God's Politics

God's Politics

Becky Garrison: Pete Seeger and the U2charist

During the Tribeca Film Festival, I happened to catch the world premiere of the documentary Pete Seeger: The Power of Song. I have vague recollections of attending the Newport Folk Festival as a toddler, long before it became commercialized as the Dunkin’ Donuts Newport Folk Festival. So, I was curious to learn more about the man that taught me to sing such songs as “Little Boxes,” “If I Had a Hammer,” and “Turn, Turn, Turn.” Also, through my brief interactions with the nonprofit organization Clearwater, I heard how he lent his voice to a grassroots movement to clean up the Hudson River, thus enabling me to sail, fish, and even kayak in what was once deemed a toxic waste dump.


In this only authorized biography of Pete Seeger, director Jim Brown documents the life of this popular folk singer/songwriter who was picketed, protested, and even blacklisted. In his quest to “make a difference,” Seeger saw himself as a New Testament planter of seeds (See Matthew 13:3-23, Mark 4:2-20, and Luke 8:4-15), who used his banjo as his tool to sow the seeds of music. While some seeds fell on rocky ground and other seeds blew away like dust in the wind, Seeger observed how some seeds flourished and grew into movements to address issues such as civil rights, the Vietnam War, and the environment.

In today’s cynical world, can we enact positive social change through artistic self-expression or is this notion simply a relic of a bygone era?


The recent success of the U2charists as a means to educate congregations about the U.N.’s Millennium Development Goals seems to indicate that this spirit is still alive and thriving. Yes, I’m aware of the criticism surrounding a service that has even been parodied by The Daily Show, not to mention the slew of sappy Bono books penned by those who seem to be capitalizing on the U2 buzz.

Before discounting this as yet another celeb fest, ask Seattle area residents who were able to check out Church of the Apostles’ city wide U2charist worship service, held May 27 at St. Mark’s Episcopal Cathedral. There was a MDG fair before the service, and offerings went to Episcopal Relief and Development for Darfur. I know Karen and her crew there well enough to know that this was a spirit-filled adventure that rocked the house.


As I explore a bit further the topic of artistic expression as a force for positive change, let me draw your attention to a few other movies that also had their world premiere at the Tribeca Film Festival. Chops follows several multiracial high school jazz bands as they bond through this uniquely American art form while preparing to compete in the 2006 Essentially Ellington High School Jazz Band Competition & Festival. Anyone thinking about cutting music and art from their local high school curriculums should see this flick first. Simply put, I wonder about the fate of some of those kids had music not entered their lives. Also of note is Shame, which started last night on Showtime. Directed by Mohammed Ali Naqvi, this documentary follows the story of Mukhtaran Mai, who spoke out against her community and government after she was brutally gang-raped. She uses the reparations money granted to her by the Pakistani government to set up the first school for girls in her hometown of Meerwala, hoping to empower the next generation of women. On a side note to Sam Harris and those who blame religion for the world’s woes, this film explores how this tribal system allowed Mukhtaran to be raped and how she found solace in the mosque of all places. If this admittedly illiterate woman can find her voice and in her quest for justice transform her community, what prevents us from doing likewise?


Becky Garrison
Becky Garrison is senior contributing editor of The Wittenburg Door and author of Red and Blue God, Black and Blue Church.

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posted June 1, 2007 at 6:00 pm

Sometimes it is hard to be hopeful without seeming naive. It is hard to risk being mocked for not giving up. Reading your post reminded me of Maya Angelou’s words: Yet, today I call you to my riverside, If you will study war no more. Come, Clad in peace and I will sing the songs The Creator gave to me when I and the Tree and the stone were one. Before cynicism was a bloody sear across your Brow and when you yet knew you still Knew nothing. The River sings and sings on.” Moving beyond cynicism is a bit like walking naked in the Garden again.

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Will H.

posted June 1, 2007 at 7:22 pm

I think the U2charist is a pretty cool idea. Going to a U2 show can be a great spiritual experience. It was for my wife and I the last time we went anyway. Well minus the people smoking weed behind us who kept yelling “play One!” over and over. Even with that it was a great time of worship, and great music.

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Mike Hayes

posted June 1, 2007 at 10:17 pm

Becky, Thank you for your positive message of hope! “… we are the ones we’ve been waiting for…”!

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Doug Eddy

posted June 2, 2007 at 12:34 am

I was in college in the days of Civil RIghts and Viet Nam. Pete Seeger, Peter Paul and Mary, among others but certainly in the lead, awakened a powerful sense of justice and spiritual peace. Anyone wants to find Seeger, go to his Carnagie Hall concert on CD – THAT is the power of moving souls with music and hearts with justice. There are people out there who can move people with the art of music – look to the artists in New Orleans. I am still looking for the power of art to stir the conscience of the people – in the church! In the obsession for praise music too many of the people of faith are wrapped up with their own spirit of joy (without obligation for the world). Mush melodies of praise make us forget the harsh melodies of the prophets who condemned worship without justice. We need another Willaim Booth to declare that werever there is poverty, suffering, exploitation, “We will fight!” Go back and listen to the artistic leaders of the folk tradition – then come forward and lend a voice to passionate change – from the arts – that lead to the streets – that lead to faith-full justice. It was through such passion and melody I came to believe.

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posted June 2, 2007 at 1:25 am

I was raised in the Salvation Army church, so the quote from William Booth brought a tear to my eye. I had almost forgotten it, but the wonderful legacy of growing up in that church is my passion to right injustices, to speak in a clear, strong voice for those that are oppressed. There was also a very strong commitment to music as a way to bring Christ’s message to the masses, and I must say that I am more profoundly moved by Bono’s commitment to the poor and unrepresented, and find his songs more inspiring than anything I hear in church these days. Seeger is a bit before my time, so I have listened to him enough nor do I know his story well. I look forward to reading his bio and to listening to more of his music. May the music of hope and justice play on!—Kristi

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posted June 2, 2007 at 1:28 am

“In today’s cynical world, can we enact positive social change through artistic self-expression or is this notion simply a relic of a bygone era?” Not only is it possible, it’s gaining momentum. System of a Down, Ozomatli, a reunited Rage Against the Machine, Tom Morello solo as the “Nightwatchman,” the Black Eyed Peas… all appeal to a younger generation of justice seekers. And that doesn’t even include the more eclectic folks like Rebbe Soul. There is always hope.

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posted June 3, 2007 at 1:05 am

Shame was a great documentary and I highly recommend watching I left my Heart and Wounded Knee if you can. p

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Toby Mac fan

posted June 4, 2007 at 5:22 am

Listen to KLove radio ( if you want to hear artistic expression as a force for positive change. Jars of Clay, The Newsboys, Third Day (Mac Powell), Casting Crowns, Toby Mac, Superchic[k], Barlow Girls, David Crowder Band, Delirious?, Jeremy Camp, Rebecca saint James, etc., etc., etc.. Lives have literally been saved by the artistic expression of the musicians showcased on KLove. Go to Spirit West Coast music festival at Luguna Seca Raceway in Monterey California and see and hear lives changed.

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Greg Marshall

posted March 7, 2008 at 6:33 am

About your question:
“In today’s cynical world, can we enact positive social change through artistic self-expression or is this notion simply a relic of a bygone era?”
My take is that artistic expression can provide great energy for social change while at the same time risking that it consumes energy that otherwise could change things.
I am in the midst of producing my play about Samantha Smith, the 11 year old school girl from Maine who used her energy to charm the Soviet Union and calm the Cold War. I realized that just bringing the play to the stage was not enough. So we have combined the play with a project to bring a Russian kid to dance in it and to find an American kid to go on an adventure like Ssamantha’s. Will this change things? I know that afterwards things will not be the same!

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