by Krista Tippett, host
I am excited, and a little nervous, to share some big news. We are giving this adventure in conversation a new name. Starting September 16th, Speaking of Faith with Krista Tippett is becoming Krista Tippett on Being.
This doesn’t signal a change in the nature or ethos of what we will continue to produce week after week. It is, rather, a more spacious container for what the program has become. Being makes room for the ways in which we have in fact opened up the concept of “speaking of faith.” It points at questions of “religion, meaning, ethics and ideas” at the heart of human life — not confined to Sunday mornings or Friday evenings, not on the sidelines of real life, but at the essence of who we are and how we live, individually and collectively.
We believe that Being is also a title with room to grow into, while Speaking of Faith has taken us as far in public media as it could. As much as we filled it with new meaning, the program’s title remained an obstacle for many programmers and listeners. The story we have heard again and again is that people have had to get over the title, or find themselves listening to the show by accident, before they were ready to give themselves over to our content. We have heard that, for religious and non-religious people alike, the title Speaking of Faith makes it hard to talk about the program with friends and family — to spread the word “virally,” as word spreads in our time.
This process of discernment that we might want and need to change the name of the program has been one of the most surprising learnings of the past year, which has been a period both of solidifying the program’s strengths and of continuing to experiment. The energy and possibilities it opens fill me with a new excitement for the next stage of this project and my passion for it.
Full disclosure: I did not have an immediate enthusiastic reaction to Being. But I have come to love the title. As I have settled into it, slept on it, practiced saying it in front of the vast array of shows we do, and realized all of its connotations, it feels like home. “Being” is an elemental, essential word. It was a catchword of the existentialism of the 20th century, and existentialism is making room for spiritual life in the 21st. It is more hospitable than the word “faith” for our non-Christian and non-religious listeners. It is, at the same time, an evocation of the primary biblical name of God. “I am who I am” can be better translated, I recall my teacher of Hebrew pointing out, as “I will be who I will be.”
As we were in the thick of this discernment, a mother wrote to us of how her teenage daughter has recently been drawn to our program. She commented on our blog, “It has been rewarding to watch her discover that unlike her subjects in school, religion cannot fit into a neat box. I’m sure she will tune in again as she continues to shape her own way of BEING in this world. This is certainly my hope.” The capitalization was hers. We take on our appeal to her, indeed our responsibility to her, as a great and edifying adventure — our next frontier of listening, learning, and public service.
Now I want to invite you, our listeners, to grow into this new name, this evolving identity, with us. Let us know how it sits with you, how you are hearing it, and what it means. And please come along on the next phase of this journey.
by Shubha Bala, associate producer
I thought that this New York Times article about an adman who took up shaman healing on the side might be a wonderful opportunity for a blog post exploring some unanswered questions: Who exactly is a shaman? What does shaman healing entail?
However, a bit of research confirmed the obvious. Shamanism is broad, with a wide range of beliefs and practices. A shaman is someone who practices many things, including communication with the spirit world. But they exist in different forms all over the world from Siberia to Ecuador to Japan. So it seemed the best approach to get into this diverse tradition would be to interview a shaman about his or her particular beliefs and practices.
I hesitated to contact Itzhak Beery, the man profiled in the aforementioned report, because the media so often reaches out to these “mainstream” voices: the urban Westerner who has found spirituality outside of their upbringing. Although these experiences are important, I wonder if I should be looking instead for a different voice — someone brought up in the indigenous shaman tradition. I pose this question to you: What are some innovative ways in which we can enter into the world of shaman healing?
A shaman from West Sumatra, Indonesia. (photo: deepchi1/Flickr)
by Krista Tippett, host
Albert Einstein’s famous equation, E=mc2, remains difficult for me to grasp fully. But I feel I have come to understand something of the man — his expansive spirit, his relentless curiosity, and his reverence for the beauty and order of nature and thought. I was daunted as I began, but delving into Einstein was a delight.
And there is a logic of sorts to that, as humor was an aspect of Einstein’s genius. Freeman Dyson suggests that his ability to make light and to laugh, even at himself, was one key to the magnitude of his scientific accomplishment. Science is often about failure. Einstein himself proposed that he made so many discoveries because he was not afraid to be proven wrong, repeatedly, on his way to all of them. But Einstein also employed humor to philosophical and ethical effect, weighing in trenchantly on mankind’s foibles.
Einstein held a deep and nuanced, if not a traditional, faith. I did not assume this at the outset. I’ve always been suspicious of the way Einstein’s famous line, “God does not play dice with the universe,” gets quoted for vastly different purposes. I wanted to understand what Einstein meant as a physicist when he said that. As it turns out, that particular quip had more to do with physics than with God, as Freeman Dyson and Paul Davies illuminate.
Einstein did, however, leave behind a rich body of reflection on the “mind” and the “superior spirit” behind the cosmos that has never made its way into popular consciousness. He didn’t believe in a personal God who would interfere with the laws of physics. But he was fascinated with the ingenuity of those laws and expressed awe at the very fact of their existence. Throughout his life, he thrilled to all he could not yet understand. He was more than content with what he called a “cosmic religious sense” — animated by “inklings” and “wondering,” rather than by answers and conclusions. Here is a passage that comes close, I think, to a concise description by Einstein of his quintessential “faith”:
“A knowledge of the existence of something we cannot penetrate, of the manifestations of the profoundest reason and the most radiant beauty — it is this knowledge and this emotion that constitute the truly religious attitude; in this sense, and in this alone, I am a deeply religious man. I cannot conceive of a God who rewards and punishes his creatures, or has a will of the type of which we are conscious in ourselves … Enough for me the mystery of the eternity of life, and the inkling of the marvelous structure of reality, together with the single-hearted endeavor to comprehend a portion, be it ever so tiny, of the reason that manifests itself in nature.”
With Paul Davies, I was able to pursue how Einstein changed our view of space and especially time, a subject that has always intrigued me. Before Einstein, as Davies describes it, human beings thought of space and time as fixed and immutable, the backdrop to the great show of life. But we now know they are elastic and intertwined, part of the show themselves. Einstein described our perception of time as an arrow — traversing linear and compartmentalized past, present, and future — as a “stubbornly persistent illusion.” Such language is evocative from a religious standpoint. As Davies discusses, it echoes insights that run throughout Eastern and Western religions and ancient indigenous cultures. Davies finds an affinity between Einstein’s view of time and the religious notion of a reality “beyond time,” and of “the eternal.” And because he speaks as a person conversant in current advancements of Einstein’s science — cosmology and the Big Bang, black holes, even the search for life beyond this galaxy — his insights carry for me a special weight of authority and, yes, wonder.
I came across many wise and touching pieces of writing by the spiritual Einstein while preparing for these conversations. Einstein was a passionate letter writer. He wrote to fellow scientists, friends, and strangers. He loved responding to the letters of schoolchildren. One of his correspondents for a time was Queen Elisabeth of Belgium. He had struck up a warm friendship with her and her husband, King Albert, just before World War II. In one tragic season in the midst of already tumultuous political times, her husband died suddenly, as did her daughter-in-law. Einstein wrote to her:
“Mrs. Barjansky wrote to me how gravely living in itself causes you suffering and how numbed you are by the indescribably painful blows that have befallen you. And yet we should not grieve for those who have gone from us in the primes of their lives after happy and fruitful years of activity, and who have been privileged to accomplish in full measure their task in life.
Something there is that can refresh and revivify older people: joy in the activities of the younger generation — a joy, to be sure, that is clouded by dark forebodings in these unsettled times. And yet, as always, the springtime sun brings forth new life, and we may rejoice because of this new life and contribute to its unfolding; and Mozart remains as beautiful and tender as he always was and always will be. There is, after all, something eternal that lies beyond the hand of fate and of all human delusions. And such eternals lie closer to an older person than to a younger one oscillating between fear and hope. For us, there remains the privilege of experiencing beauty and truth in their purest forms.”
I emerged from these discussions with a new sense of Albert Einstein — not just as a great mind, but as a wise man. He was fully human and flawed, certainly in his intimate relationships. But he was undeniably an original, and not just as a scientist. If past, present, and future are an illusion, as he said, none of us ever really disappear. We all leave our imprint on what is now. I have a profound sense of Einstein’s imprint, and it comforts me. I suspect that if he heard he was the subject of a program called Speaking of Faith more than 50 years after his death, he would make a funny, kindly, self-deprecating joke. But if he could listen with twenty-first-century ears, he might be intrigued by how his generous, questioning, “cosmic” religious sense is deeply kindred with the religious and spiritual yearnings of our age.
Images: top, an inset of a page from one of three existing Einstein manuscripts on special relativity (1912). No known original manuscripts exist from the year of publication in 1905. (courtesy of The Jewish National & University Library, the Hebrew University of Jerusalem)
bottom, Albert Einstein sailing his boat on Saranac Lake. (courtesy of The Fantova Collection, Princeton University)
by Nancy Rosenbaum, associate producer
Julian Assange of WikiLeaks holds a copy of The Guardian newspaper that features a report using the site’s leaked documents on the Afghanistan war. (photo: Peter Macdiarmid/Getty Images)
[Governments] used to be able to control what…newspapers and news organizations would do in part by informally controlling their access to information, by in essence saying, ‘If you go over the line, we’ll stop talking to you. We won’t invite you on to the press plane. We won’t give you a seat on the bus.’ And reporters behaved within certain parameters in part, because they do need that continued access. WikiLeaks doesn’t need a seat on the bus.
—Micah Sifry, executive editor of TechPresident.com on FutureTense
Micah Sifry’s commentary on the unfolding WikiLeaks story on the war in Afghanistan has gotten me thinking about questions of trust and relationship-building in and beyond the realm of journalism and politics. At its worst, needing to keep our “seat on the bus,” as Sifry puts it, can result in collusion and self-censoring. Information or, put differently, necessary truths, get squelched in favor of preserving expedient relationships.
Maybe we do this with family, friends, and loved ones — keep things to ourselves to maintain a connection, a sense of belonging, or simply to get our basic needs met. But coming at it from another direction, I believe there are moral and relational benefits to interdependence. Both sides have to consider each others’ needs. Empathy is triggered. No one party can act with reckless abandon. The work of peacebuilder and conflict transformation practitioner John Paul Lederach comes to mind here.
I wonder if the truths unearthed through WikiLeaks’ release of classified documents about the war in Afghanistan will galvanize a public response. NYU Journalism professor and blogger Jay Rosen offers some sobering insight in his PressThink blog:
“We tend to think: big revelations mean big reactions. But if the story is too big and crashes too many illusions, the exact opposite occurs. My fear is that this will happen with the Afghanistan logs. Reaction will be unbearably lighter than we have a right to expect — not because the story isn’t sensational or troubling enough, but because it’s too troubling, a mess we cannot fix and therefore prefer to forget.”
What do you think?
by Maria Clara Paulino, guest contributor
When I first heard the interview with Matthew Sanford on the radio, I was moved beyond words. I wanted to hear it again. The second time I heard it, online, I was more moved still.
I wanted to understand what had touched me so deeply beyond his extraordinary story of loss and victory, and the candid and engaging quality of his telling. There was something else I could hear in the silences between his words that mesmerized me. What was it, exactly? I still do not know, but I keep asking the question.
On the surface, Sanford’s life and mine have little in common. Very different stories indeed. Why, then, do I feel so strongly that I know what he is talking about? It cannot be the accident, the hospital, the paralysis — all of it so tragic that to say I understand would be worse than arrogance; so tragic, indeed, that it almost drowns out a subtler resonance. And yet, is it not this resonance that Sanford points to when he mentions silence, darkness, and quietness as portals to a deeper awareness?
It could be an illusion, this feeling that there is something in common, something that I understand. But it could also be that the commonality resides not in what human beings experience but in the way we experience it; that it is not in the action but in the gap, in the silence that follows and precedes action, that we meet as equals and see the other in ourselves.
A similar question comes to mind when I think of what Sanford calls “the gulf” — the isolation of personal experience from other personal experiences, the “existentialist” separation between self and even those the self most loves. I do not share with him the exact same reason for this gulf, his particular experience of pain and loss; what I share is the awareness of the separation and the anguish that results from that awareness.
Sunset at the mouth of the Douro in Porto, Portugal. (photo: Simon Blackley/Flickr)
As Sanford acknowledges, we all share it. We know we cannot be sure that the emotion we feel is perceived in the same intensity and depth by anyone else, however much intimacy there may be between those concerned. And, when two lovers watch the sun bleeding into the ocean, do they see the same shades of orange and red? Yet, if we share the desperate awareness of this gulf, is that not a most powerful commonality?
Mystics and theologians, Buddha and Christ have claimed for such a long, long time that separation is the illusion, yet we hang on to this illusion with all our might. It is clearly more soothing to us than that which we have in common. After all, “to have in common” means to have one’s boundaries less clearly marked, to feel with another — pretty scary stuff that may explain why we lend so much weight to our differences and place so much value on them, from individuals to societies, from East to West and North to South. Even when we hate the differences (those seen as negative always embodied in “the other”) and in direct proportion, it seems, to how much we hate them, we pour our attention on them; we bring them out under the glaring sun so everyone can stare at them until they seem insurmountable in their three-dimensional “reality.”
But, Sanford claims, if we find ourselves in darkness, or in a very quiet place, we become more attuned to a different, subtler reality; and if we are strong enough to become vulnerable, to stay with the fear — in short, if we “surrender” — we may glimpse the contours of authentic feeling (how scary is that?) and hear the song of our oh-so-common human experience of striving and losing, loving and letting go, living and dying at every moment of existence.
And this may be the most healing story we can tell ourselves.
Ms. Paulino lives in Rock Hill, South Carolina and teaches Art History and Criticism at the University of Winthrop and the University of Porto. In her “Writing in the Margins” she muses 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.
by Anne Breckbill, associate web developer
On June 30, Krista interviewed Alan Rabinowitz for this week’s show “A Voice for the Animals” — discussing topics ranging from his severe stutter, Dawi (the last pure Mongoloid pygmy), large wild cats, genetic corridors, and his recent cancer diagnosis. We live-tweet (SOFtweets) all of our interviews now. Here is the Twitterscript of that interview:
- In 10 minutes, we’ll be live-tweeting Krista’s interview with Alan Rabinowitz, dubbed the “Indiana Jones” of wildlife science.
- As Alan Rabinowitz sits in his chair, he says, “Grabbing a taxi on 5th Avenue is much more challenging that tracking a tiger in Bhutan.”
- Rabinowitz — “What turned me away from religion is what people were saying or reading did not go along with their actions.”
- Rabinowitz on his childhood stuttering — “Most stutterers can do two things: sing, and you can speak to animals.”
- Rabinowitz — “Over and over, I swore to myself as a child if I ever found my voice that I’d be there for them [animals].”
- Rabinowitz — “…[I found that] when I could speak fluidly, most people didn’t have that much to say that’s interesting.”
- Rabinowitz — “I associate myself with those who pit themselves against environmental hardships than I do with pure scientists.”
- Rabinowitz — “Science is a language of truths that would be there whether humans would be there or not.”
- Alan Rabinowitz is talking about a pivotal moment of his life when he found the Taron in the Himalayan foothills.
- Dawi, a Taron tribal elder asking Alan Rabinowitz why isn’t a father — “You act like a man who still has this deep, deep hole inside of him.”
- Rabinowitz — “We had to save the last tigers. Tigers are just plummeting.”
- Rabinowitz — “The dictatorship in Burma consists of several dozen generals. The one man on top is the controlling influence.”
- Rabinowitz — “Being among these remote communities showed me a model how people can live w/ their environment and can move forward.”
- Rabinowitz — “You can tell a person from Churchill because they’re always looking around the corner.”
- Rabinowitz — “You can tell a person from Churchill because they’re always looking around the corner.”
- Rabinowitz — “I rarely meet a Mayan now carrying a gun..’if we see a jaguar we stop on our bicycle and watch it now.’”
- Engineer Chris Heagle summarizing Alan Rabinowitz talking with Krista Tippett — “Marriage is like confronting a wild leopard”
- Rabinowitz — Genetic corridors for large cats vital to saving them - more than conservation parks http://is.gd/daooj
- Rabinowitz — “Stuttering gave me my life. I’m so pleased to be born a stutterer, because that’s how I got to where I am.”
- Rabinowitz — “As I get older and have thoughts of slowing down, I get told ‘I have cancer” and that has the opposite effect.”
- Rabinowitz — “I don’t see myself as a hero..I see myself as lucky for being able to..pursue the things I love that made me feel whole.”
- Rabinowitz on his son’s stuttering — “Seeing my son sad is painful. Although stuttering gave me my life it’s not something I wish on anyone else.”
- Rabinowitz on continuing adventures despite having cancer — “I had to live the life that defined me the best, both to myself and to my family”
- Rabinowitz — “I truly believe when you attempt to do good things for good reasons a lot of positive energy gets out there in the world.”
- Rabinowitz — “It doesn’t matter if life is short or long, it matters if there’s meaning for you personally.”
—Tom Banchoff, director of Georgetown University’s Berkley Center for Religion, Peace and World Affairs
All this week, NPR has been airing Louisa Lim’s reports from Beijing that highlight various aspects of religious growth and change in China, including stories about burgeoning support for Buddhism, women’s mosques and female imams, divided Catholics, and the rebirth of folk religion. “God is rising here…” says one Chinese Christian woman quoted. This series “New Believers: A Religious Revolution in China” helps illustrate how that’s happening.
Colleen Scheck, senior producer