Pete Seeger performs at the Clearwater Festival in 2007. Credit: Creative Commons/Anthony Pepitone.
I could scarcely believe my ears when staff members at Tikkun told me that Pete Seeger had just called to ask if he could perform at the first national Tikkun conference in New York City in 1988. I had raised my son on Seeger’s music, and had myself been moved by some of his radical songs. He was already a legend, and I was already a fan when I was in high school.
Seeger understood that the kind of Judaism we espoused was rooted in the universalist and prophetic tradition that had led so many Jews to become deeply involved in the movements for peace and social justice – not the chauvinist nationalism that was becoming dominant in large sections of the organized Jewish community – and he told me that he had followed my case in the 1970s when the Nixon White House had indicted me (at that time I was a professor of philosophy at the University of Washington) for organizing anti-war demonstrations. The trial was called “The Seattle Seven,” and eventually all charges were dropped after spending some time in federal penitentiary for “contempt of court” – a charge overturned by the 9th Circuit Federal Appeals court.
Seeger became a fan of Tikkun and a supporter of our activities, and his appearance at our conference was one of the highlights of the event. Even Jewish folksinger Rabbi Shlomo Carlebach, who also performed at that conference, told me he felt joy and awe at Seeger’s presence at the Tikkun conference.
There’s been an art-blogworld swirl lately about need versus want. You can find a summary with links to relevant posts by half a dozen bloggers in this entry in Barry Hessenius’s blog.
In this context, I find the distinction nearly meaningless. Need how? To sustain life, we need air, water, nourishment, sleep, and shelter. To thrive, most of us need caring, connection, pleasure, meaning – the myriad things that account for the difference between mere survival and a life lived fully into our capacities. To keep up with the Joneses, one’s home needs a new car in the driveway or a new coat of paint. The further from survival’s necessities we get, the more we use the word need to signal intense wanting or intense obligation: I really need that pair of shoes; I really need to kiss you right now; I really need to wash my car; I really need to see the dentist. Sometimes want elides into need without noticing. The archetypal experience my young self shared with many other artists jumps an arc from the spark of awakening interest to the strong current of desire-drenched need: I needed to paint, and now I need to write.
by: Jack Gabriel on December 3rd, 2013 | Comments Off
You can usually tell if a recording is inspired from the opening twenty seconds. There is a certain energy, a certain élan, that takes you from the ordinary to the special, from genesis to realization, quite quickly, perhaps in two dozen heartbeats.
There are many such songs on the new CD ,”The Human Project”, the first solo release by Gabriel Meyer Halevy. There are striking anthems, which celebrate the diversity and harmony of humanity. There are delicate ballads, and gracefully rhythmic pieces, that mesh South American, Arabic, Mizrachi and Far Eastern nuances. Their fusion sounds organic and natural. Paul Simon’s Afro-Gospel-Doo Wop and Idan Raichel’s Ethiopean-Spanish-Israeli pieces come to mind. The lyrics very much support the music. It is as if the words and melodies are passed from voice to voice, in Spanish, Hebrew and Arabic, effortlessly enriching songs with multiple translations. It draws you into a sweet and exciting space. That’s no easy feat, and that’s what makes this recording so successful and special.
In the emergent world – the one I call The Republic of Stories – we don’t have to shrink ourselves to the scale of widgets to interact with corporations and institutions, modeling our own ways of being on the machine logic of our inventions. At any moment, we can open the gates of perception and understanding. We can treat each other as whole beings. We can assess and consider the full price of our actions, then act accordingly.
That world already exists; it’s just that the way is sometimes blocked by those so loyal to Datastan’s values that they can’t imagine an alternative. It’s a matter of time before enough people bring the new reality into focus, and I am determined to put my energy on the fulcrum of paradigm shift. It’s amazing how much even a single exercise – allowing a piece of music to enter us fully – can help engage the tipping-point.
In Vancouver recently, I spoke at the Zero Waste Conference, a gathering of scientists, officials, academics, and activists devoted to eliminating waste. I was deeply impressed to encounter Michael Braungart for the first time. His talk was frank and amusing, calling into question many of the aims implicit in zero waste and other action focusing on environmental impact reduction. Braungart’s points sounded obvious once you heard them, generating mind-changing implications. For instance, he compared the goal of “zero emissions” to the reality of a tree, which emits helpful substances into the atmosphere and earth. He questioned sustainability as a value, suggesting that it sets the bar pretty low: “Would you want to answer a question about the quality of your marriage by saying, ‘It’s sustainable’?”
Recently, I had an experience of solidarity so precious it stands out as a significant moment of my life. And it wasn’t associated with victory. On the contrary, it was accompanied by virtually nothing but defeat. At a recent Working Class Studies conference, I heard from and sang with members of the Wisconsin Solidarity Singalong, an overlapping and unofficial group who have sung historic and updated protest songs in the Wisconsin State Capitol every weekday noon (so as not to disrupt official business) for over 600 days. Let me pause and ask: What would it take for you to protest every weekday noon for 600 working days – without ever being successful? How about if you were ticketed hundreds of times (the “conductor” of the singers had personally received 140 tickets), harassed, punched in the face, sent to trial? This is in the context of spectators being “tossed from the chambers for things like taking a picture, displaying a sign, reading a newspaper or wearing a hat.”
What happens to freedom of speech when you can’t put tape over your mouth to express protest at not being allowed to sing? What happens to you as a result of this commitment? I think the answer is your life changes – and the world around you changes, on an almost invisible yet vitally important scale.
Left to right: Richard Rohr, attendees dancing, Brian McLaren. Credit: Wild Goose Festival Website (www.wildgoosefestival.org).
I have been watching, with rapt envy, the many blog posts, articles, photos and videos filling the virtual airwaves since the Wild Goose Festival closed its second year this past June. A conglomerate of issues (scheduling, funding, timing) kept me from attending but next year it is already locked in on my calendar.
The Wild Goose Festival launched last year, after five years in the planning and making of it, with over 1,000 attendees camping out in Shakori Hills, NC, for an event meant to intersect faith, justice, art, and music in a very particular way. While there are great teachers from all faith traditions (predominantly Christian but increasingly more persons from other faith traditions and no faith tradition are joining the conversation) who present in their own faith areas of expertise the festival is also an organic grassroots experience where speakers step down off their stages and into the crowds for community discussions on the subject matter. It is a live thing, this festival, not just entertaining but engaging and creating in each moment of the community experience.
On Saturday, April 21, Sacred Snapshots, a day-long Sampler for the Spirit, will invite participants to experience the divine, celebrate spiritual practices from a range of religions and traditions at Pacific School of Religion in Berkeley, California (9 a.m. to 6 p.m.) Whether exploring religion in pop culture, engaging 12-step spirituality, or experiencing Hindu ritual, attendees will create a multi-religious, multicultural and international community for one day. Rumi wrote that “there are hundreds of ways to kneel and kiss the ground,” and at Sacred Snapshots, you will have the chance to try at least a dozen.
I still sometimes dance in the car while waiting at a red light. However, back in the day, when I had less sense than I have now, I would throw the car in park, jump out and dance in the street. When Whitney Houston sang “I Wanna Dance with Somebody”, the joy, the exuberance, the hope, the possibility was too much to contain inside the car. The imperative: turn the volume up, put the car in park, jump out and dance. Celebrate life.
When she sang the “Star Spangled Banner” at a Super Bowl, this unashamed, unapologetic peacenik who at the time was completely disgusted by the first Iraq War, who then and now is suspicious of cheap, political patriotism, who hates with a perfect hatred the flag-waving jingoistic aspects of war – any war – got goose bumps. Her voice reverberated across the globe. My children and I stood up in the living room and cheered. To paraphrase Marvin Gaye: she made me want to holler and throw up both my hands. Peace theory IS patriotism. I was reminded of my patriotic duty.
Then, when we went to see “The Preacher’s Wife”, the movie with Whitney Houston and Denzel Washington, the entire sound track, especially her rendering of “Joy to the World” compelled us to go to the record store when the movie was over. The imperative: go to the music store. Go directly to the music store. Do not pass go. Do not collect $200.
Sometimes even an atheist needs a community soup kitchen.
This winter, I will probably need one, and so will many many of my fellow Americans. This winter, when the thin veil of November leaves has finally come down in Chicago, the sand is banked on the beaches against the lake shore wind and the dark comes early, I will be happy for a bowl of soup and a place to eat it where I feel welcome.
Like so many this year, for me the recession is grinding down hard, and the things that held me together are beginning to fray, just a little and at the edges, but still, the possibility of coming unraveled hangs over all endeavors while the nights get colder.
Like the people occupying parks the whole country over, I am running out of faith in governments and institutions to provide a little grace and shelter while we all wait out the economic troubles we’ve got to endure.
My cousin Marcia wrote to me the other day. I’ve been one of her anchors of hope amidst a lot of despair about the world situation. When she wrote this time though, I too was cranky. “Change we can believe in my tush!” Then, a few hours later, our shop was filled with Think Peace Workshop kids and their parents making scarves for children in Africa. The energy was simply amazing. And then this morning I was writing checks to some of the organizations we support and ran across this video from the Mosaic Project. Now, I don’t feel so cranky. Maybe this will lift your spirits too. There are amazing people and organizations working with children to make their world and ours a much better place. Read more if you’d like to know more about The Mosaic Project and Think Peace Workshop. And, if this kind of post makes you happy, let me know and I’ll tell you about other people and organizations doing wonderful things. If you’d rather just be cranky….. I’ll understand!