Tag Archives: history

Memory for the Willfully Forgetful

Memory is dangerous in a country that was built to function on national amnesia. A single act of public remembrance might expose the frailty of the state’s carefully constructed edifice of accepted history, scaffolded in place over a generation and kept aloft by a brittle structure of strict censorship, blatant falsehood and wilful forgetting. That’s why a five-foot-tall, 76-year-old grandmother poses enough of a threat that an escort of state security agents, at time as many as 40 strong, has trailed her to the vegetable market and the dentist.

Louisa Lim has released a book she didn’t want to write: The People’s Republic of Amnesia: Tiananmen Revisited. How did China systematically forget what happened June 4, 1989, in Tiananmen Square?

When Preaching the Gospel Was Considered Trouble-making

John MacArthur was talking about forty years of ministry back in 2009 and he shared some details about his ministry after seminary. From the transcript:

Well in the purposes of God [Dr. John M. Perkins] returned to Mississippi to a little town called Mendenhall, and Mendenhall, Mississippi, south of Jackson, and he started a ministry there. He started a school there. He started a church. Started a little co-op for people to buy things and really helped that little community of Mendenhall. This was right at the time when the Civil Rights Movement really exploded, and John asked me if I would come to Mississippi and if I would preach, if I would go out to the black high schools which were totally segregated and always on the other side of town, and if I would preach and do some gospel ministry in these high schools around Mississippi. So I said, “Absolutely, I’d love to do that.”

Got a few friends, in those days I used to sing a little. And we would do a little bit of singing together. And then I would preach and I had an absolutely wonderful time. I can’t remember how many years, I think I went down there for a period of about five years, going down and spending a pro-longed period of time. I lived with John and Vera Mae in their house, very interesting to live at that time in the home of black people in the south and to be treated the way they were treated, to be refused meals at a restaurant that I would go to because they knew who I was associating with.

It was so tense there. There was a friend of John’s who was a custodian in the First Baptist Church in Mendenhall which is a white church. This custodian loved Christ and he built a friendship with the pastor at the church, even though he couldn’t attend the church. The pastor started a Bible study with him on a regular basis and the church leaders told him he had to stop that. He said, “I can’t.” And the circumstances became so overbearing on him, he had problems in the community, in the town and getting gas and things like that. He had a nervous breakdown. They took him to Jackson. Put him in a hospital room and he dove out of the window, the third floor, and killed himself. That’s how intense that was.

Later on, he said he was arrested for fomenting trouble by preaching the gospel in high schools. That wasn’t nearly as bad as what Dr. Perkins’ suffered.

If you’re unfamiliar with Dr. Perkins, he spoke at the 2015 ERLC Leadership Summit in April on “The Gospel and Racial Reconciliation” on the Civil Rights Movement after 50 Years. He’s a good man. I’ve heard him many times on a radio program with Michael Card, musician and Bible teacher, and I recently listened to a seminar series from Covenant Theological Seminary which led with a couple sermons by Dr. Perkins.

The trouble-making is still here, but the church must not continue to hold to a politicized view of the gospel that ridicules the black experience in America and justifies past sins. The gospel is reconciliation across all barriers. “Segregation and discrimination are almost witchcraft,” Dr. Perkins says in the video below. It’s forbidden in the Bible we hold dear.

“We’re at a pivot place in the history of the church,” Dr. Perkins says. “I don’t know what’s going to happen. . . . This is a conversation we need. We’re going to leave here and go to our homes and talk about the past, but forgiveness takes care of that.”

Racism Fails to See Human Beings as Human

Slaves
Margaret Biser, who has led historical tours at a Southern house and plantation for years. She writes about the questions she received, such as whether the slaves appreciated the good treatment they received or whether being a house slave instead of a field hand was a cushy life.

Why did her guests continue to ask questions ignorant or opposed to the history she presented? Inaccurate education for many. Apathy for some.

“In many other cases, however, justifications of slavery seemed primarily like an attempt by white Americans to avoid feelings of guilt for the past. After all, for many people, beliefs about one’s ancestors reflect one’s beliefs about oneself. We don’t want our ancestors to have done bad things because we don’t want to think of ourselves as being bad people. These slavery apologists were less invested in defending slavery per se than in defending slaveowners, and they weren’t defending slaveowners so much as themselves.”

This is how I understand the KKK began. You could call it a failure of believers to reach poor white members in neighboring small towns with the full gospel, but however you want to think about, people who felt rejected by their community turned their bitterness against blacks, an easy target. And some carry on that legacy today, both directly as members of the Klan and indirectly when they argue that #BlackLivesMatter is not as strong as #AllLivesMatter, missing the point that black lives are the ones still longing for respect.

“Addressing racism,” Biser writes, “isn’t just about correcting erroneous beliefs — it’s about making people see the humanity in others.” But with dehumanization active all around us today, we should wake up to the fact that we won’t learn this lesson without the gospel fully applied. Some of us haven’t learned it even with the gospel.

A Portrait of Shakespeare Made During His Lifetime?

ShakespeareMark Griffiths, a historian and botanist, was writing a book about English horticulturist John Gerard, who was a contemporary of Shakespeare, and decided to work out the ciphers and symbols on a famous book of Gerard’s. His study has convinced him that he has found the only known portrait of Shakespeare made during his lifetime. Many clues point in this direction. For example:

A figure four and an arrow head with an E stuck to it. In Elizabethan times, people would have used the Latin word “quater” as a slang term for a four in dice and cards. Put an e on the end and it becomes quatere, which is the infinitive of the Latin verb quatior, meaning shake. Look closely and the four can be seen as a spear.

“It is a very beautiful example of the kind of device that Elizabethans, particularly courtiers, had great fun creating,” said Griffiths.

The discovery was published in Country Life, which apparently is enough to make scholars mock its veracity.

First up, Michael Dobson, director of the Shakespeare Institute at the University of Birmingham.

“I’m deeply unconvinced,” he said. “I haven’t seen the detailed arguments, but Country Life is certainly not the first publication to make this sort of claim.” (via Prufrock)

‘The Edge of the World,’ by Michael Pye

The Vikings are hailed as the first Europeans, at least by some French scholars, breaking cultural divisions as well as breaking heads, and made into a foundation myth for our flabby, neo-liberal Europe.

The moment somebody shared a link to this book on Facebook, I knew I had to get it. And I’m glad I did, though I have certain quibbles. Michael Pye’s The Edge of the World reminded me of that old BBC television series with James Burke, “Connections.” It follows a somewhat wandering road of causation from the 7th Century to the 16th Century, showing how innovations that began when the Frisians dug so much peat out of their homeland that they were forced to build dikes and canals to control flooding led to the development of North Sea trade. Trade meant developing the concepts of hard money and credit, which led to abstract mathematical thinking, which led (in part) to modern science.

Trade means choices, and choices mean freedom. In a non-dogmatic way, The Edge of the World is a vigorous defense of capitalism.

There were parts I didn’t care for. Pye falls into the old trap of condemning the monks for denouncing the Vikings, on the grounds that Christians did pretty much the same things. He doesn’t go so far as to suggest the Christians should have just embraced the Vikings and their religion, but I’m not sure what the point is. He makes what seem to me rather conventional comments on people’s “need” to define ourselves by identifying enemies, as if enemies haven’t been in abundant supply throughout history. I suspect he wouldn’t criticize Muslims in the same way for condemning Crusaders.

But all in all an excellent book, full of interesting information, and with a sweeping narrative line. I recommend it.

The Vikings: A History, by Robert Ferguson

But, while all of these [various morally relative assessments of the Viking Age] are entirely valid perspectives, the pendulum may have swung too far: as one modern historian puts it, the revisionist view has come close to giving us an image of the Vikings as a group of ‘long-haired tourists who roughed up the locals a bit.’ Among the aims of this book is to restore the violence to the Viking Age, and to try to show why our understanding is incomplete without it.

I’ve already referred to Robert Ferguson’s The Vikings: A History twice on this blog, here and here, having found it an informative and instructive book. If I’d been disappointed or offended, I’d have more to say. As it is, I’ll offer a short review of quite a good general history of the Viking Age.

Why a new history of the Vikings? Because we keep learning stuff. You’ve got to run to keep pace with our knowledge of the early middle ages nowadays. People like me, especially, who take it upon ourselves to lecture on the subject, need to take the initiative to keep our reading up. I thought what I learned about the Oseberg ship, linked above, was worth the price in itself.

Author Ferguson makes the considerable contribution of including something I’ve written about here before, and which was perhaps introduced in English-language history books by my friend Prof. Torgrim Titlestad, in a work that didn’t get the attention it should have – the new (actually old) theory that the Viking raids were initially sparked by Charlemagne’s brutalities against the Saxons. Having shared that useful idea, Ferguson does little more with it, which I think is appropriate. It seems to me that, even if the original spark was religious, the Viking raids continued for plain reasons of profit. There are no images of peace-loving, put-upon Viking victims here, and that suits me just fine.

Ferguson spends what seems to me adequate time, within the limits of a single (if long) volume, following the activities of the Norse through all their major fields of activity around the world, and through the three centuries of that activity. I caught one or two small errors of fact, ones I knew to be fact, but that’s inevitable in a work of this scope.

Highly recommended for all who are interested in the subject, and especially for curious newcomers.

Avoiding Message Movies

Writer Bill Kauffman and director Ron Maxwell both hate heavy-handed message movies, so they worked together to give us a Civil War story that doesn’t paint in primary colors. Christian Toto writes, “Copperhead… examines an aspect of history Kauffman says is often ignored—the side of the argument told by those who lost the war.

“‘We tend to sweep the losers down the memory hole as though there was only one side in any debate,’ he says. ‘The guys who lost … we paint Snidely Whiplash mustaches upon them.'”

Remarkable Legacy of Banned Books Week Founder, Judith Krug

scream and shoutThe NY Times has an eye-opening overview of Judith Krug’s crusade against content filtering in their 2009 obit. She claimed, “Library service in this country should be based on the concept of intellectual freedom, of providing all pertinent information so a reader can make decisions for himself.” She eventually applied that concept to her arguments against filtering internet access for children using library computers and against the federal government looking into a person’s library borrowing record (The USA Patriot Act still allows “the Justice Department to conduct searches of library and bookstore records, in the investigation of suspected terrorist activity.”)*

Miss Krug credits her parents for inspiring her to stand up for readers of the world. That story comes at the end of the obit. With crusaders for immorality like this in the world, it’s no wonder parents want to pull books out of school libraries or pull their kids out of public schools.

How can moral parents raise moral children in an immoral world? Continue reading Remarkable Legacy of Banned Books Week Founder, Judith Krug

The headless norsemen

I’m low on ideas tonight, so I’ll just pass on the most recent big discovery in Viking studies.

Last summer, a collection of skeletons were excavated at Weymouth, in Dorsetshire in England. They had clearly died violently, and were judged to be victims of a mass execution. The bones were determined to be about a thousand years old

At the time of the news I suggested, on the Viking discussion board I frequent, that the bones were probably those of Vikings. My reason was that we know of only one attempt at genocide in England during the period in question, and that was King Æthelred the Unrede’s massacre of Danes in England, on St. Brice’s Day in 1002. (You’ll know about this if you’ve read West Oversea. You have read it, haven’t you? If not, click on the yellow cover in the carousel to the right. I’ll wait.)

I am so rarely right that I feel I need to preen a little here. According to National Geographic:

Analysis of teeth from ten of the dead—who were mostly in their late teens and early 20s—indicates the raiding party had been gathered from different parts of Scandinavia, including one person thought to have come from north of the Arctic Circle.

I think some Viking enthusiasts are a little embarrassed by this news, as it casts the Norse as victims. This in spite of the fact that many recent books have in fact openly portrayed the Norse as victims (of those nasty Christians).

I, on the other hand, have tried to dispute that victimization meme in my own writing.

But of course anyone can be a victim under certain circumstances. Hell hath no fury like a bunch of villagers who get the upper hand on a raiding party.

And the St. Brice’s Day Massacre is an undisputed historical fact.

More as the story develops.

Or not.

Crossing the Lines by Richard Doster

Sports reporter Jack Hall didn’t see any problem with black athletes, especially if they were good, but he didn’t want his friends to think he was chummy with them or any Negro person. That would be crossing the line. His friends felt the same way. Playing baseball was fine. It’s not like those people were sitting in the same classroom or dancing with our children.

And Jack and Rose Marie Hall had a personal interest in avoiding desegregation issues. In the previous year, 1954, their home had been bombed by someone who didn’t like Jack’s public stand in favor of the Negro player on the local team. Now, the Halls have moved to Atlanta, and Jack’s new boss, Ralph McGill, wants to look into the Montgomery, Alabama, bus boycott inspired by Rosa Parks. Jack is the only reporter at a meeting of community leaders who choose then-unknown-preacher Martin L. King to lead the boycott. That frontline position gets King’s house bombed within a few months, and the Halls feel a new link to a family they would rather not befriend.

Crossing the Lines is loaded with historical detail, even some casual references from the characters which are not explained to the reader. It lead me to wonder if certain characters I took as wholly fictional creations were actually based on living people. Continue reading Crossing the Lines by Richard Doster

Thanksgiving Links

Thomas J. Craughwell writes, “If Only the Pilgrims Had Been Italian.”

When the Pilgrims arrived in Massachusetts in 1620, lobsters were so common all you had to do was stroll down to the nearest tidal pool and pluck them out by the bushel. But the Pilgrims wanted meat, not fish — not even fish as succulent as lobster. Very quickly familiarity bred contempt: The better class of colonists scorned the crustacean as suitable only for the poor. In his journal for the year 1622, William Bradford, governor of the Plymouth colony, recorded the landing of a boatload of new colonists from England. Their arrival was a thrilling event, yet Bradford confessed that he and his fellow Plymouth residents were humiliated that they had nothing better to offer the newcomers than lobster.

Also on The American Spectator, Jay D. Homnick riffs on Georgia’s prayer for rain. “Pray today, give thanks tomorrow. Remember also that prayer is not only a means to an end, as Maimonides explains, it must catalyze each of us into reflecting upon our priorities,” he writes.

“God said, I am tired of kings, / I suffer them no more;” Emerson has an interesting poem here, Boston Hymn.

Gaius writes about the Pilgrims early attempts to live communally. This appears to be within the first seven years of their landing in America. According to what I’m reading, the pilgrims’ voyage was funding by London investors who required they work for them for seven years doing whatever profitable work they could find. At the end of those years, the survivors would receive a small share of the profits, but everything belonged to “the common fund” or that of the investors. Even the clothes they wore were owned technically by the men in London. Perhaps that’s why the colony started with a communal attitude.

Now, a little holiday advice: If you start feeling like this little guy, throw out your inhibitions and do something different. Take that walk. Eat that brussel sprout. Whatever you don’t normally do, do it. (Cute warning alert)

River Rising by Athol Dickson

I put River Rising in my Amazon cart while buying some other books—homeschool material I think—saying to myself I should buy a good book like this one, fun to spend money on myself, buy something good to read as though I didn’t have other good books on the shelf to read—books I bought for friends or family and never wrapped up or all those Graham Greene books I bought for $0.99 each and failed to read the rest of that summer as I had planned. So I bought River Rising, and when it came, I put it neatly on the shelf. It’s wonderful to have a new potential read smiling down on me from a line of other potential reads.

I tell myself I should read more and blog less. I say it with a weak voice from behind my gullet, which regularly questions my motives and actions. When I read, it asks if I shouldn’t be writing; when I write, it asks if I shouldn’t be reading or gardening or cleaning, parenting, diapering, fixing, or working on something more profitable than writing what-is-it-again. Moments of clarity or passion prevail at times, of course, or you wouldn’t know me in these words.

I didn’t have a newborn at the time I bought the book. She’s four months old, and the book was acquired a several months ago. I didn’t have her then, so I didn’t have to hold her gassy tummy and wiggly arms. She’s such a precious thing, spit-up and all, and there’s a patch of spit-up cheese on the carpet there, sweet wife, if you would grab a towel while you’re up. I didn’t have the princess tiny when I bought River Rising, so I didn’t have that delay on reading it. Continue reading River Rising by Athol Dickson

Lars Walker, down the mean streets

I picked Cousin Trygve up at the airport on Friday afternoon. I took him home to Blithering Heights (“Is this Mrs. Hermanson?” he asked when he saw my car. Probably the only time that’ll ever happen). He gave me Sissel Kyrkjebø’s latest CD as a gift, and I played it while we got acquainted. We settled into a language system—he spoke English to me, and I spoke Norwegian to him. It seemed to work out best for both of us that way.

On Saturday morning, not too early, I drove him down to Kenyon, to show him the grave of Martha Swelland, my great-grandmother and the half-sister of his great-grandfather (I think I’ve got that right. I lose track). I also showed him the farm where the Swellands had lived, along with the farm where I grew up, which is just next door. I took him through Monkey Valley, the inspiration for Troll Valley in my novel Wolf Time, and the original, long-abandoned town site of Epsom (also prominent in Wolf Time).

Here’s the mystery he’s hunting: My great-great-grandmother, Mari Olsdatter, the mother of Martha Swelland, had a child out of wedlock before marrying Haldor Syverson, my g-g-grandfather. When they and their children emigrated to America in 1881, they brought that child along. He was a young man by then, and his name was Ole Nielsen.

This Ole Nielsen had fathered an out-of-wedlock child himself before emigrating. This child grew up and lived his life in Norway, and he was the ancestor of Cousin Trygve. Cousin Trygve made contact with me on the basis of the story of Lars Swelland, which I told on this blog a while back. I was the first relative on that side he’d ever been able to find in America.

His quest is to find out what happened to Ole Nielsen over here. Nobody in Norway ever heard what became of him. Nobody in my family seems to know either. So I wanted to do what I could to try to help him in that. But I wasn’t very hopeful. Asking questions, as I’ve said more than once, is not my strong suit.

On Sunday I took him down to Zumbrota, Minnesota to meet Cousin Dorothy. Cousin Dorothy is my dad’s first cousin, a Swelland by birth. She’d told me over the phone that she didn’t know much, but was happy to have us come down for lunch.

Dorothy and her husband gave us a lovely lunch in their pleasant house. In the manner of all Great Detectives, I did my best to draw her out, priming the pump with my own memories of my grandmother (her aunt) and others in the family.

Finally she said, “You know, you ought to go to the Severson Reunion. They hold a reunion down in Iowa every year! I think I’ve got the invitation around here somewhere.”

Bingo. The Seversons were precisely the family we were trying to make contact with. Dorothy couldn’t find the invitation, but she gave me the name and address of the man who sent it. Turns out he’s actively involved with the Vesterheim Norwegian Immigration Museum in Decorah, Iowa (where I’ll be traveling for the Nordic Fest this coming weekend).

A relative who organizes family reunions and is involved in the immigration museum. I think it’s just possible he may be able to help us.

Who says Avoidants can’t be great sleuths?

Unfortunately, our resource guy doesn’t seem to be at home right now. I’m awaiting his call-back. I drove Trygve up to Fergus Falls today and passed him off to some relatives on the other side of his family.

But I’m feeling pretty Sherlockian today. I’m debating whether to start smoking a pipe, or to adopt the more socially acceptable habit of mainlining cocaine.

from “America the Beautiful” by Katharine Lee Bates

As a precursor to tomorrow’s national holiday, let me repeat the lesser verses of “America the Beautiful” by Katharine Lee Bates (1859–1929):

O beautiful for pilgrim feet,

Those stern, impassioned stress

A thoroughfare for freedom beat

Across the wilderness!

America! America!

God mend thine every flaw,

Confirm thy soul in self-control,

Thy liberty in law!

O beautiful for heroes proved

In liberating strife

Who more than self their country loved,

And mercy more than life!

America! America!

May God thy gold refine,

Till all success be nobleness,

And every gain divine.