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Sunday, May 15, 2011

Sidebar: Celebrating the Life of Dr. Falwell, four years later

Four years ago today, I was sitting in my office and the news came on the wire that Dr. Jerry Falwell had passed. I sat there looking at the headline in stunned silence. They were words I couldn't even fathom...Dr. Falwell...gone. Four years later and his passing leaves a growing hole in the lives of the generation that loved him and answered his call to Liberty Mountain to become "Young Champions for Christ". He was a hero to us. We went to that school because of him. He was a man with a different vision than his contemporaries and that difference was what drew us to the mountain. When I graduated high school I had several options for college. I knew I wanted to attend a Christian College. My options were Bob Jones, Hyles Anderson, Pensacola, Tennessee Temple, and Liberty. Those were my options, but Liberty was my one and only choice. The other schools were marginalized by their bizarre legalism (except TTU which was fairly moderate for the day) and at least in the case of BJ and H/A they were run by some severely twisted individuals with such a self aggrandizing nature that they actually named a school after themselves.
But Liberty was different. Liberty was where you went if you had a huge dream and vision of doing something great for God and nobody there was going to chide you for it. Nobody was going to tell you to shut up and wait your turn and mop the floors and be happy. Nobody was going to deny you a chance to be the thing that burned in your soul every hour. The school had that attitude because Doc had that attitude. Doc had 18 year old freshman preaching on national TV. Doc would tell us that one day we'd be bigger than Notre Dame and we'd beat them on the football field right there in South Bend. Doc invited Ted Kennedy to speak on campus because being the man's friend opened a door of ministry to a guy that all the other Evangelicals reviled. Doc had the Arch bishop of the Richmond Diocese come to campus to speak because, while they might have disagreed about the Pope and about Mary, they agreed on the unborn and Doc knew which hill was worth dying on.
More than anything, Doc loved us. He loved us. He was funny and cantankerous and joyous and when he was on campus you could just sense it. He would sneak up behind you in his Suburban, cut off the engine drift silently up to you and blast the train horn he'd had installed. Then he'd laugh himself silly behind the wheel while you picked up your books or your girlfriend jumped into your arms.
Doc once stopped me in the hallway to ask me about a fight I'd gotten into the night before in a game against NC State. "What's it like to fight on the ice?" he boomed. (Doc's natural speaking voice was as thunderous as the one he preached with.) "Oh...pretty much like fighting anywhere Doc, except you have to watch your balance a bit" I replied. He laughed at that and then he pointed to (yet another) a scathing article in the Liberty Champion about what a bad testimony it was to fight in a hockey game if we were a Christian college. "Don't let 'em get to you" he laughed and walked away. It never did.
My favorite memory of Doc...and his son Jonathan...was during my freshman year. I had run out of money by Christmas break and I was not planning on returning for spring semester. Jonathan and I had a few classes together and we had become friendly. (I was a participant in the infamous "Andy Barrick Affair" where a simple game of touch football at Jonathan's house got too physical and the star recruits pitching shoulder was broken)  Jonathan asked me what classes I was taking next semester and I told him I wasn't coming back. He seemed incredulous. The following Friday, Doc preached in chapel and the entire sermon was about how "Nobody should ever leave Liberty because of finances. If they don't let you check in, you come see me!". After the service, Jonathan comes up to me and says "You heard what dad said, right?" I replied a muttered "yeah I heard" Jonathan grabbed my arm and said "No! You heard him right? You'll be back next excuses." I suddenly realized Dr. Falwell had preached that sermon for me. Jonathan had told his dad and Doc was letting me...and a lot of others in my situation...know that it was never going to be acceptable to not attend Liberty simply because of money.
That was Doc.
In October of 2009, I took my daughter to homecoming. She was 11 at the time. We had been at an art showing at the new exhibit hall in the Fine Arts building and we were walking across campus to the dining hall to eat. I stopped at the intersection across from the Reber-Thomas hall. I was taking in the vastness of the place. The things that weren't there when I arrived as a freshman in 1984. I told my daughter what it was like back then. the big hill alongside dorm 22 where we'd take trays from the dining room and slide down the hill when it snowed. How the DeMoss building wasn't even there when I got there. How the bald spot got it's name. (the annual spring fires) How there were about 2500 students there back then. We played hockey in Roanoke, and football at Lynchburg Memorial stadium.
I looked at the ice rink on campus, the Snowflex,  all of this... I told Morgan; "All is because of one man's dreams. One man who heard from God and went after those visions when everyone told him he was crazy to do so. Without Doc and his vision, none of this would be here. But with him...all this has come to be. When God gives you a go after it with all your might because this is what can come from that"
I was teary eyed when I spoke those words to her. I am teary eyed recalling the moment now.
I miss Dr. Falwell terribly. But his presence is all around. Carry on Doc. I know you are in that great cloud of witnesses, cheering on those "Jerry's Kids" who loved you so much.

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