Just Plain Foolish

Just a chance for an old-fashioned, simple storyteller to say what needs to be said.

Thursday, July 13, 2006

In the sweet by and by

How many songs are there about how good it would be to be dead? Oh, Beulah land, I'm longin' for you, on thee someday I'll stand... I'll fly away, oh Glory... This world is not my home, I'm just a-travellin' through... When I cross Jordan's deep tide... Swing low, sweet chariot, comin' for to carry me Home...

These songs used to make me really mad. I mean, just furious. How dare we give up on making this world better, and just hope it will be better in that undiscovered country? As I've gotten older, I've realized that most of these are the songs of the folks that carry a disproportionate share of the burdens and get less than their share of some of the nice bits of this world. Well, in this world, I may live in a trailer on marginal land, but just you wait, I've got a mansion waiting by the shores of Mighty Jordan*. And I've begun to hear the songs just a little differently now.

This world is not my home. Too many people have no safe haven in this world, no real share in the abundant resources that could sustain us all. Where is the world that could be home for everyone, and how are we working towards that? Oh, Beulah land, I'm longing for you. I long for the day when we realize that our disputes can be solved by sitting down and listening to each other's needs then trying to cooperate on getting those needs met. We're living in a time that needs to hear the words of Isiah: Stop doing wrong. Learn to do right. Seek justice, encourage the oppressed, defend the case of the fatherless, plead the case of the widow.

Or the constant refrain of the Torah: Deal justly with the stranger, for were you not a stranger in Eretz Mitzraim? Or the teachings of so many who have had a mystical experience of God: cut it out, and start being decent to each other, already. Don't you see the light that infuses us all?

When will be beat our swords to plowshares, our warplanes to shelters for the homeless and dispossessed? When will we reach that blessed shore?

* My husband, who has been there, informs me that this world's Jordan is a polluted mess that would barely be considered a drainage ditch back home, but the Jordan I've seen in my head since childhood bears a lot more resemblance to the Ohio, big wide rolling waters that nourish an incredible swath of green.


Blogger Little Black Car said...

"American Masters" on PBS last night was about Woody Guthrie. I know we're all tired of hearing folkies and folk-rockers yammer about Woody, but I think he had the same problem you do.

I need to think about this one. There are a lot of songs I instinctively like that I refuse to sing because I cannot stand the passive "we'll understand it all by and by" thing. I mean, I actually think we might understand it all by and by, or I hope we do, at least, but I don't have the mindset yet where I can hear them non-rhetorically.

I love this one. Unfortunately, the tune is morose and it does require me to wink at my avowed atheism a bit (which I can do, once in awhile), but I like the words. I think we need more of the "love your neighbor" part.

"This old world is full of sorrow,
Full of sickness weak and sore,
If you love your neighbor truly,
Love will come to you the more.

We're all children of one Father,
We're all brothers and sisters, too,
If you cherish one another,
Love and pity will come to you.

This old world is full of sorrow,
Full of sickness weak and sore,
If you love your neighbor truly,
Love will come to you the more."

7/13/2006 10:50 AM  
Blogger Little Black Car said...

This happened in an area south of me this past weekend.

Thank goodness I've never lost anyone to something like this, but I'm still shocked when I see people on the news thanking God and their Christianity in one breath and then hoping the perpetrators "burn in Hell" in the next.

I don't expect them to excuse it, of course, but the idea of someone being so devoid of feeling that they could even do such a thing in the first place makes me sad as much as it scares me. What a waste of lives all around.

7/13/2006 10:56 AM  
Blogger Plain Foolish said...

I have a soft spot in my heart for ole Woody Guthrie - I mean, who else would so slyly refer to his domestic problems by putting in line about wives and children falling out of the car on a westward migration?

I once wrote a poem about "payday" and how we all seem to be waiting for payday, everyday. We all want it, but it's always sometime off in the future. What if it were payday now? What if we're in heaven now, and screwing it up? One of my favorite W.G. songs is "Do Re Me" - "Oh, California is a garden of Eden, a paradise to live in or see, but believe it or not, you won't find it so hot, if you ain't got the do re me..."

Or "Pastures of Plenty", a song that rings true today. And, like him, I loathe the song "God Bless America", infinitely preferring the song "God Blessed America" aka "This Land is Your Land" even the infamous 3rd verse.

But then again, I was once given an overdose of prescription cough medicine on the night of a PBS special on him. My mom walked in as I lay there on the couch, singing along with the lament, "Reuben James" and told my dad, "That girl's higher than a kite."

But yes, the real tragedy for him was that he wanted the hype about America to be true, that we are a land of goodness, freedom, and plenty. The sting in his protest songs all comes from the failure to live up to what we should be. "Is this the best way to grow our big orchards? Is this the best way to grow our good crops?" "Pastures of plenty must always be free." and that same love is reflected in his patriotic songs. He sang out of his love for the country and his anger and misery that it wasn't living up to that love.

Have you ever heard the song, "If you don't love your neighbor, then you don't love God"? While I have some other problems with it, it has that same fury at betrayal of principle.

I once taught the brother of a murder victim, who heard his sister's final moments and was left to die by her murderer, and while I am very angry over the whole thing, and honestly believe that the murderer should stay locked up for the safety of society, I would never wish an eternal hell on him. I happen to think he must already be in one and hope that God can forgive him, because I have a hard time doing so.

7/13/2006 11:41 AM  
Blogger Little Black Car said...

"I once taught the brother of a murder victim, who heard his sister's final moments and was left to die by her murderer, and while I am very angry over the whole thing, and honestly believe that the murderer should stay locked up for the safety of society, I would never wish an eternal hell on him. I happen to think he must already be in one."

Much better put that I did. No, I believe in life-without-parole. I'm for this for child molesters, too, I'm afraid. Texas doesn't have a good enough system for monitoring them and I'm just not convinced that rehabilitation works; it's not worth the risk to other children. But I also believe that they are already in their own Hell or they wouldn't have done such a thing, and, apart from that, it disgusts me to hear professed Christians wishing for vengeance.

I think all those songwriters have to believe themselves to some degree or they couldn't write. I can't write that kind of stuff, but I don't believe the world can be like that. Not that I don't wish it could be like that, but I don't believe it. Maybe they're making up the deficit for cynics like myself.

I think Pete Seeger, et. al., suffer from that, too. I actually find Pete Seeger highly irritating but I know it's not kosher to say so. I think it's the cynicism butting in and spoiling it for me. But I can't forgive him for singing that idiotic "Last Night I Had the Strangest Dream" song.

I love "Do Re Mi", "Pastures of Plenty", all those songs. He may have been slightly delusional but he was brilliant.

7/13/2006 12:02 PM  
Blogger Little Black Car said...

Correction. It disgusts me to hear anyone wishing for vengeance, but when "judge not" and "love thy neighbor" and "hate the sin, love the sinner" are included among the aphorisms of a religion, the contrast burns me even more.

I know there are other religions that must suffer from that but, unfortunately, Christianity is the most prevalent around here.

7/13/2006 12:04 PM  
Blogger Plain Foolish said...

My problem with that stupid song is that we regularly agree to put an end to war. We've been agreeing to do that since at least the middle ages. It's the actual hard work of the thing we avoid. The dancing, singing, and signing of papers happens a lot. And that's my cyncism kicking in.

7/13/2006 12:11 PM  
Blogger Little Black Car said...

I know. It's so simplistic it makes me want to barf [sorry--both my cynicism and my juvenility are showing today]. Sounds like something that would work if the My Little Ponies were in a disagreement over their big pink castle or something, with no relation to real war.

Whoa--where did that come from? We're having a bit of an "off" day here . . .

7/13/2006 1:25 PM  
Blogger Plain Foolish said...

I think the problem is that the over-simplification leads to other problems, like the real causes of war being overlooked for some feel-good mushiness. Meh.

But what do I know? I'm the kid that was thrilled to go listen to Peter, Paul, and Mary with my folks and sings "I Will Not Be Moved" in the shower.

7/13/2006 1:43 PM  
Blogger Plain Foolish said...

Then again, I also sing "Twa Corbies when walking alone and "The Unquiet Grave" and "Lady Margaret" when starwatching.

Yes, my taste in music is very out of date.

7/13/2006 1:44 PM  
Blogger Little Black Car said...

I'm listening to "Barkshire Tragedy" ("The Twa Sisters" variant) as I type. Nothing like a song about drowning your little sister in the mill-pond.

I assume you know about the Golden Ring/New Golden Ring recordings? Good stuff.

7/13/2006 2:44 PM  

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