It’s been a troubling time lately. I believe that all people are created with equal worth. And the data shows that statistical differences in capabilities between the distinctions we use to break apart “homo sapiens” into subgroups are… small. I’ve been thinking a lot about how we define who a real person is. You know – a person or group of persons who is worth as much and as important as “my people” are. I’ve decided that for me that circle is our species. If you’re human, you are a person of full worth and value.
Given that we have no remaining near-human brethren left, I do not have to decide whether or not they count.
Anyway, given that value statement of mine, there’s a lot that’s upsetting right now. Much of it has been for some time. The incarceration of minorities at disproportionate rates. The deaths at police hands. Those have been on our minds for some time. Last week, a man at a tech company argued that diversity initiatives targeting women and minorities should be discontinued, since women’s lack of representation in leadership might be due to biology or desire instead of lack of opportunity. Then this weekend, actual torch-wielding neo-Nazis killed a woman of faith in a violent protest in an American city. These things may look unrelated to you, but they all feel related to me. They are a spectrum of deciding that some humans are lesser people and that their lives and contributions are less valuable.
One of the great consolations, and terrors, of studying history is that you know that things like this have happened before. We just got back from an in depth historical study of the Albigensian Crusade, which kicked off with a massacre of 20,000 people in Béziers, because the Bishop leading the crusade decided it was too hard to figure who the actual heretics were. So you know, when people say this is the worst time ever. Well. They don’t know history. But it’s not consoling to understand just how cruel, how deadly, and how random this violence can be for average people caught up in it. As someone once wisely pointed out, no one expects the Spanish Inquisition. And there’s no way to prepare for it. You can just hope and pray it passes you by.
The last time we went through a period like the one we’re in now, I think, was the 60s. In many ways, we are still a movement in the symphony which was begun then. This is still the civil rights movement. So lately, I’ve been taking great consolation in the music of that era, which wrestled with these same issues. I wish I could find more music today written with such great hope, honesty, and consolation.
So with no further ado, here are some of the lesser known folk songs that have been a consolation to me lately. May they bring you comfort that we are not alone in the arc of history, but struggle along side our grandparents. May our grandchildren not need to continue the fight, but may they do so if they are needed.
Last Night I Had the Strangest Dream – Simon & Garfunkel
The Chad Mitchell Trio and Kingston Trio also have versions of this song. It makes me cry, every time. In the 60s, they still believed it was possible for the world to be a fundamentally more just and peaceful place, and this song represents that hope.
Phoenix Bird – Chad Mitchell Trio
I wrote about this before, but to me this song is a lost gem of hope and inspiration. It’s a call across generations to continue to work of justice.
If I Had a Hammer – Peter, Paul & Mary
This is definitely an oldie but goodie. Generations of children have sung this around camp fires, although I don’t think it showed up at my kids’ summer camp this year. But it’s very empowering to sing along “It’s the hammer of justice, it’s the bell of freedom, it’s the song about love between the brothers and the sisters all over this land”. Highly recommended for belting at top volume.
No Gringo – Vienna Teng
In an exception to my statement that there’s less current music wrestling with this, Vienna Teng does a beautiful “what if” on “what if the border wall was reversed” with this song. She’s got a glorious voice and turns it with a keen eye to the issues of the day.
Friendly, Liberal, Neighborhood .K~K.K. – Chad Mitchell Trio
This is one of the songs that got the Chad Mitchell Trio banned from the radio. It’s totally inappropriate, totally irreverent and pretty hilarious in an uncomfortable way.
What are you listening to right now, for comfort, for inspiration? What music am I missing that does the same thing these songs have done for me?