Repossessing Virtue: Martin Marty on Trust in Uncertain Times » download(mp3, 14:52) Kate Moos, Managing Producer
As many of you know, we are contacting our listeners as well as old friends and guests of the show to ask them a fairly specific set of questions about the economic crisis that continues to rock us day to day, as we wait for a new administration in the White House, new solutions, and for the next shoe to drop. These questions are simple, but they’re also big: “Do you see this as a spiritual and moral crisis?” “Where are you looking now for leadership, for guidance?”
I spoke to Martin Marty, the acclaimed historian and Christian theologian. He’s retired, though honestly he is the busiest retired person I know. But being retired, the recent market chaos is a very real concern for him, and, in this brief conversation, he shares a good deal of his ”lived theology” — the personal, daily acts of faith that preserve sanity and restore trust even at the most uncertain times. The unpretentious wisdom he shares is such a great example of real-life, grounded piety; it gives me hope.
Stay tuned for more coverage on the radio as well. We just completed a fabulous interview with the Quaker educator Parker Palmer on the crisis and how to find our way forward, which will be broadcast in December. Check back here at SOF Observed for similar conversations with medical researcher Dr. Esther Sternberg and international business consultant Prabhu Guptara in the near future.
Also, we’re looking to our readers and listeners for fresh thinking and language about how to talk about the current economic crisis. How has this changed you, your family, your community? And not just financially, but in terms of personal conscience and values? We’d like to hear from you. Tell us your first person story about your experiences.
One of the great figures in public radio, in my mind, is David Isay; and one of the best things on the radio is his project StoryCorps, whose mission is “to honor and celebrate one another’s lives through listening.” This year, StoryCorps has declared November 28, the day after Thanksgiving, as the first National Day of Listening — encouraging all of us to sit down with the people we know, ask them about their lives, and record those conversations.
You’ll find detailed instructions on their Web site for how to do these interviews and why they are important. As David Isay puts it, “By listening closely to one another, we can help illuminate the true character of this nation, reminding us all just how precious each day can be and how truly great it is to be alive.” This project is very much in the spirit of what we do here at Speaking of Faith — so if you give it a try, let us know what happens.
“The measure of man’s life lies in perfecting the universe.”—
—Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel, as tweeted by Rabbi Aaron Spiegel
Trent Gilliss, Online Editor Today I viewed hundreds of photos looking for an image that might help convey the critical perspective of Binyavanga Wainaina in our upcoming program on the ethics of aid in Africa, and more specifically Kenya. I was left a bit heavy-hearted. And then I saw this inspiring quote from a new friend in Indianapolis. I can’t thank him enough (and, if you’re interested, he’s got a great recommendation for cigars in Indy).
Over at the Beeb: “It’s World Philosophy Day - an opportunity to contemplate one’s very existence and whether computer monitors really exist.” Check out their four philosophical questions for some mind-bending fun.
Among the philosophical questions I asked myself at a young age, say around age 6, I can recall these:
Wondering if everything outside my sensory limits actually existed when I wasn’t there or whether it was all purely a creation of my own mind, or if there really is a world right behind me (which I can never see myself since I don’t have eyes on the back of my head);
Wondering about the semiotic significance of the middle finger, and if giving a middle finger to the sky really meant anything, or if God would care (I clearly remember the playground discussion that was had in first grade about this).
I’ve also wondered if having these questions made me some kind of child savant. I’d like to think yes, but I’m sure you’ve had philosophical questions about The Real since childhood, too, such as…
This article in Foreign Affairs reminded me of something that is easily forgotten in our exploration of the ethics of aid and related efforts — that the Marshall Plan (now 50 years since its enactment) was a monumental foreign aid program — and, dare I say, a worthwhile effort. This fact reminds me to be cautious, that it’s rather easy to pile on the myriad aid organizations and U.S. foreign aid strategy without considering the necessity of many forms of aid, even if there are issues that develop with growth.
The three co-authors of this piece all headed the USAID organization during the last 15 years. One of them is J. Brian Atwood, who is now the dean of the Humphrey Institute, which is in our own back yard at the University of Minnesota. Although the authors advocate the U.S. continuing and increasing its role in foreign aid, they are challenging its structure and implementation. Perhaps one of these authors could be interviewed for a follow-up program to our upcoming show with Binyavanga Wainaina.
Nevertheless, what I find intriguing is the struggle that’s occurred after the 2001 terrorist attacks, in which USAID, as the authors see it, and, in broader terms, American foreign aid has been overtaken or assimilated by the Department of Defense and, to a lesser degree, the U.S. State Department. The objectives and skill sets of personnel are so different that it must lead to some dysfunction.
I know there a lot of you readers who have experience in these areas. Care to add some more complexity to the discussion?
Archaeologists in southeastern Turkey have discovered an Iron Age chiseled stone slab that provides the first written evidence in the region that people believed the soul was separate from the body.
University of Chicago researchers will describe the discovery, a testimony created by an Iron Age official that includes an incised image of the man, on Nov. 22-23 at conferences of biblical and Middle Eastern archaeological scholars in Boston.
The Neubauer Expedition of the Oriental Institute at the University of Chicago found the 800-pound basalt stele, 3 feet tall and 2 feet wide, at Zincirli (pronounced “Zin-jeer-lee”), the site of the ancient city of Sam’al. Once the capital of a prosperous kingdom, it is now one of the most important Iron Age sites under excavation.
The stele is the first of its kind to be found intact in its original location, enabling scholars to learn about funerary customs and life in the eighth century B.C. At the time, vast empires emerged in the ancient Middle East, and cultures such as the Israelites and Phoenicians became part of a vibrant mix.
Early this morning, the BBC World Service rebroadcast this CBC documentary about the uniquely American religion of Spiritualism. Lily Dale, a small town in southwestern New York state, was founded by a socially progressive group of Spiritualists in 1879 and is the epicenter for its practitioners.
Wondering what is a Spiritualist? Here’s the town’s definition:
One who believes, as the basis of his or her religion, in the continuity of life and in individual responsibility. Some, but not all, Spiritualists are Mediums and/or Healers. Spiritualists endeavor to find the truth in all things and to live their lives in accordance therewith.
To expand on that definition, Spiritualists believe in a divine power and the afterlife. The dead can be contacted through mediums, individuals given the gift of channeling and contacting these spirits. These spirits are in a state of evolution, and by contacting them, embodied people can gain greater understanding about moral and ethical issues.
If you’ve got 30 minutes, Frank Falk’s doc is worth a listen.
"The main creed that I like to refer to when I think of Vedanta is as Swami Vivekananda said: ‘If you’re a Christian, be a good Christian. If you’re a Muslim, be a good Muslim. If you’re a Hindu, be a good Hindu.’”
This is the comment of 17 year-old Akhil, a young man interviewed as part of a new study released by the Search Institute’s Center for Spiritual Development in Childhood and Adolescence. The study is the first report from an ambitious project reaching across cultures, languages, and traditions to understand how today’s global youth experience and think about their spiritual growth. Focused on advancing the scientific study of this area of human development, the guiding philosophy of the endeavor is that good science is the key to good practice in fostering the formation and growth of spiritual identity.
I attended a presentation of the study results this week, and walked away with increased curiosity about how young people around the world are shaping their spiritual sense of self and the overall importance of that dimension in their lives. The exploratory findings in the report include data from focus groups, interviews, and surveys with youth ages 12–25 across 17 countries from Cameroon to Syria to the United States. Some intriguing points include:
When asked “what does it mean to be spiritual?,” the most common response among youth in all countries was a belief in God. In Cameroon, 4 percent responded that they don’t know or don’t think there is a spiritual dimension to life compared to 28 percent in Australia and 10 percent in the U.S.
Thirty-four percent of youth surveyed indicated they are both religious and spiritual. In focus groups, they talked about the relationships between these two ideas, but their descriptions revealed little consensus. “Spirituality is the search for answers and religion provides the answers” (15-year old female from the UK). “You don’t have to be religious to be spiritual, but you have to be spiritual to be religious” (15-year old Canadian male). In Thailand, this question was not included in the survey because there is no distinction between the two words in the language or culture.
In response to the question “What makes spiritual development easier or harder?” the top response for making it easier was spending time outside or in nature (87%) while the top response for making it harder was experiencing grief, pain, or loss (44%).
Youth surveyed most often nurture spiritual development alone or by helping others. Top-rated activities include reading books, praying or meditating by oneself, and regularly helping people who are in need. Across all countries, family was the most common source of support for young people in their spiritual growth, followed by friends.
A panel of international advisors followed the presentation, providing additional context to the findings. Lori Noguchi of the Chinese-based Badi Foundation commented that there is a remarkable desire among youth in China to explore questions of spirituality when given the opportunity. In Chinese education, there is a strong moral component, but it is often scripted and doesn’t match with young people’s reality — and that creates a crisis for many around spiritual development.
Kelly Dean Schwartz, a Canadian social psychologist, remarked that areas of spiritual development that need much more attention include the role of doubt in adolescent spirituality, the role of arts, media, and technology, and the role of sexuality. He oversaw a focus group of Canadian youth for the study. When he stopped filming the group and tried to take their discussion to a deeper level, that’s when participants opened up more and expressed a connection between sexuality and spiritual development in their lives.
A program on this topic is on our long list. If you have any thoughts or suggestions, please share.
This past weekend, I kept mulling over the content of our recent show, "Getting Revenge and Forgiveness" — especially what Michael McCullough said about how easily parents forgive their children.
I forgive my seven-year-old son every day. … Because he’s an active, inquisitive seven-year-old who sometimes accidentally elbows me in the mouth when we’re cuddling and sometimes puts Crayons on the walls. And yet it seems demeaning to call it forgiveness. … It’s just what you do with your children. You know, you accept their limitations and you move on.
As a father of two toddlers, the thing that amazes me is not how easily parents forgive their children, but how easily children forgive their parents. Every parent I know has had moments of utter exasperation and impatience with their kids that they later regretted. But when our children are little, they have an extraordinary capacity to forgive our mistakes. Krista once wrote about a Hebrew proverb that says “just before a child is born, the angel Gabriel tells her everything — all the secrets of God and the universe. Then he kisses her on the forehead, and she begins to forget it all.” So it seems that, though our children will forget it by adolescence, they are apparently born knowing the secret of forgiveness.
The poet Robyn Sarah sums it up perfectly for me in her poem Nursery, 11:00 p.m. The speaker of the poem describes coming to the end of a day when she’s been a terrible parent, wishing she could apologize for how she behaved, standing over her children as they sleep in their cribs. She likens the forgiving sound of their breathing to a shawl being knitted in the darkness.
How warm it is, I think, how much softer than my deserving.
At the end of each day (or often during), my spouse Shelley and I often talk about articles, blogs, and photographs we’ve read and viewed during work. Her reading anchors me to the world outside of the news and journalism business. In my circles so many times, the news is cited at you — ‘Did you read the article about the Ugandan man in the Times?’ ‘Wasn’t that report on breast cancer on CNN…’ and so on — serving as fodder for a potential story we might cover.
This is as it should be, in some respects, but sometimes I feel like the larger point is lost — relating to others, to people and their joys and their sorrows. On Friday, while we were driving, Shelley told me this story about Eugene Allen and his wife:
They talked about praying to help Barack Obama get to the White House. They’d go vote together. She’d lean on her cane with one hand, and on him with the other, while walking down to the precinct. And she’d get supper going afterward. They’d gone over their Election Day plans more than once.
"Imagine," she said.
"That’s right," he said.
On Monday Helene had a doctor’s appointment. Gene woke and nudged her once, then again. He shuffled around to her side of the bed. He nudged Helene again. He was all alone.
"I woke up and my wife didn’t," he said later.
Some friends and family members rushed over. He wanted to make coffee. They had to shoo the butler out of the kitchen.
The lady whom he married 65 years ago will be buried today.
The butler cast his vote for Obama on Tuesday. He so missed telling his Helene about the black man bound for the Oval Office.
Well, we looked at each other, found ourselves choked up, eyes welling and reaching for each other’s hand, and our two boys in the back seat wondering why their mommy and daddy were sad. Through this story, we truly understood the power of this election and its impact on our sons’ generation. But, as importantly, they’ll know how their parents understood each other more deeply and more personally — all through several paragraphs of a single news story.
Over the past week, I have been collecting songs about revenge and forgiveness that were suggested by our listeners. Spending hours in the MPR (Minnesota Public Radio) music library, I thought not only about the artists and songs that I was looking for, but also about times in my own life were I have felt the sentiment of one of these songs or another. The most meaningful part of going through this music has been the reminder that I am far from alone in fierce rages that I have felt or gentle unclamping as I have let go of past wrongs. I’ve listened to scores of songs and looked across thousands of CDs, all the while thinking about the many ways that we think and talk about revenge or forgiveness. It has been startling to see how these complex sentiments apply themselves to my interactions with friends, family, and, of course, politics.
At the tail end of this project, I can honestly say that my thoughts about both revenge and forgiveness have changed greatly from the time when I set out. Several nights ago, as I received calls and texts from friends and family around the country and the world watching the election results come in and both candidates speak, I thought again about revenge and forgiveness. I cannot describe the spectrum of emotion that I have felt over the course of the past few weeks, and last night it came to a head when a Ghanaian friend called from Abuja, Nigeria where he is training with the BBC. He was weeping. We talked for some time about politics, but also hope and forgiveness, tolerance and revenge. We questioned the fine line separating our emotional responses from events that swirl around us, and the ways in which our gut reaction is often so far from the words that we use or the actions that we make.
As I spoke with my friend, I was glad to have these songs to draw upon as we discussed the many reasons why and how politics become emotional. By the end of the conversation we had agreed that forgiveness was not so different from tolerance, and revenge often like poison ivy — so satisfying to itch, but with each scratch spreading the rash. And politics, like religion, like love, family and so much else, is just a lens through which we see the others, ourselves, the past, our future.
Revenge and forgiveness are words of motion, although the songs that they inspire are emotional snapshots that do not move or change. Like the images in these songs, speaking with someone half way around the world about events that were unfolding in real time was something that I will not easily forget. This political season is not something that I cannot forget. This time in my life, when I am a newcomer in the city of my childhood is something that I do not want to forget. And the ties that we all have to people and events far, far away from ourselves is something that I must not forget ever.
I know that politics can be bitter, and that many people are elated and many disappointed. I also know that my emotional reaction is neither revenge nor forgiveness. It is not tolerance or hope or bitterness. It is still too raw for any of these polished words. It is something that will take time to shape. And eventually it will become polished. And then it will be tarnished. And I will move forward. And everyone will have moved forward. Emotion, events, persons, places, politics do not stand still, and although we may record songs that capture moments, and those songs remind us of this or that time, it is important to remember that everything is now different.
In the original interview for this week’s program "Getting Revenge and Forgiveness," our guest Michael McCullough mentioned the fact that human beings have been telling revenge stories for millennia. In a Greek tragedy like Medea, the main character kills her own children in revenge for her husband’s unfaithfulness. In Shakespeare, the ghost of Hamlet's father tells him, “If thou didst ever thy dear father love— / Revenge his foul and most unnatural murder.” In Death Wish, Charles Bronson goes on an anti-crime rampage after his wife and daughter are attacked by muggers. Why are we so attracted to this plot line?
Michael McCullough argues that, as humans, we are hardwired to want revenge when we are wronged. Brain scans of people contemplating revenge resemble brain scans of people thirsty for a sweet drink. So perhaps there are few better ways to keep people listening to a story, reading a book, or watching a movie than to draw on their biological desire for retribution.
In working on this program, we put together a montage of movie clips to evoke both the appeal of revenge and its consequences. The montage got cut in the editing process — it just didn’t fit the tone of the show — but we thought you might enjoy it on its own. Let us know what movie clips would you have used, and what are your own stories about revenge and forgiveness.
Repossessing Virtue: Rebecca Blank on the Ethics of the Free Market » download(mp3, 7:36) Rob McGinley Myers, Associate Producer
The financial crisis has been a topic at all of our recent staff meetings, and we’ve been looking for different ways to address it. One idea was to begin conversations with thinkers in a variety of fields about the moral implications of what has happened and why. For the first of those conversations, we called up the economist Rebecca Blank, co-author of the book Is The Market Moral? She brings together a faith in the power of markets and her life-long Christian faith, providing a unique ethical perspective on the free market at a time when even Alan Greenspan has been expressing his doubts about it.
Give a listen and let us know what you think. And while you’re at it, share your story of how this crisis is affecting you, what you think the implications are, and where you’re looking for wisdom and strength in this shifting economic landscape.
Via BBC: “Muslim and Vatican officials are holding historic talks in Rome to establish a better inter-faith dialogue and defuse any future tensions.” Religious leaders are working toward solutions, but where are the politicians?