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On Being with Krista Tippett is a public radio project delving into the human side of news stories + issues. Curated + edited by senior editor Trent Gilliss.

We publish guest contributions. We edit long; we scrapbook. We do big ideas + deep meaning. We answer questions.

We've even won a couple of Webbys + a Peabody Award.

The Definition of Sustainability Expands with Vocation
Krista Tippett, host

Our emerging national conversation about sustainability has a decidedly “eat your spinach” tone. We’re steeling ourselves to enter the realm of sacrifice, and penance. But in all my conversations of recent years, I’ve been struck by the heightened sense of delight and beauty in lives and communities pursuing a new alignment with the natural world.

http://www.flickr.com/photos/majoracartergroup/3929362653/Innovation in sustainability often begins, I’ve found, with people defining what they cherish as much as diagnosing what is wrong. I think of Majora Carter. The remarkably ambitious project she founded, Sustainable South Bronx, began when she and the people of that borough started to reclaim their riverfront for refreshment and play.

I think also of Barbara Kingsolver, finding in a year of sustainable eating that when it comes to food, the ethical choice is also the pleasurable choice. I’ve been energized by her insistence that as we all face the grand ecological crises of our time, one of our most important renewable resources is hope. We simply have to put it on with our shoes every morning.

Rural Studio and an Architecture of DecencyOur visit to the Rural Studio is an immersion in hope. This project is at once an architectural adventure and a social experiment. It offers beauty as an antidote to the ruins of history and the death of imagination. It began with the singular vision of the late legendary architect Samuel Mockbee, who left a lucrative private practice to follow his sense of architecture as a “social art.” He partnered with Alabama’s Auburn University architectural school, joining his vision with the energy and ideas of the students being trained there.

"Everybody wants the same thing, rich or poor," he taught them, "not only a warm, dry room, but a shelter for the soul."

Dog ShelterThese days, the Rural Studio is creating more public spaces than private houses and sometimes recycling entire buildings — preserving history and memory while creating something new. In everything they do, they aspire to “zero maintenance” construction. As the current director Andrew Freear puts it, this is sustainability with a small ‘s’ — focused not on what is cutting-edge, but on what can be maintained by real people with limited resources over time.

And because of the care that goes into this — an application of social as well as professional intelligence — something larger than architectural integrity emerges. In the lives and projects of the Rural Studio one finds real community, a fierce sense of the dignity of human life, and a creative, responsible, ongoing encounter with the natural and material worlds.

The writer Frederich Buechner has said that vocation happens “when our deep gladness meets the world’s deep need.” I’m beginning to see the work of sustainability as an unfolding vocation — not merely a response to problems, but an invitation to possibility and a way to strengthen moral resources such as delight, dignity, elegance, and hope.


Martial Arts Meets Ethical Living

Shiraz Janjua, Associate Producer 

I’ve been really drawn to this idea, brought to our attention by a listener, of the Ultimate Black Belt Test. It’s a very intense 13-month martial-arts training course. This course involves many things, some more traditionally “martial” than others: 1,000 rounds of sparring, 10,000 push-ups, and other grueling physical exercises.

Having taken karate for four years during high school, I still remember doing push-ups on my knuckles until they turned blue and purple. And I don’t mean “really red.” I mean like, “I need medical attention.” For days, I would look at my knuckles in horror at what they had become. I remember getting kicked in the stomach on several occasions, being completely drenched in sweat after rounds and rounds of drills, and wondering during the rest of the week whether I had the stamina or the will to go beyond myself to get that black belt.

As a moody 17-year-old, I decided that I’d had enough. I got to the second level of brown belt, but the black belt (the next belt) would have required another 3-5 years of serious dedication, and I simply didn’t care badly enough.

I was studying a form of martial arts that had been removed from its cultural context, and focused on the techniques of punching, kicking, standing, and other outward physical forms. I suppose I gave up because I didn’t have a core motivation inside me to push me through the training I would need to get to black. I didn’t know why I should care. I was never a very confrontational person, and sparring terrified me.

(Photo by tanueshka) 

What fascinates me about the UBBT is how it fills out that inner dimension I never found in karate, which I had taken up purely as exercise. In UBBT, aside from the pain, you have to do things like practice 1,000 acts of kindness, live for a day as a blind person, clean up the environment, and profile your ten living heroes. Some of the UBBT trainees this year are heading to Greensboro, Alabama, to participate in Rural Studio home-building projects. (We had done a show on the Rural Studio a few months ago.) And, yes, that area is known as the Black Belt.

When we think of martial arts, or even military training, we rarely associate it with ethical living. Sun Tzu’s The Art of War regularly finds its place in business training. We’re so conditioned to be aggressive, to fend for ourselves, to fight to get ahead. Maybe that’s the dark side of individualism.

In any case, many martial arts traditions have immense philosophical depth to them that have accrued over centuries. It’s fascinating to me to see a program that encourages the development of the inner self and treats it as seriously as the physical regimen. I don’t plan on delving back into martial arts, but I’m drawn to the story of the UBBT, and it’s something I hope we can explore in some form on Speaking of Faith. We’ve talked in the past about having web features, and this might be a topic for such a feature.