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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.

Remembering Juliano Mer-Khamis and His Theater of Hope and Resistance in Jenin

by Nancy Rosenbaum, producer

Palestinian Men Mourn Death of Juliano Mer-KhamisYoung Palestinian men mourn the death of Juliano Mer-Khamis (poster) outside The Freedom Theatre in Jenin refugee camp in the West Bank a day after unknown gunmen killed the actor and director in his car. (photo: Saif Dahlah/AFP/Getty Images)

"I have no hope for the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, at least not in my lifetime. You ask for political, practical, local hope. Like it’s going to be solved. Jews and Arabs are going to kiss each other and hold hands and go to the beach. This is not going to happen. I have hope as a human being, yes. Oh I have big hope as a human being. I believe in humans. I believe that people are good.”
Juliano Mer-Khamis

In a land splintered by contested physical borders and deep wells of distrust, Juliano Mer-Khamis described himself as “100 percent Palestinian and 100 percent Jewish.” The 52-year-old actor and activist was slain last week in Jenin, where he ran The Freedom Theatre, an arts program and cultural center for local youth in Jenin Refugee Camp.

The son of an Israeli-Jewish mother and a Palestinian-Christian father, Juliano Mer-Khamis refused to choose one identity over the other. As an adult, he kept a residence in Haifa, on the Israeli side, as well as in Jenin. Even his funeral transcended borders; pallbearers carried his casket across the Jalama checkpoint from Israel into the West Bank so that Palestinian mourners could participate.

A Palestinian Woman Mourns at Jalama CheckpointA Palestinian woman mourns during the funeral procession of Juliano Mer-Khamis on April 6, 2011 on the Israeli side of the Jalama checkpoint. (photo: Uriel Sinai/Getty Images)

In 2006, Juliano Mer-Khamis described his work with The Freedom Theater as a kind of artistic intifada:

"…we believe that the strongest struggle today should be cultural, moral. This must be clear. We are not teaching the boys and the girls how to use arms or how to create explosives, but we expose them to discourse of liberation, of liberty. We expose them to art, culture, music — which I believe can create better people for the future, and I hope that some of them, some of our friends in Jenin, will lead … and continue the resistance against the occupation through this project, through this theatre."

Mer-Khamis was a controversial figure who seemed to be a clear-eyed realist about his life and work. In fact, he embraced this. “Lucky me,” he told PBS’ Need to Know.

"To be a theater and not controversial, then you should go open a clinic. Or be a dentist. We are a factory for controversy. We are the factory of ideas, of arguments of disputes. We are the factory where people should not like it. Otherwise, what are we doing here?"

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The Art of Looking Sideways

by Cary Gibson, guest contributor

Greenbelt Festival Campus
The view of the Greenbelt Festival grounds. (photo: Cary Gibson)

During the last week of August, 20,000 sojourners gathered at the 37thGreenbelt Festival in Cheltenham, England. Greenbelt’s identity as a social justice and arts festival has always been firmly rooted within a Christian tradition that is world-affirming, politically and culturally engaged, seeking embrace over exclusion.

The program is so vast and diverse it’s impossible to encounter more than a fraction of what is on offer. There’s no single Greenbelt experience; there are 20,000 Greenbelt stories. This is just a thin slice of mine.

"GB10" marked my 18th year at the festival, so it’s fair to call it something of a pilgrimage — to a sacred space that exists amongst the people in an atmosphere of intentional, mutual welcome. These four days each year have often been the closest thing I’ve had to church. And, for the friends with whom I make the pilgrimage, Greenbelt has an important role in our community: we gather from around the world to embrace togetherness, share meals that anchor our days, and have our ongoing conversations woven with new threads.

Cary and JayneThis year’s festival held personal significance for me. As I prepare to marry and immigrate to the United States, my best friend Jayne and I were on perhaps our last Greenbelt road trip together. This end of an era was salved with celebration of new beginnings ahead and the gratitude for all we’ve shared thus far. In recent years we’ve been attending as contributors with Ikon, an experimental arts collective from Belfast, Northern Ireland. Our summers are usually busy with creative planning for our festival events. Free of any such logistical responsibilities this year, I found myself looking to be provoked by others.

Greenbelt marks something of a New Year moment — an opportunity to reflect on the year since the last festival, to have one’s mindfulness reawakened, to be reinvigorated for the year to come. Contemplating the theme of “the art of looking sideways,” I found myself wondering, ‘Looking sideways at what?’

An art workshop, “I Draw To Know Myself Better,” opened with a brief reflection on the creativity all humans share: we create to know ourselves, our world, and our place in it. Making art is a constant process of asking: Who am I? Where am I? Why am I here?

Perhaps as a response, some words of the late John O’Donohue kept coming to mind:

"A review of life usually considers the facts of experience, the thresholds, the situations and the people who participated with us along the way. We take this to be the real material of our lives; it becomes the mirror that allows us to glimpse who we are and what meaning our lives have. The facts of what we have lived stand out. We take them as given and real. Yet all these facts have issued from that huge adjacency of possibility, that neighboring world that shimmers invisibly behind all that we take to be real."
The Poetics of Possibility

That adjacent realm is perhaps what lies close when one is in what the Celtic tradition calls “a thin place.” That neighboring world is one pregnant with possibility, and it is calling us to remember to look sideways. Looking askance, we might find a world of possibilities inviting us, and discover that maybe the stories we haven’t (yet) lived are the ones we haven’t (yet) heard telling themselves to us. If there is possibility that wants us to hear its invitation, tapping our shoulder so that we might notice and bring it into the visible world, to breathe its life, then maybe our alternative futures are with us all the time, walking beside us.

Greenbelt is a space in which people gather to think critically and its long tradition of social justice theology is rooted both in the realities of human experience and the hopeful possibilities of just peace. As the festival approached, I was troubled by ensuing religious controversies denying the freedom and dignity of the LGBTQ and Islamic communities. I’d been thinking a lot about Jesus’ parable of The Good Samaritan, conscious of how easy it is to walk on by in silence rather than serving those suffering on the roadside. The theme of the festival for me became one of living intentionally, mindful of possibility, seeking to turn and see the stranger in need who is my neighbor at my side. What alternative ways of being and action might I better embody? I found myself, once again, challenged to think through my own privileges — particularly of economic class, nationality, race, and education — but also inspired.

PadraigDave Andrews stridently challenged the festival, and me, on the vital gospel response to poverty and injustice here on Earth with Jesus’ words in "The Be-Attitude Revolution." My dear friend Pádraig O Tuama also explored “incarnational theology” in "How Do You Spell Hell?" — a mirthful, moving, and characteristically poetic sharing of real stories, which express what it means to be present to one another and recover our personhood in life’s most broken experiences.

In a thought-provoking panel discussion on musicians and artists as social activists, Dan Haseltine, founder of blood:water mission said, “Activism is in the DNA of the artist” — the artist’s prophetic role is to tell real stories that expose the beauty and life that persists in the midst of horror. I’ve been thinking a lot about his comment that any act of service done for another, however small, is a counter cultural act, because our culture isolates us. When we tell of the hell experienced by our neighbor-in-need, prophetic voices are not called to provoke paralysis. For even though so many of us in the Western church are living in the persistent contradiction of our prosperity, when we choose to think critically about the impact of our actions, he added, “It’s not everything. It’s not nothing. And that’s something.”

WillowGreenbelt 2011’s theme is Dreaming of Home. There’s a tender kind of irony to think that I’ll be living far from many of these friends I love. But if there’s one thing I’ve learned from Greenbelt, it’s this: There are thin places everywhere, where the unseen is palpably present, ripe with possibility and therefore hope. I can’t do everything but I won’t do nothing. If one remembers to look sideways and be wholly present to our neighbor-in-need and welcome the possibilities for alternative peaceful & just futures we might share, then this life can be it’s own kind of pilgrimage: an everyday act of something.

Peace be with you, neighbor.

(You can find Greenbelt all year on Twitter and Vimeo. Readers in the USA might be interested in the Wild Goose Festival, which is bringing the spirit of Greenbelt to North Carolina in 2011.)

The images above from the Greenbelt Festival are used with permission of Colin Fraser Wishart.


Cary Gibson and Colin Fraser WishartCary Gibson currently lives in Dublin, Ireland. She explores theology through the arts and recently completed an MA in Women’s Studies at University College Dublin. She has a habit of blogging and tweeting.

We welcome your reflections, essays, videos, or news items for possible publication on SOF Observed. Submit your entry through our First Person Outreach page.

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The Arts Drive It Home for Me

Krista Tippett, host

One hangover from living for a time in England is that I am a devotee of BBC radio plays. Thanks to the wonderful world of the Internet, I can continue to listen. I’ll often put a play on in the background as I fold laundry or pay bills or even do busy work in the office.

This week, while we’ve been producing a program on the new science of “neuroeconomics” — exploring the physiology of trust and virtue in economic life — I stumbled on a series in this week’s BBC 4 “Afternoon Plays.” They deal with the human dynamics behind the Enron collapse — a subject on which our neuroeconomist guest Paul Zak has done extensive research.

The Arts Drive It Home for MeThese two plays were written by a noted British economics correspondent. The first, "Power Play," includes tapes from Senate hearings and the voice of figures like Enron’s CEO Kenneth Lay. The second, "Wilful Blindness," revolves around imagined discussions between Kenneth Lay and a former employee who turns up as his gardener in his Aspen home after this conviction.

I found intriguing echoes here with some of the insights not only of Paul Zak but also of Darius Rejali. A discussion between the gardener and the CEO about how good people are drawn into doing bad things is a wonderful example of how the arts can drive home big ideas as well as any erudite analysis — or illustrate them so that we can truly grasp them.

But, you better listen fast. The material goes offline in a few days!

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