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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.

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Merry Christmas to all celebrating! For a holiday treat, Neil Gaiman reads  ”A Christmas Carol” from Charles Dickens's only surviving “prompt copy” – a special performance script, which Dickens created by taking apart the existing novella, cutting and pasting select sections into a blank-leaf book, then filleting the text by highlighting the most dramatic scenes and annotating them with reading cues and stage directions. This, in other words, is “A Christmas Carol” read exactly as Dickens wanted it read – and it’s one of the greatest writers of our time reading one of the greatest writers of all time.

Backstory on the unusual artifact here.

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This Lego nativity scene with a kataluma by Jacob Hosanna pictures the space in which Jesus was born rather than the traditional manger in a stable story.
Pádraig Ó Tuama notes in "Plenty of Room at the Inn: The Nativity Scene Resurrected" that the misinterpretation of the Christmas story, as is commonly told, may miss the point of Luke’s gospel and that Christians might miss the more important message within. 

"We must always be attentive to the edges of our own storytelling. Attractive as it may be to children, and lodged as it may be upon the portrayed scenes of religious Christmas cards, it is simply incorrect to think that Mary and Joseph were forced into a stable.”
This Lego nativity scene with a kataluma by Jacob Hosanna pictures the space in which Jesus was born rather than the traditional manger in a stable story.
Pádraig Ó Tuama notes in "Plenty of Room at the Inn: The Nativity Scene Resurrected" that the misinterpretation of the Christmas story, as is commonly told, may miss the point of Luke’s gospel and that Christians might miss the more important message within. 

"We must always be attentive to the edges of our own storytelling. Attractive as it may be to children, and lodged as it may be upon the portrayed scenes of religious Christmas cards, it is simply incorrect to think that Mary and Joseph were forced into a stable.”

This Lego nativity scene with a kataluma by Jacob Hosanna pictures the space in which Jesus was born rather than the traditional manger in a stable story.

Pádraig Ó Tuama notes in "Plenty of Room at the Inn: The Nativity Scene Resurrected" that the misinterpretation of the Christmas story, as is commonly told, may miss the point of Luke’s gospel and that Christians might miss the more important message within. 

"We must always be attentive to the edges of our own storytelling. Attractive as it may be to children, and lodged as it may be upon the portrayed scenes of religious Christmas cards, it is simply incorrect to think that Mary and Joseph were forced into a stable.”

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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.

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The Three Christmases of the Holy Land

by Taline Voskeritchian, guest contributor

Iraqi Christian Girls Sing in AmmanIraqi Christian girls attend Christmas Mass at Chaldean Catholic Church in Amman, Jordan on December 25, 2011. (photo: Ali Jarekji/Reuters)

In the lands between the Mediterranean and the Jordan River, the first of three Christmas celebrations was on December 24, the Christmas of the English, or so we thought of it then in the years of my adolescence. My family — ethnic Armenians, Christians by subscription more than piety — had settled in Jordan, a largely Muslim country, where I grew into adulthood, pulled this way and that by the three Christmases of the Holy Land. Of course it was a misnomer to call it the Christmas of the English because December 24 was celebrated by Catholic and Protestant Arabs as well.

In those days, in the 1950s and 1960s, the Middle East was a very different place from what it has become of late. Unlike the Christians of Iraq today, we had little fear, did not hide our religious affiliation but did not brag about it either. In the Holy Land of those times, celebrations of Christmas were for us and Muslims, at least at our post-colonial school which had been run for many years by English missionaries; it had a mixed student body of Christians and Muslims.

For me, the home of the English Christmas was the Ahliyyah School for Girls, which I attended after third grade and all the way to the end. The Ahliyyah, which is still a thriving school, was the successor to the Christian Missionary School, whose British headmistress was whisked away in the wake of the 1956 Suez Canal Crisis. The school’s name was changed, as well as the board. The Christmas celebrations persisted.

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Making Room for Both Traditions of Christmas and Hanukkah

by Meg Smith, guest contributor

2nd night of HanukkahAlthough I was born on Christmas, I feel like I’m slightly part Hanukkah now. Each year since I remarried — an event which brought two Jewish stepchildren into my life — I have anticipated the Festival of Lights with almost as much excitement as my hybrid celebration of the Winter Solstice/Yule and Christmas.

My stepchildren are actually half-Hanukkah and half-Christmas; their mother is Jewish, their father is not. Their parents long ago agreed the children would be raised Jewish, so they are attending the several years of Hebrew school that prepare them to become a bar and bat mitzvah. Having grown up with Christian and Jewish extended families, however, they have honored their heritage from both sides by celebrating Hanukkah and Christmas from the time they were born. As each year draws to a close, they look forward to lighting Hanukkah candles as well as decorating the Christmas tree with their doting, out-of-town Presbyterian grandparents.

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"Magnum Mysterium" by Chanticleer

by Trent Gilliss, senior editor

Fred Child and the producers of Performance Today have created a substantial repository of free music from the live concerts and in-studio performances they broadcast on public radio. This year, three ensembles — Calmus, New York Polyphony, and Chanticleer — are offering free downloads of some of these performances.

I’ll post one track from each group during the course of the day, but I recommend you head over to PT’s website and download them for yourself.

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A humorous visual for a Christmas morning smile from JamesWhyte:

Merry Christmas! Here’s a Yuletide Venn Diagram for you.

~reblogged by Trent Gilliss, senior editor
A humorous visual for a Christmas morning smile from JamesWhyte:

Merry Christmas! Here’s a Yuletide Venn Diagram for you.

~reblogged by Trent Gilliss, senior editor
A humorous visual for a Christmas morning smile from JamesWhyte:

Merry Christmas! Here’s a Yuletide Venn Diagram for you.

~reblogged by Trent Gilliss, senior editor

A humorous visual for a Christmas morning smile from JamesWhyte:

Merry Christmas! Here’s a Yuletide Venn Diagram for you.

~reblogged by Trent Gilliss, senior editor

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A Polish Grandmother’s Christmas Story

by Paul Clement Czaja, guest contributor

While shepherds watched their flocks - С РождествомA Christmas scene from Syria. (Charles Roffey/Flickr, cc by-nc-sa 2.0)

As a Polish family, the real celebration of Christ’s birth for us took place on Christmas Eve with the singing of carols before sharing together a festive dinner. And then, finally, when the night outside was deep and decorated with a billion stars, all the family would sit around the Christmas tree, and our dad would give out the presents to each and every one of us. But my story takes place on that Christmas Eve afternoon so many years ago when I was still a kid growing up in the Bronx.

After my mother had prepared the big dining room table with a large, lovely white linen tablecloth, Grandma would come down from her apartment upstairs and place a white plate piled high with brown dates in the middle of the still empty table. My brother Peter and I would get up and begin eating some of these unusually sweet and sticky exotic fruits. We did so every Christmas, but on this particular time I was puzzled enough to ask Grandma how come we only got dates on that one day of the year. We never had dates on any other day — only on Christmas Eve. Why? She smiled at Peter and me and invited us to come and sit down and told us this story:

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Hallelujah from Quinhagak, Alaska

by Trent Gilliss, senior editor

Rachel Naomi Remen, a former guest at On Being, passed on this delightful video made by the residents of Quinhagak, Alaska, a small village of less than 600 people near the Bering Sea. Enjoy!

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Walter Brueggemann, a Disruptive and Hopeful Voice for All Ages

by Krista Tippett, host

Walter Brueggemann is a very special voice. He is one of those figures — another being Jaroslav Pelikan — who is not a household name but is revered in his universe of knowledge and accomplishment. He’s a kind of theological rock star. His name has been synonymous with the phrase “prophetic imagination” for three decades of preachers and Christian teachers. Students in all kinds of seminaries read him, and they are captivated by the man as much as his ideas. That’s my explanation for why the live video stream of our conversation is one of On Being's most-watched online interviews.

The Prophetic Imagination by Walter BrueggemannI too was thrilled to meet this man whose writings I have admired up close; he more than fulfills the promise of those writings. Walter Brueggemann is not merely an expert. He somehow embodies this tradition of the prophets that he knows as well as anyone living. He is wise and forceful, quick to laugh, passionately challenging, and fiercely hopeful. He demonstrates as much as teaches the way the prophets of the ages are disruptive of politics and culture as usual.

He helps me understand that part of a prophet’s power is in wielding language poetically rather than stridently. Beginning with the words they choose, they transcend ideological splits that actually inhibit us from seizing the great challenges and problems of our time.

"I have a dream" is the line we all remember from Martin Luther King Jr., whom Walter Brueggemann identifies as a prophet of living memory. King wasn’t talking about “enacting a civil rights bill,” Brueggemann says, “except that he was.” He points out that the prophetic voice is not issues-based. It accomplishes the harder, more necessary work of reframing the big picture of what is at stake, so that we can take in the reality of our moment in a new way, with a new sense of what might be possible.

Prophets help us connect the dots between the world as it is and the world as it might be. Prophets tend to emerge in moments of chaos and change, and this is surely a description of our age as of the 1960s or of the era of the biblical fall of Jerusalem. Walter Brueggemann helps us reclaim some important language for being people of change and chaos: the healing necessity of “lamentations,” the difference between being bold and being strident, the hard and life-giving work of letting go of comfort for the sake of what is important. That work, he says to Christian preachers and teachers, has to happen in the pulpit as in life.

Yet, even as he challenges, Walter Brueggemann calls upon mercy, another word he recovers in all its usefulness and beauty. Indeed, he shows how the two are meaningfully fused. He reminds us that the Hebrew word (like the Arabic word) for “mercy” is derived from the word for “womb.” It is the ultimate image of knowing one’s own well-being to be bound up with the well-being of another. And it comes with an extreme amount of discomfort.

How refreshing to experience a voice that is at once deeply disruptive and beautiful and critical and hopeful without any of these qualities clashing. In Walter Brueggemann’s prophetic imagination, we experience a new way of being, of living, and of faithfulness. He reminds us too — and I find this point essential — that, alongside our pantheon of prophets across time and cultures, there are countless prophets of the everyday in communities everywhere who are not and will never be famous. So many of us long to transcend what he calls “the managed prose” around us; Walter Brueggemann shows us that while this is difficult and terrifying it is can also be exhilarating and life-giving. I’m very happy to bring Walter Brueggemann’s voice to the air in this season, at this moment in time.

Image of Walter Brueggemann courtesy of Westminster John Knox Press.

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"The Christmas Waltz" by She & Him to Dance Us Into the Weekend

by Trent Gilliss, senior editor

Tis the season and, yes, I’m a fanboy of She & Him. How can you not love the stripped-down, melodic version of this classic Christmas song? You can’t. Enjoy!

Editor’s note: The title was changed due to a last-minute scheduling change. Unfortunately, Tuesday turned into Wednesday!

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The Wrappings of Love in Enveloping Arms: An Advent Reflection

by Pádraig Ó Tuama, guest contributor

The Nicest Place on the Internet (screen grab)

There’s an internet site called The Nicest Place on the Internet that I came across the other day. I’m not sure how I saw it — a link from a tweet, or something somebody wrote.

When you open the site, an acoustic version of “I Have Never Loved Someone” by My Brightest Diamond begins playing. While it’s playing, short videos of people hugging a camera are played. There seems to be an unending slew of people who have sent in these YouTube videos of themselves approaching the camera. That’s all it is: the song on repeat and these videos of people hugging the camera that’s filming them.

My first time meeting Protestants from the north was at a church camp in August 1987. I was eleven years old. I spent my camp asking the poor Protestants if they were Irish or English, with a curiosity I usually reserved for asking whether certain characters in Wonder Woman were goodies or baddies. At the end of the church camp, one of the Protestant women, a woman with blonde hair called Annette, said “Give me a hug.”

I didn’t know what she meant. I didn’t know what hugs were to give her one. I didn’t know that I had one to give.

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Christmas Is a Time for Artistic Expression and Creativity

by Judith Dupré, guest contributor

Christmas tree lights IIPhoto by Shandi-lee (Flickr, cc by-nc 2.0)

How many times have you heard someone say — I can’t draw, I can’t sing, I can’t dance — with the case-closed authority of Solomon? Probably dozens of times, more if you yourself happen to be an artist blessed with the painting, flamenco, or woodworking gene. But have you ever heard anyone sheepishly confess, as they backed away palms up from an evergreen tree, Oh, not me — I can’t decorate Christmas trees?

Doesn’t happen!

Most of us dive into holiday tree trimming with gusto. We’ve got our methods, materials, and secret techniques down pat — from anchoring the tree so it stands straight to untangling strings of lights with a finesse that Houdini would have admired. Charlie Parker could have learned something from our daring as we coax familiar ornaments into different compositions each year, sentimental riffs made anew as a crystal angel is paired with a Santa made of plastic gumdrops or a tacky beaded lobster, to name some of my family’s favorites. Could Jackson Pollock outdo any of us tinsel-lobbers as we throw sparkling handfuls with random abandon? Or perhaps you prefer the single-strand-at-a-time method, placed with the en pointe precision of a Russian ballerina. I’m working the tree metaphor here, but feel free to substitute holiday crafts, baking, decorating, caroling, or gift-wrapping.

It’s your thing!

More good news! Remember Charlie Brown’s scraggly Douglas fir? The one with three spindly branches and a single bulb that weighed it down like a lead onion? Was there anything more pathetic or endearing? Pathetic attempts are not only okay at Christmas, they’re entirely fashionable. Call it folk art. Unlike the rest of the over-achieving calendar year, trying, if not actually succeeding, is acceptable during this season. Because, really, it’s not a question of what you are doing, it’s how you are doing it. The smallest of art projects becomes luminous with awareness and love.

For centuries, until recently, art was a concrete and widespread way of expressing one’s faith. Artists and artisans conveyed their devotion to God through painting, verse, and music. With the advent of the industrial age, abetted by myriad other factors, making art became the impractical pursuit of a chosen few. This is the great, unspoken loss of contemporary life. Creativity at its most transcendent — the moment when the work of art takes on its own life, when there is no separation between maker and object, when the artist is being re-formed by the very thing he or she is making — is comparable to the pure, blissful connection achieved in prayer or meditation.

We cherish Christmas because it presents us with weeks (months!) of artistic expression that is usually kept under wraps during the rest of the year. Christmas is a time when everyone has the opportunity to create — an act of transformation that mirrors what is most sacred in each of us. The works of our hands give glory to our Creator as they reveal us at our most human and most holy. Each of us was created with the same inexhaustible delight and diversity found in nature, and we are free to create with similar abandon. Perhaps this is the true magic of the season: We don’t question whether we should, or judge whether we can, we just create! I’d venture that we’d be more fully ourselves, as human beings and as spiritual beings, if we allowed ourselves that freedom more often.

This season let your spirit shine forth in the tree you trim, the candles you light, the songs you sing, and the cookies you bake. Let every ribbon you tie tie you more closely to your loved ones and to your own beautiful creative soul. While you’re in the Christmas spirit, why not consider giving yourself the gift of creativity, surely the gift that keeps on giving, all year round.


Judith DupréJudith Dupré is a fellow of Yale University’s Saybrook College and the author of several books. Her latest book is Full of Grace: Encountering Mary in Faith, Art and Life, a collection of stories about everyday spirituality and the nature of personal transformation.

We welcome your reflections, essays, videos, or news items for possible publication for the On Being Blog. Submit your entry through our First Person Outreach page.

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Old St. Nick is an acquired taste for some methinks. So much for the Christmas spirit.
From the National Post:

Odd Christmas photo of the dayDavid Warren, who has been playing Santa for the past ten years, holds the clearly freaked-out seven-month-old Olivia Ruch at Santa’s Grotto in Selfridges department store in London, Dec 7, 2011. (Suzanne Plunkett/Reuters)

~reblogged by Trent Gilliss, senior editor
Old St. Nick is an acquired taste for some methinks. So much for the Christmas spirit.
From the National Post:

Odd Christmas photo of the dayDavid Warren, who has been playing Santa for the past ten years, holds the clearly freaked-out seven-month-old Olivia Ruch at Santa’s Grotto in Selfridges department store in London, Dec 7, 2011. (Suzanne Plunkett/Reuters)

~reblogged by Trent Gilliss, senior editor

Old St. Nick is an acquired taste for some methinks. So much for the Christmas spirit.

From the National Post:

Odd Christmas photo of the day
David Warren, who has been playing Santa for the past ten years, holds the clearly freaked-out seven-month-old Olivia Ruch at Santa’s Grotto in Selfridges department store in London, Dec 7, 2011. (Suzanne Plunkett/Reuters)

~reblogged by Trent Gilliss, senior editor

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