This article (and a multimedia feature) on immigrants who speak near-extinct languages in New York City reminded me of our show with David Treuer. In some cases, there are greater numbers of people who speak these languages in NYC than in the countries where these languages originally developed:
"At a Roman Catholic Church in the Morrisania section of the Bronx, Mass is said once a month in Garifuna, an Arawakan language that originated with descendants of African slaves shipwrecked near St. Vincent in the Caribbean and later exiled to Central America. Today, Garifuna is virtually as common in the Bronx and in Brooklyn as in Honduras and Belize."
The music used in this week’s show with Desmond Tutu is really worth checking out. I’ve included a couple extra tracks that weren’t used in the final production. I found them to be powerful examples of how music can help people deal with even the most extreme adversity.
The first is the heart-breaking “Senzeni Na?,” which I wrote about last week.
The other is “Beware Verwoerd (Naants’ Indod’Emnyama),” which is a warning to former Prime Minister Hendrik Verwoerd, often called the “architect of apartheid.” This song sounds like a dance, a celebration, or cheerful party music, while the lyrics are repeating “Here comes the black man Verwoerd! Watch out Verwoerd!” The juxtaposition makes me smile every time I listen to it.
I know this playlist is just a tiny taste, but I hope it can serve as a jumping off point for people to explore the vast musical heritage of South Africa. As always, you can listen to the complete versions of music you hear on each show’s particular SOF Playlist.
“I tell the women how deeply I believe there’s no such thing as false hope: all hope is valid, even for people like us, even when hope would no longer appear to be sensible.
Life itself isn’t sensible, I say. No one can say with ultimate authority what will happen — with cancer, with a job that appears shaky, with all reversed fortunes — so you may as well seize all glimmers that appear. …
One thing I don’t ever think to say: When I was told I had a year or two, I didn’t want anything one might expect: no blow-out trip to the Galápagos, no perfect meal at Alain Ducasse, no defiant red Maserati. All I wanted was ordinary life back, for ordinary life, it became utterly clear, is more valuable than anything else.
Had a chance to hear Brian McLaren speak on Minnesota Public Radio (yes, on the radio!) today on the way to the airport. I found his personal story and way of thinking quite compelling — and delightfully so.
In his closing comments, he reflects on the upcoming 500th anniversary of Martin Luther posting his Ninety-Five Theses to the door of a Wittenberg church — and calls for a new discourse for Christians in a world of ever-increasing pluralism:
"Theses are statements. Statements create debate. Sometimes, in the process, they create hate. And the result of debate is that we’ll end up in a new state. Maybe today what we need is not statements to create debate. Maybe today we need questions. Questions that create conversations. Conversations that create friendships. Friendships that bring us on a new quest. Statements to state; questions to quest. This, to me, is what a new kind of Christianity is about."
He also proposes ten questions Christians should be asking themselves:
What is the big narrative arc of the Christian story?
How do we negotiate authority?
Is God violent?
Who is Jesus, and why is He important?
What is the gospel? Is it good news for Christians only or is it good news for everyone?
What are we going to do about the Church?
How can we talk about the sex issue without dividing from each other? How can we live with differing opinions?
What kind of future do we anticipate?
How do we relate to people of other faiths?
What do we do about these first nine questions? How do we talk about them without killing each other?
I sure hope we book him some day. Perhaps this fall…?
If you heard Alix Spiegel’s recent report on All Things Considered last week and listen to our podcast, you probably recognized the name of Paul Zak. We interviewed the neuroeconomist last summer for our show, "The Science of Trust: Economics and Virtue," in which he spoke in greater detail about the the powerful influence of “the moral molecule” oxytocin and the biochemical aspects of decision-making.
If you’re trust in government or Wall Street is at an all-time low, check out both of these pieces and tell me if you buy into the research.
Developing a New Lifeline for Alzheimer's Caregivers
Nancy Rosenbaum, associate producer
Ina and Arnie Feidelman, January 2000. Arnie was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s the following month.
The perspectives of people caring for loved ones with Alzheimer’s is “worthy of a show unto itself,” as Krista put it. Indeed, many of the people who wrote to us when we first released "Alzheimer’s, Memory, and Being" articulated the full range of emotions — pain, love, anger, bewilderment — that caregivers can feel. And while this week’s show references the caregiver experience, it’s not at the center of Krista’s conversation with Alan Dienstag.
He’s now in the process of developing a new therapeutic initiative for caregivers called “Ina’s Story,” which is based on the first person account of a former patient, Ina Feidelman. She spent 10 years caring for her late husband Arnie, who suffered from both Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s.
Here’s an excerpt from that account, titled “Needing Help”:
"People began to tell me that I should get help in the house. My children my brothers and friends were all concerned about me. They were worried that I was ‘killing myself.’
I put Arnie in a day program 2x a week from 1-4 PM. He hated it. He only wanted to be with me. I hired an aide to do some food preparation, to shower him and so on and it was pointless. He would not accept her, and he was angry. He only wanted me. She lasted three weeks. He told me, ‘I know it’s hard honey but I don’t want anyone to take care of me but you…I need you here with me.’
I said, ‘But Arnie, I am being worn down. I can’t do it anymore.’
I was it…
I cried a lot during this time. I used to cry in the shower, it was private time. That was when I let it hit me…
And I was very angry. Why had this happened to us? I actually had the thought that maybe we were too happy, that somehow things were too good and it had to be taken away from us. It sounds crazy now, but that is what I was thinking. I remember discussing it with my brother, he said “Ina, you were dealt a bad hand, that is it, there is no reason.” I believe that is true, but that is not how I felt then.”
Ina’s story is powerful, Dienstag says, because the trajectory she experienced, both practically and emotionally, is so typical of caregivers: “Our hope is that we can use it to help caregivers who are at the beginning of the process that she has already completed.”
Arnie and Ina Feidelman, August 2006.
He also hopes this new project will motivate caregivers to seek psychological support in greater numbers: “The truth is that many caregivers fear (and sometimes hope) that they will not survive the experience of caring for someone with dementia and, remarkably, many go through this without any help.”
Dienstag and Feidelman are seeking funding for the project while they develop more written materials.
A Song that Fueled a Revolution Chris Heagle, producer
While doing research for our upcoming show with Archbishop Desmond Tutu, I stumbled on the remarkable 2002 documentary, Amandla!: A Revolution in Four-Part Harmony. It chronicles the struggle against apartheid through music and is an amazing resource.
As the film shows, music, especially singing, was integral to the anti-apartheid movement. This song, “Senzeni Na?” stood out (in fact, I can’t get it out of my head!). Its title translates to “What have we done?” and its haunting melody served as both a lament and a rallying cry. There’s a powerful clip from Amandla! that talks about the influence of this song, but due to copyright, I was unable to isolate and embed it here for you. However, you can watch this section by forwarding to the 40:30 mark of the film.
Jimmy Matyu, a columnist for The Herald in South Africa, writes:
“‘Senzeni Na?’ was one of the most powerful and moving songs during the struggle against apartheid and had the power to unite all African people who were the most viciously oppressed section of the South African population. This song, sung at rallies, meetings, protests, funerals, wanted an answer either from God or the government about what blacks had done to deserve such inhumane treatment or naked suffering. This line was repeated so many times and broken only by that soul-touching line, Isono sethu bubumnyama (Our only sin is our darkness).”
Senzeni Na? (Zulu/Xhosa) What Have We Done? (English)
Senzenina What have we done? Sono sethu ubumnyama Our sin is our blackness Sono sethu yinyaniso Our sin is the truth Sibulawayo They are killing us Mayibuye i Africa. Let Africa return.
As usual, we’ll be posting a playlist of all of the amazing music from this show, as well as some gems that didn’t make into the final production, on our website when the show comes out next week.
“My decision today is not based on a finding that you violated Georgia law, or on a conclusion that differs from that of the local prosecutor. That said, you are held to a higher standard as an NFL player, and there is nothing about your conduct in Milledgeville that can remotely be described as admirable, responsible, or consistent with either the values of the league or the expectations of our fans.”—
I live in a rented New York City apartment. The only outdoor space I have access to, besides the sidewalk, is the paved alley alongside my building. And, like many of my neighbors, I use this shared outdoor space for all sorts of activities that don’t fit in a small apartment. As I write, a teen-aged neighbor is practicing his Junior ROTC drill in the alley, and I can hear the thud and clank of his rifle stock as he learns to twirl it in tempo.
It is not an unpleasant place to live. But there is nothing green — no soil, no grass, no plants of any kind — except the street trees I can see from my front window.
This year when my friend Tamara invited me to share her backyard garden, I was delighted. She and her husband Karl have always been incredibly generous with their space. They love nothing more than hosting dinner for 25 on improvised tables and street-find chairs.
The garden is large by city standards. The vegetable patch is 8 feet wide and almost 25 feet deep, and there’s a patch of grass, to boot.
This year, we laid out the vegetable patch together. Neat, orderly rows were prepared for tomatoes, string beans, carrots, beets, and radishes, and every kind of leafy green we could think of. There’s also an herb patch with oregano, chives, rosemary, sage, and lavender. I lobbied for nasturtiums to fill the planters on the paved part of the yard.
And last Saturday, Tamara, Karl, and I were joined by another neighbor, Heather, and we did our first planting. The herbs and seeds for root vegetables went into the ground, as well as a selection of greens. We’re probably over-ambitious, and all of us are amateur gardeners, but it was good to be outdoors on a sunny afternoon bickering over mulch and debating the merits of the soil. The elderly Greek couple next door chatted with us over the chain-link fence while they tended their own patch, with its fig trees and grape arbor.
"Spiritual" is not a word I use very much these days. It’s too nebulous, and encourages sentimentality. But I am interested in the actions that bring us back into balance, that make us whole human beings. And planting the garden with friends does that in two ways.
The most important way for me is how it brings us into a deeper sense of community and friendship. The garden is something we will share — the work of setting out the plants and tending them, as well as the pleasures that will come in a few weeks as we begin to eat the fruits of our labors. And it’s been made possible by two people who are intent on living a shared life with their friends, an antidote to the competitive and atomized culture of this difficult city we live in.
And the second: it restores balance to my life. To be able to touch the soil. To walk barefoot outdoors. To look at the weather not just as the planet’s plot to make me lose my umbrella but as a living system that will nourish — and threaten — the small plants we’ve put in the ground.
Living a city life is compartmentalized and far from natural cycles. Having a garden redresses that balance.
Christopher Calderhead is an artist and writer living in Astoria, Queens. He is the editor of Letter Arts Review and teaches at Bronx Community College and the Pratt Institute.
We welcome your reflections, essays, videos, or news items for possible publication on SOF Observed. Submit your entry through our First Person Outreach page or simply share a photo of your garden.
"You see, a lot of folks who like John don’t like Rick. So now some of John’s friends aren’t sure they want to hang out with him anymore. They may not come to his party in Minneapolis. And they aren’t sure that you should either."
But what specifically is Piper aiming to do? He tells us in the following four minutes of video. Although Piper’s gesture is offered with open palms, it’s also an attempt to get Rick Warren to “lay his cards on the table” and “tell us what makes him tick.” And, Piper also posits that, despite widespread opinion, Warren’s not just a pragmatic preacher who focuses solely on results:
"I do think he’s deeply theological. He’s a brilliant man. … I like him, and I’m frustrated by some of his stuff."
Members of the U.S. Supreme Court pose for a group photograph on September 29, 2009. Front row (l-r): Anthony M. Kennedy, John Paul Stevens, John G. Roberts, Antonin Scalia, Clarence Thomas. Back row (l-r): Samuel Alito Jr., Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Stephen Breyer, Sonia Sotomayor. (photo: Mark Wilson/Getty Images)
On April 9th, Justice Stevens announced his upcoming retirement from the U.S. Supreme Court. The loss of the lone Protestant on the Court, in a country with 51% Protestants, has sparked a vigorous media discussion. Pundits and journalists are asking how, and if, this will impact future Court discussions, and if religion should even be a consideration when selecting Justice Stevens’ replacement.
There have been plenty of interesting media reports during the past week: Nina Totenberg on NPR, Dahlia Lithwick in Slate, Adam Liptak in The New York Times, which gets called out by Ashby Jones in the Wall Street Journal. However, we were holding out for a thoughtful, well-informed theological voice — specifically looking out for Martin E. Marty, who weighed in Monday with a piece in Sightings:
"… To grant a para-constitutional point, most ‘religious tests’ are ‘cultural tests’ or ‘power tests.’ On the positive side of that case, it is true that people steeped in a religious culture might well hear religious nuances in cases, and can adjudicate them more sensitively than the spiritually tone-deaf might. Others do and will clearly use their ‘nuances’ as weapons of judicial power. Overall, it might be best if the public said, ‘We are reassured you justices are religious; just don’t "use" that religion too much.’"
Later on, Marty references Geoffrey Stone, whose comments on religion in the Supreme Court over the past several years have often been cited. In 2007, the University of Chicago law professor created some controversy when he pointed out that religious belief may have swayed the Court’s ruling in Gonzales v. Carhart and his analysis of Catholic Justices on the Court after Sotomayor was appointed.
However, Stone’s recent statements that religion should not be a focus in the selection process prompts Marty to ask:
"Can the one who makes an appointment satisfy the people called Protestant? Most are, top to bottom, at odds with each other. From a satellite distance, they come in three large tribes: ‘Mainstream’ or ‘mainline,’ ‘Evangelical,’ and ‘African-American.’ Most citizens in any of these three groups will neither say ‘Hurrah for our side!’ nor feel represented by any representative of the other two.
Thus would evangelicals Charles Colson, James Dobson, or Marvin Olasky, who enthused about the ill-fated appointment of ‘evangelical’ Harriet Miers during the Bush administration, have been satisfied with any mainstream sort, and vice versa? Stone has only two criteria, or wishes, for the next appointment: The nominee ‘must have the intellect, temperament and experience necessary to fulfill the responsibilities,’ as many Protestants do and other Protestants don’t; and he or she ‘should have the vision of the law…that is consonant with the president’s own aspirations.’ For Stone, that should be it – but no one expects that will be.”
I had started my research thinking I had a point of view, but sifting through different analyses I find myself more confused than ever with this complex issue. I welcome any sources or ideas that you’ve found that helps illuminate the topic!
In response to Speaking of Faith's show about the brutality of regimes around the world and the question of the people who disappear — and their children — I thought I would share with you a scene from my childhood in Portugal during the country’s fascist regime that lasted for almost 40 years and ended in 1974.
I wake up in the middle of the night, as I often do, and walk slowly down the steps of the long staircase. I am eight years old. I come to join my father, who sits in his office listening to a small voice coming from a small radio. The sound is muffled; the words sound detached. I do not understand what it says.
He smiles at the sight of my face peering through the crack of the door.
“So, you’re up,” he says.
That is all he ever says, and I am free to come in or go back. I like that freedom. I sit on his reading couch; the leather is cold to the touch at first, but softening and embracing as I sink into it. Soon he forgets that I am there.
But today he asks me to sit facing him. His voice is stern: “It may be a good idea not to sing this melody outside of this room.”
For brief moments, like now, when the voice that says things I don’t understand stops, a melody fills the air. It is always the same. It is beautiful, and I often carry it into the light of day like a fragment of a dream. Earlier, my mother had given me a concerned look as I left for school, bag full of books, the melody drifting from my lips.
“Not outside this room,” he repeats. “Will you remember?”
I nod, silently. The man’s voice drones on. I stare at the radio. “What is he saying?”
My father looks troubled by the question. “It’s the BBC radio service, in English.” There is a long pause while he chooses the words. “They tell you the truth about what is happening around the world — and in our country too.”
The leather under me goes cold and hard, and my hands curl and cry with sweat. My heart thuds against my chest, trying to fly from the question searing through me: “Will they take you away too, like they took Maria’s father?”
I am looking at his hair; his face is buried in his hands. I want to pin him down and not let him ever leave this room.
Then he looks up. “Yes, that may happen one day. On that day and every other day until I come back, if people ask you, ‘Where is your father,’ hold your head high and tell them. Listen, listen carefully. This is what you will tell them: ‘My father has been arrested because he believes in freedom.’”
We are looking in each others’ eyes now and I see it all clearly: I cannot hold my father in this room, nor can I hold my heart still. I cannot even hold on to me. I watch my childhood leave so suddenly there is no time for remembrance or reckoning.
“Will you do that? Can you do that?” His urgency brings me back. And a voice I do not yet know answers, “Yes.”
Ms. Paulino teaches English Literature and Art History at the University of Winthrop and at the University of Porto in Portugal. She currently lives in Rock Hill, South Carolina and has recently started a personal blog where she writes about “musings on a home in-between: languages, places, ways of seeing.”
We welcome your reflections, essays, videos, or news items for possible publication on SOF Observed. Submit your entry through our First Person Outreach page.
I think Hendrik Hertzberg’s commentary in today’s New Yorker is the smartest, most succinct piece of writing on the Catholic abuse crisis I have seen. His first paragraph is a perfect, classic scene setter:
"On October 31, 1517, a Roman Catholic priest and theologian, Dr. Martin Luther, put the finishing touches on a series of bullet points and, legend has it, nailed the result to the door of the castle church in Wittenberg, Germany—the equivalent, for the time and place, of uploading a particularly explosive blog post. Luther’s was a protest against the sale of chits that were claimed to entitle buyers or their designees to shorter stays in Purgatory. Such chits, known as indulgences, were being hawked as part of Pope Leo X’s fund-raising drive for the renovation of St. Peter’s Basilica. The “Ninety-five Theses on the Power and Efficacy of Indulgences” touched off a high-stakes flame war that rapidly devolved into the real thing, with actual wars, actual flames, and actual stakes. The theological clash that sundered Christendom didn’t just change the face of Western religion; it birthed the modern world."
I’m often asked about our process for choosing people and topics. The answer goes something like this. We are always juggling a number of priorities — responding to what is happening in the world; getting to subjects of enduring interest that we feel we can draw out in a distinctive way; bringing important voices on to the show, some of them famous, but more often people who, though captivating and wise, remain below the radar of headlines and hype. Their names find their way to a long list of possible guests that we add to all the time, either from our own reading and conversations or from the many ideas our listeners send in.
At some point, our online editor surfaced Mercedes Doretti’s name, which landed on that long list. She is a leading force in the field of global forensic anthropology and winner of a MacArthur “genius grant,” though she is not by far a household name. We knew that she works at a deeply human level on atrocities that usually come to us by way of gruesome news stories — the kind that leave me, at least, more despairing than reflective.
Doretti grew up, in fact, in one of these “stories” — the period of Argentina’s so-called “dirty war.” The military junta that ruled Argentina from 1976-1983 maintained control by terrorizing its own citizens. Over 10,000 people, many of them young, were “disappeared” — kidnapped, tortured, and killed. For their families they were, from one day to the next, simply gone without a trace. Some of their bodies were dropped into the ocean. Others were buried in unmarked graves.
As the “dirty war” ended, at the invitation of a group of grandmothers who stubbornly sought to know what had happened to their children and their children’s children, an American forensic anthropologist named Clyde Snow came to Argentina. He is the world expert in a field called osteobiography, which I found evocatively described as “the art and science of reading a person’s life story from their bones.” He would shape the course of Mercedes Doretti’s life.
Under Clyde Snow’s mentorship, she and a group of other anthropology students went in search of the bodies, and the stories, of the grandmothers’ lost loved ones. They became experts in all the forensic sciences — including genetics, ballistics, osteology, and radiology. They became archeologists of political crimes — archeologists not of ancient history but of the contemporary past. And over the past three decades, they’ve taken this work to over 30 countries — from El Salvador to Bosnia, from East Timor to Ethiopia — places where civilians have been caught in civil unrest, often kidnapped and murdered by their own governments.
Mercedes Doretti illuminates a rich, human, global landscape that gives me a sense of the nature of real-world forensics and archeology that I could never gain from CSI or Indiana Jones. Unlike those news stories I can barely read to the end, I am riveted and comforted by Mercedes Doretti’s presence. She is a scientist through and through — she loves solving the puzzles that bones hold as much as she loves the fact that this labor of hers becomes a crucial form of reparation for the living. She is not a religious person, but she has much to teach about some enduring, mysterious human experience with profound religious implications — our need to bury our dead, to reconcile ourselves to terrible events, to find justice on many levels.
The poetry of Alicia Partnoy seemed to us a necessary and beautiful complement to Mercedes Doretti’s insights. Partnoy was one of the few who survived her detention in a secret prison during the “dirty war.” Her poems, and the experiences of suffering and life chosen beyond it that comes through Partnoy’s voice alone, are also a testament to the mysterious vigor and transcendence of the human spirit. "Laying the Dead to Rest" makes my world a bit bigger. It adds both a knowledge of science and of a redemptive softness at some of the world’s most treacherous edges.
Dan Vergano of USA Today's Science Fair blog reviews Krista's new book, and likes it:
"For science fans looking for a new way to look at some of their favorite topics, the book is a treasure trove of insights into how scientists see the world. For anyone scared of science, the conversations open a stained-glass window into the adventurous side of science often obscured by lab coats and jargon."
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.