“One of your colleagues had me in the papers with horns and a tail, red horns and a tail. That’s a sign of the devil. I’m a Christian man. I don’t like those things. I take those things very serious. Those are the kind of things that the fans actually get used to seeing, and actually sometimes influence those people to believe that you are a bad person, that you are like an ogre.”—
—Pedro Martinez, speaking to reporters at Yankee Stadium the day before his debut as the starting pitcher for the Philadelphia Phillies in Game 2 of the World Series.
Last week, I traveled with Krista, Trent, and Mitch for a production trip to the Black Hills in South Dakota. We’ve been planning a program about the spiritual legacy of Sitting Bull for years. Finally the pieces of this production puzzle have started to come together.
After landing in Rapid City, we drove through the snowy Black Hills until we arrived at the cozy home of Sitting Bull’s great-grandson, Ernie LaPointe. As we prepared for this trip, several people (including Ernie’s wife Sonja) advised us to bring him a gift of tobacco. Some of you responded to an earlier blog post, including David Born who once served as chair of the Department of American Indian Studies at the University of Minnesota.
He suggested where to buy the traditional pipe tobacco, or kinnikinnick, and recommended that we wrap it in a red (a sacred color for the Lakota) cotton cloth. What mattered most, he advised, is that Krista should present the tobacco with humbleness, humility, and respect. Here are some notes from our conversation:
"You can let him know that you understand it’s traditional when seeking the advice/wisdom of an elder to present a gift. You want to acknowledge that the information he’ll be sharing is important and sacred and you want to honor that. You can acknowledge your own ignorance about his customs and let him know that you’re not trying to be Native, stereotype Natives, or romanticize them. The gift of the tobacco is a way of both making a request and expressing appreciation — not just of Ernie but of the Lakota nation. What matters most is that the tobacco is given with "a good heart."
A quiet hush descended over Ernie’s living room when Krista formally presented a pouch of tobacco wrapped in red cloth. She spoke quietly and with grace. As I reflect back on this moment, it seems like this singular exchange set the tone for the two-hour interview that unfolded between them — one of respect and intimacy.
This is a personal entry, in the spirit of the "Your Voices, Your Stories" door we open to you each week. I hope my experience will prompt you to share your own stories and reflections.
I’m a melting pot of religious identity: a lapsed Catholic, sometimes agnostic theist, envious of Buddhists, awed naturalist, live-by-the-golden-rule spiritual seeker. I worry that this may be off-putting, but maybe that’s my guilt as a “lapsed” Catholic.
So, this is the identity I brought to the baptism preparation class my husband and I attended a couple months ago at St. Rose of Lima Catholic Church. I also brought with me the wisdom of Rabbi Sandy Sasso from our spirituality of parenting show:
"Don’t let the people who gave you a bad impression of your religious tradition be the only ones to define it. You, too, are a part of that tradition, and you’re not just a descendant, you are also an ancestor, and you helped to create the future of that tradition. So give it a second chance."
We were one of five couples who listened to the priest talk about the evolving theology of limbo, the intended role of godparents, and the significance of baptism. One “couple” was actually a Hispanic mother and her five-year-old daughter, whose baptism was required for her to enter St. Rose’s school.
“What is a sacrament?” the priest asked our class. ”A direct touchpoint with God,” I offered, and then unexpectedly choked up. At that moment, I intensely felt how important it was to me to have my son baptized, to give him a spiritual rite of passage in the tradition I was raised in, to allow him to be touched by God. My emotion surprised me, given the frequently confused spiritual state of mind of my own life. I’m still pondering what it means.
That deep emotion surfaced again a few Sundays ago during Owen’s baptism ceremony. It was held after Mass, and was an intimate gathering of the family and friends of the four souls being baptized: two young babies, my squirmy 10-month old, and the wide-eyed Hispanic girl. We formed a circle around the baptismal font and witnessed each pouring of consecrated water, anointing with oil, lighting of candle, and donning of white bib — all the while offering prayers and blessing to children, parents, and godparents. Owen was curious and innocent. I felt the beauty, gravity, comfort, and joy that comes with ritual.
I wrote a card to Owen that day, trying to articulate why I wanted him to have this experience. I mentioned hoping he’ll embrace a spiritual life, whatever it may be or however he defines it, alongside an intellectual, physical, and emotional life. Knowing he would not read it for many years, I wrote that for me spirituality is about recognizing that there is something greater than ourselves, that life is precious and interconnected — things I want him to recognize in his own way one day.
What I focus on as a result of this ritual, a ritual I was a bit conflicted about, is the place of religious traditions in helping us learn how to care for ourselves and others, and in instructing us how to reflect and how to act. In the card, I told my just-baptized son that I hoped this would be the first of many rites of passage for him that will shape his identity and commemorate his growth.
I asked Trent if I could write about this partly so I can keep evaluating the meaning of this experience and not lose it in the busyness of motherhood and work. But I also wanted to write in order to hear about your experiences of approaching and undergoing rites of passage, religious or otherwise, and how you navigated them for yourself or others?
Krista will be moderating a live, one-hour chat for the Guggenheim Museum’s Forum called The Spiritual (Re)Turn — focusing on the role of spirituality in contemporary art. She will be joined by panelist Louis A. Ruprecht. Please join in and be part of what should be a lively conversation!
But, please do know that it was not without much debate and extensive brainstorming among our entire staff to try to arrive at a title for the work of Aziza Hasan and Malka Haya Fenyvesi. With humility, I share some of the runners-up:
Reimagining Interfaith (blah)
Jewish-Muslim Relationship: The Next Generation (starring Patrick Stewart!)
Us & Them - Engaging the Other in Jewish/Muslim Conversation (blah)
The Next Generation of Interreligious (still a bit Trekky)
The struggle had to do with our attempts to avoid the words “interfaith,” “dialogue,” and “pluralism,” which we felt do not sufficiently carry the meaning and real importance of the work that many are doing around the world. We also didn’t want to invoke images of intergalactic pluralism (still a far off dream, I’m afraid).
Krista even brought up the shortcomings of these terms in the interview. Here is an excerpt from the transcript:
Ms. Tippett: I feel that the word “interfaith” or the adjective “interfaith,” even like the word “pluralism,” these words themselves are kind of safe and benign and maybe even boring. When, in fact, when people really have their hands and lives dug into this stuff, as you do, it’s anything but. I mean, it’s very dramatic. It’s galvanizing. It’s changing human life. Do you think about that, that problem of the words themselves getting in the way of communicating to the larger society, what the power of this is?
Ms. Hasan: Absolutely, and I’m glad you brought that up because, when we first started the program, that’s how I would describe it. I would say, you know, this is an interfaith dialog group, and it just wasn’t deep enough. I mean like I’ve been there, done that. I don’t need to do hugs and hummus. If anything, I want to be part of something that’s real, and so to be able to finally like understand the complexity beneath the surface and the importance of having honest conversations that deal with issues like identity and diversity of opinion and gender and so many other things.
Ms. Fenyvesi: I also think a lot about what one of our Fellows who’s actually a Rabbinical student right now said to me. He said, “I really feel like NewGround is about what it means to be Muslim and Jewish in America today.” So that’s not as short as pluralism or interfaith, but I think there’s something about it that really covers what we do.
So what do you think? What words really capture the importance and essence of this work? Or do the existing defaults — e.g. interfaith, pluralism, dialogue — work just fine?
Reading Darwin’s transmutation notebooks and correspondence with family and colleagues — as well as Krista’s fascinating interview with James Moore — helped me gain a greater appreciation for the complexity of the man, the influential role of the religious and a-religious leanings of his wife and father’s side, and the death of his daughter at such a young age.
From the National Book Foundation’s site:
"Charles Darwin published The Origin of Species, his revolutionary treatise on evolution, in 1859. Even today, the theory of evolution creates tension between the scientific and religious communities. This same debate raged within Darwin himself and played an important part in his marriage: Emma’s faith gave Charles a lot to think about as he on his controversial theory.
This biography of Charles Darwin takes a personal look at the man behind evolutionary theory. His children doubled as scientific specimens, and his wife’s religious convictions made him rethink how the world would receive his ideas. What emerges is a portrait of a brilliant man, a radical science, and a great love.”
If anybody has read this book and has thoughts they’d like to share, I’d enjoy hearing more.
“The traditional view of God the Creator is untenable now.”—
—Professor Ellen van Wolde, an Old Testament scholar at Radboud University in The Netherlands. She claims the first sentence of Genesis is not an accurate translation of the Hebrew verb “bara” in the context of the Bible and other creation stories from Mesopatamia.
Translations of the Bible are debated and challenged all the time. In the case of the Creation story in Genesis, it’s often about the tense of the verb “create” and God’s role in the process that’s up for grabs. In a previous post, I compared three versions:
First, the New Revised Standard Version of the Bible:
In the beginning when God created the heavens and the earth,
And from Fox’s The Five Books of Moses:
At the beginning of God’s creating of the heavens and the earth,
And now from the Tanakh:
When God began to create heaven and earth—
She says that the “bara” should not be translated as “to create” but “to spatially separate.” The impact of such a statement challenges the very notion that God created something out of nothing — and that humankind’s understanding of the story has been wrong for thousands of years.
After we replayed our program with David Treuer last week, we received an interesting story from listener Stephanie Fielding in Uncasville, Connecticut. In the program, Treuer talks about his efforts to help sustain the Ojibwe language:
"What I really love about language revitalization, what is so key to it, is that it’s always been ours and it’s a chance to define ourselves on and in our own terms and in ways that have nothing to do with what’s been taken. We can define ourselves by virtue of what we’ve saved."
Stephanie wrote in about her efforts as a member of the Mohegan tribe to “reclaim and resurrect our language one hundred and one years after that last native speaker died.” I was intrigued by how she also related this mission to another part of her identity — her interest in the Baha’i Faith:
"One of the interesting principles of the faith that brings me to where I am today is the need for a universal auxiliary language. Auxiliary implies that first languages are maintained and the auxiliary language is the helper. Because of this, as the Baha’i Faith spread across the world we have been making it a practice to help preserve the languages in those countries where the Faith was taught. This practice moved me to work as a linguist for our tribe."
About five months ago, we received an e-mail from the deputy editor of a small Spanish magazine, El Ciervo, admiring our work and requesting permission to translate and print some of our interviews. The editor described El Ciervo as a magazine similar to the U.S. Catholic journal Commonweal, but a little “less churchy.”
After working through the standard permissions issues with our legal department, and utilizing the Spanish proofing skills of our Minnesota Public Radio colleague Elizabeth Baier, we were excited to receive their September/October issue that includes the first translation in the “Conversaciones” section (unfortunately, not published online). They selected our program with Jean Vanier, and here’s an example of the Spanish and English of one of my favorite passages from that program:
Mi experiencia hoy es el descubrimiento de lo vulnerable que es Dios. Dios es tan respetuoso con nuestra libertad. En el evangelio de Juan se dice que Dios es amor, y cualquiera que haya amado en su vida sabe cómo se vuelve vulnerable. ¿Dónde estás tú y la otra persona, y me querrá igual que yo? Así que si Dios es amor, significa que es terriblemente vulnerable. Dios no quiere entrar en una relación en la que Él o Ella nos obliga a hacer algo. Hay un texto muy hermoso en el Apocalipsis, el Libro de las Revelaciones: ‘Estoy ante la puerta y llamo. Si alguien me oye y abre, entraré’. Lo que me conmueve es Dios que llama a la puerta, no tira la puerta abajo, sino que espera. ¿Abrirías? ¿Me oyes? Vivimos en un mundo donde hay tantas cosas en nuestras cabezas y corazones, tanta ansiedad y proyectos, que no oímos a Dios que llama a la puerta. Lo que me emociona más, quizá porque me vuelvo más vulnerable, es descubrir la vulnerabilidad de Dios, que no obliga.
My experience today is much more the discovery of how vulnerable God is. You see, God is so respectful of our freedom. And if, as the Epistle of John says, that God is love, anyone who has loved in their life knows they’ve become vulnerable. Where are you and the other person and do you love me back? So if God is love, it means that God is terribly vulnerable. And God doesn’t want to enter into a relationship where He’s obliging or She is obliging us to do something. The beautiful text in the Apocalypse, the Book of Revelations: “I stand at the door and I knock. If somebody hears me and opens the door, then I will enter.” What touches me there is God knocking at the door, not kicking the door down, but waiting. Do you, will you open? Do you hear me? Because we’re in a world where there’s so much going on in our heads and our hearts and anxiety and projects that we don’t hear God knocking at the door of our hearts. So I’d say that what touches me the deepest, maybe because I’m becoming myself more vulnerable, is the discovery of the vulnerability of God, who doesn’t oblige.
“Art ‘which is only a child of the age and cannot become a mother of the future is barren art.’”—
—Vasily Kandinsky, from Concerning the Spiritual in Art (translated by M.T.H. Sadler).
This is one of the quotes Krista is using in preparing for her role as moderator of The Guggenheim Museum’s online forum called "The Spiritual (Re)Turn" taking place this October. Kandinsky believed that there should be a union of art and spiritual thought. This advocacy will be used as an entry point to talking about larger issues of spirituality in the contemporary art world, and what it all means.
The events take place October 19-23, 2009, culminating in a live, one-hour chat on Thursday, October 22 starting at 2 pm Eastern, with panelists:
Huma Bhabha Artist Huma Bhabha earned a BFA from Rhode Island School of Design and an MFA from Columbia University. She was awarded the 2008 Emerging Artist Award from the Aldrich Museum of Art. Her work has recently appeared in After Nature at the New Museum, New York, and in the 7th Gwangju Biennial, Gwangju, South Korea (both 2008).
Louis A. Ruprecht Jr. Louis A. Ruprecht Jr. is William M. Suttles Chair of Religious Studies at Georgia State University. The author of six books and a staff writer for the online magazine Religion Dispatches, Ruprecht is currently researching the role of religion in the development of the modern museum.
Mark C. Taylor Mark C. Taylor is Chair of the Department of Religion and co-director of the Institute for Religion, Culture and Public Life at Columbia University. He is the author of more than twenty-five books, several of which are on art and architecture.
“So when you give someone a name, you’re giving them part of your soul. And when you accept a name, you’re both accepting the soul given and you’re giving part of your own. So you’re connected in ways that are profound and meaningful and communicated by the very word which the English translation ‘namesake’ doesn’t really cover.”—
I’m intrigued by the wildfire surrounding Dan Brown’s new novel. Frugal people I know who detest buying hardcover books have already purchased The Lost Symbol, have finished reading it, and are now wondering what hairstyle Tom Hanks will sport in the movie version. Even our own host — among illness, travel, multiple interviews, and other production duties — already has read it. Much to her surprise, she sent an enthusiastic e-mail to staff about the book saying we should consider a program on noetics, which she said is not uninteresting, just never well articulated beyond stereotypical New Age speak.
Confession: I never read The Da Vinci Code or Angels & Demons, nor did I see the movies (I know, appalling), but I still enjoyed our program, "Deciphering The Da Vinci Code" with Luke Timothy Johnson and Bernadette Brooten, for its exploration of early Christianity that helps put Brown’s suspenseful mix of fact and fiction in perspective. The History major in me feels the authors of historical fiction have a cultural duty to get it right, even while employing artistic and dramatic license.
A Prince Hall Freemasons sign in Atlanta, Georgia. (photo: Erica Joy/Flickr)
While I ponder picking up my husband’s copy of The Lost Symbol, I’ve kept an eye out for similar thoughtful context for this latest popular culture phenomenon. This week I found an example in an article by Samuel Biagetti. A Columbia grad student in American history, Biagetti studies Freemasonry and uses his academic expertise to evaluate Brown’s treatment of this mysterious movement that is central to the founding lore of the United States. “However naive the novel may be,” he writes, “it testifies to the myths that helped to make the modern world, myths in which Brown places zealous faith. In so doing, it reads like a love letter to Masonry.”
If you’re one of the bazillions enjoying The Lost Symbol, I think his article will help keep you grounded while you enjoy Brown’s clandestine world of Masonic secrets.