Pete Seeger and five smooth stones

th-7Pete Seeger could make monsters disappear.

Of all of his songs I thought about writing about today, the winner in my mind was a song he loved to sing for children based on an African folktale about a monster named Abiyoyo who terrorized a small town, periodically coming down from the mountain to gobble up cattle and sheep and anyone else in its path.

Now in this town there was a boy and his father who also terrorized the town – the boy with his ukulele “clink, clunk, CLONK,” and his father with a magic wand that could make things disappear, “Zoop!” Annoyed by the boy clonking on his ukulele and his father zooping things like chairs out from under folks, the people banished the pair to live on the outskirts of town.

One day, a giant monster came up over the hills and his huge frame cast a long shadow across the land. The little boy peered out of his window, having never seen this before, and said, “Hey, paw, what’s coming over the fields?” The father said: “Oh, son. It’s Abiyoyo. Oh, if only I could get him to lie down. I could get him to disappear.”

The boy said, “Come with me father.” He grabbed his father by one hand. The father grabbed the magic wand, and the boy grabbed his ukulele. Over the fields they went, right up to where Abiyoyo was.

Paying no attention to the screams of the people – “Don’t go near him! He’ll eat you alive!” – the boy started to play his ukulele, and then he started to sing: “Abiyoyo, Abiyoyo, Abiyoyo, Abiyoyo/Abiyoyo yoyoyo yoyoyo, Abiyoyo yoyoyo yoyoyo.”

Well, the monster had never heard a song about himself before, and a foolish grin spread across his face, and he started to dance. So the boy kept playing and singing and the monster, now fully taken with himself, kept on dancing. And the boy played faster, and faster, and Abiyoyo danced harder and harder to keep up until he completely exhausted himself and fell flat on the ground. And you know what happened next…

“Zoop!” he disappeared.

The story not only tips the hat to the biblical account of David and Goliath, it’s also a picture of the great monsters of injustice, inequality, poverty, oppression and bigotry that Pete Seeger continually felled across the countryside with his music. David did it with only five smooth stones; Pete Seeger did it with only his voice and his banjo. And neither of them could have done it without a big faith in God.

For 94 years, God graced us with this kind, gentle man, until, “Zoop!” He took him. But his songs will continue to fell giants as long as there is music.

Thank you, Pete, for all you gave us, and for all of yourself that we still have.

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12 Responses to Pete Seeger and five smooth stones

  1. David says:

    Wow. Just another reason why I LOVE John Fischer and The Catch. This is a message 2014 Christians are missing.

  2. Mark Seguin says:

    I’ll like to 2nd this: “Thank you, Pete, for all you gave us, and all of yourself that we still have.” Like to add, even though I love a-lot of Folk Music and its artist, I once learned from a pretty reliable source, the PBS News Hour that Pete Seeger was a Communist, which may have ‘bothered’ me a few years ago – Now, I try not to give it too much thought. One simply because i fully understand it is not a reflection of me, nor does it mean, I sincerely think/believe matters to the great love our Lord has for him. The thing I may question is I also hear he lived in a pretty nice size house some-where up-State New York. Now I never seen it, yet heard it defined as a very nice size home, on a good size amount of land, so I do wondered how he ‘squared’ his belief in Communism with his very well deserved accomplishment of Western Capitalism..?
    PS I also wonder a bit where the song writing royalties would go – SURELY that would not be available and passed down to his loved ones, because I do think in Communist State, simply because in it there isn’t such a thing a personal/private property, because the State or Government owns that.

    • xman50 says:

      Looking for perfection – a life without inconsistencies in a human being – seems like a most futile pursuit from here.

      • Mark Seguin says:

        xman50 I’m don’t think/believe i am “Looking for perfection” has you wrote… But you do make a great point in: “…a life without inconsistencies in a human being …” Jus get a some kicks and giggles over this ‘past the wealth’ philosophy weather it be found in Communism or Socialism, yet as long it’s not their wealth to which is use to build large homes on an over-size lots… Now that reminds me of take the log out of ones own eye before you try to take the speck out of another, to which I am sure one of the people that needs to do that a-lot…
        In Christ love,
        Mark

  3. Ken Flessas says:

    Thought you and your readers might join me in appreciating this article.
    ‘We Are Not Afraid’: The Holy Spirit and the Life of Pete Seeger
    Rev. Dr. Susan Brooks Thistlethwaite
    Professor of Theology, Chicago Theological Seminary
    Posted: 01/28/2014 9:28 am

    One of the reasons I believe a better world is possible is because I can hear the voice of Pete Seeger in my head, singing We Shall Overcome. “We are not afraid,” sang Seeger, and credited the young leaders of the Civil Rights movement for teaching that. “Perfect love casts out fear,” scripture teaches (1 John 4:18).
    One of the greatest obstacles to people coming together, despite their differences, to make a better world, is fear.
    Pete Seeger, 94, folk singer and peace and justice advocate has died, but the spirit of what his life and his music meant lives on. Americans have been less afraid of each other, and of speaking the truth to power, because he lived and sang and marched.
    One of the possible translations of the Greek word for Holy Spirit is “advocate.” When we advocate for God’s reign of justice and peace, and join together in that effort, it is my personal experience that the presence of the Spirit can be felt.
    Pete Seeger helped teach that to my generation, and generations that followed, because he taught us to sing while we resisted war and advocated for racial and gender justice. He taught us in our schools and on our campuses because he had been blacklisted for refusing to yield to the fear-mongering House Un-American Activities committee. His promising television career was curtailed by the blacklisting.
    The story of how Seeger finally got to sing on television again is itself a story of struggle against censorship, as his return to television via the Smothers Brothers program involved advocacy by the two young “comedians.” “Waist Deep in the Big Muddy” a song clearly about the Vietnam war and President Lyndon Johnson (though it does not name either one) finally was heard by millions of Americans. But that didn’t end the war by itself. Seeger observes, “Did the song do any good? No one can prove a damned thing. It took tens of millions of people speaking out, before the Vietnam War was over. A defeat for the Pentagon, but a victory for the American people.”
    The documentary on Seeger’s career, The Power of Song, provides a fully rounded portrait of the singer, including the so-called “lost years” when, because of the blacklisting, Seeger sang to school children and to those of us on college campuses lucky enough to hear him. The songs which Seeger wrote (like “Turn, Turn, Turn…to Everything there is a Season” and “Where are All the Flowers Gone”) or made famous (like “We Shall Overcome”) are the voice of resistance to war and advocacy for peace.
    Is that not the mystery of how goodness is made, little by little, and person by person? In 2011 Seeger walked with an Occupy Wall Street protest, and later told the Associate Press, “Be wary of great leaders… Hope that there are many, many small leaders.”
    Instead, what we need is many, many Americans coming together and not being afraid of each other. That is the way forward, and Pete Seeger not only taught that, he modeled it in his life and commitments to the very end.
    Rest in peace, good and faithful servant. I am grateful beyond words for your life and work.

  4. I was truly blessed to have gone to a private, “progressive” elementary school for the first 4 years of my schooling. It was in the early 60s and our principal was a folk singer of note (he now plays New Orleans jazz). Pete Seeger’s songs were a staple of our music education. We learned about social situations at an early age, through songs like “We Shall Overcome”, “Little Boxes” and the one that went, “If you miss me at the back o’ the bus/You won’t find me down there, oh no/Come on up to the front of the bus/I’ll be ridin’ up there!”.

  5. Phil says:

    We are well beyond the cool but naive 60’s and 70’s where on the one hand, we had the fundamentalists and on the other the Jesus freaks and groups like the Children of God who were using methods like ‘flirty fishing’…look it up in good ole Wikipedia to see what that is, and the ‘seeming palpable anger from the ‘established’ Christian groups against those types. JFs cried hypocrisy. I think the anger was frustration in not being able to know how to clearly delineate and articulate what was wrong with those movements. “God is love.” The favorite theme, taken way out of context… How much real lasting fruit that remained. There was no real repentence or understanding of truth. That was the roots of the ecumenical movement, that it was okay no matter what you believed. I didn’t think you believed that John.
    It’s one thing to have a sentimental flashback, and yes, many of us still love those songs because of times they represent, although, as a believer I cannot fully enjoy the music of one who played a large part in dumbing down a generation to follow a pathway of lies. The 60’s generation I grew up in has paved a highway straight to hell. I was just a kid, but I burned those records. They were all about drugs sex and rock n roll, doing your own thing, humanism, and getting rid of the old morals.
    Today, we have more than one generation that has grown up on a foundation of lies, to the point that they don’t even recognize the truth, just like Pilate who asked Jesus, “What is truth?” These days, that’s what people wonder. The public education, the news media, it is a constant attack to undermine the truth of the gospel. It is only believable when Jesus disciples are ready to lay down their lives. People need someone to follow, to lead by example…
    Well, I won’t find it coming from a longtime atheist, who became a Unitarian Universalist. I won’t find it from someone who never took a stand against the truth of communism because he would rather maintain his idealistic peace lovin’ persona, although once he admitted he ‘wished he would have insisted on visiting the gulags when he visited Russia’, but as late as 1995, he was quoted as being a full- fledged communist, and he knew full well what it represented. People love untruth because they hate the truth. Communism is based on atheism and people hate the Christian lifestyle.
    Our laws were founded on Christian principles. Even in the purest socialistic community of believers in Jerusalem, it was said that if they didn’t work, they shouldn’t eat”. People willingly gave up everything they had for the gospel. Maybe if we would do the same instead of trying to live the Christian version of the American Dream, people might take us seriously.
    There are so many lies proliferated, John. Our kids are taught that the Romans proliferated Christianity. Christianity proliferated in spite of the Roman empire. They were tortured for many years before Constantine, and yet it grew because they were willing to die for their faith.
    So, there comes a time when we have to take a stand for the truth. It is what sets us free.
    John, I have followed you since Purpose Driven Life days…I’ve appreciated you because you made me think. I have supported your ministry financially when I was out of work for almost a year and suffering greatly in my personal life in many ways, so I am not just a complainer.
    I believe in the gospel of welcome, but it never involves compromising the truth. I understand that the kingdom of heaven is all around us, and God can and does work through everyone and everything to glorify Himself, and maybe that’s the point…but as a writer and minister of the gospel, I think there should be clarity and purpose in what you write. I don’t believe you are like some televangelists who are making great gain for themselves, but if I am to sacrifice for you, I look for the simplicity of the gospel and for the message not to be blurred. I pray daily for my children, some to find and some to keep the truth.
    Simply put, I can think of better people to honor than two you have recently chosen to do so and the way that you represented them. So much good work has been done by people whose stories have been lost and people need to hear those stories. I can think of no comparison to Pete Seeger’s music to the 5 smooth stones which represented the great faith of a young man who stood against a giant and a nation that blasphemed the living God in their lives and their speech and their hatred for everything that is true.
    Why is the truth so important? Look it up. Jesus said that the reason He came was to ‘bear witness to the truth”.

    • Mark Seguin says:

      Thank-you Phil, I for one certaily appreciate your post & writing this: “but if I am to sacrifice for you, I look for the simplicity of the gospel and for the message not to be blurred.” And I’ll add a yes and an Amen to it! !

      • Ralph Gaily says:

        And I too thank you Phil for a well-spoken response.

      • David says:

        Let’s put it to bed, folks. I too love Pete Seeger’s music. LIke most people, he was a complicated person searching for truth, a person with whom I’d find things to like and dislike, agree with and disagree with. Although I disagree with some of Phil’s commentary, I appreciate his generally reasoned tone and see many valid points. For instance I struggle with Pete’s communist leanings and am saddened by his Unitarian beliefs. Still, I appreciate the general thrust of John’s original commentary, although I’d have worded things a bit differently. As to the string of replies to the commentary, it strikes me that as followers of Christ, we should be able to have disagreements, without “labeling” one-another. We have the only label that matters: Christian. As this “can of worms” exposed, we’re not always good about wearing that label even in our close-knit communities, mush less in the public arena. One of the things I love about John and The Catch is his unique take on the Christian faith, one that recognizes most issues in life aren’t summed up in a simple true-false statement. Too much commentary from my Christian friends in 2014 IS in-your-face political, designed to attract the like-minded and repel the others. It is done in the name of a “Christian World View”, a modern moniker used too often to send a message that there is only ONE Christian view on virtually any topic. Tragically, some folks really buy into this because it is pushed by modern day political & religious zealots who have an axe to grind. Like Christ, who routinely avoided the political trappings of his day, John routinely rejects these political tendencies, and I appreciate that.

    • Mark Seguin says:

      let me plz add i pray for you and your children also Phil, plus all of the Catch family… 🙂

  6. Jay says:

    I am a big fan of Pete Seeger, his music, his approach, and what he stood for. However, I was not aware that he had a “bid faith in God.” Did I miss something?

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