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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.
"The greatest challenge of the day is: how to bring about a revolution of the heart, a revolution which has to start with each one of us? When we begin to take the lowest place, to wash the feet of others, to love our brothers with that burning love, that passion, which led to the cross, then we can truly say, ‘Now I have begun.’"
~Dorothy Day
Here’s an extended version of Ms. Day’s quotation from Loaves and Fishes.
"The greatest challenge of the day is: how to bring about a revolution of the heart, a revolution which has to start with each one of us? When we begin to take the lowest place, to wash the feet of others, to love our brothers with that burning love, that passion, which led to the cross, then we can truly say, ‘Now I have begun.’"
~Dorothy Day
Here’s an extended version of Ms. Day’s quotation from Loaves and Fishes.

"The greatest challenge of the day is: how to bring about a revolution of the heart, a revolution which has to start with each one of us? When we begin to take the lowest place, to wash the feet of others, to love our brothers with that burning love, that passion, which led to the cross, then we can truly say, ‘Now I have begun.’"

~Dorothy Day

Here’s an extended version of Ms. Day’s quotation from Loaves and Fishes.


Krista’s essay on why she doesn’t do Christmas prompted reader Jeff Jackson to share this video on the Advent Conspiracy. It’s well done.


Tuesday Evening Melody: “Hallo” by DRC Music

by Chris Heagle, technical director

Cool new music and a good cause. Hard to argue with that.

This weeks’ track comes from a new project put together by Damon Albarn of Gorillaz fame. In July, he traveled to the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) with a group of 11 producers to record an album in 5 days… and film the whole process. The result is a remarkable collaboration across cultures called Kinshasa One Two. This song “Hallo” appears to be the early hit from the album. All proceeds from the record will go to Oxfam, which is providing aid to those affected by the deepening humanitarian crisis in the DRC.


Learning to Pray: A Poem

by Trent Gilliss, senior editor

Day 23: the self doubt is crippling"The self doubt is crippling." (photo: Meredith Farmer/Flickr, CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

The Pushcart-nominated poet Yahia Lababidi wrote us this lovely note: “I’m a big admirer of your noble mandate and the fine work that you do. Kindly find two poems below from my new collection: Fever Dreams.”

Here’s the first of those two poems from the Egyptian writer, “Learning to Pray” — a lovely meditation on living life charitably and with intention:

"Fever Dreams" by Yahia LababidiLong susceptible to the pious heresies, 
of mystics, martyrs and other fanatics 
mad enough to confound themselves 
with God, and declare it free of ego

Those spiritually reckless creatures 
contemptuous of all rule books, 
traffic signs and speeding tickets 
in such a hurry were they to arrive

No social drinkers, these revelers 
they drank to get drunk, alone 
that they might stay that way 
sobriety being the only sin…

But what of us without stamina 
for such superhuman attention 
or the patience to stand in line 
inching towards the checkout

Might we forge our own language 
(until we can speak in tongues) 
by asking of our every action 
does this, or that, please You?


Mennonites Unite Behind Largest Relief Sale

by Anne Breckbill, associate web developer

Hundreds attend the marquee event: the quilt auction. (photo: David Yoder)

The best — and perhaps quirkiest — aspects of being Mennonite were on display in northern Indiana last weekend. The Michiana MCC Relief Sale is an annual fundraising event for the Mennonite Central Committee (MCC), a world-wide relief organization. The sale is part quilt auction, part junk auction, part garage sale, part bake sale, part county fair, part family reunion.

Although there are 30 MCC relief sales in the United States and 14 in Canada each year, Michiana (Indiana-Michigan area) hosts the largest, attracting between 20,000-25,000 people and raising upwards of $350,000 annually. It also happens to be in my old hometown of Goshen, Indiana.

Horse Carriage
Transportation around the fairgrounds for weary sale-goers. (photo: David Yoder)

So this past weekend I made my pilgrimage to the Elkhart County Fairgrounds with two non-Mennonite friends who have always wanted to experience this sale. They weren’t disappointed, and I was proud to call myself Mennonite.

New and Used Auction
An auction of new and used goods other than quilts. (photo: David Yoder)

The Mennonite denomination, like many others, has struggled with divisive issues over the years, and I haven’t always appreciated how these issues have been — or have not been — resolved. But this weekend we were at our best. Progressive Mennonites, Old Order Mennonites, Conservative Mennonites, and Amish worked hand-in-hand to raise money for a belief they all share in common — that it is our joyful duty to lend a helping hand to those in need.

Church groups have been working all year: quilting, woodworking, baking, and canning to donate these goods to the sale. The weekend of the sale, groups and individuals are selling their items, staffing the quilt auction, cooking food, planning logistics, and cleaning the fairgrounds. Our differences are forgotten as we work toward a common goal.

Kettle Corn
Making kettle corn. (photo: David Yoder)

The sale runs Friday night through Saturday afternoon and features multiple auctions, a garage sale, children’s auction and activities, a 10K run, and lots of food: pies, sausage, cheese, pancakes, kettle corn, moon pies, elephant ears, apple dumplings, and new ethnic foods. For my parents, Friday night is the night to buy their year’s supply of sausage from Mishler’s Meats before they sell out. So, my friends and I went with them.

Walking through the crowds on Friday night with our bags of sausage and Nelson’s Golden Glow chicken was like being at a family reunion. In addition to Goshen being a small town, many Mennonites are related and/or know one another. Mennonites in the area go to the sale; Mennonites who have left the area come back for it. Running into relatives and friends I haven’t seen since my last relief sale in 2007 felt like “old home week” at the fairgrounds.

Selling Cheese
A church group sells donated cheese. (photo: David Yoder)

One highlight of the year is the Penny Power fundraiser in which each person is asked to save pennies as tokens of the privileges and abundance he/she has. During the month prior to the relief sale, participants put aside pennies each day based on a Penny Power calendar. The way the Penny Power project links giving and self-awareness is evident in some of these example days on the calendar:

  • Many refugees are forced to leave home with only the shirt on their backs. Give one penny for each shirt or blouse in your closet.
  • In some countries there is only one doctor for every 125,000 people. Give 4 pennies for each health care professional you see.
  • Many people have only one ragged cloth for cover. Give two pennies for every quilt and blanket in your home.
  • Much of the world exists without consistent electricity. Give two pennies for each light switch or lamp in your home.
  • In Haiti, few people can read and write. Give one penny for every book in your home.

But, without question, the crown jewel of the weekend is the quilt auction. Hundreds of quilts are carefully and lovingly created throughout the year and are put up for auction to around 300 bidders. This year, the quilts alone raised $102,000 with one quilt selling for $5,000.

Quilt and Woman
On Friday night, a woman studies one of the quilts that will be auctioned Saturday morning. (photo: David Yoder)

Perhaps most moving was the traveling quilt. The traveling quilt is a beautiful quilt that began traveling earlier this year. It has gone from one relief sale to another across North America, always going up for bids but never sold. Instead, everyone who bids on the quilt gives his/her bid as a donation to MCC. Bids started at $1,000 for a quilt you can’t take home with you and ended with $25 bids. And now it moves on to the next MCC Relief Sale to be held in Virginia this weekend.

Two volunteers “dress the bed” with the next quilt at the quilt auction. (photo: David Yoder)

Ultimately, the relief sale is not just about giving to help the poor. It is also about acknowledging our relative wealth and the resources we have. The sale helped me once again appreciate the values with which I was raised — be generous, care for others, work hard, give till it hurts, work for peace, be the hands and feet of your faith.

Photos by David Yoder


Helping One Person Matters More than Saving Thousands

by Shubha Bala, associate producer

"If I look at the mass I will never act."
—Mother Teresa

It’s hard for people to relate to statistics and big numbers when hearing about disasters and people suffering. The question for advocates, and journalists, is how big is too big? Paul Slovic says the magic number is two.

In a study from the Decision Science Research Institute, Slovic and his team presented some people with the opportunity to donate to a starving girl named Rokia, and others to a starving boy named Moussa. People responded compassionately to their cause. He then presented a third group of people with the opportunity to donate to both Rokia and Moussa, helping both of them equally. Surprisingly, people were less likely to donate anything at all when they were presented with two starving children.

For New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristof, our guest on next week’s show, this has meant focusing on one person’s story. Devoted to raising awareness of human rights and poverty, he told Krista, “My job as a journalist is to find these larger issues that I want to address but then find some microcosm of it, some Rokia who can open those portals and hopefully get people to care.”

In the non-profit world, some organizations have found success by creating a model around this idea — child sponsorship organizations or Kiva, for example. Microfinance organizations weren’t new, but a model in which one could seemingly loan directly to an individual was. As a result, Kiva exploded onto the American donor scene. Even though in both of these cases donations aren’t going directly into the hands of the recipient, Kiva capitalized on the human instinct to take action to help one person in need. Organizations like DonorsChoose.org have used this same model to fund education projects within the United States.

It is not altogether shocking that we feel more compassion when we have relatable stories. But what stands out in Slovic’s paper is a study in which groups were either given the story of Rokia, a list of statistics, or the story of Rokia combined with more general statistics.

"Donations in response to the identified individual, Rokia, were far greater than donations in response to the statistical portrayal of the food crisis. Most important, however, and most discouraging, was the fact that coupling the statistical realities with Rokia’s story significantly reduced the contributions to Rokia. Alternatively, one could say that using Rokia’s story to ‘put a face behind the statistical problem’ did not do much to increase donations.”

And, this is one of the points Nicholas Kristof makes in next week’s show — how to make us care enough about massive, global tragedies to act.


One Man’s Trash, Another Man’s Treasure

by Colleen Scheck, producer

I was watching television news on the couch with my 10-year-old nephew last weekend and was captivated by a segment that profiled the work of Dan Phillips, a 64 year-old man from Huntsville, Texas who builds low-income houses out of trash. Yep, trash.

The segment has stuck with me in a few ways during this week’s production activities. Phillips’ work reminds me of the kindred efforts of Rural Studio (one of my all-time favorite programs), and it has resonance with our upcoming program with environmentalist Bill McKibben, specifically around the theme of human vitality and community in our changing natural world.

It also sparks thoughts about education and vocation raised during Krista’s interview with Mike Rose (to air in January). In that last way, I was struck by the difference in approach between Phoenix Commotion (Phillips’ initiative) and Rural Studio. Rural Studio trains highly educated architecture students to build homes from salvaged materials; Phillips employs unskilled laborers as apprentices and teaches “anyone with a work ethic” how to build. The result is the same: affordable homes made from recycled materials that are both functional and artistic, sustainable and unique.

I dug around for more info on Dan Phillips, and found a great slideshow of his work, as well as more photographs via Flickr. This is the kind of tangible activity that gives me hope, for our planet and for our humanity. My nephew, whose face was buried in his iPod Touch during the entire TV segment, looked up at the end and said “That’s cool.” I didn’t know he’d been listening.


Eleanor Roosevelt on Noblesse Oblige
Trent Gilliss, Online Editor

This 1959 interview with the former first lady surprised me. Introduced as the “archetype of the twentieth-century woman,” Ms. Roosevelt’s plain-spoken manner and repetitive use of the word “obligation” caught me off-guard. In our recent RV conversation with Elliot Dorff, the rabbi was adamant that we shouldn’t view helping others in need as a duty.

My first reaction was to equate “duty” and “obligation.” That was the wrong approach. Listening more deeply, I hear Ms. Roosevelt use “obligation” in the same sense that Rabbi Dorff uses “responsibility.” She speaks with a sense of doing what’s right, of being moral as a shared sense of justice.

I had thought of noblesse oblige as a literary concept, a convention intended to give flesh to fictional characters of another time, of another place, of Faulkner and Flaubert. And, even now, 50 years later, I contemplate if this idea still exists within the wealthier classes who have privilege and position — at least the idea in its humbler sense, without self-congratulation and self-aggrandizement.

Perhaps with the loss of so much wealth in the U.S. and internationally, we collectively might rediscover the best of this manner of conduct. What’s being done in the spirit of noblesse oblige nowadays that just isn’t being covered because of its quiet, serving nature? I wonder.


"Something Is Better Than Nothing, Right?"

Trent Gilliss, Online Editor

Shortly after auditioning one of our Repossessing Virtue interviews a few days ago, I was catching up on reading my RSS feeds when I happened upon a poignant post from Alanna at the Blood and Milk blog:

Bad development work is based on the idea that poor people have nothing. Something is better than nothing, right? So anything you give these poor people will be better than what they had before. Even if it’s your old clothes, technology they can’t use, or a school building with no teacher.

But poor people don’t have nothing. They have families, friends – social ties. They have responsibilities. They have possessions, however meager. They have lives, no matter what those lives look like to Westerners.

And Glenna at the Scarlett Lion puts a finer point on this as she observes Liberian girls in Monrovia passing over Nancy Drew books donated by Americans. Of course I immediately hear Kenyan writer Binyavanga Wainaina telling Krista that foreigners should just “leave us alone.”

But, perhaps more importantly, I need to remember to apply these lessons closer to home as we encounter more suffering and job losses and homelessness during these tumultuous economic times. When I start to pity the bearded man who sits on a 5-gallon bucket at the off-ramp of Penn Ave and I-394 in sub-zero temperatures, I need to remember he has a life. To pity him is to judge him. That’s not helping him; it’s not helping me; it’s not helping teach my boys in the back seat each day we encounter him.


"How Not to Help the Poor"
Andy Dayton, Associate Web Producer

We’ve been talking about doing a program about the ethics of aid for a while now (Trent first wrote about it here in early June). I’ve been looking forward to this one since it was first discussed at one of our production meetings, and it’s looking like the production wheels will finally start turning relatively soon; next week Krista has interviews with Katherine Marshall and Binyavanga Wainaina.

Until then, take a peek at the above video. The angle is a bit different — we’re looking for a broader international view, this video is about U.S. domestic aid from a primarily Christian perspective — but it’s still based on the same general question: when do charity and aid help, and when are they counterproductive?

UPDATE: You can now to the program mentioned in this post, The Ethics of Aid: One Kenyan’s Perspecive.


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?


The Language of Money

Trent Gilliss, Online Editor
toddler: (holding up a penny) Uh-dakah!
father: (leaning in) Dollar?
toddler: (thrusting penny in the air) Uh-dakah!
father: No. That's a penny.
toddler: Uh-dakah.
father: That's money. Can you say mun-eeeee?
toddler: Money! Dakah.
father: You buy things with it.
father: (looking quizzically at mother): What's he keep saying? I can't understand him.
mother: I don't know. (turning to toddler) Penny.
toddler: Dakah.
mother: (to father) Maybe it's the Hebrew -- from school.
father: I don't know the Hebrew word for money. Do you?
mother: No.
father: Google it.
mother: (searching)
father: I learned about this on the show. Isn't it zakat or something? No, wait. That applies to Muslims. Maybe zedekah... or something similar.
mother: Here it is. Tzedakah. Charity.
father: Hm.
mother: Here he sees a penny and thinks of giving it away. And we see it and instantly thinking of buying things.
father: I guess we just learned something from a two year old about money.
mother: I think so.
father: Man. We better sign up for some Hebrew lessons...

Google.org: “Don’t Be Evil”

Trent Gilliss, Online Editor

I’m confused. An immense amount of media coverage has been dedicated this past year to philanthropic organizations associated with high-power people and companies doing charitable work in a different way. Bill Clinton has argued that pharmaceutical companies can even make a fair margin off of cheap drugs to developing countries in Africa.

Does corporate social responsibility lead to greater profitability for a company’s shareholders? An article in The Harvard Business Review debunks the idea and determines that there is “a very small correlation between corporate behavior and good financial results.”

And now Larry Brilliant of the internet juggernaut’s philanthropic arm, Google.org, has announced its targeted strategy — focusing on climate change, economic development, and early-warning systems for major disasters. Sergey Brin and Larry Page will be committing “1% of Google’s equity and profits in some form, as well as employee time.” Do Google’s founders and shareholders expect to profit from their well-intentioned philanthropy, or is it a matter of morality in the face of so much success?