Trent Gilliss, online editor
Several years ago when we first produced our biographical program on Reinhold Niebuhr, we did a considerable amount of research trying to verify the source of the Serenity Prayer and arrived at this understanding. Even Reinie himself questioned his inspiration.
For many others, the provenance of the oft-quoted verse remained uncertain, including Fred Shapiro, the Yale librarian who edits The Yale Book of Quotations. Skepticism reigned when it came to attributing the prayer to Niebuhr. But, with one graduate student’s research, Shapiro’s mind has been changed. With no clear-cut originating source, I’m sure most skeptics will never be fully comfortable proclaiming Reinie as the definitive source.
When we were producing this show, I planned on creating a way for people to submit photographs and descriptions of all the creative ways the Serenity Prayer has manifested itself in daily life — from home decor to bumper stickers, from church banners to working mottoes. I ran out of time. Perhaps this is a project worthy of reviving?
Image caption: portrait of theologian Reinhold Niebuhr preaching at Union Theological Seminary. (photo: Gjon Mili//Time Life Pictures/Getty Images)
Colleen Scheck, Producer
During Krista’s interview with this week’s guest, Adele Diamond, she told a story about meeting the Dalai Lama in Dharamsala, India at a Mind and Life Institute dialogue. There, she offered him a gift — a collection of writings from rabbis including Abraham Joshua Heschel, authors Isaac Bashevis Singer and Rachel Naomi Remen, and this passage from Roman Catholic priest and writer Henri Nouwen’s book, The Wounded Healer:
“The man who can articulate the movements of his inner life, who can give names to his varied experiences, need no longer be a victim of himself, but he is able slowly and consistently to remove the obstacles that prevent the spirit from entering.”
Here, Nouwen is addressing ministers, but I read his statement as a potential result of cultivating executive function, things like inhibitory control, working memory, and cognitive flexibility. I find hope in the thought that childhood development focused on fostering executive function and engaging the whole self — through things like dramatic play and deliberate refection — will produce adults who better understand their inner lives and live with greater emotional intelligence, and in doing so remove obstacles to human connection that our culture has built by putting IQ first.
Adele Diamond cites Rabbi Heschel as someone who has strongly influenced her perspective. I’m struck by how she relates Heschel’s practical wisdom and bold notions of faith to how we raise children with strong inner lives. In her conversation with Krista, Adele mentions the following Heschel passage from Between God and Man:
“Deeds set upon ideal goals, deeds performed not with careless ease and routine but in exertion and submission to their ends are stronger than the surprise and attack of caprice. Serving sacred goals may change mean motives. For such deeds are exacting. Whatever our motive may have been prior to the act, the act itself demands undivided attention. Thus the desire for reward is not the driving force of the poet in his creative moments, and the pursuit of pleasure or profit is not the essence of a religious or moral act.
At the moment in which an artist is absorbed in playing a concerto the thought of applause, fame or remuneration is far from his mind. His complete attention, his whole being is involved in the music. Should any extraneous thought enter his mind, it would arrest his concentration and mar the purity of his playing. The reward may have been on his mind when he negotiated with his agent, but during the performance it is the music that claims his complete concentration.
Man’s situation in carrying out a religious or moral deed is similar. Left alone, the soul is subject to caprice. Yet there is power in the deed that purifies desires. It is the act, life itself, that educates the will. The good motive comes into being while doing the good.”
Adele Diamond says this is a wonderful lesson for children, to say “’Just do it. Just do it fully and do it and you’ll get something out of the doing. The act, the doing, is absolutely critical and will transform you.’” Heschel’s name has surfaced of late, both in this week’s program, and in our program “Curiosity Over Assumptions,” and you’ll have a chance to hear our program on the great rabbi again in the coming weeks.
And, rounding out Diamond’s compilations were gems from Rachel Naomi Remen’s writing on the meaning of science in My Grandfather’s Blessings. Here are a few:
“It is possible to study life for many years without knowing life at all. Often things happen that science cannot explain… Science defines life in its own way, but perhaps life is larger than science”
And, she also included this passage:
“Sometimes knowing life requires us to suspend disbelief, to recognize that all our hard-won knowledge may only be provisional and the world may be quite different than we believe it to be.”
And this one too:
“Things happen that science can’t explain, important things that cannot be measured but can be observed, witnessed, known. These things are not replicable. They are impervious to even the best-designed research. All life has in it the dimension of the Unknown; it is a thing forever unfolding. It seems important to consider the possibility that science may have defined life too small.”
by Trent Gilliss, senior editor
Some good clean humor to start the day, direct from one of my favorite comic strips via a tweetmeme.
For those who can’t easily read the word bubbles, a transcript:
Calvin: You know, I don’t think math is a science. I think it’s a religion.
Hobbes: A religion?
Calvin: Yeah. All these equations are like miracles. You take two numbers and when you add them, they magically become one new number! No one can say how it happens. You either believe it or you don’t.
Calvin: This whole book is full of things that have to be accepted on faith! It’s a religion!
Hobbes: And in the public schools no less. Call a lawyer.
Calvin: As a math atheist, I should be excused from this.
Trent Gilliss, online editor
Listen here, live at 7 pm Central! (caveat: you probably won’t hear anything until 10 minutes prior to start time)!
Well, Krista’s in Chicago tonight — and she’ll be on the receiving end of the conversation this time.
Eboo Patel, founder of Interfaith Youth Core, will lead the discussion and will ask Krista about the surprises and discoveries she has made as religion has moved from the sidelines to the forefront of world affairs.
We’d love to hear your comments whether you were seated in the church or are listening from home or the office. Submit your comments here.
(photo: Kate Moos)
by Trent Gilliss, senior editor
There is much to cherish in the latest contribution to the The New York Times’ Modern Love column. And, even as I’m writing this, I’m struggling to commit to a single idea or quote from Kim Barnes’ “That Delicate Membrane, the Heart.”
My first inclination was to publish this “quote post”:
“At the end of our four-hour conversation, he said, ‘Do I want you to publish this book? No, I don’t. Do I think that you should? Yes, I do.’ It was an incredible gift, a moment of grace I had not foreseen.”
At first glance, these two sentences are the sweet hook — gripping and intimate, paradoxical and human. You see, I gravitate toward deeply flawed characters who are difficult and unwieldy. Characters who are hard to like, impenetrable, with a complexity and depth that surfaces in rare moments of redemption.
But, it’s the following passage about Barnes’ father that reminded me of our mission here, that life-altering moments are often informed through faith and a conviction and willingness to submit to that faith. The lesson and true empathy can be learned in the lead-up to these revealing moments:
“We were living in the woods he loved, in the small, isolated community where he worked as a logger and where our family was deeply involved in Pentecostal fundamentalism. As surely as we believed in God and his Heavenly Host, we believed in Lucifer and his legion.
It was during a time of conflict in the congregation that my father was awakened one night by the suddenly cooling air. What he saw in the doorway, he later claimed, was a demon: darkly cloaked, green eyes gleaming, filling the room with its stench.
It was my father’s violent trembling that woke my mother, his quest for enlightenment that led him to lock himself in our makeshift tool shed, fasting and praying, until he heard the voice of God telling him we must leave the woods and never return. And so we did.”
Her father’s decision to move, based on a dream, lays the groundwork for all the events to come and the development of their relationship.
This narrative reminds me of a conversation Krista had with Mel Robeck in a hotel room in downtown Los Angeles a few years ago. He’s a practicing Pentecostal and church historian who told his own version of a vision that came to him in the night:
Prof. Robeck: Well, at that particular time, I had been elected president of the Society for Pentecostal Studies. It was in 1982. And I was really struggling with what to talk about. I was concerned about a particular split between an older group and a younger group of scholars and how they didn’t value one another. And I had been praying and asking God, “Please help me to give a word that will bring some sense of healing in this rift within the society.” And, you know, I was awakened in the middle of the night with Jesus standing at the end of my bed saying to me, “Mel, I want you to talk about ecumenism.” And I said, you know, “Lord, I …
Ms. Tippett: Which is reaching out to other churches.
Prof. Robeck: Yeah. I don’t know anything about this and how is this relevant? You know, I went back to sleep. And He woke me up again with the same words on the same night, saying, “I want you to speak about ecumenism.” And I said, “Lord, you know what our bylaws say. Here I am in the Assemblies of God, and I’m going to get in trouble if I do what You’re asking me to do.” And I went back to sleep. And He woke me up a third time with the same words. And I finally thought, you know what? Here I call myself a minister of the gospel, and if Jesus is asking me to do something, I’d better do it. I mean, this is what I’m supposed to do, huh? And so I said, “Yes.” And I went back to sleep.
I witnessed this exchange in the hotel room and remembering feeling slightly uncomfortable. Why? Mostly my own failings. Being trained to distrust unverifiable narratives like this with supernatural elements, dismiss them as crazy talk.
But we had an editorial discussion about including this story, a deliberation that has had a tremendous impact on me as a professional journalist and a caring being. In this context, it doesn’t matter whether I can verify his story or whether I even believe it to be true. What matters is that Mel Robeck had this experience. Karen Barnes’ father had his experience. And their unique visions were catalysts that prompted them to act, to move forward in a new direction.
These men acted on their instincts and a willingness to step into the breach of the unknown. They set aside a life of certainty and proceeded without a road map, without the knowledge that things would get better, but with hope that circumstances would change. Those are traits I can admire.
(illustration: Christopher Silas Neal/NYT)
Colleen Scheck, Producer
Our hard-working host is traveling this week for speeches she has given in both Salt Lake City, Utah and Fort Collins, Colorado. As part of these trips, she’s done interviews with a few local public radio programs. What I enjoy about listening to these interviews is hearing Krista talk about the history of Speaking of Faith, the approach and scope of the program, and her thoughts on a range of religious and ethical issues. While these are things I’ve heard her say before, each time I hear them anew I am inspired about the work we do.
I recommend her interview with Doug Fabrizio on the KUER program “RadioWest.” They cover broad territory, including Krista’s thoughts on the twentieth anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall, how we handle negative reaction to programs, the relationship between science and religion, perspective on Islam in light of the Fort Hood tragedy, and Mormonism (of course, it’s Salt Lake City!) — and, it includes questions from callers.