“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.
Monday was Yom Kippur and this year I decided to fast. Most of my life I’ve been a fair-weather faster. My immediate family in New Jersey gathers each year for a meal to mark Rosh Hashanah, but Yom Kippur and the breaking of the fast that follows it hasn’t been part of our tradition.
When I moved to Minnesota, I was touched by how Jewish friends — and sometimes strangers — reached out to include me in their holiday gatherings. This year, my colleague Molly asked if I wanted to break the Yom Kippur fast at her parent’s house. She promised there would be a lot of food and she did not disappoint.
Celebrating the Jewish holidays away from home has meant experiencing them anew — with different foods, people, and rituals. I felt motivated to fast this year knowing that, by sundown, I would have a welcoming place to go and break my fast with others who had done the same.
Diamond is interested in how “Executive Function” (EF) skills develop in children’s brains. As I understand it, EF skills reside in the brain’s prefrontal cortex and they help us to stay focused on a task, even when our impulses and other flashy distractions get in the way.
Diamond has studied an early childhood curriculum called Tools of the Mind that uses dramatic play and other techniques to help foster EF skills in young kids. Some researchers, including Diamond, say these EF Skills are better predictors of academic success than IQ scores.
This past weekend, The New York Times Magazine ran a feature article about Tools of the Mind, "Can the Right Kinds of Play Teach Self-Control?" that cites Diamond and her research. The article really helped me to get a better handle on how Tools of the Mind actually works in the classroom, especially how dramatic play teaches children mental focus. As a producer, I get excited when a person or topic we’re covering reveals itself in the popular culture unexpectedly.
Last Wednesday was our “cuts ‘n copy” session for Krista’s interview with Malka Haya Fenyvesi and Aziza Hasan. Fenyvesi and Hasan are co-founders of NewGround, a project that reaches out to members of Jewish and Muslim communities and brings them together for dialogue and “doesn’t shy away from discussing the tough topics such as, identity, gender, pluralism and Israel/Palestine.” One phrase that grabbed me is when Fenyvesi explained that NewGround encourages “curiosity over assumptions” during its dialogue sessions.
(photo: a NewGround session, courtesy of Aziza Hasan)
It’s a common-sense idea: when going into a situation of existing conflict, one’s assumptions are likely to continue feeding that conflict. But curiosity — about other religious traditions, other ways of living, alternative ways of seeing the world — has the potential to span seemingly unbridgeable gaps.
One thing that seems to drive many of us at Speaking of Faith is a shared curiosity, which has taken the show to many unexpected places. Hearing Malka Haya Fenyvesi’s “curiosity over assumptions” was refreshing in its practical value — as a means of bringing people closer together.
"Next to being the children of God our greatest privilege is being the brothers of each other." —Martin Buber
We in the religion world use the word interfaith much too often. And in my opinion, most of what passes for interfaith dialogue is not dialogue at all — it’s a lecture about why I’m right and you’re wrong. It’s not that we’re all religious zealots, but most often the forum for these dialogues are set up to create division rather than civil discourse. Put simply, we’re much better at talking than listening.
I recently had a chance to experience real interfaith dialogue. Butler University students from Hillel, a Jewish student organization, and Muslim Student Alliance decided they wanted to organize a dinner and conversation around Eid and the High Holy Days. The two organizations have collaborated in the past couple years on similar events and have a great working and social relationship.
The students formulated the agenda, which was brilliantly simple — let’s each give the very basics of our holiday and then ask each other questions. Let’s eat together, listen to each other, and ask each other questions.
On the surface, the conversation seemed light and conversational. Yet, the exchange was profound. These young Jews and young Muslims genuinely shared with each other. There was no attempt at making nice; they genuinely liked talking to each other. There were no overt attempts at finding commonality; it was inherent. They recognized the humanity in one another. They learned about, and from, one another in ways that are lasting and powerful. I’m sure it will influence how these young adults see the “other” in their lives. I know it’s influenced mine!
In a few short hours, Krista will be on a plane for the Vancouver Peace Summit, and Mitch and I will meet her on Tuesday for a couple of interviews. One of the Nobel Laureates in attendance, Murray Gell-Mann — the physicist who is credited with discovering, and naming, quarks — declined our request for an interview.
Nevertheless, the introduction to his interview in Discover is a reminder of why this brilliant man is so intriguing: his love of language and the origins of words, of wanting to name things and drawing from literary geniuses like James Joyce in doing so. His innate ability to look at the roots of things translates into all types of new understandings. For the straight science of the subatomic universe, I recommend reading the interview from the beginning, but his answers on the second page address more of the man behind the physicist.
She touches on the irrational supersition evoked by the pop-culture mythology surrounding Voodoo dolls, but also proposes an interesting origin to that mythology from her knowledge of Afro-Cuban religion. And, of course, I’m reminded of our program, Living Vodou, that I appreciate for taking me beyond the mystery and myth of this religion and its symbols.
As the glitz of the Emmys starts to fade, and the cast of 30 Rock laugh and smile all the way back to New York with their third consecutive Best Comedy Series award, I am reminded of our pal Oscar Wilde. The writers for 30 Rock and the late playwright are all masters of wise-cracking, snappy writing and to us impart their brand of wisdom (usually backhanded).
I watched a production of "The Importance of Being Earnest," last week, which had all the puns, double-speak, and plot twists as any of the best modern day sit-coms. In the last scene of the play, Jack finds out that a lie he’s been telling other people for years is actually true and offers this simple act of apology… sort of.
Jack. Gwendolen, it is a terrible thing for a man to find out suddenly that all his life he has been speaking nothing but the truth. Can you forgive me?
Gwendolen. I can. For I feel that you are sure to change.
Jack. My own one!
Chasuble. [To Miss Prism.] Laetitia! [Embraces her]
Miss Prism. [Enthusiastically.] Frederick! At last!
Algernon. Cecily! [Embraces her.] At last!
Jack. Gwendolen! [Embraces her.] At last!
Lady Bracknell. My nephew, you seem to be displaying signs of triviality.
Jack. On the contrary, Aunt Augusta, I’ve now realised for the first time in my life the vital Importance of Being Earnest.
The Details Are in the Tobacco: Preparing for Our Sitting Bull Production
by Nancy Rosenbaum, associate producer
I recently wrote about the research around an upcoming SOF program exploring the spiritual legacy of Sitting Bull. We’ve zeroed in on some possible voices for the show, including Ernie LaPointe (pictured at right), Sitting Bull’s great-grandson. Ernie lives in the Black Hills of South Dakota and Krista will be interviewing him at his home in late October.
One of the reasons why Krista wants to conduct the interview in Ernie’s home is because she’d like him to show her things — photos, relics, memorabilia — that are evocative of Sitting Bull’s memory. I needed to find out what artifacts he has so I asked if he could give me a rundown. But as soon as the word “artifact” tumbled out of my mouth, Ernie said I would need to speak with his wife, Sonja. From what I could understand, Ernie follows the traditional Lakota way, and therefore does not talk casually about people who have passed on.
Ernie’s wife, who is German, explained that when Krista comes in October we’ll need to bring a gift of tobacco. “Not a pound, just a little,” she said. Ernie will use the tobacco as an offering to his ancestors when he asks their permission to discuss their lives and memory. Sonia also mentioned that if anyone on our production team is “on her moon” (in other words, menstruating), Ernie won’t be able to present certain sacred objects. Apparently Ernie has a prayer room in his house with a sign on the door that reads something like: “Do not enter if you are on your moon.”
We’ve already started talking as a production team about the tobacco: How much should we bring? What kind? Should it be presented in a pouch or a tin? As an associate producer for this show, I’ll be following up on on these kinds of details in the weeks to come.
“Beauty is not a luxury. It ennobles our hearts so we can see infinity within ourselves.”— —John O’Donohue, as tweeted by listener Lori Runkle (@ljtheraingirl) after listening to our program, "The Inner Landscape of Beauty," with the late Irish poet and philosopher.
As some of you may remember, back in July several producers from SOF got together with our colleagues from Marketplace, American RadioWorks, and American Public Media to discuss our coverage of climate change in the months leading up to the Copenhagen summit. This gathering came on the heels of an earlier sustainability conference.
I wasn’t able to attend this event in February, but Kate and Mitch and several other colleagues returned from LA repeating the phrase “350 ppm.” They were overwhelmed by Dr. Saul Griffith’s presentation — the science, his personal story, the thresholds and the possible outcomes of surpassing those levels. The more I heard about his talk, the more I wished I could have experienced it first-hand. Verify the persuasive source for myself.
But, now, thanks to O’Reilly, we can attend a free webcast on energy literacy given by the MacArthur fellow (Wednesday, September 23rd at 10am Pacific). I’ll be in the audience. Details are in the link above, and you can sign up too. If you attend, let me know what you’d think. I’m interested in hearing your perspectives on his presentation.
The audio above comes from one of our "Revealing Ramadan" participants, Ibrahim Al-Marashi, who appeared in our podcast and radio program. He’s an Iraqi-American who currently lives and teaches in Spain, and has lived in California (Los Angeles and Monterey) and Turkey. During his interview, he talked about one of the things that attracted him to Spain: La Convivencia. This idea, which translates as “the coexistence,” describes a cultural harmony between Muslims, Jews, and Christians and was first coined when Spain came under Muslim rule beginning in the 8th century. Al-Marashi goes on to talk about his Lebanese-Christian grandmother and his interests in shared Muslim-Jewish-Christian ideas.
The orchestra is made up of young Israelis and Arabs, and Barenboim’s hope is to show how music can bring people together. The idea for the group was born out of Barenboim’s friendship with Edward Said.
Barenboim was first raised in Buenos Aires, the son of Russian Jews, and he began studying piano and giving performances at an early age. His family relocated to Israel 10 years after Barenboim was born, and he was on the conductor’s track before his thirteenth birthday.
Said was born in Palestine before the founding of Israel. His family moved to Egypt after the 1948 Arab-Israeli War. He went on to study at Princeton and Harvard and to teach English and Comparative Literature at Columbia University. He was a prolific writer, and staunch advocate for Palestinian rights. He passed away in 2003.
In addition to his political writing and cultural criticism, Said was a passionate fan of classical music. So much so that he was the classical music critic for The Nation. It was through music that he and Barenboim first bonded. And, it was music that opened a dialogue to their differences. Said and Barenboim knew that coming together — just bringing your ideas to the table to talk — can open a lot of doors. From the orchestra’s Web site:
"Music by itself can, of course, not resolve the Arab-Israeli conflict. Music grants the individual the right and obligation to express himself fully while listening to his neighbour. Based on this notion of equality, cooperation and justice for all, the Orchestra represents an alternative model to the current situation in the Middle East."
(Top photo: Ibrahim Al-Marashi.
Middle photo: Edward Said, left, and Daniel Barenboim, right, chat during an awards ceremony in Oviedo, Spain in 2002. Photo by Pierre-Philippe Marcou/AFP/Getty Images.
Bottom photo: The West-Eastern Divan rehearses at Royal Albert Hall in London for the BBC Proms in 2009. Photo by Oli Scarff/Getty Images.)
The news that Great Britain formally apologized to the mathematician Alan Turing this week about bowled me over. Alan Turing cracked codes for the Allies during WWII, deciphering the Third Reich’s Enigma Code, and, according to some historians, shortening the war considerably. If that were not achievement enough for one life, his broader work in mathematics anticipated the creation of artificial intelligence, computers, and all of the constructs of the information age.
But, in 1952, when he admitted his involvement in a consensual homosexual relationship, he was prosecuted for gross indecency and subjected to chemical castration. Turing killed himself at the age of 41, suffering the effects of his court-ordered, hormone-induced “treatment,” by eating a poisoned apple.
British Prime Minister Gordon Brown this past week called the persecution of Alan Turing “appalling.” It took 50 years and some high-pressure campaigning by the likes of the scientific anti-religionist Richard Dawkins for the acknowledgment to come.
Our program with mathematician Janna Levin entitled, "Mathematics, Purpose, and Truth," explores Turing’s life and legacy as she wrote about it in her brilliant novel A Madman Dreams of Turing Machines, which also fictionalizes the mathematical world of ideas around the life of Kurt Gödel, another scientific genius whose life was tragic in completely different ways.
Levin’s interview with Krista has also left me with one of my all-time favorite SOF aphorisms. “If we were quantum particles,” Levin asserts at one point, “quantum physics would be completely intuitive.” Her fictional take on the life and times of these two great mathematicians is very much worth exploring.
(photo: Alan Turing stands beside the Ferranti Mark 1 Console, the world’s first commercially available general-purpose computer.)
Hi all. We receive a lot of glowing comments and rich stories about the impact of the show on people’s lives. We also get the occasional e-mail from a listener who calls us to task on a particular point (e.g., Why didn’t Krista push Brooks on…) or on covering more minority religions (Zoroastrianism for one) and so on and so forth.
But yesterday this e-mail from a listener in California got passed around (the links are mine):
"You have become increasingly irrevelant lately…..Your program used to have insight and focus in positive directions. The last interesting show to me was when you were mediating the three evangelicals. Everything since then has lost focus and energy.
"Lets hear an interview with Barbara Brown Taylor or that Muslim woman who is trying to increase women’s rights within that religion. Try interviewing some people who have made or are making a difference in society. You used too….Parker Palmer was a great interview, so was Jean Vanier…Do something on Thomas Merton or Henri Nouwen….Let’s hear from some person who is making a difference in the Hindu world….
"All of these esoteric ‘ideas’ you’ve been engaging lately have become impractical and again, just plain boring."
Our production team debates the merits of these types of critiques to varying degrees. One staff member said we should take her comments to heart and consider our show mix. Me, well, people like Merton and Nouwen have been on our big list for a while, along with many others. Maybe we should push for them nearer to the top. But, the “three evangelicals” program with Colson, Boyd, and Claiborne was broadcast 16 months ago! Haven’t we produced any shows that were relevant and practical — and interesting — since that time?”
I have a list that immediately comes to mind. But I’m on the inside. What critiques do you have? Do you agree? We’re here to serve you. Let us have it, but, please, be kind and I promise I won’t bristle.
"If you’re ever having a bad day, go read some listener mail and it will make you feel better." These are the paraphrased words of my colleague Colleen Scheck. And she’s right. Each week we receive inspiring, insightful messages from SOF fans. We do our best to write back. This is one of several ways we interact with you, through words and e-mail, albeit electronically and from a remove.
Lately we’ve heard that some of you have formed your own discussion groups — online and in real time — that delve into the content of the show. A listener in Arizona recently launched a group that meets each week at a local coffee shop, and she’s also getting a conversation going on her blog.
A Quaker listener in southern California is using our Repossessing Virtue series — interviews with people like Rachel Naomi Remen, Joan Chittister, and Parker Palmer — as a platform for discussion with the adult education group at his local Society of Friends. He wrote to us, “…people were grateful for the forum in which to share what was heavy on their hearts.”
Salon participants Muna Noor and Richard Scheele Shane Isaac speak after the event. (photo: Trent Gilliss)
Over the coming year, Krista will be speaking in selected cities across the U.S. as part of a live events series — providing yet another kind of forum where dialogue can happen in real time. As plans for these live events get firmed up, we’ll be sure to let you know the details.
All of this brings me to a question: I wonder about the conversations that you may be having in structured and informal settings that we never hear about. Have others started virtual or real-time discussion groups? If so, we’d love to learn more about how these are taking shape. Also, is there anything we can do to help — or ways you can support each other?
Neil deGrasse Tyson is a name that’s been bandied about the office in the last several weeks as a potential guest. While scanning RSS feeds, one keys in on keywords one may not have paid attention to previously.
In this interview with The Humanist, the popular astrophysicist has some intriguing things to say about beliefs, education, and communication. When asked if he’s a humanist:
I’ve never identified with any movement. I just am what I am and occasionally a movement claims me because there is resonance between my writings and speeches and what they do, and that’s fine; I don’t mind that. But no, I have never been politically or organizationally active in that way. Astrophysics—that’s what I identify with.
I gave a talk to the National Science Teachers Association. That is an important group of people, K-12 educators in science. I asked by show of hands how many people—because I knew it would get an interesting reply—didn’t own a television. Half of the hands went up. Of those who owned a television, I asked how many only occasionally used it to watch a movie, and half of the hands went up. So fully three quarters of that audience whose job it is to teach the next generation science don’t watch television, yet the average American watches thirty or forty hours of television a week. That disconnect is pedagogically fatal.
…and when I say pop culture I don’t mean only the TV shows that are kind of cool and interesting. I also mean the hit shows. I’m talking about Dancing with the Stars. I’m talking about the reality shows most educators thumb their noses at as being of no educational or intellectual value. Yet clearly millions of people watch them every week so there is a disconnect. Once there is a disconnect, you’re not communicating.
On a new atheist’s style of communicating science:
In the category of worst practices, there are occasions where people—either humanist or atheist—are just completely obnoxious in a conversation with others. I even had a tussle with Richard Dawkins (I think it’s my most viewed YouTube clip) in which I accused him of being completely ineffective because he is so sharp of wit in the service of his point of view, and he is so well educated that he may fail to fulfill the directive of his title, which at the time was Professor of the Public Understanding of Science. That implies that your conversation with another person is an act of persuasion in some ways, not hitting them over the head. You want to understand what is going on in another person’s mind and meet them there. Otherwise, you’re not as effective as you could be.
The Australian Broadcasting Company offers a lot of religion programming across multiple formats, so I like to keep an eye on what they’re doing. This week, the television program Compass is replaying a 2008 episode that followed two Muslim families during Ramadan. In light of our Revealing Ramadan project, I enjoyed watching this 30-minute video about how Muslims “down under” experience the holy month:
"Break-Fast At Mobinah’s"
Ramadan, the world-wide Muslim month of fasting and feasting, has begun and Compass follows two families through the most important event on the Islamic calendar. Fadi and his family are Lebanese-Australians who run a busy restaurant. Each day, on empty stomachs, they cook for crowds of ravenous diners who descend after sunset. Mobinah Ahmad and her extended Indian-Australian family work and study through Ramadan, and hope to lose a little weight along the way. The Ahmads also run Sydney’s largest Eid celebration to mark the end of Ramadan. What sustains them through the day when food doesn’t? And how can not eating bring you closer to Allah?
FB Friends Connect a Line from "The Novelist as God," an Islamic Mystic, and Norse Mythology
Raymond Sigrist:...At one point Ms. Mary Doria Russell quotes a character in her book as saying, “I don't need hell to scare me into behaving decently or heaven to bribe me.” ...I suspect this insight must be part of the wisdom which has been written into the collective subconcious mind of all of us. It is remarkably close to the words of the Islamic mystic Rabia: “O Lord if I worship you out of fear of hell, burn me in hell. If I worship you in the hope of paradise, forbid it to me.” Rabia (from Early Islamic Mysticism, Michael Sells, page 163)
Eilan Loveridge:In Norse mythology there is Ragnarok, Destruction of the Gods, where the ruling powers cannot prevent the triumph of evil. Knowing this, they defy the forces of destruction."Victory or defeat have nothing to do with right and wrong, and that even if the universe is controlled beyond redemption by hostile and evil forces, that is not enough to make a hero change sides. In a sense this Northern mythology asks more of people than Christianity does, for it offers them no heaven, no salvation, no reward for virtue except the sombre satisfaction of having done right" ~JRR Tolkien
Over the summer, I’ve been doing research for an upcoming program we’re producing on the spiritual legacy of Sitting Bull. I’ve been on board with Speaking of Faith for under a year and so far, and all the shows I’ve worked on have featured guests who are alive — people like novelist Mary Doria Russell and torture expert Darius Rejali who can speak in the first person about their life and ideas. But this upcoming Sitting Bull show is different. Here we’re trying to find the right voice(s) to illuminate an iconic historical figure. At times I’ve felt like a detective as I’ve sifted through names and followed one lead to the next, keeping my fingers crossed that someone would return my phone calls.
Fortunately I’ve encountered some helpful and responsive guides who’ve helped steer the search. One of those is biographer Bill Yenne, author of Sitting Bull. He was nice enough to take time out of his day recently to answer my questions and offer big-picture advice.
One thing that sticks with me from our conversation is Yenne’s gentle caution about using terms like “spiritual legacy” or “Lakota spirituality” (Sitting Bull was Lakota Sioux) when talking to people — that my understanding of those terms might not translate well across cultures. Honestly, I haven’t resolved this as I’ve reached out to Lakota contacts in South Dakota and beyond. Being an outsider to Lakota culture, I’m still learning to find language that’s respectful and appropriate.
Yenne (pictured here) also advised me to do more listening than talking and to get over a deadline-driven expectation that things are going to come together quickly. He recommended traveling to the Pine Ridge and Standing Rock reservations in South Dakota with a willingness “to sit down and hang out.” And not just hang out but also to give people gifts of tobacco as an offering. He said the legacy of Sitting Bull is complicated and we’re not going to get the story from one person.
Coming out of that conversation I was convinced that Mitch and Trent needed to make their way west to South Dakota with tobacco in hand. But Kate, our sage managing producer, shook me from this reverie. She said the demands of our weekly program couldn’t support such a plan, one that had no guarantee of finding the voices we needed.
So, with that, I regrouped with my colleagues to figure out where to go next. I’ll be sharing more of that journey, including conversations with former SOF guest David Treuer and University of South Dakota law professor Patrice Kunesh in the coming weeks and months. Our plans are still coming together, but, with each conversation, the path forward gets a little bit clearer.
In the past few years, we’ve produced shows for a biographical series, generously funded by the NEH, profiling well-known and lesser-known historical figures: Rumi, Niebuhr, Semple McPherson, Einstein, Heschel, Darwin. Many hours of research and speaking with scholars about these dynamic characters informs our radio and online productions. And each treatment reveals its own journey to that greater understanding.
As we are quickly learning, Sitting Bull’s legacy has many threads, many truths. We want to present you with the varieties we encounter. More than a matter of transparency, reporting what scholars and ancestors of this legacy share and how we wrestle with these dichotomies and mutual understandings is to present an in-depth look at this great man and the complexity of that heritage. And, in the process, we hope to demonstrate our due diligence and the important work of the many scholars who bring Sitting Bull to life.
I’ve asked our production staff to document and share with you, on this blog, what we’re learning about Sitting Bull — and the editorial decisions we make in the process, including what we choose not to do. We’ve done a fair amount of research over the years and delayed production so we could find the right voices that can speak to the themes, the ideas we want to tease out.
Nancy Rosenbaum, our associate producer, was tasked with making this happen and finding those voices. She’s done an admirable job, and we’re well on our way. Look for a series of posts from her (and others) in the coming weeks in which she’ll share more about her conversations with scholars and storytellers and family members.
And, if you have an feedback or recommendations, please leave a comment or contact us. We welcome good advice.
Revealing Ramadan: Samar Jarrah - “Fasting in a Place Like No Other” » download [mp3, 4:28] Trent Gilliss, online editor
One of the more difficult decisions of turning a group of 16 interviews into a limited-run podcast series within 24 hours was deciding who should be the voice to open the first day of Ramadan. Samar Jarrah eloquently captured a sentiment that we heard from many foreign-born Muslims who immigrated to the U.S. — that being a Muslim in America is to practice her faith, to fast, to pray, in a way like she would not have in Kuwait or Jordan or Egypt.
And, she expresses such joy and delight in discovering Islam anew. You can hear it in her tone. She’s still excited, and it’s been 20 years since she moved to the U.S. Hearing her story about rushing back from the Middle East to celebrate Ramadan in her adopted country makes me proud to be an American; but, she also makes me realize how tiring it must be to answer the same questions over and over again — about the veil, Islam as a violent faith, and so on.
We’ll be releasing her complete interview and essay in the coming weeks. Until that time, please enjoy this charming woman and her Ramadan reflection.
So many wonderful Ramadan stories. Only 1 hour of radio. Let them sit + collect dust? No! But what to do… Hmmm… Create a new project: Revealing Ramadan. 1 story per day for the month of Ramadan. And, share your story and images.
Whew! It’s hard to keep up with all the books that get sent to us for consideration. The table in our office fills up quickly each week, and since our territory is “religion, meaning, ethics, and ideas” we get a little bit of everything. Some are good fits, others are too abstract; some come with thoughtful pitches about why the author would be a good guest for us, others have no relevance and I assume come just because we got on some publisher’s mass distribution list.
While we make earnest attempts to plough through these, the reality is we pay attention to program ideas from many diverse sources. But looking at the stack on the table this week made me wonder what summer reads our listeners are enjoying that might be of interest to us. Please tell us — but don’t send us a copy, OK?
For those of you who haven’t gotten to that late July issue in the stack of New Yorkers on your coffee table or just gave up and unsubscribed like me, Krista just clued me in on this satirical commentary by Andy Borowitz.
This series of mock diary entries about Britney’s conjectured conversion to Judaism experience all begin with “Shalom, Diary” until the final entry when she “abandons” the process because the rabbi won’t indulge her points system. Although it can seem a bit mean, Borowitz does get at the whole pop star conversion thing and the faddish tendencies of celebrities. Now, whether this is a publicity stunt or media speculation (based on this photo of her wearing a necklace with a Star of David pendant) to begin, I’ll leave that up to you to decide.
A caution to more sensitive readers: the piece does contain a fair amount of foul language (and an excessive use of exclamation points for dramatic affect *grin*).
Last week I retweeted an article about the booming industry of cosmetic surgery in Saudi Arabia, and whether it’s halal or haram. And then, last night, I watched a roast for the 76-year-old comedian Joan Rivers on Comedy Central. Almost all the comedians focused their acts on her many facial reconstructions and sundry plastic surgeries. Yes, the barbs were brutal, but it jogged my memory about Rabbi A.J. Heschel's words about our growing vanity and narcissism and how it separates us from others, from ourselves, and even from God.
As we focus increasingly on ourselves, who do we leave behind, abandon? Heschel reflects on this in his essay “To Grow in Wisdom,” which was initially delivered at the 1961 White House Conference on Aging (yes, they still occur). It knocked me out in the first several paragraphs, talking about the idolatry of youth and the disregard for the elderly. His words couldn’t have been more prescient, and personally challenging:
"I see the sick and the despised, the defeated and the bitter, the rejected and the lonely. I see them clustered together and alone, clinging to a hope for somebody’s affection that does not come to pass. I hear them pray for the release that comes with death. I see them deprived and forgotten, masters yesterday, outcasts today.
What we owe the old is reverence, but all they ask for is consideration, attention, not to be discarded and forgotten. What they deserve is preference, yet we do not even grant them equality. One father finds it possible to sustain a dozen children, yet a dozen children find it impossible to sustain one father.
Perhaps this is the most distressing aspect of the situation. The care for the old is regarded as an act of charity rather than as a supreme privilege. In the never dying utterance of the Ten Commandments, the God of Israel did not proclaim: Honor Me, Revere Me. He proclaimed instead: Revere your father and your mother. There is no reverence for God without reverence for father and mother.
In Jewish tradition the honor for father and mother is a commandment, the perfect fulfillment of which surpasses the power of man. There is no limit to what one ought to do in carrying out this privilege of devotion. God is invisible, but my mother is His presence….”
Heschel’s book of essays, The Insecurity of Freedom, contain many of these kinds of reflection. It’s a wonderful introduction to his thought and poetic approach to life and faith. If you’ve been wanting to read him but were daunted by The Prophets — or even if you’ve never heard of him before — I highly recommend revisiting his relevant outlook on the society he saw developing before his very eyes.