kumbaya and wonderstruck

I’m breaking pattern and blogging before relaxing this morning. I got up and linked a very cool radio show on the Grace Music Ministry page. It’s called “Civility, History and Hope.” It’s from Krista Tippett’s Civil Conversations project on her “On Being” show.  She interviews Vincent Harding who wrote Hope and History: Why We Must Share the Story of the Movement.

Harding has some great stories and insights including some observations about singing in the Civil Rights movement.

When he puts songs in this context he breathes life back into some old warhorses like “This Little Light of Mine” and “Kumbaya.”

He mentions a NYT article which discusses the derision sometimes associated with the idea of a “Kumbaya” moment.

I experienced this from a priest I worked for. He used to bring this song up in a mocking way. Harding (and the article) put it back into a healthier context. Harding in particular says he cannot bear to hear the song ridiculed with his associations of it being sung by young civil rights workers who were frightened by the murders of their peers.

In addition I think Harding has some very important things to say about getting beyond civility to building a compassionate and “beloved community.”

He talks about connecting the elders with youth in some pretty exciting ways.  I highly recommend this show.

While I’m on this topic I am reminded that recently a “friend” on Facebook accused me of playing the “race card” when I mentioned racism currently in our society.

I think many white people misunderstand the concept of racism as a personal flaw. While I have seen this kind of stuff, I think the racism that pervades our daily lives is much more insidious. I think it links to the hatred and injustice that is part of the fabric of the USA right now.

Here are some examples to ponder from recent links.


Arthur Evans, 68, Leader in Gay Rights Fight, Is Dead – NYTimes.com

Judging from this moving obit, Evans was a brave and witty man who lived combating hatred and discrimination.


The Moral Values of America’s Youth – NYTimes.com

These are letters in reaction to a recent David Brooks indictment of young people.

One young person responded this way:

“We don’t frame our moral commitments in the black-and-white language of previous generations, because we’ve inherited the damage that comes from absolutes, whether partisan politics or fundamentalisms.”

Peter Coyote, the actor, wrote this in his letter:

“When those with the highest social status routinely lie, cheat, exploit their office for personal gain, profit from outrageous conflicts of interest, when they are rewarded for their turpitude with wealth and acclaim, repeating the conservative party line about moral laxity and self-indulgence is disingenuous.”

It seems to me that these voices are chiming in with Vincent Harding about building a better union, building a democracy.


Free to Die – NYTimes.com

Paul Krugman comments on the lack of compassion that is worn like a badge by many people in America.”[C]ompassion is out of fashion,” he writes,” — indeed, lack of compassion has become a matter of principle.”

I think this is evidence of sickness in our society. When he points to the recent exchange at the Republican Presidential debate where the crowd began cheering letting people die who don’t have insurance, it is a chillingly made point.


Suit Over Lead Dust Names Kennedy Krieger Institute – NYTimes.com

And if you’re looking for evidence of recent racism, this article makes a case for it.

Not to mention this sad sad story of a death on the street recently of another casualty of the weird public values in our country.


Lewis Brown, Faded Basketball Prodigy, Dies Homeless – NYTimes.com


I can see I’m blogging a bit on the serious side this morning so let me end with the wonderful book I finished reading last night.

The book is Wonderstruck by Brian Selznick.

He’s the author of  the wonderful The Invention of Hugo Cabret.

He tells stories with pictures he draws.

In Wonderstruck Selznick explores some fascinating themes of being a deaf young person and seeking out community both in your family and outside it.

I highly recommend it.

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4 thoughts on “kumbaya and wonderstruck

  1. The comment about compassion is always a clever element by the media. But in reality government is not about compassion. People are about compassion. Who decides this, Government? I think not. Does this mean that Ron Paul is not compassionate? or does it mean that he does not support Governmental compassion? this is a condition of how does one legislate compassion? Does government health care really involve compassion? Certainly, as an individual we can design a compassionate response to a compassionate condition, but is this the responsibility of the government? I think not and to equate this with personal lack of compassion is erroneous.

  2. A couple of quick points, related to one another I think.

    My own thoughts about racism are that there is a difference between prejudice and racism. Prejudice is descriptive of individual perspectives, beliefs and opinions. Racism is institutionalized prejudice. Racism is, I think, prejudice with power. This may or may not be entirely faithful to the “dictionary definition,” but it’s the way I have thought for a long time.

    As to compassion (or lack thereof), I think it’s a similar case. Compassion is indeed a virtue to be manifest in the life and actions of the individual person. But the person who is truly compassionate will not stand by and allow its government (or anyone for that matter) to act in ways that are not compassionate. How can one be passively compassionate? A passive compassion is little more than pity. A true compassion demands action, otherwise it’s nothing more than sentimental apathy. Thus, when a government (an expression of the electorate) institutionalizes a lack of compassion, it is the duty of the truly compassionate to hold that government accountable and to take action to reform it. Perhaps there is no such thing as a compassionate government. But if the government is an expression of the will of the people, and if a democratic government is an expression of a compassionate electorate, then that government must – ipso facto – be a government that exhibits the virtue of compassion. If it does not, then either there compassion is lacking in the electorate or democracy is a farce. I for one believe that democracy is alive and well, for good or for ill.

  3. Ray,

    We do agree that government is not about compassion. We just disagree whether it should be or not. I tend to believe that our better selves are personally and individually compassionate. But this does not mean that our collective selves (governments, business, churches) get off scott-free from responsibility. Ron Paul probably has just as much compassion as you or I. I never doubted it. What’s telling for me is the palpable hate in the crowd response in to Blitzer’s question.


    I think you’re on to something with the distinction between prejudice and racism. It makes sense to think of compassion as personal. But as Lakoff talks about (and other brain scientists) we seem to be hard wired for empathy. So when we find ourselves acting without compassion, we are actually (physically apparently) blocking our better selves. FWIW

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