What makes me a believer is that from time to time, there have been glimpses I’ve had which have made me suspect the presence of something extraordinary and beyond the realm of the immediate. You encounter the holy in various forms, which, unless you have your eyes open, you might not even notice.
In my ESL class I study with people from all over the world, not only learning English but simultaneously experiencing the beauty of other cultures. I have made new friends who are Hindus, Sikhs and Christians; and in the area where I live there temples, mosques and churches.
No country is perfect. But overall, I have been pleasantly surprised to see real examples of people living out tolerance, harmony and acceptance in my new home — and I hope that both Americans and Pakistanis can grow to better understand each other’s cultures.
A Better Title for Our Show with Poet Christian Wiman?
by Trent Gilliss, senior editor
It took several months, but I was finally able to make the case that Christian Wiman was a voice we needed to put on the air after seeing the strong response to his conversation with Bill Moyers on PBS. He was good; he also seemed nervous, and I wondered if that didn’t have to do with being on television being asked questions by one of America’s best interviewers.
And that’s where the beauty of radio comes in. Rather than setting up a face-to-face interview, we set up an ISDN line — an extremely high-quality telephone line that captures the intimate aspects of a person’s voice — with Krista in a studio in St. Paul, Minnesota and Wiman in a studio in Chicago, Illinois. Methinks you’ll hear a somewhat different Christian Wiman that will add to the sum of your life.
That said, I’m not too wild about the title of this show though: “Remembering God.” It doesn’t do the interview justice or capture what’s relatable for many listeners out there: being raised in a faith rooted in family and culture, losing that devotion and belief in a greater Being, and returning to some type of belief that perhaps is more mature but less intense.
If you get a chance, take a listen and tell me what you might have titled it. There’s no doubt we will rebroadcast this show, and I’d be more than glad to shepherd your suggestions so we can make way for a better title!
From Outside Faith and Within, Being Religious Is Being Transformed
by Krista Tippett, host
Recently I spoke to a class of college students — by way of Skype — in southern Minnesota. We talked about how religion is portrayed through news media. As often in my experience, this was a critical discussion about the narrow and often inflammatory way religion comes up, and usually in the context of politics.
I asked them if they felt at all represented in media portrayals, or how they might. One young man in the back of the classroom said, “I don’t think there is any real expression of what it means to be religious now. It’s different.”
He’s right. I think about this all the time. There has been a dramatic break with ways of being spiritual and religious that held, in the West, for many generations.
Before I created this radio show, I spent two years interviewing people across the Christian Church — from Armenian Orthodox to Nazarene Holiness — who had in some way been involved in the ecumenical movement that surged after World War II and through the 1960s. Sitting with them, probing their memories, I relived the absolute shock and thrill of first encounters between Protestants, Catholics, and Jews. This felt unprecedented, impossible, and utterly liberating. It’s not just that faith looked new; the whole world looked full of possibility and kinship that had not been there before.
Rigid, rule-bound ways of being religious — of being identified not merely by the same denomination but perhaps the very same church or synagogue your parents and grandparents attended before you — have transformed in a handful of generations.
Strong religious identities survive and thrive. But more than ever before, even in their most conservative iterations, they are chosen. And alongside them is a world of flux and questioning — a new phenomenon of people who have been raised with more questions than answers, more choices than givens. They are not abandoning religion, though, or revealing it as something primitive that modernity has outgrown (as intellectuals since the Enlightenment have predicted they would). They are rediscovering and reinventing it.
I did not realize, before I spoke with Christian Wiman, how provocatively and profoundly he has become a poetic witness and voice for this change. He grew up in a West Texas world soaked in a particular charismatic Christianity. When he left that world behind, its religious core ceased to make sense.
For many people who were never religious or who leave the religion of their childhoods behind, it’s the experience of having children of their own that brings an urgency to the question of what they believe. For Christian Wiman, it was the experience of love — of falling deeply in love with the woman who would become his wife. Because he is a poet, perhaps, he became wonderfully articulate about the power of love to make life more vivid, to make us reach for the best in ourselves, to feel we have touched transcendence and to want to rise to that experience. And then, hard on the heels of that, he was diagnosed with a mysterious blood cancer that could kill him in 30 days or 30 years.
Christian Wiman believes that a whole new religious language is being created. It will include traditional religious insights and language, but will also reach beyond them — or better approximate the animating essence of them. He even imagines “that God calls some people to unbelief in order that faith can take new forms.”
From outside faith and within it, Christian Wiman has pondered this question: “How does one remember God, reach for God, realize God in the midst of one’s life if one is constantly being overwhelmed by that life?” You don’t need to be diagnosed with cancer these days to share in that question.
This conversation, “Remembering God,” about what he has learned about faith, and how he is living his questions, is rich with humility, challenge, and an infectious courage.
Maundy Thursday Provides a Lesson in Humility
by Susan Leem, associate producer and Trent Gilliss, senior editor
The Thursday of Holy Week (the week before Easter) has special meaning for Christians. Often referred to as Holy Thursday or Maundy Thursday (from the Latin mandatum which means “command or instruction”), it is not a “holy day of obligation” for Roman Catholics but often includes a church service commemorating the Last Supper, the Passover meal Jesus shared with his disciples the night before he was crucified.
The events recorded in the Gospel of Luke, chapter 22, verses 19-20 — in which Jesus shares bread and wine with his disciplines — are said to be the liturgical basis for practicing communion. Many churches offer the Eucharist at a special mass on this day.
Some Roman Catholic priests will perform a rite of foot-washing to commemorate and reflect on Jesus’ act of washing the feet of his twelve disciples. The Gospel of John (13: 1-7) describes this act as a service to others despite your social position, a willingness to be closer to your neighbor. Though normally the task of a servant, Jesus performs this task as the host, despite the protest of his disciples. In doing so he invites them into an intimate fellowship with him, and modeling the behavior he wishes to teach to all humanity:
“Now that I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also should wash one another’s feet. I have set you an example that you should do as I have done for you. Very truly I tell you, no servant is greater than his master, nor is a messenger greater than the one who sent him. Now that you know these things, you will be blessed if you do them.”
Photo by Catholic Church (England and Wales)/Flickr, cc by-nc-sa 2.0
Cardinal Roger Mahony washes the feet of 12 people, following the example of Jesus washing the feet of his 12 apostles, during the celebration of the Mass of the Lord’s Supper in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by David McNew/Getty Images)
In England, a Royal Maundy Service is held on Holy Thursday. During the service, the king or queen gives Maundy money to his or her subjects — one coin for each man and woman equal of the royal’s years of birth.
Queen Elizabeth II (right) distributes the Maundy money to 86 men and 86 women during the Royal Maundy Service at York Minster in York, northern England on April 5, 2012. (Photo by Arthur Edwards/AFP/Getty Images)
In Jerusalem, processions of all sorts take place in the Old City on Holy Thursday.
Roman Catholic clergymen hold candles as they circle the Anointing Stone during the Holy Thursday mass at the Church of the Holy Sepulchre on April 5, 2012 ahead of Easter celebrations. Christians traditionally believe the church is built on the site where Jesus was crucified and buried. (Photo by Gali Tibbon/AFP/Getty Images)
Christian Wiman: A Twitterscript
~Trent Gilliss, senior editor
I think we talk too much about how poetry can get to the edge of the sayable, can take us back and take us beyond what can be said. I love poetry, because it gives me the concrete. It gives me concrete experience and it helps me to understand my experience.
—Christian Wiman, from his interview on Moyers & Company
~Trent Gilliss, senior editor
Running with the Dalai Lama
by Chris Miller, guest contributor
“Action” (photo: Alessandro Pautasso/Flickr, cc by-nc-nd 2.0)
Most people listen to songs like “Eye of the Tiger” or the theme from Chariots of Fire when running. I am not most people. I prefer a good old-fashion podcast.
A few days ago I was listening to the interfaith forum “Pursuing Happiness” while out on a five-miler. Around mile three, something amazing happened. Maybe it was the noise of the traffic or the use of a translator, but I lost track of who was speaking. Instead of rewinding, I went along with it and, before long, I was amen-ing each answer without knowing who gave it.
There was a time in my past when this type of thing would have been unheard of. I grew up Southern Baptist. My amens were reserved for fellow brethren. If one was not a hymn-singing, Bible-thumping, submerging-baptizer, then one was not worthy of my praise. I was taught truth had to come from the “correct” source. Otherwise, it was heresy. Yet there I was, hearing truth from a Muslim scholar, an Orthodox rabbi, an Episcopalian bishop, and the Dalai Lama himself.
How was that possible? Maybe it was the lack of oxygen or the sweat in my eyes, but I had a realization. Truth is truth. Some thinkers take this even a bit further, saying, “All truth is God’s truth.” I’m beginning to agree.
God is big enough to reveal himself as he chooses. I have heard and seen God in print, in music, and in film — from both Christian and non-Christian sources. I have heard preachers and atheists teach powerful spiritual truths. I have seen God dwelling amongst the dirtiest of slums and the most decorated of sanctuaries. He is heard and seen however and wherever He chooses to make Himself known.
When Moses first encountered God, he demanded a name. But instead of giving him a name, God replied, “I am who I am” or “I will be who I will be.” He refuses to be labeled. When one labels God, when one claims him as their own, they reduce him to an image of their liking. They limit him. They only let him speak through the voices they have approved.
Of course, God cannot be limited. “Pursuing Happiness” was proof of that. He spoke through each individual on the stage, whether they labeled him Yahweh, Allah, or something else. He made himself known.
As I finished my run, I realized it was not only my legs that got a workout. My mind, my heart, and my soul were also pushed. In the course of those five miles, I was exposed to truth — God’s truth — by individuals very different from me. Who would have thought the Dalai Lama could make such a great running partner?
Chris Miller is a seminary student living in Merriam, Kansas. You can read more of his writing at Caffeinated Ramblings.
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He told me that, as human beings, our work isn’t measured by taking the sum of our good deeds and the sum of our bad deeds and seeing how things even out. He said, ‘The only thing you need to think about is: Are you trying to improve, are you trying to do better? And if you are, then you’re a saint.’
—Bryce Clark, speaking about Mitt Romney, who as a 19-year-old sought Romney’s advice as a Mormon spiritual leader in Boston.
This profile piece in The New York Times is several months old but does a fair job of exploring the candidate’s authority as a faith leader and human being.
~Trent Gilliss, senior editor
There’s a common explanation that profound sadness leads to someone’s becoming a comedian, but I’m not sure that’s a proven equation in my case. I’m not bitter about what happened to me as a child, and my mother was instrumental in keeping me from being so. She taught me to be grateful for my life regardless of what that entailed, and that’s directly related to the image of Christ on the cross and the example of sacrifice that he gave us. What she taught me is that the deliverance God offers you from pain is not no pain — it’s that the pain is actually a gift. What’s the option? God doesn’t really give you another choice.
—Stephen Colbert, referring to the death of his father and two brothers in a plane crash in 1974, when the comedian was ten years old.
If you are a fan of the enigmatic Colbert or at all curious about the genius of comedy or the depth of his Catholic faith, Charles McGrath’s profile, “How Many Stephen Colbert’s Are There?,” in this coming Sunday’s New York Times Magazine is one not to be missed.
~Trent Gilliss, senior editor