Repossessing Virtue: Prabhu Guptara on Applying Personal Moral Sense to One’s Work Life » download(mp3, 14:33) Trent Gilliss, Online Editor
We’re continuing our exploration of the economic crisis by asking a fairly specific set of questions:”Do you see this as a spiritual and moral crisis?” “Where are you looking now for leadership, for guidance?” As promised, we turned to a financial expert operating within the banking industry, Prabhu Guptara.
Several years ago, Krista spoke with Guptara when the fallout of the Enron scandal was wreaking havoc on the U.S. economy and shaking investor confidence in corporate practices and business fundamentals. His PowerPoint presentation titled "The Gods of Business" resonated with many listeners at the time. His message was simple but challenging, and also quite liberating for much of our audience — bring your personal values into the workplace. For Guptara, doing this is one of the best ways of making ethical decisions that will lead to moral integrity — and less corruption and scandal.
In the coming days, we’ll make available Kate’s interview with medical researcher Dr. Esther Sternberg. Unlike Prabhu Guptara and Martin Marty (listen to his thoughts on trust in uncertain times here), Sternberg doesn’t view this as a moral issue at all, but a biological one. And, we’re in the process of editing Krista’s conversation with Quaker educator Parker Palmer, which will be released via podcast on December 11th.
We’re releasing all of these mp3s for download in our podcast. And, check back here at SOF Observed for future conversations with wise thinkers, including Shane Claiborne.
Also, we’re looking to our readers and listeners for fresh thinking and language about how to talk about the current economic crisis. How has this changed you, your family, your community? And not just financially, but in terms of personal conscience and values? We’d like to hear from you. Tell us your first person story about your experiences.
Part of yesterday’s weekly staff meeting involved content planning for January and February, especially since our producer/coordinator extraordinaire Colleen Scheck will be taking maternity leave during this time. We try to identify people who can speak about potential topics of interest to us; we also try to determine what older programs we might rebroadcast during a certain week.
Our show with Pankaj Mishra has been on the short list for a potential repeat. In the final shakeout, "The Buddha in the World" remained for airing another month. But, with the mass killings in Mumbai, I wondered if this could be a helpful program even if it doesn’t directly address the militant factions who perpetrated these crimes.
In his conversation with Krista, he does provide a historical backdrop for Kashmir — having first traveled to the lush valley as a teenager and returning to the war-torn region as a journalist in 2000:
Mr. Mishra: I hope I made clear in the book how what may seem like completely unrelated journeys like going to Kashmir to find out about the political situation there, to find out about human rights violations there, to find out why 50,000 people have died in the last 10 years there, can be, in any way, related to a book about the Buddha or an exploration or the Buddha’s teachings.
But the fact that it’s these journeys, really, that made me think again about what the Buddha has to tell us today and also made me think, maybe, in more sort of analytical ways, about these assumptions that I, myself, as a journalist had, going into these places. Like when you go into a place like Kashmir, you go into a place like Afghanistan, what you’re really assuming is that what this place needs is a bit of democracy, a bit of, you know, nation-building of the kind we’ve already accomplished back in the West or in a place like India and everything will be fine. But what we don’t really understand is how these societies have lived, not just survived, but lived, even flourished, for centuries and centuries, and how they have arrived at their own particular forms of wisdom, their own particular forms of being together with many, many ethnic components. In the case of Kashmir, several religions coming together, several religions living together for…
Ms. Tippett: And you describe the first time you went there, that it was this incredibly peaceful place, also.
Mr. Mishra: It was, and it has been, I mean, remarkably peaceful for many centuries.
Ms. Tippett: Tranquil.
Mr. Mishra: I mean, the Islam that came to Kashmir was a sort of Sufi-inflected Islam. It was never a fundamentalist Islam. And of course, fundamentalist Islam is also a very, very modern phenomenon, so Kashmir wouldn’t have experienced that anyway. But they have this extremely tolerant variety of Islam there, which coexisted with the pre-existing Hindu and Buddhist traditions there for many centuries. And, once again, you have to ask yourself the question — and, I mean, it’s raising these questions which is important — why is it that Kashmir has become such a violent place in the last 50, 60 years? Why has this tradition, which is known for its great poetry and the beauty of its songs, the beauty of its architecture, why has it produced this horrible violence in the last 50 years? And only then, if you frame the question correctly, would you be able to see how this whole idea that we are going to modernize Kashmir, we are going to make Kashmir part of this new democratic nation-state of India. And, of course, they had a functioning economy. They had a functioning society, and suddenly it’s broken into by these foreign elements. And what do the Kashmiris do after several years? They take up arms. And they are, of course, supported by these radical Islamists in Pakistan and in Afghanistan who are also, in a way, suffering from the set of same phenomena.
Webcast: "Does the Free Market Corrode Moral Character?"
Colleen Scheck, Producer
Today I received an alert about a live Webcast scheduled for tomorrow, December 3rd, that relates to our ongoing exploration of the moral and ethical aspects of the current economic downturn. The John Templeton Foundation (full disclosure: a funder of Speaking of Faith programs on religion and science) is sponsoring a live conversation from London with three contributors to its latest “Big Questions” series, titled "Does the free market corrode moral character?" BBC economics editor Stephanie Flanders will moderate a discussion between economist Jagdish Bhagwati and philosophers John Gray and Bernard-Henri Lévy. Follow this link if you’re interested in listening to the Webcast or hearing the perspectives of other contributors to the series.
On this 20th commemorative World AIDS Day, Rick Warren has convened another forum in which his megachurch honors President George W. Bush and First Lady Laura Bush with the The International Medal of Peace for his work in combating the pandemic of AIDS, particularly in Africa.
The video of the event is playing as I write (I believe a rebroadcast will be available), with the president and his wife exiting the stage — and President-elect Obama speaking via a pre-recorded video. Also, if you’d like more succinct observations, PBS’ Religion & Ethics NewsweeklyPJ Hanley is tweeting about it too, if you’d like more succinct observations.
Repossessing Virtue: Martin Marty on Trust in Uncertain Times » download(mp3, 14:52) Kate Moos, Managing Producer
As many of you know, we are contacting our listeners as well as old friends and guests of the show to ask them a fairly specific set of questions about the economic crisis that continues to rock us day to day, as we wait for a new administration in the White House, new solutions, and for the next shoe to drop. These questions are simple, but they’re also big: “Do you see this as a spiritual and moral crisis?” “Where are you looking now for leadership, for guidance?”
I spoke to Martin Marty, the acclaimed historian and Christian theologian. He’s retired, though honestly he is the busiest retired person I know. But being retired, the recent market chaos is a very real concern for him, and, in this brief conversation, he shares a good deal of his ”lived theology” — the personal, daily acts of faith that preserve sanity and restore trust even at the most uncertain times. The unpretentious wisdom he shares is such a great example of real-life, grounded piety; it gives me hope.
Stay tuned for more coverage on the radio as well. We just completed a fabulous interview with the Quaker educator Parker Palmer on the crisis and how to find our way forward, which will be broadcast in December. Check back here at SOF Observed for similar conversations with medical researcher Dr. Esther Sternberg and international business consultant Prabhu Guptara in the near future.
Also, we’re looking to our readers and listeners for fresh thinking and language about how to talk about the current economic crisis. How has this changed you, your family, your community? And not just financially, but in terms of personal conscience and values? We’d like to hear from you. Tell us your first person story about your experiences.
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.
“The measure of man’s life lies in perfecting the universe.”—
—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).
Over at the Beeb: “It’s World Philosophy Day - an opportunity to contemplate one’s very existence and whether computer monitors really exist.” Check out their four philosophical questions for some mind-bending fun.
Among the philosophical questions I asked myself at a young age, say around age 6, I can recall these:
Wondering if everything outside my sensory limits actually existed when I wasn’t there or whether it was all purely a creation of my own mind, or if there really is a world right behind me (which I can never see myself since I don’t have eyes on the back of my head);
Wondering about the semiotic significance of the middle finger, and if giving a middle finger to the sky really meant anything, or if God would care (I clearly remember the playground discussion that was had in first grade about this).
I’ve also wondered if having these questions made me some kind of child savant. I’d like to think yes, but I’m sure you’ve had philosophical questions about The Real since childhood, too, such as…
This article in Foreign Affairs reminded me of something that is easily forgotten in our exploration of the ethics of aid and related efforts — that the Marshall Plan (now 50 years since its enactment) was a monumental foreign aid program — and, dare I say, a worthwhile effort. This fact reminds me to be cautious, that it’s rather easy to pile on the myriad aid organizations and U.S. foreign aid strategy without considering the necessity of many forms of aid, even if there are issues that develop with growth.
The three co-authors of this piece all headed the USAID organization during the last 15 years. One of them is J. Brian Atwood, who is now the dean of the Humphrey Institute, which is in our own back yard at the University of Minnesota. Although the authors advocate the U.S. continuing and increasing its role in foreign aid, they are challenging its structure and implementation. Perhaps one of these authors could be interviewed for a follow-up program to our upcoming show with Binyavanga Wainaina.
Nevertheless, what I find intriguing is the struggle that’s occurred after the 2001 terrorist attacks, in which USAID, as the authors see it, and, in broader terms, American foreign aid has been overtaken or assimilated by the Department of Defense and, to a lesser degree, the U.S. State Department. The objectives and skill sets of personnel are so different that it must lead to some dysfunction.
I know there a lot of you readers who have experience in these areas. Care to add some more complexity to the discussion?
Archaeologists in southeastern Turkey have discovered an Iron Age chiseled stone slab that provides the first written evidence in the region that people believed the soul was separate from the body.
University of Chicago researchers will describe the discovery, a testimony created by an Iron Age official that includes an incised image of the man, on Nov. 22-23 at conferences of biblical and Middle Eastern archaeological scholars in Boston.
The Neubauer Expedition of the Oriental Institute at the University of Chicago found the 800-pound basalt stele, 3 feet tall and 2 feet wide, at Zincirli (pronounced “Zin-jeer-lee”), the site of the ancient city of Sam’al. Once the capital of a prosperous kingdom, it is now one of the most important Iron Age sites under excavation.
The stele is the first of its kind to be found intact in its original location, enabling scholars to learn about funerary customs and life in the eighth century B.C. At the time, vast empires emerged in the ancient Middle East, and cultures such as the Israelites and Phoenicians became part of a vibrant mix.
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.
"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.
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.
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.
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.
In the original interview for this week’s program "Getting Revenge and Forgiveness," our guest Michael McCullough mentioned the fact that human beings have been telling revenge stories for millennia. In a Greek tragedy like Medea, the main character kills her own children in revenge for her husband’s unfaithfulness. In Shakespeare, the ghost of Hamlet's father tells him, “If thou didst ever thy dear father love— / Revenge his foul and most unnatural murder.” In Death Wish, Charles Bronson goes on an anti-crime rampage after his wife and daughter are attacked by muggers. Why are we so attracted to this plot line?
Michael McCullough argues that, as humans, we are hardwired to want revenge when we are wronged. Brain scans of people contemplating revenge resemble brain scans of people thirsty for a sweet drink. So perhaps there are few better ways to keep people listening to a story, reading a book, or watching a movie than to draw on their biological desire for retribution.
In working on this program, we put together a montage of movie clips to evoke both the appeal of revenge and its consequences. The montage got cut in the editing process — it just didn’t fit the tone of the show — but we thought you might enjoy it on its own. Let us know what movie clips would you have used, and what are your own stories about revenge and forgiveness.
Repossessing Virtue: Rebecca Blank on the Ethics of the Free Market » download(mp3, 7:36) Rob McGinley Myers, Associate Producer
The financial crisis has been a topic at all of our recent staff meetings, and we’ve been looking for different ways to address it. One idea was to begin conversations with thinkers in a variety of fields about the moral implications of what has happened and why. For the first of those conversations, we called up the economist Rebecca Blank, co-author of the book Is The Market Moral? She brings together a faith in the power of markets and her life-long Christian faith, providing a unique ethical perspective on the free market at a time when even Alan Greenspan has been expressing his doubts about it.
Give a listen and let us know what you think. And while you’re at it, share your story of how this crisis is affecting you, what you think the implications are, and where you’re looking for wisdom and strength in this shifting economic landscape.
Via BBC: “Muslim and Vatican officials are holding historic talks in Rome to establish a better inter-faith dialogue and defuse any future tensions.” Religious leaders are working toward solutions, but where are the politicians?
"People like to think of modern human biology, and especially mental biology, as being the result of selections that took place 100,000 years ago," said University of Chicago geneticist Bruce Lahn. "But our research shows that humans are still under selection, not just for things like disease resistance but for cognitive abilities." Lahn recently published the results of a study demonstrating that two key genes connected to brain size are currently under rapid selection in populations throughout the globe. "The jury is still out on what this means because we aren’t entirely sure what these genes do," said Lahn. "It’s possible they just control size and shape of the brain, rather than cognition. But the data is pretty compelling that the brain is evolving." Some radical thinkers suggest human evolution needs to move even faster, with a little help from science.
From the BBC: “Some of the world’s leading Islamic feminists have been gathered in Barcelona for the third International Congress on Islamic Feminism, to discuss the issues women face in the Muslim world. Some of the women taking part in the conference explained the problems in their home countries, and where they hoped to make progress.”
The Final Cut: Omitting the Samaritan Woman’s Story Shiraz Janjua, Associate Producer
Some interesting reactions to the Vashti McKenzie program this past weekend, both positive and negative. This interesting e-mail in particular was mentioned during our Monday morning staff meeting, coming from Kathryn in Davis, California. She mentions a segment around 01:12:00 in the full interview that we cut out of the final production. The segment is about 6 minutes long, and survived through a couple of rounds of edits before it was ultimately cut out.
I am a big fan of this show and admire your talent, Krista. The editing on this particular show disturbed me, however. By her own account, and yours, the essence of Vashti McKenzie is discovered in the the story of Jesus’ encounter with the Samaritan woman at the well. It’s an incredibly profound teaching in the same way that Native American stories are so deeply wise and transformational. (One can understand how Christianity of the mainstream stumbled so badly by failing to understand the meaning of this core teaching. Rev. McKenzie finally gets it right.) And yet, it didn’t make the final cut.
When I look at what did make the cut — the emphasis on the Jeremiah Wright exegesis — and the timing of this interview, it tells me that you used Speaking of Faith and Vashti McKenzie to make an appeal to nervous undecided and conservative voters to support Barack Obama, much like the just released movie about George “W” Bush did.
This is your show, you can do that, and I hope it works. That said, the story of the Samaritan woman holds so much more meaning and value for viewers here and around the world than whether or not undecided voters now might feel a little better about Barack Obama’s Christianity. Rev. McKenzie’s teaching goes both to her core and the central mission of your show. Your rough cut managed to miss the mark on both counts.
There are a couple of things there. The first thing is the apparent support for a candidate. Depending on what we’re covering on a particular week, we often hear from listeners who think we’re supporting this or that political ideology. Just as an example with this program, some listeners suggested that even mentioning Jeremiah Wright at this stage meant we were trying to derail Sen. Obama’s bid. It seems to go with the territory no matter how much editorial rigor we subject a program to, and that’s fine, we’re happy to talk about our process.
But as with most Speaking of Faith programs, we try to contribute something to the conversation in the larger American community. Talking about race in the context of this presidential election might seem cynical, but I don’t know if there’s ever a wrong time to talk about racism.
Maybe the story of the Samaritan woman contributes to that larger conversation in a more enduring way than anything that can be said about the Wright controversy. Rather than reflecting an ulterior motive, this is where the desire to be newsworthy comes in. Krista is talking to someone who is a prominent leader in the African-American community, and who had close ties to Jeremiah Wright. There is a journalistic responsibility to address it openly. To be honest, in the full interview, I detected some reluctance in Bishop McKenzie’s voice as far as talking about the Wright controversy. There is more discussion of the controversy throughout the interview, but we edited a lot of that out because the segment we had in the final program addressed the issue without belaboring it. And there was some thematic redundancy between the story of the Samaritan woman and other parts of the interview. With our eyes on the clock, we make room for some things at the expense of others.
The show itself was meant to act as part of a reflection on how race and gender have been used in this campaign. And when we decide to re-broadcast this show at some future point, it’s highly possible that we swap out the Wright discussion — which will no longer be timely — with the story of the Samaritan woman.
For now, we’re still trying to draw something positive out of the uglier aspects of the campaigns. Bishop McKenzie talks about defining moments. In our public life, we often hear about missed opportunities to turn crises into teachable moments — “transformational” is a word Kathryn uses above. I don’t know, what do you think? Samaritan woman, or Jeremiah Wright reaction? Timely or timeless?
Earlier this week, I wrote about a photograph of a Lubavitch assembly. In response to a comment in our Flickr community, I was doing some research and happened upon a couple of lists about the top 50 most influential rabbis and the top 25 rabbis from the pulpit. Sharon Brous, the Conservative rabbi of IKAR in Los Angeles, from our Days of Awe program was included in both. Not only is she young and vibrant, she’s also one of the few women on these lists. She’s worth paying attention to in the years to come.
Also, Ari (the aforementioned commenter) encouraged us to speak with some Orthodox Jewish voices for future programs. Perhaps Rabbi Schneerson would be a good biographical portrait to pursue. Any other suggestions? (Note, these don’t have to be rabbis.)
OK. I’ll admit it. I’m a lurker in the Jewish blogging community — my favorite being Rachel Barenblat’s smart and always provocative Velveteen Rabbi. In a recent post, she wrote about a friend, Seth Brown, who has translated the Torah into rhyming verse and is releasing one chapter a week on his blog From God to Verse.
For the past five years, writing the annotated guide ("program particulars") meant to complement each week’s broadcast has been a labor of love. I’m not theologically trained, so I wanted to better understand passing references made by Krista and her guests — particularly when it came to quoting sacred texts. The Web is handy, but, it lacks the depth of scriptural translations little known outside seminaries and divinity schools.
Occupants of my desk as I write. (photo: Trent Gilliss)
Aiding my research, Krista and Kate have kindly directed me to translations I wasn’t aware of — everything from M.D. Herter Norton’s rendition of Rilke’s Letters to a Young Poet to A.M. Silbermann’s translation of the Pentateuch with Rashi’s Commentary, from JPS’ Tanakh to Everett Fox’s The Five Books of Moses. Here, I discovered a world of poetic interpretation that surpassed the more literal translations I was familiar with. These translations seem to capture the spirit and cadence of the original language that might evade other versions.
Barenblat cited two phrases from Brown’s work that struck my ear instantly: “when God was creating” and “all wild and waste” from the first chapter of Genesis. The sensibility of the Tanakh and Fox’s translation are distinct. And sure enough, these were two of the four texts that Brown referenced.
The latter phrase is distinctly Fox, “when the earth was wild and waste.” The former stems from a refreshing Jewish perspective. The past is present; God not only created the universe but continues to create today. It’s an ongoing cyclical process:
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—
Although I’ve handed off writing particulars to our younger, more intellectual producers, I still get excited (yes, this job has ruined my street cred with my friends) when I see endeavors like Seth Brown’s. Once you traipse down this path of discovery, you’ll be forever changed.
USA Today has produced a nifty interactive feature in which they’ve taken data from the Pew Forum’s U.S. Religious Landscape Survey and represented it graphically. The “topography of faith” section is a simple map that provides a breakdown of religious and denomination affiliations by state. I scrolled over my home state of North Dakota (yes, I’m a tad bitter that they statistically lumped it together with South Dakota as if it were a territory…) and was surprised to see the large percentage of Evangelical Protestants. And, as you canvas the states, take notice of the gold “unaffiliated” bar.
The section breaking down religious beliefs gives you an integrated comparison of how different faith traditions and denominations within American Christianity responded to specific questions. Tip: use the sort by button.
Some of my interpretive observations about the subtleties of responses:
People are optimistic, or, if you prefer, more willing to believe they’ll be rewarded for their good deeds rather than being punished for their bad acts. More than 74% of the total population believed in a heaven where good people living good lives are rewarded; but 58% of the total population subscribed to the idea of hell where bad, unrepentant people are eternally punished.
Only a majority of Jehovah’s Witnesses (80%) and Mormons (57%) believe their religion is the one true path to eternal life.
One group, the Buddhists, had a simple majority who believed that people should adjust their beliefs and practices in light of new circumstances.
Almost all groups (sans the unaffiliated) pray regularly, with more than three-quarters of Evangelicals, Black Protestants, Mormons, and Jehovah’s Witnesses praying every day.
Less than half of Hindus, Black Protestants, Muslims, Evangelical Protestants, Mormons, and Jehovah’s Witnesses do not accept homosexuality.
Buddhists were the only group who didn’t have a majority believing there are absolute standards for right and wrong.
As part of her trip to Los Angeles to participate in the 2008 Women’s Conference and lead a conversation of L.A. faith leaders at Temple Emanuel of Beverly Hills, Krista was a guest on Tuesday’s Patt Morrison program on KPCC (a regional public affairs program for Southern California Public Radio). Here Krista is the interviewee, responding to questions from Patt Morrison and her audience about such topics as the role of religion in government and society, the politics/religion dynamic in this year’s presidential election, atheists and humanists in the interfaith spectrum, how we think about fundamentalism today, and listening and hearing as important virtues in our religious dialogue. Listen to their 25-minute conversation.
Selecting Audio for "African American. Woman. Leader."
Shiraz Janjua, Associate Producer
I’d like to talk about some of the journalistic, editorial, and aesthetic considerations that go into using audio clips in Speaking of Faith. We’re not a documentary program, so we use clips sparingly to keep the focus on the conversation. When we do use these elements, there are a number of reasons:
To illustrate or cap off a theme that was just discussed by Krista and her guest;
To elaborate on something that was implied in a conversational moment (e.g., a passage in a book written by the guest)
To cover something that was cut from the interview (e.g., part of a question or answer, the explanation of a concept, a reference to some historical event, etc.);
To break up a block of interview that goes on too long; or
To add something worthwhile to an interview that’s been cut relatively short.
We had a couple of needs to satisfy in this program with Vashti McKenzie, and created room for two audio clips. One, we decided, had to be of Bishop McKenzie preaching.
I have to admit that I was breathless after watching her Easter sermon at Trinity. There’s this hypnotic build-up to a series of emotional crescendoes. She’s like an orchestral conductor at work. The most powerful, moving, and provocative parts of her sermon are, inevitably, the ones where she reaches those crescendoes. You can’t take your eyes off her. She’s forceful when she’s up there. And it’s tempting to use a clip of that moment in her sermon to illustrate her style of preaching.
The problem is that to go from an intimate interview with Krista to the middle of a highly emotional sermon is jarring to the ear. Worse still, there’s the danger of taking powerful preaching out of its context, turning it into a sound bite, sensationalizing it, pushing people away from it, and hurting the people who are closest to it. That’s exactly what happened earlier this year with the sermons of Jeremiah Wright. It’s not something we want to contribute to.
Because of time constraints, we are looking for a quick snapshot, but a snapshot that tells a story. I use the word “snapshot” deliberately because of its ties to our journalistic cousin: photojournalism. Is it possible to tell the story of a complex issue in one photograph? Is it possible to capture the essence of a human being in one portrait? Maybe, maybe not. But to stretch the analogy further, think of a great photograph accompanying a great article — sometimes it tells its own story. Sometimes a photo or an image layers itself onto the richness of the text, helping to give it concrete shape.
In various sermons we considered excerpting from, there were positives and negatives. In one, she’s putting out this intense call to a young generation to rise up and be heard, yet ironically her own voice is drowned out by an unfortunate echo, especially during moments of high intensity. Her Easter sermon at Trinity United Church of Christ is powerful, but does it work as well with an outside audience as it does to members of the church? Are there stories that are short enough and self-contained enough to illustrate her socially conscious preaching and her pulpit personality?
We had trouble isolating something like that from that Easter sermon. And really, because it touches upon the Jeremiah Wright controversy (something we delve into in the second half of the program), we couldn’t use it at the end of the first half, where we had some time for a clip.
We needed to cap off the idea of her social activism, and the reference to “merry-go-round agendas” in her National Cathedral sermon seemed like a great fit. Plus, she talks about Moses, who was so important in abolitionist theology. She’s also strong and forceful, and the audio quality is good.
It’s not an exact science, and we do have a lot of back and forth for elements like these, listening to a clip by itself, listening to it with the preceding segment, talking it over, asking ourselves what works and what doesn’t, and going forward until we’re all satisfied that the clip has added something to the interview rather than detract from the Krista Tippett conversation that we all enjoy.
“They are the ones who whispered it on the playground when nobody was looking. If we lose that language, we lose who we are.”—
— Ryan Wilson, referring to tribal elders who were listening to young girls singing in Arapaho.
Trent Gilliss, Online Editor
Wilson, a member of the Oglala Lakota tribe and a board member of the National Indian Education Association, is working with the Northern Arapaho tribe to establish Hinono’ Eitiino’ Oowu’, an Arapaho language immersion school on the Wind River Reservation in northwest Wyoming. Wilson’s words remind me of something David Treuer said to Krista about his tribe’s effort to preserve 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."