“The conundrums of life, the philosophical paradoxes, the metaphysical problems — I feel like I get it now. I understand suffering and unfairness. I can’t think of anything better to receive than that. I’m good with this.”— Michael Morton, a Texas man who was wrongfully convicted of murdering his wife and incarcerated for 25 years, told CNN about his son who found a way to love his father again.
What might words like repentance or forgiveness mean, culturally, in this moment? These are questions of the emerging church, a loosely-defined movement that crosses generations, theologies and social ideologies in the hope of reimagining Christianity. With Phyllis Tickle and Vincent Harding, we bring you an honest (and sometimes politically incorrect) conversation on coming to terms with racial identity in the church and in the world:
"The great American experiment with building a multiracial democracy is still in the laboratory. We have got to be willing to see ourselves as part of an experiment that is actively working its way through right now. We stumble. We hold on to each other. We hug each other. We fight with one another in loving ways. But we keep moving and experimenting and trying to figure it out."
"There’s a difference between repentance and forgiveness and there’s a difference between those in grace. And if we do this thing that Vincent’s talking about, if we refashion this country — which we’re going to do — but if we do it without grace, it will be just as clunky and just as unfortunate. And just as many people will get the short end of the stick as has been true in the past."
“If you’re going to add friction, if you’re going to create urgency and scarcity, understand that it always comes at a cost. By all means, we need to figure out how to make a living from the work we do. But with scalable goods, particularly those that have substitutes, don’t add friction unless there are enough benefits to make it worth our hassle.”—
I’m thinking a lot about this nowadays. People have been so kind and generous with their words and attention to our work. I’ve tried to cultivate these relationships with our readers and listeners — giving and receiving in our exchanges.
Many times the advice offered is a traditional one that’s proven effective in public radio world models, but I’m unsure if, at its heart, the giving campaigns are about deepening relationships and relatedness. That’s what I want to do with On Being.
I’m watching some promising models out there; maybe you have others to offer as examples?
Some of the biggest philosophical and ethical questions of this century may be raised on scientific frontiers — as we gain a better understanding of the deep structure of space and time and the wilder “microworld.” Astrophysicist Martin Rees paints a fascinating picture of how we might be changed by what we do not yet know:
"If science teaches me anything, it teaches me that even simple things like an atom are fairly hard to understand. And that makes me skeptical of anyone who claims to have the last word or complete understanding of any deep aspect of reality."
As more media outlets produce stories about me, a few points of clarification:
* I did a LOT of drugs, but I am not a drug addict. I’m an alcoholic. Booze was my undoing.
* I swear a lot, but have never dropped an F bomb in a sermon
* I did not live in a commune…I just had a lot of roommates.
* I have never said “God doesn’t have any answers” I said that we go to God for answers, but sometimes what we get is God’s presence.
* Yes, a couple times this year I have competed in Olympic-Style Weightlifting. But calling me a “competitive weightlifter” seems a stretch.
All of this has made me wonder how many times I drew conclusions or made judgements about someone I read about in the media based solely on exaggerated statements by the media outlet.
If you haven’t heard this countercultural, tatted up Lutheran pastor talk about God, faith, and life, then you really ought to listen to this On Being episode, "Seeing the Underside and Seeing God."
“We can love with our minds, but can we love only with our minds? Love extends itself all the time, so that we can even love with our senseless nails; we love even with our clothes, so that a sleeve can feel a sleeve.”—
"When people would talk to me about you’re gonna beat this or you’re gonna slay cancer or you’re gonna — I would say what I’m gonna do hopefully is become more of who I was meant to be. And cancer has given me this huge, dramatic, turbulent opportunity to do that."
Eve Ensler is the playwright and performer who brought The Vagina Monologues into the world. She’s famous for giving voice to disruptive, healing stories of women’s bodies and women’s lives. But it was cancer that helped her make peace with her own.
For Rachel Button, who hails from metro Detroit but now lives in the state of Washington’s North Cascade Mountains, images of a Veterans Day parade on Woodward Avenue in Detroit remind her of the march that often goes unacknowledged. Specifically, Eric Seals photographs for the Detroit Free Press inspired her to write this poem:
You wanted the poor and tired huddled masses— the slack-jawed and stubbled— but we march alone on Woodward uniforms stiff on our still-broad shoulders,
The Free Press took pictures. Photos of men, mostly men, marching a street edged by empty sidewalks, black men and white men some of us in leather and flannel others in uniforms which trim our bodies into silhouettes framed by brass buttons.
Imagine the hands at our sides: wrinkled, smooth, freckled, gloved— scarred by cuts and burns, scrapes and time— hands that held babies, hands that held our heads when loneliness felt too heavy to hold on our necks.
We bend into cold with something like pride not for the battles we fought, but because we’re still standing, walking, moving, together, slapping our shoes on Woodward, standing straight, even if not one soul watches.
What if we understand death as a developmental stage — like adolescence, or midlife? Dr. Ira Byock is a leading figure in palliative care and hospice in the U.S. He says we lose sight of “the remarkable value” of the time of life we call dying if we forget that it is always a personal and human event, and not just a medical one:
"I don’t want to romanticize it. Nobody looks forward to it. But we shouldn’t assume that it’s only about suffering and its avoidance or its suppression. That in addition to, concurrent with the unwanted difficult physical and emotional social strains that illness and dying impose, there is also experiences, interactions, opportunities that are of profound value for individuals and all who love them."
Hatred and non-hatred. Transforming our relationships with our own selves and those we’re at odds with. Most everybody thinks about these things during the day. But how do we do it? How do we work with our outer and inner enemies?
A few months back I picked up a book. The title, Love Our Enemies. It’s quite remarkable because of the friendship of the two authors, Sharon Salzberg and Robert Thurman. They ground each other in usefulness and big-picture thinking.
So I pitched them for the podcast. But only as a pairing. It worked. Brilliantly. Listen in and I guarantee they’ll bring you joy and some solutions to breaking the cycle of hurt, anger, and revenge.
Ah, the Millennials… the much probed and analyzed generation who are often (simplistically?) characterized as being less religious than previous generations. According to a poll from the Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life, 1 in 4 people of current 18-29 year olds say they have no religious affiliation.
While it’s true that Millennials are questioning the cultural and religious norms, these data are often reduced to headlines about Millennials being a godless lot who lack a spiritual mooring. And yet, 4 in 10 Millennials report praying every day, which is the same rate as Generation X’ers did at a similar age in the 1990s.
Polls also show that this generation has a personality distinct unto itself. They are confident and upbeat, self-expressive and open to change — whether they are secular Jews from the heart of New York City or evangelical Christians embedded in the heart of the Bible belt. They can no longer be defined in such narrow terms, neither boxed in by reductionist media framing or traditional institutional containers that once served their parents and grandparents well. They’re better educated in a way that no other generation in U.S. history has seen. And Millennials are more ethnically and racially diverse.
As Dante Chinni, director of the American Communities Project, says in his interview with The Takeaway's John Hockenberry (audio above), Millennials are shaped by the urban and rural landscapes around them to some degree.
For the next week, we’re partnering with The Takeaway on their series “Young Nation Under God?” John Hockenberry and his producers are exploring the shifting landscape of religion in the U.S. by having a series of roundtable discussions with four groups: with secular Jews, Christians-turned-humanists, American-born Muslims experiencing a clash of cultures, and African-American millennials who remain as committed to their faith as their parents’ generation. It’s a prompt for a building dialogue about what these new demographics and cultural sensibilities mean for the future of the United States’ identity as “one nation under God.”
Each day I’ll be blogging about these roundtables, asking for your input, and asking questions of my own. For example, there’s a presupposition that America’s relationship with religion and faith is dramatically shifting:
Is it? How so?
Is the religious landscape shifting in seismic ways or is the expression of what it means to be faithful changing?
What’s the nuance that’s missing from this discussion?
How is your personal faith changing over time?
These are some of the questions we want to explore with you. Leave me a comment here. Or, better yet, inform the discussion taking place at The Takeaway each day this week. This Friday (Oct 18) at 2 pm Eastern, participate in a live chat about the role of faith in America with John Hockenberry and Lisa Pearce, a professor of sociology at the University of North Carolina. It could be fruitful!
Atheists and believers alike will find something useful in this conversation. I promise.
"Religion for Atheists” is Alain de Botton’s prescription for people who don’t believe, but may respect and miss experiences of faith. This cradle-atheist is dissatisfied with popular dismissals of religion, and he’s giving voice to a new way.
He says that the most boring question you can ask of any religion is whether it is true. But how to live, how to die, what is good, and what is bad — these are questions religion has sophisticated ways of addressing. And he feels that secular society has emptied public spaces of religious messaging, only to fill them with commercial proselytizing that may impoverish us morally. And so Alain de Botton has created something called The School of Life, where people young and old explore ritual, community, beauty and wisdom.