Egyptian-American Coptic Christian Woman Celebrates Christmas with Renewed Meaning: An Interview with Monica Youssef
by Susan Leem, associate producer
+ Trent Gilliss, senior editor
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.
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).
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.
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.
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.
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
On 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:
- Krista is starting a live interview with Chief Rabbi of the Commonwealth @rabbisacks. Watch at onbeing.org and follow our tweets
- “God never sets us problems that can’t be solved” - Rabbi Sacks on the problems we face in the 21st century
- “Most people are struck by the history of Jewish suffering. I’m struck by the history of Jewish recovery from suffering” @rabbisacks
- Rabbi Sacks has some engaging ideas…that exceed 140 characters. Watch Krista interviewing him right now: onbeing.org/soflive
- “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
- “Don’t think we can confine God into our categories…God is bigger than religion.” -@rabbisacks Watch live at onbeing.org/soflive
- @rabbisacks on Orthodox Jewish rapper @matisyahu “Everyone can relate to him, Jewish or not, because he’s so unique.” http://bit.ly/as33L8
- “Any real religious ritual will receive new meaning with every passing age” @rabbisacks explaining Passover rituals’ modern day significance
- “It’s when you can feel your opponents pain that you begin the path to reconciliation.” @rabbisacks on ending violence through communication
- “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
(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
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!
LIVE Video: In the Room with Rabbi Jonathan Sacks, Chief Rabbi of the United Kingdom
by Trent Gilliss, senior editor
date: Friday, October 15th, 2010
time: 2:30 p.m. EDT
duration: 60 minutes
Well, after a two-hour plane delay we made it here to the beautiful campus of Emory University for “The Visit 2010” as the organizers are calling the Dalai Lama’s travel to Atlanta, Georgia. On Sunday, Krista will be moderating a panel (we’ll be live video streaming this too) with the Tibetan Buddhist leader and several other major religious figures, including the man she sits down with in just a few short hours for a one-one-one interview: Chief Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks.
Rabbi Sacks is a prolific thinker and writer and I suspect this will be a wide-ranging conversation that could go down many different paths. But we will be focusing on his wisdom in contemplating how all of us can better learn how to honor the dignity of difference in a globalized world.
Please join us for this real-time dialogue. You can leave comments here. If you’re interested in bouncing ideas off of others during this interview, check out our Being LIVE page that contains a real-time Facebook chat module. It’s quite enjoyable hearing what other viewers are thinking and responding to. Check it out!
Parsing the Power of Bishop Eddie Long and the Black Church: An Interview with Anthea Butler
by Kate Moos, managing producer
Allegations that Bishop Eddie Long coerced four young men to have unwanted sexual contact have riveted the media. In his first appearance before his congregation of New Birth Missionary Baptist Church east of Atlanta, Bishop Long fell short of a resounding denial of these charges.
Understanding that his “anti-homosexual” theology and activism make these accusations particularly controversial, we invited religion scholar Anthea Butler to help us understand the dynamics at play within the black church and a scholar’s perspective on the news coverage of this story.
She is associate professor of Religious Studies at the University of Pennsylvania and a regular contributor to Religion Dispatches. She is a past guest of this program and has written extensively about the role of women in the Pentecostal movement, especially in the Church of God in Christ, a predominantly African-American denomination that is the fifth-largest Christian tradition in the United States. We corresponded with her by email.
Is this story getting the coverage it deserves? Or is the coverage extreme? Would the story receive such prominence if his accusers were young women? Is it getting different coverage because he’s African American?
Yes, the story is receiving the coverage it deserves, not only in America, but globally. He has staked a portion of his ministerial message on homosexuality as “sin” and same sex marriage is wrong in a global context, so it is also fair to question his alleged activities.
If the accusers were women, this case would not receive that much coverage at all, sadly. I don’t think Long is getting different coverage because he is African American. I think the “responses” are different because the African-American community has been so shocked, and more importantly, his physical appearance (buffed out muscular body) is so unlike most pastors we see, Ted Haggard included, that his very physical being is also being critiqued along with the allegations.
You have written that this story presents a challenge to the black church in America to get over their homophobia. You recently wrote:
“The real story, however, is that this case explodes the cover of the black church’s internal don’t ask, don’t tell policy which has had a profound effect on the community and its followers. It’s very interesting that the Long scandal broke almost immediately after black pastors led by Bishop Harry Jackson came together with the Family Research Council to oppose the repeal of the Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell Act. Many black pastors have staked their entire ministries on the ‘family’ and the obsession with mainstream gender norms that encourage heterosexual marriage, abstinence, and patriarchal norms.”
How are attitudes toward homosexuality in the black church distinct from the anti-homosexual theology of other Christian churches in this country?
The attitudes about the black church are distinctive because, even though the party line is anti-homosexual, there are plenty of gay people in black churches. The don’t ask, don’t tell policy of the churches allows for people to be a part of the congregation, welcomed, but consistently exposed to a message of “second class, sinful citizenship” because of their sexual preference. And that is wrong.
The other part that is different is that the black church’s stance is not only biblical, but it’s about social respectability and attempting to rectify disparities — for instance, the high rate of unmarried African-American women. Homosexuality is perceived to be a reason why black women are such a high percentage of those who are unmarried.
Among the elements that distinguish this story are that the alleged sexual contact was coercive (different moral ground hiring a prostitute, as in the Ted Haggard story) and that it involved young men for whom Long was a very powerful authority figure. You point out that the role of the central, powerful, charismatic pastor in congregational life is dangerous on many levels. And yet isn’t it precisely those qualities that make churches like New Life [megachurch formerly led by Ted Haggard] successful, and draw so many people?
Yes, it is what make these churches successful, but in the case of New Life, the bishop is policing his members, but who polices/disciplines him? Charismatic authority can run amok, but it is in congregations like New Birth — that don’t have an oversight board that can both protect and discipline the pastor — that these types of issues can get out of hand. If there is an oversight board for New Birth, the best way they could protect both Bishop Long and the congregation is to have him sit out a time period until the case is adjudicated. However, since New Birth is Bishop Long, I doubt that will happen.
Many of us are involved personally with religious communities that are organized in strict hierarchies that reserve power to a small number of leaders with few checks and balances. That’s something we see a lot of in secular organizations as well (though without the presumption that the hierarchy is sanctioned by the deity). Arguably, this is a model of human organization that has proven consistently ineffective at best, and criminal at worst. Some people would say that religion itself, faith itself, is the problem. Is there a way in which religion can be part of a solution?
More oversight and a willingness to turn people in to the authorities (police) would be a start. Many communities harbor and move about leaders involved in scandals; the Catholic Church is the model for how churches move around problem clergy rather than taking definitive legal action. I do believe that, as these incidences rise, the privileges religious officials (non-taxable status for example) enjoy in this country right now could be on their way out in the next few years if the public outcry continues.
In the coverage we’ve all seen and in writings on this story, the term “the black church” is ubiquitous. I myself use it for convenience. But is it fair to use this aggregating term to represent African-American Christians? Is it dangerous to cast this as such a broad and monolithic category, like “the Muslim world?”
It’s not exactly “fair” because this moniker means different things to different people. On the other hand, It is ubiquitous, and, although I would say that New Birth is not a traditional black church because of its size, it is because the majority of its population is African American. So to say the black church, the term that W.E.B DuBois used, is a “space” to hold lots of tensions that seem to aggregate around the social purpose of the black church (social justice and community) and the “practice” of the black church (song, prayers, preaching, etc.). It may be dangerous because it doesn’t fully express the myriad of black religious expression in the United States. But, then again, it is a term that, when spoken, is recognizable. In that sense, I don’t think it will fall out of use.
Joanna Macy: A Twitterscript
by Trent Gilliss, senior editor
For nearly all of Krista’s interviews nowadays, we live-tweet (@softweets) the verbal gems and meaningful points of the conversation so that we can provide some type of real-time dialogue with our online friends. But, we realize many of you either don’t use Twitter or just simply miss our tweets because of the busy pace of a day at work or home so we’re creating a catalog of those submissions for you to read in one place.
Following is our “Twitterscript” of Krista’s interview with Joanna Macy that took place over an ISDN line on July 13, 2010. As you may know, it was a wonderful conversation that made for an instant classic titled “A Wild Love for the World.” A former CIA agent and translator of Rainer Maria Rilke, a Buddhist teach and a philosopher of ecology, this octogenarian had many wise things to share that were wonderful nuggets for our Twitterstream:
- Krista is about to interview eco-philosopher and Buddhist scholar Joanna Macy: http://bit.ly/c48Bkk - Stay tuned for live Tweets!
1:01 PM Jul 13th
- “I had a sense of the world as big and wise and intelligent. I had an appetite to disappear into it.” -Macy on her childhood summers
1:18 PM Jul 13th
- While we’re fixing technical issues Krista says: “You wouldn’t believe how beautiful Rilke’s German is. It sounds nothing like Hitler.”
1:26 PM Jul 13th
- “The human drama involved in the Stalinist oppression of Eastern Europe moved us deeply.” -Joanna Macy on taking in Hungarian refugees, 1956
1:31 PM Jul 13th
- Macy is about to read one of the Rilke poems she translated. It begins: “I live my life in widening circles…”
1:31 PM Jul 13th
- “Our human minds are too small to make pronouncements and definitions around the source of the sacred.” -Joanna Macy
1:35 PM Jul 13th
- “My world itself is sacred. I don’t need to put all my notions of what is holy into a big daddy God…” -Joanna Macy
1:35 PM Jul 13th
- Macy on the parallels between Rilke and Buddhist notions of God: “We must not portray you in kings’ robes.” -Joanna Macy translating Rilke
1:40 PM Jul 13th
- “There’s this opening up with reverence and appreciation to the gift of life itself.” - Macy on current religious thinking across traditions
Tue Jul 13 13:46:43 2010
- “What batters you becomes your strength.” -Joanna Macy reading her translation of Rilke’s Sonnet to Orpheus.
Tue Jul 13 13:54:32 2010
- “I’m not insisting that we be brimming with hope. It’s OK not to be optimistic.” -Joanna Macy, on the current environmental crisis
Tue Jul 13 14:00:46 2010
- “Buddhist teaching says that a feeling that you have to maintain hope can wear you out.” -Joanna Macy
Tue Jul 13 14:01:17 2010
- “Song itself cannot happen without time.” -Joanna Macy, during her interview with Krista
Tue Jul 13 14:07:18 2010
- “We are the weaver, and we are the web; we are the flow and we are the ebb” - Joanna Macy quoting a chant
Tue Jul 13 14:09:08 2010
- “Being spiritual is in now, but it also generates a lot of silliness…escapism and a whole lot of new manufactured products” - Joanna Macy
Tue Jul 13 14:10:03 2010
- “It’s linked back to all the hands of the ages. Every atom in this hand goes back to..the beginning of space-time.”- Macy observing her hand
Tue Jul 13 14:15:44 2010
- ”..death does not wound us without at the same time lifting us toward a more perfect understanding of this being and of ourselves” - Rilke
Tue Jul 13 14:20:44 2010
- “There’s no excuse for making love for our world dependent on whether we think it’s going to go on forever..this moment you’re alive.” -Macy
Tue Jul 13 14:23:52 2010
Arranged Marriage: An Expert on Choice Speaks Across Cultures
Shubha Bala, associate producer
When I was 11, I bombarded my uncle with questions while we sat on the floor going through photos and letters from Indian families seeking a marriage arrangement between him and their daughters. At some point I naively asked, “But won’t you want to meet all the women before deciding on the best one?”
Interview upon interview, Sheena Iyengar, author of The Art of Choosing and a business professor at Columbia University, attributed her own curiosity around choice to her Sikh parents’ arranged marriage. But her interviewers often stopped short of asking her for more detail.
Sometimes there is an assumption that an arranged marriage represents an absence of choice; but, for many Indians, the modern arranged marriage still includes choice but with a collective framework. At least that’s my experience as a second-generation Indian who has had many personal discussions about this subject. For example, I want to choose the best husband for me, but some aunts think that I should include what is best for my parents, grandparents, and siblings.
Most Indians are touched by arranged marriages in some form or the other. So, although The New York Times and Express India articles both describe one of Sheena Iyengar’s experiments, which looks at cultural differences of choice, the Times only states the facts whereas Express India takes the story further by asking her opinion:
“Iyengar does not privilege either of these choices over the other; collective action, after all, can be as inspiring and purposeful as Gandhi’s Salt March to Dandi, while tales of inspired individualism abound as well. ‘Both extreme ends of the spectrum are problematic, but different places along the continuum have their own particular benefits,’ she says.
To some extent, even India Abroad’s feature approaches things from a collective choice lens. Their interview of Sheena Iyengar focused on her mother and family as much as on her.
Krista and I discussed this approach as I briefed her for today’s interview with Sheena Iyengar; I hope we can delve more deeply into her personal experiences while approaching the conversation from multiple cultural lenses. By the way, you can follow the interview on Twitter as we live-tweet (@softweets) the gems of the conversation at 2 p.m. Central today.
As for my uncle, he told me that after vetting the photos and letters for a handful of women to meet face-to-face, he was sure he would meet one, feel immediate love, and have no choice but to throw away the rest.
Everyone talks about how Johnny has fallen from grace. In reality, he’s fallen to grace. He is integrated. He is living a life of truth. He has grown in awareness and humility. He had all these things within him, but they weren’t the guiding, leading principles of his life. Now they are.
—Rielle Hunter, referring to former senator and presidential candidate John Edwards in her candid and somewhat befuddling interview with Lisa DePaulo in April’s GQ magazine.
Trent Gilliss, online editor
Two Vatican Astronomers: A Twitterscript
Trent Gilliss, online editor
Two Jesuits who work at the Vatican Observatory — Brother Guy Consolmagno, curator of meteorites, and Father George Coyne, its former director (whom you might recognize from his appearance in Bill Maher’s Religulous) — have been on our interview list for years. Yesterday, Krista was finally able to interview them, together, from a recording studio in Arizona. These two astronomers had a great dynamic between them and have a bit of different perspective from most of the “hard” scientists — usually physicists — we have spoken to over the years. Oh, and they have great sense of humor, as you can see in the video to the right of Br. Consolmagno’s appearance on The Colbert Report.
We’ll start producing this interview while Krista’s out on tour speaking about her new book, and we can’t wait to release this program! In the meantime, Colleen and I tweeted some of the lines that struck our ears. A transcript of our Twitter stream:
- For the next 90 minutes, tweets from Krista’s interview w/ two Vatican Observatory astronomers: Fr. George Coyne and Br. Guy Consolmagno.
- 68 degrees in Arizona. They’re rubbing it in since it is frigid today in Minnesota.
- Fr. George is a Jesuit who grew up in Baltimore. Tells a great story about a priest who hooked him up w/ books from the Reading, PA library.
- Br. Guy grew up in Detroit and transferred to MIT when he discovered they had the largest science fiction collection!
- Br. Guy joined Peace Corps b/c he “couldn’t see the point of studying stars when people are suffering.” Realized that all people love stars.
- Fr. Coyne: if all we do is feed and clothe people, we’re all going to be naked; what really makes us human is music, the arts, science…
- Br. Guy: you don’t find answers to theological ?s by looking through a telescope; you don’t go to the Bible to find answers to science.
- Fr. George: “the God of religious faith is a lover.”
- Fr. George: “My understanding of the universe does not need God. I don’t need God in my science.”
- Br. Guy Consolmagno: “The tragedy of Haiti is the tragedy of death. … There isn’t any answer to that.”
- Fr. George Coyne, astronomer: “To limit our human experience to scientific knowledge is to impoverish all of us.”
- Br. Guy Consolmagno, on seismic and cosmic activity in the creation of life: “The climate will change. … The Earth is not a paradise.”
- Fr. George Coyne: “To have faith is an extreme risk. ‘Rock of Ages’ is a nice hymn but…”
- Br. Guy Consolmagno: “We know our understanding of the universe is incomplete; our understanding of God is incomplete.”
- Br. Guy Consolmagno: “You have to experience something before you can react to it.”
- Fr. George Coyne, an astronomer on his science: “It’s exciting to be ignorant.”
- Fr. George Coyne, when he presents papers at scientific conferences: “I’m not dressed as a priest. It just confuses things.” Funny moment.
- The Vatican Observatory is staffed by all Jesuits, except one diocesan priest. But the observatory was not founded by the Jesuit Order.
- 4 Jesuits have asteroids named after them: Xavier, Loyola, and the 2 chaps Krista is interviewing: Fr. George Coyne + Br. Guy Consolmagno
- Br Guy on Galileo: why is it that 400 years later he’s symbol of science religion clash when that’s not what it was about at his time?
- Br Guy: Don’t just learn science from reading Newton & Galileo, but also from Plato, Shakespeare, and scripture
- Br. Guy Consolmagno, a Jesuit astronomer: “Truth can sometimes only be expressed in a poetry.”
- Fr Coyne: language of universe is math; it’s a tool to understand beauty; we absract to understand
- Br Guy: Being able to do science is trying to understand how God plays with us