News, views, notes, and quotes

7 May 2015  •  No. 20

Special issue on

RIP: Guy Carawan. Few, if any, songs carry the politically realistic power of imagination more than “We Shall Overcome.” It likely began as a song sung by farm working slaves as “I’ll be all right someday.”  In 1901 Rev. C. Albert Tindley published “I’ll Overcome Someday,” though its lyrical and musical structure is significantly different.
        The song’s history is deliciously ironic: Molded in large part by Guy Carawan (at left—he was affectionately known as a “hippy-hillbilly”), which became the unofficial anthem of the Civil Rights Movement in the US, and sung since by hope-filled dissenters from South Africa to North Korea, Beirut to China’s Tiananmen Square. I was taught the Arabic version by a group of children in Baghdad in 2000. (Watch this one minute video of Jordanian young women singing “We Shall Overcome” in English.)

        Carawan, folk musician and musicologist who died this past week, is not well known outside certain musical and civil rights circles. A California native, he more than any other is responsible for what we now know as “We Shall Overcome.” (Here is an 8+ background audio story on National Public Radio. See also this story from the Roanoke Times)

        Carawan, who says he learned the song from a friend in California, began regularly using the song at the Highland Center in east Tennessee, a social justice training center founded in 1932, initially to train labor organizers, later focusing on civil rights, where members of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (then other civil rights leaders) first learned it. Carawan, Highlander co-founder Zilphia Horton (who took the lead in making cultural arts a part of training), Frank Hamilton and Pete Seeger jointly own the copyright.
        Here’s is a rendition of Carawan singing the song. For choral music fans, here is the Morehouse College Glee Club’s rendition. Numerous other musical celebrities have versions on YouTube.

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In honor of everyone, everywhere,
who remain steadfast in the conviction that
what is promised is more than what is present,
here is a collection of quotes on imagination.

§ A vision without a task is but a dream, a task without a vision is drudgery, a vision with a task is the hope of the world. ~Church inscription, Sussex, England (1730)

§ Imagination is more important than knowledge. ~Albert Einstein

§ Violence is the behavior of someone incapable of imagining other solutions to the problem at hand. ~Vicenç Fisas

§ While the Passover narrative [in Exodus] energizes Israel’s imagination toward justice, Israel’s hard work of implementation of that imaginative scenario was done at Mt. Sinai. . . . Moses’ difficult work at Sinai is to transform the narrative vision of the Exodus into a sustainable social practice that has institutional staying-power, credibility, and authority. ~Walter Brueggemann

§ It always seems impossible until it’s done. ~Nelson Mandela

§ I believe our task is to develop a moral and aesthetic imagination deep enough and wide enough to encompass the contradictions of our time and history, the tremendous loss and tragedy as well as greatness and nobility, an imagination capable of recognizing that where there is light there is shadow, that out of hubris and fall can come moral regeneration, out of suffering and death, resurrection and rebirth. ~Richard Tarnas

§ All things are possible to the one that believes. ~Jesus

§ Hold fast to dreams, / for if dreams die,  / life is a broken-winged bird / that cannot fly. / Hold fast to dreams / For when dreams go / Life is a barren field / Frozen with snow. ~Langston Hughes

§ A person will worship something, have no doubt about that. We may think our tribute is paid in secret in the dark recesses of our hearts, but it will out. That which dominates our imaginations and our thoughts will determine our lives, and our character. Therefore, it behooves us to be careful what we worship, for what we are worshiping we are becoming. ~Ralph Waldo Emerson

§ Moral imagination is the capacity to imagine something rooted in the challenge of the real world yet capable of giving birth to that which does not yet exist. . . . The moral imagination believes and acts on the basis that the unexpected is possible. It operates with the view that the creative act is always within human potential, but creativity requires moving beyond the parameters of what is visible, what currently exists, or what is taken as given. . . .  ~John Paul Lederach

§ Every great advance in science has issued from a new audacity of imagination. ~John Dewey

§ To hope is a duty, not a luxury. To hope is not a dream, but to turn dream into reality. Happy are those who dream dreams, and are ready to pay the price to make them come true. ~Cardinal Leo Suenens

§ In order to create an effective movement for redemptive engagement, reflective work must be integrated with affective learning in the context of a community of conviction. Mind and imagination must be addressed, and these must be tethered to disciplines of concrete and communal commitments. ~Ken Sehested

§ Every imperial agent wants to reduce what is possible to what is available. ~Walter Brueggemann

§ If you want to change people's obedience then you must change their imagination. ~Paul Ricoeur

§ The step between ecstatic vision and sinful frenzy is all too brief. ~Franciscan priest William of Manchester (played by Sean Connery), in the movie “The Name of the Rose”

§ You can't depend on your eyes when your imagination is out of focus. ~Mark Twain

§ The Eucharist has been preempted and redefined in dualistic thinking that leaves the status quo of the world untouched, so congregations can take the meal without raising questions of violence; the outcome is a “colonized imagination” that is drained of dangerous hope. ~Walter Brueggemann

§ To be sane in a mad time / Is bad for the brain, worse / For the heart. The world / Is a holy vision, had we clarity / To see it. ~Wendell Berry

§ Most peacemakers don’t begin with a grand vision. They begin with the troubles at hand and the resources they have. Then you act for good, for justice, for healing, for hope, for peace. It’s as simple as that. ~Dan Buttry

§ As for me, the grounds of my hope have always been that history is wilder than our imagination of it and that the unexpected shows up far more regularly than we ever dream. ~Rebecca Solnit

§ When we are dissatisfied with things as they are, or suffer and know pain, we begin to imagine what the world would be like if things were different—if there were no hunger or thirst and all tears were wiped away (Rev. 7:14). Creative imagination reaches toward God, and glimpses a new heaven and new earth. The new reality has nothing to do with the present order. In fact, the one who responds to call seeks to put something more beautiful in the place of what she sees. This is where the friction and fight begin. ~Elizabeth O’Connor

§ Imagination is better than a sharp instrument. To pay attention, this is our endless and proper work. ~Mary Oliver

§ The two, suffering and hope, live from each other. Suffering without hope produces resentment and despair. Hope without suffering creates illusions, naïveté, and drunkenness. Let us plant dates, even though we who plant them will never eat them. We must live by the love of what we will never see. This is the secret discipline. ~Rubem Alves

§ Logic will get you from A to B. Imagination will take you everywhere. ~Albert Einstein

§ When we are dreaming alone, it is only a dream. When we are dreaming with others, it is the beginning of reality. ~Dom Helder Camara

§ You can’t depend on your eyes when your imagination is out of focus. ~Mark Twain

§ I have a dream my four children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character. ~Martin Luther King Jr.

Left: Woodcut by Fritz Eichenberg (cf. Isaiah 11).

§ Those who dream by day are cognizant of many things that escape those who dream only at night. ~Edgar Allan Poe

§ Any real change implies the breakup of the world as one had always known it, the loss of all that gave one identity, the end of safety, and at such a moment, unable to see and not daring to imagine what the future will bring forth, one clings to what one knew, to what one possessed or dreamed that one possessed. Yet, it is only when a man is able, without bitterness or self pity, to surrender a dream he has long cherished, or a privilege he has long possessed, that he is set free—that he has set himself free—for higher dreams, for greater privileges. ~James Baldwin

§ Vision is the art of seeing things invisible. ~Jonathan Swift

§ The real voyage of discovery consists not in seeking new landscapes but in having new eyes. ~Marcel Proust

§ All people dream: but not equally. / Those who dream by night / in the dusty recesses of their minds / wake in the day to find that it was vanity. / But the dreamers of the day / are dangerous people, / for they may act their dream with open eyes / to make it possible. ~T.E. Lawrence

§ Fantasy mirrors desire. Imagination reshapes it. ~Mason Cooley

§ Rationalism is merely the human structuring of reality by those in power. ~author unknown

§ You will recognize your own path when you come upon it, because you will suddenly have all the energy and imagination you will ever need. ~Jerry Gillies

§ The Possible’s slow fuse is lit / by the Imagination. ~Emily Dickinson

§ Sometimes imagination pounces; mostly it sleeps soundly in the corner, purring. ~Terri Guillemets

§ Sometimes I've believed as many as six impossible things before breakfast. ~Lewis Carroll

§ Things are only impossible until they're not. ~Jean-Luc Picard, Star Trek: The Next Generation

§ Perhaps imagination is only intelligence having fun. ~George Scialabba
§ Discovery consists of seeing what everybody has seen and thinking what nobody has thought. ~Albert Szent-Györgyi

§ The difficulty lies not so much in developing new ideas as in escaping old ones. ~John Maynard Keynes

§ Love in action is a harsh and dreadful thing compared with love in dreams. Love in dreams is greedy for immediate action, rapidly performed and in sight of all. Men will give their lives if only the ordeal does not last long but is soon over, with all looking on and applauding as if on the stage. But active love is labor and fortitude. ~Fyodor Dostoyevsky

§ When we engage in what we are naturally suited to do, our work takes on the quality of play and it is play that stimulates creativity. ~Linda Naiman

§ It seems to be one of the paradoxes of creativity that in order to think originally, we must familiarize ourselves with the ideas of others. ~George Kneller

§ It is good to be introduced by someone with a glib tongue, a vivid imagination and an elastic conscience. ~Foy Valentine

 § You can crush the flowers, but you can’t stop the spring. ~Alexander Dubcek, hero of the Prague Spring uprising of 1968

§ We do not live by what is possessed but by what is promised. ~Walter Brueggemann

§ The person who loves their dream of community will destroy community, but the person who loves those around them will create community. ~Dietrich Bonhoeffer

§ I slept and dreamt that life was joy; / I awoke and saw that life was service; / I acted and, behold, service was joy. ~Rabindranath Tagore

§ Whoever you are, no matter how lonely, / the world offers itself to your imagination, / calls to you like the wild geese, harsh and exciting — / over and over announcing your place / in the family of things. ~Mary Oliver

§ There are times when life is cruel beyond imagination and beyond explanation. At such times, we simply wrap our arms around the still-breathing bodies of those we cherish. And we pray, and we sing, and we speak tenderly through the tears, chanting aloud or silently the promise that one day, all tears will be dried; one day, all mourning will pass away; one day, all crying will cease; one day, death itself shall come undone (Rev. 21:4). ~Ken Sehested

Right: Woodcut by Meinrad Craighead.

§ We are a little lost here in America. Too many of us have tuned out, and too many of us are deeply tuned in to the wrong things. Our eccentricities have curdled into crochets. Our love for the strange and deeply weird has soured into a devotion to the mean and deeply angry. Our renegade national soul has given itself up to petty outlawry. . . . Imagination always has been the way out—a faith in that which seems impossible, a trust that not every mystery is a murder mystery, and that not every mysterious creature is a monster. Imagination is the way out—a belief that safety is not necessarily the primary (or even the secondary) goal of democratic citizenship, and that a self-governing political commonwealth does not always come with a lifetime guarantee. Yes, we are a little lost here in America, but we can find our way, and the best way that we can find is the one that seems like the least secure, the darkest trail, the one with the long, sweeping bend in the road that leads god knows where. ~Charles P. Pierce, “Goodbye to All That”

§ Where there is no vision, the people perish. ~Proverbs 29:18

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Featured this week on prayer&politiks:
• “The Worst Alternative Ending Ever,” a sermon about Jonah (and about bowling in Baghdad)
• A new group of annotated reviews under “What are your reading and why?

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