In 2010 I sit on our deck looking off into the Georgia pines that surround our farmhouse. Beside me is a worn paperback out of print for decades. The book, published in 1969, was written by Gustave Todrank. He is gone now, but I think he would be pleased to see me reading his book The Secular Search for a New Christ, based on his lectures to the same religion class we took as undergraduates.
His thesis was that Jesus was an extraordinary person and a christ amongst many. According to Todrank, the meaning of the word christ in pre-Biblical times was “agent of salvation” and referred to a function carried out by many persons. Later the definition was changed by the disciples of Jesus to refer only to a singular person. Todrank argued that Abraham, Moses, Joshua, Elijah, Confucius, Muhammad, Mary, Gandhi, Lincoln, and King were all christs according to the original definition. If Todrank were alive today (he died in 1982 at age 58), he might include Mother Teresa, Sojourner Truth, the Dalai Lama, Nelson Mandela, Paul Farmer, and others, some without fame, who struggled for the salvation of others. He emphasized that each of us has the ability to be a christ, and that secular institutions could fulfill the christ mission as well as religious institutions. Todrank raised profound questions and asked us to keep our minds open to new worlds of people and thought.
This may be hard for young people to understand, but in 1968, most of us identified ourselves by our ethnicity and religion. I grew up in an exclusive Jewish community and had no non-Jewish friends until Colby. I had been taught, as a Jewish child of the generation of the Holocaust, to be wary of those who were not Jewish. Todrank was the first Christian minister that I had known, and he was one of the most caring adults I had ever experienced. When I met Sara she was non-Jewish, but not one to be wary of, rather someone to love. What I understand now is that, when Todrank readily agreed to sanctify our marriage, he was responding to his deep beliefs about the need to cross worlds to create a better world.
The Sara and Carl world of today would be incomprehensible to our ancestors. Our eldest daughter Jennifer is married to a mighty fine German fellow named Volker and they raise their children in Bonn. Two generations before, Jennifer’s ancestors were persecuted horrifically by Volker’s ancestors; now their children are a delightful mixture of seemingly impenetrable worlds. Our younger daughter, Rachel, is married to a guy named Henry, who is of Italy, drums, and ecological sensibilities. They live on the side of a mountain with their two spirited daughters, celebrating the most holy of holidays to them, the winter solstice.
And we, transplanted Northeasterners, continue to live on the outskirts of Athens, Ga. Our neighbors include African-American descendants of slaves, more newly arrived white and black professionals, and a few white native Georgians who still hang the Dixie flag. One couple down the road consists of a New York Jewish male clinical psychologist married to an Alabama Southern Baptist female wool weaver. Our road is tinged with history, eccentricity, poverty, wealth, sheep, mules, soybean fields, and the delivery of the Sunday New York Times. I remember a friend visiting for the first time, looking around incredulously and asking, “What it is like to live in the South?” My answer, “It’s home.”
I’m not sure my friend understood, but Professor Todrank certainly would have. At that spring sunrise by the pond, with his steadfast belief in us, he gave us the confidence to create our new world.
Carl Glickman ’68 is professor emeritus of education, University of Georgia. Sara Orton Glickman ’71 is a former middle school teacher in Athens, Ga. This essay is an abbreviated version of an essay to be part of a collection of new writings by the author. Copyright held by the author.