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)
Me again, with another update on the many adventures of Krista Tippett this month. Last week, Krista traveled to Chicago for a live event at Fourth Presbyterian Church. Here, the tables were turned as Interfaith Youth Core’s Eboo Patel asked Krista questions about the program and about religious religion and ethics in our time. Our events coordinator and her daughter sat at their kitchen table in Minneapolis listening to the online stream provided by our station partner, WBEZ, and wrote the next day:
"Wow…My daughter and I were the listeners at the kitchen table Eboo described, and we loved every minute of it….This broadcast was good radio. Highlights: hearing a city’s sirens in the background during Adam’s intro, really feeling the audience’s attentiveness, Eboo mentioning Wilco, and quoting Tony Campolo, who is quoting Huck Finn about being right in the heart vs. right in the head, Krista’s senstive answer to the Fort Hood question, Krista’s explanation of verse plucking, spiritual technologies and the body, Eboo praising Speaking of Faith as creating a ‘community of discourse.’ Great interview, great Q&A….”
We’re pleased to bring you the audio of that event for your kitchen table (or podcast while you workout) listening. And, for those of you who prefer a Twitter recap, direct from our managing producer, who attended in person:
Krista and Kate are in Chi-town for event—7PM, Monday, 4th Church, w/Eboo Patel. Come! Windy here. Oh yeah. The Windy City. KM 8:38 PM Nov 15th
I recently caught up with dharma teacher Cheri Maples, who appeared in our 2003 program "Brother Thay: A Radio Pilgrimage with Thich Nhat Hahn." Back then, Maples was a police captain (later an assistant attorney general) in Madison, Wisconsin. She spoke with Krista about what it means to be a compassionate cop who practices mindfulness awareness on the job.
We’ve re-aired “Brother Thay” seven times (!) since its inaugural broadcast, and noticed that people consistently resonate with Maples and her personal story. Maples was in town recently to deliver a dharma talk (PDF) so I decided to go and see what’s changed in her life since she and Krista last spoke.
Maples reflected on the surprising ways in which her life changed course after she accepted an invitation from Thich Nhat Hahn to travel together to Vietnam in 2007. The following year, the Zen master formally ordained her as a dharma teacher through a ceremony called "The Transmission of the Lamp." She is no longer employed by the state, but she’s still involved with the criminal justice system through a new organization she co-founded called The Center for Mindfulness and Justice.
Maples drew a standing-room only crowd for her dharma talk that evening. She spoke about gratitude, joy, wonder, tenderness, and mystery. Here’s something I jotted down that stuck with me: “The hell in your life is the compost of your enlightenment.”
It’s always interesting to see what kind of response our audience has to our programs. We’ve received very strong response to this week’s show with Adele Diamond. I think it’s the practical and universal nature of her area of work that is the spark this time. For those of you wanting to know more, Adele organizes an annual conference centered on relating brain research like hers to education and human development.
The conference is not geared toward scientists, but toward people who work with children in many different ways. As Adele described it to me, “This takes the research out of the ivory tower and addresses how it applies to what people do.”
Here’s an interesting article by Dahlia Lithwick in Newsweek on David Hamilton. Hamilton, Obama’s first judicial nominee, came under fire for writing that “Allah” may be the best way to refer to God in “non-sectarian” prayers:
"In a post-judgment order, Hamilton also wrote that the ‘Arabic word ‘Allah” is used for ‘God’ in Arabic translations of Jewish and Christian scriptures" and that ‘Allah’ was closer to ‘the Spanish Dios, the German Gott, the French Dieu, the Swedish Gud, the Greek Theos, the Hebrew Elohim, the Italian Dio, or any other language’s terms in addressing the God who is the focus of the non-sectarian prayers’ than Jesus Christ. Hamilton, himself a Christian, also added that ‘if and when the prayer practices in the Indiana House of Representatives ever seem to be advancing Islam, an appropriate party can bring the problem to the attention of this or another court.’"
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."
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:
First frame Calvin: You know, I don’t think math is a science. I think it’s a religion. Hobbes: A religion?
Second frame 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.
Third frame Calvin: This whole book is full of things that have to be accepted on faith! It’s a religion!
Fourth frame Hobbes: And in the public schools no less. Call a lawyer. Calvin: As a math atheist, I should be excused from this.
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.
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.
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.
Last week I wrote about Karen Armstrong’s “Charter for Compassion,” and I ended my post with the question: “Will anyone notice?” It appears my question has been answered. When I went to check the Web site earlier today, it was down, presumably because of a spike in traffic. If the link above isn’t working, you can have a look at the charter on TED’s site.
A student at the University of Utah gives this lovely recap and personal insights into Krista’s conversation with faculty and classmates yesterday — before she delivered the McMurrin Lecture on Religion and Culture at the Salt Lake City public library that evening.
Here’s a fascinating case of modern law meets 5000-year-old religious tradition. At the end of October, the British Supreme Court decided that — in the case of accepting applicants to a Jewish high school — observance, not ethnicity, should be used in determining admissions. From Sarah Lyall’s New York Times write-up on the ruling:
"In an explosive decision, the court concluded that basing school admissions on a classic test of Judaism — whether one’s mother is Jewish — was by definition discriminatory. Whether the rationale was ‘benign or malignant, theological or supremacist,’ the court wrote, ‘makes it no less and no more unlawful.’"
The article refers to the Jewish principle of matrilineal descent, which we recently heard about on SOF Observed. In the post, we included StoryCorps audio of two friends — Sarah Kelman and Joanna Schochet, who says, “We’re both halfies. By the book I don’t count.”
Echoes of the Golden Rule Nancy Rosenbaum, associate producer
I get a charge out of noticing subtle connections between the many different conversations we bring to the airwaves and webwaves each week. This happened recently as I was prepping two upcoming programs: one with author and scholar Karen Armstrong, the other featuring developmental cognitive neuroscientist Adele Diamond.
Both Armstrong and Diamond discuss Rabbi Hillel and The Golden Rule in their conversations with Krista, but they come at this story from slightly different directions. For Armstrong (download mp3 of audio above), who grew up Catholic and once lived as a nun, Hillel’s words opened up new doors of thought about compassionate action as an expression of religious faith.
Adele Diamond — who was raised in a religious Jewish home and says that Judaism is an important part of her identity — has a different take on the Hillel story. As Diamond sees it, Hillel’s injunction to “do no harm” doesn’t go far enough. She’s inspired by Jesus’ words from the Gospel of Luke: “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.”
While Armstrong and Diamond have different reactions to the same story, both seem to draw kindred inspiration about the importance of living and acting with compassion.
Am I more aware of my neighbor when I’m in a bad mood? The power of negative thought amidst all these wonderful discussions about happiness and living in the present somehow makes me feel a little bit better, a tad more human.
Laskas focuses on the human toll of those forgotten players who suffer in solitude, the ethic of a multi-billion dollar industry who buries its head in the sand, and the fight of an outlier to seek truth according to his personal morality and his religious convictions. Laskas’ article is a blue-collar testimony to great journalism. She puts the human being and the moral dilemma at the center of the story, which, I hope, moves powerful interests to act for the good of those former NFL players who are suffering and have little means to live the rest of their days in relative comfort.
“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.