Tuesday, December 27, 2016

Idol


My wife and I are used to going on long walks every day. During the holidays, however, with family and friends at our house we neglected our habit. What is more, we increased our caloric intake which is what people do on holidays, right? You know: ham, turkey, pies, cake—a familiar drill. So, today when our beloved family and friends went to their own homes, we set out on a nice walk down the hill to the railroad tracks.

A welcome sun made a valiant effort after a soggy Christmas weekend, but it did not do very much to warm us on the way down the hill. On the jaunt back up, however, lo, was that perspiration leaking through my shirt? My wife had said on the way down the hill that I may have to pull her back up. The opposite was true, though, as I trailed her about 10 yards until we got to the top. I confess I was more winded than she was but we were both rosy cheeked and happy with the effort.

Shortly after we arrived back home, a neighbor came to bring me an Episcopal Church Calendar. I love to keep up with where we are in the church year and the churches I am associated with these days do not put much stock in that. Did you know, for example, that January 20 (inauguration day) Fabian, Bishop of Rome and Martyr of Rome is honored? Per internet sources, with the advent of Decius the emperor, the Roman government's toleration of Christianity stopped for a while. Decius ordered leading Christians to prove loyalty to Rome by honoring Roman deities. Christians were obviously against such idolatry. Fabian himself was one of the earliest Christian victims of Decius, being martyred for not honoring Roman deities on January 20, 250. He would not burn incense to them.

I bring that up because I am concerned about idolatry on every level. A cell phone can be as much as an idol as the almighty dollar, nay, even an addiction. I have seen people escape into the electronic universe so deeply that normal conversation cannot occur. The phenomenon recalls Jonathon Swift’s “flappers” in Gulliver’s Travels, those dutiful servants whose job it was to flap their abstracted intellectuals on the ears when someone wanted to converse with them. Similarly, people can get so deeply involved in politics and the reporting thereof that all things political most assuredly become idols. And, heaven forbid that a citizen in our republic would venerate a political figure so highly as to make him or her an idol!

Anyway, a walk down and back up a hill can put us in touch with what is real about life. Seeking health and peace requires considerable work—work that can be rewarded not only with a spurt of endorphins, but with a culminating awareness of historical fact: refusing to bend the knee to the idol of state can bring martyrdom, but it can also bring freedom.

Tuesday, December 13, 2016

Journalism


The “scop” or “bard” in Germanic culture (including Anglo-Saxon) went about entertaining and enlightening with voice and lute. The stories they sang were often based on truth, but embellished to flatter the head of the clan or some high-ranking hero. They were professionals, receiving gifts from the nobility in direct proportion to the entertainment quality of their songs. The singer of Beowulf was an early such entertainer-enlightener and Chaucer was a later medieval version. I believe Chaucer lost the lute. They were early “journalists” who most assuredly had a point of view. As a one-time journalist myself, I know what it means to strive for objectivity. When I first started, I wanted to present, as Joe Friday used to say, just the facts and nothing but the facts. But I soon discovered that objectivity is next to impossible for me because I have a firm point of view, namely, that of holding to certain immutable absolutes. So, as I look back on some of my longer news stories, I find a distinct bias towards the Christian worldview. I got by with it because I lived and wrote in an area where many shared that worldview.

Today, journalism is changing rapidly, so we must strive to be particularly astute in discerning the worldview behind what is being written or said. Without looking at the television, I can guess what network or cable brand is behind the “reporting.” Blatant bias is becoming the norm. Thus, social media! But even these outlets bring non-objective bias and sometimes downright phony stories. Twitter can capture utterances straight from the horse’s mouth, but there are worldview issues in play in such cases as well. I have noticed that people tweet and retweet elements from cyberspace that suit their own often narrow take on the news.

It is easy to find things you agree with but not easy to examine why you agree with them. Lazy “research” is the kind that leads to the fore-imagined outcome. For me, the best way to draw a conclusion about news is to evaluate it in the light of absolutes. If a story is wishy-washy, it is often designed for a political purpose. If it is rigid, it is likely to be dogma. If the story has an angry tone it is probably condemnatory rather than persuasive, saying, in effect, “You make me mad, therefore you are wrong.”

There are real reasons and “good” reasons. Often, journalists with a strong non-objective point of view give you an abundance of “good” reasons for their conclusions while striving to hide the real reasons. People do that kind of thing in relationships all the time. “I went fishing because I wanted to bring home some fish for supper.” That is a good reason. The real reason may be something else altogether. “I go to church because I want to serve the Lord.” That is a good reason. The real reason may be something else altogether. Journalists should be up front and open, giving real reasons and sticking to the facts.

Monday, December 5, 2016

Acquire


People think I love books. I do appreciate what is in some of them but with a few exceptions the physical book means little or nothing to me. You would call me a liar if you saw my book-laden dwelling place. I don’t love the things, though, I just don’t want to get rid of them because I may want to go back to facts, stories and beautiful ideas some of them contain.

Everyone does not understand that. One time when I was an academic dean at Southern Arkansas University, a well-tanned, outdoorsy type man with his hair slicked down sauntered into my office with a box of books under each arm. “Dean Ford?” he queried. “Yes, that’s me.”

“Sir, them people over there in that building yonder told me you knew everything there was to know about books. I acquired these books at an estate sale in Hot Springs. I was wanting you to tell me how much they are worth.”

“I’m sorry; I am not an expert on the value of books. I won’t be able to help you.”

“Well, them people over there said you was a real genius when it come to books and I was just wanting you to give me some ballpark figure as to the worth of these here books I acquired up yonder in Hot Springs.”

“The people in the administration building are mistaken. I do not know anything about the value of old books. I’m sorry.” Then the man put the boxes down on my desk and pulled a few copies out. Flakes of yellow paper flew and I could see that bugs had feasted on some of the volumes and that some had years-old mucus tracks decorating the cover. “Lookee here at these here ones I acquired up there in Hot Springs. They are over a hundred years old. Reckon what a feller could get for books like this. I ain’t going to tell you what I paid for them. I just want you to give me a figure so I can see if I come out alright on the deal.”

“Well, I, I, I don’t have any way of knowing the value of those books. I doubt that they have much value, since the authors are not major names.”

“Well, Dean Ford, if you yourself was going to buy these here books I acquired up there in Hot Springs, how much would you give me for them.”

“Nothing. I do not want the books. As you see, I have plenty of books. Perhaps you could take them over to the library—that building right over there. Ask for Mr._____________, the head librarian. He may be able to give you some estimate of their worth.”

The persistent acquirer of books finally left and soon I got a call from Mr._____________ at the library. I cannot write here what he said to me. Suffice it to say that he did not wish to acquire the books for the library. Especially since he adjudged them worthless. I found myself using the word “acquire” a lot the rest of the day.