Comments, criticisms, or (one can hope) compliments are more than welcome! Please let me know what you think, tell me I'm crazy (I suspect this) or what you'd like to hear about. Comments are screened before publication, so if you want to share something with me only, just put that in the comment and I'll keep it to myself.


Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Brother Sun, Sister Moon

Francis of Assisi - Friar (1226)

I am supposed to be going through the giant jumble of CD's, shucking them from their jewel cases and installing them in a giant album, along with the little booklet that accompanies most of them. Needless to say, tedious work. I have the attention span of a fruit fly under the best of circumstances, but this is just plain eye-crossing, and the little booklets really don't want to fit in the little pockets, so instead I keep getting up and finding other things to do. Then there is the problem of what to do with the jewel cases, which have an annoying tendency to slide off their stacks into a jumble of 'eighties synth-pop chaos that fuels my desire to eject them from my home. But do I just throw them out? Surely someone, somewhere can do something with them, since they sell new empty ones in the store. There must be a market, but who? Where? Thus, the project has been oft-delayed.

And if I didn't feel bad enough about the entropy that surrounds me, I see that in a New York Times interview, folk legend and community activist Pete Seeger, 91, feels guilty if he stays in bed past 8 a.m. "There's letters to answer," he explains, and in my head I hear it in the voice I know so well. "There's logs to split." My association with the Seeger and Guthrie families goes way back, so of course I let Rhythm Nation (don't judge!) slip off the pile and sat down to read.

Grabbing whatever is handy from the "icebox", Pete is out the door to tackle whatever project the day brings. He is still writing and recording music, and active at the Beacon Sloop Club, which he "tricked people" into helping him build several years ago by promising (and presumably delivering) a pot-luck dinner. "Food is one of the great organizing tools," he confides.

Seeger's association with boats goes back a long way: in the 1960's he and Toshi-Aline Ôhta (his wife of 67 years), along with Don "American Pie" McLean and others raised the money for the construction of a handcrafted sloop, the Clearwater, which they sailed from her birthplace in Maine to the South Street Seaport and then up the Hudson in 1969. The Clearwater Foundation has had notable success in driving the cleanup of industrial contaminants, and a report two years ago noted a "significant decline" in the mercury found in sampled fish. The Clearwater is now joined by the gaff sloop Woody Guthrie and at times by the schooner Mystic Sailor, in providing educational cruises to schools, environmental groups and the public. Funded in large part by the annual two-day Clearwater Festival, the organization is credited with influencing much of the progress in local and national environmental policy.

G.E. (the company who bore much of the blame, and the cleanup expense, for the Hudson River mess) notwithstanding, Seeger is not without his critics: His early concerns about the rights of workers drew him to a brief involvement with the Communist Party. That and some recordings he made prior to WW2 landed him in front of Joseph McCarthy in 1955 and eventually in contempt of Congress, although the ruling was later overturned. In 1995, Seeger told the New York Times Magazine, "I still call myself a communist, because communism is no more what Russia made of it than Christianity is what the churches make of it."

Politics aside, it's difficult (and probably unwise) to argue with a 91-year-old man who heats his house with wood he chops himself. I couldn't help but notice the coincidence of reading this on the Feast of St. Francis of Assisi, an Italian who shunned the comfortable circumstances into which he was born as Giovanni Francesco di Bernardone, choosing instead extreme poverty and charitable work. We know from his writings and the folklore that surrounds his legacy that he loved animals, referring to them as brethren.

The life of St Francis is of course enacted and vivid theology. To understand him we must be careful not to detach him from his context and refashion him as a kind of non dogmatic, leftist eco-freak. He was nourished by the praise of God as seen in his creation which is one of the great themes of the psalms and the canticles which he used in daily worship. Francis does not use the word “natura” and instead talks of the heavens and the earth, the world and all creatures under the heavens. Unsurprisingly he does not have a modern concept of nature as a complex of scientific laws governing the universe. Instead he was profoundly aware of the communication between creatures and their creator as we participate in the God-spun web of life."


Francis exemplified putting the greater good ahead of personal desires, sacrificing much in the process. According to a 2005 sermon delivered by The Right Rev'd Richard John Carew Chartres (Anglican Bishop of London), in the early 1200's, Francis traveled to Egypt in the midst of a Crusade and attempted to win the conversion of the present Sultan. While unsuccessful, he did earn the leader's respect and a trusted role for the monastic order which he established that remains in the region to this day.

Seeger and his family are not churchgoers, but "we use the word God quite often. One of my most recent songs has God in every verse. Every time I’m in the woods, I feel like I’m in church." Wherever he is, I like to think St. Francis would look with approval at all he has managed to (and continues to) accomplish.

Now, can either of them clue me in on what to do with these CD cases?

No comments:

Post a Comment