Krista Tippett, host
One of the great figures in public radio, in my mind, is David Isay; and one of the best things on the radio is his project StoryCorps, whose mission is “to honor and celebrate one another’s lives through listening.” This year, StoryCorps has declared November 28, the day after Thanksgiving, as the first National Day of Listening — encouraging all of us to sit down with the people we know, ask them about their lives, and record those conversations.
You’ll find detailed instructions on their Web site for how to do these interviews and why they are important. As David Isay puts it, “By listening closely to one another, we can help illuminate the true character of this nation, reminding us all just how precious each day can be and how truly great it is to be alive.” This project is very much in the spirit of what we do here at Speaking of Faith — so if you give it a try, let us know what happens.
—Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel, as tweeted by Rabbi Aaron Spiegel
Trent Gilliss, Online Editor
Today I viewed hundreds of photos looking for an image that might help convey the critical perspective of Binyavanga Wainaina in our upcoming program on the ethics of aid in Africa, and more specifically Kenya. I was left a bit heavy-hearted. And then I saw this inspiring quote from a new friend in Indianapolis. I can’t thank him enough (and, if you’re interested, he’s got a great recommendation for cigars in Indy).
Trent Gilliss, Online Editor
Early this morning, the BBC World Service rebroadcast this CBC documentary about the uniquely American religion of Spiritualism. Lily Dale, a small town in southwestern New York state, was founded by a socially progressive group of Spiritualists in 1879 and is the epicenter for its practitioners.
Wondering what is a Spiritualist? Here’s the town’s definition:
One who believes, as the basis of his or her religion, in the continuity of life and in individual responsibility. Some, but not all, Spiritualists are Mediums and/or Healers. Spiritualists endeavor to find the truth in all things and to live their lives in accordance therewith.
To expand on that definition, Spiritualists believe in a divine power and the afterlife. The dead can be contacted through mediums, individuals given the gift of channeling and contacting these spirits. These spirits are in a state of evolution, and by contacting them, embodied people can gain greater understanding about moral and ethical issues.
If you’ve got 30 minutes, Frank Falk’s doc is worth a listen.
Colleen Scheck, Producer
“The main creed that I like to refer to when I think of Vedanta is as Swami Vivekananda said: ‘If you’re a Christian, be a good Christian. If you’re a Muslim, be a good Muslim. If you’re a Hindu, be a good Hindu.’”
This is the comment of 17 year-old Akhil, a young man interviewed as part of a new study released by the Search Institute’s Center for Spiritual Development in Childhood and Adolescence. The study is the first report from an ambitious project reaching across cultures, languages, and traditions to understand how today’s global youth experience and think about their spiritual growth. Focused on advancing the scientific study of this area of human development, the guiding philosophy of the endeavor is that good science is the key to good practice in fostering the formation and growth of spiritual identity.
I attended a presentation of the study results this week, and walked away with increased curiosity about how young people around the world are shaping their spiritual sense of self and the overall importance of that dimension in their lives. The exploratory findings in the report include data from focus groups, interviews, and surveys with youth ages 12–25 across 17 countries from Cameroon to Syria to the United States. Some intriguing points include:
- When asked “what does it mean to be spiritual?,” the most common response among youth in all countries was a belief in God. In Cameroon, 4 percent responded that they don’t know or don’t think there is a spiritual dimension to life compared to 28 percent in Australia and 10 percent in the U.S.
- Thirty-four percent of youth surveyed indicated they are both religious and spiritual. In focus groups, they talked about the relationships between these two ideas, but their descriptions revealed little consensus. “Spirituality is the search for answers and religion provides the answers” (15-year old female from the UK). “You don’t have to be religious to be spiritual, but you have to be spiritual to be religious” (15-year old Canadian male). In Thailand, this question was not included in the survey because there is no distinction between the two words in the language or culture.
- In response to the question “What makes spiritual development easier or harder?” the top response for making it easier was spending time outside or in nature (87%) while the top response for making it harder was experiencing grief, pain, or loss (44%).
- Youth surveyed most often nurture spiritual development alone or by helping others. Top-rated activities include reading books, praying or meditating by oneself, and regularly helping people who are in need. Across all countries, family was the most common source of support for young people in their spiritual growth, followed by friends.
A panel of international advisors followed the presentation, providing additional context to the findings. Lori Noguchi of the Chinese-based Badi Foundation commented that there is a remarkable desire among youth in China to explore questions of spirituality when given the opportunity. In Chinese education, there is a strong moral component, but it is often scripted and doesn’t match with young people’s reality — and that creates a crisis for many around spiritual development.
Kelly Dean Schwartz, a Canadian social psychologist, remarked that areas of spiritual development that need much more attention include the role of doubt in adolescent spirituality, the role of arts, media, and technology, and the role of sexuality. He oversaw a focus group of Canadian youth for the study. When he stopped filming the group and tried to take their discussion to a deeper level, that’s when participants opened up more and expressed a connection between sexuality and spiritual development in their lives.
A program on this topic is on our long list. If you have any thoughts or suggestions, please share.
Rob McGinley Myers, Associate Producer
This past weekend, I kept mulling over the content of our recent show, “Getting Revenge and Forgiveness” — especially what Michael McCullough said about how easily parents forgive their children.
I forgive my seven-year-old son every day. … Because he’s an active, inquisitive seven-year-old who sometimes accidentally elbows me in the mouth when we’re cuddling and sometimes puts Crayons on the walls. And yet it seems demeaning to call it forgiveness. … It’s just what you do with your children. You know, you accept their limitations and you move on.
As a father of two toddlers, the thing that amazes me is not how easily parents forgive their children, but how easily children forgive their parents. Every parent I know has had moments of utter exasperation and impatience with their kids that they later regretted. But when our children are little, they have an extraordinary capacity to forgive our mistakes. Krista once wrote about a Hebrew proverb that says “just before a child is born, the angel Gabriel tells her everything — all the secrets of God and the universe. Then he kisses her on the forehead, and she begins to forget it all.” So it seems that, though our children will forget it by adolescence, they are apparently born knowing the secret of forgiveness.
The poet Robyn Sarah sums it up perfectly for me in her poem Nursery, 11:00 p.m. The speaker of the poem describes coming to the end of a day when she’s been a terrible parent, wishing she could apologize for how she behaved, standing over her children as they sleep in their cribs. She likens the forgiving sound of their breathing to a shawl being knitted in the darkness.
How warm it is, I think,
how much softer
than my deserving.
Trent Gilliss, Online Editor
At the end of each day (or often during), my spouse Shelley and I often talk about articles, blogs, and photographs we’ve read and viewed during work. Her reading anchors me to the world outside of the news and journalism business. In my circles so many times, the news is cited at you — ‘Did you read the article about the Ugandan man in the Times?’ ‘Wasn’t that report on breast cancer on CNN…’ and so on — serving as fodder for a potential story we might cover.
This is as it should be, in some respects, but sometimes I feel like the larger point is lost — relating to others, to people and their joys and their sorrows. On Friday, while we were driving, Shelley told me this story about Eugene Allen and his wife:
They talked about praying to help Barack Obama get to the White House. They’d go vote together. She’d lean on her cane with one hand, and on him with the other, while walking down to the precinct. And she’d get supper going afterward. They’d gone over their Election Day plans more than once.
“Imagine,” she said.
“That’s right,” he said.
On Monday Helene had a doctor’s appointment. Gene woke and nudged her once, then again. He shuffled around to her side of the bed. He nudged Helene again. He was all alone.
“I woke up and my wife didn’t,” he said later.
Some friends and family members rushed over. He wanted to make coffee. They had to shoo the butler out of the kitchen.
The lady whom he married 65 years ago will be buried today.
The butler cast his vote for Obama on Tuesday. He so missed telling his Helene about the black man bound for the Oval Office.
Well, we looked at each other, found ourselves choked up, eyes welling and reaching for each other’s hand, and our two boys in the back seat wondering why their mommy and daddy were sad. Through this story, we truly understood the power of this election and its impact on our sons’ generation. But, as importantly, they’ll know how their parents understood each other more deeply and more personally — all through several paragraphs of a single news story.
(photo: Kevin Clark/The Washington Post)
by Amara Hark-Weber, production intern
Over the past week, I have been collecting songs about revenge and forgiveness that were suggested by our listeners. Spending hours in the MPR (Minnesota Public Radio) music library, I thought not only about the artists and songs that I was looking for, but also about times in my own life were I have felt the sentiment of one of these songs or another. The most meaningful part of going through this music has been the reminder that I am far from alone in fierce rages that I have felt or gentle unclamping as I have let go of past wrongs. I’ve listened to scores of songs and looked across thousands of CDs, all the while thinking about the many ways that we think and talk about revenge or forgiveness. It has been startling to see how these complex sentiments apply themselves to my interactions with friends, family, and, of course, politics.
At the tail end of this project, I can honestly say that my thoughts about both revenge and forgiveness have changed greatly from the time when I set out. Several nights ago, as I received calls and texts from friends and family around the country and the world watching the election results come in and both candidates speak, I thought again about revenge and forgiveness. I cannot describe the spectrum of emotion that I have felt over the course of the past few weeks, and last night it came to a head when a Ghanaian friend called from Abuja, Nigeria where he is training with the BBC. He was weeping. We talked for some time about politics, but also hope and forgiveness, tolerance and revenge. We questioned the fine line separating our emotional responses from events that swirl around us, and the ways in which our gut reaction is often so far from the words that we use or the actions that we make.
As I spoke with my friend, I was glad to have these songs to draw upon as we discussed the many reasons why and how politics become emotional. By the end of the conversation we had agreed that forgiveness was not so different from tolerance, and revenge often like poison ivy — so satisfying to itch, but with each scratch spreading the rash. And politics, like religion, like love, family and so much else, is just a lens through which we see the others, ourselves, the past, our future.
Revenge and forgiveness are words of motion, although the songs that they inspire are emotional snapshots that do not move or change. Like the images in these songs, speaking with someone half way around the world about events that were unfolding in real time was something that I will not easily forget. This political season is not something that I cannot forget. This time in my life, when I am a newcomer in the city of my childhood is something that I do not want to forget. And the ties that we all have to people and events far, far away from ourselves is something that I must not forget ever.
I know that politics can be bitter, and that many people are elated and many disappointed. I also know that my emotional reaction is neither revenge nor forgiveness. It is not tolerance or hope or bitterness. It is still too raw for any of these polished words. It is something that will take time to shape. And eventually it will become polished. And then it will be tarnished. And I will move forward. And everyone will have moved forward. Emotion, events, persons, places, politics do not stand still, and although we may record songs that capture moments, and those songs remind us of this or that time, it is important to remember that everything is now different.