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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.

From Outside Faith and Within, Being Religious Is Being Transformed

by Krista Tippett, host

Recently I spoke to a class of college students — by way of Skype — in southern Minnesota. We talked about how religion is portrayed through news media. As often in my experience, this was a critical discussion about the narrow and often inflammatory way religion comes up, and usually in the context of politics.

Krista Tippett, host of Being

I asked them if they felt at all represented in media portrayals, or how they might. One young man in the back of the classroom said, “I don’t think there is any real expression of what it means to be religious now. It’s different.”

He’s right. I think about this all the time. There has been a dramatic break with ways of being spiritual and religious that held, in the West, for many generations.

Before I created this radio show, I spent two years interviewing people across the Christian Church — from Armenian Orthodox to Nazarene Holiness — who had in some way been involved in the ecumenical movement that surged after World War II and through the 1960s. Sitting with them, probing their memories, I relived the absolute shock and thrill of first encounters between Protestants, Catholics, and Jews. This felt unprecedented, impossible, and utterly liberating. It’s not just that faith looked new; the whole world looked full of possibility and kinship that had not been there before.

Rigid, rule-bound ways of being religious — of being identified not merely by the same denomination but perhaps the very same church or synagogue your parents and grandparents attended before you — have transformed in a handful of generations.

Strong religious identities survive and thrive. But more than ever before, even in their most conservative iterations, they are chosen. And alongside them is a world of flux and questioning — a new phenomenon of people who have been raised with more questions than answers, more choices than givens. They are not abandoning religion, though, or revealing it as something primitive that modernity has outgrown (as intellectuals since the Enlightenment have predicted they would). They are rediscovering and reinventing it.

Christian Wiman Reading from His Book on Bill Moyers Show

I did not realize, before I spoke with Christian Wiman, how provocatively and profoundly he has become a poetic witness and voice for this change. He grew up in a West Texas world soaked in a particular charismatic Christianity. When he left that world behind, its religious core ceased to make sense.

For many people who were never religious or who leave the religion of their childhoods behind, it’s the experience of having children of their own that brings an urgency to the question of what they believe. For Christian Wiman, it was the experience of love — of falling deeply in love with the woman who would become his wife. Because he is a poet, perhaps, he became wonderfully articulate about the power of love to make life more vivid, to make us reach for the best in ourselves, to feel we have touched transcendence and to want to rise to that experience. And then, hard on the heels of that, he was diagnosed with a mysterious blood cancer that could kill him in 30 days or 30 years.

Christian Wiman believes that a whole new religious language is being created. It will include traditional religious insights and language, but will also reach beyond them — or better approximate the animating essence of them. He even imagines “that God calls some people to unbelief in order that faith can take new forms.”

From outside faith and within it, Christian Wiman has pondered this question: “How does one remember God, reach for God, realize God in the midst of one’s life if one is constantly being overwhelmed by that life?” You don’t need to be diagnosed with cancer these days to share in that question.

This conversation, "Remembering God," about what he has learned about faith, and how he is living his questions, is rich with humility, challenge, and an infectious courage.

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Confessions on Life, Death and God (video)

by Trent Gilliss, senior editor

This PostSecret video is imbued with a lot of light-hearted moments, but there are two people who tell stories that touched me deeply. Those are the takeaways that I’ll sit with and remember in the most unexpected moments. What are those two for you?

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"The thing I came for:the wreck and not the story of the wreckthe thing itself and not the myth.”
—Adrienne Rich (May 16, 1929–March 27, 2012), poet and feminist icon, from her poem "Diving into the Wreck.".
Photo by ChrisDag (distributed with instagram)

"The thing I came for:
the wreck and not the story of the wreck
the thing itself and not the myth.”

Adrienne Rich (May 16, 1929–March 27, 2012), poet and feminist icon, from her poem "Diving into the Wreck.".

Photo by ChrisDag (distributed with instagram)

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Adrienne Rich Walks Through Life’s Door
by Trent Gilliss, senior editor
Adrienne Rich died yesterday at the age of 82. The pioneering feminist and poet has surfaced in many of our radio conversations over the years. Elizabeth Alexander cited Rich’s poem telling us that a poet needs to follow her intuition fully by "diving into the wreck."
But, it is this simple, poignant poem in which she reflects upon the Exodus story that has always stuck with me. Somehow, with the upcoming Passover season and her passing through life’s door, I find it most appropriate on this solemn occasion to share with you here and remember one of our greatest:

Prospective Immigrants Please Note
Either you will go through this door or you will not go through. If you go through there is always the risk of remembering your name. Things look at you doubly and you must look back and let them happen. If you do not go through it is possible to live worthily to maintain your attitudes to hold your position to die bravely but much will blind you, much will evade you, at what cost who knows? The door itself makes no promises. It is only a door.

Adrienne Rich Walks Through Life’s Door

by Trent Gilliss, senior editor

Adrienne Rich died yesterday at the age of 82. The pioneering feminist and poet has surfaced in many of our radio conversations over the years. Elizabeth Alexander cited Rich’s poem telling us that a poet needs to follow her intuition fully by "diving into the wreck."

But, it is this simple, poignant poem in which she reflects upon the Exodus story that has always stuck with me. Somehow, with the upcoming Passover season and her passing through life’s door, I find it most appropriate on this solemn occasion to share with you here and remember one of our greatest:

Prospective Immigrants Please Note

Either you will 
go through this door 
or you will not go through. 

If you go through 
there is always the risk 
of remembering your name. 

Things look at you doubly 
and you must look back 
and let them happen. 

If you do not go through 
it is possible 
to live worthily 

to maintain your attitudes 
to hold your position 
to die bravely 

but much will blind you, 
much will evade you, 
at what cost who knows? 

The door itself makes no promises. 
It is only a door.

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Coffee with Johnny Cash on His 80th Birthday

by Trent Gilliss, senior editor

The sun is on the cemetery, leaves are on the stones, there never was a place on earth that felt so much like home.

Let’s celebrate what would’ve been Johnny Cash's eightieth birthday today with a song his daughter Rosanne Cash composed while mourning the loss of her father. As she explained to us earlier this year, the middle verse of “God Is in the Roses” came about the day after she buried her father:

"I got up at 5:00 in the morning and waited for the Starbucks to open and got coffee and went and sat on his grave and watched the sun rise — the sun, yeah, the sun rise on his grave. And it was really comforting to me. I took two cups of coffee — one for him. And I felt so at peace watching the sun rise on his grave and then that gave me that verse. But then I wanted to go out to, you know, more than just my personal experience, when I’m saying, I love you like a brother, father and a son. And now when I sing that live, I sing, I love you all like brothers."

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parkstepp:

Today is the 5th anniversary of the passing of my oldest son, Nathan. He would want me to be strong…to laugh, to free myself from the stuff that has hurt us all. And I am….But I cry also..because I miss him…
But my little one is married and soon to be a father…and me a grandfather… Life has a way of moving us toward that Place, where we can Be. The lessons learned from the passing of my son are overwhelming sometimes…but lessons they are. And we let go…and move on.
parkstepp

A virtual big hug to you from all of us here.
~reblogged by Trent Gilliss, senior editor

parkstepp:

Today is the 5th anniversary of the passing of my oldest son, Nathan. He would want me to be strong…to laugh, to free myself from the stuff that has hurt us all. And I am….But I cry also..because I miss him…

But my little one is married and soon to be a father…and me a grandfather… Life has a way of moving us toward that Place, where we can Be. The lessons learned from the passing of my son are overwhelming sometimes…but lessons they are. And we let go…and move on.

parkstepp

A virtual big hug to you from all of us here.

~reblogged by Trent Gilliss, senior editor

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I think we talk too much about how poetry can get to the edge of the sayable, can take us back and take us beyond what can be said. I love poetry, because it gives me the concrete. It gives me concrete experience and it helps me to understand my experience.
-

Christian Wiman, from his interview on Moyers & Company

~Trent Gilliss, senior editor

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Philosophy has nothing to say about death. Only poetry. I wish I had memorized more poetry.
-

Richard Rorty, the secular humanist philosopher as quoted in The Huffington Post

~Trent Gilliss, senior editor

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Into the Wilderness: Parenting a Terminally Ill Child

by Emily Rapp, guest contributor

Acubaby Ronan

"You feel your obligation to a child when you have seen it and held it. Any human face is a claim on you, because you can’t help but understand the singularity of it, the courage and loneliness of it. But this is truest of the face of an infant. I consider that to be one kind of vision, as mystical as any." ~from Gilead by Marilynne Robinson

I woke up and held my son for a long, long time. I’d been gone for three days at the National Tay-Sachs and Allied Disorders Family Conference and had missed him terribly. Driving through Boston on the way to the airport, I told my friend Kate that it was so difficult, so impossible even, so disastrous to imagine feeling that way forever. The missing, the ache.

We agreed that, say what you will about heaven or where we go or visions of the afterlife, the truth about someone being dead is that they’re gone from this life, right now, here on earth, with you. That particular person has been removed from your particular life. That’s the gut punch and there is no balm for that, no platitude, no prayer, and, I would argue, no belief even that will fix it. My son will be dead within three years and there’s nothing I can do about it.

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Día De Los Muertos, in Memory of Lost Loved Ones
by Susan Leem, associate producer
Today is the final day of Día De Los Muertos, or Day of the Dead. Celebrated in Mexico and many other parts of the world, people gather together to remember and honor loved ones and ancestors who have died. The holiday is connected with the Roman Catholic holidays of All Saint’s Day and All Soul’s Day, as it occurs on November 1st and 2nd. The face-painting as skulls helps to overcome a fear of death as a natural part of the cycle of life.
About the image: Here, a woman dressed as La Calavera Catrina (“The Elegant Skull”) celebrates at a Dia De Los Muertos Festival in Los Angeles. (photo: Rob Sheridan/Flickr, cc by-nc-sa 2.0)

Día De Los Muertos, in Memory of Lost Loved Ones

by Susan Leem, associate producer

Today is the final day of Día De Los Muertos, or Day of the Dead. Celebrated in Mexico and many other parts of the world, people gather together to remember and honor loved ones and ancestors who have died. The holiday is connected with the Roman Catholic holidays of All Saint’s Day and All Soul’s Day, as it occurs on November 1st and 2nd. The face-painting as skulls helps to overcome a fear of death as a natural part of the cycle of life.

About the image: Here, a woman dressed as La Calavera Catrina (“The Elegant Skull”) celebrates at a Dia De Los Muertos Festival in Los Angeles. (photo: Rob Sheridan/Flickr, cc by-nc-sa 2.0)

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Samhain, The Thinning Veil Between Worlds, with a Witch

by Peg Aloi, guest contributor

samhain (l´esquerda / la grieta /the crack )Photo by Jordi Puig/Flickr, cc by-nc-sa 2.0

Like most Americans of my generation, I looked forward to trick or treating at Hallowe’en for many years. It was fun to get dressed up and wander the neighborhood with a plastic pumpkin, feeling it grow heavier with candy and other treats. And in those days, the treats were wonderful: homemade cookies! Candy apples! Caramel popcorn balls! My mother made these home-made goodies each year, too, and neighborhood kids looked forward to trick or treat at our house.

Hallowe’en was a sensory holiday for me then, and still is. The colorful costume parades, the chill in the air, the crunch of leaves underfoot, juicy apples and home-made doughnuts, the smell of burning leaves and autumn bonfires: these sensual memories mean autumn to me. Walking home from a friend’s house in the early darkness, the sight of a tree without its leaves against a violet sky filled me with spooky dread, but also a sense of awe.

And Hallowe’en was always the point when it was clear that winter was really coming: you had to prepare a costume that you could layer with an extra sweater underneath, in case it got cold. On some level the gathering of sweets mirrored the hoarding of nuts by the crazed squirrels scrambling through the fallen leaves. Children dressed as fantastical beings in diaphanous gowns, silvery suits, clothing we’d soon forgo in favor of wooly skirts and itchy pullovers. One last decadent night of hell raising before hibernation! Hallowe’en came one week after my birthday, and it was like celebrating non-stop for a week.

But being a practicing witch means I have a very different perspective on this holiday as an adult. For modern witches, Hallowe’en is known as Samhain, a Scottish term meaning “summer’s end” that marks that halfway point between autumn equinox and winter solstice. We also call it Hallows, or sometimes All Souls Night. Growing up a Catholic, I sometimes attended church on All Saints Day, the day after Hallowe’en, and, as a child, didn’t quite understand the connection between the two days, and assumed the church held their Mass the day after simply because the night of Hallowe’en was just too busy and who would want to go to church when they could go door to door gathering candy?

These days, I tend to celebrate this feast of the dead in somber and often unusual ways. The coven I work with has an elaborate cycle of rituals beginning in spring and culminating at Samhain with a rite called Harvest Home, in which a young “harvest lord” is symbolically slain by his consort as a sacrificial offering to fertilize the crops and balance the cycle of life, death, and rebirth: the Eternal Return. I have been to large public rituals where guests were invited to speak of their loved ones who had passed over; I have attended vigils that were peaceful and serene, with candles everywhere and plates of food left for the dead and denizens of the Otherworld.

Some witches celebrate this holiday as the Celtic New Year, and do rituals and rites appropriate for new beginnings. This year, Samhain occurs just after the New Moon in the sign of Scorpio, a very portentous timing. The sun has also just entered the sign of Scorpio, a sign associated with death and regeneration. It is said that at Samhain, as at Beltane (May 1st), the “veil between the worlds,” or the barrier separating the world of the living from the world of the dead, grows thin and permeable, and allows us to commune with our beloved dead and our ancestors. For this reason many witches and pagans create altars dedicated to their ancestors and dead loved ones, with photos and mementos, favorite foods or flowers.

If you haven’t noticed, this holiday has become enormously popular, with the big box stores putting out decorations and supplies as early as Labor Day, and with more and more emphasis on parties, costumes, and decorations, which can mean big business for retailers (a number of whom specialize in Hallowe’en year ‘round). Related holidays are receiving more notice too, such as Mexico’s Dios de la Muerte (“The Day of the Dead”), and I know a number of witches of European ancestry who decorate sugar skulls with their children. And nearly every television network is showing horror films this month, some of them every night. Is it that our culture is becoming more interested in occult matters generally, a sort of second occult revival? Or are we merely so susceptible to social trends and their trappings that we have no idea why we’re so obsessed with the baubles and symbols of death?

Or perhaps, in our yearning for some decadence in the midst of frightening times, we grab hold of outrageous forms of fun. We recall what used to thrill us and delight us as children (horror and sugar), and even if it’s about death, it makes us feel alive, and somehow comforted. We occupy our neighborhoods with treats, and flashlights, and gaudy clothes, and glee. And know we’ll make it even more fun next year.

And the witches among you (we’re there, oh yes), we’ll also decorate our doorways with cornstalks and pumpkins, and put candle-lit skulls in our windows. We’re staving off the darkness, too.


Peg Aloi at the CloistersPeg Aloi is an adjunct professor at The College of Saint Rose and film critic living in Albany, New York. She’s a practicing witch who regularly writes on media for The Witching Hour and Orchards Forever.

We welcome your 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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Why I Cried When Steve Jobs Died

by Jennifer Cobb, guest contributor

Steve Jobs for Fortune magazineImage by Charis Tsevis/Flickr, CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

It took me by surprise that I cried when Steve Jobs died. I was surprised to feel so moved by the loss of someone who was essentially a modern industrialist. But of course, his acumen as a businessman was not what I was mourning. Jobs’ work has moved us in ways that the work of his contemporary Bill Gates never has. Gates’s influence on our culture has been just as powerful, but has not touched as profoundly. Why?

The vast digital domain that we think of when we imagine information technology is essentially non-physical in nature. It is, by definition, incorporeal. But like all incorporeal things – our thoughts, our dreams, our faith, our souls – it relies on bodies for manifestation in the physical world. The digital needs the analog to express itself.

And this is what Steve Jobs did better than anyone else. He built beautiful bodies for our digital dreams. He understood before we did that we craved elegant containers for our disembodied hearts and minds. Every device he ever created, from the Apple 1 to the iPhone, was an expression of his deep, aesthetic commitment. And here he stood on the shoulder of giants, from Aristotle and Aquinas up to modern information theorists who assert that the best code is the simplest and most beautiful. As Keats so famously wrote, “Beauty is truth, truth beauty — that is all ye know on earth, and all ye need to know.”

Job’s aesthetic began with the analog form of the device and then, quite naturally, extended into the digital function — the UI or user interface. The icons. The navigation. The information architecture at heart of the Apple OS. Analog and digital, form and function, hand in hand. Jobs was not just constructing bodies; he was giving them very particular and beautiful expressive capacities that are connected to something radically new in human experience; they plug us into a shared digital landscape filled with us and everything we bring to it.

Technology is our connective tissue. It joins us, hearts and minds. Jobs enabled this connection in a new way. He did not create the content that fills the devices he designed. He left it up to us to write songs, create art, make movies, write blog posts and emails and essays, send tweets and texts and build websites.

Jobs was a perfect reflection of our times. He made stuff that is so attractive, so enchanting, that he created a vast global desire for his products. His medium was technology and the context was capitalism. He made a lot of money for himself and for many other people. But by all accounts, the money wasn’t the point. The money was simply a validation of the fact that his vision was spreading throughout the world. And that vision was that the digital and the analog could be a thing of beauty when married with skill and vision.

The danger in the global mourning of his gifts is that we become so enchanted with the devices that we get lost in the interface and forget that the real point is what lies on the other side of the threshold. The devices are doorways into a larger, enchanted world of our shared creativity. They are not ends, they are beginnings.


Jennifer CobbJennifer Cobb is a business consultant specializing in marketing and strategy for public and private sector organizations. She has a degree in ethics from Union Theological Seminary and is the author of Cybergrace: The Search for God in the Digital World. She lives in Berkeley, California and blogs regularly at The Spruce Blog.

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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Hope at the End of Life

by Judith Leipzig, guest contributor

Waiting Room NapPhoto by John Starnes/Flickr, CC BY-NC-SA 2.0

On my first day as a chaplain at Calvary Hospital, a palliative care facility in the Bronx — a place where every patient was near death — I was overwhelmed. In the other hospitals I had worked in, I had sat by the bedsides of patients who were frightened, lost, conflicted, and alone — whose lives were rife with hardship, and who often had few resources to help them make their way. But there had been — almost always — a future to reference: the possibility that addictions could be overcome, that illness might recede or be cured, that physical pain might be relieved, and certainly that a time would come — in a few days or weeks — when the patient would go home and resume his life. Almost always, hope was an assumption for me and for the patient. No matter how much suffering, hope was implicit in the fact of being alive.

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