At Monday night’s Passover Seder we used hard-covered, bound copies of a Haggadah with a copyright date of 1923. The first user of the book — a relative or friend of our host family — had carefully inscribed his name on the inside cover.
In the many years since my conversion from Roman Catholicism to Judaism, I’ve used a variety of Haggadot but none like the one we used last night.
Some of them were faded blue, mimeographed copies, dog-eared and stained with wine and brisket gravy. Others were stapled and patched together with cracking glue and brittle cellophane that incorporated feminist interpretations. A few years ago, we enjoyed the company of a blind guest at our Seder. She used a Braille Haggadah in Hebrew. When it was her turn to read, she simultaneously translated the text into English. Amazing.
Reading from an almost 90 year-old Haggadah, with the name of the octogenarian sitting next to me written in childlike cursive on the inside cover, was an extraordinary experience. It struck me that he had been Jewish 60 years longer than I had been. It filled me with a deep longing for the Passovers and memories I’d missed. At the same time, I felt tremendous gratitude for the spiritual home I’d finally found.
Celebration of Passover is a biblical command for all Jews worldwide to come together as a community to singularly and collectively remember: What the Eternal One did for me when I came out from Egypt. At Passover, I am — along with the ancient Israelites enslaved in Egypt. I am with them redeemed from bondage, and I am promised the care and love the Eternal One blessed be He.
Growing up in a large observant Roman Catholic family, I often felt spiritually displaced. Praying and having a relationship with G-d was always important to me, but I struggled with how to do it within the structure of my birth-religion. The idea of Christ and His divinity got in the way of the personal relationship I wanted to have with G-d.
Holy Week was the only time I felt intimacy and safety with Christ. And then it was as a supremely saintly man who modeled how we are to have a relationship with G-d. Holy Week was the only time Christ became real. From His ride into Jerusalem on Palm Sunday to the Passover dinner with His disciples, the Stations, and His death on the Cross on Good Friday, I felt comfortable with Christ.
Now that I have found my spiritual home in Judaism, I no longer struggle with Christ. I understand Christ and His teachings from a Jewish perspective. I see Him as a wise and holy Rabbi falsely accused and killed by the Romans like another of our other Jewish saints, Rabbi Akiva.
I am grateful to have found Judaism and the community to which I can belong. I am no longer in Diaspora… I am home.
Mary Moos is a marketing consultant who runs her own company, Gordian Marketing, and is the sister of our executive producer.
We welcome your reflections, essays, videos, or news items for possible publication on SOF Observed. Submit your entry through our First Person Outreach page.
The ELCA’s (Evangelical Lutheran Church in America) vote lifting its ban on openly gay and lesbian clergy, has garnered quite a bit of media attention during the past year. While we here at SOF dive into a project culling out the many personal perspectives on this complex issue, homosexuality and its place within civic and religious life is serving as an entry point into difficult discussions for many other traditions. And, in many different ways.
For scholars of Pentecostalism, it has become a flash point for the exercise of academic freedom and critical inquiry. Arlene Sánchez-Walsh, whom you might remember from our show on the origins and impact of Pentecostalism, resigned her presidency of the Society for Pentecostal Studies (SPS), in part, over this internal debate:
"The reason? Denominational leaders of the Assemblies of God had tried to dissuade the SPS from keeping their commitments to speakers invited to the annual meeting because they took issue with some speakers’ stances on GLBT issues—their dislike of one of the scholars’ rather biting critiques of the denominations’ growing spiritual malaise chafed even more.”
Her powerful critique in Religion Dispatches is worth reading. So often in our public sphere, GLBT issues in religious life are discussed as matters of church doctrine or social justice or personal expressions of sexuality. But, what’s at stake here, takes on another expression — the right of a faithful Pentecostal practitioner to have an independent, rigorous “life of the mind.”
“The silence of the Vatican is contempt. Its failure to fully examine its central place in Rwandan genocide can only mean that it is fully aware that it will not be threatened if it buries its head in the sand. While it knows if it ignores the sexual abuse of European parishioners it will not survive the next few years, it can let those African bodies remain buried, dehumanised and unexamined.”—
We originally produced "Getting Revenge and Forgiveness" in the bitter midst of the 2008 election season. And when we first decided on the current program schedule just weeks ago, we had no idea that this show would land in another dramatic moment of recriminatory public emotion, over health care and other issues, in an already charged political climate.
Now, as during that first time, I am grateful for Michael McCullough’s decidedly real-world vigor and clear-sightedness. I’d been intrigued by what I knew of his research, and I was hooked by this line at the beginning of his book, Beyond Revenge:
"I wrote this book for people who want to bypass all of the pious-sounding statements about the power of forgiveness, and all of the fruitless sermonizing about the destructiveness of revenge. It’s for people who want to see human nature for what it really is."
As I’ve said many times before, part of my passion for the spiritual and religious aspect of life is my delight in the fact that here we dwell solemnly not only on God but on what is ordinary and human; we attempt to see human nature for what it really is, and find meaning and possibility right there.
I first began to gain a solemnity about the revenge impulse in human life when we worked, in the early days of Speaking of Faith, on a show about the death penalty. I came to understand that revenge is the original “criminal justice system.” For most of human history, prior to the rule of law, prior to structures of justice that transcend the messiness of human interaction, the threat of retaliation has been a primary tool humans possessed to pursue justice and also to regulate cycles of violence.
The ancient “eye for an eye” teaching of the Hebrew Bible — which is often cited as a justification for extreme revenge — arose in this context. It was not designed to champion extreme punishment, but to limit revenge in terms of equity and fairness — as in, “you may not slaughter the entire family of the person who harmed you or your loved one; you may only take an eye for an eye.”
And now, as Michael McCullough lays out expertly and passionately, science is able to document how normal, and in a sense, how sensible, our instinct for revenge is. It has served a purpose in human life and in the primate world. We are hard-wired for what looks in the brain like a "craving" for revenge, a felt need that begs for satiation. And though we do range in this conversation into the realms of global geopolitics and murderous revenge on a societal scale, Michael McCullough is more interested perhaps in the mundane forms this craving takes: in our interactions with obnoxious neighbors and irritating co-workers or, for example, the political candidates we oppose.
He notes that Americans have a tendency to see revenge as a mark of cultures more primitive than their own. But he points out, provocatively, that, between 1974 and 2000, 61 percent of all school shootings in the U.S. had revenge — often for bullying — as a trigger.
Here is the good news: science is also revealing how forgiveness, like revenge, is hard-wired in us — purposeful and normal. We tolerate and excuse the deficits and mistakes of those we know and love and work with — and even those we don’t love but need to work with — a hundred times a day without ever glorifying these moments with the lofty word “forgiveness.” School shootings, ethnic slaughter, and road rage garner headlines, skewing our sense of our collective character. But, Michael McCullough says, forgiveness doesn’t work in real life as it too often works in media portrayals of dramatic stories of conversion and high emotion.
Actually, he says, we forgive, in good part, because it is in the interests of our genetic pool to do so. The evolutionary pay off for the forgiveness of mistakes by people we are close to or whose work we depend upon, for example, is survival. Michael McCullough says to think of forgiveness as a trait of the weak and the vulnerable reflects a simplistic imagination about human nature and evolutionary biology. And he has the science to give us a more complex imagination about both.
This is science, in other words, that liberates us from reductive analyses of human nature; — that is to say, of ourselves and those around us. If we accept the normalcy of our instincts both to revenge and forgive, we have more control over both. Among the practical tools McCullough offers for moving forward in this way, here is one of the most simple and challenging: we embolden the forgiveness instinct when we come to see others as having value. In this light, religious traditions have more than straight teachings on forgiveness to offer up to our culture. Perhaps more practically, they have rich, ancient, cross-generational resources for seeing, knowing, and honoring the dignity of “the other,” whether enemy or friend, neighbor or stranger.
On the cautionary side of McCullough’s insight, there is a realization that, under the right conditions, we are all vulnerable to falling back on revenge as a form of justice. This helps explain the fact that sectarian cycles of revenge often erupt after the fall of dictatorships, like that of Saddam Hussein; such regimes take all the revenge function on themselves and keep normal human dynamics artificially in check. McCullough’s science makes a sobering case for the necessity of the basic rule of law — in Iraq or in an American inner city — if human beings are to live up to their moral potential.
The need to understand the instincts for revenge and forgiveness, and to govern them, may be attaining a new urgency in a globalized world, and one that is in the midst of protracted economic turmoil. I know that Michael McCullough’s analysis has been ringing in my ears — anchoring both my concerns and my hopes — as I’ve watched that ongoing financial crisis unfold, and as I consider the unabated polarization of American political culture.
The science editor of The Independent reports on a scientific study finding that “the artistic renditions of the Last Supper over the past thousand years show that the size of the plates and the amount of food being eaten by Jesus Christ and his disciples have grown significantly over the centuries.”
Oh, the Cornell University group found that in the 52 paintings studied that “about 18 per cent of the tables served fish or eel, 14 per cent showed lamb being served and 7 per cent painted portions of pork.” The eel is a smidge surprising, but pork?
Honoring Passover and Evolving Tradition Shubha Bala, associate producer
Eli Lipmen, a listener from Los Angeles, recently wrote to tell us about a local Passover event:
"On April 1st, leaders from the Jewish and African American community will come together to remember and reenact the Exodus story through the ritual of the Passover Seder. This will be the 3rd African American-Jewish Seder held in Los Angeles and hearkens back to the ‘Freedom Seder’ organized in 1969 in Washington DC. What relevance does the narrative of liberation and freedom have today?”
Meanwhile, with Passover approaching, it was suggested that I listen to one of our shows from 2004: "A Program for Passover and Easter." One of the three guests in the show, Sandy Sasso, is senior rabbi at Congregation Beth-El Zedeck in Indianapolis. Here, she explains the relevance of the stories of Passover in today’s world and, more importantly, how changing and adapting traditions is actually an important way to honor them.
Coincidentally, she also shares the meaning of her experience conducting a Passover Seder with an African-American Episcopal priest bringing together black and Jewish women to discuss oppression and liberation within the context of the Exodus story.
If you enjoy this interview, you can also listen to our show on the spirituality of parenting, which also features Rabbi Sasso.
Image caption: participants read the Haggadah during the African American/Jewish Passover Seder at Wilshire Boulevard Temple in Los Angeles (photo courtesy of the American Jewish Committee)
"Let no one be offended because we use the divine words read at our mass to shed light on the social, political and economic situation of our people."
These are the opening lines of the last sermon given by Archbishop Oscar Romero before his assassination 30 years ago today. This past weekend over 10,000 Catholics participated in a commemorative procession in San Salvador.
(photo: Jose Cabezas/AFP/Getty Images)
In this two-part BBC documentary, Central American correspondent Julian Miglierini reports on the complex legacy of Romero that today “inspires an unlikely range of people from devout grandmothers to secular hip-hop artists.”
(photo: Kristine Pommert)
This image of villagers standing under a mural of Romero is one of a handful captured by Miglierini’s producer during their reporting. The man and woman standing third and fourth from the right, now adults, are the children in the mural, adapted from an iconic photograph taken when the Archbishop visited Los Sitios Arriba.
For the first time since 1984, a Sikh has graduated as an officer in the U.S. Army. Sikhs believe that “the unshorn hair wrapped in a turban and beard are required to keep adherents in the natural state in which God made them.” Captain Tejdeep Singh Rattan received an exception that allows him to keep his turban and beard, the first time such an exemption has been granted. Check out the HuffPo article for more detail.
One of yesterday’s two big interviews in which Woods answered questions for the first time since his November 27, 2009 crash, he also was asked about the two-stranded (white?) bracelet he was wearing. His response: “It’s Buddhist, it’s for protection and strength and I certainly need that.”
I’d like to know more about this amulet and the ritual surrounding it. Any ideas about its history and significance?
Mapping Religion in Online Realms (or Maps of Irreverence that Tell Us Something about Our Online Selves)
Trent Gilliss, online editor
Over at Floatingsheep, Mark Graham has been rendering some superb data sets about religion as it manifests itself in various ways on the Internet. There’s some good learning to be had but they are also a lot of fun so I’m taking it a bit further by pulling maps from two discrete entries and pairing them for a bit of play.
First, my sub-dollar 2-liter bottle of soda to get you in the door — a visual analysis of “the comparative prevalence of churches (blue), bowling alleys (red), guns (green) and strip clubs (yellow)” (in-depth analysis here) in the United States as indexed on Google Maps.
A rather tongue-in-cheek way of weaving a good dose of humor into some disparate social activities that perhaps tells us something, in the context of our blog, about the online presence of churches in the South running through the Buffalo Commons in the Midwest to the Canadian border.
Now — and I realize this is a stretch, but since it’s Saturday… — compare this granular map below of Christianity in the U.S. with the one you just saw. In cyberspace, churches and Protestants seem to go hand-in-hand, dominating the landscape. What other non-scientific speculations and conclusions might you draw?
As seen in the following map, let’s zoom out and take a look at the larger world by comparing the relative number of search terms of four types of Christianity: Catholic (green), Orthodox (red), Pentecostal (gold), and Protestant (blue). Graham notes:
"Most interesting is the fact that references to "Pentecostal" are more visible than references to "Catholic" in most parts of Brazil (and large parts of South America) despite the fact that almost three-quarters of Brazilians identify as being Catholics. Part of the issue is likely down to the fact that we thus far have confined our searches to English-language terms and are therefore missing out on all the references to Catholicism in Spanish. However, it is intriguing that Pentecostalism is so visible in Brazil (perhaps because it is rapidly growing in popularity in the region).”
And then check out the next map from "Google’s Geography of Religion" that charts the relative concentration of search terms for Allah (green), Jesus (blue), Hindu (red), and Buddha (gold).
When I saw the addition of the search term “sex” to the map, the dynamic of the map changed quite dramatically, particularly in North America. Refer back to the first map and you may arrive at other conclusions or insights. Share them in the comments section so we all can conjecture and chat.
NYT's Lens blog posted a fun entry about Senator Patrick Leahy’s personal photography as he operates from a unique vantage point within the hallowed halls and meeting rooms of Washington D.C. As interesting as the many photos of presidents and legislators are, it’s this “conscience picture” — a portrait he took of an El Salvadoran man in a refugee camp in 1987 — that I find most intriguing, most grounding.
From James Estrin’s piece:
"I set that over my desk," Senator Leahy said, "and every time I think I’m getting a little carried away with myself, I look at that and hear him say: ‘O.K. You’ve talked to all these very important people all around the world; people who have power and money and everything. What are you doing for people like me?’"
"Krista and a few of us producers are off again for a face-to-face interview with one of the world’s greatest men. We’re keeping it a bit of a secret in consideration of his privacy during his respite, but video and audio are sure to come!"
Within minutes, we received many guesses, and it was Kim Connolly who correctly identified the mystery guest: Archbishop Desmond Tutu. We had the pleasure and honor of interviewing him while he was on retreat at the The Fetzer Institute in Kalamazoo, Michigan. We kept it quiet until now to respect his privacy until his departure.
Archbishop Desmond Tutu holds his gift of dried mango while speaking with Krista Tippett. (photo: Trent Gilliss)
As we prepared for this interview, I asked his assistant if the Archbishop had any preferences we should be aware of when he does interviews. She kindly indicated that he’s very flexible and added, “Should you wish to spoil him a bit, he is mad about dried mango.”
(photo: Colleen Scheck)
So, when Krista sat down across from him to start the interview, the Archbishop spied the bowl of dried mango (unsulphurized!) next to her and commented on it, which you can hear in the audio clip above.
That humorous exchange began a sincere, reflective, and playful conversation between Krista and Desmond Tutu that we look forward to producing and sharing for the podcast and radio at the end of April — along with video of the complete, unedited interview.
(Full disclosure: The Fetzer Institute is an underwriter of Speaking of Faith.)
I almost never buy T-shirts. When my son Josh was younger and going through that gotta-have-that-shirt stage, he bought enough for a regiment: sports shirts, camp shirts, school shirts, fund-raiser shirts — whatever was on the market. And when he began to outgrow the T-shirt phase, I inherited more hand-me-downs than a man could use. I kept only enough to handle chore-work for a few years and donated the rest to Goodwill.
The only T-shirt I’ve bought in decades is a recent purchase. Even though it’s brand new, it’s a dingy brown and looks well-worn. It has the words “Same shirt, different day” printed on the front. Okay, it’s corny and maybe a little tasteless, but I fell for it, and I enjoy the brief look of alarm on people’s faces when they first read it.
I am thinking about buying another T-shirt I just saw in a mail-order catalog. This one has a quotation from the Dalai Lama on it: “My faith is kindness.”
How different is that short saying of his from the basic teachings of Jesus? If Jesus came back and gave up his robe for jeans and an imprinted T-shirt, what would his T-shirt say? Remember, now, this is the man who was asked about the most important commandment, and his answer ran — how long? Two lines?
Two lines, you could get on a T-shirt. And maybe I’ve not been that far off when I condensed his answer to five words: “Love God, love each other.” That would fit even better. Or in the modern pictorial idiom, “♥ God, ♥ each other.” Nothing like being current, I say.
And you know what? Jesus never recited enough creed and dogma to make your teeth ache. In fact, the essence of his teachings was ethical, not creedal. We’ve managed to mess that up.
So what would the twenty-first century Jesus wear on his imprinted T-shirt? Maybe “Love God, love each other.” And when that shirt was dirty and needed washing, I suspect he could wear the Dalai Lama’s T-shirt and be quite at home in it. In fact, I think everybody in the whole world should be able to wear a shirt like that and be at home in it.
Mr. Black is a retired English teacher and former minister in the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) who lives in Louisa, Virginia. His second book of poetry, “The Clown in the Tent,” will be published this fall.
Krista’s recent interview with Desmond Tutu (listen for it at the end of April) has us all contemplative about the current state of South Africa. The New York Times recently published this article about renowned playwright Athol Fugard:
"The hope is that the Fugard and its resident acting ensemble will attract people of all races to mingle on its upholstered benches. Eric Abraham, the South African-born film and theater producer who has financed both the theater and Isango Portobello, said he believes the talents of the acting ensemble will prove to be ‘an antidote to prejudice.’ The seating has been intentionally left open so serendipity can bring people together.
Although it isn’t there yet…
"The theater’s organizers acknowledge that they have a long way to go in building a multiracial audience. On a recent Wednesday evening, virtually every person at ‘The Magic Flute’ was white, a fact regretfully noted by the theatergoers themselves.
'It looks like the Cape Town liberal elite,' said Jacky Davis, a British doctor who volunteered in a black township 30 years ago and was visiting the city as a tourist.
Mr. Fugard said in an interview that the new democratic South Africa — struggling with poverty and corruption, among other challenges — needs the arts of stagecraft ‘as urgently as the old South Africa needed those first few daring, sometimes suicidal acts of defiance in the theater.’”
Thinking of Anne Lamott As We Create a New Show Nancy Rosenbaum, associate producer
"Sober people say that religion is for people who are afraid to go to hell, and spirituality is for people who’ve been there. And I think faith, for me, is a word that speaks much more to a belief and an interest in matters that are spiritual rather than the institution and creeds that you associate with religion."
We’ve been thinking about Anne Lamott a lot lately as we continue to build a dialogue about what it means to be spiritual but not necessarily religious. (We’re looking to make a full-fledged production out of your responses, so add your reflections here — and please share this link with others.)
Krista interviewed the writer back in 2003, during the earliest days of Speaking of Faith. Now for the first time, we’re making Krista’s unedited interview available. It’s a wonderful listen chock full of audio gems (stream in player above or download).
Lamott described herself to Krista as a spiritual “woman of faith” who disdains dogma and “the great evil” of religious fundamentalism. She calls out fundamentalism as a terrifying peril of our time: “a conviction of being right and of feeling that we are chosen and that other people can be denied a seat at the banquet table.”
We’ve noticed some conversation threads emerging on our blog and Facebook page that illuminate and expand upon Lamott’s ideas about being faithful, spiritual, but not religious. As Elissa Elliot commented on our Facebook thread:
“‘Religious’ (to many people) implies abuse, hypocrisy, and shortsightedness…Perhaps the world ‘spiritual’ is a more ‘open’ and ‘embracing’ term and that’s why more people are using it. It implies that although I believe certain things, I’m not set in my ways, and I realize that God may work in ways ‘outside the box I’ve been raised in.’ AND I want to hear what the next person is saying…”
But if “spiritual but not religious” feels more expansive and embracing to some, others experience it as isolating.
"We can’t just be spiritual individuals all by ourselves. The tension is the tension between the important need to form communities within which to share our spiritual journeys and the impulse to organize these communities efficiently to expand and grow." — Brant Lee
"Individualism is highly prized in our culture, but when it comes to matters of faith, community is very important." —Sanna Ellingson
In her book, Traveling Mercies, Anne Lamott has a passage that squarely hits on this need for a spiritual community:
"Most of the people I know who have what I want—which is to say, purpose, heart, balance, gratitude, joy—are people with a deep sense of spirituality. They are people in community, who pray, or practice their faith; they are Buddhists, Jews, Christians—people banding together to work on themselves and for human rights. They follow a brighter light than the glimmer of their own candle; they are part of something beautiful. I saw something once from The Jewish Theological Seminary that said, ‘A human life is like a single letter of the alphabet. It can be meaningless. Or it can be a part of a great meaning.’"
We’d like to know how are you finding and creating communities that enrich you spiritually? Share your story with us.
“Everyone talks about how Johnny has fallen from grace. In reality, he’s fallen to grace. He is integrated. He is living a life of truth. He has grown in awareness and humility. He had all these things within him, but they weren’t the guiding, leading principles of his life. Now they are.”—
A couple of weeks before my birthday, my mom sent me an e-mail reminding me when my “star birthday” was — March 14th, by the way — and saying she was donating to a local temple on that day so they can provide free food for the congregation. Although I’ve always been told when my star birthday was, this was the first time I went on a quest to find out what it was.
Simply put, your star birthday is your birthday using the Hindu calendar instead of the Gregorian calendar. Hindu calendars are traditionally used to derive entire individual horoscopes, which are culturally consulted for just about everything — from determining a baby’s name to finding the best wedding location (and person!)
Your birth star, or Janma Nakshatra, is just one component of the calendar. If you draw a line from where you were born, at the time you were born, to the moon, the Janma Nakshatra is the star constellation that the line would pass through. Each month has 27 Nakshatras, which means some Nakshatras will occur twice in a month.
As with most aspects of Hinduism, there is no rule as to what significance a star birthday has. For example, I spoke to Narayanan Kandanchatha, who grew up in the Indian state of Kerala and is from the sub-caste Nambudiripad. He said that each year they would have to do an important prayer on their star birthday. In his case, the star was so critical that if it was missed, rather than do it the next day, they would wait until the Nakshatra of the following month. He also said that in his culture, in order to do a Upanayanam ceremony (the male coming of age ceremony for the Brahmin caste), a boy must have conducted a special ceremony on his Nakshatra 36 times.
For my mom, her tradition was to wear new clothes on her star birthday. Then she mailed me a new shirt to wear. Some people believe naming your baby with the same first syllable as their star is auspicious. My parents didn’t intend it, but in researching this blog I discovered that I coincidentally ended up with an auspicious first name!
Finding your star birthday
Find your Janma Nakshatra when you were born by using this calculator and your birth year (mine is Satabhisha.)
Next find the Hindu month in which you were born. Scroll to the table of Hindu months here to find the start and end dates for that month. For example, I was born March 5, which would be the month Phalguna, starting on February 20.
Then, go back to this first calculator, and for the date range enter your full Hindu birth month (e.g., February 20 - March 19) for the current year. It will give you a table with all the Nakshatras for the month. Find the date your Nakshatra lands on, and that is your star birthday this year (March 14 for me). If your Nakshatra occurs two times in that month, the second time is when you would celebrate your star birthday.
Since Hinduism is a religion composed of diverse cultures and history, the details in this procedure can change. Many cultures define their months differently. Also, some people don’t use the Nakshatra at all, using instead the Tithi, a completely different aspect of the calendar. But I’ll leave you to investigate these varieties on your own.
We were pleased to see The Daily Beastfeatured the New York Public Library’s backstage clip of their event with Krista last week. It’s a short snippet, and, with a bit of prime-time drama-like production, it effectively captures the substance and tenor of the event.
We’d been in touch with Paul Holdengräber and Meg Stemmler at the NYPL for a few months to prepare for this live evening — including discussions about various formats and stage partners (such as Alan Alda, who couldn’t make it). While it came off seamlessly, there was a bit of last-minute heroics that made it all happen.
Archival audio clips of Albert Einstein and segments from Krista’s conversations with Paul Davies, Freeman Dyson, and Andrew Solomon were selected and pulled together minutes before the performance began. (Moments like that make me think of the famous frantic-run scene from Broadcast News when Joan Cusack’s character rushes a videotape to the studio for live broadcast, pushing people aside and sliding under an open file cabinet. Well, ok, so it wasn’t that dramatic.)
In the end, NYPL’s brilliant ideas were worth it. Hearing the voice of Einstein was a fun and compelling way to open this conversation about the intersection of science, theology, philosophy, and medicine that is the backbone of Krista’s new book. And a wonderful conversation it was between Krista, Andrew Solomon, and Paul Holdengräber — exploring that intersection on both richly intellectual and deeply personal levels.
With a full house in NYC of more than 500 people, we were also excited that over 5,700 others watched our live stream online — something we are doing more of so that we can include the many of you who aren’t able to attend in person. It’s only fair, right?
If you missed it, you can watch it here:
And, if you want to participate in our upcoming events in April, check out our SOF Live page. We’ll be live streaming video of Krista’s interview with NPR’s Michel Martin in Washington DC, and Krista will be giving a solo performance in a gorgeous venue in Philadelphia where she’ll be playing clips and answering questions.
Behind the Scenes: Editing for Story Nancy Rosenbaum, associate producer
"Like everything good in life, the art of editing takes time to learn and it never becomes a matter of rote mastery. You start out fresh with every interview and every interview presents its own distinctive challenges and idiosyncrasies….
Stories are magic. Be very slow to throw them out. That said, all stories are not equal. And some stories are too long and you’ll have to work and experiment with creative ways to keep them in…” —Krista Tippett from “Notes on Editing Speaking of Faith”
Our production staff works collaboratively to whittle down Krista’s 90+ minute studio interviews into an hour of radio. With music, Krista’s scripting, and other elements like poems and readings, each produced show has room for 40-45 minutes of interview material.
So what stays and what goes? There’s no magic formula. But as Krista notes, “stories are magic” and so we listen for the jewels.
In Krista’s recent interview with Jacqueline Novogratz, she told so many good stories we struggled editorially with which ones to include. And our choices shifted as we progressed through the editing process.
The audio above is a story about an ambulance company in Mumbai that we liked but was left out in the early stages of production. The story comes at a juncture in the conversation when Novogratz shares a succession of examples of projects she’s working on. We decided that all of those stories would be too much for the listener to digest, so this is one we reluctantly cut.
Then there are stories that get cut and we later pull back in. That was the case with what we nicknamed "the Jane story" — about a woman living in a Kenyan slum who saves to buy her own home. In our final listen, Colleen and others felt the final section of the show would benefit from another concrete story to ground Novogratz’s work and its impact. You can listen to the produced version of “the Jane story” here:
One of my radio mentors likes to say, “Who’s doing what and why do we care?” Good stories help to answer the “why do we care” question.
A listener, Russell, e-mailed the other day saying he had been on his own sleuthing expedition expedition to find the original source of an Einstein quote about Buddhism being the cosmic religion of the future. It was referenced in the Particulars section of our show “The Buddha in the World.” He had come up empty-handed and wrote to ask if we knew where the quote came from.
Well, as Nancy’s previous post indicates, many a producer has been challenged by sorting out Einstein’s misquotes from original quotes. So have many other quote detectives. This quote seems to be a good example of how misquoting gets propagated so quickly on the web. Many sites with the quote source this site, which leads to a dead-end since it attributes it only Albert Einstein. Some people source books — Awakening the Buddha Within by Lama Surya Das and All the Questions You Ever Wanted to Ask American Atheists, Vol II by Madalyn Murray O’Hair — but those books do not source the quotes either.
The best conclusion is this response from the Albert Einstein Archives at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem:
"The quote under discussion which I know is quite ‘popular’, could so far paraphrase of some ideas Einstein developed in an essay titled "Religion and Science" in 1930. Here he mentions the “cosmic religiosity” (not religion!), Buddhism, and a belief that avoids dogma and theology.”
Many of us have read Nick Kristof’s columns over the years. And, perhaps, like me, you’ve been moved by his words, shaken by his stories, struck dumb with melancholy and grief. But, inevitably, the “plight of the ‘distant stranger’” assumes its role in feeling the events happening over there.
The HBO documentary, Reporter, will challenge you to come closer, to care, to take action as he pursues uncovering the truths behind human rights violations and personal suffering. With Kristof leading the way, the viewer bears witness alongside his two traveling companions, a med student and a teacher, to the tricky trail the journalist walks when reporting in war-torn Congo.
The film portrays some of the ethical and moral dilemmas of being a reporter in a conflict zone. When Kristof encounters a 41-year-old woman of 60 pounds lying at the edge of a village about to die, he acts. When a warlord responsible for the raping and pillaging of thousands gives thanks to the Lord, he bows his head; when that same man, General Nkunda asks him to eat with him, he dines. Few of these decisions are made without some type of deliberation — a grimace, a pause, a controlled look. But, in the end, he always writes.
He perseveres and tries to understand the underlying aspects of the people involved. And, he asks the difficult questions that have gotten other journalists killed. I’m not trying to saint him, but I now better appreciate his work as he attempts to discover a fuller aspect of all the human beings involved. He continues to tell the difficult stories of a region that gets covered during catastrophic events, and then forgotten within a blink’s time of a celebrity foible or the next breaking news event.
I hope we can interview him for the show some day in the future and hear how he wrestles with these difficult choices — and how he continues on.
"It establishes a poverty threshold that depends on the cost of food, shelter, clothing and utilities ‘plus a little more’ for ‘a population that is not poor but is somewhat below the median.’"
Poverty measurements are a pet interest of mine, along with everything we can chalk up to the logistical challenges of aid. The U.S. has one standard federal poverty line, and a lot of assistance is based on it: food stamps and national free lunch, for example. That means a mother living in New York City and trying to raise kids on a low income has to be below the same income level as someone living in a small rural town with a lower cost-of-living, or she will be eligible for far fewer benefits.
It’s a system which is widely known to be flawed and yet has existed for 50 years. Even it’s founder, Mollie Orshansky, offered this only to be used for statistical purposes and not as a policy criterion. It looks like the government is finally doing something about it!
We’re experiencing some of the same “attachment” now that Krista’s new book is out. Several minutes of this morning’s staff meeting was dedicated to some impromptu analysis of the Einstein’s God ranking on Amazon.
The short: the book seems to be doing well, but the ranking system is a mystery in itself.
"For Murdoch, these conflicts amount to holy missions. While others may see him as an opportunistic predator, ready to lay waste to whatever falls under his gaze, Murdoch sees himself as a moralist, the enemy of entrenched, arbitrary power."
"Murdoch was infuriated by the editorial, which he saw as yet another example, as if more were needed, of the Times’ characteristic self-interest wrapped in a cloak of high-toned moralism.”
"Much as he has done in the newspaper wars he’s fought over the last 60 years, he wants to turn the tables, call Google’s moral authority into question."
And yet, none of these family and business relationships seem very nice.
"Physicists have no problem answering the question of ‘If a tree falls in the woods and no one’s there to hear it, does it make a sound?’ They say, ‘Yes! Of course it makes a sound!’ Likewise, if time flows without entropy and there’s no one there to experience it, is there still time? Yes. There’s still time."
After listening to a few "Einstein’s God" interviews, my head is swimming in “what is time” versus “how do I feel time.” Well this Wired article has my head spinning even more.
Two Jesuits who work at the Vatican Observatory — Brother Guy Consolmagno, curator of meteorites, and Father George Coyne, its former director (whom you might recognize from his appearance in Bill Maher’s Religulous) — have been on our interview list for years. Yesterday, Krista was finally able to interview them, together, from a recording studio in Arizona. These two astronomers had a great dynamic between them and have a bit of different perspective from most of the “hard” scientists — usually physicists — we have spoken to over the years. Oh, and they have great sense of humor, as you can see in the video to the right of Br. Consolmagno’s appearance on The Colbert Report.
We’ll start producing this interview while Krista’s out on tour speaking about her new book, and we can’t wait to release this program! In the meantime, Colleen and I tweeted some of the lines that struck our ears. A transcript of our Twitter stream:
For the next 90 minutes, tweets from Krista’s interview w/ two Vatican Observatory astronomers: Fr. George Coyne and Br. Guy Consolmagno.
68 degrees in Arizona. They’re rubbing it in since it is frigid today in Minnesota.
Fr. George is a Jesuit who grew up in Baltimore. Tells a great story about a priest who hooked him up w/ books from the Reading, PA library.
Br. Guy grew up in Detroit and transferred to MIT when he discovered they had the largest science fiction collection!
Br. Guy joined Peace Corps b/c he “couldn’t see the point of studying stars when people are suffering.” Realized that all people love stars.
Fr. Coyne: if all we do is feed and clothe people, we’re all going to be naked; what really makes us human is music, the arts, science…
Br. Guy: you don’t find answers to theological ?s by looking through a telescope; you don’t go to the Bible to find answers to science.
Fr. George: “the God of religious faith is a lover.”
Fr. George: “My understanding of the universe does not need God. I don’t need God in my science.”
Br. Guy Consolmagno: “The tragedy of Haiti is the tragedy of death. … There isn’t any answer to that.”
Fr. George Coyne, astronomer: “To limit our human experience to scientific knowledge is to impoverish all of us.”
Br. Guy Consolmagno, on seismic and cosmic activity in the creation of life: “The climate will change. … The Earth is not a paradise.”
Fr. George Coyne: “To have faith is an extreme risk. ‘Rock of Ages’ is a nice hymn but…”
Br. Guy Consolmagno: “We know our understanding of the universe is incomplete; our understanding of God is incomplete.”
Br. Guy Consolmagno: “You have to experience something before you can react to it.”
Fr. George Coyne, an astronomer on his science: “It’s exciting to be ignorant.”
Fr. George Coyne, when he presents papers at scientific conferences: “I’m not dressed as a priest. It just confuses things.” Funny moment.
The Vatican Observatory is staffed by all Jesuits, except one diocesan priest. But the observatory was not founded by the Jesuit Order.
4 Jesuits have asteroids named after them: Xavier, Loyola, and the 2 chaps Krista is interviewing: Fr. George Coyne + Br. Guy Consolmagno
Br Guy on Galileo: why is it that 400 years later he’s symbol of science religion clash when that’s not what it was about at his time?
Br Guy: Don’t just learn science from reading Newton & Galileo, but also from Plato, Shakespeare, and scripture
Br. Guy Consolmagno, a Jesuit astronomer: “Truth can sometimes only be expressed in a poetry.”
Fr Coyne: language of universe is math; it’s a tool to understand beauty; we absract to understand
Br Guy: Being able to do science is trying to understand how God plays with us
"But after I accepted that…he actually said such things, the next puzzle for me was why? Because…prior to Martin Luther King, I don’t know of any other Nobel Laureate who spoke so forcefully for the rights of African Americans." — S. James Gates, Jr., string theorist
"My trip to this institution was in behalf of a worthwhile cause. There is a separation of colored people from white people in the United States. That separation is not a disease of colored people. It is a disease of white people. I do not intend to be quiet about it." — Albert Einstein, speaking at Lincoln University in Pennsylvania in 1946
Albert Einstein’s spiritual sensibility is the center of this week’s program, "Einstein’s God," but I want to highlight a section from our companion show, "Einstein’s Ethics," that explores the nature of his humanitarian passions and public ethics, including his views on race. It contains one of my favorite interviews: Krista’s conversation with S. James Gates, Jr, a professor of physics whose work focuses on string theory and supersymmetry — things I don’t fully comprehend.
Originally, he was not on our radar for this program, but when we heard him speak at a conference on Einstein’s legacy, we were impressed not only by his scientific insight, but also by his reflection on Einstein the person. In this excerpt from our program, Gates speaks eloquently and thoughtfully about how he discovered Einstein’s passion for the problem of racism, and his "capacity for ethical engagement and his scientific creativity" — something Gates himself embodies. You’ll hear the beautiful voice of the legendary opera singer Marian Anderson, whom Einstein invited to stay at his home after she was denied a room at Princeton’s best “whites only” hotel.
"I think in a way that kind of cliche ‘spiritual but not religious,’ which apparently is a thing more and more people say to describe themselves, is in a way an attempt to reconcile in some cases with science. In other words…if I say I believe in this highly anthropomorphic God, if I’m religious and too old-fashioned in a sense, or buy into specific claims of revelation, that might not sit well with the modern scientific intelligence." —Robert Wright, author of The Evolution of God (February 2, 2010)
(graphic: Pew Research Center)
New research from the Pew Forum on Public Life reveals that a sizable slice of the Millenial population (people born after 1981) does not affiliate with a particular religious denomination or faith. We’re aware that people of all ages are defining themselves under the expansive umbrella of “spiritual but not religious.” We see this, in part, through the weekly listener emails that flow into our inbox.
Our contact form includes a question: “What faith tradition, if any, do you belong to?” Here are examples of some recent responses we’ve received:
I defy labels ;)
Christian, Baptist… though I refer to myself as a “recovering evangelical” currently not affiliated
atheist, with emerging theory of spirituality
the teachings of Christ, the Buddha, and my dog, not necessarily in that order
As you can see, it’s quite a spread. In his recent public conversation with Krista, Robert Wright provided some helpful insights about how this “spiritual but not religious” trend might relate to a concern with what he calls “modern scientific intelligence.”
If you consider yourself “spiritual but not religious,” can you help us understand what this term actually means to you? Does science have something to do with it? Is it primarily a youthful Millennial trend, as the Pew Forum report suggests? Are there other terms that you would add to the list above to describe yourself on this “spiritual but not religious” continuum?
New data from the Pew Forum may be unsurprising to some of us, but it amplifies what we have probably assumed to be true and seems relevant to our projects at Speaking of Faith:
"Compared with their elders today, young people are much less likely to affiliate with any religious tradition or to identify themselves as part of a Christian denomination. Fully one-in-four adults under age 30 (25%) are unaffiliated, describing their religion as "atheist," "agnostic" or "nothing in particular." This compares with less than one-fifth of people in their 30s (19%), 15% of those in their 40s, 14% of those in their 50s and 10% or less among those 60 and older. About two-thirds of young people (68%) say they are members of a Christian denomination and 43% describe themselves as Protestants, compared with 81% of adults ages 30 and older who associate with Christian faiths and 53% who are Protestants."
Since 2005, same-sex union ceremonies in the UK have been forbidden from mentioning anything religious at all. This has basically banned religious groups (like the Quakers) from consensually performing civil unions for their gay members. It looks like senior bishops in the UK are now backing an amendment to lift this ban, allowing religious institutions to perform same-sex partnerships if they choose. Some Christian groups fear this is a step towards forcing the church to perform gay marriages in the future.
Current NewGround Fellow (check out our program on the organization) Ali H. Mir has written a challenging piece in USC’s The Scoop. By definition of the Patriot Act, he says, journalists should be identifying Joseph Andrew Stack III — the suicide bomber who flew his plane into a federal building in Austin, Texas in order to kill employees of the Internal Revenue Service — as a terrorist and not simply a tax protester:
"Law enforcement and the major media outlets in the United States need to be consistent in their definition of terrorism and to use the term objectively. Selective use of the term makes it clear that objectivity is simply a conceit and that certain racial, ethnic and religious groups are incapable of committing acts of terrorism (i.e. upper-middle-class white men who own airplanes and nurture a grievance against their own government)."
The administrative dashboard for SOF Observed allows us to see who has liked and reblogged our posts within the Tumblr community. It also allows us to see who “follows” our blog. Our most recent follower, 40 Days 40 Deeds, is a group of folks in four cities across the U.S. who aspire to:
"…make small changes throughout the 2010 Lenten season to encourage people to be kinder, to give more, to inconvenience themselves a little to make the world a more pleasant place to be."
The project is in its beginning stages and I’m already liking it. Their deeds are seemingly inconsequential, but, as Pádraig reminds us, “Lent is less for giving up, and more for making space.” These small acts of kindness are really important — offering a ride home to a stranded co-worker few people like, giving your time to be a judge at a history fair, or even just letting that nasty driver budge in front of you during the morning commute — and, perhaps, just might establish new meaningful relationships andlengthen one’s telomeres in the process.
Also, this type of blog picks up on a theme taken up by a pair of Muslims living in New York City last fall. As a way of observing Ramadan, the two men vowed to visit 30 mosques in 30 days during Islam’s holiest month. Not only did they worship regularly, they got to know the many brothers and sisters of all nationalities that make up the Muslim community.
Coupling religious ritual and observance with being a better person and getting to know people — what better way to live out one’s faith and improve one’s self. And, what a great way to notice common threads in many traditions.