On the Bias

I have been accused of reading political material or watching news programs that are biased. Of course, those who make the accusations will defend their own sources as being “unbiased.”

I picked up a book of interviews with historian Howard Zinn, The Future of History, by David Marsamian. My husband and I read Zinn’s history of America as we drove around the southwest. Some would say Zinn is biased. He absolutely is and he would be the first to admit it. Zinn speaks about recorded history when he responds to Marsamian’s question about who is in control of history. “We writers are real thieves,” he said. “We see something good and use it, and then if we’re nice we say where we got it. Sometimes we don’t. Orwell (observed) that if you can control history, what people know about it, if you can decide what ‘s in people’s history and what’s left out, you can order their thinking. You can order their values. You can in effect organize their brains by controlling their knowledge. The people who can do that, who can control the past, are people who can control the present.”

Interviewer Marsamian: “You’ve said that objectivity and scholarship in the media and elsewhere is not only ‘harmful and  misleading, it’s not desirable’.”

“I’ve said two things about it,” Zinn said. “One, that it is not possible. Two, it’s not desirable…It’s not possible because all history is a selection out of an infinite number of facts. As soon as you begin to select, you select according to what you think is important. Therefore it is already not objective. It’s already biased in the direction of whatever you, as the selector of this information, think people should know. So it’s really not possible…The worst thing people can claim is to be objective.” Zinn suggests that historians should let people know what their values are so they would understand the slant being presented.

“(Objectivity) is not desirable (either).” We should have history that enhances human values, values of brotherhood, sisterhood, peace, justice and equality. The closest I can get to it is the values enunciated in the Declaration of Independence.” This is Zinn’s bias. I am not sure anyone would own up to the fact that their bias goes in the opposite direction of these values, but in reality, some presentations of history or any media presentation may, indeed, do so. I think that Zinn is suggesting that if you acknowledge your own bias, you can then be more selective and intentional about reporting of facts. One just has to be careful about crossing the line into fiction.

I have a definite bias in all of my writing. The title of this blog states my bias. I hope that I am able to influence the minds and hearts of those who read what I write, moving them more toward tolerance, honesty and peace.

Call of the Artist

Bernie and I are nearing the end of this vacation. After spending a few days in Lafayette LA, we were faced with the deadly storms in the middle south right in the planned path toward St. Louis, MO. We decided to veer to the west where we could drive north outside of the dangerous areas. It turned out to be a wise decision and we managed to get to St. Louis without any weather problems and had a great visit with my brother and his family.

Yesterday we continued our travels and headed to Chicago. This morning we are at the home of a cousin and will spend the day visiting more relatives. More tomorrow and Sunday we head back to Minnesota. We have loved every encounter, every catching up with people we love dearly.

I haven’t blogged in a while. I’d intended to do some reporting of the various experiences we’ve had but for some reason, being on the road keeps me more focused on the experiences than on the reporting. Bernie and I love learning about the history and culture of people through living history and through the telling by the people themselves.

As I learn more, I am always struck by the heroes that have walked among us, ordinary people who have done extraordinary things.  Traveling through Missouri we stopped at the George Washington Carver National Memorial. I have to confess that until this experience, Carver occupied a mosty empty drawer in my memory file. A single paragraph in my history book. I could not have told you  a single thing about  him except that he was African American. I came away from visiting the memorial inspired by a man who loved the natural world and had an insatiable thirst for knowledge. His humility and spirituality were especially impressive and I hope to learn more about him. I added his name to my growing list of heroes.

This morning I received an e-mail from writer Jan Philips who sent out a you-tube video on the life of photographer Dorothea Lange. I knew nothing about her but one picture for which she is most famous of a migrant worker mother. I recognized the photo immediately. Her work inspired the book “Grapes of Wrath” and the movie that followed and finally outrage about the suffering of the workers and a government response as a result.

What was particularly significant about both Carver and Lange is that they reached a point in their lives when service to mankind took precidence over personal profit. Carver gave freely of his scientific knowledge to poor farmers, especially black farmers, so that they could make the best use of their land and help lift them out of poverty. Lange gave up her job to dedicate herself exclusively to the work of exposing the suffering caused by injustice. I feel inspired this morning. I know that I am gifted as are all who read this post. I hope and pray that I am open to using my gifts to serve others…that God’s compassion will be manifest. This is the way of the artist. Noone is exempt.

Mad Researcher

People who regularly follow my blog know that I am a mad researcher. I delve into topics hardly anyone else cares about. Once I spent hours on the internet trying to find the worm that I saw dangling at the end of silk string attached to a branch 15 feet above the ground from a tree in my yard.

I like to read about the bible. Actually,  I like reading about the bible more than I like reading the bible. I majored in Theology so that shouldn’t be much of a surprise, but the books I choose to read are so seldom used that I can get them on Amazon for pennies. Really, I bought a book called Atlas of the Bible  for 99 cents. It was postage free so the guy who mailed it to me was actually paying me to take it off his hands.  I am guessing he is decluttering his house like I am doing myself right now. Or he lives in a state that doesn’t do recycling but outlaws burning.

The most recent book I purchased (about $3) is a two-inch thick book, The Nag Hammadi Scriptures.  It contains writings found in a jar that was discovered in a cave near Nag Hammadi (thus the name) in Egypt in the 1945. These are very old, written as early as 100 years after Jesus. Though they are about Jesus, none of them were used in the Bible.

Don’t ask me why I like reading this stuff. It can be a bit grueling. I should really go back to school to let some professor tell me what this is all about. I can tell just how much it is above my head by the number of times I have to use the dictionary per page. This morning, for example, I looked up nine words used in three fairly short paragraphs. Every time I looked up a word, I found that the words used in the definitions were quite easy to understand. So then I asked myself why the authors didn’t use these easy-to-understand words in the first place. I think that maybe scholars like to cluster into these little elite groups that have their own secret language. That way, when they gather together in a bar or a café’ in the towns where they have their little conventions, they can talk about things and no one else in the place will understand them.

Like this stuff is all a big secret. Hmph! Maybe it is.

Nelson Mandela’s Memorial

It has been a privilege and a blessing to be able to get up ate 3 am and watch the memorial service for Nelson Mandela. Fortunately, when the anal US stations left the scene because US president Obama was finished speaking…I guess no one else’s reflections had any merit…I was able to watch the remainder of the event live on NPR’s internet station. It ended 20 minutes ago…5 hours of celebrating this hero of South Africa and of the world.

Desmond Tutu’s final words: “We promise God that we are going to follow the example of Nelson Mandela.”

I am tired now, but so glad I got up. Better than any royal weddings.

Aunt Mary’s Book of Jesus

When I was a little girl, I used to visit Great Aunt Mary. She was my maternal grandmother’s sister and lived in the apartment above my Aunt Alice and her family in a two-flat in Chicago. She was old and eccentric and her health wasn’t the best. Sitting at her table nibbling on cookies she would jabber about what – I don’t remember – and then doze. The doze I do remember. In the middle of a sentence, her head would droop and she would slip in to a soft snore that would last a couple of minutes or more. That left me with not much to do except to keep nibbling and looking around the room. One day I thought to use this down time to snoop. In her bedroom I came across a book, small, black, the pages were edged in gold. A red ribbon was attached and served as a book mark. On the cover were the words, “The Childhood of Jesus”. I picked it up and took it back to the table. Aunt Mary was still sleeping.

I found that the pages contained stories of Jesus that I had never seen before. In the bible, we read about his birth in Bethlehem, then it jumps forward to a scene at age twelve when he was left behind by his parents in Jerusalem. The next time we see Jesus in the bible he is ready to settle into his career as preacher and savior of the world. About those in between years there is nothing known, or so I thought, until that day at Aunt Mary’s kitchen.

It might shock people to know that stories were written about Jesus that weren’t chosen to be part of the Bible. Browsing in a used bookstore recently, I came upon a book The Lost Books of the Bible. It is a collection of non-biblical texts that have been around for anyone to read, but not treasured as the stories in the bible.  I opened the book to find “The Gospel of the Birth of Mary” and found this to be the very story I had read in Aunt Mary’s little book years ago.

Since then, I have been investigating other writings, some are archeological finds of the last century. A few have been around for years but not translated until recently. It is fascinating to me to read other people’s memories of Jesus besides those recorded in the Bible.

I can’t help but wonder how it was that Aunt Mary had this little book.

Sweet Encounter

I was able to serve as chauffer for my granddaughter yesterday so that she could rendezvous with a childhood friend. We met in Wadena which is half way between where her friend lives with her husband and baby and our home.

Alissa’s friend, Amy, introduced us to her husband Dion in the coffee shop where Alissa was able to get real coffee – a double shot cappuccino (our Folgers drip doesn’t cut it). They carried with them their little 3 month old prince, an adorable child with big brown eyes and a quick heart-capturing smile. We learned as we visited on the couches of the coffee shop that Dion is from Liberia. I am grateful for the bit of history that I know for I was able to tell him that I understand Liberia began as a colony to which black slaves in America could go to live in freedom. Liberia, whose name is liberty, Lincoln at first saw to be the solution to the slavery problem. He assumed that the freed slaves would naturally want to go back to Africa from whence they came. Had he been correct, the history that followed would have been quite different. But, he was not correct, of course, and his thinking changed before the end of the war.

When Alissa asked Dion about the language of Liberia, he said that the people speak English which they spoke since coming from America, but there were the indigenous tribes who had languages of their own. It reminded me of Guatemala where the main language is Spanish, the language of the conquerors, but the indigenous groups each speak their own languages. It was true here, too, with English being the language of the conquerors and the various Indian tribes, at least in the beginning, each having their own languages. It is interesting to note that the sign language that Indians are known to have used was the way different tribes communicated with one another.

I asked Dion about the reaction of the indigenous people when these former Africans came and set up camp among them, claiming their land to create a new nation. He said they were pretty bitter, just like the Indians here. There is still tension between them. The returning slaves became the Europeans of Liberia.  I found this fascinating, especially because of the fact that the founding fathers of Liberia were of the same race as the oppressed people. So for all the historians that claim that the European conquest of the Americas was about race…well, here is something else to consider. Listening to Dion, I realized that the whole concept of colonization itself was a powerful movement in history. I am not sure when colonization began. Perhaps it was always a part of history. After all, wasn’t the story of Moses and the Hebrews a story of colonization? Some colonization is about claiming the wealth of a foreign land, but sometimes it is about the effort of oppressed people to find refuge.

We left the coffee shop to go to a restaurant for lunch – the Boondocks Café. I had to explain to Dion what Boondocks means. There Amy had a chance to talk for a while. The café was full of grandmas and grandpas that threw lots of attention toward the baby. Dion did the manly thing and grabbed the bill.

What a sweet and interesting encounter. It was a gift to be part of it.

Early Abolitionists

PBS is running a series on American Experience,”The Abolitionists: 1820-1838”. I have been interested in the anti-slavery movement for many years, in particular the Quaker involvement. But I was unaware of its actual origins as a movement. I found that a young man William Lloyd Garrison felt a conviction that God was calling him to fight for the end to slavery and he began a newspaper dedicated to this purpose alone. Out of this publication the movement began and small communities sprouted up throughout the north in a very short time. Garrison was a very positive man, believing that when the church leaders in the south realized the truth of the wrongness of slavery they would begin to convince their congregations, who would willingly free their slaves. He even produced religious education materials that he sent to Christian congregations in the south with sermon points and lesson plans for teaching children. There were even children’s songs that could be used in teaching. The congregations liked the materials so much they burned them along with effigies of Garrison. As a former religious education coordinator, I would love to have seen the education packets that Garrison sent out.

A woman drawn to the movement, Angelina Grimke, the daughter of a prominent slave-holding family from the south, was touched by Garrison’s message and wrote a long passionate letter to him about her belief in freedom for the slaves. He published her letter and that did not go well with her family. She refused to refute the letter so they disowned her. She joining the movement and met another abolitionist Theodore Weld. Weld’s contribution to the movement was to train speakers to go out and spread the anti-slavery message wherever they were welcome. Angelina became one of these speakers and went around speaking to groups, first to women, but in time to groups of both men and women. She was chided for speaking to men, not keeping her place. Aware of the subordinate position of women and their powerlessness in the households where their husbands held slaves, Angelina began to speak out for women’s rights. Weld sent her a letter bawling her out for getting her movements mixed up. He told her to hold down the defense of women until the slaves were freed. After the words chiding her, he wrote in big triple-sized letters, “I HAVE LOVED YOU FROM THE MOMENT I FIRST MET YOU”. They married and had what was probably the first integrated reception in America. And…this is the best part…they wrote their own vows leaving out the part about wives submitting to their husbands. This was in the early 1800s! Someone just has to make a movie of this!

It was inspiring to learn of these early abolitionists. They were young and in-your-face passionate, willing to suffer for their beliefs and they did. It took this kind of zeal for the abolitionist message to gain a firm foothold but another thirty years before freedom would be achieved.