Musician, conductor, composer Bobby McFerrin seems to have achieved two disparate levels of fame or infamy depending on who you ask.
One group of audiophiles I know marvel at his four-octave vocal range, improvisational skills, and musicianship, especially his conducting work with the Saint Paul Chamber Orchestra and collaborations with cellist Yo-Yo Ma and jazz great Chick Corea. Another group remembers his popular culture contributions: that billboard-topping hit "Don’t Worry, Be Happy" or the The Cosby Show season 4 opener, and may recall those 10 Grammy awards he has accepted over the years.
Each of them decry the wretched realities of children in poverty but tell different stories, in different tones. The Song of Experience begins, in outrage:
Is this a holy thing to see In a rich and fruitful land, Babes reduc’d to misery, Fed with cold and usurous hand?
The Song of Innocence presents a picture of orderly and gentile charity to which the British class system condemned the poor. The poem ends with a sarcastic exhortation to “cherish pity, lest you drive an angel from your door.”
“What about having a new law that made all Cabinet members and leaders of political parties, editors of national papers and the hundred most successful financiers in the UK spend a couple of hours every year serving dinners in a primary school on a council estate, or cleaning bathrooms in a residential home?”—
—Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr. Rowan Williams
On BBC Radio 4 Today program’s "Thought for the Day" segment, the leader of the Anglican Church, as The Telegraph reports, “called for a return to the medieval tradition when monarchs ritually washed the feet of the poor would serve to remind politicians and bankers what should be the purpose of their wealth and power.”
“It is not an overnight cure. We can’t force the boys to change, but we want them to know what their choices are in life. Some effeminate boys end up as a transvestite or a homosexual, but we want to do our best to limit this.”—
—Razali Daud, education director of the Malaysian state of Terrengganu
Malaysian authorities, the Telegraph reports, has ordered 66 Muslim schoolboys to attend a reform camp where they will receive religious classes and “physical guidance.” At the four-day camp to promote Muslim morality, the boys, who were identified as their teachers as being effeminate, will receive counseling on masculine behavior to discourage them from being gay.
Snyder is often characterized as one of the Beats, but his habits of exploration and inquiry led him to a different experience and a different poetry than we associate with Kerouac and Ginsberg. Early, he became a student of Asian literature and Buddhism. His pioneering devotion to the environment and the idea of wildness in the American West has made him an icon for generations of poets, Buddhist aspirants, and defenders of the natural world.
He read his old poems, including his translations of Han-Shan, the famous Cold Mountain poems. He also read poems that are not yet in print — a generous gesture from a senior figure of his stature.
When I first read the Cold Mountain poems years ago, this stanza got stuck in my brain. I don’t know why.
It’s a kind of explanation of everything for me, and I’ve been reciting it to myself inwardly for the better part of my life. Hearing him read it aloud in person last night gave me goose bumps.
When men see Han-shan They all say he’s crazy And not much to look at — Dressed in rags and hides. They don’t get what I say And I don’t talk their language. All I can say to those I meet: "Try and make it to Cold Mountain."
"And that God passes over the Israelite houses as the firstborn in the Egyptian houses are dying. It’s actually rather a terrible. One can just imagine the sounds, the crying. And I think there is really a feeling of pressure at that moment. This is not an ecstatic moment. The word that’s used in the Hebrew text, here and in later retellings of the story in Deuteronomy, is chipazon. Chipazon means “panic haste.” And you should eat the paschal offering, the sacrifice that the Israelites were supposed to eat on that night, you shall eat it in haste, which is always a strange commandment. Ahead of time, you should prepare to eat it in haste.”
It’s not the tempo. It’s the — the people are being told ahead of time that the way in which you will experience this will be pressured, there’ll be a sense of pressure. The Egyptians will be rushing you out of Egypt. But most of all, what’s called the haste of God himself, a sense of history, a sense of the redemption as something that God is making happen rather faster than people can really assimilate it. Things are happening very fast at that moment, and people are almost not capable of registering what is really going on, as one often is not at critical moments of experience, cataclysmic moments.
Caitlin with her son at home in Maine. (photo: Dan Davis)
What is the American dream, anyway? Do any of us know anymore? Is it F. Scott Fitzgerald’s vision of a “green light” and an “orgiastic future” that forever eludes us? Is it our founding fathers’ notion that all men are created equal to pursue happiness? Is it a house with a perfect lawn, an SUV, and all the material things we could want? What I do know is that many of us in the working middle class grew up believing in the promise of “fruited plains,” ours to harvest if we worked hard enough. America was “made for you and me.”
Three years ago this month, my new husband, Dan, and I packed up our small car and, with most of our worldly belongings and our cat and 90-pound dog, started driving west from Portland, Maine to Los Angeles, California. It was early 2008, and the recession had only just begun. But maybe I speak for many Americans when I say that my husband and I didn’t have any idea that the downturn would become as devastating as it did.
I’d always wanted to go west, ever since my mother sang me to sleep with "Red River Valley" and my dad read the Laura Ingalls Wilder books out loud to me before bed. Dan, too, was beckoned by the sunny skies and seemingly endless horizons of Los Angeles. I hasten to add that we weren’t completely naïve. Friends of ours were making good money in photography and film, as TV writers, and also NPR, for whom I worked as a freelancer, said they could use me covering stories from L.A. So we hit the road full of hope, the American dream unfolding in front of our windshield, ours if we just reached for it.
For a few months, our lives in California seemed to be slowly building toward the dream: I was pregnant with our first child, Dan was working. We had landed a small but comfortable apartment near the Venice Canals, a neighborhood we liked. Then, shortly after President Obama’s election in 2008, California was hit hard by the recession. But Dan had jobs lined up into the summer.
The week our son was born, the first week of 2009, every job Dan had through May was canceled. We had a new baby and were in a terrifying economic free-fall.
Over the next two months, we blew through the tiny bit of savings we had while Dan applied to hundreds of jobs and went door-to-door handing out resumes all over the city. Two weeks after our son was born, I went back to work filing freelance pieces for NPR. The little I made covered a few groceries and some gas.
Finally, the jig was up. I called my mom and said I didn’t know what to do. She said, “Come home, Cait.” So we packed up our two-month-old son and drove back across America, staying with friends who reached out to us on the long journey home.
Now, for some people, moving home and in with one’s mother (or, in Dan’s case, mother-in-law) would be a fate worse than hell. But what we found there in the six months we lived with her was something deeper and stronger than the American dream we had chased with such gusto just a year earlier. At home with Mom, as we planted the garden and baked bread, as we helped her as she helped us — the recession was hard on her, too — we were a family coming together to survive.
Dan and I had subscribed to a fundamentally dangerous notion that young families like mine think we should be toughing it out alone as if we were pioneers with nary a neighbor in sight; instead we should be asking for help and reaching out to help others.
Fitzgerald famously wrote, “There are no second acts in American lives.” I know from personal experience that’s not true. There, at home with Mom, we reconfigured our dreams so they were no longer about material things or images of a house with a perfect lawn and two cars out front. We got lucky, eventually. When I sold my memoir about our experience with the recession, we had $16 in the bank.
When I tell people my story they say, “Only in America!” or “That’s the American dream!” Perhaps. But I’d add this: by investing in our families and communities — as Dan and I have learned to do — we will be sustained through tough times. And with some communal baking of bread and a few extra hands we can get through anything, even if the American dream is on life support.
In the study, a small group of healthy medical students attended four 20-minute training sessions on “mindfulness meditation” — a technique adapted from a Tibetan Buddhist form of meditation called samatha.It’s all about acknowledging and letting go of distraction. …
So how did the researchers gauge the effect? They administered a very distracting bit of pain: A small, thermal stimulator heated to 120 degrees was applied to the back of each volunteer’s right calf. The subjects reported both the intensity and unpleasantness of the pain. If pain were music, intensity would be volume. Unpleasantness would have more of an emotional component, kind of like how much you love or hate a song.
After meditation training, the subjects reported a 40 percent decrease in pain intensity and a 57 percent reduction in pain unpleasantness. And it wasn’t just their perception of pain that changed. Brain activity changed too.
“He won’t let us have one because it will be difficult to make sure non-kosher food stays out of the microwave,” says Jonathan Land, the third-year graphic design student’s voice and facial expression caught between restraint and outrage as he describes a diktat from David Alexander, the school’s president.
This type of problem illustrates the tensions between religious and secular Jews in Israel. This level of religious conflict, however, was not on the official agenda when students and faculty met with journalism students from the University of Southern California to discuss how the power of art can facilitate coexistence.
The Neri Bloomfield School of Design and Education was founded in 1971 by WIZO, an international women’s Zionist organization, and is located in this seaside city’s multicultural German Colony. In 1868, German members of the Evangelical Templar order started settling in the area. They believed that doing so would hasten the second coming of Christ.
“I could have not found a better home for it,” says David Alexander, an Orthodox Jew.
David Alexander (photo: Jessica Donath)
The eloquent educator has no trouble introducing nuance into the discussion. He acknowledges the kosher problem but reminds students that he did not want his school, with all its open space, to permanently smell like a cafeteria. This issue, too, like many questions that touch religion, democracy, or land in Israel, is complicated.
Alexander explains that Neri Bloomfield was different than other Israeli arts and design schools because its students are trained to become high school teachers in their field.
For most of the visiting journalism students, Jewish Israelis, from various ethnic and religious backgrounds studying together with Christian and Muslim Arab-Israelis is the distinguishing element. While this fact of life in institutions of higher education in Israel seems normal to the Israeli students and far less exciting than the low student-to-faculty ratio at the school, their USC counterparts have trouble moving past it.
In smaller group sessions, they inquire about the relationship between arts and politics, as well as the potentially transformative experience that studying and creating art together could have for Jewish and Arabic students.
“I don’t think the idea of a transformative experience is exactly what you should be looking for. How we live our lives on a day-to-day basis is enough,” says photography student Eric Judkowitz, after regaining his composure from laughing hard at the question put to him.
Hady Azaizy (photo: Sharis Delgadillo)
For Hady Azaizy, the only Arab-Israeli graphic design student currently enrolled at Neri Bloomfield, there are just not enough Arabs in the four design-oriented departments (architecture, graphic design, photography and documentary film) to turn his education into a deliberate exercise in coexistence. Thirty percent of the school’s total student body are Arab-Israelis, but most of them don’t study toward a degree in one of the creative disciplines. Rather, their focus is in culture and educational management.
“Me and you can be in one room together for four years, and maybe I will learn something about you, and maybe you will learn something about me. But just because I study in a place where there are Jews and Arabs doesn’t mean there will be communication,” he says.
But the school they attend is not a place for loners, adds Itay Eylon, who grew up on a kibbutz. When students criticize very personal works in front of a classroom of their peers, they need to be respectful of the narratives and beliefs that are revealed through art.
Itay Eylon (photo: Jessica Donath)
Suri Michaeli was looking for openness when she chose a university. The modern Orthodox woman received her primary education at a religious girls school, and she considered more of the same at a small religious arts college. But instead she chose Neri Bloomfield.
“I was looking for a very open place. I didn’t want to be closed-minded. I wanted to have all the experiences that you have here,” she says. Too many topics are taboo in religious schools, she explains while sitting next to Hady, whom she helps to find the right English words to express himself during the group discussion.
For the Neri Bloomfield students, talking about coexistence is far less important than living it.
Jessica Donath is a graduate student in journalism at the University of Southern California. Originally from Frankfurt, Germany, she moved to California in 2009 after spending a year in Prague, Czech Republic, where she studied journalism and political science. She has written and published articles in German and English.
We welcome your original reflections, essays, videos, or news items for possible publication on the Being Blog. Submit your entry through our First Person Outreach page.
This time-lapse film from Hosain Hadi shows the Masjid al Haram (“Sacred Mosque”) in Makkah (Mecca) in more serene moments, which may be different than most depictions videos you’ve seen of the sacred site shot during the Hajj.
The complex is shot in the off-hours, so to speak. It’s not packed to the hilt with worshipers from all over the world. It’s not shot from that same, single overhead view we often see, the one that brings the Kaaba into focus. In Faith, Hadi shares many angles with the viewer, but always from a distance. This gives one a better sense of the pulse of the shrine and its visitors. Literally, during one time of prayer, the image flickers as the adherents kneel and stand. White and grey, white and grey.
What I’m most particularly drawn to are the images rolling during the credits. Several women stand outside the mosque with their boys, one taking photos while the other holds his mother’s hand and balances on one leg. Another group of women and men race past; the first group lingers. It’s an exquisite sequence that humanizes these black-veiled women. The distance should make them feel like objects, like ants in motion. It doesn’t. You actually see these women as mothers and friends. The extension of a hand to her son, a gesture of intimacy to return home.
TEDxRamallah is taking place right now. The event started at 9:30 am Palestinian time (2:30 am Eastern). The event ends at 6:00 pm Palestinian time. There will be four sessions with a total of 18 speakers having talks varying from 4 to 18 minutes in length. Julia Bacha of Just Vision is speaking right now. I’ll do some more work and share the rest of the line-up in a minute. Here are a list of speakers, but I can’t find an official rundown. Can you?
If there’s one thing the Japanese have mastered, it’s the art of fire and bathing. And these two men do not disappoint. Yasuyoshi Chiba’s triumphant photo of two men bathing in this makeshift ofuro captures the passion of this long-standing tradition. Even if Kesennuma city is in ruins, taking a hot tubby is not only making the best out of a difficult situation, it’s necessary to the human spirit!
Conference of Catholic Bishops Stance on Sister Johnson's Book Is a Move Against Conversation
by Paul C. DeCamp, guest contributor
If you ban it, they will read it. That seems to be true thus far in the case of Sr. Elizabeth Johnson’s 2007 book Quest for the Living God: Mapping Frontiers in the Theology of God, which the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops suggested should be banned from Catholic schools in a statement on March 24.
By April 1, after national media coverage of the USCCB statement, the book was in the top 100 of the Amazon.com Religion & Spirituality Bestsellers list at #39, not far from the works of popular spiritual writer Eckhart Tolle, an impressive feat for an academic theologian.
Johnson has been respected for her work in Catholic theology especially because of her engagement with feminism, which was the subject of her now classic She Who Is, a 1993 book that sought to rediscover the “feminine God” in the Christian tradition. When asked for comment, prominent Catholic theologian David Tracy said that, while he had not yet read this book of Johnson’s, “…this much is clear to me: based on her previous work, I consider Elizabeth Johnson one of the most original and impressive theologians of our period. The range and depth of her published work is a model for contemporary Catholic theology.”
This particular work of Johnson’s explores the diversity of current thought in the theology of God, and as the subtitle indicates, maps “frontiers” in areas such as liberation, womanist, black, and political theologies, areas that have been the subject of great controversies within the Catholic Church.
The Conference said that while it did not have the authority to order the removal of the book from Catholic institutions (only the Vatican could do that), it wanted to draw attention to certain “misrepresentations, ambiguities, and errors” of Catholic doctrine in the book. Among these were assertions by Johnson that all names for God are metaphors, that God is continually suffering, and that all religions bear some presence of God. Because the book was “by a prominent Catholic theologian” and “written not for specialists in theology but for a ‘broad audience’,” the Conference believed it was necessary to make the public aware of its problems.
Boston College theologian Stephen J. Pope, speaking to The New York Times, said, “The reason is political. Certain bishops decide that they want to punish some theologians, and this is one way they do that. There’s nothing particularly unusual in her book as far as theology goes. It’s making an example of someone who’s prominent.”
The American bishops are continually drawing lines in the sand. Restrictions had been placed on politicians, such as the refusal of several bishops to allow John Kerry to take communion during the 2004 presidential election. The bishop of the Archdiocese of Wilmington stated that he would not permit Vice President Joe Biden to speak in Catholic schools. And now the Conference suggests that certain books should be kept from Catholic classrooms. The Conference has proven itself to be an organization that does not tolerate change or ambiguity, and Johnson’s work confronts both.
While the Conference claims to be interested in dialogue with Johnson, she indicated in a statement that no such invitations had been extended. She said in this statement, “I have always taken criticism as a valuable opportunity to delve more deeply into a subject. The task of theology, classically defined as ‘faith seeking understanding,’ calls for theologians to wrestle with mystery. The issues are always complex, especially on frontiers where the church’s living tradition is growing.”
While the USCCB’s statement may be interpreted as a move against conversation and debate among the divided American Catholics, the stir over Johnson’s book can serve to promote more open dialogue in Catholic circles. American Catholics, after all, are a group that continues to support politicians whom they are told not to vote for and to consume books that have been deemed dangerous for them to read.
Paul C. DeCamp is an M.A. student at the University of Chicago Divinity School. He holds a B.A. in Religious Studies from Lafayette College.
This essay is reprinted with permission of Sightings from the Martin Marty Center at the University of Chicago Divinity School.
Got a few extra sheets of matzah handy and looking for a Passover-friendly recipe? Deena Prichep has posted photos and recipes of various matzo pies, including a Turkish mina de carne that elevates this bread of affliction to a culinary delight!
Remembering Juliano Mer-Khamis and His Theater of Hope and Resistance in Jenin
by Nancy Rosenbaum, producer
Young Palestinian men mourn the death of Juliano Mer-Khamis (poster) outside The Freedom Theatre in Jenin refugee camp in the West Bank a day after unknown gunmen killed the actor and director in his car. (photo: Saif Dahlah/AFP/Getty Images)
"I have no hope for the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, at least not in my lifetime. You ask for political, practical, local hope. Like it’s going to be solved. Jews and Arabs are going to kiss each other and hold hands and go to the beach. This is not going to happen. I have hope as a human being, yes. Oh I have big hope as a human being. I believe in humans. I believe that people are good.” —Juliano Mer-Khamis
In a land splintered by contested physical borders and deep wells of distrust, Juliano Mer-Khamis described himself as “100 percent Palestinian and 100 percent Jewish.” The 52-year-old actor and activist was slain last week in Jenin, where he ran The Freedom Theatre, an arts program and cultural center for local youth in Jenin Refugee Camp.
The son of an Israeli-Jewish mother and a Palestinian-Christian father, Juliano Mer-Khamis refused to choose one identity over the other. As an adult, he kept a residence in Haifa, on the Israeli side, as well as in Jenin. Even his funeral transcended borders; pallbearers carried his casket across the Jalama checkpoint from Israel into the West Bank so that Palestinian mourners could participate.
A Palestinian woman mourns during the funeral procession of Juliano Mer-Khamis on April 6, 2011 on the Israeli side of the Jalama checkpoint. (photo: Uriel Sinai/Getty Images)
"…we believe that the strongest struggle today should be cultural, moral. This must be clear. We are not teaching the boys and the girls how to use arms or how to create explosives, but we expose them to discourse of liberation, of liberty. We expose them to art, culture, music — which I believe can create better people for the future, and I hope that some of them, some of our friends in Jenin, will lead … and continue the resistance against the occupation through this project, through this theatre."
Mer-Khamis was a controversial figure who seemed to be a clear-eyed realist about his life and work. In fact, he embraced this. “Lucky me,” he told PBS’ Need to Know.
"To be a theater and not controversial, then you should go open a clinic. Or be a dentist. We are a factory for controversy. We are the factory of ideas, of arguments of disputes. We are the factory where people should not like it. Otherwise, what are we doing here?"
The fresh ears of our listeners and their own experiences of our show with Sherry Turkle are helpful in absorbing parts of her message that might have slipped by the first time. Following are several we found enlightening and funny:
"As I listened to Turkle’s unedited comments I am reminded of the FOMO factor, the ‘fear of missing out,’ and how social media fills that gap for some."
I can see it being a major force to keep people involved in social media. But what else do you miss out on while trying to quell that fear? I also loved that he was listening to the unedited version of Krista’s interview when this phrase came to mind, trying not to miss a beat!
"Recently I’ve been catching myself sending emails to my wife while she’s sitting in the same room a mere arm’s length away at another computer. She has expressed valid complaints to this situation: "Just talk to me!” is her plea. This awareness has revealed my own hypocrisy when I rail at others who concentrate on sending text messages while ignoring the person with whom they’re conversing, or having lunch with. …
Finland, the land of my ancestors, has more computers, cell phones, and modern communications technology per capita than anywhere else on the planet. I have a growing conviction that it is the way we Finns deal with our fear of face-to-face communication, and by extension, a certain fear of intimacy. I have come a long way in that regard, but I have a considerable distance yet to go, as a 72-year-old who is still ‘on the way.’”
In another thoughtful reflection, librarian Marcia Jackson of Ashburn, Virginia describes her affluent neighborhood library where parents have continued for years to turn out for storytime in droves, as devoted parents do. But something is keeping them from really being there:
"I look out over the sea of faces and see adults texting, checking email, playing solitaire, etc… The other thing I see, which I find greatly ironic, is the obsession with taking photos of their kids with their smartphones. So, they can’t actually interact with the child yet they feel the need the record the moment and post the photo on their Facebook page or blog. The end result is that the kids are not the same… they aren’t getting the most out of their library experience and they’ve turned into little performers in front of the camera to get their parents’ attention.
As I sat down to clip coupons on Sunday (without any technology at hand incidentally), my own toddler rushed at me and begged me to stop because she knew I’d be out of commission for an hour. Sherry Turkle pushes us to think about what drives our relationship with technology, but, more importantly, reminds us of what we’re trying to protect and preserve — the ability to be more than just physically present, to be alive.
Ronan Kerr Was Not a Judas: Betrayal and Peace in Northern Ireland at Lent
by Pádraig Ó Tuama, guest contributor
Police officers carry the coffin containing the remains of Constable Ronan Kerr to the church of the Immaculate Conception in Beragh, Northern Ireland on April 6, 2011. The First Minister of the British-controlled province, the Protestant Peter Robinson, broke with decades of tradition to attend his first ever Catholic mass as Constable Kerr was laid to rest. (photo: Peter Muhly/AFP/Getty Images)
While working with Holy Family Parish in North Belfast over the last few weeks, I have encountered much wisdom. One woman, Ann, quoted one of her university professors who said, “Any ideology carried to its logical conclusion is a dangerous thing.”
Now, I am sure that there are library shelves worth of arguments that could add nuance and subtlety to this statement. However, the death of Constable Ronan Kerr on April 2nd has given us something more weighty than a library to consider when reflecting on Ann’s quote.
Ronan Kerr was 25, involved in Gaelic Games and a member of the Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI). A Catholic, he was part of the growing sea change in the active members of the Police Service that was set up in response to the reports and enquiries and settlements and agreements of the 1980s and 90s. The organisational predecessor of the PSNI had a significant imbalance — for a 52 percent Protestant to 45 percent Catholic population, there was at times over 90 percent representation from the Protestant community. In an effort to redress this, the PSNI (formed in November 2001) had, up until two weeks ago, a 50-50 recruitment policy. A huge majority of Catholic/Nationalist/Republican groups have given backing to the organisational structure of the PSNI — but a fractionally small minority, allegedly including those who planted the bomb that killed Ronan Kerr, objected.
Ronan Kerr was possibly understood by this small minority as a traitor — someone who had abandoned the values of what it means to be Irish by joining the police service that serves a jurisdiction of Ireland that is not part of the Republic. I am guessing that this combination of Gaelic Games, formed with the dual purpose of promoting traditional Irish sports and culture, with active service as a policeman was considered a juxtaposition too far, and a contradiction that needed to be met with force.
The force that met him was placed under his car, in a small plastic container, and it exploded, killing him. The following day, on Mother’s Day, I thought about his mother. She spoke out last Monday with dignity, strength, and conviction.
Thousands of people walked in the “March for Peace” rally in Omagh, Northern Ireland on April 10, 2011. Commemorating the death of Ronan Kerr, a woman holds a sign reading “Not in My Name” with a photo of the murdered police constable. (photo: Peter Muhly/AFP/Getty Images)
It is Lent and, as part of my work, we are looking at unusual relationships in the gospels. This was how I met Ann. She is part of a parish group examining how Jesus of Nazareth related to people who were different, people who were marginalised, people who were on the fringes, whether because they were lowly or because they were haughty. As we meet together to discuss these narratives, we examine the characters involved and consider the question of to whom these stories might speak today, and how we might demonstrate the subtlety of relationship depicted in the interactions of the text.
Last week, a group of us considered Judas. Judas is depicted as a traitor. Matthew and Mark’s gospel accounts introduce Judas as the one who betrayed Jesus. Luke’s first mention of Judas paints him as a traitor, and John, in addition to calling him a traitor, calls him a devil.
It is safe to say that the writers of the gospels inherited the outrage of the original disciples — that one of them should betray Jesus. Yet, there is a story of Judas that we must consider. When he betrayed Jesus with a kiss, Jesus called him “Friend.” Following the death of Jesus, Judas repented, saying, "I have sinned in betraying innocent blood" before ending his own life.
As we discussed Judas, we thought that his agenda may have been a more political one — to begin a revolt, to start a flame with the small spark of an arrest of Jesus of Nazareth. That he was disappointed by the outcome of death is evident. And so, we gave time to widen the character of Judas in our imagination, seeing him beyond categories.
Irish society, north and south of the border, has at times been characterised by people who have loudly declaimed each other as traitors. In order to consider the question of who the character of Judas is in the gospel, we have had to pay attention to his own actions and his own words, not just the words of those who caricature him. If we are to apply something from a close narrative reading of the text, we must recognise that the term “traitor” is too easily used, and too easily thrown.
Ronan Kerr was not a Judas, he was not a traitor. With his life, words, and body, Ronan Kerr was holding within himself identities that are symbolic of a shared and peaceful future for all on the Island of Ireland. He was one of many, Catholic and Protestant, who embody within themselves the delightful and radical combination of identities that one time were considered juxtapositional.
I believe that the character of Judas had lost his own self. He had forgotten what it meant to be in relationship with real people because his relationship with his ideology had become supreme. In some ways, I consider those responsible for the death of Ronan Kerr, who as yet have not yet claimed responsibility, to be addicted to the chaos that for so long dominated the life of society in the north of Ireland.
In light of Ronan Kerr’s death, we spent a long time speaking in a congregational group about how Jesus would speak to the bombers. We have outrage, fear, protest, desires for justice, and desires for peace each speaking loudly within us. If we are to learn from Judas, we can learn that an ideology, taken to its logical extreme, removed from the narrative of everyday, ordinary people who wish to live a peaceful life, is a frightening and dangerous thing.
About the image, middle: Members of the public write in a book of condolence for police constable Ronan Kerr. (photo: Jeff J Mitchell/Getty Images)
Pádraig Ó Tuama, a native of Cork, works in Belfast, Northern Ireland as a faith & peace worker of the Irish Peace Centres. His poetry and writing can be found at Hold Your Self Together.
We welcome your original reflections, essays, videos, or news items for possible publication on the On Being Blog. Submit your entry through our First Person Outreach page.
Young girls dressed in white symbolizing purity shower flowers and rose petals before the passing of the Holy Host carried in solemnity by the parish priest. (photo: Peter Grima/Flickr, CC BY-SA 2.0)
At an early age, I learned that God was a being who dwelled in a place far from where I ever stood. I learned to commune with the transcendent God of the above, not the immanent divine within. But over the years, as I let go of childish thinking and took responsibility for my spiritual life, my perception of God changed dramatically. I am guided now not so much by teachings that were handed down to me, but by ideas that have risen up from within — a shift that began 30 years ago when I was a young postulant nun in a religious order taking my first theology class.
The Jesuit priest stood in front of the room and asked us what we believed about God. One postulant raised her hand, stood up, and said, “God made me to show His goodness and to share His everlasting life with me in heaven.” I nodded my head in agreement, having memorized this years ago just like everyone else in the room.
The priest looked dismayed. “That’s it?” he asked.
“Sit down,” he barked, looking around for the next hand.
Up it went, and the next brave soul stood up saying, “In God there are three divine persons, really distinct, and equal in all things — the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost.”
I nodded again, and the priest frowned. “Is that the best you can do?”
“Next,” he yelled, as she took her seat, looking around in wonder.
By now, we’re all confused, but one more raised her hand.
“God can do all things, and nothing is hard or impossible to Him.”
“Sit down,” he said.
He rolled his eyes, crossed his arms, and surveyed the whole group of us with a kind of silent disdain. By now, I’m feeling anxious and blood is rushing up my neck. I feel hot and sweaty. My first anxiety attack.
“How could he do this?” It seemed so mean. He asked for our ideas about God and yet, when we said them, it felt like he took a sledge hammer and smashed our beliefs into a thousand pieces. A tear rolled down my cheek.
It was a moment of devastating loss, incomprehensible sadness. I felt as if everything I believed in, everything on which I had based my life, was now being challenged. We sat there, 30 of us, for what seemed an eternity, reckoning with the obliteration of God as we had known Him. What if everything we believed wasn’t true? Did Father Grabys know something we didn’t know?
Finally the priest spoke. “You should be ashamed for having nothing more than catechism answers to this question. Are you just a bunch of parrots, repeating everything you’ve been taught? Hasn’t anyone here gone beyond the Baltimore Catechism in your thinking?”
The air was thick with silence. Hands were folded, eyes cast down. Tears cascaded down my face. I prayed he wouldn’t call on me.
“You must come to know what is true about God from your own experience,” said the priest. “If you are to be a nun worth your salt, you have to arrive at a faith that is deeper than your learning, one that is rooted in your ultimate concerns and rises up from the nature of who you are.”
I looked up at him, wondering how in the world to build a faith from my human nature. Wasn’t faith something I was born into — something I inherited from the outside?
I was a Catholic by default. They told me everything I was supposed to believe. That was the point, wasn’t it? I was just lucky to be born into the one true faith. I certainly didn’t have anything to say about it. That’s what infallible popes were for.
I raised my hand and asked him how someone could create a faith from the inside out, and why we even needed to since we knew what we needed to know from the catechism.
“What you believe, that is religion,” he said. “Who you are, what you live for — that is faith. And that is what we are here to explore, to create, and to declare — our faith and spirituality. You can let go of your beliefs for awhile as you learn how to create a faith that will see you through everything.”
I didn’t want to let go of any beliefs. They were all I had. And they were enough. I didn’t need anything more, or so I thought. As we continued on in the class, the biblical paradox that says we must lose our lives in order to find them suddenly began to make sense. Taking responsibility for our own spirituality was a painstaking process that lasted the entire semester as we worked to find and define our own commitments and ultimate concerns — a task that was supremely challenging for young women who had been taught all their lives what to think, but not how to think.
We never looked at another catechism, never recited another memorized belief, but step by step we built a new spirituality for ourselves that was deeply personal and rooted in our ultimate concerns. And every day during meditation there was something new and profoundly elegant to contemplate: myself as the creator of my own spiritual path.
Jan Phillips is a public speaker and author of several books, including the The Art of Original Thinking. She currently lives in San Diego, California.
We welcome your original reflections, essays, videos, or news items for possible publication on the Being Blog. Submit your entry through our First Person Outreach page.
Our Robotic Moment: Turkle Says We Should Be Reframing the Questions about Technology and Our Humanity
by Susan Leem, associate producer
Humanoid robot ASIMO directs the Detroit Symphony Orchestra. (photo by: Honda, Ars Electronica/Flickr)
"The options are given in the description of the situation. We can call this the package problem. In the real world, situations are not bundled together with options. In the real world, the act of framing — the act of describing a situation, and thus of determining that there’s a decision to be made — is itself a moral task. It’s often the moral task. Learning how to recognize what is and isn’t an option is part of our ethical development…In life, the challenge is not so much to figure out how best to play the game; the challenge is to figure out what game you’re playing.”
In her latest book Alone Together, MIT professor Sherry Turkle cites this passage from Kwame Anthony Appiah's Experiment in Ethics to raise an important point about context and decision-making. She is concerned about the way we set up such important social questions, “quandaries” she calls them, such as: “Do you want seniors lonely and bored, or do you want them engaged with a robotic companion?” A “robotic companion,” in fact, may not be the only solution or even a viable one to “lonely and bored.”
She wants to make sure we’ve considered moral issues not only when setting up a quandary, but also when responding to it. And as Appiah suggests, how you frame and respond to a quandary is a moral issue that is part of a person’s moral development and obligation. Turkle takes on this task by questioning how we think about our relationship with technology.
In our show this week (title "Alive Enough?"), Sherry Turkle asks how we can shape technology to serve human purposes and not the other way around. During one poignant moment of the interview, she tells a story about how children and others have reframed one of the most fundamental questions of reality, about recognizing “aliveness” and having a new kind of pragmatism about how alive something needs to be for its purpose.
She’s concerned that some may no longer care if we are among life, that life has somehow become irrelevant to a generation.
"By the time of the Darwin exhibit in 2006 I think, my daughter saw a Galapagos turtle which had been brought up from the islands, this was the life that Darwin saw. And she looks at this turtle…and she looks at me and she says, because this turtle is sleeping, she says ‘for what this turtle is doing, they could have just had a robot.’ And it struck me that from her point of view, the fact that it was alive mattered not at all.”
The package problem around technology is that most people simply want to ask whether it’s good or bad for us, and not how it changes us. How it changes us can be as complex and as fundamental as how we recognize life’s worth.
About the image: (lower right) A giant Galápagos tortoise on display at the American Museum of Natural History’s Darwin exhibition. The diorama was labeled with a “Live!” sticker. (photo: Andrew D. Miller/Flickr)
"Disarmed the Thunder’s Fires" (photo: ZedZaP/Flickr, CC BY-NC-SA 2.0)
As we approach Passover, I am reminded once again about the imperative of embracing the stranger, of diversity, as a foundation not only of a healthy democracy, but of our personal well being. Jonathan Sacks, Chief Rabbi of Great Britain, delivered this message when he reminded us that during Passover we remember that we were once strangers in the land of Egypt. As Sacks says, “The sense that we are enlarged by the people who are different than us, that we are not threatened by them, needs cultivating. This would lead us to see that 21st century as full of blessing and not fear.”
There is a conundrum buried in this idea. Communication technology has been the driving force of change in the 21st century, the source of much of our contemporary blessings and fears. Thanks to technology, the world has shrunk rapidly. One needs look no further than the events unfolding in the Middle East to understand the power of technology to connect and inspire. At the same time, technology mediates so much of our communication, raising the question, “Can we truly learn to love the stranger if we meet them on Facebook?”
There are those who believe that social media is expanding the diversity of our networks, exposing us to others in new and powerful ways. A recent Pew poll indicates that Internet users have more diverse social networks than non-Internet users and are more likely to join groups, both online and offline.
There is some indication that those who join online groups are also more engaged in their local communities. Keith Hampton at the Annenberg School argues that social media offers new pathways to diversity through what he terms “pervasive awareness.” Pervasive awareness offers the continual, asynchronous exposure to many aspects of our online friends’ interests and activities, giving us a broader understanding of those we are connected to and uncovering greater diversity in our existing relationships.
There are others who fear that, as we spend increasing amounts of time in tightly constructed worlds of our “friends” and pursue news and information based on our personal interests, we are constricting diversity by living in echo chambers that continually recirculate our existing beliefs. This is what Nicholas Negroponte termed the “Daily Me.” It is not just our conscious choices but personalization tools built into technologies that are exacerbating this tendency.
Eli Pariser, the first executive director of MoveOn.org, made a concerted effort to follow people online whose views differed from his own. He noticed that over time those voices started to disappear. Facebook and Google were curating the information he saw based on the “preferences” indicated by his clickstream. Pariser commented that the web “shows us what it thinks we need to see, but not what we should see.”
Beyond the debate about whether or not social media is exposing us to a greater diversity of “strangers” is the deeper question about the nature of the self we reveal in this medium. Sherry Turkle, in her recent book Alone Together, shares the story of Brad, a teenager who has chosen to give up Facebook. Turkle writes:
“In a profile, there is no room for error. You are reduced to a series of right and wrong choices. ‘Online life,’ Brad says, ‘is about premeditation.’ He sums up his discontents with an old-fashioned word: online life inhibits ‘authenticity’. He wants to experience people directly. When he reads what someone says about themselves on Facebook, he feels he is an audience to their performance of cool.”
As Rabbi Sacks wisely reminds us, it is only when I am most uniquely myself that I can “contribute something unique to the heritage of humankind.” The knowledge and expression of our most unique selves requires a commitment to authenticity, to knowing who we are in the most profound sense. This is hard work, even among friends. But it is when we encounter the other in their unique authenticity that we are enlarged. This is when the power of what Rabbi Sacks calls the “dignity of difference” is unleashed.
Social media and communications technology can offer maps that show the way toward the other, clues about who they are and some of what they experience. But we cannot allow ourselves to be lulled into confusing the maps with the reality. We must remain vigilant in our pursuit of embodied encounters that allow us to look into the eyes of the other and receive them deeply.
May we not, this Passover, forget that slavery can take many forms. One of the most insidious is slavery to the belief that technological progress releases us from the hard work of tikkun olam, of healing the world through our own unique and authentic humanity.
Jennifer Cobb is a business consultant specializing in marketing and strategy for public and private sector organizations. She has a degree in ethics from Union Theological Seminary and is the author of Cybergrace: The Search for God in the Digital World. She lives in Berkeley, California and blogs regularly at The Spruce Blog.
We welcome your original reflections, essays, videos, or news items for possible publication on the Being Blog. Submit your entry through our First Person Outreach page.
A few weeks ago, my dad crafted his first-ever text message. He was with my sister, who was on the brink of becoming a mother. His text is classic Dad, a singular mixture of humor, complaint, and anxiety:
"Well we’re here in the hospital waiting for [your sister’s] turn. She’s very calm, which I am not. I don’t think I’ll be able to have lunch until it’s over, which is OK since the soup in the coffee shop doesn’t look too good anyhow. I think it’s kale and it doesn’t look very hot. We’ll keep you apprised about the soup situation and about the baby too. Love, Dad"
Since my baby niece’s entry into the world, I’ve received scores of digital pictures — more than were ever taken of me or my sister during our first week of life. I’ve been experiencing aunt-hood from a geographical distance. But with technology in the mix, I’ve been able to interact with my niece as a pixelated being in ways that weren’t possible when I was a kid.
Now my parents are eager to learn how to Skype! To my amazement, a digital revolution is unfolding in the suburbs of New Jersey as monumental life changes inspire my parents to use technology in new ways.
Has this kind of thing happened to you? What changed in your life that inspired — or forced — you to turn a corner with technology?
Gudi Padwa, New Year's Day for Indians, Marks the Start of Spring
by Susan Leem, associate producer
A man dressed in elaborate costume celebrates the Maharashtrian New Year during a procession in Mumbai. (photo: Sajjad Hussain/AFP/Getty Images)
Bollywood stars took to Twitter to wish their fans Gudi Padwa, or Happy New Year. India’s vast cultural and ethnic diversity accounts for celebrations at different times and places. Grand festivals are held to celebrate the start of vasant or spring.
The people of Maharashtra observe the new year as Gudi Padwa on the first day of Chaitra, the first month of the Hindu lunar calendar (which is April 4th this year). It is also known as Ugadi (or Yugadi) in the Indian states of Andhra Pradesh and Karnataka, Vishu in Kerala, Puthandu in Tamil Nadu, and Navreh in Kashmir, just to name a few. The Hindu holiday literally means "the start of an era" and for some celebrates the creation of the world.
An important event of the day is the hoisting of Gudi, a victory flag, onto bamboo poles. It has a copper or brass pot on top of it and is displayed in front of homes.
A woman watches the Gudi Padwa procession in Mumbai from a window decorated with a Gudi pole adorned with red cloth in 2010. (photo: Indranil Mukherjee/AFP/Getty Images)
Intricate rangoli (traditional decorative folk art) designs appear on doorsteps in vibrant colors.
This day marks the end of one harvest and the beginning of another, which agricultural communities signify as the beginning of a new year.
Neem twigs are bundled for sale near Manek Chowk in the Old City. (photo: Meena Kadri/Flickr)
The Western (Gregorian) calendar greets the first day of spring around mid-March, nearly a quarter of the way into the new year. But doesn’t the agrarian approach feel more reliable, literal, and frankly inspiring than staring into the endless white of another January 1st snow? Here’s to letting the first green buds of spring and a new harvest signify a brand new year.
Currently, the book is on exhibit at the New York Public Library. The author, an artist, teaches documentary, drawing, graphic novels, and printmaking at the Parsons School of Design, so one might be excused from not immediately recognizing the logic of her having written a book on the Curies (who shared with Henri Becquerel the 1903 Nobel Prize in physics for their research on radiation.) But there’s little that is logical about the way this story reveals itself and that’s what makes it beautiful and such a pleasure to read.
The book is a piece of art composed of images and words. Although told in roughly chronological fashion, mostly the story has long tendrils of other tales. In this regard, as well as others, I suspect it will be of interest to people fascinated by the intersections of science and mind.
Here’s what I liked about it. To me, the format of Radioactive mimics the way a mind — mine at least — works. All of us dedicated to a regular sitting practice know that just a few breaths into a sit, the mind is likely to take an excursion, follow an idea. After some time we wake up to the fact of our distraction and come back to focusing on the breath. It is in this manner that the story of the Curies, their colleagues, friends, enemies, lovers, and offspring unfolds. Unlike histories of science or biographies of scientists that are so often linear and wordy, this one provides multiple, pursuable pathways.
Even if they know little else, most people know that Marie Skłodowska Curie was the first woman to be awarded a Nobel Prize. They may also know that her first Nobel in physics was followed by a second in 1911 in chemistry for the discovery of the elements radium and polonium.
But the story of Marie and Pierre Curie is much more interesting than that plain fact. It involves a stimulating partnership of spouses engaged by the same scientific questions, infatuation with the invisible, Marie’s scandalous love affair after her husband’s accidental death by horse-drawn carriage, an ongoing commitment to scientific and medical investigations that ultimately killed her, and offspring — both biological and scientific — who have carried on their work.
In Radioactive, entwined images and prose create a fabric that relates the stories of the Curies to more modern-day concerns: Three Mile Island, Chernobyl, and two World Wars. Redniss indulges her readers with haunting cyanotype and archival images offered up in nonlinear fashion; this is a boon for right-brainers such as I whose minds tend toward wandering.
A most fascinating facet of the book tells of the Curie’s explorations in Spiritualism — a movement that suggested the possibility of contact with the divine. As Redniss tells it:
"Electricity, radio, the telegraph, the X-ray, and now, radioactivity — at the turn of the twentieth century a series of invisible forces were radically transforming daily life. These advances were dazzling and disorienting: for some, they blurred the boundary between science and magic…. Spiritualists claimed that clairvoyants possessed ‘X-gazes,’ and that photographic plates placed on the forehead could record vital forces of the brain, or ‘V-rays.’"
The Curies and their circle — including leading artists, writers, and scientists such as Edvard Munch, Arthur Conan Doyle, Henri Poincare, Alexander Graham Bell — participated in the Spiritualist séances of Italian medium Eusapia Palladino and considered it possible to find in Spiritualism the origin of unknown energy that might relate to radioactivity. In fact, as Susan Quinn recounts in Marie Curie: A Life, just prior to his death, Pierre Curie wrote to physicist Louis Georges Gouy about his last séance with Palladino, “There is here, in my opinion, a whole domain of entirely new facts and physical states in space of which we have no conception.”
Both scientists and Spiritualists believed that there was much that exists in the world that cannot be seen by the naked eyes of humans.
Radioactive is a story of mystery and magic as well as a history of science and invention. It shows how science, so often thought of as motivated by passionate rationality, is equally about marvelous ambiguity. The Curies, perhaps influenced by their encounters with Spiritualism, devoted their lives to the search for evidence of phenomena they could not see but that they believed existed. The implications of what they found — the good and the bad, medical innovation and nuclear proliferation — they couldn’t fully anticipate.
A recent New York Times article about nuclear energy, “Preparing for Everything, Except the Unknown,” states the obvious: experts say it is impossible to prepare for everything. As a mindfulness practitioner, I’d like to offer a corollary to that statement: when we sit seemingly doing nothing, plenty happens — we don’t see it, but we sense it. Redniss’s history of the lives of Marie and Pierre Curie inspires me as a scientist to continue to pursue my mindfulness practice.
Jill S. Schneiderman is Professor of Earth Science at Vassar College. She’s also the editor of and contributor to For the Rock Record: Geologists on Intelligent Design and The Earth Around Us: Maintaining a Livable Planet. She blogs at Shambhala SunSpace and Earth Dharma.
We welcome your original reflections, essays, videos, or news items for possible publication on the Being Blog. Submit your entry through our First Person Outreach page.
Katy Payne is the kind of person I love to interview. For starters, she is warm and delightful, wise and instructive, about things I had never pondered before. And though eminent in her field of “acoustic biology,” she is not a famous name.
She is a practicing Quaker and a student of the spiritual philosophy of the 20th-century, Greek-Armenian philosopher Gurdjieff, who taught self-awareness and openness to reality. The spirituality she reveals during our conversation derives its passion directly from life — and from her rare, intimate experience of usually hidden slices of the natural world.
Katy Payne is a beautiful example of a line that I love from the writer Annie Dillard — words that I take as a definition of vocation: “You were made and set here to give voice to this, your astonishment.”
Payne has spent a life following her astonishment at the lives and language of whales and elephants. Along the way, her reverent attention has led to a few breakthrough scientific discoveries.
Katy Payne was a listener long before she became a self-trained acoustic biologist. She loved music before she loved biology, and as an undergraduate at Cornell she studied both. From there, in the 1960s, she became part of the first team of scientists to understand that humpback whales communicate by song. She later discovered that their songs are not inborn and fixed, but constantly evolving. Whales, like people, she says, are composers.
That is just one of the things I know about the planet I inhabit, from this conversation with Katy Payne, that I might not have learned otherwise. She also teaches me that elephants are emotional, passionate, intensely social creatures. And people who live close to them have always expressed both fear and fascination at their evident intelligence and memory and a mysterious ability to coordinate family movements across long distances.
Somewhat by chance, in the wake of her discoveries about whales, Katy Payne had an opportunity to observe elephants in a zoo in Portland, Oregon — and there she “felt” sounds that she was later able to identify as infrasonic. She later spent 15 years monitoring and decoding the basic vocabulary of elephants, and, in 1999, she founded the Elephant Listening Project in the equatorial rainforests of central Africa. This project has become a resource for thinking deeply and creatively about protecting these large and exotic creatures who increasingly compete with human beings for land and food as their habitats shrink.
I like people who muddy depictions of good and bad, right and wrong. That pit people and causes irrevocably against one another. Such voices do not simplify; they often make an “issue” feel even more complicated than before. And yet they also open our eyes to new ways of seeing, and new possibilities forward. Katy Payne offers unusual insight into the moral irony even of the noblest conservation efforts.
Over the years she has bitterly grieved the death of elephants she has studied — killed either by poachers or by culling, an official practice in some African countries of selective reduction of elephant populations that encroach on human land and livelihood. She knows that poaching is often a corollary of poverty, political instability, and hunger. She suggests that the best we can do to preserve some forms of wildlife is to support the health and vitality of the human populations with whom they coexist.
Katy Payne also experiences irony in the “No Trespassing” sign she posts on her 14 acres in upstate New York, after her years in the wildness and unbounded geography of Africa. And yet, in conversation, she makes that far-away wildness real in a way that facts and news reports and policy debates never can.
I know something about forest elephants now that makes me feel invested in their fate, as well as that of the people with whom they more closely share life. I feel myself blessed very directly by the songs of the humpback whales as Katy Payne describes the largest lessons they leave with her:
"The ocean is really huge. When you get out on a little boat, you know it. You’re clinging to a cork … And out there, rolling around and swimming through and perfectly at home in the waves are these enormous animals. And by golly, they’re singing … And so what that has done for me is to make me feel that what lies ahead is absolutely limitless. We are not at the pinnacle of human knowledge. We are just beginning."
Creating this show is a gift. I hope you experience it that way too.
About the images above: Photo of Humpback whale in Hervey Bay, Australia by Michael Dawes. Photo of forest elephants in Dzanga-Sangha National Park, Central African Republic by Nicholas Rost.
A Poetic Street Sign Encounter in the City of Light
by Nancy Rosenbaum, producer
Last week, I spent two days exploring the glorious streets of Paris in the emerging bloom of spring. As I wound my way through the city’s arrondissements toward the Eiffel Tower, I serendipitously stumbled upon this street sign honoring the French poet Sully Prudhomme.
Steve and Cokie Roberts Discuss the Importance of Ritual for Christian and Jewish Families
by Trent Gilliss, senior editor
"Marrying a Catholic, in some ways, made me more Jewish." —Steve Roberts
"When I was pregnant for our first child, I understood the meaning of Passover and wanted to have that celebration in our home and didn’t know how to go about it." —Cokie Roberts
Who knew that listening to two veteran power journalists discuss their “mixed” marriage, the meaning of Passover, and the importance of the Seder could be so delightful and entertaining? If you’re looking for apleasant 20 minutes to spend this weekend morning, listen to Sara Ivry’s interview with Cokie and Steve Roberts for Vox Tablet. Ivry’s style and demeanor are relaxed and comfortable, which makes you feel like you’re participating in a dinner table discussion rather than a question-and-answer session.
For me personally, I know that as my wife and I transition our boys from preschool at a Jewish community center to a Catholic elementary school (both foreign worlds to me), I don’t want to lose some of the gifts and rituals present in both of these faiths and people. This conversation is a refreshing, uplifting perspective that I found quite helpful in making the most of one’s own journey.
Indian Pilgrims "Collect Blessings" in the Holy Land
by Nancy Rosenbaum, producer
(photo: Trent Gilliss)
"This is like heaven for us." These are the words of Satish Kharchane who was traveling with his father Prabhakar to the Holy Land this month. Their family hails from Pune (Poona), India and were visiting the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem, built on what is believed to be the site of Jesus’ birthplace.
Prabhakar, 77, whose health is declining, is visibly frail. He steadies himself on his son’s forearm as he walks with halting steps through the church’s nave. Both father and son are members of the Assemblies of God, a Pentecostal Protestant denomination. As Satish, 37, explains, their trip was the culmination of a dream delayed by family tragedy:
Growing up, Satish and his late brother Manesh learned about Israel through daily prayer and Bible lessons from their father. “We had seen Israel from the imagination of our father,” Satish writes. “What my father saw in his imagination, he [Manesh] wanted to show him in reality.”
Reflecting on his family’s pilgrimage to the Holy Land, Satish describes the experience as a “trip of collecting blessings.” Later on in our email correspondence, Satish says of his father:
“He felt that as if his biggest goals of life have been achieved. By visiting Israel, he feels that he is so blessed as he had almost given up due to his poor health condition. In fact, many times during the trip he cried and shared his feelings of contentment and satisfaction. It was an experience like going to heaven for him.”
Like the South Korean Evangelical Christians we witnessed singing Jesus’ praises on the Mount of Olives a few days before, Satish and Prabhakar are living reminders of Christianity’s vast reach across time and geography, and that people around the globe cherish these holy sites with heartfelt and enduring reverence.
An image of wooden prayer tablets in Japan made me think of this virtual suggestion box, of sorts, where people can petition their “prayers” for the future of technology. The quotation above was one of those submissions, which I liked because it suggests using technology to serve and connect.
The Internet Wishlist creates a space for people to share the holes and needs in their complex lives where apps and websites could do them some good. Start-ups and developers, pay attention to these missives! The pedestrian longings of today could lead to the technological advances of the future.
If you’ve got an idea to contribute, simply post your idea on Twitter and include the hash tag #theiwl.
A long, prosperous winter is coming to pass. The spring thaw is upon us in Minnesota. And, it feels so necessary. But, it’s not without some remorse, especially when taking in the shocking beauty of Minnehaha Falls captured in such exquisite light. The creek is now assuming its dutiful labor, the water wresting and freeing itself from its dormant state.
A big thanks to Al Gage for capturing this bit of nature!
There are those who argue that the representation of Arab Israeli women in recent years in various television “reality” programmes testifies to a profound change within Arab Israeli society in general, and among Arab Israeli women in particular. Admittedly, when Arab women can be seen walking around in sleeveless shirts and miniskirts on the television show Big Brother, or modelling in programmes such as Models, or winning beauty contests, one can be forgiven for thinking that a revolution is taking place within Arab Israeli society.
Despite appearances, in fact actual developments within Arab society in Israel suggest that traditional patriarchal attitudes towards women within Arab society are becoming even more firmly entrenched, not less. Indeed, Jewish women in Israel fare better than their Arab counterparts overall, but in their case too, there is still much left to be desired.
In the struggle for gender equality in Israel, Jewish and Arab women could achieve far greater gains if they were to join forces and build a shared agenda for change.
Regarding Arab women (particularly Muslim women) in Israel, there are two trends which, in my opinion, suggest the increasing prevalence of traditional patriarchal values: the fact that the marriage age for women has dropped, and that more and more women are covering their hair with the hijab (headscarf).
Surprisingly, these developments are occurring simultaneously with a rise in Arab women’s level of education and an increased desire to join the workforce. This seeming contradiction between increased restrictions on women, on one end, and an acceptance of greater freedoms, on the other, sends a complex message to Arab women: yes, you as a woman can study and leave the house to work but only once you have submitted to traditional family and dress codes.
Moreover, attempts in the past few decades to empower Arab women in Israel by encouraging them to study, to work, and to play a role in public life have not translated into real equality. Thus, for example, the number of Arab women who have integrated into the work force is limited to 19 percent, with half of those working in education. Forty-three percent of Arab female academics in Israel are unemployed, and Arab women constitute the poorest segment of Israeli society.
In the academic and public discourse, the marginal place of the Arab woman is mainly attributed to her social and cultural status within a patriarchal society. But some of the arguments focus on the role of the state and its institutions in helping preserve a patriarchal tradition precisely because in the name of respecting cultural differences the government chooses not to interfere with attitudes towards Arab women within their own society.
Thus, Arab women find themselves caught between the burden of tradition and patriarchy and a multicultural, hands-off attitude by the state on the other.
Arab and Jewish women share a similar plight in that both groups pay a heavy price for the ongoing conflict between the two peoples. The price is two-fold: both groups of women are kept out of the centres of decision-making, and they are expected to put their need for gender equality on hold. Women are repeatedly told that gender equality is secondary to the more pressing demands of national survival.
As Arab and Jewish women who represent half of the Israeli population, we must fight together for our rights in the workplace and in education; we must work to bring women into parliament and into the centres of decision-making, breaking the male domination of the social and political processes.
International Woman’s Day presented an opportune moment to urge both Arab and Jewish women in Israel to work together to advance an alternative gender agenda. We can and must cultivate the practice of compassion and tolerance as the basic building blocks for a language of dialogue, which can challenge the aggressive discourse that dominates our reality.
Israeli women — both Jewish and Arab — can bring a richness to the discourse that goes beyond the television screen. We would do well to merge our struggles for gender equality and equality between our two peoples on the grassroots and political levels. Women who bring life into the world have the right and duty to preserve it, and should therefore strive to place themselves in the centre of action and decision-making processes.
Dr. Maram Masrawi is a lecturer and researcher at David Yellin College in Jerusalem and at the Al Qasemi College in Baka al-Gharbiya. She lives in Neve Shalom/Wahat al-Salam.
A version of this article was written by the Common Ground News Service on March 15, 2011. Copyright permission is granted for publication.
The cover page of an unclassified report created for the Air Force Office of Scientific Research by the Dreyfus brothers.
"To become expert, one must take risks." —philosopher Hubert Dreyfus
If you are ambitious and a perfectionist but extremely risk averse, these words of advice may create a lot of cognitive stress for you, as they do for me. But risk is a necessary ingredient of how people learn to become masters of their work.
In 1980 at the University of California, Berkeley, brothers Stuart and Hubert Dreyfus wrote an influential 18-page paper on the stages of directed skill acquisition. They say a student passes through five distinct stages on their way to learning a skill: novice, advanced beginner, competent, proficient, and expert. And this model was named after the pair: "the Dreyfus model of skill acquisition."
They argue that when students follow abstract formal rules (such as for learning sounds and grammar rules of a foreign language) it does produce minimal skill, but “only experience with concrete cases can account for higher levels of performance.”
I see now where the risk comes in. The scariest part of learning a new skill is taking into daily life what you’ve learned in a purely theoretical setting, and then applying it to worldly problems. You can see the safety net erode a bit in the middle step of competence where you’ve got to learn to identify meaningful patterns, presumably both good and bad:
"Competence comes only after considerable experience actually coping with real situations in which the student notes or an instructor points out recurrent meaningful component patterns. These situational components, in terms of which a competent student understands his environment, are no longer the context-free features used by the novice."
But if you keep advancing on this path, applying your skill will no longer be scary. In fact it can become second nature as you will ultimately rely on intuition to guide your correct decisions:
"The expert performer in a particular task environment has reached the final stage in the step-wise improvement of mental processing which we have been following. Up to this stage, the performer needed some sort of analytical principle (rule, guideline, maxim) to connect his grasp of the general situation to a specific action. Now his repertoire of experienced situations is so vast that normally each specific situation immediately dictates an intuitively appropriate action."
Though risk-taking is a requirement of sorts for advancement through the stages, I wonder if you can measure your aptitude for risk-taking with the Dreyfus model. If so, I’ll do well to move from beginner to competent.
Overwhelming Video of Tsunami Taking Out Entire Japanese Fishing Town
by Trent Gilliss, senior editor
The plethora of footage showing the ravaging impact of the earthquake and resulting tsunami on Japanese cities and infrastructure pale in comparison to this hand-held video above. Many of us have seen this BBC video of Kesennuma in Miyagi Prefecture, a fishing town situated at the tip of a bay on the Pacific Ocean in northeastern Japan; but, when you watch the embedded video shot from, what I can glean to be, the rooftop of an engineering building, you get a deeper sense of why human casualties are numbering at more than 18,000 so far.
I imagined that tsunamis crush everything in their path with a massive series of waves and wild storms, but what you see here — besides this camera operator’s steadfast, fearless determination to capture it all — is the rushing water engulf Japan’s capital of the shark fin trade in a matter of minutes. While the water rises, the town sinks.
If cars can float like fishing bobbers on top of the flood waters and huge white storage tanks wander restlessly, the amount of debris displaced must be unfathomable. Robert Hood of MSNBC gives you a better sense of this. He created the panoramic shot below to show an on-the-ground view of the devastating aftermath of the video you see above.
Completely Free to Be Vulnerable: Martha Depp on Art and Cancer
by Trent Gilliss, senior editor
This afternoon we received the following email from Ben Depp, a photographer whose sister Martha, an artist and art teacher, was diagnosed with an advanced form of ovarian cancer:
"I put together a six-minute film on her art, life, and cancer. I think this is a good fit for your blog because of her spiritual journey through her cancer process, and it’s very interesting because of how she illustrated the process with painting and drawing. Her blog has touched thousands including many with terminal cancer.”
I don’t know why, but I started watching Ben’s quietly touching video, half expecting an against all odds type of story. It wasn’t to be.
Martha died this past Thursday at the age of 33. May she rest in peace with that brand new body she was awaiting:
"Physically, healing hasn’t happened. I mean, obviously, I still have cancer, and I’m obviously going to die from it. And it’s all over my body. But I’m kind of happy about that because I get to go to heaven sooner and be healed and get a new body and be from pain and suffering, and tears. No more tears."
This week’s show with Anthony Appiah is many things at once: thought-provoking, funny, intellectual, and a kind of a relief. He has enormous wisdom about human resistance to change and how it then really happens. But he also makes the point that reaching across contemporary divides of difference need not be the great moral struggle we tend to make it. It can be about mundane points of human connection; these count.
While we were in production with this show, I heard surprising echoes of his point in a wonderfully pleasant and also moving piece on the BBC about how modern Germans are flocking to choirs. There are choirs for people who can sing and who can’t; they’re bringing people together who would rarely be friends or even acquaintances otherwise. There are even German-Turkish choirs that get Germans learning Turkish words in a way that school and culture would not — and that do so with joy.
You can listen here, and scroll down the page to “Chapter Four.” Enjoy!
About the image: The Rundfunkchor Choir from Berlin. (photo: Matthias Heyde)
Our thought experiment for the week: draw on your own memories of a simple human encounter — unlikely relationships with non-like-minded people — that you may not have pondered as formative and important.
Listen to Anthony Appiah's story — recounted in the audio above (mp3, 1:17) — about his neighbor. Before he became a renowned philosopher, he described himself as a “lefty” kid who became very fond of a “right-wing” neighbor and member of British Parliament despite their very disparate views. And it was luck that brought the pair together.
How might we encourage or inspire these kinds of encounters in our own lives, or for our children? Share your thoughts here and let’s talk about these chance encounters together.
And for those of you who prefer to read it rather than hear it, here’s the transcript:
"One of the great lessons of my childhood of which I’m extremely grateful for was that, when my grandmother got older, she moved from the bigger house that she lived in into the cottage next door and she sold the big house to a man who was a member of the British Parliament and was very right-wing, but extremely nice and very nice to me.
You know, I had a subscription to the Soviet News and the Peking Review. I was a young lefty, but he was incredibly nice to me. He was not only nice, but he was willing to talk to me about politics and he was willing to let an 18-year-old whatever I was — young man — talk to him about politics and say things that he obviously thought were, you know, and he told me what he thought. He was frank. I mean, he didn’t pretend to believe things that he didn’t believe.
I learned a lot. I had to admit that I liked this guy even though I thought he was wrong about everything, and that was luck. It was luck that I had that experience when I was young.”
About the image above: Anthony Appiah in his late teens circa the time he met his new neighbor. (courtesy of Anthony Appiah)