“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.
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?