A Second Helping of Thanksgiving Gratitude Courtesy Rev. Selsus E. Tull

Anyone can post an article about Thanksgiving the week of; what would happen if you got another chance to think about gratitude, thanksgiving and spirituality the week after? To find out, read this guest post by Professional Writing senior Will Overton on the theme of thanksgiving throughout the sermons of Rev. Selsus E. Tull.

A Selsus E. Tull Thanksgiving

Thanksgiving has been observed in the United States ever since the Pilgrims celebrated their first successful harvest in 1621. However, it was not until Abraham Lincoln was president that it became an officially recognized national holiday. While we are familiar with the usual staples of the holiday, dinner with our families, the Macy’s parade, etc., we are also thankful for what God has provided for us. In a series of sermons, Selsus E. Tull delivers his thoughts on the importance of Thanksgiving and how we should not relegate giving thanks to just one day a year.

Selsus E. Tull was a prolific pastor in the Southern United States in the first half of the twentieth century. Tull preached on many topics over the course of his long and illustrious career, including the importance of giving thanks in our lives. While complete transcripts of Tull’s Thanksgiving sermons do not exist, we are offered a glimpse into his thoughts on the holiday. Even with pieces missing, these sermons are as meaningful today as they were when he first delivered them.

Page one of sermon “Thanksgiving Service 1926”

In his sermon titled “Thanksgiving 1926: A Contrast in Life’s Ideals”, Tull uses Luke 12:16-23 and Psalm 116 as a way to draw a contrast between two men who lived different lifestyles. The man in the Luke verse stores up treasures on Earth after he “yielded an abundant harvest” (Luke 16:16). While he plans to store the grain in his barns for his own use, God warns him that he will die before he can use it. Jesus summarizes the parable by saying “For life is more than food, and the body more than clothes” (Luke 16:23). Tull is using this advice to warn his congregation to show thanks to God and store up treasures in heaven instead of earth. If they devote their lives to God and do not store up treasures for themselves on Earth then they will live a rich and fulfilling life.

Psalm 116 is a psalm of thanksgiving often attributed to David. Despite the hardships in his life, he continues to praise the Lord. In contrast to the man in Luke 16, the speaker in Psalm 116 is devoted to the Lord and gives what is owed to him. This is shown in verse 12 where he asks “what shall I return to the Lord for all his goodness to me?” (Psalm 116). The tone of the Psalm is also more reverential than the parable of the man and his grain. The use of these two verses is meant to draw a comparison between the man who “looked at the harvest” and the man who looked “at the Lord of the harvest.” Tull hopes that the congregation behaves more like the man in Psalm 116 in their daily lives and not just at Thanksgiving.

The entirety of Tull’s notes for a sermon titled “Thanksgiving”

The Tull sermon titled “Thanksgiving” gives its message rather succinctly. Tull wants his audience to know “what to be thankful for”, “when to be thankful” and “how to be thankful.” Those three phrases make up the entirety of this sermon note. While no other information is available about the sermon Tull delivered, his talking points make it clear what he wanted his audience to take away from it.

In “Thanksgiving Service”, Tull talks about the third chapter of Colossians and what Thanksgiving means to Christians. One of the ways that Tull talks about Thanksgiving is by saying it is an obligation that comes out of a blessing. Whenever we feel blessed by something God does for us, we are obliged to give thanks for it. The concept of giving thanks and celebrating Thanksgiving is called “a unique and most commendable custom.” One of the harsher truths Tull brings up is the quality of someone who does not give thanks when they receive a blessing. According to him, ungrateful people are “a blight and a curse” on the world around them. But none of those people are at the service on the day Tull spoke because he feels assured that he is addressing “Christian hearts” who know how to “give thanks.”  This set of sermon notes ends with the beginning of a list that is now incomplete. Whether Tull wrote more or the remainder are lost is unknown. There is no incorporation of verses from Colossians 3, indicating that either the chapter was recited at the start of the sermon or that it was part of the sermon not included in Tull’s notes.

There is another Tull sermon titled “Thanksgiving Service” that finds Tull speaking about Thanksgiving as a “distinctly…American day.” Tull’s assuring his congregation that everything wrong with the world today, 1937 to be precise, is due to the actions of man not God. These words of assurance are true, even if there are some people who would argue against it. Tull delivering this sermon during the Great Depression is his way of reminding the congregation that they should still give thanks, even if they do not have an abundance of earthly goods. The idea that we should give thanks during hard times is especially important today, when it seems like there are more hard times than good. Tull’s words reiterate the notion that giving thanks is not just for when everything is going well in our lives. We should give thanks even when times are rough, if for no other reason to remember what good we do have in our lives.

In his “Thanksgiving 1927” sermon, Tull delivers a memorable quote: “We ought not to live in the past, but the future of no people is safe who forget the past.” Thanksgiving is meant to be a day of remembrance, which is reflected in this sermon. Tull talks about people’s reliance on the Psalms when the Psalms are only concerned with the relationship between God and his people. These sermon notes are interesting because they include both long hand and short hand writing. Tull knew the major points he wanted to touch on, but also jotted down brief examples of giving thanks to help illustrate them.

The “Contentment” sermon has Tull preaching on the subject of finding Contentment in giving thanks. This sermon is important to Tull and his congregation because it was delivered during the Great Depression, though it is never brought up in the sermon.  Instead, he talks about people clamoring for material needs, even when they cannot afford them. Tull makes a lot of strong points in this sermon, particularly about people needing most what the world cannot provide: “peace of mind and contentment of soul.” Tull’s sermon about finding Contentment at Thanksgiving, especially during a time as trying as the Great Depression, is certainly fitting and still applicable today.

Thanksgiving in the year 1942” follows a similar pattern to Tull’s previous sermons. He talks about the meaning of Thanksgiving and relates it to how we should be thankful for what we have. One difference with this sermon is Tull’s opening “sketch of the First Thanksgiving Day.”  Among the Tull sermon notes collected in the archives, this is the first to directly mention the Pilgrims. Tull draws upon the story of the Pilgrims and the First Thanksgiving as a way of reminding his congregation that the principles and beliefs that America were founded on are tied to the holiday of Thanksgiving.

At the time this sermon was delivered, America was in the midst of fighting in World War Two. Tull directly mentions the war on page five of his notes as a way to tie the current conflict with the American fight for Independence. Men were fighting to protect everything America stood for in the 1940s, just as they did in the American Revolution. In fact, soldiers fighting for “the survival of our American Liberties” is one of the things Tull mentions that his congregation should be thankful for. Besides the obvious tie-in to Thanksgiving, this is a sermon that would only have been heard during wartime. Specifically, the parts about being thankful for men who are fighting to protect the principles of freedom that America was founded on. That’s not to downplay the sermon’s importance in any way, just to point out the type of sermon that major world events like World War Two gave us. Tull’s other sermon notes are not directly about Thanksgiving, but do mention it as a means of talking about the topic of the sermon.

Comparing Tull’s Thanksgiving sermons to the Thanksgiving sermons of George W. Truett reveals a few similar ideas and themes. Both Truett and Tull talk about gratitude and being thankful. Truett even starts his sermon titled “Ingratitude: The Commonest Sin” by talking about the Pilgrims and the First Thanksgiving. Both pastors share the belief that people should be thankful every day of the year and not just on Thanksgiving. Truett goes on to say that no matter how much we thank God for everything he provides for us, we will never be able to “sufficiently” thank him. The idea that ingratitude and thanklessness is the most common sin amongst humans is interesting because of the implications. Ingratitude is the most common sin because we sometimes forget to appreciate what others do for us and what we have. Some may argue against his claim, but ingratitude can still be seen around the world.

Disc label for November 23, 1941 sermon by Dr. George W. Truett titled “Ingratitude: the Commonest Sin”

Where Tull discusses the act of giving thanks in relation to world events like the Great Depression, World War Two and the significance of the First Thanksgiving, Truett uses real-life stories as examples. Even though Tull and Truett approach the topic of giving thanks from similar points of view, the use of real-life examples in their sermons differs. Because of the way Tull wrote his sermon notes, it is sometimes difficult to see where he made use of the included Bible verses. But they should not be dismissed because of their brevity. We can learn a lot about Tull’s beliefs from his sermon notes and be thankful for what notes of his we do have in the digital collections.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Guest Post: Celebrating Congress Week at the Baylor Collections of Political Materials (BCPM)

Poster_Small_330x242_(2016)This week’s blog comes to us from Zach Kastens, a graduate assistant at the Baylor Collections of Political materials. Welcome, Zach!

From April 1st—7th, the Association of Centers for the Study of Congress celebrates Congress Week, commemorating the month in which Congress achieved its first quorums in 1789. This year, the Baylor Collections of Political Materials (a founding member of the ACSC) highlights Congressman Chet Edwards’s defense of the First Amendment to memorialize the 225th anniversary of the Bill of Rights.

Chet Edwards PortraitThomas Chester “Chet” Edwards served as the representative for Texas’s 11th and (after redistricting in 2005) 17th districts from 1991 to 2011. During his 20-year tenure in the United States House of Representatives, Edwards championed legislation on veterans’ issues, education, technology, and senior-citizens. As a moderate Democrat representing a demographically Republican district, Edwards developed a reputation as a pragmatic, independent leader who valued his constituents’ concerns over partisan politics. His political talent and cross-party appeal earned him a spot on then-Senator Barack Obama’s Vice-Presidential shortlist in 2008.

Edwards HandshakeFor Chet, politics, service, and compassion were inextricable from one another. He often spoke of his duty to his district and his appreciation for men and women in uniform. Furthermore, Edwards strongly advocated for the personal freedoms outlined in the Bill of Rights. His willingness to listen to, consider, and learn from opposition was partially informed by his respect for the American Constitution and his own religious faith. As a Christian, Chet’s views on the separation of church and state carried considerable weight among his colleagues, so much so that he was considered by some to be the leading congressional voice on the issue.

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Click the image above to view the speech in the Baylor University Libraries Digital Collections.

In the above video, dated June 12, 2001, Congressman Edwards responds to a quote from President George W. Bush decrying political opposition to Faith-Based Initiatives. This minute-long speech on the House floor held many political implications. As a Democrat representing a Republican district, Edwards toed a fine line when it came to criticizing the sitting Republican President. President Bush’s residence complicated matters; in 1999, before taking office, Bush purchased Prairie Chapel Ranch – a property approximately twenty-five miles from Waco, TX – thus becoming one of Edwards’s constituents.

Here, Edwards reiterates his personal respect for the President and “his right to offer his proposals,” but then gives a scathing critique of the President’s comments: “Challenging people’s religious faith because of public policy differences is not a way to bring Americans together. Rather, it is a prescription for religious divisiveness.” Edwards’s criticism echoes Thomas Jefferson’s remarks in 1802: “… I shall see with sincere satisfaction the progress of those sentiments which tend to restore a man to his natural rights, convinced he has no natural right in opposition to his social duties.” Both Jefferson and Edwards advocate for the separation of government and religion, believing that an American’s belief in the latter should never be made to conflict with the former.

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Click on the image above to view the video in the Baylor University Libraries Digital Collections.

In the above video, dated February 5, 2004, Congressman Edwards and Representative John Boehner (R-Ohio) debate the merits of Charitable Choice provisions. These provisions are found several pieces of legislation, such as the Community Solutions Act of 2001, the American Community Renewal Act, the Fathers Count Act, the Charitable Choice Expansion Act, and the Job Improvement Training Act.  Supporters of Charitable Choice provisions hoped to provide federal funds for religious social work programs to help administer addiction recovery and poverty relief without compromising the integrity of the religious organization’s mission.  Opponents, including Edwards, the Baptist Joint Committee, etc., argued that the provisions would allow religious organizations to discriminate in hiring for federally funded positions; they also feared that these provisions would allow the religious organizations, in effect, to use federal funds to proselytize to their clients.

Edwards argued that the language in the bill “subsidize[d] religious bigotry in America” due to the allocation of taxpayers’ money toward discriminatory hiring practices. He framed Charitable Choice provisions as the first step in the erosion of religious liberty, citing the protections guaranteed by the First Amendment to the Constitution. For Edwards, religious liberty was not a bipartisan issue but a nonpartisan one, too sacred to be sullied by politics. He characterized the denigration of religious freedom as “wrong,” finding such practices “morally offensive as a person of faith” and “deeply offensive to the First Amendment.” Perhaps the most severe condemnation of Charitable Choice legislation comes when he refers to the Founding Fathers’ famous battles over federal and states’ rights as Representative Boehner attempts to adjourn the discussion to a later date: “If this was an issue important enough for Madison and Jefferson to debate for 10 years in the Virginia legislature, … then certainly it’s worthy of our discussion here on the floor.”

Since its 1791 addition, proponents of faith-based governance have attacked the First Amendment’s role as the primary defense of American citizens. However, those who believe in the sanctity of religious liberty have been defended by legislators who shared the vision of America’s Founding Fathers – a vision of a country ruled not by fear, oppression, or dogma but by its own citizens. For Chet Edwards, religious liberty struck at the heart of this vision. He believed in an America where every citizen is free to practice (or not practice) any religion they desire without fear or financial, governmental, or social retribution.


Learn more about the political career of Chet Edwards by visiting the Thomas Chester “Chet” Edwards Papers collection, and for more information about the Baylor Collections of Political Materials, please visit their website.

Guest Post: Sierra Wilson, Our 2012 Summer Intern

 

Welcome to our first guest post here on the BU Libraries Digital Collections blog! We’re excited to welcome Sierra Wilson, a graduate student from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign studying Library and Information Science. Sierra has been with us this summer working as an intern. Her assignment: the sprawling Baylor University News Releases project, outlined in a previous blog post. Take it away, Sierra!

My name is Sierra, and I was an intern this summer at Baylor’s Riley Digitization Center.  My last day is on Friday, and I’m sad to be leaving the RDC behind to return to school.  I am not new to Baylor; I grew up in Waco and graduated from Baylor in 2008.  Last year, I started graduate school at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, where I study Library and Information Science.   My main interest in grad school has been in archives and special collections, and how these materials can be made more accessible by the use of technology.   My internship this summer was the perfect opportunity to learn more about the equipment and techniques libraries use to achieve this goal.

Although I have been lucky to work on many different projects this summer, most of my time here has been spent working on the Baylor Press Release project that Eric posted about earlier this summer.  After we sorted thousands of press releases into chronological order (no small feat!), the next step was actually digitizing them.   To do this, we load the press releases into binders and scan them with a machine called the Kirtas, which turns the pages of books to speed up the scanning process.  This is the part of the process with which I have been the most involved.  Back in June, I started scanning in 1960 (earlier press releases were scanned on a flatbed scanner); as of this week, my co-workers and I have scanned a decade and half of press releases!

I will admit that there have been times that I never wanted to see another press release again, but I’m sad that I’ll be leaving this project before its completion.  Seeing this task go from a massive, daunting heap of boxes to an organized, streamlined system has been extremely satisfying.  It’s been an important part of my learning experience this summer to see the digitization center’s staffers tackle such a hefty problem.

One of the most interesting parts of the project has been the opportunity to learn more about the history of Baylor and Waco.  I read about the changing landscape of campus, with the addition of buildings like Moody Library and the Hooper-Schaefer Fine Arts Center in the late 1960s and early 1970s, as well as the continual growth of the student body.  Of course, sometimes Baylor history repeats itself: the Noze brotherhood was banned from campus in 1965.

Over the time I’ve spent working on this project, I started keeping a list of the most unusual press releases I came across.  I found myself surprised (and often amused) by the nationally known figures that came to Baylor to speak or perform.  Baylor folk often talk about the “Baylor Bubble,” that invisible barrier that sometimes seems to shield the campus from the outside world, but these press releases prove that Baylor has always played an important, active role in the world around it.  Sometimes Baylor’s visitors were prestigious, and some are just downright unusual, and I would never have imagined before this project that any of them would have come to Baylor.

Sierra’s Top Five Unusual Press Releases

October 20, 1972
Jon Voight comes to Baylor to campaign for George McGovern

 

There’s something strange in the idea that a big movie star like Jon Voight would come to Baylor to campaign for McGovern.  That’s like Brad Pitt coming to campaign for John Kerry in 2004: hard to imagine.  But he did, not that it made much of a difference for McGovern’s campaign for president.

April 30, 1965
Nina Simone performs at Baylor May Day festivities

 

Nina Simone was a well-known singer-songwriter, pianist, and civil rights activist, and I was shocked that Baylor would have brought in someone as famous as Simone to be their featured May Day performer.  May Day seems to have been the predecessor to Diadeloso.

March 23, 1973
Lenore Romney speaks at Chapel

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

In March of 1973, Lenore Romney, the wife of George Romney and mother of current presidential candidate Mitt Romney, was a speaker at Chapel.  She herself had recently lost a race for U.S. Senator in the state of Michigan, and spoke about her experience as a woman running for office.  Who knew?

September 28, 1974
Erich von Daniken lectures at Baylor

If you’ve ever come across the History Channel’s “Ancient Aliens” program, then you are familiar with Erich von Daniken’s ideas about alien contact with ancient civilizations.  At the time of this speaking engagement at Baylor, von Daniken had recently published Chariots of the Gods?, which details his unusual (and frequently discredited) theory that the development of human civilization could have aided by extraterrestrial contact.  I wonder what the Baylor community thought about him?

May 28, 1965
President Lyndon Baines Johnson speaks at Baylor commencement

I bet you didn’t know that President Lyndon Baines Johnson had family ties to Baylor, did you?  It turns out his maternal great-grandfather was the president of Baylor from 1861-2.  LBJ wasn’t the first sitting president to speak at Baylor, either; he was preceded by both Eisenhower and Truman.

The Baylor University News Release collection is being scanned and processed at this time. Images above are for illustrative purposes and are not available via the Baylor University Libraries Digital Collections at this time. We’ll post an update to let users know when they can access this impressive collection!