 at 1517.org. The show is produced by a man with a note that says he should be taken in, or hanged, 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.