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Dessert Theater Fund Raiser

One of our most popular fundraisers for the teens has been the annual Dessert Theater. In addition to a candlelight setting, tasty desserts, and excellent service provided by our teens, each evening highlights a special speaker. Charles Haddon Spurgeon, Fanny Crosby, and C. S. Lewis have all graced our platform, and this year we’ve invited the sharp-witted humorist Mark Twain.

Twain was not invited to the Dessert Theater because he is a stellar example of Christianity like our previous speakers. To the contrary, Twain was extremely critical of Christianity of his day and in his later years spilled plenty of ink teasing Christians about the tenets of their faith. I invited him because he was a fascinating American who lived through and influenced one of the wildest periods of our nation’s history, and because some of his criticisms of the Christian faith are not unreasonable. On several occasions Twain forces us to think about some things that perhaps we’d rather not consider. Because of the unusual nature of this year’s guest, I’d like to take the next few Scrips to tell you a little about him.

In 1835, when Mark Twain was born Samuel Langhorne Clemens in the town of Florida, Missouri (just a few miles from Hannibal, where his family finally settled), Andrew Jackson was the President and there were only twenty-four states, Missouri being the latest to join the Union. Americans were still fighting Indians in Illinois and Florida, and Texas was still part of Mexico, though Texans were fighting to make it American that very year (the Alamo fell in 1836). Missouri was the edge of the American frontier (St. Louis had a population of only 14,000) and people still traveled overland by horse or a horse-drawn wagon. The Clemens family was one of many seeking a new life and fortune, carving a home out of the rugged and untamed Midwest along the Mississippi River.

In 1907 when Sam Clemens died, Teddy Roosevelt was the President and there were forty-six states (New Mexico and Arizona joined the Union in 1912). The Indians were a part of Buffalo Bill’s Wild West show, and people were traveling by train across the continental United States and by steamship around the world. There were also automobiles – and bicycles, and typewriters, and zippers, and telephones, and sewing machines – and America was growing into a world power.

Samuel Clemens had only a fifth-grade education; he went to work delivering papers when his father died suddenly in 1847, and his interest in the printed word developed rapidly. He became a printer’s apprentice and at fifteen ran his older brother Orion’s newspaper when Orion was away on business. Some of Sam’s work was noticed by and printed in Philadelphia’s Saturday Evening Post when he was only sixteen.

From 1857 until 1861 the restless Twain piloted a paddlewheel riverboat, navigating the Mississippi between Missouri and the Gulf of Mexico until the river was closed because of the Civil War. He then traveled to Nevada where he tried his hand (unsuccessfully) at prospecting for silver and ended up becoming a writer (and then an editor) for the local newspaper, eventually becoming a reporter for the San Francisco Morning Call and the Sacramento Union.

In 1863 Clemens adopted the pen-name Mark Twain – which was the old familiar call of riverboatmen to note a safe depth of twelve feet – and began writing humorous stories for publication in 1867. Twain was immediately received by the big eastern publishers and became well-known for his downhome “common folk” style. His characters embodied and represented to the world the average American – bold, fearless, self-made, hard-working, responsible, straightforward in talk and slightly rough around the edges. To some extent we Americans still view ourselves this way; Twain’s writing captured the ideals of American personality.

Twain married Olivia (“Livy”) Langdon in 1870 and they had four children. Twain’s notoriety created a demand for him as a public speaker, and he began lecturing throughout America in 1884, and later traveled throughout Europe, Asia, and Africa, usually taking his family with him. Twain received honorary doctorates from the University of Missouri, Yale, and Oxford. His later years were embittered by financial troubles and moreso by the loss of his wife and all of his children to tragic illness except his daughter, Clara, the only family member to outlive him. Mark Twain died at “Stormfield”, his home in Redding, CT, on April 21, 1910.

In the next installment we’ll talk about Twain’s hostility to Christianity…

-- Pastor Chris

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