Joe Jencks

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Happy New Year

Happy New Year
Dear Friends,

I wish for all of you a very happy new year. You have brought deep meaning to my life by your support of acoustic and folk music. You have participated in community by coming to concerts and hosting touring troubadours in your homes. You have learned something, given something, and healed something by connecting to the music. And you sustain a web of community that is of the finest caliber. Thank you! May the fullness of this blessing grow in your lives and spread outward so that more of the world can experience the gifts of community that we in the folk world share.


On The Turning Away

I remember the first time I ever thought about 2010. It was the sequel to 2001 Space Odyssey. 2010 came out in 1984. Inauspicious as that year was, being the focus of George Orwell's 1984. We saw then that this horrific vision of the future had not yet come to pass. So too, we see that Arthur C. Clark's vision of 2010 is a little off the mark. But back then; I was just 12 years old. 2010 seemed so unbelievably far away. I would turn 38 in 2010.  What an old guy. Why worry about what I would be doing in 2010? Was there really life after 20?

As I sit here on New Year's Day, it is a quiet morning in Seattle. We have been out here to see family and friends for the holidays and it seems like any other day.  As I prepare for my January concert tour (beginning tomorrow) the sun is shining (sorta taking that on faith, through the clouds.) The paper shows up on the doorstep. Life goes on pretty much as normal. We are not driving around in Rocket Ships. No "George Jetson" cars. Nor are we communicating via telepathy. (Most of us anyway.) Our modern life of convenience seems to entail more working hours than ever. The "convenience" of electric light, strong coffee and 24-hr food service providers means that we can now work 24 hrs a day if want to. And many people have employers who sadly see nothing wrong with this. Because productivity is the ultimate goal isn't it?

I have a number of friends who live or have lived in so-called "third world" countries, mostly Central and South America. Places that don't have as much "modern convenience" as we do.  Some have lived in abject poverty with the poorest of the poor. And some have been in a place of privilege, staying on guest ranches and in hotels.  But they almost all report that life in those places is richer by far than what we experience here in the "first world". They report that there is more time to be with people and more time for community. That a smaller percentage of a person's day (in general) is spent working for basic needs, and a larger portion of the day is spent in community.

I know that this is a dangerous and slippery slope. I don't mean to overly romanticize the simpler life of other folks, folks who struggle daily at times for basic needs. But I need not look to Central America to see folks who struggle for basic needs. There are plenty in my own neighborhood.  And I understand that first-world people can rarely have a real perspective on third-world cultures, because a first worlder going to a third world country inevitably brings a great deal of their privilege with them. So, of course life will be easier for them as visitors, than it will be for many of the people whose country they are visiting.

But there is something here I want to explore with you, my community. There is something here I would like to dialogue with you about. And I hope you respond.

I have a friend who taught in Seattle for years. About 8 years back she took a six-month sabbatical to work at an orphanage in Bolivia. She now runs a school for native children in Bolivia. She is not sure if she will ever return to the states on a permanent basis. She says she loves Bolivia, the people, and the slower pace of life. She has more time to do what actually matters, helping the kids she is teaching. More time to make and sustain meaningful friendships.  I have another friend who went to work in Chile for half a year. She is now in her third year there, and does not anticipate returning any time soon save for family visits. She also reports that life is more fulfilling there, away from the psychological noise and chaos of the USA.  

Imagine a place where there is little or no television? A place where there are fewer telephones, and Internet connections? There are no McDonalds, no Starbucks, no shopping malls, and no mega-plex theaters? Few towering office buildings, and less advertisements telling you to be skinnier, prettier, taller, wear better clothes, drive a more expensive car, own a bigger house, buy a yacht, buy more expensive food, use your toothpaste as a status symbol, be ashamed of the grey hairs you should be proud of, be ashamed of the wisdom lines in your face, hard earned as they were? Imagine a place where the entertainment is based on people interacting? A place where people go to a café or just to each other's homes in the evening and listen to music, read, play chess, and talk? Imagine that your free time were not as filled up with traffic jams and time spent alone in the car, but you had more time to be with people you love, and do the really important things?

I just think sometimes that we have been sold a bill of goods. Yes there are wars, famine, pestilence, and poverty in other parts of the world. Yes, there are places where people work 16-hour days for the tiniest fraction of what most US wage earners can rake in for an hour's work. And yes there is suffering on levels we can hardly imagine. But the culture of fear that has been propagated around us has caused so many of us to presume that these are other people's problems. That we are somehow safely protected from such social blights here inside the walls of our giant gated community/country. But the truth is, there are wars here. Just a few weeks ago several police officers were killed in the line of duty near Tacoma, WA. Go to various neighborhoods in NYC, LA, Chicago, Detroit, New Orleans, and a hundred other cities in the US, and you will find wars there too. Go to scores of places both rural and urban in the US, and you will find poverty, hunger, disease, and illness on par  with parts of the third world.

And the biggest war we fight here is one of apathy. We get so overwhelmed by our relative privilege, that we are terrified to look at the world in which we live. Terrified of the guilt that is waiting for us should we notice how much we have, and how little other's have by comparison. We are scared into a place of inaction and turning away. Pink Floyd wrote an amazing song about this called appropriately:


On The Turning Away

On the turning away
From the pale and downtrodden
And the words they say
Which we won't understand
Don't accept that what's happening
Is just a case of others' suffering?
Or you'll find that you're joining in
The turning away


It's a sin that somehow
Light is changing to shadow
And casting its shroud
Over all we have known
Unaware how the ranks have grown
Driven on by a heart of stone
We could find that we're all alone
In the dream of the proud


On the wings of the night
As the daytime is stirring
Where the speechless unite
In a silent accord
Using words you will find are strange
Mesmerized as they light the flame
Feel the new wind of change
On the wings of the night


No more turning away
From the weak and the weary
No more turning away
From the coldness inside
Just a world that we all must share
It's not enough just to stand and stare
Is it only a dream that there'll be
No more turning away?



And so I make a new year's resolution, maybe even a new decade's resolution. I make if for myself and invite you to considerate as well. It is time to leave the perceived safety of this place behind, if even for a day or a week, and venture outside the walls of the prison of privilege we have crafted for ourselves.

Maybe for you that means going on a service trip to New Orleans, or somewhere in the Appalachian Mountains. Maybe it is an urban immersion experience through your chosen spiritual community or service organization. Maybe this year, instead of taking a vacation at the cabin, or that backpacking or ski trip, you can find a way to go to a country in Central or South America? And just see the world from a different perspective. For those of you who have never been to Canada or Mexico, our closest allies and our very accessible continental neighbors, I would invite you to make the journey. I perform in Canada 2-3 times a year these days, and I love the subtle cultural differences. I always come back home looking at my own world from a slightly different angle.

For some it may not involve a vacation.  As is the case with my sweetie and me, a vacation per se may not be affordable to you anyway. But perhaps consider volunteering once or twice a month with your local homeless shelter or soup kitchen? Consider volunteering with an adult literacy program? Do anything to get in touch with the poverty that exists with us here, in our own communities and towns. What I can guarantee is this: if you take on this project, you will have a renewed sense of gratitude for the many blessings in your life. And you will make a difference in the life of someone who desperately needs it.

To this end, I want to report a shift in my own focus for 2010. Many of you read in the spring of 2009 that I was planning to go to India in 2010. A goal I have at this point relinquished. I will get to India, but I have some lessons to learn in my own hemisphere first.

My wife Lynn is working on a PhD. in Liberation and Feminist Theology. She needs to do some research at the University of Central America in San Salvador. And we want to engage in developing the language skills necessary to communicate well with the Spanish speaking part of this grand world in which we live. We both want to attend a good language immersion school/program, and we want to get to know our neighbors to the south. In our case, that could also mean connecting with the huge Latina/Latino community in Roger's Park (northern neighborhood of Chicago - two blocks south of where we live.)

With my touring and her school schedule we already spend too much time apart. So we have decided to try and take this on together. It is simply more important for us to be on a journey together, and less important where that journey takes us. So while Gandhi's  "Salt March Path" still calls to me, it may be a few more years before I get there and answer the call. In the interim, I will endeavor to get to know my neighbors in this hemisphere, on this continent, and in the Americas. North, South and Central.

Every where I have gone in North America for work or pleasure, I have met good and decent people, people who universally yearn for a sense of safety and a sense of sustainability. People who participate in community and make life better for their neighbors. So how do we expand our sense of who is a neighbor? In Christian Scripture, Jesus expounds a number of times about the need for expanding our sense of who is "neighbor" How are we doing on that count? How am I doing on that count?

I would not use a pesticide in my garden that could ruin my mother's drinking water. I would not buy a piece of clothing, knowing that my brother worked in near slave conditions to produce it. I would not buy fruit that cost 20 cents less per pound, knowing that my niece was living in squalor while working on the plantation that produced it. But we all buy and use and consume products every day, the convenience and affordability of which is a burden carried unwittingly by our sisters and brothers in other countries.

I have been the recipient of such gracious kindness for so long. So many people (all of you reading this) have contributed to my wellbeing physically, emotionally, spiritually, financially, artistically and in so many other ways. And I want to cycle that around and do more to be of service to others. I want to be a part of the process of creating a world that cannot see another human being as "other" or "outside" the benefits and obligations of community. I thought India was the place for me to dig in and begin expanding that sense of community for myself and for others. But amazingly enough I can dig in right in my own neighborhood. We all can.

So here is my wish for you in 2010. No flying cars or appliances that do all the work for us. Rather a life connected deeply to community. I wish for you a life so rich in relationships and in the people you know, that you don't have any regrets about your house/apartment, car, wardrobe or possessions. I wish for you a life so deeply intertwined with other people that your things merely become tools that you use in accomplishing the goal of connected hearts, open minds, and deep community.

May 2010, be your best year yet! May you feel more content at the end of it, than you did at the beginning! And may we all contribute from that fullness to the needs of others, so that they too are more content and fulfilled during 2010.


Peace, Blessings and Deepest Gratitude to you!

Happy New Year!
Joe

2010 Joe Jencks, Turtle Bear Music

updated: 7 years ago