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
Einstein on Race
» download (mp3, 13:46)
Colleen Scheck, senior producer
"But after I accepted that…he actually said such things, the next puzzle for me was why? Because…prior to Martin Luther King, I don’t know of any other Nobel Laureate who spoke so forcefully for the rights of African Americans."
— S. James Gates, Jr., string theorist
"My trip to this institution was in behalf of a worthwhile cause. There is a separation of colored people from white people in the United States. That separation is not a disease of colored people. It is a disease of white people. I do not intend to be quiet about it."
— Albert Einstein, speaking at Lincoln University in Pennsylvania in 1946
Albert Einstein’s spiritual sensibility is the center of this week’s program, "Einstein’s God," but I want to highlight a section from our companion show, "Einstein’s Ethics," that explores the nature of his humanitarian passions and public ethics, including his views on race. It contains one of my favorite interviews: Krista’s conversation with S. James Gates, Jr, a professor of physics whose work focuses on string theory and supersymmetry — things I don’t fully comprehend.
Originally, he was not on our radar for this program, but when we heard him speak at a conference on Einstein’s legacy, we were impressed not only by his scientific insight, but also by his reflection on Einstein the person. In this excerpt from our program, Gates speaks eloquently and thoughtfully about how he discovered Einstein’s passion for the problem of racism, and his "capacity for ethical engagement and his scientific creativity" — something Gates himself embodies. You’ll hear the beautiful voice of the legendary opera singer Marian Anderson, whom Einstein invited to stay at his home after she was denied a room at Princeton’s best “whites only” hotel.
A Humble Offering
by Nancy Rosenbaum, associate producer
Last week, I traveled with Krista, Trent, and Mitch for a production trip to the Black Hills in South Dakota. We’ve been planning a program about the spiritual legacy of Sitting Bull for years. Finally the pieces of this production puzzle have started to come together.
After landing in Rapid City, we drove through the snowy Black Hills until we arrived at the cozy home of Sitting Bull’s great-grandson, Ernie LaPointe. As we prepared for this trip, several people (including Ernie’s wife Sonja) advised us to bring him a gift of tobacco. Some of you responded to an earlier blog post, including David Born who once served as chair of the Department of American Indian Studies at the University of Minnesota.
He suggested where to buy the traditional pipe tobacco, or kinnikinnick, and recommended that we wrap it in a red (a sacred color for the Lakota) cotton cloth. What mattered most, he advised, is that Krista should present the tobacco with humbleness, humility, and respect. Here are some notes from our conversation:
"You can let him know that you understand it’s traditional when seeking the advice/wisdom of an elder to present a gift. You want to acknowledge that the information he’ll be sharing is important and sacred and you want to honor that. You can acknowledge your own ignorance about his customs and let him know that you’re not trying to be Native, stereotype Natives, or romanticize them. The gift of the tobacco is a way of both making a request and expressing appreciation — not just of Ernie but of the Lakota nation. What matters most is that the tobacco is given with "a good heart."
A quiet hush descended over Ernie’s living room when Krista formally presented a pouch of tobacco wrapped in red cloth. She spoke quietly and with grace. As I reflect back on this moment, it seems like this singular exchange set the tone for the two-hour interview that unfolded between them — one of respect and intimacy.
The Details Are in the Tobacco: Preparing for Our Sitting Bull Production
by Nancy Rosenbaum, associate producer
I recently wrote about the research around an upcoming SOF program exploring the spiritual legacy of Sitting Bull. We’ve zeroed in on some possible voices for the show, including Ernie LaPointe (pictured at right), Sitting Bull’s great-grandson. Ernie lives in the Black Hills of South Dakota and Krista will be interviewing him at his home in late October.
One of the reasons why Krista wants to conduct the interview in Ernie’s home is because she’d like him to show her things — photos, relics, memorabilia — that are evocative of Sitting Bull’s memory. I needed to find out what artifacts he has so I asked if he could give me a rundown. But as soon as the word “artifact” tumbled out of my mouth, Ernie said I would need to speak with his wife, Sonja. From what I could understand, Ernie follows the traditional Lakota way, and therefore does not talk casually about people who have passed on.
Ernie’s wife, who is German, explained that when Krista comes in October we’ll need to bring a gift of tobacco. “Not a pound, just a little,” she said. Ernie will use the tobacco as an offering to his ancestors when he asks their permission to discuss their lives and memory. Sonia also mentioned that if anyone on our production team is “on her moon” (in other words, menstruating), Ernie won’t be able to present certain sacred objects. Apparently Ernie has a prayer room in his house with a sign on the door that reads something like: “Do not enter if you are on your moon.”
We’ve already started talking as a production team about the tobacco: How much should we bring? What kind? Should it be presented in a pouch or a tin? As an associate producer for this show, I’ll be following up on on these kinds of details in the weeks to come.