There is something very comforting about ritual. I have friends who go to church or sit at the Zen center. I respect that. The ritual of writing fills that need for me. Writing has been a kind of spiritual devotion for me. Listening to language, feeling stories unfold and poems arrive, being present to the page – I do not think of it as a career, I think of it as a devotion. That is a big difference to me.
Living Tassawuf with Cemalnur Sargut
by Trent Gilliss, senior editor
One of the people we’ll be interviewing while in Turkey is Cemalnur Sargut. She is one of Turkey’s deepest and most inspiring spiritual teachers, who is leading a resurgence in the study and practice of Sufism, the mystical manifestation of Islam. She’s a magnetic personality who leads the Turkish Women’s Cultural Association in Istanbul, which reaches millions of people “who would like to apply solutions to today’s problems in the Sufi view that knowledge is a state to be practiced and worship is a journey toward love.”
When we’re researching and evaluating a guest for the show, we’ll often listen to recordings of her speaking. We try to gauge not only what kind of talker she might be — the tone, fluidity, and style of her voice — but also her willingness to bring herself into the conversation and tell stories to illustrate what she’s talking about.
Cemalnur Sargut has been a bit more difficult to surmise. Her native tongue is Turkish, so there’s not much audio or video out there of her speaking in English. But, in this audio above, she gives a lecture (which feels more like a dharma talk) to a California audience at the Baraka Institute in October 2009. She speaks passable English before switching back to Turkish with the aid of a translator.
I think there’s enough here to take the risk. It’s the depth of the content that is worth exploring. She shares her experiences about her love for her teacher, her reflections on the nature of the spiritual journey, and her recommendations for how to live a spiritually balanced life. Within the context of Turkey, this should be a dynamic conversation.
Now, how we equip our host with the proper preparation materials for a one-hour interview?
A Twitterscript with Gordon Hempton
by Trent Gilliss, senior editor
On March 7, 2012, the audio ecologist and “soundtracker” Gordon Hempton found his way to a comfy-quiet public radio studio in Seattle to speak with our host, Krista Tippett, via ISDN line. We live-tweeted some of the best verbal nuggets from this conversation. What are your favorites?
Christian Wiman: A Twitterscript
~Trent Gilliss, senior editor
Live Video: In the Room with Kevin Kling
by Trent Gilliss, senior editor
WHEN: 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.
Language 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
One 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.
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. And 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.