Archive for the ‘History’ Category
Some people didn’t like Utah Phillips. But then, they didn’t like Pete Seeger either.
Utah died in 2008 after creating a lot of mischief in his storytelling and folksinging. This song, about the plane that dropped the atom bomb on Hiroshima 70 years ago today, needs to be heard more often. Thanks to WERU radio for keeping the voice of Utah Phillips alive.
Russell D. Moore is president of the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention; an author, theologian, ethicist, and an ordained Southern Baptist minister. I was very interested to read this article, as Dr. Moore is influential among Christian conservatives throughout the U.S., not only among Southern Baptists.
The Cross and the Confederate Flag by Russell D. Moore
This week the nation reels over the murder of praying Christians in an historic African-American church in Charleston, South Carolina. At the same time, one of the issues hurting many is the Confederate Battle Flag flying at full-mast from the South Carolina Capitol grounds even in the aftermath of this racist act of violence on innocent people. This raises the question of what we as Christians ought to think about the Confederate Battle Flag, given the fact that many of us are from the South.
The flag of my home state of Mississippi contains the Confederate Battle Flag as part of it, and I’m deeply conflicted about that. The flag represents home for me. I love Christ, church, and family more than Mississippi, but that’s about it. Even so, that battle flag makes me wince—even though I’m the descendant of Confederate veterans.
Some would say that the Confederate Battle Flag is simply about heritage, not about hate. Singer Brad Paisley sang that his wearing a Confederate flag on his shirt was just meant to say that he was a Lynyrd Skynyrd fan. Comedian Stephen Colbert quipped, “Little known fact: Jefferson Davis—HUGE Skynyrd fan.”
Defenders of the flag would point out that the United States flag is itself tied up with ugly questions of history. Washington and Jefferson, after all, supported chattel slavery too. The difference is, though, that the United States overcame its sinful support of this wicked system (though tragically late in the game). The Confederate States of America was not simply about limited government and local autonomy; the Confederate States of America was constitutionally committed to the continuation, with protections of law, to a great evil. The moral enormity of the slavery question is one still viscerally felt today, especially by the descendants of those who were enslaved and persecuted.
The gospel speaks to this. The idea of a human being attempting to “own” another human being is abhorrent in a Christian view of humanity. That should hardly need to be said these days, though it does, given the modern-day slavery enterprises of human trafficking all over the world. In the Scriptures, humanity is given dominion over the creation. We are not given dominion over our fellow image-bearing human beings (Gen. 1:27-30). The southern system of chattel slavery was built off of the things the Scripture condemns as wicked: “man-stealing” (1 Tim. 1:10), the theft of another’s labor (Jas. 5:1-6), the breaking up of families, and on and on.
In order to prop up this system, a system that benefited the Mammonism of wealthy planters, Southern religion had to carefully weave a counter-biblical theology that could justify it (the biblically ridiculous “curse of Ham” concept, for instance). In so doing, this form of southern folk religion was outside of the global and historic teachings of the Christian church. The abolitionists were right—and they were right not because they were on the right side of history but because they were on the right side of God.
Even beyond that, though, the Flag has taken on yet another contextual meaning in the years since. The Confederate Battle Flag was the emblem of Jim Crow defiance to the civil rights movement, of the Dixiecrat opposition to integration, and of the domestic terrorism of the Ku Klux Klan and the White Citizens’ Councils of our all too recent, all too awful history.
White Christians ought to think about what that flag says to our African-American brothers and sisters in Christ, especially in the aftermath of yet another act of white supremacist terrorism against them. The gospel frees us from scrapping for our “heritage” at the expense of others. As those in Christ, this descendant of Confederate veterans has more in common with a Nigerian Christian than I do with a non-Christian white Mississippian who knows the right use of “y’all” and how to make sweet tea.
None of us is free from a sketchy background, and none of our backgrounds is wholly evil. The blood of Jesus has ransomed us all “from the futile ways inherited from your forefathers” (1 Pet. 1:18), whether your forefathers were Yankees, rebels, Vikings, or whatever. We can give gratitude for where we’ve come from, without perpetuating symbols of pretend superiority over others.
The Apostle Paul says that we should not prize our freedom to the point of destroying those for whom Christ died. We should instead “pursue what makes for peace and for mutual upbuilding” (Rom. 14:19). The Confederate Battle Flag may mean many things, but with those things it represents a defiance against abolition and against civil rights. The symbol was used to enslave the little brothers and sisters of Jesus, to bomb little girls in church buildings, to terrorize preachers of the gospel and their families with burning crosses on front lawns by night.
That sort of symbolism is out of step with the justice of Jesus Christ. The cross and the Confederate flag cannot co-exist without one setting the other on fire. White Christians, let’s listen to our African-American brothers and sisters. Let’s care not just about our own history, but also about our shared history with them. In Christ, we were slaves in Egypt—and as part of the Body of Christ we were all slaves too in Mississippi. Let’s watch our hearts, pray for wisdom, work for justice, love our neighbors. Let’s take down that flag.
This will work if you’re a Gilbert & Sullivan fan, or if you’re familiar with the song from The Pirates of Penzance, “I am the Very Model of a Modern Major General” (even if you don’t remember where it came from).
As for the biblical philology stuff, I used to hang around people who did this, so yeah, it’s funny if you’re into that stuff too. In fact, it’s hilarious.
Laugh. Or not. The back button is at the upper left.
By the way, the Gilbert & Sullivan Society of Maine will be doing Yeomen of the Guard this year at The Grand in Ellsworth, Feb 6, 7 & 8.
I’ve been reading Julian of Norwich lately, and although she’s a slow read she’s worth every minute. In honor of Good Friday I’ve included part of her description of the dying of Christ on the cross.
Lady Julian, or Dame Julian (not quite Saint Julian), wrote her Showings (or “Shewynges”) in the late 14th century England. She was an anchoress (not quite a nun) at the church of St. Julian in Norwich. Not much is known about her outside of her writings, not even her name. She is called Julian after her church.
At age 30, probably in 1373, she became deathly ill and began to receive visions, revelations, or “showings” that she believed came from God. She wrote them down immediately and developed them years later into a longer text, which became a volume of 86 chapters. It’s humbly written, simple and powerful, and uncannily orthodox as far as I’ve read. Her perspective on matters such as creation, the Trinity, Christ’s death and God’s love appears to come from a different angle—and I suppose it would, if it comes from God. Her level of education is not known and was likely not very high; nevertheless she is known as the first woman published in the English language.
She wrote in a dialect of Middle English that resembles our language more than does Chaucer’s Middle English of the same period. But then, Chaucer wrote poetry and liked to show off.
I’ve taken this excerpt from Julian’s revelation VIII, last paragraph in chapter 16 and the first in chapter 17. I have modernized the spelling, even though the editor of my copy had already cleaned it up a bit. Not only does Julian’s spelling differ greatly from ours, it differs from her own. She couldn’t seem to spell a word the same way twice. To see what you’re missing, here are the first two lines in the selection, unchanged:
“Thus I saw the swete flessch dry in my syght, parte after perte dryeing with mervelous payne. And as long as any spryte had lyffe in Cristes flessch, so longe sufferede he.”
A few observations on Julian’s writings; and owing to her style I’ll list them in threes:
—The First, that this stuff is way better as a Christian devotional than just about any of the crud written for the mass market today.
—The Second, that Julian’s showings offer at least one good reason not to swallow a belief in the cessation of the apostolic gifts. And no, I’m not Pentecostal.
—The Third, that Julian’s style vaguely reminds me of Hemingway, and I don’t suppose I can help that. But sadly, Hemingway never wrote anything about creation likened to a hazelnut.
Here’s the Good Friday excerpt, and remember that we have to get through this to make any sense out of Easter:
Thus I saw the sweet flesh dry in my sight, part after part drying with marvelous pain. And as long as any spirit had life in Christ’s flesh, so long suffered he. This long pain seemed to me as if he had been sevennight dead, dying, at the point of out passing, always suffering the great pain. And there I say it seemed as he had been sevennight dead, it specifieth that the sweet body was so discoloured , so dry, so clinging, so deadly, and so piteous as he had been sevennight dead, continually dying. And me thought the drying of Christ’s flesh was the most pain and the last of his passion.
And in this drying was brought to my mind this word that Christ said, “I thirst.” For I saw in Christ a double thirst, one bodily and another ghostly. This word was showed for the bodily thirst, and for the ghostly thirst was showed as I shall say after. And I understood by the bodily thirst that the body had feeling of moisture, for the blessed flesh and bones was left all alone without blood and moisture. The blessed body dried all a lone long time with wringing of the nails and weight of the body. For I understood that for tenderness of the sweet hands and the sweet feet by the great hardness and grievous of the nails the wounds waxed wide and the body saddled for weight, by long time hanging and piercing and raising of the head and binding of the crown all baking with dry blood, with the sweet hair clinging the dry flesh to the thorns and the thorns to the flesh drying.
Denise N. Baker, ed., The Showings of Julian of Norwich. New York: W.W. Norton & Company, 2005. pp. 27-28
Pete died today. Ninety-four years and he never grew old. One of the last great American heroes, and if you’d like to argue with me on that I shall walk away. You win. You know who your heroes are, and God help you.
Excerpts from Pete’s hearing before the Committee follow. He was sentenced to 10 concurrent one-year prison terms (for contempt of court) but only served a few hours while his lawyer sorted out the bail. Years later the sentence was overturned.
Pete appealed not to the Fifth Amendment but—as he said in an interview later—to the First: freedom of religion, speech, press, and assembly. Much of the hearing can be summed up in this reply: “I am not going to answer any questions as to my association, my philosophical or religious beliefs or my political beliefs, or how I voted in any election, or any of these private affairs. I think these are very improper questions for any American to be asked, especially under such compulsion as this. I would be very glad to tell you my life if you want to hear of it.”
The hearing begins:
MR. TAVENNER: When and where were you born, Mr. Seeger?
MR. SEEGER: I was born in New York in 1919.
MR. TAVENNER: What is your profession or occupation?
MR. SEEGER: Well, I have worked at many things, and my main profession is a student of American folklore, and I make my living as a banjo picker—sort of damning, in some people’s opinion.
MR. TAVENNER: Has New York been your headquarters for a considerable period of time?
MR. SEEGER: No, I lived here only rarely until I left school, and after a year or two or a few years living here after World War II I got back to the country, where I always felt more at home.
MR. TAVENNER: Mr. Seeger, prior to your entry in the service in 1942, were you engaged in the practice of your profession in the area of New York?
MR. SEEGER: It is hard to call it a profession. I kind of drifted into it and I never intended to be a musician, and I am glad I am one now, and it is a very honorable profession, but when I started out actually I wanted to be a newspaperman, and when I left school—
CHAIRMAN WALTER: Will you answer the question, please?
MR. SEEGER: I have to explain that it really wasn’t my profession, I picked up a little change in it.
CHAIRMAN WALTER: Did you practice your profession?
MR. SEEGER: I sang for people, yes, before World War II, and I also did as early as 1925.
MR. TAVENNER: And upon your return from the service in December of 1945, you continued in your profession?
MR. SEEGER: I continued singing, and I expect I always will.
MR. TAVENNER: The Committee has information obtained in part from the Daily Worker indicating that, over a period of time, especially since December of 1945, you took part in numerous entertainment features. I have before me a photostatic copy of the June 20, 1947, issue of the Daily Worker. In a column entitled “What’s On” appears this advertisement: “Tonight-Bronx, hear Peter Seeger and his guitar, at Allerton Section housewarming.” May I ask you whether or not the Allerton Section was a section of the Communist Party?
MR. SEEGER: Sir, I refuse to answer that question whether it was a quote from the New York Times or the Vegetarian Journal.
MR. TAVENNER: I don’t believe there is any more authoritative document in regard to the Communist Party than its official organ, the Daily Worker.
MR. SCHERER: He hasn’t answered the question, and he merely said he wouldn’t answer whether the article appeared in the New York Times or some other magazine. I ask you to direct the witness to answer the question.
CHAIRMAN WALTER: I direct you to answer.
MR. SEEGER: Sir, the whole line of questioning—
CHAIRMAN WALTER: You have only been asked one question, so far.
MR. SEEGER: I am not going to answer any questions as to my association, my philosophical or religious beliefs or my political beliefs, or how I voted in any election, or any of these private affairs. I think these are very improper questions for any American to be asked, especially under such compulsion as this. I would be very glad to tell you my life if you want to hear of it.
MR. TAVENNER: Has the witness declined to answer this specific question?
CHAIRMAN WALTER: He said that he is not going to answer any questions, any names or things.
MR. SCHERER: He was directed to answer the question.
The Committee got nowhere with him. They went in circles for a while, Pete saying, “My answer is the same as before, sir.” This follows:
MR. TAVENNER: I have before me a photostatic copy of the April 30, 1948, issue of the Daily Worker which carries under the same title of “What’s On,” an advertisement of a “May Day Rally: For Peace, Security and Democracy.” The advertisement states: “Are you in a fighting mood? Then attend the May Day rally.” Expert speakers are stated to be slated for the program, and then follows a statement, “Entertainment by Pete Seeger.” At the bottom appears this: “Auspices Essex County Communist Party,” and at the top, “Tonight, Newark, N.J.” Did you lend your talent to the Essex County Communist Party on the occasion indicated by this article from the Daily Worker?
MR. SEEGER: Mr. Walter, I believe I have already answered this question, and the same answer.
CHAIRMAN WALTER: The same answer. In other words, you mean that you decline to answer because of the reasons stated before?
MR. SEEGER: I gave my answer, sir.
CHAIRMAN WALTER: What is your answer?
MR. SEEGER: You see, sir, I feel—
CHAIRMAN WALTER: What is your answer?
MR. SEEGER: I will tell you what my answer is.
(Witness consulted with counsel [Paul L. Ross].)
I feel that in my whole life I have never done anything of any conspiratorial nature and I resent very much and very deeply the implication of being called before this Committee that in some way because my opinions may be different from yours, or yours, Mr. Willis, or yours, Mr. Scherer, that I am any less of an American than anybody else. I love my country very deeply, sir.
CHAIRMAN WALTER: Why don’t you make a little contribution toward preserving its institutions?
MR. SEEGER: I feel that my whole life is a contribution. That is why I would like to tell you about it.
CHAIRMAN WALTER: I don’t want to hear about it.
Pages of transcript later, the Committee tired of him and ended the hearing:
MR. TAVENNER: Was the booking agent of People’s Songs an organization known as People’s Artists?
MR. SEEGER: My answer is the same.
MR. TAVENNER: Will you tell the Committee, please, whether or not during the weekend of July 4, 1955, you were a member of the Communist Party?
MR. SEEGER: My answer is the same as before, sir.
MR. TAVENNER: Were you a member of the Communist Party at any time during the various entertainment features in which you were alleged to have engaged?
MR. SEEGER: My answer is the same.
MR. TAVENNER: Are you a member of the Communist Party now?
MR. SEEGER: My answer is the same.
MR. SCHERER: I ask for a direction on that question.
CHAIRMAN WALTER: I direct you to answer.
MR. SEEGER: My answer is the same as before.
MR. TAVENNER: I have no further questions, Mr. Chairman.
CHAIRMAN WALTER: The witness is excused.
[Source of text]:
[CBC interview in 1965 about the trial]:
And, in one of the most patriotic songs (or least—you choose), written by Woody Guthrie:
In this video, Nancy Duarte demonstrates in visual form the “I Have a Dream” speech by Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., after calling it “possibly the best piece of oration ever written.”
Dr. King delivered his speech at the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, D.C. on the 28th of August, 1963. Text appears below.
I Have a Dream
I am happy to join with you today in what will go down in history as the greatest demonstration for freedom in the history of our nation.
Five score years ago, a great American, in whose symbolic shadow we stand today, signed the Emancipation Proclamation. This momentous decree came as a great beacon light of hope to millions of Negro slaves who had been seared in the flames of withering injustice. It came as a joyous daybreak to end the long night of their captivity.
But one hundred years later, the Negro still is not free. One hundred years later, the life of the Negro is still sadly crippled by the manacles of segregation and the chains of discrimination. One hundred years later, the Negro lives on a lonely island of poverty in the midst of a vast ocean of material prosperity. One hundred years later, the Negro is still languished in the corners of American society and finds himself an exile in his own land. And so we’ve come here today to dramatize a shameful condition.
In a sense we’ve come to our nation’s capital to cash a check. When the architects of our republic wrote the magnificent words of the Constitution and the Declaration of Independence, they were signing a promissory note to which every American was to fall heir. This note was a promise that all men, yes, black men as well as white men, would be guaranteed the “unalienable Rights” of “Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.” It is obvious today that America has defaulted on this promissory note, insofar as her citizens of color are concerned. Instead of honoring this sacred obligation, America has given the Negro people a bad check, a check which has come back marked “insufficient funds.”
But we refuse to believe that the bank of justice is bankrupt. We refuse to believe that there are insufficient funds in the great vaults of opportunity of this nation. And so, we’ve come to cash this check, a check that will give us upon demand the riches of freedom and the security of justice.
We have also come to this hallowed spot to remind America of the fierce urgency of Now. This is no time to engage in the luxury of cooling off or to take the tranquilizing drug of gradualism. Now is the time to make real the promises of democracy. Now is the time to rise from the dark and desolate valley of segregation to the sunlit path of racial justice. Now is the time to lift our nation from the quicksands of racial injustice to the solid rock of brotherhood. Now is the time to make justice a reality for all of God’s children.
It would be fatal for the nation to overlook the urgency of the moment. This sweltering summer of the Negro’s legitimate discontent will not pass until there is an invigorating autumn of freedom and equality. Nineteen sixty-three is not an end, but a beginning. And those who hope that the Negro needed to blow off steam and will now be content will have a rude awakening if the nation returns to business as usual. And there will be neither rest nor tranquility in America until the Negro is granted his citizenship rights. The whirlwinds of revolt will continue to shake the foundations of our nation until the bright day of justice emerges.
But there is something that I must say to my people, who stand on the warm threshold which leads into the palace of justice: In the process of gaining our rightful place, we must not be guilty of wrongful deeds. Let us not seek to satisfy our thirst for freedom by drinking from the cup of bitterness and hatred. We must forever conduct our struggle on the high plane of dignity and discipline. We must not allow our creative protest to degenerate into physical violence. Again and again, we must rise to the majestic heights of meeting physical force with soul force.
The marvelous new militancy which has engulfed the Negro community must not lead us to a distrust of all white people, for many of our white brothers, as evidenced by their presence here today, have come to realize that their destiny is tied up with our destiny. And they have come to realize that their freedom is inextricably bound to our freedom.
We cannot walk alone.
And as we walk, we must make the pledge that we shall always march ahead.
We cannot turn back.
There are those who are asking the devotees of civil rights, “When will you be satisfied?” We can never be satisfied as long as the Negro is the victim of the unspeakable horrors of police brutality. We can never be satisfied as long as our bodies, heavy with the fatigue of travel, cannot gain lodging in the motels of the highways and the hotels of the cities. We cannot be satisfied as long as the negro’s basic mobility is from a smaller ghetto to a larger one. We can never be satisfied as long as our children are stripped of their self-hood and robbed of their dignity by signs stating: “For Whites Only.” We cannot be satisfied as long as a Negro in Mississippi cannot vote and a Negro in New York believes he has nothing for which to vote. No, no, we are not satisfied, and we will not be satisfied until “justice rolls down like waters, and righteousness like a mighty stream.”¹
I am not unmindful that some of you have come here out of great trials and tribulations. Some of you have come fresh from narrow jail cells. And some of you have come from areas where your quest — quest for freedom left you battered by the storms of persecution and staggered by the winds of police brutality. You have been the veterans of creative suffering. Continue to work with the faith that unearned suffering is redemptive. Go back to Mississippi, go back to Alabama, go back to South Carolina, go back to Georgia, go back to Louisiana, go back to the slums and ghettos of our northern cities, knowing that somehow this situation can and will be changed.
Let us not wallow in the valley of despair, I say to you today, my friends.
And so even though we face the difficulties of today and tomorrow, I still have a dream. It is a dream deeply rooted in the American dream.
I have a dream that one day this nation will rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed: “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal.”
I have a dream that one day on the red hills of Georgia, the sons of former slaves and the sons of former slave owners will be able to sit down together at the table of brotherhood.
I have a dream that one day even the state of Mississippi, a state sweltering with the heat of injustice, sweltering with the heat of oppression, will be transformed into an oasis of freedom and justice.
I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.
I have a dream today!
I have a dream that one day, down in Alabama, with its vicious racists, with its governor having his lips dripping with the words of “interposition” and “nullification” — one day right there in Alabama little black boys and black girls will be able to join hands with little white boys and white girls as sisters and brothers.
I have a dream today!
I have a dream that one day every valley shall be exalted, and every hill and mountain shall be made low, the rough places will be made plain, and the crooked places will be made straight; “and the glory of the Lord shall be revealed and all flesh shall see it together.”2
This is our hope, and this is the faith that I go back to the South with.
With this faith, we will be able to hew out of the mountain of despair a stone of hope. With this faith, we will be able to transform the jangling discords of our nation into a beautiful symphony of brotherhood. With this faith, we will be able to work together, to pray together, to struggle together, to go to jail together, to stand up for freedom together, knowing that we will be free one day.
And this will be the day — this will be the day when all of God’s children will be able to sing with new meaning:
My country ’tis of thee, sweet land of liberty, of thee I sing.
Land where my fathers died, land of the Pilgrim’s pride,
From every mountainside, let freedom ring!
And if America is to be a great nation, this must become true.
And so let freedom ring from the prodigious hilltops of New Hampshire.
Let freedom ring from the mighty mountains of New York.
Let freedom ring from the heightening Alleghenies of Pennsylvania.
Let freedom ring from the snow-capped Rockies of Colorado.
Let freedom ring from the curvaceous slopes of California.
But not only that:
Let freedom ring from Stone Mountain of Georgia.
Let freedom ring from Lookout Mountain of Tennessee.
Let freedom ring from every hill and molehill of Mississippi.
From every mountainside, let freedom ring.
And when this happens, and when we allow freedom ring, when we let it ring from every village and every hamlet, from every state and every city, we will be able to speed up that day when all of God’s children, black men and white men, Jews and Gentiles, Protestants and Catholics, will be able to join hands and sing in the words of the old Negro spiritual:
Free at last! Free at last!
Thank God Almighty, we are free at last!
¹ Amos 5:24
2 Isaiah 40:4-5