Whistleblowers, Resistors, and Defectors Nancy Rosenbaum, Associate Producer
As I continued to do research for our upcoming program, “The Long Shadow of Torture,” I discovered an Australian public radio documentary that follows up with some of the original participants in Stanley Milgram’s famous obedience experiments from the 1960s. In those experiments, participants were instructed to deliver increasingly intense electric shocks to a 50-something man whenever he answered a word problem incorrectly. Milgram, a social psychologist at Yale University, wanted to see how far ordinary citizens would go in inflicting harm on another person while under direction from an authority figure. What the participants didn’t know is that the whole experiment was rigged — the electroshock machine was a fake and the man receiving the shocks was an actor.
Milgram discovered that under the right social conditions many people will go along with what they’re told to do. One of the people who resisted during the Milgram experiment was WWII veteran and Communist Party activist Joseph Dimow. In his 2008 interview, Dimow says that being persecuted for his involvement with “the CP” gave him “the grit” to challenge authority. But he also wonders about the choices he might have made if the Communist Party had ordered him to things that were similarly harmful. Would he have complied out of a desire to belong and be accepted by the group? In the audio clip above, he contemplates these questions in his own words.
In Krista’s interview with Darius Rejali, he mentions Sgt. Joseph Darby (pictured above), the whistleblower who notified Army Criminal Investigation Command about detainee abuse at Abu Ghraib. Rejali says it’s hard to know what moved him. In 2005 Darby received a JFK Profile in Courage Award. Here is an excerpt from his acceptance speech:
I’d like to tell you a small story. When we first entered the country of Iraq, crossing from Kuwait to Iraq, there’s a half mile of no man’s land, a barren desert with no moving vehicles, no people, no life. As we crossed that, I can honestly tell you today that I could not remember why I had left my wife and my family. And I did not know what waited for me on the other side.
But a few weeks later in Hillah, I had an experience that changed that. Our patrol was approached by a small group of children. And a small, unbathed girl around seven in a one-piece dress came and tugged on my uniform and said, “Mister, give me food.”
As I looked into her eyes, my doubt evaporated. I knew why we were there and I knew that we had to be there. And I knew that while we were there, we represented something larger than ourselves. We represented our country, its values, its principles, its morals.
Six months later, I was faced with the toughest decision. On one hand, I had my morals and the morals of my country. On the other, I had my comrades, my brothers in arms.
Today, for the first time since I’ve returned home, I am able to stand here publicly and be proud of my decisions to put the values of my country and its reputation ahead of everything else.
Recently, Krista sent around an e-mail saying she wanted to look into Darius Rejali as a possible show guest to explore the topic of torture. I was about to fire up Google when I realized I was already familiar with Rejali’s voice and ideas. Last year I worked on an American RadioWorks documentary called "What Killed Sergeant Gray" about Iraq veterans who’ve been psychologically devastated by their experiences with detainee abuse. Rejali was tapped as a voice for the program.
In that interview, as well as in his more recent conversation with Krista, I found myself drawn to his discussion of when and why people resist the group-think pressure to go along with what Rejali calls a “torture bureaucracy.” Rejali says that while these resistors haven’t been formally studied, they do seem to have in common an affiliation with a belief system — whether it’s derived from their family, religion, or a political party — that conflicts with whatever the torture bureaucracy is telling them to do.
Above is some audio from the unedited interview from the documentary in which Rejali talks more about these conflicts. Here, Rejali makes reference to French soldiers who refused to perpetrate torture during the French-Algerian war in the 1950s and early 60s. He also mentions social science experiments that would be illegal today but have taught us about the power of social situations in determining people’s propensity to obey or defy authority — specifically the famous Milgram obedience study. We decided to use some audio from the these experiments in our upcoming show.
*Thanks to American RadioWorks for permission to use this source audio and Michael Montgomery, Joshua Phillips, and Catherine Winter.
A Brief Musical Interlude Trent Gilliss, online editor
Working on a show about torture can make one grave, as it should. As I was conferring with Nancy on a couple of upcoming blog posts on the subject, I saw a fellow Tumblr and fan of the show post this delightful tune. It brought a shimmy to my legs and reminded me of the pleasure of doing this work, and of ritual.
So I’m reblogging Nathan’s post and sharing it with you for the lunchtime hour:
A Guest with a Personal Interest in the Torture Debate » download (mp3, 1:00) Trent Gilliss, online editor
As we look for guests for each show, we seek authoritative voices who not only have the expertise to speak about delicate subjects but a personal investment in that subject as well. In this week’s show, “The Long Shadow of Torture” (available via podcast on June 11), we found that voice — Darius Rejali, a professor of Political Science at Reed College in Portland, Oregon.
He’s written several books on the topic of violence and torture, including Torture and Modernity: Self, Society and State in Modern Iran and, most recently, Torture and Democracy. In the preface to the latter, Rejali writes about his personal stake on this subject:
Perhaps as a child, I was more disposed to thinking differently about violence than others. My relation to violence was more intimate. On my Iranian side, royal autocrats in my family had no difficulty ordering torture or genocide when it served their interests. Stories of their deeds are, to say the least, unforgettable. On my American side, we remember General Sherman’s march through Georgia. In September 1864, as cannons shelled Atlanta, my ancestor, Harriet Yarbrough, dug a hole in a bank and hid there with her two children. Afterward, she was one of 446 families who stayed behind; she had opposed the war passionately from the outset, but when Union soldiers destroyed the Yarbrough home for firewood, that was the last straw. Undaunted by the situation in which she found herself, she went to find Sherman and unleashed all her fury at him. It did no good, and the site of her home is now part of Olympic Park. She filed for reimbursement from the War Department, and pursued the claim until 1891. She never forgot.
Being an Iranian aristocrat — American Southerner, a Shiite Muslim — Calvinist with a keen sense of history, presents unique intellectual and moral challenges. If you had told me early in childhood that I would write a book on Iranian torture — as I did — I would not have believed you. And I am just as surprised, I think, that this new book is also on torture.
But it seems my family’s tales of the dark side of human life have put me in a good position to understand where we find ourselves today. Exactly a hundred years ago, my Iranian great-grandfather fought to defend his autocratic way of life. He did not hesitate to turn cannons on crowds or torture people he considered terrorists and anarchists. His opponents said, there you see, his way of life is a sham, and these people disguise barbaric force behind high-minded talk of honorable values. And who was to say they were wrong? For if honorable men cannot fight fairly and win, who on earth are they, and what do they represent? In the end no one, except a handful of sycophants, mourned the passing of his way of life.
A hundred years later, believers in democracy seem to be ready to make the same mistake as my autocratic ancestor, and I am here to urge them not to. I hope I have written a story that makes us take a second look at ourselves as we enter a new century primed to treat our enemies inhumanely.
A few days ago, a “Speaking of Faith” Google alert highlighted Kaye Thompson’s blog entry about her first year in Lesotho, Africa. Her reflections on serving in the Peace Corps is refreshing, honest, and vulnerable. I appreciate that. And, I found her description of cooperation among medical professionals and local healers hopeful and inspiring:
I helped my clinic sponsor a day- long meeting between the traditional healers of the area (35 came) and the clinic staff. Because the head of the clinic is a wise and open-minded nurse, she stayed out of any judgment towards the healers and honest sharing was encouraged. The healers come from a variety of traditions to include intuitive healers, those that speak with the ancestors, those that have apprenticeships with other healers, and those that go to a program to receive more formalized training. They work with dreams, herbs, spirits and prayers. Unfortunately some of the practices are harmful and impede healing with Western medecines. The healers spoke of their feelings of being marginalized by the medical community, their belief that they can cure AIDS, their wish to be able to work more collaboratively with the clinic, and an overall sense of relief that these two communities were finally in dialogue. It was a huge success with hopes for a repeat in the future.
We’ve begun a new First Person initiative asking Muslims to share their perspectives for a project we’ll be working on during the coming months. We pay a lot of attention to the wording and phrasing of invitations like this because we want it to be generous and open-ended but maintain a focus. We also want to do something special, something inherent to the sensibilities of Speaking of Faith.
For this call-out, the phrase “the Muslim world” came up in initial drafts — which made me uneasy because of the broad brush implications. This article from Foreign Policy reminded me of why I became uncomfortable when the phrase was suggested:
To see the trouble with the term “Muslim world,” one needs only to try and define it. Who is included in the Muslim world? What countries — or individuals — make the cut, and who defines it?
"Muslim world" unfairly and singularly assigns adherents of Islam into a figurative ghetto. And particularly in the post-September 11, this relegation carries a real moral hazard: By lumping together extremists, secularists, and everyone in between, the term "Muslim world" legitimizes the idea that all of the group’s members are locked in deadly conflict with the non-Islamic world.
If you are Muslim, we’d like to understand more about the complexity and diversity of your personal and cultural expression of Muslim identity. What does being Muslim mean to you? What do you find beautiful about Islam and how does this find expression in your daily life? What hopes questions and fears are on your mind as you ponder the future of your tradition? Share your stories and images with us.
This report from Daily News Egypt provides a variety of views and perspectives about President Obama choosing Cairo University as the location for tomorrow’s speech. It gives you a sense of the dialogue happening on the ground — and the difficulty of choosing one place over another to give a seminal speech.
I can’t read Arabic, but if you have other interesting articles with an international perspective that you’d recommend, point me in the right direction. Or, better yet, paste the URLs for the Arabic-language pieces and I’ll see what sense I can make of them through Google Translate.
Repossessing Virtue: Chery Cutler on the Art and Practice of Improvisation » download(mp3, 16:11) Nancy Rosenbaum, Associate Producer
I love to dance. After spending my work week plugged into screens, headphones, and all things Microsoft Outlook, I seek spirit and solace in movement. Most Saturdays you’ll find me sweating it out at an African dance class in downtown Minneapolis.
In April I traveled to the Pacific Northwest to participate in a weekend-long improvisational dance workshop on Vashon Island, near Seattle. To call it a dance workshop is actually something of a misnomer. I and my fellow improvisers weren’t there to perfect our dance technique. Our charge was to learn to listen without fear — or put differently, to practice the art of “creative listening” which is to pay attention to whatever is happening in the present moment of an unscripted dance. I think that Jon Kabat-Zinn would give it a thumb’s up.
I was so jazzed by the experience of the workshop that a few days after I got back I decided to interview one of the facilitators, dance veteran Chery Cutler. In a book she co-authored, Creative Listening: Overcoming Fear in Life & Work, Chery describes creative listening as “learning to quiet fear and listen three-dimensionally — to one’s own inner voice, to others, and to the environment…”
Slight in stature but super-sized in spirit, Chery is now retired from Wesleyan University where she founded the dance department and worked as a professor for over three decades. She recently told me that past SOF guest Majora Carter took her class back in the day.
So much of what Chery says about improvisation and creative listening echoes the conversations we’ve been having as part of our Repossessing Virtue project. She calls this moment of economic collapse “an extremely exciting time” that has the potential to unleash creativity if we can just stop, listen, and resist the urge to willfully dance to the beat of our pesky fear-driven agendas.
We recently wrapped production on Living Differently, Beyond Economic Crisis — the latest installment in our Repossessing Virtue series. This program features the reflections of eight SOF listeners and scores of others online. Soon we’ll be posting more audio interviews to fatten the growing RV archive. I think this conversation with Chery makes for a nice addition to this growing chorus of voices. Let me know what you think.
[I’ve included a picture of my fellow creative listening improvisers here. As the lone Minnesota representative, I’m the only one wearing a coat — not quite fully trusting that it’s safe to venture outside without a down-filled garment. Chery is the one crouched in front, smiling broadly and wearing a black hoodie.]
Speaking of... religion, meaning, ethics, and ideas?
Kate Moos, Managing Producer
Update: Added a short list of possible new titles (KM, 3:04pm)
We had our first formal meeting here at the SoF ranch yesterday to allow for some brainstorming around the idea of changing the title of the program. This is an idea in its first exploratory stages, and it may or may not lead to a new name for the show and for the Web site.
But we’ve felt the impulse to examine the possibility of a new name for some time. “Speaking of Faith” sounds too narrowing to some ears, too exclusively “Christian” for a show that covers all religious thought and a lot of areligious or nonreligious thought as well, to others. Our so-called “tag language” says we are the “conversation about religion, meaning, ethics, and ideas.” Throw in a strip mall and the kitchen sink, and that’s a pretty big topic area, inclusive of almost every imaginable subject. And we like that inclusiveness, that expansiveness, and want out title to capture that.
The possibilities that follow presume Krista’s name as part of the title: First Person; How We Live; Common Life; The Conversation; Listening Generously; The Human Condition; Consider This; Outreach Speaking … with Krista Tippett.
Please — weigh in! Tell us what you think! What should we call this conversation with Krista Tippett? What do you think of the options listed above?
We decided late in our planning stages for our event with Joshua DuBois that we wanted a professional photographer there. When I asked Tony Bol, APM’s director of live event programs, for a recommendation, I didn’t even have the full sentence out of my mouth before he said “Ann Marsden.” Now I know why. Ann, a Minneapolis-based photographer, took some stunning pictures of our evening at the Fitzgerald Theater.
After it was all over, I stood on the Fitz stage wondering how everything had gone. I had been running around so much during the event, making sure x,y,z details happened as planned (and adjusting when it didn’t), that I hardly had a sense of if the event went well overall. But when I look at Ann’s photos, I don’t recall the frenzy of the evening; instead, I’m filled with a quiet, intimate sense of the power of convening community, the value of connection through public conversation, and the beauty of performance. Here’s some of my favorite pics:
Krista in action, gesturing with her hands. We often get media requests for these kinds of photos, so I’m sure this one will come in handy in the future.
Laughter. Everyone works hard - host and guest alike - to pull off a live event. And our conversations have a lot of weight at times. Lighter moments are lovely, too.
Audience = Inform. Inspire. Entertain. It’s what we do, who we serve.
A great photographer creates intimacy in crowded moments. An example.
…and has an eye for capturing VIPs both in and out of the frame.
The Fitz at dusk - a sense of place, a landmark.
Every guest at the Fitzgerald Theater is invited to sign the brick wall behind the stage. Yes, you guessed it - this is NOT an Ann Marsden photo. This is an attempt by yours truly to capture some behind-the-scenes action. Intimacy and beauty lost…must take photography classes…(Sigh).
Live Video: SOF Salon on Lived Faith and Civic Life
Trent Gilliss, Online Editor
Update: The streaming embed box has been replaced with the recorded versions of the salon, broken into two parts.
This is the place where we are streaming real-time video of Krista and a group of 15 listeners reflecting on the previous night’s conversation with Joshua DuBois. We’ll begin streaming at 8:45 am CST. The Speaking of Faith Salon begins at 9:00 am and will last approximately an hour.
We are asking the participants to ponder these questions coming into the discussion:
How are you being called to engage in your various communities?
What forms of action are you drawn to?
How is faith-based initiative work relevant, or is it at all?
We welcome your participation and feedback:
Twitter. Respond to points and topics with a tweet — or ask a question. We’ll feature your tweets on our Web site. The hashtag is #sofsalon.
There is still time to sign up so we can send you details and reminders about watching live video of Krista’s conversation with Joshua DuBois this Wednesday!
Update: The streaming embed box has been replaced with the recorded versions of the interview, broken into two parts.
This is the place where we are streaming real-time video of Krista and Joshua DuBois’ conversation on Wednesday, May 20th. We’ll begin streaming at 6:45 pm CST with pre-show music through the instrumentation of guitar, oud, and violin. The conversation begins at 7:00.
Their conversation will focus on the changing face of religion in public life in the era of the Obama administration and the perspective DuBois brings through his new role as head of the White House Office of Faith-based and Neighborhood Partnerships.
A Q+A session, moderated by Larry Jacobs of the University of Minnesota Humphrey Institute, will follow the conversation. The evening will begin with pre-show music of Robert Bell and David Stenshoel, providing some European/American influenced jazz through the instrumentation of guitar, oud, and violin.
Help us cover this event. Whether you live in the Twin Cities metro area or on another continent, you can participate by:
Watching and Commenting. Submit your questions here, and we’ll ask them during the Q+A session.
Twittering the Conversation. Respond to Krista or Dubois’ points with a tweet — or ask a question. We’ll feature your tweets on our Web site. The hashtag is #sofevent.
Participating in a Salon. We’re selecting eight people to be part of a roundtable discussion with Krista and DuBois the next morning. If you live in the metro area, let us know if you’re interested. If you live elsewhere, we’ll inform you on how you can take part in the discussion through our live video feed.
ABOUT THE GUEST Joshua DuBois heads the White House Office of Faith-based and Neighborhood Partnerships. The former associate pastor, advisor to President Obama, and Obama’s campaign Director of Religious Affairs, DuBois is charged with bringing people together around common goals regardless of political affiliation. DuBois received his undergraduate degree in political science from Boston University in 2003 and a master’s in public affairs from Princeton’s Woodrow Wilson School. He suspended his pursuit of a J.D. at the Georgetown University Law Center to join Obama’s campaign.
ABOUT THE EVENT Religious Life in the Obama Era: A Conversation with Joshua DuBois is Wednesday, May 20th at the historic Fitzgerald Theater at 7:00 p.m. Tickets are $20 for the general public and $18 for MPR members. All seats are reserved seating. For tickets, please call the box office at 651-290-1221. This event is being recorded for national broadcast. Broadcast date, May 28, 2009.
“I want to find out who I am and to live it in the service of the world.”— —Laurie Pickard from St. Louis, Missouri on joining the Peace Corps, in response to “Opening to Our Lives: Jon Kabat-Zinn’s Science of Mindfulness”
“I’d love to know how many Spaniards passed this tree. Maybe even Ponce de Leon as he searched for the “Fountain of Youth” on the Ichetuknee River.”— —Jay Jackson from Matthews, North Carolina on “Planting the Future”
As I read this report by Sabrina Tavernies in The New York Times this weekend, I found myself wondering how Douglas Johnston might read this. What am I missing? What is the reporter not telling me about madrasas that leads to a greater understanding on my, the reader’s, part? What are the routines and teaching taking place in the madrasas. How do those teachings differ from Islamic school to Islamic school? If the Qur’an is the sole text, how is it used: purely for theological training? as a foundational text for reading and writing? as a tool for propaganda? as a source of philosophical discourse?
I ask because I fear I’m not literate enough about understanding the complexity of these issues and Pakistani society in general. So when I read sentences like this, “Suicide bombings were neither encouraged nor condemned,” my internal alarm bells start ringing, which makes me slightly suspicious of other interesting points made in the report.
To me, the article touches on a significant point — Pakistan’s inability to create a quality public school system. I’d like to read more than a few sentences about this. Perhaps another time.
Am I being overly analytical and parsing too much?
Over these past five years, I’ve been utterly charmed with the effort that’s put into producing a weekly national program. We’ve been making great commitments to reveal this part of the process through releasing Krista’s unedited interviews, videotaping editorial sessions and face-to-face interviews, and blogging about the correspondence we have among our staff and the ideas that inform our roles.
But, commitments require Krista (and sometimes staff) to speak at public and private events — ranging from speaking engagements at our funders’ board meetings to lectures at local public radio stations’ fundraising events. These forums can be quite inspirational and enlightening, revealing another aspect of Speaking of Faith's mission to reach larger and more varied audiences.
My goal is to share more of this side of Krista and Speaking of Faith with you. One way to do this: put our managing producer’s iPhone to work. A savvy news person, to be sure, Kate’s also a poet and quite a wit — an exquisite match for Twitter (follow us @SOFtweets). She acceded to my request and so began the experimentation while Krista, at the invite of WLRN, spoke at Trinity Episcopal Cathedral in downtown Miami:
I’ll be retweeting our managing producer’s Twitter fiesta from Krista’s event at Trinity in Miami tonight. Doing some catch-up now. 7:19 PM Apr 23rd from web
RT @katemoos In the Green Room eating Sun Chips. That is not a product placement. http://twitpic.com/3uw9v 7:20 PM Apr 23rd from web
RT @katemoos Miamians v. friendly plus equip seems to work. Winning combination! Plus warm here. 7:20 PM Apr 23rd from web
RT @katemoos Am told Miami audinces come late. Don’t fret. I’ll manage my little punctual problem. Cuticles. Joke. 7:20 PM Apr 23rd from web
RT our senior producer @mitchhanley @katemoos Glad to hear the equipment is working. How’s the turnout? 7:22 PM Apr 23rd from web
RT @katemoos @mitchhanley Little hard to say but 400? 7:22 PM Apr 23rd from web
RT @katemoos Krista sites Parker Palmer. To let the soul speak one must create quiet, trustworthy spaces. 7:23 PM Apr 23rd from web
RT @katemoos @mitchhanley Sorry that was a typo. 300? 7:23 PM Apr 23rd from web
RT @katemoos I am a drop in the ocean. But I am also the ocean. Larry Ward 7:24 PM Apr 23rd from web
@katemoos is on a roll. She was hesitant to commit to too much for Krista’s event tonight. Parker Palmer, Larry Ward, and Sun Chips Kate? :) 7:26 PM Apr 23rd from web
RT-1 @katemoos questioner here asks Krista to account for that Scottish singer. 7:28 PM Apr 23rd from web
RT-2 @katemoos KT’s theory on that is short. But she applauds intimacy of radio. Sound. 7:28 PM Apr 23rd from web
RT @katemoos Iphone battery death! GBye dear Tweets! From Miami, Katy Lou signing off. 7:31 PM Apr 23rd from web
Oh no! @katemoos is down. Any stealth twitter junkies in the Cathedral?! 7:32 PM Apr 23rd from web
@lance_agena Oh, back-ups, back-ups, back-ups. We always prepare for Krista but how about behind the curtains. I will or I’ll retweet if so. 7:38 PM Apr 23rd from web in reply to lance_agena
One final RT from our dear @katemoos: BTW anyone calls me KatyLou and I will find you and make you pay. Finito!
7:39 PM Apr 23rd from web
Well, we’ll be doing more of our regular twitter conversation. Next week Krista speaks in Cleveland, using her new format. 7:42 PM Apr 23rd from web
We’ll be sure to have @katemoos working the scene and we’ll give you a heads-up. 7:53 PM Apr 23rd from web
And, if you haven’t heard, Krista has a live public event on May 20th with Obama’s head of faith-based initiatives, Joshua DuBois! 7:56 PM Apr 23rd from web
Kate will be tweeting from Cleveland this Thursday and we’ll be doing more of these in the coming weeks — including Krista’s live conversation with Joshua DuBois, Obama’s head of faith-based initiatives — so please give us your feedback. We’re still finding our voice(s) and style for this format.
Connecting Chicken Coops and Benedictine Prayer Illustrations
Earlier this week, I posted a quote on our Facebook page from Eulalia Cobb. She’s a listener from West Pawlet, Vermont who wrote a lovely reflection in response to last week’s show on her practice of mindfulness while spring cleaning a chicken coop:
"In years past, I rushed impatiently through this coop cleaning. After all, there was a garden to be planted…"
What I find so delightful about posting wonderful words like Eulalia’s outside the bounds of speakingoffaith.org is the broad knowledge base and interesting insights we may not have learned otherwise. Many times this wisdom serves as a fresh starting point for fans who may not have happened across these quirky, endearing stories. And that’s why I absolutely dug Denise Klitsie's comment in response:
"I am working on illustrations for a book on the hours of prayer—the Benedictines started this idea of recognizing transitions throughout the day that pressed up against one in work and life and began to name the hours, none, sext, vespers etc.—this essay on cleaning the chicken coup is inspiring me for imagery because imaging these "hours" is every challenging so I thought this picture of repetitious mundane yucky work might fit the hour of sext where the noonday devil is present tempting one to give up, throw in the towel, give up the fight because it is just too hard or too messy. Thanks SOF."
These are the types of connections that sustain my work. I’ll keep trying to do more. I’d love your advice on better or more inventive ways of making these connections possible.
I’ve been skeptical about celebrity pet charity projects and rock stars like Bono who have endorsed the RED campaign — encouraging people to shop and buy stuff in order to aid impoverished Africans. It just rings hollow to me and somewhat paradoxical, even though I recognize the good intentions behind it.
And then I read these lines from his op-ed this weekend:
It’s Lent I’ve always had issues with. I gave it up … self-denial is where I come a cropper. My idea of discipline is simple — hard work — but of course that’s another indulgence.
Then comes the dying and the living that is Easter. —Bono, lead singer of U2
Whatever brash generalizations or dismissive attitude I may have held, that changed after reading the Irishman’s contemplative words. Even though the rest of his essay is much more poetic and eloquent, it’s that second sentence above that captured me. He recognizes the falsehood of working harder. That staying at work is often an escape, a source of leisure rather than fulfilling one’s obligations and roles of responsibility at home — the mundane tasks of being present while one’s children ask for your time or hiding behind a gadget rather than engaging your spouse. Here, the man is revealing something of himself, his ordinary self. He is speaking to something greater than his own ego — and mine.
Nearly two years ago, I enjoyed Bono’s speech at the National Prayer Breakfast with President Bush. Like many others, I admired the way he was reaching out; yet, his words felt removed to me — a diplomatic performance to unite disparate parties.
But, his reflection in this essay starts from his personal core. They reveal a man who is a seeker of some greater truths, both personal and universal, that have a grounding in fallibility and transcendence. And that I respect greatly.
I can only hope that Krista could interview him for SOF. Perhaps at Trinity Wall Street? Wouldn’t that be an incredible event to witness? The likelihood is minimal, but it would be a dazzling adventure. Can anybody make it happen?!
In our interview for next week’s show, the very thoughtful scientist/author Jon Kabat-Zinn has intriguing and provocative things to say about the pressures and possibilities of aligning our “Stone Age minds” with 21st-century digital realities. But he also says: “This is far too serious to take too seriously.”
The most godly people I know have a sense of humor even about the most important things, and I’m convinced God does too. And that is my far too serious justification for posting two very funny Facebook takes on Passover and Easter, the holiest of holidays being observed simultaneously this week. Be blessed — and enjoy.
Last week when I was going through this week’s program with Vigen Guroian, I was listening to some of the choral music for the first time in two years. Later that evening, I put on an old Cocteau Twins CD, Heaven or Las Vegas (which must have been on my mind since SOF had recently been picked up by KNPR in Las Vegas!), and I was struck how some of the lush harmonies were seemingly reminiscent of some of the Orthodox Russian repertoire, or at least Kitka’s Bulgarian folk styling of Nikolai Kedrov’s Otche Nash — “The Lord’s Prayer” in Russian.
"The Lord’s Prayer" performed by Kitka and composed by Nikolai Kedrov
The harmonies in both of these pieces are saturated and lush, and I could swim in them for hours.
For all of you CT fans, I know there may be better examples, so what tune, if any, would you have suggested? “Iceblink Luck” always reminds me of spring and little daffodils popping up everywhere, and I am really ready for that up here in Minneapolis. Also, another spring/flower reference, kitka means “blossom” in Bulgarian. So, here is the pairing, back to back.
Rushing to take my children to school yesterday, I witnessed a gorgeous scene of a group of several dozen people — young and old — congregating in front of the entrance to the Sabes JCC in St. Louis Park. The morning light was in full bloom, still a nip of cold in the air, and traffic unusually quiet. I paused and watched and then remembered this piece in the Times about Birchat HaChammah:
According to the celestial calculations of a Talmudic sage named Shmuel, at the outset of spring every 28 years, the sun moves into the same place in the sky at the same time and on the same day of the week as it did when God made it. This charged moment provides the occasion for reciting a one-line blessing of God, “who makes the work of creation.”
Reflecting on the awe and physical majesty of this planet every 28 years seems to be an act I should replicate every day. I’m glad that small group reminded me to stop and look at the sun.
SOF producers had already started reaching out to past guests of the show to engage them in conversation about the moral, ethical, and spiritual dimensions of the economic downturn. We wanted to get listeners into the mix of the conversation.
I spent a few quiet winter days in my cubicle with a highlighter pen, reading the 100+ responses we had received. People wrote in with all kinds of insights and reflections — from the deeply personal and specific to more theoretical interpretations of the economic collapse, its causes, and its implications.
When I read this essay by Khalid Kamau in New York City, I knew immediately that I wanted to talk to him. I wrote on the page “I like this one a lot” and gave it a little star.
You see the theme of community keeps coming up in the conversations we’ve been having with past guests of the show and others through our continuing Repossessing Virtue series. And while living more deeply and deliberately in community sounds good at first pass, it can be complicated and fraught. My own recent-ish experiences living with roommates is a reminder of this.
Khalid nails this complexity in a very personal story he wrote about baking a cake for his parents as a kid. I’m not going to give away the guts of the story; you should hear him tell it. But suffice to say that Khalid’s received some confusing messages growing up about what it means to ask a neighbor for help. To this day, he says he won’t knock on a neighbor’s door to borrow eggs or milk.
I’m excited to share Khalid’s story with you as well as the conversation we had about how he’s experiencing the economic downturn. Unlike others we’ve spoken to, Khalid was laid off from his job a few months ago. When he was working, Khalid says he was always busy, a frenetic New Yorker (I used to be one of those too). Now he’s using this new-found expanse of time to volunteer, pray, reflect, and simply do nothing.
This is the one of the first in a series of listener conversations we’ll be featuring online and in an upcoming radio program slated for broadcast in May. We’re approaching this as a creative experiment so please let us know what you think.
A few days ago, I was an emotional mess. I was touched at by the compassion and heart-wrenching stories I was reading. I’m the better for reading them. These are the shared stories about Alzheimer’s experiences from our radio and online audiences. But, then I’m faced with the question: What do we do with this repository of knowledge, with all these magnificent life stories?
Our first step was to create an interface that provides more context — in this case a dynamic map showcasing these acts of remembering. For this “mash-up” we used Google maps, Flickr images, an internally developed application (thanks Dickens!), and our Web site. We gain a greater sense of these authors and their relation to others geographically, including pull quotes and images and age and religious affiliation. And then you can delve deeper by reading each individual essay and viewing larger images.
But the danger is that one can feel lost, even overwhelmed by all these stories, and not no where to begin. We moderate and copy edit most of comments, reflections, and stories online; we like to maintain a safe space where people can feel a sense of trust and share things they wouldn’t in other online forums. The other advantage is that we read everything that comes our way. So, I had to ask myself, “Why not use that curatorial role to highlight particularly moving stories?” So I started tweeting and posting quotes to our Facebook page. For those of you who only read SOF Observed, I thought I’d share them with you:
Madeline Miller:"I hold that advice dear and try to have lots of picnics or just live in a picnic-like way…"
Diana Carson: On a moment between her grandfather — who had Alzheimer’s — and her grandmother: "I don’t know who you are, but … I have loved you for a long time."
Deborah Jaeger: On working with her father who has Alzheimer’s, "The most difficult aspect of taking care of my father is that we are invisible to others."
Lea Mathieu: Reflecting on the change in her mother who died of Alzheimer’s, "I do not hope for grace and forgiveness in the future — everyone I meet knows I love them now,"
And from this call-out, we found an unexpected voice in Alan Dienstag, who submitted his own suggestions.
A few years earlier, Krista had interviewed two people for a potential show on Alzheimer’s. The interviews went really well, but we wanted our first foray into this topic to speak to something larger, more personal, more universal — and we needed a voice that could create that space.
We take great pride in being open to possibilities and sources that aren’t part of our Rolodex, so to speak. And, we hope to discover more stories that give greater meaning to all these topics we cover over the years. In the meanwhile, we’re ready to include more.