In case I haven’t made this completely clear, my original academic training is as an historian–specifically a specialist in Middle Eastern History and Archaeology. But all in all, you can just call me a history junky. If it happened BEFORE I was born, I’m probably interested…
When I started my undergraduate work, I was convinced that I would specialize in the Tudor-Stuart period. In my first Tudor history class, we of course studied the Medieval antecedents to the Tudor period, and I became fascinated. My undergraduate studies then focused on Medieval church figures, in particular the Apocolyptics, Joachim of Fiore and St. Catherine of Siena. A seed was planted, however. As part of our standard undergraduate program, we were required to complete two classes in the history of “other cultures (non-Western European cultures). And the most popular program on our campus was the Middle Eastern Studies program. With the first class, a 3-part survey of the history of the Jewish people, I was, well, I won’t say smitten, let’s say mesmerized. Because it was more like watching an accident that you can’t stop than it was studying something beautiful.
So, after an aborted attempt to become a serious medievalist at a famous Catholic university (where I failed miserably because I couldn’t conform), I returned to my undergraduate institution and completed a Master of Arts in Middle Eastern Culture and Archaeology. If you had asked me when I was 19 what I would be when I was 50, I would have told you that I would be one of those leather-skinned, wrinkled archaeology ladies who had spent her last 20 summers in the too hot sun of desert, looking for “proof” of the events in the Bible or perhaps finding the next unopened tomb in Egypt. And yes, all this pre-dated the first Indiana Jones movie, so this strange compulsion came from somewhere deep inside me all on its own. Obviously, however, a road not taken.
Now, please don’t stop reading because this is all too geeky for words. I promise that there is a connection to music and in particular to the class I’m currently in, Music and Social Justice.
You see, there is one main topic in the study of history: Man’s inhumanity to man. Art, literature, music, religion, science, yes, but the theme that regrettably does not change is Man’s inhumanity to man. You cannot study history without a regular dose of remembering just how cruel human beings can be to one another. And you cannot study the music of the various social justice movements without remembering the injustices that created them.
After five hours recounting and remembering the indignities of slavery and our treatment of those brothers and sisters who have skin of a different color, and another 3 hours listing the events of the civil rights struggles of 20th century America — topped off by a reminder of the anti-war protests of the ’60’s and early 70’s– well, I’m not feeling so well this morning. In fact, I’m very, very sad, and a little discouraged. It isn’t like I heard anything that I didn’t know…I had my class in the Civil War — I know about the 1820 Missouri Compromise (particularly being from Missouri) and the 1850 Slavery Act. But in the 1850 Slavery Act, I heard the precursor of the Arizona Immigration Law of 2010; and in the strains of “We Shall Overcome”, I heard an overlay in the Spanish language, as I stood in a room of my Latino compatriots at the Archbishop Romero memorial held not so long ago at our church, after the Immigration march. No matter what my thinking about the politcs of ANY of this, the human element and the demands of my faith are overwhelmingly apparent.
And I sit here at my computer, knowing that the tool that God has given me to turn back this inhumanity is Music. It’s feeling a little small right now, but, if I remind myself that a big part of the reason that I feel the way I feel this morning is the music that I listened to last night, I think that just maybe I’ll pick up my musical sword and move on.