Maybe it’s just me….
But I miss Jerry Falwell.
It’s been well over year since Dr. Falwell went home to be with the Lord.
I’m sure he would be all over the issues that we see in the election. He always had a twinkle in his eye as he would debate or comment on the candidates and their positions.
I remember the first time I met Jerry Falwell…
Right after my High School graduation, I was working a full time job and did not go to college in the fall. I had a good job at H J Heinz in Fremont, Ohio. I really wasn’t “smart enough” nor “good enough” to go to a private, Christian College. But after a year and half, I decided that that was not something that I wanted to do for the rest of my life. So I quit my job and planned on going to school.
My family was thinking that I had lost my mind. No one in my family went college. Who was I to think I could go.
I had attended Fremont Baptist Temple, an Independent, Fundamental Baptist Church. For those of you who do not understand what that means…I do not have time now to explain…maybe a future blog.
So…back to my story…it was expected for me to go to a “Christian” college. I had received a lot of advice from people in my church. To attend a “secular” or public college was not even a consideration for me. If I had stated that I wanted attend a State school, I would have been considered deep in sin and well on my way to burn in Hell.
I had been on the “tour” of all the Christian colleges of the day that were deemed acceptable by my church. Liberty was way down (last) on the list of acceptable schools. Let me see…the bottom of the list of approved schools…Hmmm…Liberty Baptist College. That was good enough for me…I enrolled at Liberty in January of 1981.
I was going to be a student right smack dab in the middle of the Moral Majority era. Now I must admit, I was not a real big fan of the Moral Majority. In the past, I have stated in my blog, that I have been a registered Democrat since 1979. My whole family had been democrats for as long as I remember. My father would retire from the Teamsters and my brother was an official with the United Steel Workers Union. Needless to say, I was a little bit more “liberal” in my politics and my personal life choices. I had perfected the art of going “undercover” and making sure my Baptist Church would not have a clue that my politics and my ways were more liberal than I wanted to admit.
As I prepared to go to Liberty, I remember thinking I had to not let anyone see my disdain for the comments made about this politician or that issue by Dr. Falwell. I prepared to try to be good and give it my best shot at the academics. I would practice my smile and the nodding my head in fake agreement so that no one would notice me. My fear was that I would be discovered and would be “burned at the stake” or at least “tarred and feathered”, not to mention being kicked out of school because I was not a good Christian and more importantly because I wasn’t a REPUBLICAN.
My family had to be thinking that I had lost my mind.
I drove on the campus of Liberty University on January 8, 1981. My sister and my mother drove me down to Lynchburg, Virginia the home of Jerry Falwell, Liberty Baptist College and the Moral Majority. I arrived on a Thursday afternoon with an old beat up suitcase filled with five shirts, a couple of ties, and a pair of blue and black dress slacks. I had not a clue of what the future would hold. I had enough money to get me through the semester but nothing more than a wing and a prayer as to how I was going to make it academically.
I had been out of school for a year and a half and had not picked up anything more than a Sports Illustrated to read in all that time. To say I was out of my element is an understatement. I’m not sure that I had an “element” at all. I was the first Lee to attend college from my family. My brother, Jim got married too young and my sister Linda, the most capable, never really had the opportunity to go. Now here I come, the least capable and I somehow made it through the process of being admitted into the school and even managed to get a dorm assignment.
As I watched my sister and my mother drive away from my dorm window, the reality of my situation came crashing down upon me. I kept my eye on their car for as long as I could before watching it disappear into the backdrop of the Blue Ridge Mountains. Something deep inside me wanted to run outside and stop them. I wanted to scream for them to come back. I wanted to tell my mom that I was afraid of failing and that I made a mistake of thinking that I was worthy enough to actually attend college. I mean what was I thinking? I had told people that I was going to go, but I never really believed that I would actually do it.
Despite the fact that everyone, including my own pastor, told me that I would not amount to anything, I was indeed a college student. The cold hard truth is they were right…I wasn’t smart enough to make it in college. I also struggled with the fact that I wasn’t “spiritual” enough to make it at a Christian college. I did not have the pedigree to compete or succeed on this level. It wasn’t just bad enough for me to not go to college right out of high school, now I had to face the reality of going school and have to face everyone when I failed.
I sat there in my room all alone. I sat without unpacking. I sat there for hours. I sat until the darkness of evening closed around me and filled the room. I sat there scared to death that my thoughts and feelings of inadequacy might really be true. These feelings were buried deep down inside me. They were not uncommon to me, but I never showed them outwardly. I had always come across confident, maybe too confident for my own good. Now I was facing true fear of failure and I was far away from everything that had been protecting me. I never faced fear like this. This was real. I guess I always wondered deep down inside how I measured up. Where did I fit into the plan? What was going to happen to me?
Only time would tell…
The next day was the first day of orientation. I had cut my hair and wore a tie and looked the part of a young Conservative Republican that I saw everywhere I went on campus. I went to the first session of orientation and took my place where all “good Baptists” sit…the back row.
I was trying to sit and not be noticed, when out of the corner of my eye was Dr. Falwell. He was walking through the door and I was immediately taken back at how he just was walking through the crowd. Where were the guards? Where was the entourage? He smiled as he came into the room.
Then he started to walk right in my direction!!!
“For the love of GOD!!!”, I thought. “I am here only one day and Jerry Falwell spotted me and my “liberal” ways before I had ever had the chance to hide them!”
I did not expect this. What was I going to say? What was he going to do? He continued his path in my direction. My hands started to sweat, my heart pounded. I desperately wanted to disappear, anywhere would be better than getting booted from school before it ever started. I knew it…he could tell I wasn’t cut out for this.
His eyes met mine and I saw something I had not seen on television. His eyes were bright and comforting. His eyes seemed familiar, like the eyes of my Grandfather. They made me feel at ease. He smiled and walked right up to me.
“What’s your name?” he asked. I mumbled something that I hope sounded like “David Lee”. He shook my hand and looked at me and said something about “…welcoming me and hoping I would enjoy the school year.” He asked me about my family and where I was from. He asked about my future and what I thought God wanted to do with my life. We spoke for a few minutes before he moved on, talking to other students as he moved up to the podium.
I could not believe it. Jerry Falwell had spoken to me. Was this the same man that I had seen on television? He was not the pompous, radical, legalistic, narrow-minded, judgmental televangelist that I had assumed I would discover.
He accepted me… He welcomed me… I was part of the family.
Over the next four years at Liberty, our paths would cross often. Believe it or not, when I would run into Dr. Falwell he would remember my name. I was humbled when I introduced my parents to Dr. Falwell at my graduation and have him call me by name. That is something that many students at Liberty did not get to experience.
It’s been 25 years since my graduation and I never had the chance to meet with Dr. Falwell again.
A part of me wants to believe that he would have remembered me.
I miss Dr. Falwell.
I think he would be so excited about all that is going on at Thomas Road. He would be proud of the way Jonathan has carried the message of Jesus Christ to the community of Lynchburg and through television. He also would be thrilled at the way that Jerry Jr has carried the torch of Liberty University. Record attendance and commitments at the church and an all-time high enrollment of students at the college are just a few examples of the success of the past year.
I am proud to have been a part of Liberty University. I am thankful that they took a small town Ohio boy and gave him a chance. I am proud of the fact that I did indeed graduate and went on to teach for 12 years. I even had the opportunity to teach some future Liberty students. I will be eternally grateful.
But then again, maybe it’s just me…