Last spring, the Obamas planted a White House vegetable garden. This year, why not follow up by cutting the air conditioning and opening the windows? They might also set a temperature range for the White House within which neither artificial heating nor cooling is used — recognizing that for much of the spring and fall what nature provides simply cannot be improved.
I’m no fan of indoor refrigeration even in summer. I realize I’m in the minority. Nevertheless, year-round climate control is surely not what most people want. During these glorious weeks, I cannot believe the office and retail workers who crowd every outdoor café and park bench at lunchtime appreciate returning to their airtight posts. I cannot believe the guests of most major hotels prefer stale recycled air over an April breeze. I cannot believe the bedridden sick and elderly prefer the drone of forced air to the calls of nesting birds. Novelist Henry Miller called the United States the “air-conditioned nightmare.” He had a point.
The ubiquity of windows that do not open may cause some not to notice what they are missing. Sealed spaces divide, they alienate, they blind us to what is happening beyond our threshold. They rob us of the goose bumps you feel as the sun sets at the end of a balmy day, of the sounds of crickets and children, of the smell of freshly mown grass, honeysuckle, earth. A different kind of comfort emerges when we tune in rather than anesthetizing ourselves to our given reality, and with this comfort comes a different kind of compassion for ourselves and our surroundings.
In the end, of course, this isn’t only about us. Americans make up 4% of the world’s population and we produce a quarter of its carbon dioxide pollution. I don’t know where you draw the line between personal comfort and responsibility, but treating our air 12 months a year, 24/7 is on the wrong side of it. This isn’t comfort, it’s gratuitous waste.
Who stands to lose from an open-window revolution? The multibillion dollar HVAC industry. I’m okay with that.
It’s been a long winter — let the sun shine in.
Ms. Motro teaches law at the University of Richmond in Virginia. This essay was first published in The Wall Street Journal on April 10, 2010 and reprinted with permission of the author.
We welcome your reflections, essays, videos, or news items for possible publication on SOF Observed. Submit your entry through our First Person Outreach page.
“And, then, I later read ‘The Power of Now’ by Eckhart Tolle, and it tells you to find a shaft of sunlight and sit in it every day. So my boyfriend was, like, following Eckhart Tolle’s weird sunlight advice and finding it. And then he ended up using ‘The Power of Now’ to break up with me. So, like, it had turned against me.”—
We’ve received countless stories about the positive impact of Eckhart Tolle’s teachings on people’s lives. I had to smile when I heard this humorous story from a person who was on the receiving end of his guiding principles. If you work on SOF long enough, you hear the most surprising references to all types of material and people on the program!
The Atlantic Wire's ongoing feature asking journalists about their “media diets” is invaluable if you have as much difficulty as the rest of our staff in sifting through the massive amount of information being disseminated every minute of the day. Don’t be mistaken by the title of the series; it involves all types of media not just print.
And, I’ll admit, this post is a bit self-serving too. Last week, I was caught off guard, and elated, when I saw that John Dickerson, Slate's chief political correspondent, recommends SOF as one of his regular sources:
And, I’d really like to know what some essential — and perhaps esoteric — sources you check in on to keep you connected to the larger world and how they give meaning and make sense of it all. Leave a comment here, if you like. What do you pay attention to?
Observing Yom HaShoah with a Prayer from Elie Wiesel
by Nancy Rosenbaum, associate producer
On May 18, 1945, American chaplain Rabbi Herschel Schacter conducts a religious service for Jewish survivors of the Buchenwald concentration camp shortly after liberation. (credit: National Archives and Records Administration)
Today marks Yom HaShoah — Holocaust Remembrance Day. Each year it’s observed on the 27th day of Nisan in the Hebrew calendar.
To commemorate Yom HaShoah, we wanted to share with you a clip from our program with Elie Wiesel, "The Tragedy of the Believer." The Nobel laureate is probably best known for his memoir Night, which tells the story of his experiences at the Auschwitz and Buchenwald concentration camps during the Holocaust.
During his conversation with Krista in 2003, Wiesel dispels the misconception that he forever lost his faith in God after the war. He also describes how language becomes holy through prayer. In the audio clip above (download mp3), he recites a prayer he wrote that ends his book, One Generation After:
I no longer ask you for either happiness or paradise; all I ask of You is to listen and let me be aware of Your listening.
I no longer ask You to resolve my questions, only to receive them and make them part of You.
I no longer ask You for either rest or wisdom, I only ask You not to close me to gratitude, be it of the most trivial kind, or to surprise and friendship. Love? Love is not Yours to give.
As for my enemies, I do not ask You to punish them or even to enlighten them; I only ask You not to lend them Your mask and Your powers. If You must relinquish one or the other, give them Your powers. But not Your countenance.
They are modest, my requests, and humble. I ask You what I might ask a stranger met by chance at twilight in a barren land.
I ask you, God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, to enable me to pronounce these words without betraying the child that transmitted them to me: God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, enable me to forgive You and enable the child I once was to forgive me too.
I no longer ask You for the life of that child, nor even for his faith. I only beg You to listen to him and act in such a way that You and I can listen to him together.
They are modest, my prayers, and humble. I ask You what I might ask a stranger met by chance at twilight in a barren land.
I ask You, God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, to enable me to pronounce these words without betraying the child that transmitted them to me. God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, enable me to forgive You and enable the child I once was to forgive me too.
I no longer ask You for the life of that child, nor even for his faith. I only implore You to listen to him and act in such a way that You and I can listen to him together.
An emotionally critical event occurred when she, as an 11-year old child, was told to publicly denounce her favorite teacher:
"I was awarded by the school and the principal and the entire district, the neighborhood, with red color, the certificate of Mao’s Good Child. And I was so proud. I was the child, the best child in the neighborhood, and yet my mother refused to put that certificate on the wall. She was not happy and told me she wants to disown me. And I was very confused. But she said something. She said, ‘Your father and I are teachers. Imagine if our student come up and denounce us, how I feel?’ She instill this common sense in me that conflict with my vanity and my devotion to Mao’s words."
She also reflects on embracing her identity as an adult:
"I feel that I am more Chinese in America than I could feel if I was in China. You know, the moment I step on my motherland in China, my guard will be up. I talk differently, behave differently."
Her conversation touches on the Buddhist traditions of her grandparents, her mother hiding her Christianity even to her own daughter, and on the weight of choice in her life:
"…when I learned that my brother and my sister were rejected by American visas, and the American Consulate says that the only chance that they can come to America is to study is to have me go back, to exchange, which means I would go back to China for good, and I was not able to quit, you know, what I had achieved here. And that was a very selfish act. And after I made that decision, then I talked to my father. I said, ‘I couldn’t live with it.’ So I told my father that I want to come and to let my sister have the chance. And my father says, ‘No way, because you come home that doesn’t mean that they will get the visa, and that you will lose your visa for good. And my biggest fear is if China were to ever have a conflict with America, you will be the first person to be denounced as American spy.’ So, I ended up staying here."
Over on the New York TimesBucks blog, Carl Richards challenges his readers to spend more time asking themselves what’s really important and then creating financial plans accordingly: “What good would it do to find the mythical best investment and end up with a bankrupt personal life?”
“Is my life any different since I became a Jesuit? Oh, yes. The rules of obedience, from the structure of the day to this assignment at the Vatican, have put me under constraints I did not have before, but they’re constraints of my choosing, which, like the rules of a sonnet, give me a framework to create a wonderfully fulfilled life.”—
Watch the live video stream in this post or chat with others while you watch on our SOF Live page.
Monday, April 5th, 2010 (7pm Eastern) The Shakespeare Theatre Company 610 F Street Northwest Washington, D.C.
Beginning at 6:30pm Eastern tonight, we’ll be opening up the live video stream of a sold-out public event with Krista and Michel Martin, host of NPR’s Tell Me More. These two journalists will be discussing the role of faith in their lives and the interplay between science and religions, using Einstein’s “cosmic religious sense” as a starting point.
We’d love to hear your thoughts about this conversation. Please add your comments here.
William Maxwell treats his personal material as if it were history. It is one part memory, one part research and one part hearsay but one hundred percent compassion. Compassion in my mind is an admixture of feeling and sustained attention with regard to others. Compassion is the absence of cruelty. Compassion is steady and relaxed—allowing patience where we may not have any for ourselves. Compassion is acceptance of what you didn’t realize or can’t understand. Compassion is not attainable without process—going through the various methods of drafting. Each one provides you with another perspective, another point of focus. Each method provides more ingredients to the approach that helps the content to stand on its own so that the writer can leave it behind them. —Nancy Beckett
Most Wednesday nights I’m at the kitchen table staring into my laptop screen at a living room full of women. It’s my writing group, which is presided over by Nancy Beckett, an incredible playwright and writing teacher in Chicago. My admiration for her insight, depth, and crazy, mordant Irish wit never evaporates.
Everyone else assembles in her apartment for our three-hour sessions; I Skype in from St. Paul.
This week we read an excerpt from the great editor and writer William Maxwell’s creative nonfiction, and, as is the drill each week, Nancy gave us her deeply insightful lesson, a portion of which I cite above.
What I love about this work is that it goes past how to string sentences together, though there is that. It reminds me why I write. As Nancy would say, “People write because they can’t help themselves.” I write in order to know. I write in order to be changed.
(photo above: Tina, one of the group members, reads from her novel-in-progress.)
It’s Easter weekend and a lot of people are away for the holiday. When we sent out our e-mail newsletter this week, one listener’s auto-reply featured this quote:
"Spring has returned. The earth is like a child that knows poems." —Rainer Maria Rilke
Indeed the telltale signs of spring — green shoots, the earliest hints of flower buds — arrived a bit earlier here this year in the upper Midwest. This new-found greenery, combined with the approaching Easter weekend, reminds me of a beloved program we aired this time last year with Vigen Guroian, an Armenian Orthodox theologian and master gardener. Here’s one of his quotes from “Restoring the Senses” that I particularly like:
"…the garden was a place where things came to life, you know? It was in point of fact a reaffirmation of life and, and something to sustain faith, hope and to go on living."
I’m a novice grower of green things but an experiment last summer with cultivating seeds in a window box on my fire escape spurred my thinking about “garden lessons” that have larger life resonance — like how you have to harvest what you sow and cut away the decaying stuff so that new growth can emerge. How true.
Forgiving His Daughter’s Murderer Shubha Bala, associate producer
In response to last week’s show, Hector Black pointed us to this StoryCorps interview. The listener from Tennessee tells the story of his daughter being murdered in her home and his process of seeking vengeance and granting forgiveness:
"I’d never been in favor of the death penalty, but, I wanted that man to hurt — the way that he had hurt her. I wanted him to hurt the way I was hurting. But after a while I wanted to know who it was…"
He narrates the events in detail — from the murder of his daughter to the process of wanting revenge, and ultimately to granting forgiveness. The heinousness of the crime makes me think of Desmond Tutu speaking about forgiveness during the South African truth and reconciliation process. He said you would think there are things that are unforgivable, like the horrendous violence of apartheid. And yet, he says, they saw many people who ought to have been bristling with bitterness and anger but actually embraced their perpetrators when they met face-to-face.
In some small way, it’s a good lesson reminding me that it should take much less mental work to forgive the person that steals your parking spot or cuts in front of you in line.
"The darkness within my church is real, and it has too often gone unaddressed. The light within my church is also real, and has too often gone unappreciated. A small minority has sinned, gravely, against too many. Another minority has assisted or saved the lives of millions.”
And, on her own blog, she reflects on some of the responses she has received as well.
This concept of wanting to be one with Christ’s suffering…It’s so foreign to all of us. We do whatever we can to avoid and escape pain. And her goal was to be ‘oned’…in our culture, everyone wants to leap to Easter Sunday. —Rev. Linda Loving
As a young woman, Julian of Norwich fervently prayed to embody the depths of Christ’s suffering on the cross. At the age of 30, her prayers came true when she was stricken with a near-fatal illness. In this state of physical duress, she experienced a series of 16 mystical visions that she letter penned in Revelations of Divine Love. In the embedded audio link above, Krista and Rev. Loving probe Julian of Norwich’s ideas about pain, suffering, and healing.
Julian of Norwich is probably best known for the lines: “all shall be well, and all will be well.”
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.”