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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.

Bill Moyers Interview with Christian Wiman on Poetry, Love, Faith, and Cancer

by Trent Gilliss, senior editor

For several months, we’d been batting around the idea of interviewing Christian Wiman. We knew of his poetry and had read Every Riven Thing, his latest book of poems. And I was incredibly interested in his successful approach to reviving Poetry magazine as its editor.

But, it wasn’t until I was watching Bill Moyers’ interview with Wiman one Friday night though — and the ensuing response online — that I pushed him to the top of our list. Gratefully, he accepted our invitation and our host Krista Tippett took him even deeper into his ideas about religion and God, death and the ineptitude of poetic language romanticizing it, and how poetry can become a “false idol.”

We’ll release our show with Christian Wiman, "Remembering God," on this Thursday, April 12th — first on podcast and then on public radio stations throughout the week. Until then, watch this marvelous interview.

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I found in the woods in Maryland a wildflower, the bloodroot flower. It blooms very early in the spring, around the time of Lent and Easter, depending on when Easter falls. The reason why it’s called the bloodroot is because the root itself, if you press it, you break it, you’ll get a red dye that can be used as a dye. But the bloom itself only lasts a day. But it comes out of the sepulcher of the earth. And what it leaves is these heart-shaped leaves. And that is a microcosm of resurrection for me.

I have a wild imagination. You know, I mean, I’ve described the stakes in my vegetable garden in the wintertime as crosses on which bodies are draped, you know. I don’t mean that in a gory sense. The geese in the sky remind me of the crosses that pilgrims have carved into ancient Christian sites. I think there are signs of the cross all over creation. How do you account for that? Well, clearly, we’ve forgotten, we’ve forgotten paradise, we forget God. And that’s why I think we have scripture to remind us.

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Bloodroot PrintVigen Guroian, from his interview with Krista Tippett in On Being's "Restoring the Senses: Gardening and an Orthodox Easter"

Guorian is Professor of Religious Studies in Orthodox Christianity at the University of Virginia and author of The Fragrance of God and Inheriting Paradise: Meditations on Gardening

~Trent Gilliss, senior editor

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You know, at one time I worked for the World Council of Churches and we were based in London. I came from Africa. There was someone from Taiwan. There was someone from Malaysia, someone from the States, and then someone from Latin America, and he introduced me to Latin American liberation theology. And I came to visit for the first time in the United States and here encountered black theology. So all of that was a very significant part of what helped to open my eyes. Mercifully, there isn’t anything like the so-called self-made person.

I mean, they are people who helped to form me. And then discovering that the Bible could be such dynamite. I subsequently used to say if these white people had intended keeping us under they shouldn’t have given us the Bible. Because, whoa, I mean, it’s almost as if it is written specifically just for your situation. I mean, the many parts of it that were so germane, so utterly to the point for us…

When you discover that apartheid sought to mislead people into believing that what gave value to human beings was a biological irrelevance, really, skin color or ethnicity, and you saw how the scriptures say it is because we are created in the image of God, that each one of us is a God-carrier. No matter what our circumstances may be, no matter how awful, no matter how deprived you could be, it doesn’t take away from you this intrinsic worth. One saw just how significant it was.

- Desmond Tutu, from "Tutu’s God of Surprises"
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Theodicy Defined: The Power of God and the Problem of Evil

by Susan Leem, associate producer

Your Sky is the CeilingTethered between stone and sky. (photo: Enrico Marongiu/Flickr, cc by-nc-sa 2.0)

This week’s show has a theological term in its title that sounds obscure, even impenetrable: "Monsters We Love: TV’s Pop Culture Theodicy." Depending on your view of an omnipotent God, it could be both. ”Theodicy” attempts to answer ancient questions like, “Why do bad things happen to good people?” and “If God is good, why does evil exist?”

The television shows mentioned in “Monsters We Love” are filled with “amoral zombies” and “loving vampires” and “righteous serial killers," as Krista Tippett puts it. At the core of this theodicy is the question of what makes "good" people different from characters we can register instantly as "evil."

The Greek philosopher Epicurus came up with his own twist on the problem of evil, the “Epicurean Paradox”:

“Is God willing to prevent evil but not able? Then he is impotent. Is he able but not willing? Then he is malevolent. Is he both able and willing? Whence, then, evil.”

Merriam-Webster describes theodicy as a “defense of God’s goodness and omnipotence in view of the existence of evil.” And on the free will of human beings, one explanation of free will theodicy suggests that God values good choices from humans only if we have the free will to make them. This leaves the possibility for a misuse of free will, and evil choices. For St. Augustine, evil results from the failure of humans to exercise moral responsibility, not God.

What is it about watching the moral failing of others that draws millions of viewers to these TV shows? Maybe it has nothing to do with their final choices or even their failings. For me, it’s empathy for seeing someone else struggle between choices of good and evil in situations where it’s not clear to me how free their will actually is.

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Centenarian Woman Thanks God and Deputies Who Defied Court Order to Evict

by Trent Gilliss, senior editor

Vinia Hall, 103"I knew that they know what they were doing. God don’t let them do wrong."
~Vinia Hall

Here’s one of those feel-good stories that makes you smile for human decency and feel a little bit sad knowing that this act of kindness may be an exception. On Tuesday, WSB Channel 2 in Atlanta reported that Vinia Hall, a 103-year-old woman, and her 83-year-old daughter were about to be evicted from her home when deputies of the Fulton County Sheriff’s Office and hired movers defied a court order to evict the two from their foreclosed home in northwest Atlanta.

For the purposes of this project, take note of the strong expressions of faith in God “making it right” and citations of the Bible, by Ms. Hall and also by a neighbor and community activist too.

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Anonymous asked:
If you want to find God try spending 30 yrs. in a siberian prison.

Dear Anonymous:

The Long Walk by Slavomir RawiczDid you (or someone you know) spend three decades in a Siberian gulag? If so, let’s talk! We definitely want to hear about your experiences and ways of thinking about the divine in the world. Here’s my email address: tgilliss@onbeing.org and my phone number: 651.290.1354.

If not, might I recommend reading Slavomir Rawicz’s epic tale “The Long Walk” (the movie is not nearly as good as the book) — a miraculous story of a Pole being imprisoned in a Siberian gulag in 1939 and then escaping and trekking thousands of miles to freedom. He might have some insights into the nature of God and man that could further this conversation.

I look forward to your reply,
Trent Gilliss, senior editor

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The reality emerging out of the Exodus is not just a new religion or a new religious idea or a vision of freedom but the emergence of a new social community in history, a community that has historical body, that had to devise laws, patterns of governance and order, norms of right and wrong, and sanctions of accountability. The participants in the Exodus found themselves, undoubtedly surprisingly to them, involved in the intentional formation of a new social community to match the vision of God’s freedom.
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Walter Brueggemann, The Prophetic Imagination


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For those about to take my life, may God have mercy on your souls, may God bless your souls.
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A Demonstrator Awaits Troy Davis' ExecutionTroy Anthony Davis, speaking to the prison officials who executed him by lethal injection at 11:08 in a Georgia prison last night, according to an eyewitness account from an Associated Press reporter.

About the photo: A demonstrator outside the Georgia Diagnostic and Classification Prison in Jackson, Georgia, on Wednesday, September 21. (photo: Erik S. Lesser/AFP/Getty Images)

~Trent Gilliss, senior editor

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Sari Nusseibeh Discovers God in Cambodia

by Nancy Rosenbaum, producer

巴戎寺 / Bayon TempleBayon Temple in Angkor Thom, Cambodia (photo: Ran Phang/Flickr, CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

Palestinian philosopher Sari Nusseibeh comes from one of the oldest families on record in Jerusalem. His Muslim ancestors have been in the Holy Land since at least the seventh century. Earlier this year, Nusseibeh traveled to Cambodia where he glimpsed inside another ancient civilization. And it was there, as he tells it in the audio link above, that he had an epiphany about God:

"One thing that struck me was the four faces in many of the gates that were on those temples of Buddha. I was asking the guide what they stood for. He said, "Care, compassion, charity, and equality are the four faces of Buddha in those temples. And as he said them I just felt, to me, this is God. And I’m not a Buddhist."

Listen to more of our interview with Sari Nusseibeh in this week’s show, "The Evolution of Change."

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Learning to Pray: A Poem

by Trent Gilliss, senior editor

Day 23: the self doubt is crippling"The self doubt is crippling." (photo: Meredith Farmer/Flickr, CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

The Pushcart-nominated poet Yahia Lababidi wrote us this lovely note: “I’m a big admirer of your noble mandate and the fine work that you do. Kindly find two poems below from my new collection: Fever Dreams.”

Here’s the first of those two poems from the Egyptian writer, “Learning to Pray” — a lovely meditation on living life charitably and with intention:

"Fever Dreams" by Yahia LababidiLong susceptible to the pious heresies, 
of mystics, martyrs and other fanatics 
mad enough to confound themselves 
with God, and declare it free of ego

Those spiritually reckless creatures 
contemptuous of all rule books, 
traffic signs and speeding tickets 
in such a hurry were they to arrive

No social drinkers, these revelers 
they drank to get drunk, alone 
that they might stay that way 
sobriety being the only sin…

But what of us without stamina 
for such superhuman attention 
or the patience to stand in line 
inching towards the checkout

Might we forge our own language 
(until we can speak in tongues) 
by asking of our every action 
does this, or that, please You?

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Riven means broken, it means shattered or wounded or unhealed, and I think that notion is very important to me and my notion of God and of religion: that we are broken creatures, very broken creatures. And I don’t think of God as necessarily healing that brokeness as much as participating in it.
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Christian Wiman, the editor of Poetry magazine from his interview with Radio Open Source on his book of poems, Every Riven Thing.

Shattered by David Shield"Shattered" (photo: David Shield/Flickr, CC BY-NC-SA 2.0)

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Katy Perry Enjoys God
by Trent Gilliss, senior editor
Singer and pop icon Katy Perry somehow continues to tap her conservative (Pentecostal?) Christian upbringing to cultivate her celebrity persona, non?
(terrysdiary, via beingvisual)

Katy Perry Enjoys God

by Trent Gilliss, senior editor

Singer and pop icon Katy Perry somehow continues to tap her conservative (Pentecostal?) Christian upbringing to cultivate her celebrity persona, non?

(terrysdiary, via beingvisual)

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Play That Funky Bluegrass, White Boys

by Trent Gilliss, senior editor

This eight-year-old banjo player and his older brothers (11 and 13) just might knock your socks off with this version of Earl Scruggs’ “Flint Hill Special.” You ought to share this with your friends.

Sleepy Man Banjo Boys coverWhat may go unnoticed is the overtly religious language that peppers the The Sleepy Man Banjo Boys’ website. At the top of the page, embedded in the scrollwork of the trio’s logo, is a passage from the book of Psalms:

I lie down and sleep; I wake again because the Lord sustains me.

And their first album is promoted with a passage from Isaiah:

Seek justice; encourage the oppressed.
Defend the cause of the fatherless;
plead the case of the widow.

Why is it necessary to note this? While we are wowed by the talent of these boys, we may focus on the facts — technique, teachers, musical influences, and so on — and forget or ignore that something else may be core to what they do and why they do it. And knowing this, in and of itself, adds to our understanding of American culture: in this case, God, Bible, family, bluegrass.

(via publicradiointernational)

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Prayers for Japan
A lovely post from Your Beautiful Mind worth reblogging:
Thousands of wooden prayer tablets, ema, hang outside Meiji Jingu, a  Shinto shrine. Japanese are not normally religious, but during times of  crisis they often revert back to traditional beliefs. Prayers for  disaster victims and the nuclear crisis are written and hung around a  divine tree. In a special ceremony, Shinto priests burn the prayers as  an offering.
Thousands of prayer tablets hung in one day testify that the crisis  in Japan continues to grow and people are trying to find ways to cope.  The Fukushima Daiichi nuclear site has been rated a five on a  seven-point international scale for atomic incidents, just two levels  lower than the Ukraine’s 1986 Chernobyl disaster. The head of the UN’s  nuclear watchdog warns that stabilizing the plant is a race against  time. In Japan’s disaster-ravaged northeast, 6,405 people are confirmed  dead and about 10,200 are listed missing.
While most Westerners often are preoccupied with causes of disaster —  the questions of why God would allow an earthquake, for example —  Eastern traditions like Buddhism and Shinto focus on behavior in  reaction to tragedy. It is very important in Japanese life to react in a  positive way, to be persistent and to clean up in the face of  adversity.

(image and text source here)
shared by Trent Gilliss, senior editor

Prayers for Japan

A lovely post from Your Beautiful Mind worth reblogging:

Thousands of wooden prayer tablets, ema, hang outside Meiji Jingu, a Shinto shrine. Japanese are not normally religious, but during times of crisis they often revert back to traditional beliefs. Prayers for disaster victims and the nuclear crisis are written and hung around a divine tree. In a special ceremony, Shinto priests burn the prayers as an offering.

Thousands of prayer tablets hung in one day testify that the crisis in Japan continues to grow and people are trying to find ways to cope. The Fukushima Daiichi nuclear site has been rated a five on a seven-point international scale for atomic incidents, just two levels lower than the Ukraine’s 1986 Chernobyl disaster. The head of the UN’s nuclear watchdog warns that stabilizing the plant is a race against time. In Japan’s disaster-ravaged northeast, 6,405 people are confirmed dead and about 10,200 are listed missing.

While most Westerners often are preoccupied with causes of disaster — the questions of why God would allow an earthquake, for example — Eastern traditions like Buddhism and Shinto focus on behavior in reaction to tragedy. It is very important in Japanese life to react in a positive way, to be persistent and to clean up in the face of adversity.

(image and text source here)

shared by Trent Gilliss, senior editor

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Trees Give Meaning to Mystery and Life: Our Interview with Wangari Maathai

by Kate Moos, executive producer

Wangari Maathai at the Svalbard Global Seed VaultWangari Maathai attends the opening of the Svalbard Global Seed Vault in Norway. On February 26, 2008, the Kenyan environmentalist inaugurated the vault carved into the Arctic permafrost and filled with samples of the world’s most important seeds, providing a Noah’s Ark of food crops in the event of a global catastrophe. (photo: Hakon Mosvold Larsen/AFP/Getty Images)

Wangari Maathai received the Nobel Peace Prize in 2004 in recognition of her environmental and human rights work and linking sustainable management of resources, good governance, and equitable distribution with peace. She founded the Green Belt Movement, a grassroots project that has planted over 45 million trees across Kenya since the 1970s and worked mostly with women.

She is a global leader on issues affecting millions of people in Africa and around the world: desertification, global warming, sustainable ecology, and human rights. Wangari Maathai first appeared on our program in 2006 in "Planting the Future" and has since published her new book, Replenishing the Earth: Spiritual Values for Healing Ourselves and the World, in 2010. She agreed to respond to some of our questions by email:

You indicate that your religious beliefs were not what motivated you to begin your work with the Green Belt Movement in it earliest days, but that your Christian background and faith have always been important, and that at one time you were surprised that so many people seem not to have spiritual values that shape their thoughts and actions. Those spiritual values seem to inform so much of who you Replenishing the Earth by Wangari Maathaiare and what you do. And in Replenishing the Earth you talk about concern for our “inner ecology” as well as the ecology of the planet. Can you say more about this “inner ecology” and why it matters?

The “inner ecology” is the sense of wonder that we all have, especially as children about the world around us. But it is also the simple fact that our inner constitution is part and parcel of the environment around us. We need air to breathe and water to drink and food to sustain us. The environment that surrounds us directly provides us — physically and spiritually — with its bounty. If the outer environment is sick, then we become sick, not only physically because we are drinking impure water, or breathing polluted air, or not eating enough or consuming poorly produced food, but because we are psychologically and spiritually diminished.

You credit your Catholic education, and the various orders of nuns who were in charge of your education over time, with instilling in you an engagement with the scientific method and the use of critical thinking. Some people might find that surprising. How do you engage with people who insist that religion and science are incompatible and cancel each other out?

Science and religion are both means of discovering deeper truths about the world and the universe and our role within both. Science tries to answer the question “How?” Religion tries to answer the question “Why?” My science teachers did not seem to have a problem between their faith and pursuit of science.

Beyond that, the scientific endeavor and the practice of faith both require discipline, attention, and honesty. I engage with people of faith and scientists regularly, and I have never found it to be a problem. The more we know from science, the more we realize that there is so much we do not know. Faith will not give us the scientific answers and sometimes we have to walk both paths apart. However we believe this earth came to be, abusing it and destroying its ecosystems will ultimately bring about our end as well as destroy what the people of faith call God’s Creation.

Your book has some captivating chapters that focus on trees — what they mean to us both in practical as well as religious and aesthetic terms, and how trees themselves have at various times been seen as centers of sacredness, of our connection to spiritual knowledge and to the divine. If trees disappear from the face of the earth, among the many other serious and life-threatening consequences, we risk losing sacredness itself. You write that the “battle for control over the meaning of the spiritual landscape is an ancient one.” Can you say more about this battle over meaning?

Every society throughout history has sought to interpret the world that surrounds it, and as I say in my book, very many cultures have revered the tree as a symbol of that society’s connection to the Source. I also write in my book that since time immemorial cultures have known that one way to subdue another people is to cut down the sacred groves of that people’s culture — in short, to destroy their beliefs so they will not have anything to fight for.

I was intrigued to read that many temples, churches, and other centers of worship were situated over sacred sites of previous cultures. I had a similar experience in my own culture as Christianity was being introduced and churches were often built at sites of the form of worship that was being replaced.

This suggests to me that trees, groves, and forests have had a profound impact in the spiritual and physical life of peoples. They give meaning to mysteries and to life. They proJust Seeds Poster Celebrating Wangari Maathaivide a connection between a people and their Source, hence their sacredness. In the course of the history of humanity, this largely spiritual landscape has been important to control in order to be able to control the people and their resources.

You point out that religious leaders have a role to play in creating scriptural interpretation and theology that support an essentially ecological point of view. Are faith traditions doing enough in this regard? What more could they do?

I don’t want to single out religious leaders, per se; after all, every one of us has a role to play in fostering healthy ways of healing the earth. And all of us have a set of positive values that could be drawn upon to make our lives more sustainable and conscious. I talk about these values in Replenishing the Earth.

I think I would ask religious traditions to challenge people to find solutions to their problems here on this earth, to acknowledge the wonderful gift of life on a beautiful planet that has been given to us and of which we should be good stewards. Yes, of course, we may wish to look forward to life after death. But when I am asked about heaven, I suggest that it might be green — a place of clean rivers with trees growing on the banks, fresh air, and all of nature’s bounty on display.

And then I ask myself: Why can’t we have such a life on this planet, right now? What is preventing us from cleaning our rivers, breathing fresh air, or growing food in abundance? Why do we have to wait until we get to heaven? The answer is almost always because we, ourselves, are doing things that are making that impossible: cutting down trees so that the rivers are silted with topsoil, producing greenhouse gases through burning fossil fuels, desertifying our pastures, and so on.

That said, the religious leaders have a special role because they are the ones who interpret the holy scriptures to the faithful and they ought to encourage the faithful to be custodians and caretakers of God’s Creation.

Many people become hopeless contemplating the widespread devastation of the earth. How would you counsel them to remain hopeful?

My view has been that one must always be hopeful, because hopelessness is a luxury we cannot afford. In Replenishing, I talk about the story of a hummingbird, which, though small, did what it could to try to put out a fire in the forest by carrying water in its tiny beak. The bigger animals, who were standing by in despair laughed at the hummingbird, taunted him saying: “What good do you think you can do? The fire is too strong and you are too small.” The hummingbird replied, “I’m doing the best I can.”

That’s all I ask of myself, and that’s all I can ask of anyone — that they do the best they can. But they must do — and not stand around waiting for someone else to step forward. So, I would counsel: Whatever you think you can do, start doing it. Whatever it is, commit yourself to it. If you don’t know what it is, then try various things until you discover your passion. Waiting around will only allow the fire to burn; acting together we have a chance to put it out.

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