On Martyrs: Pete Seeger


Martyrs are not only people who die for the faith. Martyrs are also those who suffer for their beliefs. Pete Seeger is such a martyr.

Those of us who came of age in the 60s hold special regard for the folk singers of that era. Joan Baez. Peter, Paul, and Mary. Bob Dylan. These artists and others articulated the struggles of a generation. All acknowledge a debt to Pete Seeger.

Pete Seeger grew up around folk music and, along with the likes of Woody Guthrie, articulated the anguish of a nation out of work. Through his music, he also confronted racism such that he became a person of interest to the Ku Klux Klan. As he addressed various injustices, for a time he explored the Communist party. As a result, he also became a person of interest to Sen. Joe McCarthy. Because Pete refused to cooperate with McCarthy’s witch-hunt, he was blackballed in the  entertainment industry for many years. Even as late as 1968, his Viet Nam protest song presented on the Smothers Brothers show was censored by CBS.

In the 1990s Pete was honored at the Kennedy Center and then President Clinton apologized to him for the suffering he had endured at the hands of the country he clearly loves. Pete is now in his 90s and recently showed up at Occupy Wall Street.

What can we learn from Pete Seeger? In this era of politicized religion we must first and foremost speak out for a spirituality faithful to principles of peacefulness, respect for our earth, and justice for the poor. These important spiritual issues appear to have gotten lost amidst rhetoric about birth control and homosexuality.

Second, we can be inspired by Pete’s passion, letting our own passions become organizing principles in our lives, not merely pastimes.

Finally, those creative ones who are so inclined can perhaps write folk songs for today. They are desperately needed!

Reflection: 1. What have been your experiences speaking up about your beliefs?

2. How are you living your passion?

For listening: Enjoy Pete leading a Wolftrap audience in one of his best-known songs, one especially relevent today.   http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TXqTf8DU6a0

For viewing: Watch the moving documentary “Pete Seeger: The Power of Song”, available through Netflix among others.

About richp45198

I am a clinical psychologist and have an abiding interest in matters spiritual.
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7 Responses to On Martyrs: Pete Seeger

  1. Rose Mathews says:

    Good questions, Rich. First one: What are my experiences speaking up for my beliefs?
    My experiences have a wide range of wonderful and horrible experiences but I have learned from them all. I have always taken a stand on what I believe in and have been ostracized, shunned, and, at times, even thanked for having the courage to speak up. I have told my children that I want the song “I did it My Way” (I think that’s the correct title – by Frank Sinatra) sung at my funeral! I was taught from a very young age to say what I mean and mean what I say – so I took that to heart! Some experiences have been hard and painful but I have always been able to put my head down on my pillow at night and sleep well (at least, most nights!).
    Second question – How am I living my passion? I am living it knowing I am a child of God and doing all I can do to do my very best. It is not so much what I do, each day, but how I do it. In the past 20 months, I have taken jobs I would not have thought I would do. What got me through was knowing that I am a child of the most high God and I would do my very best. I now am working back in my profession, doing what I love to do, and trying every day to give my very best.

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  2. Rose Mathews says:

    Thanks for sharing Pete Seeger’s story. I knew it but had forgotten. It is good to hear it again and listen to his music. Thanks, Rich!

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  3. Laura says:

    Maybe I’ve suffered a little from speaking up for my beliefs…my passion is awareness of one’s health, mostly in terms of food, but other facets too. I’ve had friends that would not let me cook dinner for them for fear that I would cook something ‘too healthy’ which they equate with ‘bad tasting.’ I was a little hurt by that.

    On the whole, I’m not very outspoken and readily accept and understand the beliefs of others, even if I do not agree. However, I HAVE suffered when I’ve NOT spoken up for my beliefs. When I could not speak my beliefs, I could not live by them and living without beliefs is living without a compass.

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