For as far back as Joy Ladin can remember, her body didn’t match her soul. Gender defines us from the moment we’re born. But, how is that related to the lifelong work of being at home in ourselves? You’ve got to check out our show this week, "Gender and the Syntax of Being." Krista’s interview with her explores this question through Joy’s story of transition from male to female — as a poet, as a parent, and as a the first openly transgender woman teaching in an Orthodox Jewish world.
A Nigerian Easter in the Midwest
From the front door she calls, “He has risen!” Her children respond, “He has risen indeed. Let’s eat!”
I dodged church Easter Sunday this year. My mother Gbeme, however, worshipped at the Baptist church she’s been attending twice weekly for the past 20 years.
Raised Catholic in Nigeria, my mother’s Easter begins the seasonal swap from heavy wools to floral prints and pastels. She wears a beautifully vibrant gele — an intricately fashioned tie around the head worn by Yoruba women — and iro and buba — the matching outfit traditionally worn by Yoruba women — to church. She exchanges compliments with the other congregants about their upbeat clothes and steady health. For two hours the pews fill, the choir sings, and for the larger Easter crowd, the young new pastor delivers an especially rousing sermon. Soon thereafter, church dismisses. Time to eat.
For many Americans, Easter is synonymous with the egg. But in my bicultural household, creamy frejon is the signature Easter week delicacy. The bean soup is made of smoothly blended brown beans called ewa ibeji and steeped coconut, then sweetened with cane sugar to taste.
In the mid-1980s, my mother left metropolitan Lagos to attend college in rural Wisconsin — and made necessary modifications to the original frejon recipe. Back then international foods weren’t as integrated. In lieu of traditional Nigerian dishes, my mother observed her first few Easters amid sweet friends, sweet rolls, egg salad, and hearty Midwestern casseroles. After she graduated, she moved from Wisconsin to Minnesota, reuniting her with city dwelling, a dense Nigerian immigrant community, specialty grocers, and Easter frejon.
This inspiring story about the love of two brothers had NBA superstar LeBron James on the verge of tears, as you’ll see in the video. Very emotional and so good in so many ways.
Conner and Cayden make up Team Long Brothers and were recently named Sports Illustrated's 2012 SportsKids of the Year. Cayden, 5, is diagnosed with spastic cerebral palsy and can't speak or walk on his own. But, in the summer of 2011, Conner, who was seven at the time, decided to compete in the Nashville Kids Triathlon, pulling his younger brother behind him.
They finished together, in last place, but in the process became role models of what is possible and the power of love. When I think about this family, I think of Andrew Solomon’s phrase of “horizontal identities” and what we would miss as people and a community if we didn’t encounter these special people in our daily lives. It’s Conner who says it best:
"The one thing that makes me really made is when people walk down the road and say… the ‘r’ word, if you now what that is. I just tell them that like it doesn’t matter what it looks like on the outside, it matters what’s on the inside. He still has regular feelings like we do. And he understands what you say about him.
If people could race with people that can’t walk or talk or can have any kind of autism, it might open eyes of people that don’t really care about it. And, maybe, the people that don’t care in the past will care in the future and actually do it with somebody.”
Turning To Instead of Against Each Other
by Gloria Lowe, guest contributor
We live in difficult times. Stories of corruption, violence and down right evilness surround us. Trying to make sense of this state, it sometimes seems easier to close it all out, becoming numb to our pain and the pain of others. Often we pretend things will somehow get better tomorrow.
Many of us come to this holiday season with fear. What do we say to our children and our friends when there is no money for the “things” they have come to expect from us? What do we do when we cannot buy our way out of pain?
Many of us have been chasing the American Dream, trying to consume our way to our image of the “middle-class American.” We have come to believe we are what we can buy.
Everywhere we look, corporations encourage us to value things over people. Over the last fifty years the average American family has spent more hours working, chasing an ever-decreasing paycheck to buy things. We use these things to replace the time we no longer spend with families and friends.
The holiday season, sacred to all faiths, has become nothing more than a hyped-up consumer season and a wretched time of the year for those with no money. As more people are thrown off state support for the barest of necessities, as foreclosures increase and unemployment checks decrease, people are turning against one another.
This season we have an opportunity to rethink our values and what it means to be a human being. Can we begin to look past the superficial ways we judge one another by what we wear, what kind of car we drive, or what church we go to? Can we learn to see each other in our hearts and not just with our eyes?
As a community we have a long history of transcending pain, of turning fear to hope and hope to action. We have learned to reach out to each other in service. We have known that a fragmented heart manifests a fragmented world. We have always made a way out of no way.
This holiday season is an opportunity for all of us to dedicate ourselves to building authentic relationships with our families, our friends and our communities.
We may not have money for toys and trinkets but we can wrap our arms around our children and show them how to love. We may not be able to spend money, but we can spend time.
We can set aside time and talk to one other about our hopes and dreams. We can take time to reconnect across generations, sharing stories of family and friends that pass on the values and skills that have enabled us to endure for centuries.
We can ask ourselves what do we need to do to create peace in our homes, in our families and in neighborhoods? How do we decide what we need, not just what we want? How do we live more simply, to consume less and love more?
We are facing an economic and spiritual crisis that threatens our survival and our deepest humanity. But it also an opportunity. It is an opportunity to create a more just way of living. In earlier, more dangerous times we created families, villages, places of worship and respect for one another. We have that creativity within us still.
Let us all celebrate this holiday season through the eyes of a “beloved community,” turning away from wanting things to valuing people. We can turn to one another and ask what kind of community we can create together.
Gloria Lowe is founder and CEO of We Want Green, Too! Ms. Lowe was also a guest in our show "Becoming Detroit."
The Act of Parenting Is Folding the Towels in a Sweet Way
by Krista Tippett, host
I picked up Sylvia Boorstein’s lovely book, That’s Funny, You Don’t Look Buddhist, years ago and loved it. Then, several years later, I found myself on a panel discussion with her and loved her in person.
I was struck in that discussion by one story she told, about a man who participated in one of her meditation and Metta or “lovingkindness” retreats; she conducts these for Buddhist practitioners but also for rabbis and clergy and lay people of many traditions. As this man prepared to pack up and go home, he described an unsettling sense of vulnerability, of openness to life which also meant that his defenses were down. He felt blessedly sheltered in the context of that retreat but far too exposed to take his newfound vulnerability out into the world.
This has its corollary in becoming a parent, I think. One’s sense of sovereignty and safety goes into freefall — and stays there. But no one tells you this in advance! As the French theologian Louis Evely beautifully put it:
"(W)hen one becomes a father, or a mother, one suddenly sees oneself as vulnerable, in the most sensitive part of one’s being; one is completely powerless to defend oneself, one is no longer free, one is tied up. To become a father is to experience an infinite dependency on an infinitely small, frail being, dependent on us and therefore omnipotent over our heart."
So how to live, how to love, how to know what we can do (and what we can’t) to raise children who will participate in the world’s beauty and its pain and be safe inside their skin. This too is a conundrum, a daunting challenge that we rarely name together. But it is always there if we are raising children not merely to be successful (and there’s lots of advice about that), but to be good and grounded and kind.
I went into this conversation with Sylvia Boorstein hoping for some practical wisdom about imparting such qualities of character. In the course of our time together, some of it in exchange with an audience of people with children in their lives, we circled back to the simplest and most daunting reality of all: our children are likely, in the end, to act and live as we act and live. Nurturing their inner lives means nurturing our inner lives, for their sakes.
I couldn’t have found a better conversation partner on this. Sylvia Boorstein has four grown children and seven grandchildren, and her spiritual practice is blessedly reality-based. Buddhism, of course, is at its core about embracing reality head on, about minimizing suffering in life by first acknowledging that suffering is a fact of life and resolving not to make it worse.
So, as she describes, this spiritual practice has helped her grasp that her lifelong tendency to worry is simply a quality she possesses, no more remarkable than the fact that, as she puts it, she is short and has brown hair. Others of us may have a tendency towards anger, or to reach for sensory comfort when life throws its curve balls. The trick for achieving balance and joy in our own lives — a trick made both harder and more important by the presence of children who exhaust as well as delight us — is first to know this about ourselves.
Spiritual parenting, as Sylvia Boorstein describes it, is not about adding work or effort to our overly busy lives. It is about self-knowledge and “wise effort” that helps us live gracefully moment by moment. It is manifest as much in how we fold the laundry as in how we discipline or praise our children. She offers this, for example, as a simple piece of effort that can reorient our attitudes and responses in all kinds of situations. Rather than asking, “Am I pleased?” in any given situation, we can ask instead, “In this moment, am I able to care?”
The Hunger Games: Reality TV Not Lost on Our Youth
by Steven Martin, guest contributor
Fans give the three-fingered salute of District 12. The gesture is one of admiration, meaning thanks or goodbye to one’s beloved. (photo: Doug Kline / © 2012 PopCultureGeek.com)
I was certain I was going to hate it. All of my four kids have been fans of the series of books by Suzanne Collins since before they were cool; therefore when the movie was announced, we all knew the midnight screening on the night of release was a must-do.
But in the run-up to last night’s trip to the IMAX theater, the reviews I read and heard helped confirm my feeling that this would be a disgusting movie: violent, gratuitous in every way, repulsive to my social conscience.
I was wrong. Very, very wrong.
I tend to approach these cultural phenomena with a concern that my comfort level will be jolted. What I should be concerned about is what these phenomena say about our culture, and in the case of The Hunger Games, what it says about the generation that elevated the story to its current status. With an eye to the latter, I drove home early this morning with a deep satisfaction that my kids were smarter than I was at their age, and that their generation understands something mine did not.
First: yes, the movie is violent, and disturbingly so. The story is one about a future world in which a wealthy ruling class dominates a world that it is linked to, but separate from, itself through overwhelming police and military power, and entertainment that both enthralls and intimidates the underclasses. The focus of the story is an annual gladiatorial ritual in which representatives from the “districts” under domination give up children to a tournament of slaughter and death. Yes, this movie is based around images of children killing each other.
It is a valid question to ask: why must we tell stories that constantly elevate the level of violence necessary to grab our attention? Why is it now necessary to portray children killing other children, and children dying by each others’ hands? This is indeed an important question for our society to wrestle with. But more importantly, we should direct our moralizing to the question the film itself seeks to ask: why are we satisfied to be part of a society that finds it necessary to feed upon its young?
Viral successes like The Hunger Games reach mass audiences because they strike a nerve. The audience for the books and the film, the “millennial generation,” is not lost on the message. Our society is held together by a craving for violence. What is, say, middle-school football, after all?
We should ask: is it tolerable for us to send our young boys into a game that breaks legs, destroys knees, causes concussions, and otherwise changes the course of life forever? Of course it is! Not only does the game bring our community together, provide economic opportunities, but for the lucky few, college scholarships and professional opportunities. For the players, they are willing to risk limb and even life for a lottery-styled shot at fame and fortune. For the audience, we are willing to cheer when the fallen player limps off the field, or worse, is carried off to the emergency room, sighing a concern or uttering a prayer for the well-being of the child who may suffer permanently in the name of our entertainment.
The Hunger Games causes us to consider other forms of this structural violence. Not to only pick on the venerable institution of football, the film’s prevailing metaphor can be applied to all kinds of American institutions of empire: soldiers in Iraq or Afghanistan, Treyvon Martin, state-sponsored gambling (the lottery), Wall Street, and so on. Face it: our society is one that eats its young. Through its horrific portrayals of a society that dominates via a tournament in which children kill children, The Hunger Games might well shock us into seeing the way we ourselves do it.
After the movie, my kids wanted to know my reaction. Did I just see it as yet another violent kid-pic? “No,” I said, “I didn’t expect to come here and see a movie about the young Israeli soldiers sent to occupy the West Bank.”
In return I asked if, when they read the books, they saw them as overtly political. “Yes,” my fourteen- and seventeen-year-old kids replied. And while they discussed on the way home the ways the movie changed story details of the books, I went to bed at 3:15am knowing that the major theme was not lost on them.
It gives me hope.
Steven D. Martin is a documentary filmmaker, photographer, and activist. He currently serves as a founder and executive director of the New Evangelical Partnership for the Common Good. You can read more of his thoughts at the Uncommon Voices.
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A Star to Watch During March Madness Who Models the Love of Family and Basketball
by Trent Gilliss, senior editor
With March Madness upon us, stories of high-flying success and triumph through teamwork will abound for men’s basketball. But the women’s game, and its players too, often get overlooked. Leave it to Frank Deford to fill that gap with this NPR commentary about Elena Delle Donne, one of the NCAA’s premiere players.
After two days, Delle Donne left the country’s top women’s program at the University of Connecticut to return home to Delaware. The reason? She missed what was most important to her: her family, namely her sister Lizzie who was born without sight and without hearing and has cerebral palsy. But, as Deford points out, ”…for Elena, it was not a matter of leaving anywhere. No, it was only a matter of wanting to be somewhere, with someone where she thought she was more valuable, where she mattered more in life and love.”
These are the stories that swell people’s hearts. Not because of the pain, but because many of us have faced a scenario in some ways similar to Elena Delle Donne’s. We’ve all had to make choices that take us away from our home or the ones we love, whether for work or military service or schooling. The 6’5” All-American did what we aspire to do — to prioritize what’s most important to us and succeed while doing what’s right.
This is really magical. For a 42-year-old former wrestler growing up in a landlocked state and now producing a public radio program (sitting in a cube in front of a screen most days), I admire how he’s been able to meld his family life with his professional life — and do it outdoors. And that he talks about how it grounds him is refreshing.
What an amazing way to raise a family. Can you imagine?