From our senior editor trentgilliss:
“Darkness cannot drive out darkness, only light can do that.”
~Martin Luther King, Jr.
It’s the enterprising, creative minds of this world who provide the most exquisite examples of solidarity when adversity confronts us as a people. I’m loving these illuminated messages of hope projected on the side of the Brooklyn Academy of Music.
More are featured on Fast Company’s Co.Exist blog.
This week’s show came about in the best possible way — while browsing illustrated books about classic literature at a quaint children’s book shop in Minneapolis (The Wild Rumpus). I pitched the brilliant folklorist Maria Tatar as a guest who could talk about why all these timeless stories are infusing our culture in fresh ways these days. The popularity of Game of Thrones and The Vampire Diaries is a testament to the great, inventive work being done.
Fairy tales don’t only belong to the domain of childhood. These stories’ overt themes are threaded throughout hit TV series like True Blood, Grimm, and Once Upon a Time too. These stories survive, says Maria Tatar, by adapting across cultures and history. They are carriers of the plots we endlessly re-work in the narratives of our lives — helping us work through things like fear and hope.
I think you’re going to dig this conversation. If so, spread the word: reblog, tweet, post on your own site, you name it.
~Trent Gilliss, senior editor
Walter Brueggemann, a Disruptive and Hopeful Voice for All Ages
by Krista Tippett, host
Walter Brueggemann is a very special voice. He is one of those figures — another being Jaroslav Pelikan — who is not a household name but is revered in his universe of knowledge and accomplishment. He’s a kind of theological rock star. His name has been synonymous with the phrase “prophetic imagination” for three decades of preachers and Christian teachers. Students in all kinds of seminaries read him, and they are captivated by the man as much as his ideas. That’s my explanation for why the live video stream of our conversation is one of On Being's most-watched online interviews.
I too was thrilled to meet this man whose writings I have admired up close; he more than fulfills the promise of those writings. Walter Brueggemann is not merely an expert. He somehow embodies this tradition of the prophets that he knows as well as anyone living. He is wise and forceful, quick to laugh, passionately challenging, and fiercely hopeful. He demonstrates as much as teaches the way the prophets of the ages are disruptive of politics and culture as usual.
He helps me understand that part of a prophet’s power is in wielding language poetically rather than stridently. Beginning with the words they choose, they transcend ideological splits that actually inhibit us from seizing the great challenges and problems of our time.
"I have a dream" is the line we all remember from Martin Luther King Jr., whom Walter Brueggemann identifies as a prophet of living memory. King wasn’t talking about “enacting a civil rights bill,” Brueggemann says, “except that he was.” He points out that the prophetic voice is not issues-based. It accomplishes the harder, more necessary work of reframing the big picture of what is at stake, so that we can take in the reality of our moment in a new way, with a new sense of what might be possible.
Prophets help us connect the dots between the world as it is and the world as it might be. Prophets tend to emerge in moments of chaos and change, and this is surely a description of our age as of the 1960s or of the era of the biblical fall of Jerusalem. Walter Brueggemann helps us reclaim some important language for being people of change and chaos: the healing necessity of “lamentations,” the difference between being bold and being strident, the hard and life-giving work of letting go of comfort for the sake of what is important. That work, he says to Christian preachers and teachers, has to happen in the pulpit as in life.
Yet, even as he challenges, Walter Brueggemann calls upon mercy, another word he recovers in all its usefulness and beauty. Indeed, he shows how the two are meaningfully fused. He reminds us that the Hebrew word (like the Arabic word) for “mercy” is derived from the word for “womb.” It is the ultimate image of knowing one’s own well-being to be bound up with the well-being of another. And it comes with an extreme amount of discomfort.
How refreshing to experience a voice that is at once deeply disruptive and beautiful and critical and hopeful without any of these qualities clashing. In Walter Brueggemann’s prophetic imagination, we experience a new way of being, of living, and of faithfulness. He reminds us too — and I find this point essential — that, alongside our pantheon of prophets across time and cultures, there are countless prophets of the everyday in communities everywhere who are not and will never be famous. So many of us long to transcend what he calls “the managed prose” around us; Walter Brueggemann shows us that while this is difficult and terrifying it is can also be exhilarating and life-giving. I’m very happy to bring Walter Brueggemann’s voice to the air in this season, at this moment in time.
Image of Walter Brueggemann courtesy of Westminster John Knox Press.
In Gabby Giffords’ Voice
by Trent Gilliss, senior editor
Listen to the first 80 seconds of Melissa Block’s piece on last night’s All Things Considered. And then fast forward to the final 67 seconds of the audio. What a powerful message, a powerful couple minutes of radio. To hear the contrast of the fluid voice of the Congresswoman before her brain was penetrated by a bullet in January of this year, and then witness the powerful will of her language several months later rages with hope.
Now, listen to the full ten-minute piece with Block’s interview with Representative Giffords’ husband, Mark Kelly, which is bookended with Gabby’s voice. The context makes her readings all the more powerful. Non?
Yes, even those of us who work in public radio are not immune to those “driveway moments” in the darkness of the early evening. What a gift.
Q:I am a 23-year-old Peace Corps volunteer. I am working to achieve the UN Millennium Development Goals in the Dominican Republic. I specifically work on the three health-related MDG’s.
I was listening to the interview with Yossi Klein Halevi and was touched by his retelling of the story of Anwar Sadat’s visit to Israel in 1977. Like the attainment of peace in the Middle East, the Millennium Development Goals seem like a beautiful dream that is unlikely to come true, at least in the case of the Dominican Republic. I wanted to thank Yossi Klein Halevi for reminding us about joyful twists in the story of almost “messianic impossibility.” Religion at its best can motivate to keep working towards the attainment of beautiful goals even though they seem impossible.
Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic
Thank you for the kind words, Jonathan. A story like the late Anwar Sadat visiting Israel is one of those miraculous moments that we ought to hold on to and remember when we start to despair. I will forward on your message and thank you for the work you are doing.
I’ll admit that I have a basic news knowledge of the Dominican Republic but an insufficient understanding of the history of the country — and the island for that matter. Henry Louis Gates’ most recent series on PBS, Black in Latin America, opened my eyes to the backdrop to some of these intractable issues that challenge the people of the Dominican Republic and Haiti. But, the hour also was a heart-warming reminder about the vibrancy, pride, and rich culture of the people living on the island.
—Trent Gilliss, senior editor
Rubber Ducky, You’re the One!
If there’s one thing the Japanese have mastered, it’s the art of fire and bathing. And these two men do not disappoint. Yasuyoshi Chiba’s triumphant photo of two men bathing in this makeshift ofuro captures the passion of this long-standing tradition. Even if Kesennuma city is in ruins, taking a hot tubby is not only making the best out of a difficult situation, it’s necessary to the human spirit!
(h/t Front Pages for doing what they do and the WSJ.)
Can Fear and Burning Unite?
by Trent Gilliss, senior editor
"I am more scared than I’ve ever been — more scared than I was after Sept. 11."
Fear is very real for many Muslims in America today. I don’t think I truly understood how real this elevated level of anxiety is until I read Patel’s quote in Laurie Goodstein’s article in Sunday’s New York Times. He is a man who has spent a good deal of time speaking to all sorts of people and members of religious groups trying to build interfaith dialogue and understanding; I’m sure he’s witnessed some heated arguments and outlandish actions. For him to make this statement is striking, and troubling. We should take heed.
So much is happening right now, and the confluence of popular opinion and current events must be weighing mighty heavily on the minds of many Muslims. There are decreasing favorability ratings of Islam. There are heated protests and debates surrounding Park51, the Islamic cultural center and mosque in lower Manhattan. There are bricks being thrown and a taxi driver being stabbed. And, then, all this crazy media coverage of a Florida pastor pulling a publicity stunt by planning to burn Qur’ans on Saturday.
As to the Dove World church’s plans, there seems to be very little response from other faith leaders and religious communities. Where’s the outcry? But, as The Christian Science Monitor suggests Tuesday in “CNN covered interfaith call to oppose Koran burning. Who didn’t?,” perhaps it was in the lack of live coverage of events like this press conference at the National Press Club in which dozens of Jewish, Christian, and Muslim leaders stood together while calling for a united front against Qur’an burning and other aspects of Islamophobia. The Dove World church’s fiery intentions are brighter than the stars in the night skies. Or are they?
I’ve noticed myriad secular and faith leaders, people who write and blog and tweet, vehemently protesting and uniting behind their Muslim brothers and sisters. They act not by decrying but by reading, reading the Qur’an itself — even at the holiest of times. On the heels of Rosh Hashanah services, the Velveteen Rabbi writes:
"In response to the rising tide of Islamophobia and especially to those who intend to burn the Qur’an on 9/11, my teacher Rabbi Phyllis Berman suggested that as Jews gather to worship on Shabbat Shuvah, we might consider reading from the Qur’an as a gesture of respect toward our sister Abrahamic tradition. At my synagogue, we typically gather for Torah study after services, around 11am. On 9/11, our text for sacred study will come from the Qur’an."
And the Undercover Nun continues:
"On Saturday, September 11, 2010, I’m reading the Quran so that I can be a better American and a better Christian. Won’t you join me?"
Many more noble efforts like this are taking place. Look around. And as we non-Muslims try to pay attention and express our sympathies, we ought to remember that yesterday was the last day of Ramadan. It’s a time of celebration and thankfulness. It’s Eid.
When Sayneb, a young Somali woman and co-worker came through the office the other evening, we got talking about Ramadan, next year’s dog days of July and fasting, and current events, to which I gestured, “Boy, these are crazy times.”
She paused. Then she looked kindly at me, smiled softly, and said with no uncertainty, “These are good times.”
I tell the women how deeply I believe there’s no such thing as false hope: all hope is valid, even for people like us, even when hope would no longer appear to be sensible.
Life itself isn’t sensible, I say. No one can say with ultimate authority what will happen — with cancer, with a job that appears shaky, with all reversed fortunes — so you may as well seize all glimmers that appear. …
One thing I don’t ever think to say: When I was told I had a year or two, I didn’t want anything one might expect: no blow-out trip to the Galápagos, no perfect meal at Alain Ducasse, no defiant red Maserati. All I wanted was ordinary life back, for ordinary life, it became utterly clear, is more valuable than anything else.
— Katherine Russell Rich, from her article “17 Years Later, Stage 4 Survivor Is Savoring a Life Well Lived” in today’s New York Times. She is the author of Dreaming in Hindi: Coming Awake in Another Language and The Red Devil: To Hell With Cancer — and Back.
Trent Gilliss, online editor
Trent Gilliss, Online Editor
This “Pic of the Day” from The First Post is one of the more ethereal images I’ve seen in some time. Yeah, I know, it’s from late December but my consumption of the RSS feed occurs incrementally.
Kome Loy are lightweight lanterns that act like a hot-air balloons. A small bowl containing oil and a cotton cloth is centrally anchored to the lantern’s edges. When the oil starts burning, the hot air fills the paper envelope and rises into the air. Before launching the lantern, a person prays for the bad luck to be carried away into the sky.