On Children’s Songs and Politics

As a father, I listen to lots of music that, to put it nicely, is not my personal preference. Children’s music can be wonderful and full of joy, but after a few hours on repeat even Raffi can make you want to scream and jump out of the window. However, when you listen and sing along to something non-stop, things tend to stick in your head. I was struck a while ago by the chorus of a Raffi song called “The Sharing Song” (from Singable Songs for the Very Young):

It’s mine but you can have some;
with you I’d like to share it.
‘Cause if I share it with you,
you’ll have some too.

It struck me as odd that we devote so much effort to imbed the value of sharing with others in our children when as an adult it holds a vague sentimental meaning at best. The first verse of “The Sharing Song” goes:

Well if I have a cake to eat
If I have a tasty treat
If you come to me and ask
I’ll give some to you.

Sure, a friend who is willing to share his beer is a good buddy, but, isn’t this to miss the point? I mean, on a macro-level, the western world definitely has “cake to eat” (in a non-Marie Antoinette sort of way). As a US citizen I’ve often wondered what would happen if the values we try to instill in our children helped dictate tax law, foreign policy or immigration. At this suggestion some react with fear (they’d overrun us), anger (why are you trying to take what is rightfully mine) or derision (you’re just being naïve). I understand that this is a sensitive issue and that mandated sharing is not really the same thing as voluntary sharing. But still, aren’t you at least curious?

In his brilliant essay, The Gift, Lewis Hyde discusses gifts and gift communities drawing on biblical passages, Hindu scriptures, traditional folk tales, sociological investigations, and poets. He notes that the gift moves “from plenty to emptiness. It seeks the barren, the arid, the stuck and the poor” (24). The community he envisages is one where the strong and well positioned in society demonstrate their strength and position precisely by giving it away to those with less. The poor person’s “neediness is felt throughout the group, and its wealth flows toward the need and fills it without reflection or debate, just as water flows immediately to fill the lowest place” (114).

This is a beautiful image, if somewhat utopian on a world-scale. As a Christian I simultaneously affirm Hyde’s vision wholeheartedly and deny it’s possibility. The Bible, both in the Old Testament and in the New Testament, proclaims a community of love and generosity (though, obviously, positioned within history and with different assumptions than many of us have today). However, it also reveals the selfishness of humanity and the fear in which we all live. Instead of Raffi’s “if I share it with you, you’ll have some too” we tend to sing “I’ve got to get mine, so screw you.” But God, in Christ, gave himself for us that we might also give ourselves for others, one aspect of what Paul called “filling up what is lacking in Christ’s sufferings” (Col 1:24).

So come on and sing with me: “ It’s mine but you can have some; with you I’d like to share it…”

Ben Edsall


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