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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.

Minnesota Public Radio Listeners Respond to a Question of Prayer

by Susan Leem, associate producer

On Being has made an identity shift, expanding its scope to exploring questions about meaning, religion, ethics, and ideas. But our host Krista Tippett still asks her guests a key question during the interview about their religious or spiritual traditions in their formative years. And for a producer, it’s like watching her turn the key in the ignition.IMG_2466

The question always propels the guest somewhere unexpected even if, and maybe especially if, it’s a “no.” It really disarms them; you can almost hear their shoulders release and sit back a bit through the mic. Maybe they’re surprised that a radio host wants to know them as a human being and not just as a pundit or a preacher.

On Thursday, Minnesota Public Radio asked its listeners a similar question: “Do you pray?” And I’m dying to know the people behind these wise and sometimes humorous comments:

"Every day, throughout the day."
Posted by Philip | April 21, 2011 10:16 AM

"I NEVER pray to ask God. I ONLY pary (sic) to thank God for what I have. It doesn’t make sense to pary (sic) to ask as if God will hold back on something you need and say ‘oh, you prayed so here’. Just doesn’t make sense. I finish that by saying I’m not sure if there is some one listening to my prayer but if I’m wrong, I rather be worng by praying to no one than not praying while God was waiting for a prayer."
Posted by Mike | April 21, 2011 10:07 AM

"As an atheist, none. But, I certainly appreciate the potential of thoughtful introspection that often arises from prayer. Centering one’s self and understanding your needs (wants?) is important to all of us and if prayer may do that for some."
Posted by Brian Ropers-Huilman | April 21, 2011 9:55 AM

"Given the state of the world, and humanity’s glaring incompetence to deal with its own problems so far, what else is there to do?"
Posted by Steve the Cynic | April 21, 2011 8:09 AM

"Good God no."
Posted by J | April 21, 2011 8:00 AM

"As long as I can remember, even when my family went to mass weekly, I have always, always had a hard time with prayer. I kind of wonder if it’s not what help lead me to lack faith in Christianity as an adult. However, there is one exception: I’ll still say a Hail Mary or two in especially stressful situations. I’ve always done that, and I find it’s almost a reflex."
Posted by vjacobsen | April 21, 2011 7:44 AM

About the image: Krista interviews Avivah Zornberg during this year’s production trip to Israel and the West Bank. (photo: Trent Gilliss)

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Creating Civility: A Live Public Conversation with Krista Tippett!

by Trent Gilliss, senior editor

Creating Civility: A Public Conversation with Krista Tippett
photo: Arne Halvorsen/Flickr

what: Creating Civility: A Public Forum
when: Wednesday, January 19th, 2011
time: 7:00 p.m. CST
where: Being LIVE

We’d like to invite you to join us tonight online for a somewhat impromptu event in Minnesota Public Radio’s UBS Forum. We’re approaching the evening as a kind of experiment, an occasion to learn and to plant some seeds for new vision and new ways of living together with our confusions, our strengths, and our differences. Tragic events in Tucson created a window for concern about the fabric of our common life, but that concern predated those events and has relevance and urgency far beyond them.

Many of the hardest political and social chasms right now will not be resolved quickly. So the question we’re asking is:

How do we find new ways to speak and listen to each other, to live forward together, even as we hold passionate disagreements?

This has been the animating question that has emerged in the Civil Conversations project we started on the radio and online back in the fall. What happens among us tonight will inform that project moving forward.

Bring your questions for and about our common life, and submit them through our Facebook chat box next to the video window or using this form. Krista will bring her questions too. And she’ll share some of what she’s learned in her conversations of recent weeks. We’re looking forward to the adventure!

We’ll be streaming live video of the forum and also giving you the chance to bring your questions and your intention in the UBS Forum (7pm). For those of you who can’t make it, not to worry. We’re recording the event, and video will be immediately available for playback afterward. 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!

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Watch Live Video of John Hodgman in Wits
(tonight, 8pm CT)
Trent Gilliss, senior editor

Wits with John HodgmanWhy am I featuring a live video stream of WITS featuring the humorist John Hodgman (from The Daily Show) with host John Moe (oh, and a call-in with author Neil Gaiman)?

Well, with all the video streaming of live SOF events over the past year, we’ve gotten pretty dang good at making things work and, more importantly, troubleshooting when things go wrong. So, when I can, I jump at the opportunity to share my experience and help our many colleagues.*

And, I’m not going to fib, it’s also a great opportunity to collaborate differently, figure out new ways of doing things, and see some phenomenal talent from behind the glass. And tonight’s show is one of them! Plus, we’ve always wanted to do comedy on our program. This is my roundabout way of making that happen!

So, if you’re looking for some no-cost entertainment, a few good laughs, and the ability to opt in to a vigorous Twitter conversation (hashtag is #wits), stop by around 8 pm Central tonight.

* Did you know that we are part of the same organization that produces hundreds of live events and programs like A Prairie Home Companion with Garrison Keillor, Marketplace, The Splendid Table with Lynne Rossetto Kasper, Performance Today, the entire Minnesota Public Radio service, etc.?

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Music You Can’t Hear But Know Exists
Trent Gilliss, online editor

Being part of such a large outfit at Minnesota Public Radio, we encounter an awfully eclectic group of talented musicians, writers, artists, actors, performers, politicians… And, oftentimes, these brief introductions with greatness occur in the most mundane ways.

One day you’re accidentally brushing shoulders with former vice president Walter Mondale in the hallway, and another day you’re reading a mass e-mail instructing star-struck employees not to linger while Harry Connick Jr. is being interviewed.

Yesterday, while sitting in the control room of Studio P listening to the final edit of next week’s show with two Vatican astronomers, I look up and peer through the slanted glass only to witness part of the Johannes String Quartet warming up for "a couple of movements from Beethoven’s Quartet Op. 59 No. 1."

Not a whisper from that cello can I hear. But, right then, I pinch myself knowing great aural waves exist in that vacuum across the glass. Sometimes knowing and imagining is enough. But, those mystical, mulled upon wanderings can be made real. The unheard serendipitously takes root in YouTube reality. And, if you look up, you might just realize that Moby and Leela James performed “Walk with Me” in that very same space across the way.

I’ll be “looking up” — and hopefully seeing — the Performance Today recording of the quartet in action, much like this video from artists-in-residence The Parker Quartet (whom I first incorrectly attributed to being in the photo above).

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Forming My Imagination about “Speaking of Faith”

Krista Tippett, Host

I’m personally thrilled to be doing this week’s show — which took a few of us up to one of my favorite places in the world, St. John’s Abbey and University in Collegeville, Minnesota. St. John’s is one of the largest Benedictine communities in the world and has always been a remarkable place. Its wide orbit has touched many lives and many leading institutions, globally.

In the 1960s, as St. John’s was founding HMML, it also helped found Minnesota Public Radio (our parent company) as well as an ecumenical institute that formed my imagination in the early years of what became this radio program. I came to think of St. John’s as a spiritual center of gravity and a kind of secret center of the world. It is certainly one of those “thin places” the ancient Celts spoke about — a place where, again and again and with astounding creativity, the temporal and eternal seem to touch.

If you’d like to read about the ways in which the Benedictines of St. John’s inspired and shaped Speaking of Faith, we’ve excerpted some of my writing about it in a PDF file for you.

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The Fastest Pitch-to-Interview Ever
Trent Gilliss, Online Editor

It’s been a hectic several weeks around SOF, with various staff vacations and Krista traveling to New York in mid-July for an event at the Council on Foreign Relations and her moving in to a new home. So, before she hits the road again, Colleen made an appeal to the staff for a guest Krista could interview by the end of the week.

Somewhat hesitantly, I sent an e-mail containing a brief pitch early Monday morning:

Over the past five years, I’ve had ample opportunity to grab a few volumes from the dead books pile. The most memorable one was snatched during the first month of my tenure in 2003 — back when Tippett and Farrell shared the top of a file cabinet. And, to boot, it was a story about fly-fishing (Fly-Fishing the 41st Parallel).

I don’t fly-fish, but he makes me wish I did. Here’s a brief sketch.

James Prosek tells stories and ruminates about life through the lens of angling. His appeal to me is that the ritualistic act of fly-fishing serves as a meditation on place and self, on people and the world around us, on our communion with nature, on art, on home and the necessity of leaving it. Yet, I don’t sense an agenda or a lecturing, didactic man.

He’s in his early 30s, has a somewhat soft, pubescent voice (which I find endearing) and has published nine books — his latest a work of fiction. He writes and talks about trout in such intimate ways that he gives me a sense of the importance of solitude and contemplation.

For Prosek, fly-fishing serves as a way of crossing class boundaries. He won a Peabody and an Emmy for his film, The Complete Angler. Watch the first chapter to gain a better flavor of his voice and sensibility: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rwZAR4mJEa8.

NPR produced a 12-minute piece with him as part of their Creative Spaces series: http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=3622503. What does he mean when he talks about “creation is the act of playing God?”

He’s a wonderful artist who illustrates in the style of James Audubon. Although he’s renowned for his portraits of trout, he currently has a series “Life & Death–A Visual Taxonomy” exhibiting paintings on birds in various states of life (quite reminiscent of J.A.): “The boxes conceptually reference how man tries to fit nature into neat little containers through collecting, naming, classifying, and cataloging.”

He’s also partnered with the founder of Patagonia in a conservation effort called the World Trout Fund: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Kpx_fsMRkYs.

By the time we had our staff meeting at 11 (Krista hadn’t read the e-mail yet), I did a quick 60-second recap. I got a fair nod from Colleen and Kate, and Krista gives the go-ahead to book the interview.

So, here we are, just minutes before 3 p.m. Central and Krista will be talking to James Prosek from the studios of WSHU at Sacred Hart University in Fairfield, Connecticut. I hope it’s magic, and I’ll be uploading some video of the interview in the coming days!

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Touching Soles

Trent Gilliss, Online Editor

A newborn's foot. (photo: Shelley Gilliss)One of the most difficult aspects of working at Minnesota Public Radio is that I often don’t get a chance to listen to public radio on the weekdays, especially during working hours. Thanks to a new baby boy, I was actually able to listen to a documentary on Alzheimer’s disease by a colleague and former producer at SOF, Brian Newhouse.

It’s a wonderfully crafted piece that’s full of facts and figures and scientific experts discussing the problems and approaches to treating and curing the disease. But, the part that sang to me, is a follow-up interview with a man in his 40s who describes the way he communicates with his wife now that he is home-bound:

"In essence, she’s sort of lost that engaging partner that she used to have. But what we do do is we will, you know, I’ll have her lay on the couch, and I’ll rub her feet and so we communicate a lot through touch now. So there, there are moments of grace, and there are, there are gifts in, within Alzheimer’s that, that you have to, you don’t want to leave those behind as you’re struggling with some of the darker realities of the disease."

His sentiment transported me down the whooshing tunnel to a story Parker Palmer told to Krista in our show on depression:

"There was this one friend who came to me, after asking permission to do so, every afternoon about four o’clock, sat me down in a chair in the living room, took off my shoes and socks and massaged my feet. He hardly ever said anything. He was a Quaker elder. And yet out of his intuitive sense, from time to time would say a very brief word like, ‘I can feel your struggle today,’ or farther down the road, ‘I feel that you’re a little stronger at this moment, and I’m glad for that.’ But beyond that, he would say hardly anything. He would give no advice. He would simply report from time to time what he was sort of intuiting about my condition. Somehow he found the one place in my body, namely the soles of my feet, where I could experience some sort of connection to another human being. And the act of massaging just, you know, in a way that I really don’t have words for, kept me connected with the human race.

What he mainly did for me, of course, was to be willing to be present to me in my suffering. He just hung in with me in this very quiet, very simple, very tactile way. And I’ve never really been able to find the words to fully express my gratitude for that, but I know it made a huge difference. And it became for me a metaphor of the kind of community we need to extend to people who are suffering in this way, which is a community that is neither invasive of the mystery nor evasive of the suffering but is willing to hold people in a space, a sacred space of relationship, where somehow this person who is on the dark side of the moon can get a little confidence that they can come around to the other side.”

In an upcoming show for December 20th, Jean Vanier, the founder of L’Arche, echoes the idea that physicality is more than just a manner of expressing emotion. It’s a way of connecting with other humans and fostering compassion and kindness within ourselves.

Now, as a father of two boys under the age of two, these stories help me recognize what I know is vital in my relationship with them, especially a 2-year-old. When Lucian is frustrated and all my other methods of diversion (i.e., talking about Curious George, showing him the moon, kissing his belly…) have failed, a simple gesture of kissing his feet or gobbling his toes makes him laugh or even coo. We begin again.

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