Thursday, March 30, 2017

Tribute to a Fallen Hero

OK, is this a bait and switch?  What does a fallen hero have to do with tolerance?  Is this just a cheap ploy to get more people to read the blog?  Or an excuse to tell a very moving story?

A little of all.

Background:  My son is a huge punk rock fan.  One of his favorite punk bands is the Dropkick Murphys, aka, DKM or the Murphys.  He has seen them in concert several times and enjoys not only by the punk sound, but by the moving lyrics of many of their songs.  He claims that while DKM is not the only punk band in history that has bagpipes as one of its instruments, it is the best. 
DKM performs original music, as well as punk versions of several traditional Irish songs.  Based in Quincy Massachusetts, they have performed around the world and have had their songs featured in movies (The Departed)[i] and in several television commercials.
One of their biggest fans was Marine Sgt. Andrew Farrar, who wrote home about how much he loved the Murphys, and wanted them to play Fields of Athenry[ii] (a poignant Irish ballad) at his funeral.
Sgt Farrar was killed in action on his 31st birthday in Iraq.  His widow reached out to the Murphys and told them of his request.  The Murphys packed up their gear and drove to Weymouth MA for the funeral.[iii]  When they arrived at the church, they were informed that they would not be allowed to perform in the church – no bagpipes allowed.[iv]   
They could have packed up and gone home.  Their feelings could have been hurt.                       
But – and here’s the lesson of this post – they cared more about the feelings of the widow and her two young sons than any minor inconvenience they might face by not being allowed to perform in the sanctuary.  So, they set up outside the church and played the requested song there.[v] 
The Murphys followed up by recording an acoustic version of Fields of Athenry, as well as a punk song, Last Letter Home[vi], that they wrote to honor Sgt. Farrar.  These two recordings were released on a limited-edition CD, and the proceeds donated to Sgt. Farrar’s family. 
So, to restate the obvious, the moral of this story is to emphasize that we need to keep the end in mind – the Greater Good.  And to keep focused on that end despite misdirection.
The Murphys did that.  We should, too.  To honor Sgt. Andrew Farrar.[vii] 

[i] To hear “Shipping Up to Boston, featured in that movie, click here.
[ii] Hear the punk version of the song here.
[iii] There are two sources for this story, here and here. 
[iv] My son is the source for not being allowed in the church.  He was there when the Murphys played the song at First Avenue, in Minneapolis, in 2005 and told from the stage that they had not been allowed in the church.
[v] Hear the acoustic version, as sung at the funeral, here.
[vi] Lyrics here.   Performance here. 
[vii][vii] To read Sgt. Farrar’s obituary, click here. 

Tuesday, March 28, 2017

Children's Sermon

A few Sundays ago, Pastor Bob invited the children to the front of the church for a children’s sermon.  He had the shorter of the children stand on the second step in front of the church and the taller children on the floor, facing each other.  That way, he explained, the children stood eye-to-eye.   
No one had to look up to anyone, and no one looked down on anyone. 

He had them give “high fives” to the student on the other side of the line.  The children agreed that it was easy to look at each other and play with each other when they were all on the same level.

Next, he had them fold their arms in front of their chests.  Finally, he had them turn away from each other.  He asked if they could play with each other like that.  They agreed they could not.

You can’t learn to play with someone with your arms folded in a defensive posture.  You can’t learn anything about another person with your back turned to him or her.

Sometimes, the children’s sermon speaks as much to the congregation as the homily does.  Often, the adults need to be reminded, over and again, of the basic attitudes of our faith. 

In order to build trust, you first have to have an affinity to the other.  In order to build affinity, you have to communicate.[i]

And in order to communicate, you have to face the other, arms at your side or, better yet, stretched out in welcome.

Kids can figure that out.  We should be able to re-learn it as well.

[i] See the March 9 blog about Trust.

Saturday, March 25, 2017

You’ve Got To Be Carefully Taught

Bottom of Form

In 2014, National Public Radio ran a series of conversations about The Race Card Project, where thousands of people have submitted their thoughts on race and cultural identity in six words.  On 
May 19 that year, NPR Host Michele Norris ran a story about a song from South Pacific:[1]

"You've Got to Be Carefully Taught". Those six words form the title of a song from Richard Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein's South Pacific, the wildly popular musical revolving around cross-cultural love affairs in the South Pacific during World War II.

The musical South Pacific, which opened on Broadway in 1949, won several Tony Awards the following year. Then, years later, it became a hit movie.

To say South Pacific was successful would be an understatement — it was a blockbuster. But it also drew critics and controversy. It covered uncomfortable territory. Its romantic tension was based on interracial romance, a strong taboo at the time.

Even so, the soundtrack topped the charts. Songs like "Some Enchanted Evening" and "I'm Gonna Wash That Man Right Outa My Hair" were in heavy rotation on the radio and on record players around the country.

And judging from the inbox at The Race Card Project, the message behind the song "You've Got to Be Carefully Taught" has resonated with those who love the South Pacific soundtrack, like Kathleen Ziegler of Lino Lakes, Minn. She says she first heard that song on her family's record player.

"I had three older sisters," she says. "We used to put the records on a lot, as we were cleaning, especially. And we'd have it turned way up and we learned all the songs."

The sisters would sing together, Ziegler says, and the lyrics to "You've Got to Be Taught" stay with her, even today.

You've got to be taught
To hate and fear, you've got to be taught from year to year
It's got to be drummed in your dear little ear
You've got to be carefully taught.[2]

"I just remember hearing [the lyrics] when I was young, and it made me very sad," Ziegler says. "I had parents who did exceptionally love us and taught us to do the same. And I just thought, how can people be taught to hate, especially children?"

In 1958, Hammerstein was [interviewed] by Mike Wallace. "South Pacific had two love stories in it," Hammerstein told Wallace. "They both concern, in a different way, race prejudice."

One of the love stories involves a plucky American woman named Nellie Forbush.

"Nellie Forbush, the Navy nurse, is in love with a Frenchman, and when she finds out that he was once married to a Polynesian woman and has two Polynesian — no, half-Polynesian — children, she runs away," he explained.

"She's shocked by it, and she's awakened later when she fears he's dead, and then suddenly she realizes how unimportant was her prejudice, how important it was that she loved him and how much she wants him back, no matter what kind of children he has," he said.

"What we were saying was that ... all this prejudice that we have is something that fades away in the face of something that's really important," Hammerstein told Wallace.

Nearly 70 years ago, Hammerstein's message of tolerance was largely about race and romance. But on so many levels — race, sexual orientation, class, religion, gender — the challenge of reaching across differences is still relevant today.