If you didn’t know it, each member on our staff, including Krista, pretty much reads every piece of e-mail that’s sent to our inbox. And we receive a healthy amount of correspondence! But we’re also aware that there are many more conversations and responses to our show taking place in the greater online world, especially in blogs and social networking forums.
I thoroughly enjoy reading the increasing number of blog posts and articles about SOF, and commenting on others’ sites. Sometimes they’re simple observations or recommendations about a particular show, or entries that gave us new insights and ideas for future shows, as well as feedback on our productions. With a little link love, I thought I’d point out a few:
In her blog, Experiments in Physical Chemistry, Dawn Dennison wrote a gritty post about the power of play in her own life. She has a wonderful sense of the importance of play, and some good humor to boot:
I am often scraped and bruised and dirty, but I never think I’m too old to be falling down as much as I do. I fall down hard at least once every week. I’m always happy that I usually jump right up continue the ride. Mostly, though, I’m happy that I’m still doing things that occasionally make me hurt myself. I think an interesting survey would be to ask people in their 30’s and 40’s “When was the last time you fell down while playing?”
Most religious people I’ve heard have to suspend rational thought when they talk about their faith but John Polkinghorne didn’t do that. Speaking of Faith is a great show and I’m enjoying exploring the faiths of others and broadening my limited Catholic-influenced perspective.
After a recebt week of “light saber sword fights” and “gang tackle football” with four energetic kids aged 8, 6, 4, and 2, it’s taking a while for this old body to recuperate but every ache brings a smile.
Can’t wait to show this to my wife :-). Wonder if my bosses will buy it?
As I read more, I’ll highlight other entries and hopefully you’ll find some of them relevant to your own lives. Man, there are some keen observers out there.
This sentence in The New York Times yesterday nearly made me choke on my organic lettuce (purchased at the coop):
"The highest form of luxury is now growing it yourself or paying other people to grow it for you," said Corby Kummer, the food columnist and book author. "This has become fashion."
One of the gifts of perspective that Barbara Kingsolver offered me in our conversation is in seeing that the way most of us eat now — the cheap and easy habits we’ve come to take for granted in a handful of generations — are elite in the extreme. Once upon a time not so long ago, lettuce for salad in October was a party trick for the very, very rich. What Kingsolver’s family did for a year — living off what they could grow and raise on the land around them — is still the way most human beings have lived forever and many in the world still do. We’re collectively, it seems, in the midst of a culinary and dietary version of “remembering forward.”
And I’m happy to learn — also via the New York Times, such is the world we inhabit — that our dear public radio friends and colleagues down the hall at The Splendid Table are coming to the rescue. Lynne Rosetto Kasper and Sally Swift have commissioned 15 people in various regions across the country to prepare food 80% locally for a year — and to chronicle just what that takes, just how humanly possible or impossible that may be in a spectrum of contemporary lives. At their Locavaore Nation site, you can follow their adventure for yourself.
Mapping the human genome has raised many ethical questions about choices — controversial issues ranging from designer babies to personal privacy rights. But, the issue of using this greater level of genetic detail as a basis for racial stereotypes and discriminatory policies, well, that’s a quieter issue that perhaps has more pervasive reprecussions.
Stereotypes, such as the native physicality of African-American athletes, may be born out by such data, but we may not be taking into account the cultural and social factors that contribute to these conclusions. Because the data may feed our preconceptions and appear to be logical, the scientific methodologies may not be scrutinized as critically as they could be.
A working group at Stanford University debated these assumptions and proclivities. The university organized a working group of geneticists, psychologists, historians, sociologists, philosophers, and scientists from many disciplines to contemplate some of these dilemmas. For instance, biomedical scientists took a more clinical and neutral approach to race when describing groups of individuals; scholars in the social sciences and humanities questioned whether such labels cultural meaning.
"We urge those who use genetic information to reconstruct an individual’s geographic ancestry to present results within the broader context of an individual’s overall ancestry."
If they are willing to look at geographical and cultural ancestries for conclusions, how might our spiritual and religious ancestries inform our genetic makeup and defining markers as living individuals today? If we really did our homework and scraped together thorough legacies, what would we learn about our deeper selves and who we were as individuals today? Might we have more in common with groups we’ve felt so alien to? Might we might find greater mystery in our multi-threaded pasts that might explain the evolution of our genetic makeup, our current actions, our abundance, or lack of, spiritual moorings?
The Eight Is Magical Shiraz Janjua, Associate Producer
Here’s a little 55-second taste of next week’s show. Krista interviewed anthropologist and filmmaker Mayfair Yang about religion in China. This came toward the end of the interview after the “serious” questions.
So we’ve been trying to finally find someone to interview about the human animal bond, a show topic that’s been in the works for quite a while now. I was shocked to learn in my research just how much the relationship between humans and animals had changed over time. About 100 years ago, dogs in this country were primarily used for work on the farm, and rarely allowed inside the home. Today, 60-80% of dogs sleep with their owners at night in the bedroom, either in or on the bed.
Why have we gotten so much closer to these creatures? Is it our growing sense of displacement from nature that makes us want to form a bond with something non-human? Is it the same longing many people for natural places that a recent guest talked about in our show Pagans Ancient and Modern?
Of course, our desire to get close to animals is not new, as this amazing article from the New Yorker points out: the earliest artworks human beings are known to have created were cave paintings of animals. Maybe we bring animals into our home today for the same reason those first artists chose not to depict themselves but rather the living creatures around them. We want to get ahold of that wildness somehow. But I have to wonder what those cave painters would think if they could see us today, feeding the fish, changing the kitty litter, or doling out doggy anti-depressants.
This article from The New York Times cites the recent discovery of archival clippings which suggest that Reinhold Niebuhr was not the composer of the famous Serenity Prayer (i.e. “God grant me the serenity to accept the things that I cannot change…”). Questions raised in the article include who first uttered the words, who actually wrote them down and was there some cross-pollination without attribution.
What is not widely known is that the Serenity Prayer that has been adopted by Alcoholics Anonymous was an adaptation of a sermon Niebuhr gave back in 1943. That specific year and sermon is attributed in the article to his daughter, Elisabeth Sifton. Following is widely believed to be Niebuhr’s composition:
God, give us grace to accept with serenity the things that cannot be changed, courage to change the things that should be changed, and the wisdom to distinguish the one from the other.
If only Reinie had a blog back then, but then again maybe that would not have helped, either.
After a group conversation about which Star Wars movie was the best one (discounting the new trilogy, obviously, my favorite The Empire Strikes Back has a strong following), I went out for lunch. In the food court nearest to our building, I saw at a distance a man sitting at a table, pencil in hand, his palm squeezing his forehead. He was looking down at some paper, and looked like he had to figure out a way to balance his finances or die. As I got closer, I saw what he was working on: a crossword puzzle. He was completely taken.
As I walked back to the office, I thought, “Gee, I should take up a new hobby.” I thought of just a few weeks ago when I was playing with my cousin’s son, following the instructions of a Lego jet, sifting through the pieces to find a red block with two studs, and feeling this kind of meditative calm come over me. I remembered being lost, as I would be in childhood, sifting through the blocks the same way. Maybe I should become a Legomaniac as an adult. (Unfortunately, sitting on the floor isn’t much fun anymore.) I guess I’m noticing all this because we just recorded some promotional language for our upcoming rebroadcast of Play, Spirit and Character.
Fatemeh Keshavarz, our guest in "The Ecstatic Faith of Rumi," periodically distributes a personal newsletter sharing her thoughts and opinions on Iranian news, culture, and US-Iranian relations and politics. What I enjoy most about these newsletters are the visual elements she includes that highlight photography, art, and multimedia features that you wouldn’t find in U.S. media.
"…My angels are children who were born old. They all look rough. They have not experienced the tenderness of childhood, but deep down they are still children. One of my angels is trying to tell her fortune. I got this idea from the children there. Their lives are so much at the mercy of fate and random events that they are always trying to find out what will happen to them next."
It’s been fascinating to watch the reactions to our recent rebroadcast of the Barbara Kingsolver. Last year we had a wildly positive response. This year, more than a few listeners experienced Kingsolver’s account of her experiment in a year of eating what she could grow herself — and my interview of her — to be elitist at worst or impractical at best.
Full confession here: I was more surprised by last year’s response, because I also felt that the odyssey Kingsolver undertook necessitated all kinds of basics that elude me and most of the human beings I know — a stay at home job where you set your own hours, a wildly cooperative teenage daughter, a farm you just happened to inherit — and that’s not to mention the southern climate. Still, I was compelled by her insistence that we can’t leave these problems to the next generation, and by her descriptions of the delights of homegrown food.
I did plant a garden last summer of the first time in my life, and loved it. I’ve made more of an effort ever since to buy food that has not travelled thousands of miles to get to me. But this year I haven’t managed the garden. I’ve become more acutely aware of how hard — if not impossible — it would be to live on what I could grow year round in Minnesota or even buy at coops or farmers’ markets. And I’ve learned about some of the ironies of this issue of food globally. For example, that New Zealand is producing such ecologically friendly food that, on balance, the kiwi fruit they produce might be an ethical choice for me to purchase. And on and on.
So here’s my question to you, to all of us: Is sustainability sustainable? Part of the challenge, it seems to me, is to be focused and mindful and accept the limits of what each of us can humanly do in the circumstances in which we live right now, and accept that in ourselves and others. Are we suffering from too little practical guidance on how the routines of our imperfect, already complicated daily lives can truly affect the environment? Or are we facing a debilitatingly guilt-inducing overload of information?
I’d like to hear others’ ruminations on this. What happened to the listening public’s excitement about eating locally between last year and this? Many of you asked if Barbara Kingsolver herself is still living this way. If she’s not, does that negate the whole effort? How can we stop sustainability fatigue from setting in?
Although most of Krista’s interviews make it into production, some regretfully don’t. I say regretfully because almost all of her conversations have an interesting thread, but perhaps not enough to carry an hour-long radio program.
And that’s the beauty of producing material online — no format constraints and limitless ways of displaying information. If the material is strongest at 29 minutes and 34 seconds, then that’s what it should be and can be.
This ability to create more compelling productions out of existing material is the liberating force behind the Web. It allows us, as producers, to become more creative with our material. But, reevaluation for other outlets also requires flexibility and a shift in thinking — a somewhat new approach to listening and editing for a radio producer, especially when it involves visuals.
As of late, Rob listened to an interview from 2002, Krista’s conversation with David Shenk on the impact of Alzheimer’s disease. Drawing on previous queries for “The Spirituality of Parenting” and “The Beauty and Challenge of Being Catholic,” he asked if we might do the same to create an online program addressing the topic of Alzheimer’s disease. It’s a great start and I trust that something meaningful will result, whether it makes it online or, hmmmmm…, maybe even on the air.
The average lifespan of men and women is on the rise. And, with it, an increasing number of people are suffering from Alzheimer’s disease or taking care of someone with Alzheimer’s.
Each person with this illness has a distinct experience and a distinct story, a story often carried in memory by a caregiver or loved one. If your life has been touched by Alzheimer’s, we’d like to hear your story. How has this disease changed the way you think about love, memory, personality and humanity? Help us reclaim this conversation. Share your stories and images with us.
What inspires a person to learn the language of his ancestors, even though he didn’t grow up speaking that language himself? And what inspires him to join a school where he can teach that language to children? What do those children think about the language? And what affect can the effort have on an entire community?
These were a few of the questions I had for Keller Paap, a teacher in an Ojibwe immersion school program called Waadookodaading (We Help Each Other) on the Lac Courte Oreilles Reservation in north-central Wisconsin. I got in touch with Paap while I was working on our recent program "Sustaining Language, Sustaining Meaning." You can hear his story in the embedded audio above. He begins by introducing himself in Ojibwe.
What I gleaned from talking to Paap was that this language revitalization effort is doing more than merely preserving the language. It’s literally keeping the language alive so that it can continue to grow and change, with new words and new ways of saying things. I love the way he describes his students’ relationship to the language. They aren’t dwelling on the long-standing U.S. policy of forcibly educating Native Americans in English. They aren’t learing Ojibwe as a political act or even as a cultural act. They’re just living in it, and making it their own.
This audio piece was produced with help from Trent Gilliss and Mitch Hanley. Music by Brian Blade & the Fellowship Band. Keller Paap took the photo of the Ojibwe road sign, which translates as “The Dam.”
Our company’s marketing folks have asked us to put together a compilation CD featuring material from the past 12 months. This CD will be used to give to public-radio programming directors who are not familiar with the program, as well as to potential funders, and for other marketing uses.
Rather than some edited compilation, we’re thinking of putting together the first half of three separate programs on the CD (each half being about 25 minutes). That way, we can showcase the depth, intimacy and storytelling we aim for. The other criteria? The shows must have been produced in the past year.
Choices, choices… It would be wonderful to highlight our Peabody Award-winning Rumi show. I’m also fond, myself, of the Mathematics show, the Architecture show, and the Jean Vanier show (yes, Jean Vanier is his own subject). Oh, and Heschel.
Three programs, 12 months, one CD — what are your three picks? (Our 2007 and 2008 archives, for reference.)
For the last several years, we’ve presented a vast swath of Evangelical Christians who may not be so easily lumped into the voting bloc that’s often been identified with the Religious Right. The way that these voices read the Bible and live out their faith lead them to think or prioritize political and social issues differently than the previous generation. And their votes may run across party lines. One of those voices was Shane Claiborne, who Krista first interviewed last fall and then, more recently, spoke with as part of a panel conversation at the National Pastor’s Convention this spring. We knew that he was popular among younger Evangelicals, but more fully realized his growing superstar status when we witnessed the crowds, the cheers, and the many people asking for his autograph and picture. As the November elections approach, CNN recently picked up on his growing influence for this report, which they featured on their home page.
This post from Ojibwemowin.com illustrates the point that David Treuer was making — the story of the Ojibwe people and Native Americans writ large is one of hope, pride, and joyfulness, which runs counter to more popular depictions of tragedy and melancholy that pervade many of our imaginations:
"But what really struck me is how lucky we are as Ojibwe people. And that might be a strange thought, how could we, as Ojibwe people with abundant culture and language loss be lucky- and as I write it now it does seem a bit perverse, but I still hold to it. We have our language. We have our ceremonies and we have our faith. We have to work at it for sure. We have lost a lot, but as an elder has reminded me, we focus a lot on the past, on what we have lost. But what we have is in the future, now and in the future, that’s where we live."
Thanks Monique for pointing this out, on a blog nonetheless!
I love this week’s program with Kate Braestrup, chaplain to the game warden service in Maine. Simply, her practical theology just makes sense to me — a daily translation of spirituality into caring, useful, deliberate action. And I’m glad we were able to add a Unitarian Universalist voice to the many diverse religious perspectives we delve into, just in the way we like to, exploring that perspective through a person’s “lived theology” (Krista Tippett phrase).
This was one of our programs that came together randomly and quickly. Krista saw a reference to Braestrup’s memoir a few months back, and she was curious about her story and her journey to Unitarian Universalism. We got a copy of the book, and as I read it I was immediately absorbed by its reality and humor, and by Braestrup’s wisdom, searching, compassion, and gutsy movement between grief and hope.
We booked the interview, grateful that our guest was willing to drive almost two hours from her small coastal hometown to Portland, Maine, so we could record her conversation with Krista via ISDN (the best broadcast-quality audio connection possible). Right after the interview, we decided it would be a good balance to the other voices, viewpoints, and topics we’ve done in recent weeks, so we front-burnered it into production. You’ve perhaps read other producers’ accounts of how some shows take time to find the right voice or precise approach, brewing like sun tea to get the best flavor. Others are like good espresso — best when ground fresh and served immediately. To me, Kate Braestrup is like that fine espresso, giving me a jolt of optimism and inspiration. (Full disclosure: I don’t drink coffee, but I was a barista for a short time).
We edited, wrote, listened, edited again, tossed around titles, planned content for the Web site. Mitch took cues from the interview and laid in Cole Porter music, but he wouldn’t give in to the “Sweet Home Alabama” reference near the end. And we laughed questioningly at Kate Braestrup’s description of a t-shirt one cop wore in a D.C. bar crammed with law enforcement officers — words I’m sure have never before been uttered on a Speaking of Faith program. Not suitable for radio, so you’ll have to listen to the unedited interview to hear them.
I exit this program with a new appreciation for the work of law enforcement officers of all kinds who are theologians in their own way, as Braestrup describes:
"Law enforcement officers, like all human beings, are presented with grand questions about life’s meaning and purpose. They consider the problem of evil, the suffering of innocents, the relationships between justice and mercy, power and responsiblity, spirit and flesh. They ponder the impenetrable mystery of death. Cops, in short, think about the same theological issues seminary students research, discuss, argue, and write papers about, but a cop’s work lends immediacy and urgency to such questions. Apart from my familiarity with and affinity for police culture, I was sure working with cops would take me right up to where the theological rubber meets the road."
Each day I read the e-mails you send us about how you experience the work we do here. Some days, when the inbox is flooded with generic promotional materials for authors who have published books like The Bad Breath Bible, it can feel a chore. More often, however, I am inspired by the very personal messages you send about this program (both its finest points and its flaws).
The e-mails that include moving personal stories, or that articulate the value of the show in a way none of us ever could, shoot around our inboxes with messages attached like, “Nice reflection on something we’ve been thinking about,” or “So good to get this now,” on a day when things aren’t going so hot.
The point is, having the chance to read your e-mails has completely changed my attitude toward making contact with the people who produce the content of our culture. I’ve learned that authors aren’t as far removed as they feel when I hold their books in my hands. Musicians want to know how people respond to their work. Artists are looking for signs of the impact they have. Any chef is grateful if you send word to the kitchen that you particularly enjoyed something she made.
Because you taught me this, I recently wrote to one of my favorite authors (who lately became a staff writer at The New Yorker) to say how much she has impacted my life, how grateful I am for her work, and congratulations on her latest achievement. Within hours, she wrote me back to say I made her day.
So thanks for all your thanks. Your messages have taught me in a new way that showing gratitude matters, that it can inspire work and create joy. I look forward each day to knowing what you think.
How an Idea Becomes a Show Rob McGinley Myers, Associate Producer
Each week at SOF, we get together in a small conference room to talk about the upcoming production schedule and other mundane matters, and for the last 15 minutes or so we toss around potential future topics for shows. A few months ago, I tossed out a vague idea for a show about endangered languages. This weekend that vague idea becomes a reality as our show “Sustaining Language, Sustaining Meaning.”
Coming up with a good idea for a show is the easy part. What’s hard is finding the right person to speak on that topic. In this case, Krista wanted to find someone who was trying to save the language of his or her own people, who could also speak about how the loss of that language could result in the loss of cultural and spiritual practices. But there are thousands of endangered languages around the world. Where to start?
I went down several blind alleys — contacting the Living Tongues Institute, doing Nexis searches, e-mailing linguists — before I made the lucky decision to contact the novelist David Treuer. I was familiar with his work, I knew he was Ojibwe and that he had a background in anthropology, so I thought he might know someone who was working on a language revitalization project. He wrote back to my e-mail the next day.
You’ve come to the right place! I just published an article in the LA Times about that very subject. In addition to writing and teaching I am involved (with a group of others) in efforts to preserve and protect the Ojibwe language. Our most recent effort is research (recording, translating) aimed at creating the very first Ojibwe grammar book; work which runs parallel to spiritual and ceremonial work.
Suddenly, this huge, unwieldy topic of endangered languages had acquired a specific language — Ojibwe — and on the day Krista interviewed him, David Treuer helped bring into focus the specific people engaged in trying to save that language. My favorite moment in that interview was the story David tells of interviewing the Ojibwe elder Eugene Stillday, who recounted a childhood moment of sitting in his house when his entire family was sick with influenza, and the only thing that kept him from freaking out was staring at the flickering light in the stove. To me, that light in the stove seemed like a metaphor for the language itself. The light helped keep Eugene Stillday calm, and the language helped keep the memory of that day alive.
That story became even more real when David Treuer’s brother, Anton, sent us the actual recording of Eugene Stillday telling the story in Ojibwe. We wanted more recordings of Ojibwe speakers, but Anton Treuer was leaving town, so David suggested I check with his friend Keller Paap, an Ojibwe immersion school teacher in Wisconsin.
Unfortunately, it was Keller’s last week of school before summer, which is always chaotic for a teacher. He said he would try to find some recordings, but it took him a little while to dig through what he had. As our deadline for finishing the show crept closer and closer, I kept checking my inbox. Then, just in time, Keller sent me his recordings, and they were magic. We used the sound of him speaking Ojibwe to his three-year-old son at the top of the show, and we closed the show with the recording of him singing an Ojibwe song he wrote with his students.
It was amazing to finally hear all those pieces fit together. To me this is what radio is all about: the marriage of words and sounds that go beyond words. David Treuer has some profound things about the power of language to keep culture alive, but hearing Keller Paap literally passing that language onto his son and the enthusiasm of his students singing in Ojibwe, that just makes the whole thing real.
Katherine Marshall, who has spent three decades in international development, sounds like a really interesting voice. Later this week, she’ll be co-moderating a panel in Washington with Richard Cizik of the National Association of Evangelicals. It’s a meeting of American Evangelicals and Moroccan Muslims who are both concerned about global warming. I introduced myself and she says she’s got tons of stories. I’d love to hear more about this Moroccan thing. Anyway, out to lunch now.
Spending the day here at the first day of the PUSH Conference in Minneapolis’ Walker Art Center. I’m actually on the beat for our show idea on the ethics of international aid and development. PUSH, in the words of organizer Cecily Sommers, is about looking at the polarizing forces in our world, and what the space in between those poles offers (sounds familiar). PUSH is an ideas conference that brings together interesting thinkers who have inspiring ideas. Some of our past guests can be found here, like Eboo Patel and Anthea Butler. I think I saw Nathan Dungan in conversation with someone.
The space between those poles is what they’re calling The Fertile Delta, which is the theme of this year’s conference. This morning’s “pole” is economics. Some pretty inspiring stuff so far, and I hope to have some more thoughts later on in the day.
Every six weeks, we convene as a staff and talk about ideas for shows for the next two to three months. We’re never lacking in ideas, but finding knowledgeable voices that can carry an hour conversation takes some effort. One of the subjects near the top of our list is the ethics of global aid, particularly with Zimbabwe’s recent crackdown on CARE, a multi-national, non-profit organization fighting global poverty.
For me, the subject came to the forefront while reading Paul Theroux’s challenging, insightful travel account in Dark Star Safari. After serving in the Peace Corps in the 1960s, he revisits Africa and sees a starkly different and yet an eerily similar continent. He’s pretty hard on charitable aid organizations and missionaries, to be sure, and wonders — well, actually posits — whether good intentions have led to an industry that needs to sustain itself in order to carry on its business model:
"…this was the era of charity in Africa, where the business of philanthropy was paramount, studied as closely as the coffee harvest or a hydroelectric power project. Now a complex infrastructure was devoted to what had become ineradicable miseries: famine, displacement, poverty, illiteracy, AIDS, the ravages of war. Name an African problem and an agency or a charity existed to deal with it. But that did not mean a solution was produced. Charities and aid programs seemed to turn African problems into permanent conditions that were bigger and messier."
Theroux’s idea that aid and missionary organizations might actually undercut the stability and long-term efforts of people they are trying to help is challenging. The spot of “tough love” seems to be drenched in the hard-nosed, pull-yourself-up-by-your-bootstraps mentality that I often experienced growing up in North Dakota. I cringed initially. But, some germ made sense. Although I’m not in Africa, I face these tests while walking to work in downtown St. Paul when the same destitute man regularly asks me for five bucks. When do I become that microcosmic institution?
Where is that line and when do good intentions steal a struggling people’s identity, raid an individual’s sense of resourcefulness and pride? When do others who prosper have an obligation to intervene and help those who can’t help themselves because of forces beyond there control — political regimes, long-lasting droughts, diseases, etc.? Who are some of the wise voices you’re reading and hearing about that are immersed in this struggle that can speak personally about these situations?
"An Ojibwe Language Society Calendar" (photo: Hanson Dates/flickr)
Rob McGinley Myers, Associate Producer
Working on an upcoming SOF show about endangered languages, I called a professor of Ojibwe at Bemidji State University to get recordings of Ojibwe speakers for the radio program and website. His answering machine message was delivered first in Ojibwe and then in English. Then this week I called someone who works at an Ojibwe immersion school in Wisconsin, and his answering machine message was Ojibwe only.
It was a little disorienting but also inspiring to hear the language in this modern context, especially considering that Ojibwe is one of only a handful of Native American languages now spoken in the United States and Canada that is expected to survive beyond 2050.
I use Google alerts for myriad ideas and people I want to track for the program. Surprisingly, “krista tippett” has become one of the most useful phrases. She sits ten feet away, but it’s one of the best ways of keeping up with our host’s activities. Although we’re a relatively small staff, she’s a whirlwind of energy that’s hard to storm track — she speaks, she writes, she produces, she interviews, she raises two kids… the list goes on and on.
An alert for an article in Reform Judaism magazine came across my inbox this morning. The author? Krista Tippett.
What is it about Bible stories? For me they can be like catchy music; I’ll get one stuck in my head and then, while I wait for the bus or cut up vegetables or fold laundry, the story will run on repeat, offering its melodies, harmonies, dissonances. These ancient stories — so full of existential drama — can become obsessions.
I’ve been thinking constantly for the past year or so about the Book of Ruth. (Read the whole book yourself here.) Naomi, her husband and sons all dead, is in mourning. She’s planning to move home to Bethlehem. She tells her newly widowed daughters-in-law to go back to their families; they can remarry in their native towns. But Ruth, Naomi’s daughter-in-law, insists on moving with Naomi back to Judah. We don’t know exactly why.
Then, Ruth makes a speech as she announces her intention to stick by Naomi, and it’s one of the most famous speeches in the Bible: “Your people shall be my people, and your God shall be my God,” she says. Ruth chooses radical commitment. She becomes a foreigner, abandons the life she knew, and moves bravely into a new one. I think about the courage that would take.
I like retellings of Bible stories too. One of my favorites is told on an episode of This American Life, “Sink or Swim.” (You can listen to it in their online audio archives. It comes in at about 44:20). In this story Noah is old and crotchety. He calls his sons “dummies.” His “old-school” work ethic demands that he teach his children right from wrong using most severe methods. God, in this story, likes Noah’s style. He chooses him, therefore, to save the animals and repopulate the earth after the flood. It’s a wild story that casts God as a big grouch.
In light of these adventures into the Bible, I appreciatively stumbled on an interesting blog over at Slate.com. Blogging the Bible is David Plotz’s analysis of “what’s really in the good book.” He spent a year making his way through the Hebrew Bible and writing about how the stories struck him. If you have any favorite stories, check out his perspective. It may give you new ideas to run through. Over and over.
Courtesy our friends down the hall at Minnesota Public Radio comes this feature on a design exhibit at Minneapolis’ Walker Art Center, and how design can tackle, head on, problems related to sustainability.
"In Western culture design is usually about styling, the appearance of things," said [Walker curator Andrew] Blauvelt. "Most objects, when you attach the word design to them, it usually means its more expensive, it’s more refined, it has higher quality materials, those kinds of associations."
The exhibit, called Design For The Other 90%, looks at how design gets past that chi-chi connotation to make practical improvments in people’s lives.
This reminds me of themes that came up during our An Architecture of Decency show. It also reminds me of an interview I once heard with Toronto-based designer Bruce Mau, who talked about a project he calls Massive Change:
Massive Change explores paradigm-shifting events, ideas, and people, investigating the capacities and ethical dilemmas of design in manufacturing, transportation, urbanism, warfare, health, living, energy, markets, materials, the image and information. We need to evolve a global society that has the capacity to direct and control the emerging forces in order to achieve the most positive outcome. We must ask ourselves: Now that we can do anything what will we do?
We use a third-party service, Disqus, for our commenting engine on our blog. Due to some changes from our blog service (Tumblr), older comments submitted before today are not showing up on our site. We haven’t lost them though; they just aren’t reconciling with the permalink for each blog post.
Jen Russell, one of the producers, couldn’t find that book but placed Out of East on my chair. This book has me reexamining my own preconceptions and some of the “facts” I was taught in my high school and university world history courses.
The wonderful quote above opened the first chapter; Paul Freedman, you had me at paprika.
It’s hard not to see life as utterly random and meaningless in the face of disasters like the recent cyclone in Myanmar or the earthquake in China. And this is an issue that comes up again and again in theological circles, referred to as as the theodicy question: How could a just god let innocent people suffer and die?
On our show A History of Doubt, the historian Jennifer Michael Hecht addresses the theodicy question through the Book of Job. To test Job’s faith, God takes away his livelihood, his children, his status, his health, and finally Job breaks down and demands to know how God could do this to him, an innocent man. God appears to Job in a whirlwind and responds with a tirade.
Have you walked in the depths of the ocean? Have the gates of death been opened to you? Where does light come from? And where darkness? Hast thou entered into the treasures of the snow? Has thou seen the treasures of the hail? Hath the rain a father? Who hath begotten the drops of dew? Out of whose womb came the ice?
Hecht gives her wonderful reading of this passage in her book Doubt: a History.
This is how God accounts for himself. He does not say, Here is proof of justice or of my existence; he simply cites the weird glory of the natural world…. [The Book of Job] is not a parable of divine justice. It is a parable of resignation to a world-making force that has no justice as we understand justice. God comes off sounding like a metaphor for the universe: violent and chaotic yet bountiful and marvelous.
Krista explored the same theodicy question with the geologist Jelle de Boer, not long after the December 2004 tsunami disaster, in our show The Morality of Nature. Jelle de Boer pointed out that the horrifically destructive power of earthquakes and volcanoes is actually the same power responsible for bringing water and nutrients to the surface of the earth, therefore making life possible.
So through these volcanoes, over billions of years, this beautiful blue planet has formed, and its watery expanse is what gives life. And so life is directly dependent there on these geological processes…the processes where these plates separate and crack and where they run over each other and crack, and as a consequence of that, magmas form at deep levels in the earth, they are brought to the surface, and they bring not only those nutrients I talked about earlier, but also water. And that is the essence of life.
That magma running under the surface of everything, ready to destroy and remake life, puts a dark spin on something the Jesuit paleontologist and philosopher Pierre Teilhard de Chardin once wrote.
By means of all created things, without exception, the divine assails us, penetrates us, and molds us. We imagined it as distant and inaccessible, whereas in fact we live steeped in its burning layers.
Killing Your Darlings Shiraz Janjua, Associate Producer
"You gotta kill your darlings." That was one of those sayings that permeated our discussions back in film school, something our teachers would tell us during the editing of our film projects. It means you have to be willing to let go of that shot or that sequence that you invested so much time, effort, and probably money into making but, for some reason, slows down the pace of the story or isn’t as strong as our hope for it. In some weird way, it’s like that Buddhist saying, "If you ever meet the Buddha, kill the Buddha." Don’t turn the Buddha or your "darlings" into idols that bar your path to enlightenment or a perfect film.
I’m now editing an interview for a show we are so eager to put out there about the 20th-century rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel. Heschel was a contemporary of Martin Luther King Jr., and equally provocative and challenging.
Sometimes we record an interview, and we have little trouble finding places to edit out. Sometimes the interview digresses from its core and we have to wrangle it back by cutting out some material. Other times, you listen to an interview, and it seems like every word is a darling. For myself, I count the interviews with Jean Vanier and Janna Levin in that category.
The other day, as we were doing our pre-edit listen of an interview with Arnold Eisen, chancellor of New York’s Jewish Theological Seminary, who was greatly influenced by the late rabbi, there were more than a few times when I thought I’d burst into tears, whether from Arnold Eisen’s own storytelling or from his reading of choice Heschel excerpts. I’ve highlighted a few in this audio excerpt:
The first part features Arnold Eisen talking about Heschel’s advice to young people, his encouragement to them; it’s something that echoes with the self-doubt I felt for many years in my twenties.
Following that is one for the SOF blooper reel.
The last part is Arnold Eisen reading from Heschel’s writing. It’s gorgeous.
There’s another reading, in the interview, that comes after this one. It renders me helpless and it’s too good to spoil by throwing it out as a teaser, so you’ll just have to listen to the final show, which is a few weeks away.
Meanwhile, as I edit all this great material, I’m afraid that some of it will have to be lost for the sake of time constraints. But what do you let go, when it’s all gold? I’m having serious trouble killing my darlings.