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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.

At a Crossroads: When a Young Hindu Converts to Christianity in Delhi

by Emily Frost, guest contributor

Shivanika, friend of KanikaAt a coffee shop in Delhi, Kanika thought she was spending just another afternoon passing time with her childhood friend Jo Jo, avoiding the heat and the crush of people outside. But there was something different in the way Jo Jo approached her that day. He had a special question for her: Do you know what is happening to your soul when you die? Kanika had no idea, and that worried her.

Surprisingly, in their twenty years of friendship, Jo Jo, an Indian Evangelical Christian, and Kanika, a Hindu, had never discussed their religions. That day at Costa Coffee though, Jo Jo started a long discussion, scribbling Christian themes and images on the napkins scattered around him. Kanika collected the napkins and poured over them that night in bed.

In the weeks to come, Kanika began talking to other Christian friends and considering a conversion. She knew hardly anything about Christianity and had grown up in a devout Hindu family, but the question of life after death remained unanswered for her.

Now, four years later, at 24, Kanika is at a crossroads. She has become an Evangelical Christian in secret, and her family disapproves of any reference she makes to Christianity.

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Beware the Rumors of a Quake When It Comes to Anglicans Flocking to the Ordinariate

by Martin E. Marty, special contributor

Archbishop Vincent Nichols ordains five priests for the Personal Ordinariate of Our Lady of Walsingham in Westminster Cathedral on Friday, June 10, 2011. (photo: ©Mazur/catholicchurch.org.uk)

Hurricanes, earthquakes, droughts, famines, tsunamis, floods, volcanic eruptions, and many other natural disasters — supernatural disasters and signals to Glenn Beck and Pat Robertson — are prime global and local topics. They inspire prayer and practical responses, but they also provide metaphoric language for religion. Try this, from National Catholic Reporter: “NO EARTHQUAKE FROM OVERTURE TO ANGLICANS,” a story by John L. Allen, Jr. This week he could have communicated as well by writing “No Hurricane after overture to Anglicans.” “Earthquake” works better, so let it stand.

The overture in question is the new Personal Ordinariate of Our Lady of Walsingham, a two-year-old structure instituted by Pope Benedict XVI to make it possible for hosts of Anglican clergy — and, less-noticed, laity, into the Roman Catholic communion. Don’t know where and why Walsingham is? We don’t need to. Don’t know what an Ordinariate is? Neither did the authors of the Catholic dictionaries on my shelf, but you can figure it out, and may need to if this issue interests you. It made possible the group reception of clerics into Catholicism as opposed to one-at-the-time processing through “conversion.” By the way, Allen wrote on June 8 that the ordinariate numbered 900 laity and 60 clergy “including some newly minted Catholic priests who had already retired from Anglican ministry at 70.”

Some nervous Anglicans, Roman Catholics, and ecumenically-minded “others” had foreseen a surge — see how that metaphor creeps in? — of Anglican priests who oppose the ordination of women. Allen foresees some more ordinariateers when Anglicans welcome women into the priesthood. (By August 19 he revised the statistics to “1,000 laity and 64 clergy…” scattered across 27 different communities.)

Allen says “there’s scant evidence of a revolution,” so this earthquake has to be “downgraded” to near zero on Richter scales, since it represents “roughly .02 percent of the five million Catholics in England and Wales.” That number, he thinks, could go down, or a bit “up” if, as foreseen, Anglicans will begin ordaining women to the episcopate next year. By the way, Allen, when interviewing leaders, makes a point of describing them as “thoughtful” and not antic or frantic. Still, despite all the predictions: “No Earthquake.”

Such a judgment applies outside the U.K. as well. In 1952 when I was ordained, without the help of an ordinariate, we would hear on occasion of a minister in our communion or others who had “defected” from the Catholic priesthood and been “converted” to some Protestant group. Perhaps because the events were rare and the gulf between Catholics and Everyone Else then was cosmic, such pastors became celebrities. Like “apostates,” of whom Max Scheler wrote, they “spent their whole subsequent careers taking revenge on their own spiritual past.” The gulf between communions has now narrowed; the ecumenical spirit has taken the roughest edges off the old abrasions.

Now and then we hear of the move of a Protestant minister to the Catholic priesthood, news accompanied by predictions of a forthcoming surge of such moves. In some circles of the church these predictions create tremors. However, eased ecclesial relations, the sense that the vocation of others is sacred and not to be judged by uninformed people at a distance, and an awareness that even if the statistics rise to .03 percent, we must still say “No Earthquake.” The rumblings may even provide opportunities to listen and learn and not merely to yawn. Or quake.


Martin MartyMartin E. Marty is the Fairfax M. Cone Distinguished Service Professor Emeritus at The University of Chicago. He’s authored many books, including Pilgrims in Their Own Land and Modern American Religion.

This essay is reprinted with permission of Sightings from the Martin Marty Center at the University of Chicago Divinity School.

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We all want to see more and more Jews immigrating to Israel, but we aren’t willing to accept conversion over the Internet or by mail.
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Israeli Likud MK Danny Danon, chairman of the Committee for Immigration, Absorption and Diaspora Affairs.

Haaretz reports that Danon recently affirmed Sephardic Chief Rabbi Shlomo Amar’s decision not to recognize conversions by most Orthodox rabbis outside of Israel. The implication is that many converts may not be “eligible to immigrate to Israel under the Law of Return, which grants automatic Israeli citizenship to Jews.”

In his explanation, Rabbi Amar cites that Orthodox rabbis from the European and American continents are receiving bribes from converts up to the sum of one million U.S. dollars.

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Former African-American IDF Soldier Wrestles with Distinguishing Between God and Israel

by Rosalina Nieves, USC “Reporting on Israel” Journalism Student

Jerusalem, 1995, Praying with IDF soldier from Givati Brigades at Wailing Wall, Western Wall, Kotel
Praying with an IDF soldier from Givati Brigades at the Wailing Wall in 1995.

Moshe Hillel Eytan, born Marcus Hardie, is a Long Beach, California native who converted to Judaism at the age of 22. Marcus, who was raised Baptist and belonged to one of Southern California’s most notorious gangs, the Eight Ball Crips, says he found what he had searched for all his life. He found refuge in a religion that offered him a home and an identity that, he says, connected him to God.

“I experienced Yiddishkeit (Jewish Identity) at my own pace. Judaism taught me that race is of no significance and that you are judged by your actions,” says Marcus, the name he prefers to be called now.

In 2000, Moshe Hillel Eytan, as he was known at that time, thought making Aliyah to Israel had completed his conversion to Judaism. After all, he had converted to Judaism three times, twice in the U.S. and once in the Orthodox branch of Judaism in Israel. But it wasn’t enough for Moshe, who, at the age of 28, decided to join the Israeli Defense Forces (IDF). By doing so, he felt he was securing his allegiance to Judaism and to the state of Israel.

“It wasn’t enough to make Aliyah to Israel, I needed to protect Israel. I couldn’t just come [to Israel] and integrate, and become a rabbi … or have a wife or have a child. I needed to give back,” says Marcus. “My Jewish identity, or my interest in Jewish affairs, took over my life. It felt like I was possessed.”

His way of giving back was by defending his new-found homeland from terrorists. He equated it to the violence he had once escaped from as a teenager. Except this time, he thought he would be fighting on the right side, the good side. So a year after having made Aliyah to Israel, Marcus joined the IDF.

Americans in IDF

Moshe Hillel Eytan at Basic Training
Near the end of basic training in the Israeli Defense Forces in August 2001.

“Jewish People and Jewish students in particular feel a tremendous allegiance to the state of Israel. Historically, we need a country of our own. (And) a few young men and women chose to do a condensed version of serving in the Israel army,” says Rabbi Aron Hier.

Hier, who is the current director of the campus outreach program for the Simon Wiesenthal Center in Los Angeles, was born and raised in Canada by Jewish parents. And, like Marcus, he too volunteered to serve in the IDF.

“I finished college and I wasn’t sure of what I wanted to do and so I said I’ll give them a year and half. It’s that brutal, you can train as much as you want and you can’t get used to the heat, you can’t get used to the lack of privacy and living in the same clothes for a week at a time. Its not about pumping weights, it tests you in many ways. It was very hard and very rewarding.”

It’s not uncommon for foreigners, including Americans, to serve in the IDF. Some Americans are the children of Israelis who emigrated years ago; others, like Rabbi Hier and Marcus, have no family connection whatsoever.

A 2010 Ha’aretz article profiling foreigners serving in the IDF reported that about 3,000 lone immigrant soldiers were serving in the IDF and, in 2010, more than 500 soldiers were from United States.

Rabbi Hier dismissed the potential pitfalls of an American swearing allegiance to Israel. Since the two are close allies, he doesn’t see a problem. Besides, by law, Americans are permitted to serve in a foreign military.

Rabbi Mayer May, the executive director of the Wiesenthal Center and the President of the Rabbinical Council of California, also supports the idea that American Jews can go serve in the IDF.

“I can understand a lot of the kids who grow up in America, and have strong feelings for the state of Israel. They watch it and feel it as the underdog, even though it sometimes is positioned as the occupier,” May said. “But it’s not the occupier when you think of all the ten million of Arabs that are surrounding it.”

“What happens in Israel affects us profoundly here, and not only in terms of our presence in America, but profoundly because we know of our profound connection to the land of Israel for 3, 000 years.”

A Faith Replaced by Nationalism and Anger

Holding an assault rifle on the Sabbath
Holding an assault rifle on the Sabbath.

Marcus says his service in the military quickly changed his life and his views of Israel. Just as the Second Palestinian Intifida started in 2000, Israel became a more violent place. He had to suppress riots and police Palestinians. He was often the first on scene after a bomb went off.

“I would arrive and see all sorts of body parts, the ground saturated with blood. I saw people suffering. It was more than I bargained for,” says Marcus.

This is where Marcus claims his faith was replaced by nationalism and anger. He says he started placing the state of Israel in the position of God.

“Instead of saying God is powerful, I would say Israel is powerful,” says Marcus.

On Merkava Battletank, Sayereem Military Base, Israel, 2001
On Merkava battle tank at Sayereem Military Base in Israel in 2001.

Marcus became less and less religious as he completed his two years in the IDF. The religious connection he once felt towards Israel began to fade. Although he had signed up to protect Israel, Marcus acknowledges that he knew very little about the Palestinians and Arabs living in Israel. He had only learned about the terrorists who targeted innocent Israelis. But after becoming an anti-terror fighter in the IDF, he learned the lines were often blurred.

“I didn’t really have much contact with Palestinians before then. That was a big blind spot that I had. And when I look back, in retrospect I always saw Israel as a Jewish state,” Marcus said. “For me, the Palestinian Arabs were invisible. They were invisible people. I don’t remember meeting even one Palestinian. I don’t remember having interest in meeting one.”

Marcus says his experience in the IDF did the opposite of what he expected. His service in the IDF did not complete his religious journey to Judaism. But it did changed Marcus’s life in ways he would have never imagined.

Soon after he completed his service in the military, Marcus returned to the United States and was diagnosed with Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder. Today, Marcus Hardie, resides in a modest group home in Whittier, California. He has published an autobiographical book, Black & Bulletproof, where he shares his life story and gives readers an inside look at the Israeli army and its operatives from the perspective of an African-American Jew.

Marcus still considers himself a man of faith and worships at Temple Beth Shalom in Whittier. He admits that he isn’t as religious as he once was, but says he continues to practice Judaism.

“I still think of Israel as my homeland, but the connection just isn’t as strong as it was before. No one can take away what I saw happen to innocent people, both Palestinians and Israelis.”


Rosalina Nieves Rosalina Nieves is a graduate student in the Specialized Journalism Program at the University of Southern California and an assignment editor at CNN in Los Angeles.

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

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Flag-Raising My Hijab: An American Woman’s Decision

by Amanda Gormley, guest contributor

Amanda Gormley with Horse

The first time I prayed the Islamic prayer, or salat, I stood in my living room in the silvery morning just moments before dawn. I was self-conscious and unsure of what to do. I had prepared flash cards to help me through the complicated process of standing, sitting, and bowing while reciting verses in Arabic. I stood facing Mecca and folded my right hand across my chest. My left hand clutched a flash card that read:

Bismillah ah Rahman ah Raheem
In the name of God, the most gracious, most merciful

Alhamdu lil-ahi rab-bil alamin
All praise be to the Lord, the Cherisher and Sustainer of the worlds

Ah rahman-ah rahim
The most merciful, most gracious

Maliki yawmid-deen
Master of the day of judgment

Iyyaka n’abudu wa-Iyaka nasta-in
You alone do we worship, and to you alone do we turn to for help

Ihdi-nas sira-tal Mustaqim
Show us the straight path

Sira tal-ladhina an-amta alaihim
The path of those who went before us with your grace

Ghair-il Maghdubi ‘Alaihum
Who did not deserve your anger

Wa lad dal-in
Nor went astray

The awkward syllables filled the back of my throat like a swallowed cry as I struggled to make the foreign sounds. But as my mouth worked away at the words, I felt my spirit enter a world that existed outside of the senses, a dimension beyond time and space where the body does not confine the soul. I felt a deep, unending sense of mercy and forgiveness surround me.

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Moshe Levy’s Time to Shyne, But How Does His Conversion to Orthodox Judaism Fit In?

by Trent Gilliss, senior editor

Shyne Studies TorahDominick Brady got it right. The photo heading The New York Times profile piece of Moses Levi (or is it Moshe Levy Ben-David?), the hip-hop star known as Shyne, is a great photo. But, when it comes to the whys and the hows of Mr. Levy’s path to Orthodox Judaism and his ongoing relationship with the faith — as the headline exploits — the article itself falls short. You’d be better served reading David Brinn’s initial piece or more recently published long-form profile in The Jerusalem Post. Or watching the video above.

Dina Kraft has tapped in to something in the American psyche though. Her article is rapidly spreading online and, as I write this post, it’s the third most emailed article on the Times website. Even several colleagues approached me Thursday wanting to talk about it and proposed posting this pull quote:

What I do get is boundaries. Definition and form. And that is what Shabbat is. You can’t just do whatever you want to do. You have to set limits for yourself…All these rules, rules, rules…But you know what you have if you don’t have rules? You end up with a bunch of pills in your stomach. When you don’t know when to say when and no one tells you no, you go off the deep.

This is one of those articles from The New York Times that is so full of promise but leaves the reader with a string of anecdotes and very little understanding. There’s mostly back story; Orthodox Judaism is used as a hook but rarely followed up on here. As I was reading it Wednesday night, I found myself wishing Kraft’s editor would’ve been more generous, and more pressing.

And I found myself feeling a bit empty. Left wanting. Wanting to hear more about the convicted felon’s path to Orthodox Judaism in prison and outside. Wanting to understand why he chose the Orthodox tradition instead of a version of Conservative or Reform Judaism. Wanting to know how the language of the yeshiva is informing his lyrics. Wanting to know more about his Ethiopian Jewish heritage. Wanting to know how he’s living differently because of his new-found faith. Wanting to know more about his current relationship with his father in Belize and his interactions with Jewish communities after being deported from the United States.

We’ll put out a request to get these and other questions answered. And, if you have any of your own, offer up a comment.

(photo: Ricki Rosen for The New York Times)

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Day 29 - Kari Ansari: “Waiting for One More Ramadan”

Revealing Ramadan: 30 Days, 30 Voices [mp3, 2:07]

by Trent Gilliss, senior editor

Kari AnsariOur 29th voice is an American-born woman who says that her conversion to Islam has made her a better feminist. Kari Ansari is editor-in-chief of “America’s Muslim Family Magazine” and lives with her husband and four children in suburban Chicago.

Check back on this blog each day or on our Facebook page to hear a new voice in our “Revealing Ramadan” series. If you’re the on demand type or simply need a more automated form of listening, we’ve produced a special podcast feed that’s available now. Oh, and a special show too!

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Day 28 - Saeed Purcell: “The Last Ten Days”

Revealing Ramadan: 30 Days, 30 Voices [mp3, 6:19]

by Trent Gilliss, senior editor

Our 28th voice in this series is a man who converted to Islam more than 15 years ago. Saeed Purcell “passed through” other faiths before becoming a Muslim. The turning point? When he read Malcolm X’s autobiography, which led him to read the Qur’an.

Here, Saeed recollects one of his first Ramadans when he spent the last ten days alone in a mosque praying and fasting and spiritually cleansing himself.

Check back on this blog each day or on our Facebook page to hear a new voice in our “Revealing Ramadan” series. If you’re the on demand type or simply need a more automated form of listening, we’ve produced a special podcast feed that’s available now. Oh, and a special show too!

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Day 26 - Mary Hope Schwoebel: “My Work Reflects My Beliefs”

Revealing Ramadan: 30 Days, 30 Voices [mp3, 4:18]

by Trent Gilliss, senior editor

Mary Hope Schwoebel, our 26th voice in this series, was raised Presbyterian in Oxford, Mississippi and later moved to Philadelphia. But, with the social justice movements of the 1960’s, her parents and she grew more secular. While in college, she began reading feminist authors, including a leading Muslim scholar on the veil, and a Somali man who embodied these principles. She later converted and is now a teacher and educator of peace conflict studies in Africa.

Check back on this blog each day or on our Facebook page to hear a new voice in our “Revealing Ramadan” series. If you’re the on demand type or simply need a more automated form of listening, we’ve produced a special podcast feed that’s available now. Oh, and a special show too!

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Day 25 - Miles Davis: “A Father’s Impact”

Revealing Ramadan: 30 Days, 30 Voices [mp3, 5:46]

by Trent Gilliss, senior editor

Miles DavisOur 25th voice, Miles Davis, grew up in inner-city Philadelphia and is now a professor at Shenandoah University in Leesburg, Virginia. Through the formative influence of his father, Islam provided the framework to escape the drugs and crime of most of his childhood friends.

One of his first Ramadan celebrations also allowed him to see the many colors of Muslims he worshiped with. And now, decades later, his daughter is teaching him new things about faith during Islam’s holiest month.

Check back on this blog each day or on our Facebook page to hear a new voice in our “Revealing Ramadan” series. If you’re the on demand type or simply need a more automated form of listening, we’ve produced a special podcast feed that’s available now. Oh, and a special show too!

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Day 24 - Hilarie Clement: “A First Year Alone in Dubai”

Revealing Ramadan: 30 Days, 30 Voices [mp3, 4:32]

by Trent Gilliss, senior editor

Hilarie ClementOn this 24th day of Ramadan, a teacher who grew up in Syracuse, New York and now lives in Chicago with her family. Hilarie Clement recalls celebrating one of her first Ramadans while teaching third-graders in Dubai, and how “scared” she was at first and how “horrible” her first day of fasting was. Like most other things in Islam, she says, it takes time to learn how to be a practicing Muslim.

Check back on this blog each day or on our Facebook page to hear a new voice in our “Revealing Ramadan” series. If you’re the on demand type or simply need a more automated form of listening, we’ve produced a special podcast feed that’s available now. Oh, and a special show too!

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Day 23 - Eli Smart: “Ramadan in Dearborn”

Revealing Ramadan: 30 Days, 30 Voices [mp3, 5:13]

by Trent Gilliss, senior editor

Eli SmartThe 23rd voice in this series, Eli Smart, grew up in California and converted to Islam in his early 20s. Now 37, he lives in Michigan — along with his mother and family — and says that Dearborn’s centralized Muslim community gives him a sense of what it’s like living in a Muslim country during Ramadan.

Check back on this blog each day or on our Facebook page to hear a new voice in our “Revealing Ramadan” series. If you’re the on demand type or simply need a more automated form of listening, we’ve produced a special podcast feed that’s available now. Oh, and a special show too!

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Day 21 - Anisa Abd el Fattah: “Laughter and Tears”

Revealing Ramadan: 30 Days, 30 Voices [mp3, 6:38]

by Trent Gilliss, senior editor

Anisa Abd el FattahOur 21st voice on this last day of August is Anisa Abd el Fattah. She is an African-American woman from the Midwest who was raised in a family of Baptist ministers and converted to Islam 20 years ago. She’s the founder of the National Association of Muslim American Women, and tells two Ramadan stories about an iftar faux pas and the beautiful recitation of her 7-year-old son.

Check back on this blog each day or on our Facebook page to hear a new voice in our “Revealing Ramadan” series. If you’re the on demand type or simply need a more automated form of listening, we’ve produced a special podcast feed that’s available now. Oh, and a special show too!

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Day 17 - Reuben Jackson: “Support in Those Beginning Years”

Revealing Ramadan: 30 Days, 30 Voices [mp3, 3:58]

by Trent Gilliss, senior editor

Reuben JacksonOn this 17th day of Ramadan, Reuben Jackson, an African-American man who was raised Southern Baptist and converted, or “reverted” as he says, to Islam in May 2001. He immersed himself in Islam’s sacred texts and memorized prayers by Yusef Islam (formerly Cat Stevens). His Ramadan reflection tells about the support he received early on from friends at his local mosque in Arlington, Virginia to trainers at his gym.

Check back on this blog each day or on our Facebook page to hear a new voice in our “Revealing Ramadan” series. If you’re the on demand type or simply need a more automated form of listening, we’ve produced a special podcast feed that’s available now. Oh, and a special show too!

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Day 15 - Ny’Kisha Pettiford: “Who’s in the Kitchen at Night”

Revealing Ramadan: 30 Days, 30 Voices [mp3, 2:52]

by Trent Gilliss, senior editor

Ny'Kisha Pettiford with Girl Scouts troopThe 15th voice in our series is Ny’Kisha Pettiford, an African-American woman who works for a health care communications company. She grew up in a Christian household — her mother Catholic, her father non-denominational — and converted to Islam while in college. She talks about how her family celebrates holidays and the cultural warmth of her local mosque during the month of Ramadan.

Check back on this blog each day or on our Facebook page to hear a new voice in our “Revealing Ramadan” series. If you’re the on demand type or simply need a more automated form of listening, we’ve produced a special podcast feed that’s available now. Oh, and a special show too!

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