Greetings on this brilliant Tuesday in Southern New Jersey!
What better way to spend a Saturday afternoon than listening to a gifted musician and his mates, along with a spectacular choir of children backing up the band! This is what 400 people did on October 5th when CFET welcomed Tom Chapin to Camden for a concert as part of the Thomas Berry Lecture Series. Usually we have a standard lecture. This year we got a lecture in music, dance, sign language and laughter. The “take away” from this year’s “lecture?” Be like little children, immersed in music and dance, free of the silly conundrums that the adult world creates for itself. That is a message we need to hear today, with a partial federal government shutdown, a looming financial crisis, increasing stresses on the environment, violence raging in many parts of the world and a growing sense of distrust among people. Tom’s message was a delightful change of pace, and one we ought to embrace. Be like little children! Allow ourselves the freedom to wonder, to wonder at the marvels of creation, and to embrace, with sincere hearts, our role in creation, as people of life and generosity and wonder.
One of the songs that Tom sang for us, with the children’s chorus, is entitled “Enough for Everyone.” It furnished one of the most poignant moments of the afternoon. The song begins with the line, “there is food for everyone” and works its way around that theme for several verses. At one point the children picked up the song and sang on their own, while Tom and his bandmates accompanied them. As the children sang, suddenly Tom stopped playing, and a tear flowed from one eye. The music dropped to a whisper as Tom spoke. He remarked how amazing it is that there are people working to limit or defund altogether the US “Food Stamps” program (the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP)). The people who make use of that program, Tom continued, need it, otherwise they and their children go hungry. When there is enough for everyone, why do people go hungry? It is a question that befuddles many people. And then Tom picked up the song on his guitar and continued, “There is food for enough to share, up to us to get it there…” There we were in Camden, NJ, identified as a “food desert” by the USDA, and there is enough food to go around, yet people are still hungry. That means hunger is a human-created problem. The cultivation and distribution of food is subject to human choices. It is “up to us to get it there!” We need to think about that when we vote, when we read the paper, when we engage others in conversation about how to address the problem of hunger. It is up to us!
And the children will lead us! For this concert we had 30 children from three communities form the “One Earth Children’s Chorus.” They came from Sacred Heart Catholic School in Camden, from schools in Haddon Heights, NJ and from Zane North Elementary School in Collingswood, NJ. Just prior to the concert, Tom and his band practiced with the children’s chorus. Although the children had been practicing since April, and they had three rehearsals in the Camden venue, prior to the concert, they had not met Tom. They did so at 1PM on the 5th of October. At that practice, Michael Mark, one of the band members, taught the children the sign language for a song they were going to sing, but that the children had not practiced. Later, as the children stood in line to enter Sacred Heart Church where the concert was held, one of their number arrived late. He was from Haddon Heights and couldn’t get there til just before the concert. The problem was that he had not learned the sign language the children had just been taught. One of the chorus directors began to teach this child the sign language, but three young children from Sacred Heart School stepped in and said: “Ms. Taylor, you have plenty of other things to do. The late child is one of us, in the choir. We’ll take care to teach him the signs.” And that is exactly what they did. Three Camden children worked with this child from the suburbs; children who would never have met except for this concert took care of each other. That is what it is all about. We have to work together to face our challenges. We are “one earth, one family together” as the banner over the band proclaimed loud and clear.
At the end of the concert, Fr. Michael Doyle, pastor of Sacred Heart Church and member of the CFET board, came to the microphone to offer a few words. He reminded us of Jesus’ admonition to his followers: become like little children! Indeed, Tom Chapin invited us to re-discover the child in all of us. He had us singing; he had us using our hands in sign; he had us on our feet at the end. The energy in the church was palpable. It was a moment of grace, of God’s touch on the entire scene.
A main theme of Thomas Berry’s work is that human beings need to re-imagine their relationship with the earth and its resources. For too long we have imagined that the earth is a mere receptacle for the resources that we can use, to our heart’s content, to satisfy our desires. We can no longer live with such an understanding. We must re-imagine that relationship. The Tom Chapin concert offered an opportunity for all of us to be children again, to enter into the beauty and mystery of music, to dance in the “middle aisle” of our minds and hearts. It was a graced event, an invitation from God to be children again, and in so doing giving each of us an opportunity to learn again the lessons of childhood: sharing, wonder and peace!
Mark Doorley, Ph.D.
President, Board of Trustees