Understanding Happiness with the Dalai Lama, a British Rabbi, an Episcopal Bishop, a Muslim Scholar: A Twitterscript
by Shubha Bala, associate producer
On October 17 of this year, Krista led a lively conversation with four dynamic religious leaders: the His Holiness the XIV Dalai Lama, Chief Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks, Rev. Dr. Katharine Jefferts Schori, and Seyyed Hossein Nasr on “Understanding and Promoting Happiness in Today’s Society.”
Trent and I sat in the media section of the Woodruff Physical Education Center at Emory University and our live-tweeted some of the special gems from discussion. You can also listen to the event’s full audio.
We’ll be live-tweeting Krista’s panel w/ @, @RabbiSacks, Rev. Schori, + Seyyed Hossein Nasr. Intros are beginning; discussion to start soon. 17 Oct
Krista and religious leaders have taken the stage, followed by the @DalaiLama. All are standing in silence with one pair of hands clapping. 17 Oct
The topic of this session: understanding and promoting happiness in today’s society. Smiles everyone! 17 Oct
"The reason different religious traditions developed is not for misery but for deep satisfaction (happiness). That’s very clear."-@DalaiLama 17 Oct
The @DalaiLama finally put on his classic deep red visor. He said to Krista - “Now I can see you clearer. There is a bright light in here.” 17 Oct
"If we could learn 1 thing from you - how to laugh the way you do - it would increase the happiness in the world." @rabbisacks to @dalailama 17 Oct
"Simha tells us that happiness is part of the tenure and texture of relationships." @rabbisacks on Jewish definition of a shared happiness 17 Oct
"Consumerism making us feel bad for what we lack is the most efficient system for the manufacturing+distribution of unhappiness" @rabbisacks 17 Oct
"The paradox of the world is that to listen to a lecture on #happiness people have to stand in line unhappily for 2 hours to get in.” -Nasr 17 Oct
“#Happiness comes from this right relationship - from knowing you are not God and therefore not putting yourself in the center.” -Rev Schori 17 Oct
Some people have the idea that just following the truth is enough. #Islambelieves what’s important is to attain #happiness.”-Seyyed H. Nasr 17 Oct
"The environmental crisis is due to this substitution - believing #happiness is to have, want more and more.” - Seyyed Hossein Nasr 17 Oct
"Once it was asked to a great #Sufi master ‘What do you want?’ He said ‘I want not to want?’ That’s the epitome of #happiness.” -Seyyed Nasr 17 Oct
"Happiness is a permanent state of the soul, and we are here to attain it." -Seyyed H. Nasr to the @DalaiLama 17 Oct
"That’s why all the pain can lead to #happiness when you say to the bad times: I will not let you go until you bless me.” - @rabbisacks 17 Oct
"Happiness is not finding joy in death. It’s taking what is, and insisting that great happiness for all is possible." - Rev. Schori 17 Oct
RT @EmoryUniversity ”Say to the bad times, I will not let you go until you bless me.”—-Chief Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks 17 Oct
"In Arabic, beauty and virtue — and the word goodness — are all the same word." -Seyyed H. Nasr 17 Oct
"The #Arabic word for beauty, virtue, and goodness is the same. Beauty drives us to the divine…Beauty makes the soul happy.” - Seyyed Nasr 17 Oct
"Just by existing, we’re responsible towards other creatures, humans, nature, and God himself." -Seyyed Hossein Nasr 17 Oct
"Buddhism is in some ways atheist, but some say atheism means anti-God. In that sense, #Buddhism has respect for all traditions.” @DalaiLama 17 Oct
"Sometimes we don’t have to pursue happiness, we have to pause and let it catch up to us." - @rabbisacks 17 Oct
"There is a religious challenge in things that don’t look beautiful." -@RabbiSacks 17 Oct
"Happiness is a right. The purpose of our life is happiness. It may be simple but it’s what I think!" @DalaiLama 17 Oct
"When a person lives with hopelessness, they commit suicide. So our life depends on hope for happiness." @DalaiLama 17 Oct
A nice segue by Krista from @RabbiSacks' fabulous point about slowing down for happiness to the @DalaiLama's teachings on meditation. 17 Oct
"I almost drowned on my honeymoon, so when I wake up, I know what it means to pray: Thank you #God for giving me back my life.” @RabbiSacks 17 Oct
"We can face the future of fear if we know we do not face it alone." @RabbiSackson praying to #God and knowing God is with you 17 Oct
Just realized there’s a person signing this wonderful discussion at Emory. Her just to hear + translate must be incredibly difficult. Kudos. 17 Oct
"Our modern culture makes it very hard to fail." -@RabbiSacks at The Interfaith Summit on Happiness 17 Oct
"Train the body so the mind, the self, and the soul can do it’s job more effectively." - Rev. Schori on #running as body meditation 17 Oct
“Violence pretty much forces a silence on people. When everyone sees a violent act, the first reaction they have to it is, ‘Well, it’s bad and it should stop.’ And then that’s kind of where the brain ends. There’s a lot of moral torture talk…but the ability to turn around and confront, not the torture talk, … but to actually look at the practice, pay attention to it, understand its details, consider what would it take if I took a tool and I did this to such a person, what would its effects be, that’s a pretty horrifying thing. Nobody really wants to go there.”—
With new reports of detainee abuse in Iraq emanating from WikiLeaks, we’re going to broadcast/podcast an encore version of Krista’s interview with Rejali in the coming weeks. Rejali argues that, with the right circumstances in place, torture is a likely outcome and that it’s the “situation, not the disposition, that makes people evil.”
“There are many inventors whose personal life is just subsumed into their projects. That’s Atanasoff. That why he had a happy life: not because he was or wasn’t recognized, but because the things he built turned out to be what he thought they were going to be.”—
— Jane Smiley, from her interview with Gary Wolf in the November 2010 issue of Wired.
The Pulitzer Prize-winning novelist discusses the protagonist of her new book titled The Man Who Invented the Computer, a biography on John Vincent Atanasoff. The quotation above is a helpful reminder that curiosity and achievement is a joy in and of itself. To create something and be right (or maybe even fail?) is a reward that accumulates over time, even if it’s not measurable in external adulation.
(I would have linked to the article, but it’s not ready yet.)
Thinking of My Past Education and of Those to Come
by Krista Tippett, host
(photo: Trent Gilliss)
Adele Diamond is a formative figure in the emerging field of developmental cognitive neuroscience. And she is the kind of person I love to interview — a person with an important body of knowledge who never stops growing and asking new questions and making big ideas come to life in her person. She has nurtured a lifelong love of dancing alongside her love of learning, and so she embodies the delightfully challenging story her research has to tell.
Here, in a very simplified nutshell, is that story — the piece of it that I have been able to internalize, in any case, and that has fundamentally changed the way I think about the education I received and what I want for my own children. Among other things, breakthroughs in neuroscience are helping us understand the prefrontal cortex of the brain. This is the latest part of the brain to develop in our species (“the new kid on the block,” as Adele Diamond puts it) and the last to fully mature — as late as our 20s — in every individual life.
The prefrontal cortex is vital to how we learn more than what we learn. It controls the cognitive disciplines and flexibility we need to access, apply, and creatively build on what we learn across our life spans. Such skills are a manifestation of the brain’s capacity for what neuroscientists call “executive function.” Adele Diamond’s groundbreaking research has focused on an educational approach called "Tools of the Mind" that strengthens executive function in pre-school age children. It has also shown intriguing promise for children with autism and ADHD, and for helping close the achievement gap between children of different socioeconomic backgrounds.
Serious ideas, all. Yet, wonderfully, play is at the heart of this show. Tools of the Mind and related science-inspired initiatives encourage a child’s natural inclination for dramatic play. They mine that experience for the discipline it holds: of creativity, of putting oneself in another’s shoes, of listening and yielding to others, of character and perseverance.
Cutting-edge science is bringing us back to some very traditional, intuitive, and — as it turns out — educationally savvy modes of human interaction in and beyond school. It is scientifically explaining the educational power of things like drama, music, and physical activity. It is revealing memorization as a form of exercise for the brain and demonstrating that joyful environments are also more efficacious. Stress shuts down the prefrontal cortex. And the kinds of mental discipline the prefrontal cortex enables — manifest, for example, in a child’s ability to interact with others in play at an early age — is a more definitive indicator of future thriving, academic and otherwise, than IQ.
I am also naturally drawn to the spiritual implications of Adele Diamond’s work. Her emphasis is as much on reflection as on information. The kind of science she and others are doing has led the school system of British Columbia to incorporate reflection as a part of the development of whole, healthy human beings within its educational philosophy. I hear echoes of my conversation with Malka Haya Fenyvesi and Aziza Hasan in Los Angeles, who are cultivating curiosity and listening between Muslims and Jews as a civic discipline that can enlarge our souls and our practical ability to be present to difference and possibility in ourselves and in the world.
Adele Diamond herself references Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel as well as the Dalai Lama as she reflects on the spiritual connections she uncovers between learning, doing, and being. Her robust Jewish identity flows into the way she makes sense of the larger meaning of what she does, and she has also been deeply influenced by her encounter with the Dalai Lama’s Mind and Life Institute conversations between scientists and spiritual thinkers. In fact, I met her at a conference in Vancouver, where she interacted with the Dalai Lama and other scientists, educators, and spiritual thinkers.
And next week, we’ll bring another, recent encounter with the Dalai Lama and religious leaders — the chief rabbi of the Commonwealth, the presiding bishop of the Episcopal Church, and a preeminent Muslim scholar Seyyed Hossein Nasr. I moderated that public discussion, on the subject of human happiness. It was a lively and felicitously unpredictable conversation, and I hope you’ll listen in.
The Dalai Lama and Compassion Science: A Twitterscript
by Trent Gilliss, senior editor
During our trip to Emory University this past October, we sat in on several conversations between the Dalai Lama and leading scientists. We tweeted some of our favorite comments and now are aggregating them into this transcript:
Excited to be able to tweet scientists (including R. Davidson + Frans de Waal) discussing the latest research on mindfulness with @DalaiLama 8:33 AM Oct 18th
@DalaiLama conference and had been joking about buying HHDL swag. It ends up there’s a Tibetan Bazaar setup in the lobby! 8:57 AM Oct 18th
“When Christians practice yoga, they must either deny the reality of what yoga represents or fail to see the contradictions between their Christian commitments and their embrace of yoga. The contradictions are not few, nor are they peripheral. The bare fact is that yoga is a spiritual discipline by which the adherent is trained to use the body as a vehicle for achieving consciousness of the divine. Christians are called to look to Christ for all that we need and to obey Christ through obeying his Word. We are not called to escape the consciousness of this world by achieving an elevated state of consciousness, but to follow Christ in the way of faithfulness.”—
I happened upon this blog post by Dr. Mohler after reading this Seattle Times article by Janet Tu in which Mark Driscoll, pastor of Mars Hill Church, followed up on on the Evangelical leader’s statements with this comment:
"Should Christians stay away from yoga because of its demonic roots? Totally. Yoga is demonic. If you just sign up for a little yoga class, you’re signing up for a little demon class."
Richard Mouw recently told Krista that the antichrist has changed over his lifetime: from the pope to communism to Stalin and now Islam. These articles are worth a read if you’re interested in learning about some conservative Christians’ views on how cultural trends may be diluting their faith. Perhaps yoga is one of those antichrists?
I have known Richard Mouw for 15 years and interviewed him on this program in its early days. Other Evangelical Christian leaders have been more visible in American political and media life: Jerry Falwell, Pat Robertson, Ted Haggard, James Dobson, Rick Warren, Joel Osteen, and on the more progressive side Jim Wallis and Richard Cizik. I have followed them, but I have also always kept my ear and eye on quieter figures like Richard Mouw. As president of Fuller Theological Seminary, with more than 4000 students from 70 countries and over 100 denominations, he is training generations of Evangelical and Pentecostal pastors and global leaders.
And in this political season, in which values have once again — and with a new edge of hysteria — come to be a rallying cry for viciousness, I wanted to speak with him again. A book he first wrote in 1992, Uncomon Decency, has just been released in a revised version with the subtitle, “Christian Civility in an Uncivil World.” Mouw has long been a kind of bridge person — theologically conservative on some issues and more progressive on others — but he most fervently insists that the way people are treated is a greater measure of Christian virtue than the positions one takes.
I’ve wondered rhetorically how our political life would have evolved differently if the Christian re-emergence into politics in the late 20th century had modeled a practical love of enemies. My own deepest despair at present is not about the vitriol and division per se — as alarming as they are. It is about the fact that we seem to be losing any connective tissue for engaging at all, on a human level, across ruptures of disagreement. Across the political spectrum, many increasingly turn to journalism not for knowledge but to confirm individual pre-existing points of view. What we once called the red state, blue state divide is now more like two parallel universes where understandings of plain fact are no longer remotely aligned. This leads to a diminishing sense of the humanity of those who think and live differently than we do. And that is the ultimate moral slippery slope, for everyone on it and for the fabric of our civic life.
Richard Mouw lays out the imperative to all kinds of Christians for gentleness, reverence, humanity, and “honor” of the different other at the heart of the Bible and the life of Jesus. But this is not a feel-good plea for harmony. Even as he calls for civility and gentleness, Mouw reasserts his public and private opposition to gay marriage and civil unions. The civility he calls for would not minimize difference, at least at the outset, but would create a different space for discussing and navigating it — indeed for bringing differences into public life with virtue and vitality of expression. Picking up on a phrase coined by Christian historian Martin Marty, Richard Mouw builds upon this idea of “convicted civility.”
We had impassioned and difficult discussions on our production team about his ideas, and the complications and contradictions they present. When he says that, as a Christian, he sees other human beings as “works of divine art,” can that genuinely apply to a person whose sexual identity he defines as fundamentally wrong? And then, in the thick of creating this show, the Rutgers student Tyler Clementi committed suicide — one of a string of suicides of gay youth. This sharpened a question of whether religious views condemning homosexuality — however civilly expressed — inevitably fuel hateful, even fatal, behavior.
With all of this on my mind, I was struck by an open letter the Southern Baptist leader Albert Mohler wrote in direct response to those teen suicides. Though Mohler is to the right of Richard Mouw theologically and culturally, his letter takes an unexpectedly kindred tone. Mohler leads the largest Protestant denomination in the United States, and one of the most conservative. He spends the first few paragraphs of his statement reiterating his firm theological conviction that homosexuality is a sin. But in words that echo a search for a new way of “convicted civility,” Mohler confesses, “Much of our response to homosexuality is rooted in ignorance and fear.” And he asks, of the faithful and of his church leaders, “What if Tyler Clementi had been in your church? Would he have heard biblical truth presented in a context of humble truth-telling and gospel urgency, or would he have heard irresponsible slander, sarcastic jabs, and moralistic self-congratulation?” I read in Mohler’s statement a profound shift of tone, if not of position — and an opening to new ways of being.
This all drives towards a question I pursue in so many of my conversations: How does social change happen? We will not all be “on the same page,” as Americans like to be, on sexuality or many other issues for generations to come. The 21st century has opened up questions Western civilization thought it had put to rest. Some of them are intimate and raw, terrifying in every life at some point and therefore all the more unsettling when we are forced to ponder them out in the open together. Same-sex marriage is but the tip of an iceberg of human redefinition: What is relationship? What is marriage? What is friendship? What constitutes a family? In this messy moment, we retain our rights and responsibilities as human beings and citizens to discern our truths and live by them. But we have no choice, at the same time, if we want this to end well, to search for new ways to discern our multiple truths while living together.
Richard Mouw suggests that we need to start some of our conversations again from the beginning, certainly the conversation about sexuality. He believes that only by naming our hopes and our fears, articulating them among ourselves, revealing them to each other, can we begin to recreate something called a common life, which can contain, and not be destroyed by, our differences. I want to believe him, to believe that this is one answer to the question of how social change happens. If I didn’t believe that a new kind of conversation can also be a starting point for walking forwards together — living together, differently — I would not do what I do.
And yet, maybe another reality we have to live with is that these critical new conversations will start small, in many places, compelling us to connect dots for a while in lieu of convening the sweeping dialogue we might hope for. I’d point to a few that we’ve pulled together at onBeing.org with this show, including Albert Mohler’s letter in its entirety as well as a Religion Dispatchesreport about an historic meeting between a senior Mormon elder and LGBT Mormons.
We’ve also posted a piece we admire by fellow journalist Sasha Aslanian titled "Sex, Death, and Secrets" — featuring an interview with two lesbian pastors who’ve experienced a roller coaster ride of discernment within their own denomination, the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America.
And we’ve posted another kind of contribution to civility, an act of care for “despairing LGBT kids who are being bullied and harassed, kids who don’t think they have a future” —
a video project called “It Gets Better” that was created by syndicated columnist Dan Savage and his husband Terry. Both come from families with conservative religious roots, and we see photographs that bespeak the embrace they’ve both received as members of these families. They are photographs of love that has overcome convictions — or chosen to live in a gracious, loving tension alongside them. This too is possible. Please add your thoughts, stories, and pictures — your dots, if you will — to this difficult, dispersed, essential conversation.
How we deal with the things, people, and ideas that push our disagreement and irritation buttons is at the heart of this week’s show with Evangelical thought leader and educator Richard Mouw. In the audio above (download mp3, 2:49), Mouw shares a story of Thérèse of Lisieux, a late 19th-century French Carmelite nun who couldn’t stand another nun in her convent. Lisieux found solace in the idea that the nun who irked her was God’s creation and should be appreciated as a divine work of art.
In her spiritual journal The Story of a Soul, published posthumously in 1989, Lisieux wrote these lines:
"I felt that this was very pleasing to Our Lord, for there is no artist who is not gratified when his works are praised…"
Mouw’s story about her reminds me of Krista’s conversations with Columba Stewart and Shane Claiborne, two monastics who speak to the real irritations pious people experience in daily communal living. Take these lines from Fr. Stewart, for example, about finding Christ in all things — even those things that might repel or rub us the wrong way:
"And if, as Benedict says, everyone we meet conveys Christ to us — so the guest, the sick, the pilgrim, our fellow monks whom we meet on a daily basis, as challenging as it can sometimes be to recognize Christ in someone with whom I disagree.
I must confess that these ideas about divine “art appreciation” and finding Christ in all things are pretty foreign to me. I grew up in a mostly secular Jewish family that was highly practiced in the art of complaint. When I listen to Mouw express awelike admiration for Thérèse of Lisieux, I imagine my father smirking, shaking his head, and cracking a sarcastic joke about the virtues of embracing one’s inner curmudgeon. In a twist on Mouw’s ideas, it’s the very strangeness of his perspective that captivates rather than repels me.
“As Muslim parents, it seems like the choices we make raising children are more critical and have a much more lasting impact than the average American family. We can not necessarily rely on mainstream society to help us enforce values and increase self acceptance in our children. And, with families being so far apart and nuclear families being the norm, there is a lot of pressure on parents to take full responsibility in raising children by themselves. I sometimes wonder if the modern lifestyle and the mentality that we are somehow able to ‘have it all’ just sets us up for failure.”—
— Hanieh Razzagh, a new mother reflects on raising her daughter in this post from the Ink Paper Mosaic blog.
Parents of two young boys, my wife and I no longer live near our extended families. Although we are of European and Roman Catholic heritage, we have similar concerns about raising family in contemporary life with social expectations. It can be quite exhausting, but, we also feel fortunate that they have wonderful teachers and caretakers at a local Jewish community center. They help us fill a bit of that void of not being able to daily hug their grandparents, visit with their aunts and uncles, and play with all their cousins.
On January 1, 1990, Jeff Johnson, a gay man and pastor of First United Lutheran Church, and Ruth Frost and Phyllis Zillhart, lesbian pastors of St. Francis Lutheran Church are ordained in San Francisco. Both churches were suspended in 1990 and expelled by the ELCA in 1996. (photo courtesy of Extraordinary Lutheran Ministries)
My old English prof used to say “The Victorians were obsessed with death. We’re obsessed with sex.” I made an unexpected discovery on a recent assignment: sex and death have something in common: secrets.
In August of 2009, the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA) voted to allow gays and lesbians in committed relationships to serve as pastors. As a reporter for MPR News, my assignment was to follow up a year later on the impact of the vote. I stumbled into a news story: the church was in the process of reconciling with partnered gays and lesbians who had previously been unwelcome. In July of this year, the ELCA added seven people back to its roster in San Francisco. Then, this September, they did the same with three women in Minnesota.
Two of the Minnesota women, Ruth Frost and Phyllis Zillhart, were the first lesbian couple to be ordained without the blessing of the ELCA in San Francisco in 1990. They invited me to their home for an interview.
For the next 70 minutes, their story spilled out, spanning a sweeping slice of a social revolution moving rapidly through in our times. They told of coming out, falling in love, losing jobs then gaining them, and feeling God work through them during the AIDS crisis and hospice chaplaincy. Their story transcends Lutheranism. It’s personal, yet tethered to movements on both coasts, inside churches, seminaries, universities, courthouses, and workplaces.
"When you’re a change agent," said Frost, "you act where you are. Some people do in the secular arena: political activists, social activists. Our arena was the church. I’m third-generation Lutheran clergy."
For me, the unexpected part of their story was how they connected their work in hospice with the battle for inclusion in the Church. Zillhart and Frost began their ministry in San Francisco just as AIDS was ravaging the city. As they plunged in to help the men, their partners, and their families prepare for death, the two women saw opportunities for forgiveness, reconciliation, respect, acceptance, and love.
The “tape” at the top of this post is my favorite, but I had to leave it out of the final radio version. My news piece needed to cover the ordination, expulsion, and eventual embrace — already a tall order — and I wasn’t sure my editor would let me wander into end-of-life stuff at all. Thankfully she did, and it gave the story more depth. I think it also showed what Frost and Zillhart have been striving to show all along: there’s more that unites people than divides them. We all have secrets. Death is a universal unburdening of secrets.
Sexual orientation can be just one of them.
"There isn’t a family that doesn’t have a secret that they yearn to share and talk about the hurts and hopes we all have," said Zillhart. "Our difference is more obvious, more politically charged, people do a lot of fund-raising around how scary we seem — that feels electrifying — but the differences we have are all among us. The commonalities are so much deeper."
Frost adds with a note of amused exasperation, “I would love to get past being an issue in the church as a lesbian. I’ve been a professional Lutheran lesbian all my life. It’s time to be meeting one another in deeper ways than that affords.”
Frost and Zillhart show just where that depth can take us.
Unedited Interview with Frost and Zillhart(mp3, 71:00) This interview is what I call “a spigot interview” — the story spilled forth with very little coaxing. Their narrative connects their individual lives to a larger canvas of social and religious history.
Sasha Aslanian is a reporter for MPR News and creator of MPR News’ Youth Radio Series. From 2000 to 2008, she produced documentaries for American RadioWorks, the national documentary unit of American Public Media. Aslanian has won awards named for famous news men: Edward R. Murrow, Lowell Thomas, Heywood Broun and Eric Sevareid. She is a graduate of Grinnell College.
We welcome your reflections, essays, videos, or news items for possible publication. Submit your entry through our First Person Outreach page.
We Americans Can Learn Something from the Chilean Celebration of Miners Rescued
by Trent Gilliss, senior editor
A satellite image shows the relief efforts to reach the trapped miners in the San Jose Mine in Copiapo, Chile. (credit: DigitalGlobe/Flickr)
Watching those miners emerge in a steel-cage projectile from the collapsed mine in Chile is miraculous. It’s risky business and it has been done with aplomb. What I’ve been struck with is the celebratory spirit of the event. Chileans gather in a central plaza waving Chile’s flag and laughing and cheering; rescued miners surface to quickly embrace their loved ones and then play to the surrounding crowd, pumping fists and yelling and urging supporters on.
Locals cheer in Copiapo square before the start of a risky rescue operation to hoist the 33 trapped miners from the bottom of a collapsed mine. (photo: Bruno Sepulveda/AFP/Getty Images)
I don’t think we would see that type of celebration here in the United States. I imagine a sense of solemnity and solitary viewing might take place. We Americans would silently be waiting for the news of disaster avoided rather than success achieved. And, for me, this is the lesson: acknowledge our frailty as human beings and revere how we move forward and do incredible things in spite of it — with our fists pumping in the air.
And, since I’m a father and a brother, these following three images really grabbed me. They are not shots of the first rescued miner, Florencio Avalos, but of his father and brother thanking the stars, embracing the moment and each other with amazement, and weeping over a loved one who will be coming home again.
Alfonso Avalos, father of Chilean miner Florencio Avalos, celebrates after his son was brought to the surface on October 13, 2010. (photo: Hector Retamal/AFP/Getty Images)
Alfonso Avalos (right) and his son Wilson embrace after learning Florencio successfully made it to the surface after spending 10 weeks trapped in a collapsed mine 800 km north of Santiago, Chile. (photo: Hector Retamal/AFP/Getty Images)
When Choice Means Different Things to Different People: Sheena Iyengar on Sources of Control
by Shubha Bala, associate producer
"It depends on how you define control. If you define control as ‘I will entirely write my script,’ that could be one way of thinking of having control. Another way to think about having control is to say ‘Look I was given this script, and I executed it with great aplomb.’ And there’s nothing to say that that means you don’t have control, it’s just a different kind of control."
Sheena Iyengar, a business professor at Columbia University and author of The Art of Choosing, has come to view cultural and religious rules as “life scripts.” She says they are empowering rather than stifling. In Krista’s interview with her earlier this year, Sheena Iyengar describes her journey to this revelation.
In the audio above (download mp3), she starts by describing a study that shows that religious followers are less depressed than atheists. Sheena Iyengar then talks about another study that demonstrates most Asian children are more motivated and performed tasks better when their mothers made choices for them, whereas the converse is true for most Anglo-American children: they were more motivated if they were able to choose the task themselves.
And, she explains that her interest in examining culture’s role in choice was especially informed by her own Sikh background.
Here, for example, she discusses whether an arranged marriage, such as that of her parents, is in fact devoid of choice. You can listen to the clip to the left (or download the mp3) of this portion of their conversation as well, and then share with us examples of how your culture has influenced your view of choice.
“Ten years later, it’s still tough. You never get away from it. It’s like losing family, you know? You could try to fill the hole, but you’re always going to feel the loss.”—
— U.S. Navy Supply Officer Robert Overturf
I had an NPR driveway moment yesterday listening to producer Matthew Ozug’s non-narrated piece featuring the voices of USS Cole crew members whose ship was bombed by al-Qaida 10 years ago today. I particularly like the pacing, and the use of music and the closing lines featured in the quote above.
“Writing a Torah, in general, energizes a community. It unifies people. It is not based on who you are. Everyone is equal.”—
— Rabbi Moshe Druin, a sofer stam on the restoration of a 17th-century Torah scroll with an incredible history.
The Los Angeles Times has this hopeful story about Temple Ahavat Shalom’s restoration of a 300-year-old manuscript. The sacred scroll was first created for a small Jewish community in what was then Czechoslovakia, then survived the Holocaust while warehoused in Prague, then moved to London by way of a wealthy benefactor, and finally found a permanent home again at the congregation in Northridge, California. Each member of the synagogue will be able to write a letter into the Torah during the process.
Benjamin Busch, a former Marine Corps infantry officer who served two combat tours in Iraq, writes a challenging essay for NPR on the nature of war games — with toy soldiers, in video games, on the battlefield:
"When I was a boy, I was given plastic army men. I arranged them in the sandbox behind our house, and I killed them. I voiced their commands and made the sounds of their suffering. I imagined their war — and I controlled it. But I lost those magical powers as a Marine in Iraq.
We know children are immersed in digital interactivity now, and the soldier of today has grown up on video games. It is becoming a new literacy of sorts. Playing and risking your life are different things. In the video war, there may be some manipulation of anxiety, some adrenaline to the heart, but absolutely nothing is at stake.
I honestly don’t like that Medal of Honor depicts the war in Afghanistan right now, because — even as fiction — it equates the war with the leisure of games. Changing the name of the enemy doesn’t change who it is.
But what nation or military has the right to govern fiction? Banning the representation of an enemy is imposing nationalism on entertainment. The game cannot train its players to be actual skilled special operations soldiers, nor is it likely to lure anyone into Islamic fundamentalism. It can grant neither heroism nor martyrdom. What it does do is make modern war into participatory cinema. That is its business.”
One Hundred Million Seeds of Porcelain Contemplation
by Trent Gilliss, senior editor
Ai Weiwei holds porcelain seeds from his Unilever installation titled “Sunflower Seeds.” (photo: Peter Macdiarmid/Getty Images)
Chinese artist Ai Weiwei’s latest installation at the Tate Modern is an incredible feat: one hundred million hand-painted pieces of porcelain that resemble the shells of sunflower seeds. One finds oneself moved to understand its meaning, to grasp its scale, to contemplate the immense amount of energy and ability of so many artisans to produce something this massive — and oh-so delicate — all so that can be walked on, laid on, picked up, thrown, raked, or what have you in the midst of the minimal gray landscape of Turbine Hall.
A close-up view of some of the porcelain husks used in “Sunflower Seeds.” (photo: Peter Macdiarmid/Getty Images)
Nothing appears to be what it seems. And, for Weiwei, the meaning goes much deeper: “From a very young age I started to sense that an individual has to set an example in society. Your own acts and behavior tell the world who you are and at the same time what kind of society you think it should be.”
A girl and her mother sit and toss some of the 100 million porcelain seeds in the Turbine Hall of the Tate Modern in London. (photo: Peter Macdiarmid/Getty Images)
Where Anton Gormley’s massive humanoid sculptures somehow aid your eye on focusing on the environment in which they’re set, nature strangely becomes the focus. Here, I can only imagine, these objets d’art, these precious works of individual hands, become the focal point as you crush them beneath your heels. The sonorous echoes of this footfall is a social and political act in itself — probably one each observer doesn’t fully appreciate until you walk out to the River Thames and trample silently on concrete and manicured turf.
The Guardian has put together this insightful short video of Ai Weiwei discussing the humanity that drives his social and political stances on his art, the creative thinking coming out of China, and the way way technology enabled him to amplify his voice and “to speak for generations who don’t have a chance to speak out”:
Richard Mouw: A Twitterscript with an Evangelical Leader on Civility
by Trent Gilliss, senior editor
This coming week we will be releasing our latest show, which focuses on the topic of incivility in political, religious, and civic culture with one of the leading Evangelical Christian leaders in the United States today. On September 8, 2010, Krista interviewed Richard Mouw, president of Fuller Theological Seminary and a professor of Christian philosophy and ethics, which we live-tweeted (@softweets) from behind the glass of Studio P at Minnesota Public Radio. Here’s a compilation, our Twitterscript if you will, of all those tiny nuggets, and a few exchanges with our followers:
Encountering Strangeness from Different Directions
by Nancy Rosenbaum, producer
"I come across a person who isn’t just a stranger but maybe represents a strangeness to me that initially I might feel very alienated from that person. And then to think, this is a work of art by the God whom I worship — that God created that person. And it’s something like art appreciation. It doesn’t come easy. I’m kind of aesthetically deprived and so I have to work at it. But it’s a very important exercise to engage in."
Listening to Richard Mouw describe his idea of “divine art appreciation,” I was surprised to find myself thinking of biologist and neuroscientist Robert Sapolsky. On paper, the two couldn’t be more different. Mouw is an Evangelical theologian who heads up one of the largest multi-denominational seminaries in the world. Sapolsky is a self-described "strident atheist" who studies what we can learn about stress by studying the social behaviors of baboons. Both are interested in how humans respond to strangeness and difference; they just come at these questions from different directions.
In the late 1990s, Sapolsky published a delightful essay in The New Yorker exploring our resistance to novelty in music, fashion, and food as we age. He doesn’t land on a scientific reason for this phenomenon, but he does reflect on its consequences:
"When I see the finest of my students ready to run off to the Peace Corps and minister to lepers in the Congo—or teach some kid in the barrio just outside the university how to read—I remember that, once, it was easier to be that way. An open mind is a prerequisite to an open heart… Whatever it is that fends us off from novelty, I figure maybe it’s worth putting up a bit of a fight even if it means forgoing Bob Marley’s greatest hits every now and then."
“Our humanity is not an attribute that we have received once and forever with our conception. It is a potentiality that we have to discover within us and progressively develop or destroy through our confrontation with the different experiences of suffering that will meet us through our life.”—
The Convergence of Understanding Plate Tectonics and Human Experience
by Krista Tippett, host
Scientists emerge from the submersible Bathyscaphe Archimède after a 1973 dive in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean in the Rift Valley.
People often ask me to name my favorite interviews — the people who have made the deepest impression. That is an impossible question for me to answer, as I learn and am affected on different levels by every conversation I have. But I will go on the record now to say that this show (audio above) with Xavier Le Pichon is special and has left me extraordinarily surprised, delighted, and refreshed.
His is not a famous name beyond geological circles. But he is certainly one of the wise people, and big thinkers, in our world today. He lives in an intentional community he helped create to provide retreat for families caring for a loved one with mental illness.
Before that, Xavier Le Pichon pioneered the field of plate tectonics. He has continued to work all these years as a geophysicist even as he also became a spiritual thinker and writer in France. He delightedly walks that line I’m always seeking in life and conversation — that humbling, creative alchemy that happens where theology meets human experience, where religious thought encounters real life and changes it and is changed by it.
Xavier Le Pichon’s deep Catholic faith has always been compatible with the notion of evolution. He finds evolution not merely theologically acceptable but scientifically and spiritually “ingenious.” Though, well into the 20th century, his own field of geology had retained a “fixist” view of the map of the world. There was no knowledge of tectonic plates, in constant motion, that had across time configured and reconfigured the Earth’s crust and entire continents. Xavier Le Pichon became a pioneer in deep ocean exploration that first revealed all of this. He was a key figure at one of those historical moments where science not only overturns its own assumptions but changes the way all of us see the world.
And yet, as he tells it in our show "Fragility and the Evolution of Our Humanity," he nearly quit science a few years after he published his groundbreaking research findings in the late 1960s. In a moment of personal crisis, he realized that his vision had been narrowed by his focus on science and success. He traveled to Calcutta and spent a period of weeks volunteering with Mother Teresa and the Brothers of Charity. In an essay in English, "Ecce Homo," he describes how an encounter with a dying child transformed his life forever. The story of how he then gave his life over to facing human suffering, while continuing his scientific career, is itself remarkable. I am also left with so much to ponder from the lessons Xavier Le Pichon has drawn from that choice ever since — by the synergy he has found between what spiritual community and geophysics teach him about the way the world works.
From his studies of the Earth he knows that fractures, flaws, and weaknesses are as much a part of the vitality of living systems as strength and perfection. They are what allow systems to evolve, to regenerate, and to avoid cataclysmic revolutions. Simultaneously, he is fascinated by the fragility that marks human life at its beginning, its end, and at places in between. Taking this seriously, honoring it, as he well knows, would challenge our success and outcome driven, perfectionistic “Occidental” view of the world as much as the theory of plate tectonics challenged the field of geology.
And yet Xavier Le Pichon has turned his attention to history, philosophy, and the life sciences in recent years — looking at what Neanderthal skeletal remains reveal about human compassion, and looking at the remarkable historical moment around the sixth century BCE when many pivotal spiritual figures — Buddha, Lao Tzu, and Confucius — first appeared simultaneously across the Earth. And, he has concluded that it is precisely our capacity to care and orient our collective life around the weak and suffering among us that has made us human as well as humane. This capacity, he proposes, has defined the evolution of what we call our “humanity” as much as any other physiological or cultural trait we possess.
I hope that you will be as enriched by this conversation as I am. I am excited to put it out in the world.
I’ve been holding on to this performance for a few days now, keeping it in reserve specifically for a Friday morning or afternoon. And what better way to kick off the back stretch to the weekend than with the delightful intensity of jazz musician Esperanza Spalding. In this video, she captivates the room at National Public Radio with her intimate Tiny Desk Concert.
I particularly enjoyed the way Patrick Jarenwattananon paints a lush scene of her commanding presence, including when she doffs her cap to reveal her magnificent shock of hair. But, I best like his rundown of her set list:
"…she mostly called original tunes from Chamber Music Society, her new album pairing a jazz rhythm section with a three-piece string trio. The two tunes bookending her set alternated the gossamer with the rich and darkly hued: the album opener “Little Fly,” her setting of a William Blake poem, and “Apple Blossom,” featuring her regular guitarist, Ricardo Vogt.”
Listening to this performance made it easy to buy her album. I’ve been listening to it non-stop. It’s perfect.
Parsing the Power of Bishop Eddie Long and the Black Church: An Interview with Anthea Butler
by Kate Moos, managing producer
Bishop Eddie Long (in white suit) embraces a friend in his first appearance before parishioners at New Birth Missionary Baptist Church. (photo: John Amis/Getty Images)
Allegations that Bishop Eddie Long coerced four young men to have unwanted sexual contact have riveted the media. In his first appearance before his congregation of New Birth Missionary Baptist Church east of Atlanta, Bishop Long fell short of a resounding denial of these charges.
Understanding that his “anti-homosexual” theology and activism make these accusations particularly controversial, we invited religion scholar Anthea Butler to help us understand the dynamics at play within the black church and a scholar’s perspective on the news coverage of this story.
She is associate professor of Religious Studies at the University of Pennsylvania and a regular contributor to Religion Dispatches. She is a past guest of this program and has written extensively about the role of women in the Pentecostal movement, especially in the Church of God in Christ, a predominantly African-American denomination that is the fifth-largest Christian tradition in the United States. We corresponded with her by email.
Is this story getting the coverage it deserves? Or is the coverage extreme? Would the story receive such prominence if his accusers were young women? Is it getting different coverage because he’s African American? Yes, the story is receiving the coverage it deserves, not only in America, but globally. He has staked a portion of his ministerial message on homosexuality as “sin” and same sex marriage is wrong in a global context, so it is also fair to question his alleged activities.
If the accusers were women, this case would not receive that much coverage at all, sadly. I don’t think Long is getting different coverage because he is African American. I think the “responses” are different because the African-American community has been so shocked, and more importantly, his physical appearance (buffed out muscular body) is so unlike most pastors we see, Ted Haggard included, that his very physical being is also being critiqued along with the allegations.
You have written that this story presents a challenge to the black church in America to get over their homophobia. You recently wrote:
"The real story, however, is that this case explodes the cover of the black church’s internal don’t ask, don’t tell policy which has had a profound effect on the community and its followers. It’s very interesting that the Long scandal broke almost immediately after black pastors led by Bishop Harry Jackson came together with the Family Research Council to oppose the repeal of the Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell Act. Many black pastors have staked their entire ministries on the ‘family’ and the obsession with mainstream gender norms that encourage heterosexual marriage, abstinence, and patriarchal norms."
How are attitudes toward homosexuality in the black church distinct from the anti-homosexual theology of other Christian churches in this country? The attitudes about the black church are distinctive because, even though the party line is anti-homosexual, there are plenty of gay people in black churches. The don’t ask, don’t tell policy of the churches allows for people to be a part of the congregation, welcomed, but consistently exposed to a message of “second class, sinful citizenship” because of their sexual preference. And that is wrong.
The other part that is different is that the black church’s stance is not only biblical, but it’s about social respectability and attempting to rectify disparities — for instance, the high rate of unmarried African-American women. Homosexuality is perceived to be a reason why black women are such a high percentage of those who are unmarried.
A billboard featuring Bishop Eddie Long outside New Birth Missionary Baptist Church on the day he first addressed his members about the allegations. (photo: Jessica McGowan/Getty Images)
Among the elements that distinguish this story are that the alleged sexual contact was coercive (different moral ground hiring a prostitute, as in the Ted Haggard story) and that it involved young men for whom Long was a very powerful authority figure. You point out that the role of the central, powerful, charismatic pastor in congregational life is dangerous on many levels. And yet isn’t it precisely those qualities that make churches like New Life [megachurch formerly led by Ted Haggard] successful, and draw so many people? Yes, it is what make these churches successful, but in the case of New Life, the bishop is policing his members, but who polices/disciplines him? Charismatic authority can run amok, but it is in congregations like New Birth — that don’t have an oversight board that can both protect and discipline the pastor — that these types of issues can get out of hand. If there is an oversight board for New Birth, the best way they could protect both Bishop Long and the congregation is to have him sit out a time period until the case is adjudicated. However, since New Birth is Bishop Long, I doubt that will happen.
Many of us are involved personally with religious communities that are organized in strict hierarchies that reserve power to a small number of leaders with few checks and balances. That’s something we see a lot of in secular organizations as well (though without the presumption that the hierarchy is sanctioned by the deity). Arguably, this is a model of human organization that has proven consistently ineffective at best, and criminal at worst. Some people would say that religion itself, faith itself, is the problem. Is there a way in which religion can be part of a solution? More oversight and a willingness to turn people in to the authorities (police) would be a start. Many communities harbor and move about leaders involved in scandals; the Catholic Church is the model for how churches move around problem clergy rather than taking definitive legal action. I do believe that, as these incidences rise, the privileges religious officials (non-taxable status for example) enjoy in this country right now could be on their way out in the next few years if the public outcry continues.
In the coverage we’ve all seen and in writings on this story, the term “the black church” is ubiquitous. I myself use it for convenience. But is it fair to use this aggregating term to represent African-American Christians? Is it dangerous to cast this as such a broad and monolithic category, like “the Muslim world?” It’s not exactly “fair” because this moniker means different things to different people. On the other hand, It is ubiquitous, and, although I would say that New Birth is not a traditional black church because of its size, it is because the majority of its population is African American. So to say the black church, the term that W.E.B DuBois used, is a “space” to hold lots of tensions that seem to aggregate around the social purpose of the black church (social justice and community) and the “practice” of the black church (song, prayers, preaching, etc.). It may be dangerous because it doesn’t fully express the myriad of black religious expression in the United States. But, then again, it is a term that, when spoken, is recognizable. In that sense, I don’t think it will fall out of use.
Repeated Responses to Stem Cell Show Guest Is "Life-Changing"
by Trent Gilliss, senior editor
photo courtesy of the University of Minnesota Alumni Association
Oftentimes we hear from guests after a show has been released. But, it’s always by way of a direct email to one of our producers or to Krista herself. So, imagine my surprise this past Saturday when I saw this awfully gracious submission to our show on stem cells from the centering voice of that conversation, Dr. Doris Taylor herself:
"Being on your show has significantly impacted what I do and how I do it.
It forced me to think about my truths in a different way, and connected me with people who otherwise I would not have known — who in some way seem touched by our work. That is a humbling experience when it happens once or twice, but, when it happens over and over, it is life changing…
I remain grateful for your willingness to share yourself and make it possible for people like me to do likewise. Thank you Krista.”
I also used my reply to her as an opportunity to follow up with a question several listeners have wondered about: the recent news of the first human embryonic stem cell line created at the University of Michigan. Her response:
"I fully believe getting enough cells will be the rate-limiting step to building organs. Think about it, the human heart has hundreds of billions of cells in it. Having to grow those in the lab is daunting. But as they say, if it were easy, someone else would have done it."
Our show on autism with Paul Collins and Jennifer Elder remains one of my favorites. And I’ve been enjoying a wonderfully written and moving memoir by Emily Colson about life with her son Max, now 19. Dancing with Max: A Mother and Son Who Broke Free has a prologue and an epilogue written by Charles (Chuck) Colson. Colson, of course, served in the Nixon White House and went to prison for the Watergate scandal, then went on to found Prison Ministries International. He is now something of an Evangelical Christian elder statesman, whom I met and interviewed several years ago together with two Evangelicals of different generations.
Chuck Colson and his daughter have created a searching and sometimes surprising exploration of what autism may teach us about what it means to be human, written from a devout and searching Christian perspective. It is an important addition to our literary and cultural encounter with autism, and I recommend it.
On September 3, 2010, Krista interviewed New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristof for our show "Journalism and Compassion." Following is the complete behind-the-glass Twitterscript of that conversation:
“He trusts God to keep him safe. And I’m here just in case that doesn’t work out.”—
—Religious Programs Specialist 2nd Class Philip Chute, a self-declared atheist who is charged with protecting Navy Chaplain Terry Moran, a Seventh-Day Adventist who is ministering to Marines in Afghanistan.
Michael M. Phillips’ Wall Street Journal article "A Chaplain and an Atheist Go to War" gives unexpected insight into some of the strange pairings of battle and the tension of war in all its humanness. Well worth a read.
On Stem Cells and Untold Stories: When Nature’s Tools Provide the Answers
by Krista Tippett, host
I’ve wondered for years how we could contribute some perspective to the moral consternation that stem cell research stirred in recent years. As with so many other real and important questions raised by medical advances, I have been unconvinced by the blunt either/or choice that culture-war debates seemed to present: defining stem cell research as either a slippery slope to killing babies or a straight path to curing a host of dreadful diseases. Efforts to humanize the issue with real-life examples — seeming to present a stark choice between condemning Michael J. Fox to death by Parkinson’s, for example, or finding an immediate way to save him — can misrepresent both the promise of this science and the moral concerns it raises.
Hearing Doris Taylor speak, then, was a revelation. I knew I had found our way in to this topic. When it comes to stem cells — as to everything else in life, it turns out — the truth is complicated. And much of the story of stem cells — the big picture that arguments have obscured — falls outside the realm of the most passionately contested issues.
From Doris Taylor I come to understand, for the first time, that the existence and function of stem cells is one of those discoveries, not unlike DNA, that will fundamentally change the way we think about the human body. I learn that there are billions of stem cells throughout my 49-year-old body, and as I write they are repairing my organs and tissues as they have done all of my life — albeit less vigorously at 49 than at 9 because of the passage of time and the stresses that life has imposed, and that I have imposed on my body.
The newness and rapidly emerging nature of our knowledge about stem cells has contributed to incomplete premises and an understandable measure of fear. Doris Taylor has spent time in conversation with people in churches these past years as well. She has come away with a conviction that, if the medical community and journalists had used different vocabulary to discuss stem cells at the outset, some of the most heated debates might have been avoided.
She has often encountered the false impression that the stem cell lines used for research came from aborted fetuses. In fact, as she says, “fetal cells” are too old for the work she does. And the “embryonic cells” she uses have all come from eggs fertilized by way of in vitro fertilization (IVF) that would otherwise be destroyed. This insight, of course, does not address moral quandaries over embryos and IVF technology.
But much of the research Doris Taylor and others are doing might one day circumvent all of these issues. If she could build me a heart by way of the process she and her colleagues are refining in the University of Minnesota Center for Cardiovascular Repair, she would use my heart stem cells to do so.
From my visit to Doris Taylor’s lab, you can see elaborate architectural glass bulbs with tubes feeding suspended rodent hearts — one lifeless with old cells; another one stage farther, a pale “scaffold” ready for stem cells to be injected; and finally a regenerated heart pink, pumping, alive and beating on its own. Also, hear the story of the man with a heart disease that told Taylor she is “building hope.”
Seeing the untold story of stem cells beyond the lightning rod, moral issues clears my vision to see unexpected spiritual implications of this work. The genius of Doris Taylor’s work is in its simplicity — in realizing that there was no need to “build” a heart from scratch. Instead, she works with a dead heart, extracted from a cadaver — nature’s cardiac “scaffolding,” as she thinks of it. She washes the lifeless heart, cleans it, and injects the decellularized scaffold with cells that know how to colonize it — and begin to beat and live again.
Doris Taylor echoes one of my favorite themes: beauty is essential to life itself — beauty as a core moral value — as she describes the architectural perfection of nature that she honors and works with. In an exhilarating “field trip” to her lab, I was able to hold the translucent heart of a pig in my hand and see its exquisite intricacy — at once delicate and muscular — for myself.
Approaching the mechanics of life at this level inevitably raises questions about life’s mystery. Doris Taylor says she is passionate about “regenerating heart on a lot of different levels.” And as she considers how new knowledge about stem cells might one day change the way we think about health across the life span — facing aging, for example, or cancer — she is studying how spiritual technologies like prayer and meditation might support that. She describes a very simple test she did on the Buddhist spiritual teacher Matthieu Ricard. She measured a vast increase in stem cells in his blood after just 15 minutes of meditation.
All of this said, the fascinating science of stem cell research still comes with a world of real and complex moral uncertainties. We hope this conversation with Doris Taylor might broaden existing conversations and inform fresh thinking on the moral and ethical questions her science touches. Let us hear your thoughts — either as they’re sparked by this conversation or through your own experiences and knowledge.
Hundreds attend the marquee event: the quilt auction. (photo: David Yoder)
The best — and perhaps quirkiest — aspects of being Mennonite were on display in northern Indiana last weekend. The Michiana MCC Relief Sale is an annual fundraising event for the Mennonite Central Committee (MCC), a world-wide relief organization. The sale is part quilt auction, part junk auction, part garage sale, part bake sale, part county fair, part family reunion.
Although there are 30 MCC relief sales in the United States and 14 in Canada each year, Michiana (Indiana-Michigan area) hosts the largest, attracting between 20,000-25,000 people and raising upwards of $350,000 annually. It also happens to be in my old hometown of Goshen, Indiana.
Transportation around the fairgrounds for weary sale-goers. (photo: David Yoder)
So this past weekend I made my pilgrimage to the Elkhart County Fairgrounds with two non-Mennonite friends who have always wanted to experience this sale. They weren’t disappointed, and I was proud to call myself Mennonite.
An auction of new and used goods other than quilts. (photo: David Yoder)
The Mennonite denomination, like many others, has struggled with divisive issues over the years, and I haven’t always appreciated how these issues have been — or have not been — resolved. But this weekend we were at our best. Progressive Mennonites, Old Order Mennonites, Conservative Mennonites, and Amish worked hand-in-hand to raise money for a belief they all share in common — that it is our joyful duty to lend a helping hand to those in need.
Church groups have been working all year: quilting, woodworking, baking, and canning to donate these goods to the sale. The weekend of the sale, groups and individuals are selling their items, staffing the quilt auction, cooking food, planning logistics, and cleaning the fairgrounds. Our differences are forgotten as we work toward a common goal.
Making kettle corn. (photo: David Yoder)
The sale runs Friday night through Saturday afternoon and features multiple auctions, a garage sale, children’s auction and activities, a 10K run, and lots of food: pies, sausage, cheese, pancakes, kettle corn, moon pies, elephant ears, apple dumplings, and new ethnic foods. For my parents, Friday night is the night to buy their year’s supply of sausage from Mishler’s Meats before they sell out. So, my friends and I went with them.
Walking through the crowds on Friday night with our bags of sausage and Nelson’s Golden Glow chicken was like being at a family reunion. In addition to Goshen being a small town, many Mennonites are related and/or know one another. Mennonites in the area go to the sale; Mennonites who have left the area come back for it. Running into relatives and friends I haven’t seen since my last relief sale in 2007 felt like “old home week” at the fairgrounds.
A church group sells donated cheese. (photo: David Yoder)
One highlight of the year is the Penny Power fundraiser in which each person is asked to save pennies as tokens of the privileges and abundance he/she has. During the month prior to the relief sale, participants put aside pennies each day based on a Penny Power calendar. The way the Penny Power project links giving and self-awareness is evident in some of these example days on the calendar:
Many refugees are forced to leave home with only the shirt on their backs. Give one penny for each shirt or blouse in your closet.
In some countries there is only one doctor for every 125,000 people. Give 4 pennies for each health care professional you see.
Many people have only one ragged cloth for cover. Give two pennies for every quilt and blanket in your home.
Much of the world exists without consistent electricity. Give two pennies for each light switch or lamp in your home.
In Haiti, few people can read and write. Give one penny for every book in your home.
But, without question, the crown jewel of the weekend is the quilt auction. Hundreds of quilts are carefully and lovingly created throughout the year and are put up for auction to around 300 bidders. This year, the quilts alone raised $102,000 with one quilt selling for $5,000.
On Friday night, a woman studies one of the quilts that will be auctioned Saturday morning. (photo: David Yoder)
Perhaps most moving was the traveling quilt. The traveling quilt is a beautiful quilt that began traveling earlier this year. It has gone from one relief sale to another across North America, always going up for bids but never sold. Instead, everyone who bids on the quilt gives his/her bid as a donation to MCC. Bids started at $1,000 for a quilt you can’t take home with you and ended with $25 bids. And now it moves on to the next MCC Relief Sale to be held in Virginia this weekend.
Two volunteers “dress the bed” with the next quilt at the quilt auction. (photo: David Yoder)
Ultimately, the relief sale is not just about giving to help the poor. It is also about acknowledging our relative wealth and the resources we have. The sale helped me once again appreciate the values with which I was raised — be generous, care for others, work hard, give till it hurts, work for peace, be the hands and feet of your faith.
For nearly all of Krista’s interviews nowadays, we live-tweet (@softweets) the verbal gems and meaningful points of the conversation so that we can provide some type of real-time dialogue with our online friends. But, we realize many of you either don’t use Twitter or just simply miss our tweets because of the busy pace of a day at work or home so we’re creating a catalog of those submissions for you to read in one place.
Following is our “Twitterscript” of Krista’s interview with Joanna Macy that took place over an ISDN line on July 13, 2010. As you may know, it was a wonderful conversation that made for an instant classic titled "A Wild Love for the World." A former CIA agent and translator of Rainer Maria Rilke, a Buddhist teach and a philosopher of ecology, this octogenarian had many wise things to share that were wonderful nuggets for our Twitterstream: