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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.

Dancing with Sidi Goma: The Black Sufis of Gujarat
Nancy Rosenbaum, Associate Producer

I recently attended a dance workshop in Saint Paul with Sidi Goma, a troupe of African-Indian Sufis from Gujarat, India who were visiting Minnesota to perform at a local festival. I’ve explored a variety of mostly West African dance styles, but this practice was entirely new to me.

The Sidi people migrated from East Africa to India 800 years ago and it isn’t clear which modern-day African countries they originally hailed from. The Sidis express their mystical Sufi Muslim faith through an exuberant dance and musical tradition. The idea, as I understand it, is for the performers to connect with the Divine and inspire the audience to experience a kind of divine transcendence through this joyful expression.

As you’ll see in the video we’ve posted of the workshop, the dancing and rhythm picks up speed and culminates in a crescendo. I wondered whether there’s a connection here with the whirling dervish who practice the sema — a form of ecstatic worship we explored in our program on Rumi. Some of the Sidi dancers’ movements are inspired by animals — notably birds. You’ll notice how they use their eyes as much as their limbs. It actually reminded me of the popping and locking break dancers are known for.

At the end of the evening, another workshop participant fetched a cowbell from his backpack. The bell is a kind of percussive instrument sometimes attached to an African drum called doun doun. It seemed like the Sidis were unfamiliar with the cowbell, but their faces beamed with delight when it was played along with their instruments. Only one member of the group spoke English but we all danced and relished in the music together — a refreshing minder that movement and rhythm can transcend verbal language.

Special thanks to The Ordway and Paul Escalante for giving us permission to post this video clip.

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Response to “The Ethics of Aid”

Krista Tippett, Host

I’ve been fascinated by the responses that have come in to our program with Binyavanga Wainaina. They’ve come in part from other Africans and from current and former NGOs, missionaries, and Peace Corps volunteers. This felt like a huge and daunting, yet pressing, subject to open up. And that’s clearly what we’ve done — not started a conversation but opened it a little wider; the questions and concerns he articulated are present in many closest to this work.

I’m especially intrigued, as well, by one e-mail we received from New Orleans, drawing parallels between aid to post-Katrina New Orleans and aid to Africa. It is a stunning reflection on how, even domestically, the dramatic gesture is deceptively satisfying. Most of all I’m pleased that so many found Binyavanga Wainaina’s insights emboldening, as I did. His hard truth-telling — even his satire — is the opposite of a call to cynicism. It is a call to attentiveness to the deeper truth of ourselves and the other.

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The measure of man’s life lies in perfecting the universe.
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—Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel, as tweeted by Rabbi Aaron Spiegel

Trent Gilliss, Online Editor
Today I viewed hundreds of photos looking for an image that might help convey the critical perspective of Binyavanga Wainaina in our upcoming program on the ethics of aid in Africa, and more specifically Kenya. I was left a bit heavy-hearted. And then I saw this inspiring quote from a new friend in Indianapolis. I can’t thank him enough (and, if you’re interested, he’s got a great recommendation for cigars in Indy).

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A Soldier to His General
Eboo Patel, Guest Contributor

You might be surprised by what our nation’s most famous Evangelical Christian has to say about Muslims.

I first met Rick Warren at the Aspen Ideas Festival a few years ago, where he was doing a talk on leadership. Somebody in the audience asked him — with no lack of scorn — if he thought everyone was going to heaven. That’s when I realized how much of a risk Warren had taken by coming to Aspen — a town of people with a generally condescending attitude towards Warren’s brand of Evangelical megachurch Christianity.

I asked him about why he chose to come to a place where much of the audience was suspicious of him because of the title “Pastor.” He smiled and said that he liked all kinds of people, including folks with a bias against religion, but he was looking forward to getting on a plane and heading to Rwanda the next day, where he had taken on the massive project of helping a country recover from genocide. “It was faith that got them through, and it’s faith that keeps them going,” he told me.

I was equally struck by the pragmatic and profound way Warren answered the man’s question. He basically said that he didn’t come to Aspen to disagree with people about heaven, but to find common ground about working together on earth — and in his recent travels across the developing world, he had seen enough suffering to make anyone with an impulse to serve put aside their differences and develop practical partnerships that actually helped people.

I caught up with Pastor Rick at another bastion of folks suspicious of faith (I spend a lot of time in those places!) — the Clinton Global Initiative. This time, he was even more forceful about the need to focus our efforts on improving earth instead of arguing about heaven. When he was asked how “the church” could play a role in ending poverty, he responded by saying that the armies of compassion included people of all faiths.

I took him aside after his panel presentation and talked to him about the religious diversity he expressed respect for on stage.

As for how this Muslim views that Christian, here’s what I have to say: We might have different ideas of heaven, but I would happily play soldier to his general in an interfaith army of compassion solving the problems of earth.

Eboo Patel appeared on SOF as a guest in "Religious Passion, Pluralism, and the Young." He’s also the founder and executive director of Interfaith Youth Core, a contributor to the Washington Post’s "On Faith" blog, and author of Acts of Faith: The Story of an American Muslim, the Struggle for the Soul of a Generation.

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SoundSeen: Singing in Her Native Language
Trent Gilliss, Online Editor

I’ve been logging hours and hours of video from our 2006 production trip to L.A. for the Azusa Street Centennial. There’s so much good footage from the parade and interviews that I have to produce some type of short and give you flavor of what we experienced during that week in April.

Many times, we get into the very American “more is more” approach to collecting sound and visuals for radio and online production. So, in a last-minute decision, Colleen and I bolted with a video camera and a microphone to set up inside the convention center. I’m glad we did.

The international appeal of Pentecostalism was undeniable — people from Burkina Faso, the Philippines, Nigeria, and India, to name a few. But, it was this woman and her husband from Zimbabwe that returned the same smile I had two years ago. Near the end of the interview, she was sweet enough to sing us a tune in her native language, which she would lead her parishioners in during worship services.

We bid each other farewell, and several minutes later she returned wanting to share one more song. How could we say no?

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Tesfaye = “My Hope”
Trent Gilliss, Online Editor

It’s late afternoon. The SOF quadrant is deserted since most of the staff are working the Minnesota State Fair. And as I was uploading videos, I watched this inspirational story of Tesfaye, an Ethiopian man who watched the deforestation of his home, did nothing, and is reclaiming his land and his memories.

How many other efforts similar to Wangari Maathai’s Green Belt Movement are happening on the African continent that hear little about?

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The Ethics of Aid

Trent Gilliss, Online Editor

Every six weeks, we convene as a staff and talk about ideas for shows for the next two to three months. We’re never lacking in ideas, but finding knowledgeable voices that can carry an hour conversation takes some effort. One of the subjects near the top of our list is the ethics of global aid, particularly with Zimbabwe’s recent crackdown on CARE, a multi-national, non-profit organization fighting global poverty.

For me, the subject came to the forefront while reading Paul Theroux’s challenging, insightful travel account in Dark Star Safari. After serving in the Peace Corps in the 1960s, he revisits Africa and sees a starkly different and yet an eerily similar continent. He’s pretty hard on charitable aid organizations and missionaries, to be sure, and wonders — well, actually posits — whether good intentions have led to an industry that needs to sustain itself in order to carry on its business model:

"…this was the era of charity in Africa, where the business of philanthropy was paramount, studied as closely as the coffee harvest or a hydroelectric power project. Now a complex infrastructure was devoted to what had become ineradicable miseries: famine, displacement, poverty, illiteracy, AIDS, the ravages of war. Name an African problem and an agency or a charity existed to deal with it. But that did not mean a solution was produced. Charities and aid programs seemed to turn African problems into permanent conditions that were bigger and messier."

Theroux’s idea that aid and missionary organizations might actually undercut the stability and long-term efforts of people they are trying to help is challenging. The spot of “tough love” seems to be drenched in the hard-nosed, pull-yourself-up-by-your-bootstraps mentality that I often experienced growing up in North Dakota. I cringed initially. But, some germ made sense. Although I’m not in Africa, I face these tests while walking to work in downtown St. Paul when the same destitute man regularly asks me for five bucks. When do I become that microcosmic institution?

Where is that line and when do good intentions steal a struggling people’s identity, raid an individual’s sense of resourcefulness and pride? When do others who prosper have an obligation to intervene and help those who can’t help themselves because of forces beyond there control — political regimes, long-lasting droughts, diseases, etc.? Who are some of the wise voices you’re reading and hearing about that are immersed in this struggle that can speak personally about these situations?

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