Music and metaphysics from Amy Ray and Emily Saliers. Yeah, that’s right, the Indigo Girls get down to some serious talk about God and religion, spirituality in performance and the lost art of protests songs.
Do the Heagle.
Our technical director Chris Heagle does a lot of dancing in the minutes before the interview when the host and guest take their seats. Mic positioning, sound checks, water ready… just a few of the things our resident expert makes perfect in a quiet, frenzied pace before Krista Tippett sat down with poet Marie Howe at the College of Saint Benedict.
~Trent Gilliss, senior editor
We release the unedited interviews of all our produced one-hour shows. Time constraints are often a good thing, helping us prune the tree to a more perfect form. But, it doesn’t come without a cost.
Sometimes we have to kill our darlings, and leave them strewn on the cutting room floor. And this conversation with Maria Tatar is a great example of editorial decisions made with a direction in mind. Listen to this unedited interview, and I think you’ll find it an entirely additive experience.
Christian Wiman: A Twitterscript
~Trent Gilliss, senior editor
Desmond Tutu, the Embodiment of the Qualities of the God He Preaches: Compassion, Justice, Patience, Surprise, and Humor
by Krista Tippett, host
Desmond Tutu had long been at the top of my list of people I wanted to interview. I met him in the woods of southern Michigan in 2010, where he was beginning a few days of retreat. He was visibly tired, yet utterly delightful and larger than life. And passion overtook his tiredness as soon as we began to speak about the history he has helped to shape and how he has found meaning within it.
Desmond Tutu’s intellectual intensity and spiritual gravity are tempered by a mischievous wit and a raucous laugh. All of these qualities are abundant in conversation with him, and they infused one of the first stories he told me about his path to political resistance — his realization at some point that “if these white people had intended keeping us under, they shouldn’t have given us the Bible.”
He tells me of preaching and speaking with mature women who were generically called “Annie” by their white employers and grown men forever called “boy” — and handing them the “dynamite” of the Bible as they headed out of church and back into the world. When someone asks you who you are, he recalls telling them, you can say, “I am a God-carrier.” This kind of inner liberation, one life at a time, yielded eventually to an outer upheaval of one of the most entrenched governments of social brutality in modern memory.
As I finally approached this opportunity to speak with Desmond Tutu, I was also deeply aware that South Africa’s transformation, like its previous status quo — like life itself — has been dynamic, not static. The extraordinary accomplishment of a peaceful transition from apartheid to democracy has not led to the easy eradication of social and racial inequity.
Violent crime has assumed epic proportions. And, as Desmond Tutu puts it, he has been reminded that original sin doesn’t discriminate on a racial basis — South Africa’s new generations of black leadership are not immune from corruption both personal and political. As he has watched the aftermath of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, he has realized ever more deeply that this was not a closed effort in time, but the origination of a national project that will be the work of generations.
One of his most sobering learnings in that light has been, he says, how “damaged” non-white South Africans were as they entered a new era — and damaged not merely by 50 years of apartheid, but by 300 years of colonialism, which distorted their very sense of themselves. He shares a stunning, saddening story of getting on a plane to Nigeria and seeing, to his great pride, that it was being flown by two black pilots — a first in his lifetime. When awful turbulence hit, he found himself reflexively wishing there were white men in that cockpit to lead them to safety. From such self-knowledge and personal suffering, Desmond Tutu has created a life of deep wisdom and healing, which he extends to all he meets.
At one and the same time, this is a human being overflowing with delight and a kind of infectious spiritual glee. I have never heard anything quite so joyful, or so moving, as the description Desmond Tutu gives me of voting for the first time at the age of 63, comparing it to falling in love — of being transformed from a cipher to a person. And just as vulnerably and powerfully, he reflects on the limits of politics, which turn out to be even more exacting than the decades of struggle that political freedom entailed.
He describes this in theological terms as a movement from being “free from” to being “free for.” He continues to long for a South African society defined not merely by equality under law but by true human flourishing. And the last few centuries of Europe’s history of world war, tyranny, and the Jewish Holocaust, he says — breaking into his raucous laughter even as he makes a deadly serious point — give him great hope for Africa’s eventual progress.
This same long, indeed biblical view of time animates Desmond Tutu’s lifelong insistence that “God is in charge.” He believes as passionately now as he did decades ago that evil, injustice, and suffering will not have the last word. Though he does, he jokes, often ask God if he would please make it a little more obvious that He is in charge.
In the end, Desmond Tutu is the embodiment of the qualities of God he preaches: compassion, a fierce love of justice, divine patience, a capacity to surprise, and a wicked sense of humor. His 21st-century stature as one of the leading clerics of the Anglican church born in England — which was implicated in every one of the 300 years of South Africa’s collective trauma — is another divine irony.
"At the center of this existence is a heart beating with love," says Desmond Tutu. "You and I, and all of us, are incredible… We are, as a matter of fact, made for goodness." Such statements fly in the face of reality as defined by newspaper headlines. But we can only wonder at them, ponder them, and honor them from the mouth of this man, who knows evil and injustice as intimately as he seems to know the mind and heart of God.
On Being in Detroit
by Trent Gilliss, senior editor
A few days before the holiday break, we flew to the Motor City for an interview with Grace Lee Boggs at the Boggs Center in East Detroit. The 96-year-old philosopher and activist did not disappoint, and neither did some of the wonderful people and projects happening there. Look for our show “Becoming Detroit” this coming Thursday, January 19.
Along the way, we stopped by to see our good friend Mikel Ellcessor, the general manager of WDET at Wayne State University, and couldn’t resist having Krista pose with this massive wall sign in the lobby. This public radio station is doing some pretty interesting on-the-ground reporting and community building; check ‘em out online or on the radio, if you’re in the area.
Did Elites Help Cultivate the Local Foods Movement?
by Nancy Rosenbaum, producer
When we first released "Driven by Flavor," some listeners were rankled by Dan Barber’s assertions. In the video clip above, the Blue Hill chef argues that “elites” deserve recognition for catalyzing sweeping changes in our collective food consciousness:
"It has been a movement that’s pretty much started with the people who can afford to pay for this kind of food. Do I think that’s unfortunate? I really don’t … a lot of great movements in this country, including women’s suffrage, including the civil rights movement, started with elites and ended up becoming mass movements through powerful ideas."
What do you think? Are elites the chicken or the egg here? Or is there another way of understanding how the food revolution Dan Barber is a part of became so widely embraced?
Creating Civility: A Live Public Conversation with Krista Tippett!
by Trent Gilliss, senior editor
photo: Arne Halvorsen/Flickr
what: Creating Civility: A Public Forum
when: Wednesday, January 19th, 2011
time: 7:00 p.m. CST
where: Being LIVE
We’d like to invite you to join us tonight online for a somewhat impromptu event in Minnesota Public Radio’s UBS Forum. We’re approaching the evening as a kind of experiment, an occasion to learn and to plant some seeds for new vision and new ways of living together with our confusions, our strengths, and our differences. Tragic events in Tucson created a window for concern about the fabric of our common life, but that concern predated those events and has relevance and urgency far beyond them.
Many of the hardest political and social chasms right now will not be resolved quickly. So the question we’re asking is:
How do we find new ways to speak and listen to each other, to live forward together, even as we hold passionate disagreements?
This has been the animating question that has emerged in the Civil Conversations project we started on the radio and online back in the fall. What happens among us tonight will inform that project moving forward.
Bring your questions for and about our common life, and submit them through our Facebook chat box next to the video window or using this form. Krista will bring her questions too. And she’ll share some of what she’s learned in her conversations of recent weeks. We’re looking forward to the adventure!
We’ll be streaming live video of the forum and also giving you the chance to bring your questions and your intention in the UBS Forum (7pm). For those of you who can’t make it, not to worry. We’re recording the event, and video will be immediately available for playback afterward. And, we’ll continue to send real-time updates when the stream goes live on our Facebook page and through our Twitter stream. Keep an eye out!