Pete Seeger – Singing toward our inmost calm

In this American time of turmoil and strife, Pete Seeger singing “How Can I Keep from Singing?” restores my faith that “no storm can shake my inmost calm” (Robert Lowry, 1869). RIP, Pete. We’re listening.

Election Night: Hoping we’ll all pull through

A song of lament for tonight’s midterm election.

The lyrics come from Psalm 137 where the people’s conquerors ridiculed their captives, taunting them to sing one of their native songs, the songs of Zion. Big oil and coal won tonight. Mitch McConnell won. So did the other deniers. Things like climate change action can’t wait for the next election.

God bless the memory of Pete Seeger who was always singing the aspirational songs of hope in times like this. God bless us all.

 

The Ladder

I’m working this morning on the familiar spiritual of Jacob’s Ladder, trying to unpack why it is so meaningful to people at different life stages and in all sorts of circumstances. I’m looking back now over 72 years of singing it or – or shunning it at one point along the way. I didn’t like the “soldier” part.

We are climbing Jacob’s ladder
We are climbing Jacob’s ladder
We are climbing Jacob’s ladder,
Soldiers of the cross.

 

We are climbing higher, higher….

Why did it mean so much to me as a teenager “climbing higher, higher”? It was a spiritual journey, a confusing one that tried to connect the war-torn, racist world of Earth with heaven, and the call to climb higher, higher to close the gap. But I suspect psychologically it also gave me some assurance about the challenges of growing up, getting wiser perhaps, more independent, climbing into adulthood. The journey was a struggle that made me feel sometimes like a soldier inside my own skin and the world around me.

But long before I sang it in church camp, it was sung by American slaves. It expressed the faith and hope of liberation from chattel slavery. They sang without apology as “soldiers of the cross” (beaten, tortured and crucified like Jesus), on their way up “every rung” going higher, higher (farther north) to a land that lured them like heaven itself.

I go to YouTube and find Pete Seeger’s wonderful, cheerful rendition that replaces the original “soldier of the cross” with “brothers, sisters, all” and remember that I, too, have joined him in feeling the need to eliminate the military language. “Soldier” and “cross” are oxymoronic. It was the soldiers who did the crucifying, and it was the soldiers of the white militias who terrorized the slaves’ hopes.

No sooner do I listen to Peter’s rendition than I listen to Paul Robson who found no reason to eliminate the “soldiers of the cross” – perhaps because Robson knew that he and we are engaged in a kind of combat and the strange pairing of soldier and cross carries its own power and meaning. Robson, as you may know, was a Communist who would have seen every rung going higher, higher the way Pete saw it – steps on the upward course of human progress toward a kind of heaven conceived as classless society, a kinder world. “Thy kingdom come on earth, as it is in heaven.”

I have been in all of these places a thousand times. Youthful, hopeful, visionary, climbing. But now I concentrate on things I missed in the earlier stages of youth, building a career, rising higher and higher on the professional and economic ladders of “success” or imagining and hoping the world was getting better.

I notice now as never before that the biblical text of Jacob’s dream is not of Jacob’s upward climb. Jacob never steps on the ladder. Angels (messengers) do, ascending to the heavens and descending to where he is in a kind of no-man’s land where everything he has ever known is at risk, the way I am in an in-between time between the today’s earthly beauty and climate departure, the scorching of the planet. Like Jacob, I have an “Aha!” moment: “Surely YHWH (the un-pronounable Hebrew name for G-d) is in this place, and I did not know it!”

So I’m reflecting now on the importance of this temporary, mortal, finite “place” in time where YHWH (the Breath of Life) is already present, and the need to surrender the idea that I need to climb to somewhere else.

A Climate Dialogue: the Challenge Before Us

The day Pete Seeger died, Susan Lince composed a song on climate change in honor of Pete. The song, written as a lament spoken back to us by our grandchildren and all future generations, asks repeatedly “You knew… Why didn’t you take a stand?”

Susan and John Lince-Hopkins created Requiem2020.org as a means of rallying artists to widen public consciousness and awaken a new sense of ecological responsibility in the face of climate change and climate departure. John and Susan taught and painted in Alaska. John, a scientist as well as painter, helped supervise the clean-up operation following Exxon-Valdez.

Click HERE for the Evite to First Tuesday Dialogues’ program on Climate Departure led by John and Susan. The song on climate departure, arranged with Susan’s grandson, will debut at this event.

Date: Tuesday, March 4, 2014
Time: 7:00 – 8:30 P.M.
Place: Shepherd of the Hill Presbyterian Church, 145 Engler Blvd., Chaska, MN 55318.

The View from the Bristlecone Pines

Bristlecone Pines photo

Bristlecone Pines photo

Clinging tenaciously to the ridgetops
and twisted by the winds,
bristlecone pines are the oldest
living trees on Earth. The oldest
of them, found only in the White
Mountains of California, are
4,600 years old. Those pines were
already 1,400 years old when the
Egyptians were building the pyramids.

The Bristlecone Pines on Windy Ridge,
Colorado (picture, taken by friend
Harry Strong) are nearly 1,000 years
old.

These gnarled trees have endured
strong winds, cold temperatures,
drought and poor soils. They learn
to grow horizontally. The sign posted
on Windy Ridge invites visitors to
“walk through these survivors and
stand watch with them over the vast
South Park.”

How will these remarkably adaptive
creatures do with the projection of
Climate Departure? Are they calling
out for help from down below, echoed
back to them in song by Pete Seeger’s
“God’s Countin’ on Me; God’s Countin’
on you”?

You might say that Pete’s life was a
reply to the Bristlecone pines, a
modern day Habakkuk whose writing
we have from the time when the Bristle-
cone Pines were just teenagers:

“I will stand upon my
watch, and set me upon the tower,
and will watch to see [God] will say
to me, that I will answer when I am
reproved. And the LORD answered me,
and said, Write the vision and make
it plain upon tablets, that he may
run who reads it.”

Pete Seeger to the rest of us

Video

Pete Seeger sings a song that rallies the best in us to continue his work of changing the world. God’s countin’ on me; God’s countin’ on you!

Pete Seeger and the HUAC

Pete Seeger is an American legend. But it wasn’t always so. Pete just turned 94.

Spadecaller posted the video on YouTube. He also wrote the following history behind “Where have all the flowers gone?”

On July 26, 1956, the House of Representatives voted 373 to 9 to cite Pete Seeger and seven others (including playwright Arthur Miller) for contempt, as they failed to cooperate with House Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC) in their attempts to investigate alleged subversives and communists. Pete Seeger testified before the HUAC in 1955.

In one of Pete’s darkest moments, when his personal freedom, his career, and his safety were in jeopardy, a flash of inspiration ignited this song. The song was stirred by a passage from Mikhail Sholokhov’s novel “And Quie Flows the Don”. Around the world the song traveled and in 1962 at a UNICEF concert in Germany, Marlene Dietrich, Academy Award-nominated German-born American actress, first performed the song in French, as “Qui peut dire ou vont les fleurs?” Shortly after she sang it in German. The song’s impact in Germany just after WWII was shattering. It’s universal message, “let there be peace in the world” did not get lost in its translation. To the contrary, the combination of the language, the setting, and the great lyrics has had a profound effect on people all around the world. May it have the same effect today and bring renewed awareness to all that hear it.

Click HERE for the transcript of Pete’s testimony before a sub-committee of the House Un-American Activities Committee.

Pete is an American patriot. He stands for the very best of the American character. He has never been intimidated by the likes of Senator Joseph McCarthy whose accusations turn people of courage into quivering jelly. He wrote and sang the songs that still stand up to the bullies who assassinate the character of others by means of innuendo and association. His joyful resilience exposes the demonic (the twisting of the good) character of public manipulation, mass hysteria, scapegoating, and the misplaced patriotism that marches to the drumbeats if war.

Happy birthday, good Sir! Your voice still echoes around the world.

Toy Gun Manufacturers – Tom Paxton and Pete Seeger

Pete Seeger hosted the show. Tom Paxton sang the song he composed. That was way back in 1965.

Today….a cute three-year-old boy dressed in a cowboy hat, cowboy shirt, Sheriff’s badge, and cowboy boots, waves his toy pistol as he proudly marches past the tables and the three rifles of the video shooting-range at Heartbreakers pub on his way out the door into the world.

The toy gun manufacturers will deliver him into the hands of the real gun manufacturers; the toy gun will become a real one in the hand of the real man when his little mind expands.