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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.

As more media outlets produce stories about me, a few points of clarification:

* I did a LOT of drugs, but I am not a drug addict. I’m an alcoholic. Booze was my undoing.
* I swear a lot, but have never dropped an F bomb in a sermon
* I did not live in a commune…I just had a lot of roommates.
* I have never said “God doesn’t have any answers” I said that we go to God for answers, but sometimes what we get is God’s presence.
* Yes, a couple times this year I have competed in Olympic-Style Weightlifting. But calling me a “competitive weightlifter” seems a stretch.

All of this has made me wonder how many times I drew conclusions or made judgements about someone I read about in the media based solely on exaggerated statements by the media outlet.


Nadia Bolz-Weber

If you haven’t heard this countercultural, tatted up Lutheran pastor talk about God, faith, and life, then you really ought to listen to this On Being episode, "Seeing the Underside and Seeing God."

Do the Heagle.
Our technical director Chris Heagle does a lot of dancing in the minutes before the interview when the host and guest take their seats. Mic positioning, sound checks, water ready… just a few of the things our resident expert makes perfect in a quiet, frenzied pace before Krista Tippett sat down with poet Marie Howe at the College of Saint Benedict.
~Trent Gilliss, senior editor
Do the Heagle.
Our technical director Chris Heagle does a lot of dancing in the minutes before the interview when the host and guest take their seats. Mic positioning, sound checks, water ready… just a few of the things our resident expert makes perfect in a quiet, frenzied pace before Krista Tippett sat down with poet Marie Howe at the College of Saint Benedict.
~Trent Gilliss, senior editor

Do the Heagle.

Our technical director Chris Heagle does a lot of dancing in the minutes before the interview when the host and guest take their seats. Mic positioning, sound checks, water ready… just a few of the things our resident expert makes perfect in a quiet, frenzied pace before Krista Tippett sat down with poet Marie Howe at the College of Saint Benedict.

~Trent Gilliss, senior editor


Desecrated Bodies, Dashed Hopes

by Arezou Rezvani, guest contributor

Splashing water onto tombShia mourners splash water onto a tomb during a traditional burial ritual in Bahrain. (phoot: Al Jazeera English)

When a video of U.S. Marines urinating on the dead bodies of Taliban fighters became international headline news last month, national dialogue around the incident centered mostly on its impact on U.S.-brokered peace talks, the safety of military personnel in the region, and the military culture that some argue contributed to the dehumanizing act. Largely absent from mainstream news media coverage, however, was any meaningful attempt to understand how the global Muslim community viewed the desecration of the corpses.

What took place in January was not unique. In 2010 images of a group of U.S. Army soldiers dubbed the “kill team” posing with mutilated Afghan corpses emerged and were eventually published in Rolling Stone magazine. Now, just over a year later, a similar war crime has been committed by American Marines, sparking a fresh but familiar conversation about how the psychology in and around war is not well understood by the American public.

It is indeed an important conversation to be had, particularly if there is any sincere interest in helping the latest and largest wave of U.S. troops that left Iraq in December transition back to civilian life. What is equally important, however, is a discussion around the recurring theme of desecrating the dead in a Muslim country.

In Islam, desecrating enemy corpses was forbidden by the Prophet Muhammad and is regarded today by practicing Muslims as a sin and a crime. The religion also rejects cremation as a proper rite for death as it is believed that the tailbone, which is thought to regenerate the complete human being on the Day of Resurrection, would be destroyed. Another interpretation within Islam condemns any desecration of a corpse on the premise that the resurrected body will appear as it did at the moment of death.

When one considers the funeral rites and regulations in Islam, from the process of washing the body — a step that in itself entails a very particular set of instructions — to the act of shrouding a corpse in white prior to interment, it becomes clear that the rituals associated with the transition between life and death are an integral part of the faith.

The most recent incident of depriving the dead Taliban fighters of that ritual could have been an opportunity to start a dialogue around Muslim religion and culture. Instead, most of the coverage further enabled the American public’s blindness toward the “other.” This disinclination to examine the global consequences of collective ignorance, which in this instance manifested as an indifference toward the desecration of Taliban corpses, only serves to exacerbate tensions between Americans and the broader Muslim world.

American news media have an obligation to offer comprehensive coverage and fine-grained contextualizing of events that the public is not always ready confront. To be sure, debates around whether the incident will prompt another wave of anti-American sentiment in the region, or whether military culture is to blame for the dehumanizing act, makes for good television and two-page spreads in print publications. But ultimately it’s cross-cultural and inter-religious dialogue that will help to avert similar future acts of dehumanization and diffuse tensions. Until the news media are willing to create the kind of broad narrative understanding of events that makes such dialogue possible, their tacit enabling of collective ignorance means that they will be complicit in any future acts of dehumanization.

Arezou RezvaniArezou Rezvani is a freelance multimedia journalist based in Los Angeles, California. Her work appears on NBC Los Angeles and American Public Media’s Marketplace, where she explores themes related to business, religion, and foreign affairs. You can see more of her reporting at Spectrum.


What Are You Watching on TV This Season?

by Nancy Rosenbaum, producer

Dexter Season 6 promo photo

Women gone wild. The rise of the anti-hero. Reenchanting the world. Nostalgia for the recent past.

These are just a few of the themes peppering our television landscape. How do these narratives reflect who we are (or want to be)? Why are we longing for stories about these kinds of characters and situations at this particular moment? Where do religious themes and imagery figure into the latest crop of television storytelling?

We’ll be diving into these questions for our upcoming interview with Diane Winston ("TV and Parables of Our Time"), a media and religion scholar at USC.

What shows or characters capture your attention? Send us your ideas for clips by October 27. Here’s what we’ll need from you as virtual producers:

  • Series name
  • Season
  • Episode name/number
  • Time clip starts and ends (about 1 minute, 30 seconds in length)
  • Scene description - a few sentences about why you think it’s intriguing

Oh, and don’t forget to let us know who you are. Let the production begin!


Beware the Rumors of a Quake When It Comes to Anglicans Flocking to the Ordinariate

by Martin E. Marty, special contributor

Archbishop Vincent Nichols ordains five priests for the Personal Ordinariate of Our Lady of Walsingham in Westminster Cathedral on Friday, June 10, 2011. (photo: ©Mazur/catholicchurch.org.uk)

Hurricanes, earthquakes, droughts, famines, tsunamis, floods, volcanic eruptions, and many other natural disasters — supernatural disasters and signals to Glenn Beck and Pat Robertson — are prime global and local topics. They inspire prayer and practical responses, but they also provide metaphoric language for religion. Try this, from National Catholic Reporter: “NO EARTHQUAKE FROM OVERTURE TO ANGLICANS,” a story by John L. Allen, Jr. This week he could have communicated as well by writing “No Hurricane after overture to Anglicans.” “Earthquake” works better, so let it stand.

The overture in question is the new Personal Ordinariate of Our Lady of Walsingham, a two-year-old structure instituted by Pope Benedict XVI to make it possible for hosts of Anglican clergy — and, less-noticed, laity, into the Roman Catholic communion. Don’t know where and why Walsingham is? We don’t need to. Don’t know what an Ordinariate is? Neither did the authors of the Catholic dictionaries on my shelf, but you can figure it out, and may need to if this issue interests you. It made possible the group reception of clerics into Catholicism as opposed to one-at-the-time processing through “conversion.” By the way, Allen wrote on June 8 that the ordinariate numbered 900 laity and 60 clergy “including some newly minted Catholic priests who had already retired from Anglican ministry at 70.”

Some nervous Anglicans, Roman Catholics, and ecumenically-minded “others” had foreseen a surge — see how that metaphor creeps in? — of Anglican priests who oppose the ordination of women. Allen foresees some more ordinariateers when Anglicans welcome women into the priesthood. (By August 19 he revised the statistics to “1,000 laity and 64 clergy…” scattered across 27 different communities.)

Allen says “there’s scant evidence of a revolution,” so this earthquake has to be “downgraded” to near zero on Richter scales, since it represents “roughly .02 percent of the five million Catholics in England and Wales.” That number, he thinks, could go down, or a bit “up” if, as foreseen, Anglicans will begin ordaining women to the episcopate next year. By the way, Allen, when interviewing leaders, makes a point of describing them as “thoughtful” and not antic or frantic. Still, despite all the predictions: “No Earthquake.”

Such a judgment applies outside the U.K. as well. In 1952 when I was ordained, without the help of an ordinariate, we would hear on occasion of a minister in our communion or others who had “defected” from the Catholic priesthood and been “converted” to some Protestant group. Perhaps because the events were rare and the gulf between Catholics and Everyone Else then was cosmic, such pastors became celebrities. Like “apostates,” of whom Max Scheler wrote, they “spent their whole subsequent careers taking revenge on their own spiritual past.” The gulf between communions has now narrowed; the ecumenical spirit has taken the roughest edges off the old abrasions.

Now and then we hear of the move of a Protestant minister to the Catholic priesthood, news accompanied by predictions of a forthcoming surge of such moves. In some circles of the church these predictions create tremors. However, eased ecclesial relations, the sense that the vocation of others is sacred and not to be judged by uninformed people at a distance, and an awareness that even if the statistics rise to .03 percent, we must still say “No Earthquake.” The rumblings may even provide opportunities to listen and learn and not merely to yawn. Or quake.

Martin MartyMartin E. Marty is the Fairfax M. Cone Distinguished Service Professor Emeritus at The University of Chicago. He’s authored many books, including Pilgrims in Their Own Land and Modern American Religion.

This essay is reprinted with permission of Sightings from the Martin Marty Center at the University of Chicago Divinity School.


Helping One Person Matters More than Saving Thousands

by Shubha Bala, associate producer

"If I look at the mass I will never act."
—Mother Teresa

It’s hard for people to relate to statistics and big numbers when hearing about disasters and people suffering. The question for advocates, and journalists, is how big is too big? Paul Slovic says the magic number is two.

In a study from the Decision Science Research Institute, Slovic and his team presented some people with the opportunity to donate to a starving girl named Rokia, and others to a starving boy named Moussa. People responded compassionately to their cause. He then presented a third group of people with the opportunity to donate to both Rokia and Moussa, helping both of them equally. Surprisingly, people were less likely to donate anything at all when they were presented with two starving children.

For New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristof, our guest on next week’s show, this has meant focusing on one person’s story. Devoted to raising awareness of human rights and poverty, he told Krista, “My job as a journalist is to find these larger issues that I want to address but then find some microcosm of it, some Rokia who can open those portals and hopefully get people to care.”

In the non-profit world, some organizations have found success by creating a model around this idea — child sponsorship organizations or Kiva, for example. Microfinance organizations weren’t new, but a model in which one could seemingly loan directly to an individual was. As a result, Kiva exploded onto the American donor scene. Even though in both of these cases donations aren’t going directly into the hands of the recipient, Kiva capitalized on the human instinct to take action to help one person in need. Organizations like DonorsChoose.org have used this same model to fund education projects within the United States.

It is not altogether shocking that we feel more compassion when we have relatable stories. But what stands out in Slovic’s paper is a study in which groups were either given the story of Rokia, a list of statistics, or the story of Rokia combined with more general statistics.

"Donations in response to the identified individual, Rokia, were far greater than donations in response to the statistical portrayal of the food crisis. Most important, however, and most discouraging, was the fact that coupling the statistical realities with Rokia’s story significantly reduced the contributions to Rokia. Alternatively, one could say that using Rokia’s story to ‘put a face behind the statistical problem’ did not do much to increase donations.”

And, this is one of the points Nicholas Kristof makes in next week’s show — how to make us care enough about massive, global tragedies to act.


Tax Protester? Terrorist.

Trent Gilliss, online editor

Current NewGround Fellow (check out our program on the organization) Ali H. Mir has written a challenging piece in USC’s The Scoop. By definition of the Patriot Act, he says, journalists should be identifying Joseph Andrew Stack III — the suicide bomber who flew his plane into a federal building in Austin, Texas in order to kill employees of the Internal Revenue Service — as a terrorist and not simply a tax protester:

"Law enforcement and the major media outlets in the United States need to be consistent in their definition of terrorism and to use the term objectively. Selective use of the term makes it clear that objectivity is simply a conceit and that certain racial, ethnic and religious groups are incapable of committing acts of terrorism (i.e. upper-middle-class white men who own airplanes and nurture a grievance against their own government)."

(h/t Diane Winston)

Tagged: #media #terrorism
One of your colleagues had me in the papers with horns and a tail, red horns and a tail. That’s a sign of the devil. I’m a Christian man. I don’t like those things. I take those things very serious. Those are the kind of things that the fans actually get used to seeing, and actually sometimes influence those people to believe that you are a bad person, that you are like an ogre.

—Pedro Martinez, speaking to reporters at Yankee Stadium the day before his debut as the starting pitcher for the Philadelphia Phillies in Game 2 of the World Series.

Trent Gilliss, online editor

I was so influenced so greatly by a television show in igniting the passion that I had as being a prosecutor — and it was Perry Mason.

Sonia Sotomayor, in response to Sen. Klobuchar’s (D-Minn.) question during yesterday’s confirmation hearings for her nomination to the U.S. Supreme Court

Yesterday’s Senate confirmation hearings for Sonia Sotomayor included a lighter moment where Sotomayor shared how growing up watching the TV show Perry Mason inspired her to pursue a legal career. As I listened to radio coverage of the hearings, I realized that being immersed in this week’s program with Diane Winston helped me to hear this Perry Mason reference with new ears.

Yes, television can be cast as frivolous fare — a kind of cotton candy for the mind. But as Diane Winston emphasizes, television narratives are extremely powerful. They illuminate our collective social concerns. The characters we meet in the shows we come to cherish — as Sotomayor testifies — can sometimes inspire big life decisions about who we want to become in the world.

Television also serves as a touchstone and provides points of connection across different life experiences. Yesterday, newly seated Senator Al Franken (D-Minn.) shared how he grew up watching Perry Mason in suburban Minneapolis while Sotomayor took in the show from her home in the South Bronx. “And here you are today,” Franken said.

~Nancy Rosenbaum, associate producer


The Gospel According to Battlestar Galactica
Mitch Hanley, Senior Producer

Ever since Krista got me hooked on Battlestar Galactica a couple of years ago, I have noticed very few episodes that didn’t offer some not-so-subtle references to Judeo-Christian theological influences. There are countless examples throughout the program’s four seasons: a “chosen” or select group of survivors travelling great distances trying to find the prophesied “home”; the twelve tribes of mankind; transitioning from pantheism to monotheism, etc. But one of the more blatant is the refrain at the end of most speeches in BSG, “So say we all” — basically serving the same function when a congregation says “Amen” after a part of a church liturgy. And hearing the pantheistic human characters say “Gods damn it” still catches me off guard.

In this week’s program, "TV and Parables of our Time," USC professor Diane Winston notes how the writers of BSG would also weave issues found in today’s real-life news into their story lines. She cites the detainee abuse at Abu Ghraib as one example. Winston goes on to suggest that maybe we need good storytelling in order to process the events happening in our world, and that trying to understand the complexity of these events only through news media may not be enough.

As someone who finds the Bible in desperate need of an editor, I wonder if I would find the biblical stories more compelling if they had spaceships and cool sound effects and thrilling scores. Would I find the messages more relevant? I don’t know. It does makes me wonder if these modern narratives like Battlestar Galactica need to have familiar touch points, such as religious rituals and themes that we grew up with, in order to make a space-based story somehow more accessible to our terrestrial lives. Or do they just borrow from great stories, many of which can be found in religious texts? What do you think?


Hollywood in the Classroom

Nancy Rosenbaum, Associate Producer

Students who enroll in Diane Winston’s "Religion, Media and Hollywood" class at USC get to watch a lot of good TV. Even better, some of the best TV writers and producers in the business visit their classroom to discuss the influences, themes, and ideas undergirding their shows.

Fortunately for the rest of us, many of these guest lectures are videotaped. Take this 2007 talk by Ronald D. Moore, executive producer of the sci-fi series Battlestar Galactica. He spoke to Winston’s students about the religious influences embedded in the original 1978 version of Battlestar Galactica, including Mormon theology, numerology, and the signs of the zodiac. Moore talks about his development of the mythology of the 2004-2009 version of Battlestsar Galactica to reflect modern concerns around religious fundamentalism and a clash of civilizations propelled by different beliefs.

Part I

Part II

You can also check out other videos from Winston’s class, including House and Nancy Miller, creator and executive producer of Saving Grace. Both of these shows were mentioned in Krista’s conversation with Winston for our upcoming broadcast, “TV and Parables of Our Time.”


Yeats Reminds Me
Trent Gilliss, online editor

Today is William Butler Yeats birthday. Reading his obituary, I paused on his words about Ireland: “We are a nation of believers. We produce anti-clerics, but atheists, never.” I wanted to know what the great poet meant by that so I started digging for the source of his quote.

After falling short on a number of searches, I stumbled upon this panel discussion of leading journalists around the country discussing the historical relationship of religion and secularism. Scanning the transcript, I thought, “Boy, Krista really should have participated in this… maybe she did?” Lo and behold, a find within the transcript revealed that she was there. The date of the conference: December 2007.

Not exactly breaking news but well worth watching if you’re interested in listening to leading journalists discuss religion in public life. And, please drop me a line if you have any idea about the Yeats quote.

To end, a couple of lines from "In the Seven Woods":

I am contented, for I know that Quiet
Wanders laughing and eating her wild heart