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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.

Listener Demands Apology and a Civil Exchange Results

by Trent Gilliss, senior editor

Civility Saves
(photo: Metal Chris/Flickr, reprinted with Creative Commons license)

Chad Smyser, a listener from New York City, took us to task for our editorial decision to broadcast and podcast a recent show featuring Evangelical leader Richard Mouw. He wrote:

I am so disappointed in last week’s episode.

This broadcast was ill-timed in the wake of the hate crimes in New York and the suicide at Rutgers. In addition, at a time when SOF is transitioning its brand identity, one would think the choice of material would be less divisive.

I have listened to your show for years. It has brought great comfort and understanding into my life. I will continue to listen, even in the wake of what I consider to be a giant gaffe from a show that I deeply respect. Would the show have given voice to someone who supported Virginia’s anti-interracial marriage laws in 1967, no matter how civil the voice? In my mind, this is what “On Being” did, translating it to 2010.

But civility in the political and religious arena is such an important topic! I wish it had been explored in a way that didn’t highlight one man’s disapproval of gay marriage. I long to be respectful of other folks’ beliefs, struggles and communal aspirations. Regrettably, it is impossible for anyone who believes in equality to reconcile Mr. Mouw’s beliefs on gay marriage. How is it civil to deny someone his or her right to marry the one he or she loves? An on-air apology to your gay and lesbian listeners would be most welcome.

The language used on one of the Facebook posts (“No matter what your opinion on gay rights”) was appalling. While I’m sure it was unintentional, I feel that the show really needs to clear the air.

All the best,
Chad Smyser

This critique echoed many other listeners’ reactions to the show. And, we answered as many as we could. But, it was the following exchange between Kate Moos, our executive producer, and Chad that offers an example of what quality conversation can be when we are honest, open, and vulnerable with one another:

Dear Chad,

Thanks for taking the time to write. I’m sorry the show disappointed you. There has been some follow up on our blog, and there will likely be more. Our internal editorial process was quite fraught along some the same lines of question and concern you describe. The program itself was not designed to be—and wasn’t—a show about the gay marriage and gay civil rights issues. It was aimed at the broader topic of civility. But Mouw’s position on gay marriage colors his authority—in many peoples’ view—for other topics of moral weight.

We argued about this and wrestled with it. Ultimately, we felt it was important to factor in the people with whom Mouw is in a distinct position to have high authority: other conservative Christians, whom he is taking to task and challenging to greater compassion, humility and civility. In fact, we received an email yesterday from one of those conservative Christians who has been paralyzed in her relationships with 2 close family members who are gay. She wrote to thank us because she was heart-broken and felt Mouw gave her a way to be in relationship with them, and in some sense, gave her permission to love them. So that is another impact of this program.

We would not have a guest on our show who would defend inter-racial marriage laws. And yet your point is taken—theological thinkers and religious people have erred badly in the past, and continue to err on matters of central moral gravity, things like slavery, voting rights, and marriage. Some people clearly put Mouw in that category.

The idea was to challenge all of us to keep listening through our most profound disagreements.

Chad, I am a lesbian who is long partnered, and who went to Canada to be married a few years ago—believe me I was challenged in producing this show, to keep listening to a point of view that I find in its essence a condemnation of my life. I am also related to people who share Mouw’s view of gay-lesbian marriage, and of the essential sinfulness of homosexuality. I struggle mightily to keep an open heart for them. This is where we are living, all of us, in this kind of contention.

I am not writing back to you to counter what you say but perhaps to amplify it. We will be posting reflections on this show in the coming days that might help “clear the air.” If you have other thoughts on how we can do that I’d love to hear them.

Thanks for writing, and peace.
Kate Moos

And Chad’s reply:

Dear Kate,

I am deeply touched and grateful for your thoughtful, heartfelt reply. Perhaps this episode struck such a dissonant chord with me because, like you, I struggle with the issue of civility and open mindedness in dealing with folks in my own family and circle of acquaintances. It was Mr. Mouw’s views on homosexuality in the context of creating an open dialogue amongst people of vastly varying viewpoints that really caused my disappointment.

Also, I look to SOF/Being as one of my touchstones to a spiritual life. I was raised evangelical and threw out all things spiritual when I came out. I thought that the two were mutually exclusive. It was really your show that allowed me to find a way back to belief in something bigger than myself. Through SOF I discovered the quiet revolution of Thich Nhat Hahn. I started uncovering the secular movement toward well-being via Jon Kabat-Zinn’s mindfulness and Andrew Freear’s architecture. I even felt a deep kinship with Shane Claiborne, although his views on homosexuality certainly aren’t akin to mine. Nevertheless, his spirit of subversive inclusiveness and social justice really appeals to me.

I am moved by the response of one of your conservative Christian listeners who struggles to find a way to have a relationship with her gay relatives. Perhaps this one outcome is worth all the confusion and anger gays and lesbians may have felt. Furthermore, I suppose this episode has truly challenged my views on civility and dealing with those whose views I know are empirically wrong when it comes to homosexuality, yet with whom I must find a way to reconcile. There is nothing more human than failure. I would be well advised to accept others’ failure as well as my own.

I continue to look forward to the journey from “Faith” to “Being.” Airing your and the staff’s own struggles with this episode would be a great help to your gay and lesbian listeners. Understanding your journey has profoundly affected mine.

Sincerely,
Chad

Of course we are sensitive to these types of personal conversations, so I requested Chad’s permission to publish the exchange, to which he replied with a graceful note:

Dear Trent,

Yes, you may publish our correspondence. I am very grateful for Kate’s response, and I imagine that it will speak to others. It really helped me to understand the spirit behind Krista’s conversation with Mr. Mouw, along with the editorial struggles that went into its production.

All the best,
Chad

Comments
Until religious people understand the spirit of the Word, especially the nature of unconditional love, they are trapped in an ethical prison. In the meantime, people can use Scripture to support any opinion. Why bother? Why not just go directly to what is right?
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Shepherd Hoodwin, in response to Krista’s recent interview with Richard Mouw in “Restoring Political Civility.”

by Trent Gilliss, senior editor

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A Listener Asks for Your Suggestions

by Nancy Rosenbaum, associate producer

Muslim Woman Attends Friday Prayers in Lower Manhattan
Reem El Shafaki, an Egyptian now living in New Jersey, stands in front of the proposed site of the Park51 mosque and cultural center in lower Manhattan. (photo: Spencer Platt/Getty Images)

The news has been thick with polarized debates about proposed Qur’an burnings in Florida and the Park51 project. Tamara Lee, a listener from Hopewell, New Jersey, writes us looking for some advice:

"I’m increasingly frustrated by the inability of so many people, particularly Americans, to distinguish between the religion of Islam and the culture of some Islamic countries. I’ve long respected the religion even though some aspects of the culture are less appealing to me. Of late, I am particularly concerned that Muslims seem to be afraid of non-Muslims. I would like to become involved with a group that strives to combat this fear. Any suggestions would be greatly appreciated."

If you have any recommendations to pass along to Tamara, post a comment here and we’ll be sure to relay them to her.

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Spirituality in the Congregation: From the Teachings of Martin Buber

by Rabbi Dennis S. Ross, guest contributor

Martin Buber Postage Stamp

There’s spirituality thriving in our houses of worship, often unnoticed and unappreciated. It flourishes in the ordinary give-and-take of congregational life, in person-to-person exchanges that Jewish thinker Martin Buber called I-Thou. And we would do well to better recognize this very common and accessible spiritual opportunity.

Martin Buber’s 1923 classic book, I and Thou, describes three fundamentals: I-Thou, I-It and Eternal Thou. The I-Thou relationship happens, for instance, at reception following a worship service. You feel a tap on the shoulder and turn around to find someone you haven’t seen in a long time. A conversation erupts and the two of you get so caught up in your words, you lose track of the time, where you are, why you came and where you are going after. And if Martin Buber was observing this exchange, he would likely point to it as an example of I-Thou.

By contrast, many of our interactions are marked by the mechanical, automatic behaviors of another kind of relationship that Buber knew as I-It. Doctors and nurses, bank tellers and accountants, many professionals and business people do the same thing over and over, typically repeating their duties regardless of the specific person before them. In each of these situations, the worker or professional treats the client or customer in a circumscribed and repetitive way, each almost the same, as if a supermarket bar code is stamped on a patron’s forehead. These nearly identical exchanges are typical of Buber’s I-It relationship, I-It is dealing with one another as things that are scanned or tallied, unappreciated for their individuality.

I-It is not inherently evil. We need I-It to get things done at work. Athletes find I-It in competition. And where would we be without the I-It of the doctor’s care? What would happen at the supermarket checkout without I-It when deciding between cash, check or charge? I-It is essential for life. However, I-It can become very evil, as during war, or through discrimination or genocide, or in any extreme treatment of human beings as things.

I-Thou, on the other hand, is personalized. It means stepping out of routine to recognize a specific person. I-Thou is in the extended conversation with a lifelong friend over dinner, as well as in so many of our passing encounters. I-Thou is spontaneous; no one can force it on another. It is unexpected; there is no way to predict the arrival, whether or not it will come, and if it does, when, how it progresses, or how it — inevitably — must end. Each I-Thou is unique, specific to the persons and the situation. Go ahead and set the stage for I-Thou — make a dinner reservation, table for two. Meet at the appointed time, take seats, but beyond that, I-Thou happens on its own, no guarantees. What is more, I-Thou can be warm and embracing, or marked by disagreement. Ultimately, the partners appreciate each other, simultaneously, in I-Thou. And both parties come away changed, having learned something about the world, themselves and the other.

Critically, I-Thou is between people, not in them, visible in their back-and-forth, in the interaction itself. I-Thou lives, not like the blood within, but in the air between. Surely, I-Thou stirs emotions — and it is even more than an interpersonal relationship. I-Thou engages an invisible spiritual dimension that Buber called Eternal Thou. Each I-Thou enters Eternal Thou, abiding with God in perpetuity. When we meet as I and Thou, we also meet God in the Eternal Thou; I have no proof; I take this on faith, as did Buber.

Buber’s thoughts are founded on the Bible. In the biblical book of Genesis, we learn that human beings are created in the Divine image. And as the Bible progresses, many of its conversations — among people or with God — demonstrate the spiritual side of our encounters.

Martin Buber was born in Vienna, was raised by his grandparents, and lived in Europe until 1938, when he fled the Nazis for Israel. He and his family settled Jerusalem, where he worked until his death in 1965. Buber was known as a thinker, teacher, author and social activist. When alone, he studied and wrote. Otherwise he was with people, in community, where I-Thou thrives. Though not a pacifist, he affirmed the goal of achieving security, peace and cooperation across the religious and cultural lines. He dreamed that I-Thou would radiate beyond two people in conversation to include community and nation, and beyond that, bridging divisions among nations of the world. I cherish Buber’s vision, and I invite you to join me in working toward it. But this all begins very much at home and in the house of worship.

I-Thou is common in daily congregational life. It is evident in our study, when we pray, and at social events. During our generation, when conversations about spirituality often turn to the inner life, we look around ourselves and find a spiritual dimension in communion with others, as Martin Buber taught, in the relationship known as I-Thou.


Dennis RossRabbi Ross is author of "God in Our Relationships: Spirituality between People from the Teachings of Martin Buber" and serves at Congregation Beth Emeth in Albany, New York.

We welcome your reflections, essays, videos, or news items for possible publication on SOF Observed. Submit your entry through our First Person Outreach page.

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Sweetness to the Rotten Core

by Trent Gilliss, senior editor

Yesterday I posted this good morning message on our Facebook page: “Shana Tova! Special memories from New Years past?” Lauren Rosenfeld, an author and blogger living in Asheville, North Carolina, shared this wonderful memory:

Lauren Rosenfeld"One Rosh Hashanah I came home from a busy day at work and brought out the apples to cut up and dip in the honey to share with my husband and our four little children. When I cut into the apples, they were rotten to the core (literally!). I was more than a little freaked out (being admittedly a tad superstitious about such things).

I ran to our next door neighbor (who was not Jewish). She smiled and brought us fresh apples — and joined us to celebrate the new year. In the end I felt grateful for the “bad apples” because they allowed us to bring in the new year with the sweetness of friendship and generosity. Lesson learned: Even bad apples can be a gift! ♥”

These are the tales that overwhelm me. Thank you Lauren. Wishing you all the sweetness and friendship of a new year.

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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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Your Reflections on “Being”

by Shubha Bala, associate producer

Within a month of joining Speaking of Faith, I was told the program I work for was going to be changing its name. Since then, it’s been a hectic journey of learning how to produce while supporting the name change tasks. But it has also been a crash course in the thoughtfulness of our listening community.

Ever since Krista first announced the change, I have been obsessed with reading your reflections. You have eloquently shared a range of feelings and opinions from loving the change to mourning the loss, to disliking Being. Here are some samples of what has been said:

Sad at the loss of “faith” in the name.
Many of our long-time listeners mourned the loss of the word “faith” in the title and wondered if it signaled a change in the editorial direction of the program. As we’ve pointed out, the content of our program will continue to be about “faith, meaning, ethics, and ideas.” Robbyn’s comment on our blog echoed many other listeners’ sentiments:

"I really don’t want the word ‘faith’ gone. It is so hard to find good conversation from faithful people these days. I can find myself and the common ground shared with all your guests, within this process of moving in faith in life. This is a movement of faith rather than belief. This is an active and intentional process. Being isn’t, necessarily. I am seeing your conversations as a movement away from religious fanaticism and intolerance that can be within any religion, and toward the daily living within the mystery of life or faith or God or whatever one cares to call it. I want this conversation to continue to grow and open to new audiences, AND I want people to recognize that this is the process of faithing.”

Like a name change, but not to Being.
Some of you supported changing the name but felt Being was not the best choice. We received many comments similar to this one:

"As one at whom the name change was probably aimed, I appreciate the effort to avoid offending those who find the word ‘faith’ offensive. However, I’m afraid that I’d rather be a little intimidated by the concept of faith than bored by the concept of ‘being’, which strikes me as far too general a term to have any meaning.
—Renee, commenting on our blog

Like the name change.
Many supported the name change for a host of reasons, from the fact that Being resonates with their experiences of the show to being able to feel more comfortable telling their high school students about it. These comments came from a diverse group, including non-religious and religious people:

"Understanding Being is essential to (and intrinsic to) all spiritual journeys. When we are comfortable with being, we can allow others to also be comfortable with being and as beings. As long as we see and practice only doing, we will not appreciate our essential nature as humans being. Understanding being is critical to peace.”
—Peggy Beatty, via Facebook

"Anyone familiar with the work of modern Orthodox theologian John Zizioulas (Being as Communion, Eucharist, Bishop, Church, many others) will see the connection and appreciate the change. My suggestion would be to get Metropolitan John on your show to discuss Being from his theological viewpoint. Kate mentioned in one of her many replies that Being has deep theological meaning, and Metropolitan John has expanded this theological perspective greatly in the last 3 decades.”
—Jeffrey Abell, via e-mail

Dislike Krista’s name at the front.

Some people didn’t like Krista’s name at the front of the title. We included her name there to make it clear that she remains central to the show as host and editorial leader, but in most applications the new name will be heard as Being. The following comment included many of the reasons that people were upset at Krista’s name being in the title:

"People who have not yet found your pioneering show are not familiar with Krista, and as another noted, her guests contribute the canvass on which she paints her enlightened questions and reflective responses and serves as a representative listener on our behalf. Placing her name first gives me the impression that she has been set up to be some guru, savant-type host. And, God willing, even should her career/discernment path take her in another direction, the show could continue as Speaking of Being, with __________.”
—Patricia, commenting on our blog

Unfortunately, Being with Krista Tippett has an inappropriate connotation to it.

There were a handful of people that said they might stop listening to the program, while for many of you the name doesn’t matter since the content will remain the same:

"Krista, thank you for doing what you do, whatever you call it! Most of my friends and I refer to your show as ‘Krista Tippet’ anyway. ‘Did you catch Krista Tippet this week?’ ‘Make sure you listen to Krista’s program this week.’ Doesn’t matter what you call it, the content is valuable to my being and unlike anything else available in my area."
—Bookmarkt, commenting on our blog

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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 27 - Sakina Al-Amin: “Sharing Qur’an and Samosas”

Revealing Ramadan: 30 Days, 30 Voices [mp3, 6:41]

by Trent Gilliss, senior editor

Sakina Al-AminOn this 27th day of Ramadan: Sakina Al-Amin, a young African-American woman who recently graduated from the University of Michigan. For the first nine years of her life, she was raised in a idyllic Muslim village nestled into the mountains of New Mexico, just north of Los Alamos. She shares two stories: one about celebrating Ramadan under the stars of the Southwest and the other of breaking fast with three strangers at a dollar store.

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 22 - Ilana Alazzeh: “Singing in a Car”

Revealing Ramadan: 30 Days, 30 Voices [mp3, 4:14]

by Trent Gilliss, senior editor

Ilana AlazzehOur 22nd voice in this series is Ilana Alazzeh, a student at Smith College in Massachusetts. Growing up in California, Texas, and Virginia, she talks about spending Ramadan with a family rich in religious diversity, and driving while singing Jewish and Christmas songs 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 13 - Nadia Sheikh Bandukda: “Breaking Fast in the Garment District”

Revealing Ramadan: 30 Days, 30 Voices [mp3, 2:31]

by Trent Gilliss, senior editor

Nadia SheikhOur 13th voice is Nadia Sheikh Bandukda. She is a self-described “by-choice conservative Muslim female born in America, who studied in Saudi Arabia and Teaneck, New Jersey.” She recently graduated from college with a degree in political science and now works at a non-profit focused on immigration issues, and is at work on her first novel. Her Ramadan memory is set in New York’s garment district, in a furniture store owned by her father.

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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