Brother Ali and A Day of Dignity in North Minneapolis
by Trent Gilliss, senior editor
The hip-hop artist Brother Ali's lyrics are infused with notions of community, family, and serving one another. And, today in the blocks surrounding his mosque in North Minneapolis, Masjid An-Nur, he is putting on this cool community get-together and outreach effort, which they're calling the Twin Cities Day of Dignity: A Celebration of Neighbors Helping Neighbors.
The north side, one of the poorest and most crime-ridden areas of the city, was devastated by a tornado in May of this year. The natural disaster left the neighborhood in tatters, but the community also united in the clean-up effort. To celebrate, they’ll be closing down the streets and offering free health care services and medical supplies, haircuts, winter clothing, food, and school supplies to people and families in need. And, to round out the day’s celebration, a free performance by Freeway and Brother Ali:
"But this event has a particularly special place in my heart because it’s in my particular space in the community, but then it’s also such a service to humanity. It’s not just a show. All different parts of the Twin Cities community get to come together to actually help people, help people in need, and to be a part of that, to be able to have this music here to celebrate the cultural side of it as well. It’s a beautiful thing."
Gary Snyder Gave Me Goose Bumps
by Kate Moos, executive producer
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."
The Enchantment of Minnehaha Falls
by Trent Gilliss, senior editor
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!
How Did You Become a Unitarian Universalist?
Nancy Rosenbaum, associate producer
Following up on last week’s video post, here’s a 3½-minute video snack where a mix of UUs explain how they came to this tradition. Listening to these voices, it’s clear that each person’s journey is unique and doesn’t necessarily follow a linear path. Some arrived through predictable channels — friends, marriage, family — while others had more surprising stories — and why they decided to stay.
Later this week we’ll be posting a longer-form piece that caps this video series of interviews from the Unitarian Universalist 2010 General Assembly. And, next week, a video showcasing a sped-up procession of beautiful quilted banners for the opening day festivities!
Matisyahu at First Ave
Mitch Hanley, Senior Producer
Last night, Nancy Rosenbaum, our new associate producer, and I went to see Matisyahu perform at First Avenue, Minneapolis’ storied nightclub that was the setting for Prince’s Purple Rain 25 years ago. Matisyahu is a Lubavitch Hasidic Jew who raps about traditional Judaism over fantastic, syncopated reggae beats. I’ve been following his Twitter feed (@matisyahu) and was able to score a pair of free tickets by the Twitter version of “being the 10th caller.”
Recently, I’ve been enjoying reading Emory University professor Gary Laderman's new book, Sacred Matters, in which he suggests that the streams of popular culture are now and have been serving as sources of religious expression for many Americans. The ideas of pilgrimage, ritual, devotion, transcendence, gathering of community, the betterment of one’s self — all of these can be seen expressed at movie theaters, concerts, sporting events, etc.
With this fresh in my mind, I couldn’t help but notice last night’s show in that context. After the opening act, I turned to a couple on my right and asked them how many times they had seen Matisyahu perform. It was the first time for the guy, but his fiance had seen him three other times: Indianapolis (where she was living at the time), Atlanta, and Chicago. She freely admitted that she flew to Atlanta just to see his concert. “Haven’t you ever done that before?” she asked. (Actually yes, Luis Miguel and Julio Iglesias on two different nights in Miami, but this was for my wife, honest.)
I explained (shouting, the show had begun by now) Laderman’s premise and asked the woman if she had considered her attendances as “pilgrimages” or as expressions of devotion. She replied quite sincerely, “No, this is purely entertainment. I am a devoted Christian and my experience of enjoying this as entertainment is nothing like when I am worshipping Christ.” We both agreed that, for some in the crowd on the dance floor, this was serving as a religious expression, though that is probably not how they might describe it.
As I watched the rest of the concert, the arms raised and lowered with the beat, the lighters lifted up during the quieter passages, the refrains chanted when the singer’s mic was outstretched to the devoted. There was certainly a liturgy here, even if these are just things you do at a good concert.
The Lasting Impact of Maathai’s Song in a Minnesota Winter
Colleen Scheck, Producer
It’s a sticky, stifling day here in St. Paul — “Africa hot,” an old friend always used to say when intense summer heat made its brief annual stop in Minnesota. That recollection reminded me of my deadline for Trent’s request to write about our interview with Wangari Maathai.
The day we interviewed the Nobel Peace Prize winner, over three years ago now, was about as opposite as possible from today. Eight inches of slushy snow greeted us that morning as we drove to the Holiday Inn in Minneapolis where Maathai was staying. We still managed to arrive early enough to soundproof the room, set up mics and laptops, test levels, and make sure Krista had some breakfast.
The hotel space we’d reserved — a dark, bland, deflated suite on an upper floor (to avoid traffic noise seeping in) — was sadly the best, most convenient option given Maathai’s tight schedule. That drab room was brought to life, though, the moment she entered in a vibrant red-blue-gold dress and headwrap, her simultaneously gracious and powerful person filling the space.
During the interview, I sat in the bedroom area on the floor transcribing on my laptop. My fingers were tired by the time we started to wrap up, 90 minutes later, and then one of my favorite SOF moments happened.
Krista concluded the interview, and Mitch asked Maathai for music recommendations, specifically songs she remembered singing during her environmental activism in Kenya, that we could maybe include in the program. Her reply:
"I would have to ask them (laughs). Because we do sing sometimes, but those are very local songs. Like, one song I always sing when we are together with the women — here comes my faith — because there is a lot of our — people are still very religious, and so quite often when I’m talking to them I use religious songs. And one song that we always sing is one that says ‘there is no other god, there is no other god but Him, there is no other power but Him.’ It is like a chorus. You want me to sing for you?" After drinking a sip of cold, bad hotel coffee, she continued, "And this kind of song would be appropriate because when we are singing, when we are moving, we always want it to be peaceful, non-violent, so singing religious songs was very common…. We go?"
She cleared her throat, and off she went (her song is included in this video).
I’ve listened to this song so many times in the past three years. I remembered Trent saying he’d sing it to his young boys, and now I do the same with my 6-month old son when rocking him to sleep. I don’t get the words right, but I don’t care. It reminds me of strength, wisdom, compassion — things I hope to inspire in him.
"A Change Came Over Me"
by Kate Moos, managing producer
I spent a couple of hours Saturday morning rapt, listening to a woman named Mary Johnson talk about her spiritual path toward forgiveness after her son was murdered in 1993. We were gathered at St. Jane’s House in north Minneapolis, a neighborhood where street violence leads to the death of many young men each year. In Mary’s case, her spiritual path toward reconciliation brought her to found a small organization called “From Death To Life” that brings the mothers of people killed in street violence together with the mothers of those who have killed.
Mary told us there was a time she did not see her son’s killer as human. Then a change, she says, came over her heart. Now she knows him well and has visited him in prison several times. He’s preparing to transition back to the community, and she says when he does they will work together to end the cycle of violence.
Our program “Getting Forgiveness and Revenge” will be available here at onbeing.org later this week. We’re interested in your stories about forgiveness and revenge. Mary Johnson can be reached through her ministry called “Two Mothers” at firstname.lastname@example.org.
(photo: Kate Moos)