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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.

Memories of a Pro-Life Childhood

Mitch Hanley, Senior Producer

A few times when I was in elementary school, my mom took me out of school to go to the annual pro-life march at the Minnesota state capitol. I remember waiting for a shuttle from Colonial Square in Wayzata, standing in Rexall Drug’s entrance next to a woman with a sign that read, “Real Feminists are Pro-Life.” At that age, I didn’t know what a feminist was and remember asking my mom, but I don’t think her answer made it any clearer for me. Isn’t everybody for women’s rights?

One particular year we were at the capitol and I remember signs that had pictures of aborted fetuses pasted to foamcore; another striking display was a grim reaper effigy being toted around by a cross made of 2x4s, which the strong winds made even more terrifying. My memory tells me that each time it was a gray, overcast January day, with exhaust-covered snow heaped upon the banks of the streets. I don’t know what I was thinking of it at the time, but my recollection is that we were doing what was needed.

I remember screenings of The Silent Scream were offered in my church’s basement. My parents never let me watch it. I guess I was too young to witness that strong a message. But I went to the capitol each year because it was what my mom asked of me. I would do it for her then, and I would like to say I would support her today, a little over a year since she passed away, but I cannot be sure.

My mom always called me her “Jesus-baby,” a moniker my siblings still give me grief about (and perhaps now my colleagues), and an affection my mom expressed to me as late as her death bed. I’m not sure I know the entire story behind this nickname, but I do know that mom quit smoking and drinking two years before I was born and also had a born-again experience during the time when charismatic Christianity was firing up Roman Catholic parishes in the early 70’s. I also know that her doctor tried to persuade her to have a hysterectomy around this time — my mother had had 5 children already. I don’t know how much of this, or all of it, is what shaped my mom’s views on abortion, but they do represent some of the circumstances.

I am very conflicted on where I stand on abortion. I can’t say I would abide by the pro-life position if my wife and I found ourselves in a place which would be too challenging for us at some stage in our lives. I do, however, wish that there were fewer abortions, as I think it is a choice and commitment of such anguish for a woman that no one ever wants to undertake, if possible.

And so this contentious struggle continues, without much progress. Maybe I have softened due to the inevitability of maturing, though doubtful. But I can point to something Rod Dreher said on a recent SOF program that was revealing to me.

"If I were pro-choice, I would feel very strongly about it and I would find it very difficult to compromise."

What’s there to do when you can’t compromise and are unwilling to see the opposite perspective?  When I say that I am passionate about my beliefs, I guess I am speaking theoretically. My problem is that I see both perspectives as valid, a convenient strategy my dad and I argue about that he calls situational ethics. He feels that there are absolutes in one’s faith and you need to abide by those, no matter the scenario. I feel as though no decision is free from the circumstances, and it is the very apt approach to regarding hindsight or looking back on previous decisions that allow us to progress.

Perhaps that’s what I am, pro-gress. But I am sure we all are.

[Editor’s note: Out of the hundreds of responses we’ve received about abortion, many people are wrestling with same personal and societal conundrums of legalization. I encourage you to visit our map and read some, and submit you’re own perspectives.]

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Catholic Voices and Cherry Blossoms in Brooklyn
Trent Gilliss, Online Editor

Spring has finally arrived in the upper Midwest. And it’s about time because Andy (the new associate Web producer) and I cranked away in our flourescent-flooded cubes on last week’s site for "The Beauty and Challenge of Being Catholic — Hearing the Faithful." (Long title, non?) The production process took some surprising turns that ended up with a format-breaking radio broadcast, and some pretty groovy ways of telling individuals’ stories online.

We wanted to produce a show delving in to the Catholic Church from a practitioners’ points-of-view for some time now. Oh, to find a way in… We first started out working with two compelling conversations Krista had with Fr. Donald Senior (mp3, 1:49.05) and Sister Katarina Schuth, (mp3, 1:09.05) two Catholic theologians and educators who navigate Church doctrine and seminary life as a daily vocation. The entire staff was smitten with the uncut conversations, so Krista edited and scripted around them. Usually, when we’re at this stage of the process the show is a go because of the significant amount of effort and time required.

In an unusual turn of events, the staff listened to the first cuts-and-copy (c+c) session. FYI: during c+c, Krista reads her script and the staff listens to the in-cues and out-cues for the isolated audio segments. Then the staff critiques and suggests changes. No music or actualities are placed yet. Strangely, we felt like the humanness of the Catholic experience was lost in the edit — the essence of the story that sometimes gets lost in reporting on the Catholic Church.

I suggested that maybe we could do something similar to our program on the spirituality of parenting. Since I was going to ask our audience to contribute their stories and experiences of being Catholic, maybe we could introduce their voices. Lay Catholics might give the program a certain grounding and represent the complexity and diversity of how the tradition is lived.

We received well over 300 responses to begin. We isolated about 30 responses, asked people if I could interview them, and ended up recording each person reading their essay, with follow-up conversations (which we hope to release in the coming days). Rob and I were moved and amazed. Rob whittled that number down to about 15 for a group listen with Krista and the rest of the production staff.

What resulted was a surprising declaration by our host: these stories are the show. I was a tad stunned, and I’ll admit, excited. That ended up being the easy part.

We had to ask ourselves how we’d step it up online too, rather than only producing a single page for the site representing these voices. We needed to let all those stories breathe oxygen rather than subterranean database CO2 where they’d never see the light of day, never contribute to the depiction of what it means to be Catholic. So we did. We crafted a pretty groovy dynamic mapping application and theme-based display that will continue to grow and convey more individual stories — the core of what we do here at SOF — and gave them greater context through geography, visuals respondents submitted, themed commonalities, and through the wonder of audio for a select number.

And we got to work with some smart colleagues in other departments under such tight deadlines: Maria, Dickens, and Jinzhu in IT and Melody at MPR’s Public Insight Network.

How does the timelapse video of cherry blossoms factor in? Well, I just needed a moment to be mindful, as Thich Nhat Hanh would say, and smell the virtual blossoms until Minnesota’s arrive.

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One Interpretation of the Crucifix
Rob McGinley Myers, Associate Producer


(photo: jwinfred/flickr)

It’s a fact of radio production that most of the material you gather never gets used. And even though I’ve only been making my own radio for 2 years, I am already haunted by some of the interview bits that I’ve had to edit out of my work. So, as we begin to broadcast our show about the Catholic Church this weekend, I’ve decided to rescue from obscurity this unheard portion the very first radio interview I ever conducted.

I interviewed Mark Schultz (standing on the far left of the photo below) back in 2006 for a story about Catholics who love the church even though they sometimes disagree with its leaders. He is the associate director of the Land Stewardship Project, an organization that advocates for family farmers. I talked to him and several other Catholics, but in the end my editor persuaded me to focus the story on my mother. And so the entire interview with Mark Schultz wound up on the cutting room floor.

I’ve never forgotten the night I went over to his house, nervous about conducting my first interview, unsure of how to work the recording equipment or even how to hold the microphone properly. But the power of what he said cut through all that. He talked a lot about the specifically Catholic values his parents instilled in him when he was growing up on the South Side of Chicago. But I was particularly struck by what he said about the Catholic crucifix — the image of Jesus nailed to the cross. I’d always had ambivalent feelings about the crucifix myself. I never understood why Catholics wanted an image of violent suffering to be the focal point of the church. But in this audio excerpt, Mark Schultz describes the very personal meaning he takes from that ancient Catholic symbol every time he sees it.

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Catholic Stories

Alda Balthrop-Lewis, Production Intern

Catholics of all sorts have been responding to our call for their stories. They’ve been writing to tell us about their experiences in the Catholic Church — the beauty and the pain and the hope they feel belonging to this vast and ancient tradition. We have been amazed by the depth and feeling with which these people have told us their stories. In an upcoming show in May, you’ll hear for yourself the fruit of these insightful voices.

In the meantime, I am reading a new spiritual memoir about one man’s experience on the path to Catholic priesthood. Andrew Krivak spent nearly a decade of his life training to become a Jesuit priest before leaving the order, marrying, and having children of his own. A Long Retreat: In Search of a Religious Life expresses Krivak’s deep love for the years he spent with the Jesuits and offers a window into the complexities of one man’s discernment. Krivak describes difficult issues — especially the challenges of poverty, chastity, and obedience required of all Jesuits — with unblinking honesty. And he gracefully reconciles his deep appreciation for the wisdom of Saint Augustine of Hippo and Saint Ignatius of Loyola with his very modern life. I have been savoring the book.

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It’s Only Rock ‘N’ Roll

Kate Moos, Managing Producer

Flyer for Tom Stoppard's Rock 'N' RollTom Stoppard’s new play “Rock-n-Roll” is getting mixed reviews here, but tickets are scarce, so I was thrilled when my friend Chris scored some for us. This is Stoppard’s chronicle of the intersection of pop culture and politics in then-Czechoslovakia’s Velvet Revolution.

Stoppard, I learned from the program notes, was born in the Czech town of Zlin, where I — highly coincidentally — have a close friend, Hannah, who grew up there. Hannah, much younger than Stoppard, is a devout Catholic, for theological and political reasons (the Catholic Church was a staunch form of dissidence in parts of the East bloc).

I remember Hannah telling me about the day her father called her into the kitchen for an earnest, whispered confession. He apologized to her for not joining the Communist Party because he knew it would limit her chances, and he pleaded with her to stop going to Mass. Her teachers, the secret police, the Party, knew of it, and if she persisted, she would be sent to work at the shoe factory, and never be allowed an education.

Stoppard’s play is a history of the world many people alive today have never heard of. The Plastic People of the Universe, one of the world’s most obscure rock and roll bands, and Western rock, carry the zeitgeist of revolution and resistance, and their consequent cynicism and despair, in the final years of the Soviet Union. It’s a story that matters.

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