Saturday, December 20, 2014

Give me a new song to sing

Mary Travers 1937 - 2009
Agnes and I just watched a retrospective of the music of Peter, Paul and Mary with a guest appearance by Pete Seeger; I ended up teary-eyed and we both agreed that somehow in the last years, we've lost something of . . . of whatever it was that energized us when we hummed along with Where Have all the Flowers Gone,  or sang exuberantly Because all Men are Brothers:

Let every voice be thunder, let every heart beat strong
Until all tyrants perish our work shall not be done
Let not our memories fail us the lost year shall be found
Let slavery's chains be broken the whole wide world around.

I suppose one could rationalize the choice of whatever road we branched off onto in any number of ways, possibly invoking post-modernism or post-Christian influences as causative. In any case, the short trip into the heady idealism of the 60s and 70s tonight left a bitter-sweet, nostalgic taste behind.

                Peter, Paul and Mary, Pete Seeger, Bob Dylan, Woody Guthrie, Judy Collins were some of the banner carriers for peace and justice at a time when the civil rights movement was growing, the Vietnam War was raging—too soon after the Korean War—and America was being forced to rethink itself. The songs pointed outward, a sharp contrast to the "all about me" drivel that characterizes so much pop and country music of the current age. (If you don't know what I'm talking about, click here for Justin Bieber's If I was your Boyfriend video.)

                I went to YouTube to look for some nostalgia, and mourned the 2009 death through leukemia of Mary Travers by playing a black and white video of a 1963 rendering of Pete Seeger's If I had a Hammer. Take a step back to this wonderful song so soulfully sung by clicking here.

                Oh, I know. Every generation since (and including, probably) Adam and Eve has assumed that the next generation is enthusiastically pumping itself toward hell on a handcart. That's not me, but sometimes I long for the talented poets and songwriters of this time to come out of their shells and give us some robust songs of protest. Something we all—young and old—can beat time to. Something that helps us express our anxieties in unison, build our hopes that justice and peace can bless our world . . . even so. Something tuneful, harmonious and honest.

                Heaven knows, we didn't put paid to war, injustice and poverty in our day, but maybe we kept it at bay for a time. I think every generation of artists has this obligation to tend to.

Thursday, December 04, 2014

Jawings from Moose Jaw

Someone posted a link to a video of an Arizona pastor referring to Levitical law to make a point that AIDS could be cured by Christmas if we were to obey the Old Testament injunction that says homoerotic acts should carry the death penalty. Putting aside for the moment the misconceptions about HIV's preferences, such ghastly pronouncements falling on hundreds of ears are bound to find some receptive, fertile ground in which to grow and flourish.

I'm waiting to see if the pastor in question will be charged with spreading hate. If he is, a cadre of followers will no doubt emerge to cry "freedom of speech, freedom of religion!" and make out that the pastor is the victim here; it happens frequently.

This may sound alarmist, but I sense that the number of people being drawn into that comfort zone characterized by legalistic, arbitrary, deductive, black/white thinking is growing. Fortunately, it's not a majority in North America yet, but because of the quieter, more tolerant voices of liberalism, conservative bombast is ending up punching far above its weight class. In Canada, the relatively-solid 38% have ruled the roost for the past eight years, producing reams of ideologically-driven legislation, much of it so bad that the supreme court has had to step in to prevent the pernicious disregard of the constitution.

My experiences as a classroom teacher have informed my conviction that there is real harm awaiting us if liberalism can't find a way to unite against creeping, retrograde thinking. I've observed that among teachers you're always bound to find many who teach kids and others who teach curriculum. For the latter, the curriculum is the law book to be applied with equal vigour and the same expectations to every kid in class; good teachers, meanwhile, measure success by the growth in skills, self-confidence and socialization of the individual child, whether or not the curriculum has been mastered as prescribed. Too-simply put, probably, curriculum teachers drive the less-endowed into deviance, the kid-teachers produce well-adjusted citizens who retain with dignity the attributes with which they were born.

Even so, the conservative mind clings to the sanctity of the curriculum, demands standardized testing, imposes on teachers restrictive, deductively-arrived-at parameters that seem to be logical but waste the skills and understandings gained in professional training. This is the conservative mind at work. For the Arizona pastor, the Bible is the curriculum and under its apparent dictates, every student must be taught the same as every other one.

My point today is finally that unless we mean to be governed by Harperism into the foreseeable or distant future, liberals will need to eat some crow and give the population a viable progressive, social democratic choice. In Canada today, I want to see the Liberal and NDP unite to form the Liberal Democratic Party of Canada (LDPC) and the Green Party to take over as the "third party of conscience."

The clock is ticking, people. Great harms of all kinds are very real possibilities. The times require you and me to act.