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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.

Live Video: In the Room with Kevin Kling

by Trent Gilliss, senior editor

Live Video: In the Room with Kevin Kling and Krista TippettWHEN: Feb 9th, 2012 (1pm CT/2pm ET)

If you listen to NPR, there’s a good chance you’ve been regaled by the unparalleled storytelling of Kevin Kling. His popular commentaries and hilarious autobiographical tales have graced the public radio airwaves and his plays have been staged across the United States.

Born with a congenital birth defect, Kling’s left hand has no wrist or thumb, and that same arm is 75 percent the size of his right arm. And then, about five years ago, a motorcycle accident took away the use of his right arm when the brachial plexus nerves were pulled out of their sockets.

In a face-to-face conversation from the studios of American Public Media and Minnesota Public Radio, Krista Tippett will talk to this American humorist and writer about confronting and embracing these physical challenges and his own mortality, and the will to create rather than despair. Through his work and his personal story, we’ll focus on his work as an artist, the importance of humor and craft in his spiritual life, and how he finds meaning in the world around him.

You’re welcome to watch it here, or join us on our events page where you can chat with other folks watching it.


A Life “Circumscribed by Music” Unlocks Stories of Our Own

by Krista Tippett, host

Rosanne Cash surprised me right from the start, by calling her father Johnny Cash “a mystic,” and revealing herself as one too. As much as any person I’ve interviewed, she leaned in close. She was ready to meet me on the adventure a real conversation can be — one full of revelation and beauty.

Rosanne Cash after Interview with Krista TippettLanguage and music, in that order, were the early mediums of her spiritual sensibility. She describes herself growing up as something of a geek. She remains perpetually and intellectually restless. It took her awhile to find her own voice, indeed to imagine that a life of making and performing music could be desirable. She’d grown up experiencing the performer’s life — incarnate in her famous, beloved father — as hard on those one loves. As she found her own voice, she found her own delight in joining her energy to an audience. In that exchange, she also discovered all the elements of religion that she desired: truth, beauty, mystery, creativity, and a sense of the divine. 

We’ve put the word “time travel” in the title of the show we’ve created from my magical hour with Rosanne Cash. It’s a phrase that comes up again and again — especially when we talk about the music that emerged from her grief a few years ago when she lost her father, her mother, and her stepmother June Carter Cash within a span of 18 months. From this period, the Black Cadillac album emerged with gorgeous songs and poetry about love before life and beyond life. Past, present, and future are often linked in the songs she writes, though they often begin, as she describes it, with a single phrase or image.

There are echoes of Einstein here. Our ordinary sense of past, present, and future as distinct compartments moving forward like an arrow, he said, is a “stubbornly persistent illusion.” As it turns out, Rosanne Cash has long been aware of these echoes too, signing up for physics classes when her children were young, constantly in conversation with scientists now. She talks about songs in some of the same ways scientists talk about mathematics — as discoveries, waiting to be caught, as much as inventions. For Rosanne Cash, songs are embedded in the fabric of the universe; this image alone is a gift from my time with her.

I am left with a sense of a woman who has seen a lot of life and turned that into wisdom. She is raising five children, lost her voice for several years, and underwent brain surgery four years ago. She continues to work with these raw materials of experience and wrest purpose and joy from them.

Several people have told us that watching the video of this conversation moved them to tears. One emotional moment for her — better experienced on the video than by audio alone — comes when she tells me about performing at Folsom Prison in March of last year. There, her father created one of his most famous performances and an iconic album. While touring the prison, Rosanne Cash met a prisoner who served at San Quentin Prison when her father also played there in 1969, and was now spending the rest of his life in Folsom. Her eyes fill with tears as she describes her dialogue with these men about freedom, outer and inner, and the confusing human struggle to gain the latter, whatever our lives have brought.

There were clearly other stories here to be mined. But Rosanne Cash’s openness, and her music, unlock stories of our own. We end our conversation with music, with her song titled “The World Unseen.” It somewhat magically brings together the elements of Rosanne Cash’s life and all of our lives — of poetry and mystery, of loss and love, of time travel. Here are the song’s opening verses:

I’m the sparrow on the roof 
I’m the list of everyone I have to lose 
I’m the rainbow in the dirt 
I am who I was and how much I can hurt 

So I will look for you 
In stories of the kings— 
Westward leading, still proceeding 
To the world unseen

The Angle of Johnny Cash’s Back from the Wings

by Trent Gilliss, senior editor

Johnny Cash Poster from Carnegie Hall PerformanceOne of the wonderful stories Rosanne Cash shares in this week’s show is about an intimate moment with her father before his appearance at Carnegie Hall in 1994. This performance marked the revival of his recording career with the release of his album American Recordings. An important moment to be sure.

In the rehearsal room at Orchestra Hall in downtown Minneapolis, Rosanne Cash tells Krista Tippett a story about rejecting her father’s repeated pleas for her to sing “I Still Miss Someone” with him on stage. Just as he turns to leave, she sees the flat of his back “bathed in light” and relents.

As we were producing this segment, all the producers at On Being longed to hear the actual performance. What did they sound like together? How did Johnny Cash introduce his daughter? How did the crowd respond?

Well, we looked around for a copy, any copy of this special moment — but came up empty. That is, until we found a bootleg copy. The quality is far from stellar but it does answer these questions. The way this legendary country music performer and father calls his daughter onto the stage is warm and endearing. The music they make together is worth hearing. And, in some ways, the feel from the seats of Carnegie Hall adds to the pleasure.

Listen in and tell us about the experience from unfettered ears.

Audio produced by Susan Leem and Trent Gilliss.

Rosanne Cash with Krista Tippett
A fabulous conversation was had yesterday at Orchestra Hall in Minneapolis. Stay tuned for the produced show in the coming; it’s going to be a good one. 
(photo: Trent Gilliss)

Rosanne Cash with Krista Tippett

A fabulous conversation was had yesterday at Orchestra Hall in Minneapolis. Stay tuned for the produced show in the coming; it’s going to be a good one. 

(photo: Trent Gilliss)


The Unorthodox Spectrum of Mormonism Explained

by Krista Tippett, host

I’ve had a sense of déjà vu as the discussion about Mormonism has heated up as of late, with exactly the same dynamic occurring in the last presidential election season. But the discussion this time is more serious.

It’s not just the fact that two Mormons — Mitt Romney and Jon Huntsman — are viable presidential candidates. It’s a Broadway musical. It’s more than one successful TV drama. We’re in, we’re coming to say, a “Mormon moment.” Joanna Brooks, giving just one of the many helpful pieces of perspective in this conversation, compares the rise of Mormons in politics and culture to the rise of the Mormon-owned Marriott Hotel chain. A highly disciplined, highly effective frontier culture grows up and migrates back out into centers of power. It’s a classic American story. But there’s also some kind of religious and cultural coming of age here, for Mormons and the rest of us.

I couldn’t have found a better person than Joanna Brooks to shed some distinctively informative, candid, and meaningful light on it all. She’s a literature scholar and a journalist. Her Ask Mormon Girl blog and Twitter feed is a remarkably reflective, compassionate community of questioning with Mormons of many stripes. Joanna BrooksAnd Ask Mormon Girl, as she notes on her website, is housed on the “legendary Feminist Mormon Housewives blog.” That is just one of many things that does not meet the traditional American eye on the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints — but which we engage through the voice and life of Joanna Brooks.

She grew up, as she tells it for starters, at the southern tip of the “Book of Mormon Belt” — Orange County, California, that is, which I’d associated more vividly with evangelical Christianity. Her father was “bishop” of their congregation several times growing up — a volunteer position that Mitt Romney has also held in his communities across his lifetime. Her mother is a “professional Mormon,” as she affectionately puts it — with, among other things, a serious avocation for genealogy. Joanna Brooks uses words like “rich,” “imaginative”, and “robust” to describe this faith that formed her and that she continues to love.

She has also struggled mightily, suffered disappointment and heartbreak, with this tradition she loves. She became an intellectual and a feminist at Brigham Young University, and then watched the university and the Church for a time condemn and disown the very Mormon mentors who’d inspired her. She was vociferously opposed to the proactive role the LDS Church took in California’s Proposition 8 referendum. But she is a probing force inside the Church’s wrestling with pain and confusion over this issue. Her blog is a model of compassionate presence, both to LGBT Mormons and to parents struggling to reconcile their religious beliefs and their love for their children. She honors the human confusion here that is not exclusive to Mormons and the added complexity that their theology of the family and eternity gives to subjects of marriage and sexuality.

Most of this conversation, though, is not about hot-button issues or presidential politics. It is an informative, energetic, and often moving journey into life on the other side of the American perception that Mormons are weird at best, a cult at worst. Joanna Brooks does not defend her tradition in any simplistic way, but she does make it three-dimensional and far harder to parody. Consider, for example, as she helps us do, the ambivalence and pain that Mormon married couples feel at their church’s legacy of polygamy. Hear her explanation of her sense of the “strangeness” of accusations she’s heard since she was a child, that she — a follower of Jesus Christ, a serious thinker about notions like atonement and grace — is not Christian. On a lighter note, but with just as much illumination for the listener, she is candid and corrective about a lingering obsession out there with ritual Mormon undergarments.

The most classic American story in this Mormon moment, perhaps, is how Joanna Brooks and other faith-filled and “unorthodox” Mormons are claiming their place in the unfolding story of this young frontier tradition. It is evolving from the inside in ways more meaningful, perhaps, than its outer rise to prominence in politics. Maybe in hindsight, we’ll see this Mormon moment as an occasion for this increasingly influential American phenomenon, composed after all of human beings, to become more articulate about itself and more comprehensible to the rest of us in its complexity.

The question for me is, how do we love wisdom — philosophia — in the face of impending catastrophe, given the kind of thinking, loving, caring, laughing, dancing animals that we are?

Cornel West at Calvin CollegeCornel West, as excerpted from "Focus on the Funk" an interview with Eduardo Mendieta

Photo by James Stewart/Flickr, CC BY-NC 2.0

~Trent Gilliss, senior editor


The Centrality of Desire in the Messiness of Human Life, and God’s Too

by Krista Tippett, host

P1000372Photo by Trent Gilliss

I still have a vivid memory of the first time I interviewed Avivah Zornberg. I had experienced her through the Bill Moyers series Genesis, and through her powerfully, lushly written books about the Bible. I brought one of mine into the studio that day — Everett Fox’s The Five Books of Moses, a translation that sacrifices English clarity to let the visual wordplay of the original Hebrew come through. In the end, I closed my eyes, and did something closer to entering the text than discussing it. That’s what Avivah Zornberg makes possible.

That first time, for Passover, we were looking at the iconic story of Exodus, which has inspired so many people in so many places across time, far transcending its appearance as words on a page. This time, I sat down in her living room in the Old Katamon neighborhood of Jerusalem and began the conversation by wondering where she might want to go. She was as delightful and gracious in her whole being as she is with her voice. We decided to start with the story of Noah and the Flood — chapter 6 in the book of Genesis — and see where it might take us.

This of course is one of those stories that many of us have heard in Sunday school, or seen in Technicolor at the movies, and heard references to and jokes about all our lives. But Avivah Zornberg knows the Hebrew Bible’s actual words and cadences by heart. She approaches it with the foundational mystical text of the Zohar. She applies the ancient Jewish art of midrash, reading between the lines with imagination, poetry, sensuality, and a sense of humor. And she uncovers stories within the story that open up the “biblical unconscious” and speak in unexpected ways to human life.

With her, we see that the biblical flood in some sense un-creates the world that has just been created. But the corruption that led to this undoing was not merely one of fleshly sin and violence; it was a loss of the connective tissue of language between human beings. “They have become so open,” Avivah Zornberg has written of the flood generation, “that they are closed to one another.”

Likewise, in Hebrew, the “ark” into which Noah retreats contains allusions to “word” as well as to “box.” This uncommunicative, self-absorbed man seems, upon closer examination, a strange choice for God to appoint to save all life on Earth. But precisely in his awkward imperfection, Noah embodies one of the qualities I love about the Hebrew Bible. It is an honest, unvarnished account of the messiness of life — the failed and flawed nature even of our greatest leaders. There are no storybook heroes in the Hebrew Bible. They are us, just as they are in real life. So even Noah, in one of those ironies of the human condition, finds himself imprisoned by the box/ark that is his claim to greatness.

That day in Avivah Zornberg’s living room, we walked backwards in Genesis — from Noah and the Flood to the creation story of Adam and Eve and Eden. Here too we find ironies that we recognize at the center of ourselves. From the Hebrew, Eden can also be translated as “delight” — “land of pleasure.” Everything is beautiful and perfect and delicious here. But it is the one tree in the center of the garden, from which God has asked Adam and Eve not to eat, that they desire.

The theme of desire — its centrality in moving human life forward, the way we struggle to both honor and order it — runs throughout Avivah Zornberg’s vision of how this text might tell us the story of ourselves. And, like the Bible itself, she does not condemn the fact of desire so much as seek to understand it. For the consciousness that desire enlivens is also a primary source of awareness and intentionality; it’s our choices that have the power to redeem us, not an impossible striving toward perfection.

I’ll leave you with a line to entice you to listen to my conversation with Avivah Zornberg. She says of the power of Adam’s telling of the first lie:

Brodsky said consciousness, human consciousness, begins with one’s first lie… That’s when we begin to be aware of the complexity in ourselves and the different impulses. And that’s where poetry comes from as well. You know, not only bad things come from saying two things at the same time. As long as you have a kind of straight unequivocal immaculate version of things, then there can be no poetry and there can be no tension, no desire again. Desire makes itself felt when language comes alive.”
I would definitely say that Creole is a really good example of what American is, because it shows how all these different things came together, and after a couple hundred years, what came out of it. It’s no longer African, it’s no longer French, it ain’t no longer Acadian, it ain’t no longer Spanish. It’s a culture of its own.

Fiddler Cedric Watson, on what it means to be Creole in America.

~reblogged by Trent Gilliss, senior editor

Show, Don’t Tell: On Our Recent Twitter Spike
by Trent Gilliss, senior editor
This weekend’s show provides a good lesson in the power (and simplicity) of demonstrating first and promoting later. As the graph above indicates, the delta of Twitter folks who started following @Beingtweets after we released “Investigating Healthy Minds with Richard Davidson” on June 23rd was significantly steeper than in previous weeks.
Part of the reason? We were live-tweeting Krista’s interview with Davidson (via ISDN) when we forwarded a question from Twitter to our host during the interview:
"I have a question from behind the glass. My producers were tweeting this behind the glass and someone asked on Twitter what the consequences of this practice can be for multitasking, this kind of way we live now."
We make a painstaking effort each week in our radio/podcast script to share what we’re doing online, telling people where we exist outside of our website. We can message with fervor — and this is necessary, to a degree — but the greatest impact is when we demonstrate how we naturally integrate social media with our interviews and production.
When we show, telling isn’t necessary. Doing this is, in my opinion, the smartest, most genuine and considerate way of growing audience on our social media platforms, and therefore doesn’t come off as fabricated or artificial. What do you think? We’re always looking for advice.

Show, Don’t Tell: On Our Recent Twitter Spike

by Trent Gilliss, senior editor

This weekend’s show provides a good lesson in the power (and simplicity) of demonstrating first and promoting later. As the graph above indicates, the delta of Twitter folks who started following @Beingtweets after we released “Investigating Healthy Minds with Richard Davidson” on June 23rd was significantly steeper than in previous weeks.

Part of the reason? We were live-tweeting Krista’s interview with Davidson (via ISDN) when we forwarded a question from Twitter to our host during the interview:

"I have a question from behind the glass. My producers were tweeting this behind the glass and someone asked on Twitter what the consequences of this practice can be for multitasking, this kind of way we live now."

We make a painstaking effort each week in our radio/podcast script to share what we’re doing online, telling people where we exist outside of our website. We can message with fervor — and this is necessary, to a degree — but the greatest impact is when we demonstrate how we naturally integrate social media with our interviews and production.

When we show, telling isn’t necessary. Doing this is, in my opinion, the smartest, most genuine and considerate way of growing audience on our social media platforms, and therefore doesn’t come off as fabricated or artificial. What do you think? We’re always looking for advice.


A Twitterscript of Lord Martin Rees Interview

by Susan Leem, associate producer and Trent Gilliss, senior editor

Lord Martin ReesProfessor Rees gives The Reith Lectures 2010 (photo: The Reith Lectures/Flickr, cc by-nc-nd 2.0)

Early Monday morning, Krista interviewed eminent astronomer Lord Martin Rees, who TED describes as one of the “key thinkers on the future of humanity in the cosmos.”

Rees’ calls for peaceful coexistence between believers and non-believers has made waves among atheists. He raised more hackles recently by accepting this year’s Templeton Prize (joining the ranks of past winners Mother Teresa, John Polkinghorne, and Billy Graham). He has one foot in each world as an atheist who is devoted to the cultural, “tribal” experience of attending church.

As a highly credentialed scientist, Lord Rees has studied and pondered the mysteries of black holes and separate universes, but what placed him on our radar is his concern for science’s impacts on human beings. He is a rare individual in that his sense of mystery and wonder for distant worlds and other forms of life doesn’t eclipse his awe of humankind.

He argues that even science is not unassailable, and its truths can be quite difficult to grasp. In fact, the mere questions that scientists ask today could not have even been imagined 30 years ago.

We live-tweeted highlights of this 90-minute conversation, which we’re aggregating and reposting for those who weren’t able to follow along. Follow us next time at @BeingTweets:

Read More


Gazan Doctor Renews Commitment to Forgiveness and Peace after Losing Three Daughters

by Kate Moos, executive producer

Executive Producer Kate Moos and Dr. Izzeldin AbuelaishAs we began to drill down on our editorial planning for next month’s production trip to Israel and Palestine, Trent asked me to sit down with Izzeldin Abuelaish, a Palestinian physician who has written a new memoir about growing up in the Gaza Strip, his struggles to become a doctor, and the loss of three of his daughters to an Israeli mortar in the hostilities between Hamas and Israel of 2009. I Shall Not Hate: A Gaza Doctor’s Journey on the Road to Peace and Human Dignity is recently published, and he was making a swing through the Twin Cities on book tour.

So I dusted off my rusty interviewing skills, tried to emulate the masterful Krista Tippett with my deep listening, and the 30-minute conversation above ensued.

Abuelaish’s story would be heroic in many ways without his personal loss, but is even moreso because, in its wake, he renewed his commitment to forgiveness and acceptance, and now travels the world on a mission for peace in the name of his daughters, for whom he created a foundation.

Let us know what you think about this interview, and share your thoughts on others you’d like to see, in what we hope will be a regular feature here on the blog.

(photo: Trent Gilliss)


Egyptian-American Coptic Christian Woman Celebrates Christmas with Renewed Meaning: An Interview with Monica Youssef

by Susan Leem, associate producer
+ Trent Gilliss, senior editor

Pope Shenuda III Leads Coptic Christmas Mass Pope Shenuda III, head of the Egyptian Coptic Orthodox Church, leads the Coptic Christmas midnight mass in Abassiya Cathedral in Cairo. (photo: Mohammed Abed/AFP/Getty Images)

Every January 7th in accordance with the Julian calendar, Coptic Orthodox Christians in North America celebrate the holiday of Christmas. But this sacred time is filled with solemnity, mourning, and fear — and also a deepening resolve and hope — for many Copts one week after the New Year’s Eve bombing of a Coptic church in Alexandria, Egypt killed 21 worshippers.

Copts are the largest religious minority in Egypt, making up nine percent of the country’s population the BBC reports, and are considered by many scholars to be direct descendants of Egyptians from the time of Jesus.

But more than one-quarter of Coptic Christians live in the rest of the world. And hundreds of Coptic churches can be found in the United States, including Saint Mary’s Coptic Orthodox Church in the suburb of South Saint Paul in Minnesota. We asked Monica Youssef, a 20-year old member of this parish who is president of the University of Minnesota Coptic Orthodox Christian Association, to reflect on this year’s Orthodox Christmas celebration.

Could you share a bit about your personal experience in the Coptic Orthodox Church: Where you grew up? How you came to the faith? What is it like to be a Coptic Christian in the United States?
Both of my parents came to the U.S. from Egypt about 25 years ago. They met and got married in Pennsylvania, and then moved to St. Paul so my father could study for his Ph.D. in Mechanical Engineering at the University of Minnesota. My older brother John, younger sister Mary, and I were all born here in St. Paul and have lived here our whole lives.

My father and mother have always been very faithful Coptic Christians, and have raised us all in the same manner. We were baptized in the Church a few months after being born, following one of the sacraments of the Coptic Orthodox Church. This love for our faith has flourished within us to such a degree that being a Coptic Christian has now become the essence of our lives.

It’s funny though, not many people may even know that about me — except for when January 7th or a week in April comes around, where my response to all of my friends is, “Gotta go to church!” And I get questions like, “You celebrate Christmas twice? Lucky!” or “A 10-hour service? How is that even possible?” I always enjoy sharing my faith with others who have never heard of it, or even some who just want a personal viewpoint. On the other hand, it’s always so much fun to connect with other Coptic youth across the U.S. at conventions or retreats that are held throughout the year in several different states. It’s as if we are all one big family, even if we’ve never met — the almost identical lifestyles, beliefs, and values we share are one the many reasons why it is a joy to be a Copt.

Coptic church in Germany
A man looks behind a curtain in front of the altar room at the Coptic Markus church in Frankfurt, Germany during Christmas celebrations. (photo: Johannes Eisele/AFP/Getty Images)

Today is Christmas within the Coptic Church. Most of us know very little about your faith tradition, including that Christmas is celebrated at a different time than most Christians celebrate the holiday in the United States. Could you describe some of the rituals and festivities that you and your family celebrate at your home and at your local church?
In one way we get to celebrate Christmas twice. Having the 25th off from work and school is always a great time to get together with family and friends in the spirit of the season. But it is actually January 7th where we celebrate the true meaning of Christmas — the glorious birth of Our Lord Jesus Christ. This is because the Copts go by the Julian calendar, rather than the Gregorian calendar (which is used throughout the world today).

The festivities actually start to begin around the second week of December (or the beginning of the Coptic month Kiahk), where churches across the globe offer their hearts to God singing a selection of praises and spiritual songs which are central to the birth of Our Lord Jesus Christ, and are so called “Kiahk Praises”.

Then on January 6th, Copts gather at church in the evening and pray the Holy Liturgy that goes up to midnight. The end of the Nativity fast, in which we abstain from dairy, meats, and poultry, is marked upon receiving the blood and body of Our Lord Jesus Christ in the sacrament of communion (occurring around midnight).

Tons of “Happy feast!” greetings are passed along to one another, as Copts leave the church and head home to partake in the first meal of meats, cheeses, eggs, and chicken — typically prepared in a traditional Egyptian manner. Soon, everyone becomes tired and then sleeps to reenergize for the next day of celebration. Church members gather again at church the next day to celebrate Christmas together; this usually is just a social hour with some food. Because Christmas is fixed to January 7th and may fall during the week, it is the following Sunday where church members hold a special Christmas program of singing, skits/plays, and a dinner after the Holy Liturgy. Kids get presents, hundreds of the same pictures are taken from several different cameras, and smiles are spread all over.

You mentioned the phrase “Happy feasts!” is offered in Arabic. Could you share the transliteration so I could share it with our readers? Oh, the transliteration in Arabic is either "Kola sana wenta tayeb!" (to a male) or "Kola sana wentee tayeba!" (to a female).

Monica Youssef and Friend Celebrate Coptic Christmas Mass
Monica Youssef and friend at Christmas mass in South Saint Paul, Minnesota.

You’re attending the University of Minnesota right now, correct? Is there a Coptic community at the university that you’ve become friends with?
The Copts that I know there are my friends that I have grown up with at church, actually, so before a member of my church enters the University of Minnesota, he/she already has a few friends there. This is because there is only one Coptic Church within Minnesota, and it is located in South St. Paul. So, because all of us are centralized at one location, we all know each other fairly well.

We are a registered student group, Coptic Orthodox Christian Association, where we gather once a month and discuss a spiritual topic. We are now incorporating regular volunteer activities within the community.

What impact has the New Year’s Eve bombings in Alexandria, Egypt had on your personal Coptic community (at school or outside of school)?
In one aspect, the bombing in Alexandria is heart-wrenching. Even if we do not know those killed or injured, I know that both others and I alike feel as though our own family was hurt. The Coptic community across the globe shares a way of life similar to one another. By and large, we talk, look, and pray like one another, whether in Egypt, Australia, Europe, or the U.S. Seeing the film of the bomb impact at the end of the service was terrifying. It almost looked like the church that I have attended my whole life.

Banner reads "Our church is always   for martyrs, free people not afraid of death." (Photo: Mohammed Abed/AFP/Getty Images)
Before midnight mass  at Abassiya Cathedral in Cairo, Egyptian Coptic Christians hold a banner reading, “Our church is always for martyrs, free people not afraid of death.” (photo: Mohammed Abed/AFP/Getty Images)

This event happened just short of the first-year anniversary of six Copts killed in a shooting after the Coptic Christmas liturgy on January 7, 2010 in a city of Egypt called Nag Hammadi. Our Church aches because of the innocent suffering of our brothers and sisters in Egypt, and it is happening at a time where we should be celebrating the incarnation of Our Lord Jesus Christ. However, in no way do we lose heart or faith. Such an event has strengthened our prayers as we lift our hearts to God asking for His mercy and for peace in the world. We learn from these martyrs that our lives are with God, and that at any moment we too may be face to face with death.

Sudanese Coptic Priests Celebrate Coptic Christmas Mass
Sudanese Coptic priests celebrate Christmas midnight mass at Khartoum’s Virgin Mary Church. (photo: Khaled Desouki/AFP/Getty Images)

For me, personally, this devastation has strengthened my faith, and I trust that He will deliver His people and justice will be served according to His will — whether on Earth or in heaven:

“I will love You, O Lord, my strength. The Lord is my rock and my fortress and my deliverer; My God, my strength, in whom I will trust; My shield and the horn of my salvation, my stronghold. I will call upon the Lord, who is worthy to be praised; So shall I be saved from my enemies.” (Ps. 18:3)

My God is compassionate, merciful, and loving God, and I know that He hears the cries of His children. Our faith and our trust can only be confirmed in Our Lord.

“The Lord also will be a refuge for the oppressed, A refuge in times of trouble. And those who know Your name will put their trust in You; For You, Lord, have not forsaken those who seek You. Sing praises to the Lord, who dwells in Zion! Declare His deeds among the people. When He avenges blood, He remembers them; He does not forget the cry of the humble.” (Ps. 9:9-12)

We know that there is a problem, but now is the time for us to come together as one soul, and one body, and offer our hearts to God. He is the only one, in a time like this, who can intercede on our behalves, help us, protect and save us, and avenge our troubles.

“Vengeance is Mine, and recompense; Their foot shall slip in due time; For the day of their calamity is at hand, And the things to come hasten upon them.” (Deut. 32:35)

Both Copts and Muslims in Egypt took to the streets in protest this month. Have you always been aware of that tension or is this the first time you’ve seen it in such a public display?
Similar protests occurred throughout the U.S. and Canada after the shooting in Nag Hammadi last year. It is right for us to voice that such treatment in Egypt is wrong, but I do not agree with this manner. It is true, this tragedy has devastated each and every one of us, but as a priest in Egypt has recently said in light of these attacks, “If you want to state your opinion, state it, but in a calm and peaceful manner. God has taught us to fight Satan, to fight evil, with prayer. We pray to God in our churches, not in the streets.”

Can you describe how you felt watching the funeral procession on Egyptian television?
I couldn’t hold my tears. I saw casket by casket by casket lined up before clergy, who were praying on them. A sight like that is mortifying but truly causes each Copt to pray harder. Those killed are our brothers and sisters. We must remember that although their lives on Earth may be over, Heaven is rejoicing for the arrival of 21 martyrs. This is our faith: our lives on Earth are a mere glimpse compared to our eternal lives. It is a reminder that we must work towards obtaining that eternal life with Our Father.

Egyptian Coptic Christian Woman Reflects at Midnight Mass
An Egyptian Coptic Christian woman looks up during a Christmas midnight mass at Abassiya Cathedral in Cairo. (photo: Mohammed Abed/AFP/Getty Images)

What particular ritual, song, icon, or a moment during Christmas services or a distinct family tradition might resonate more deeply and intimately with you during this season?
I, personally, always get so caught up in the particular feast day that we may be celebrating — whether Christmas or Easter — and I sometimes overlook the meaning of the holiday, becoming so overjoyed with the holiday’s arrival itself. This year, I feel as though it’ll be the exact opposite. The aura among the Coptic Christian Church, worldwide, is still somewhat shaken. Many congregations will be walking into churches with security, police officials, or other protective measures taken that are extremely out of the ordinary. But the beauty about the Coptic Church is the strong faith of its believers.

So this Christmas, each service and each tradition will be taken wholeheartedly to such a greater depth than years past. Every word to be prayed throughout the holy liturgy will resonate within our hearts, will strengthen our prayers, and will fill us with a heavenly and glorious joy. The greetings at church will be with such warmth and love, and time spent with family will prove itself more precious and more valuable than ever before.

This Christmas, we’ll truly be connected as one family, one body, through our gracious and perfect Father. As His Holiness Pope Shenouda III, Pope and Patriarch of Alexandria and the leader of the Coptic Church has said, “We will celebrate Christ’s birth no matter the circumstances or problems we face.”

“Fear not, for I am with you; Be not dismayed, for I am your God. I will strengthen you, Yes, I will help you, I will uphold you with My righteous right hand.” (Isaiah 41:10)

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.


A Twitterscript with the Chief Rabbi of the British Commonwealth

by Shubha Bala, associate producer

Chief Rabbi Lord Jonathan SacksOn October 15, 2010, Krista interviewed Lord Jonathan Sacks, Chief Rabbi of the British Commonwealth, during our trip to Emory University for a conference called “The Pursuit of Happiness” with the Dalai Lama. We are producing an hour-long radio show and podcast of this face-to-face conversation that will be available on Thursday, November 11th.

We streamed live video of this interview and also live-tweeted (@Beingtweets) some of the highlights. We’ve gathered them together for you in the form of a Twitterscript:

  1. Krista is starting a live interview with Chief Rabbi of the Commonwealth @rabbisacks. Watch at onbeing.org and follow our tweets
    2:01 PM Oct 15th
  2. "God never sets us problems that can’t be solved" - Rabbi Sacks on the problems we face in the 21st century
    2:06 PM Oct 15th
  3. "Most people are struck by the history of Jewish suffering. I’m struck by the history of Jewish recovery from suffering" @rabbisacks 
    2:09 PM Oct 15th
  4. Rabbi Sacks has some engaging ideas…that exceed 140 characters. Watch Krista interviewing him right now: onbeing.org/soflive 
    2:14 PM Oct 15th
  5. "I don’t think the logic of scarcity applies to God. A parent doesn’t love just one kid." @rabbisacks on the dignity of religious diversity
    2:19 PM Oct 15th
  6. "Don’t think we can confine God into our categories…God is bigger than religion." -@rabbisacks Watch live at onbeing.org/soflive
    2:23 PM Oct 15th
  7. @rabbisacks on Orthodox Jewish rapper @matisyahu “Everyone can relate to him, Jewish or not, because he’s so unique.” http://bit.ly/as33L8
    2:41 PM Oct 15th
  8. "Any real religious ritual will receive new meaning with every passing age" @rabbisacks explaining Passover rituals’ modern day significance
    2:50 PM Oct 15th
  9. "It’s when you can feel your opponents pain that you begin the path to reconciliation." @rabbisacks on ending violence through communication
    2:55 PM Oct 15th
  10. "We are in an age where we’re solving the mysteries of nature, but not yet of ourselves. That is the challenge God has given us."@rabbisacks
    3:06 PM Oct 15th

(photo: Trent Gilliss)


LIVE Video: One-on-One with Geshe Thupten Jinpa, the Man Beside the Dalai Lama

by Trent Gilliss, senior editor

date: Monday, October 18th, 2010
time: 4:15 p.m. EDT
duration: 60 minutes

Geshe Thupten Jinpa and the Dalai LamaWe’ve had an incredible few days down here in Atlanta at the summit with the Dalai Lama. And we’ve got Krista working hard, and we’re streaming real-time video of it all.

On Friday, she interviewed the chief rabbi of the United Kingdom, Lord Jonathan Sacks. On Sunday, Krista led an absolutely invigorating discussion with Dalai Lama (listen to audio) and other great religious leaders from the Muslim, Jewish, and Christian traditions. And, this afternoon, an intimate conversation with the Dalai Lama’s right-hand man, so to speak.

Watching the Dalai Lama with his English translator Thupten Jinpa is more like observing an intimate conversation than an interpretation of words. This former monk, now married with children, is also a scholar in his own right. With him, Krista will explore some of the intricacies of Tibetan understandings of the mind and meditation, as well as his front row seat on the Dalai Lama’s teachings and charisma.

We’re continuing to bring you as many behind-the-scenes perspectives as we can, and this live video stream is one more step in that effort. When you can, join us here or on our  live events page for real-time conversation with other viewers. You can leave comments and bounce ideas off of others with our Facebook chat module. Check it out! And, we’ll continue to send real-time updates when the stream goes live on our Facebook page and through our Twitter stream. Keep an eye out!