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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.

Jay Smooth TED Talk about Race and Pockets of Prejudice

by Trent Gilliss, senior editor

"We are not good despite our imperfections. It is the connection we maintain with our imperfections that allow us to be good."

Don’t you just wanna stand up and shout Amen! when you read this? Or at least nod in solid agreement with this profound statement that cuts to the quick of the essence of being human?

Jay Smooth, the video blogger of Ill Doctrine and founder of New York’s longest-running hip-hop radio in New York, WBAI’s Underground Railroad, gave a refreshing talk at TEDx Hampshire College about the ways we can have better discussions about race and racism. He’s funny and this talk is truly enjoyable. More importantly, it’s his astute observations about the ways in which these discussions devolve that’s worth noting.

He points out that discussions about race often border on matters of being a “good person” or a “bad person” — a matter of “who you are” rather than “what you said.” He reminds us that talking about issues of race is like bodily hygiene: it’s something you have to do and keep up every day. And, he says, when we embrace our own imperfections we are on the path to becoming a good person, a better human being.

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The salvation of this human world lies nowhere else than in the human heart, in the human power to reflect, in human meekness and human responsibility.
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Václav Havel, from the Czechoslovakian president’s address to the Joint Session of the U.S. Congress on February 21, 1990.

~reblogged by Trent Gilliss, senior editor

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Church Bells in Tochimilco, Mexico: An Old Feud Revisited

by Christoph Rosenmüller

Popocatepetl-Vista desde Tochimilco, Puebla, Mexico.©Javier del Rio/Flickr

I spent a few weeks last summer in the Mexican town Tochimilco, a municipalidad in the state of Puebla. Set to a breathtaking scene with the majestic Popocatepetl Volcano in the backdrop, this charming town boasts a former Franciscan monastery built in the sixteenth century.

In this quaint town, which is about a four-hour bus ride from the bustling megalopolis Mexico City, the church bells ring every quarter of an hour. Every full hour the large loudspeakers mounted on Tochimilco’s town hall broadcast secular tunes such as the canción mixteca, a song on the emigrants’ plight. The chiming and broadcasting go on through the night. I found myself waking up at three in the morning to the sound of “Mexicans, at the Cry of War,” the stirring national anthem.

The government makes an audible point that it has the right to keep its citizens apprised of important civic events and the time, and does not yield this to the Church. In some ways this is part of the long-standing rivalry between the secular and religious power dating back to at least the colonial times of New Spain, as Mexico was then known (1521–1821).

In 1508, the kings of Castile obtained the patronato, the right to appoint bishops and other important clerics in the Americas, thus expanding the royal influence over the Church there. In the mid-eighteenth century, the crown began evicting the friars from the indigenous parishes (Tochimilco in 1767), and in the first decade of the nineteenth century, the crown seized much of the Church wealth that was given as credit to debtors. In the nineteenth century, the Liberals issued the Reform Laws, establishing religious freedom, and wresting from the Church the civil registry as well as much of the remaining Church land. Finally, the Constitution of 1917, born out of the violent upheaval of the Mexican Revolution (1910–1917), decreed the nationalization of even the church buildings. In practice, however, the laws have been loosely applied in the past decades, so that the priests retain much control over the buildings.

In 2010 the PRI, the party of the Mexican Revolution, was voted out in the municipal elections of Tochimilco and replaced by the more Catholic-leaning PAN party. Local relations between the municipality and the Church became more amicable. The government turned down the volume of nightly broadcasts. Still, Tochimilco (in the native tongue Nahuatl: the place where the rabbits abound in the corn field) remains by all measures a Catholic town. A bordello was recently shut down, and the Protestants play only a minor role, if any, here, although they flourish in other towns of the area.

In the neighboring town Magdalena Yancuitlalpan (in Nahuatl: place of the new land), one of the few remaining Nahuatl-speaking communities in the area, several people insisted that their town was even more devout. A large sign over the church entrance implored the Virgin Mary to protect the town’s offspring living in New Jersey.

All Church services, including weddings and burials, are broadcast via loudspeakers. At noon Schubert’s Ave Maria rings out, soon followed by announcements that fresh meat is sold at the stand next to the church. The temple uses the loudspeakers along with the auxiliary town hall (junta auxiliar). The community largely agrees to this arrangement, it seems, given its scarcer resources and the more traditional outlook. Even visitors from Mexico City find it remarkable that in times of electronic communication, which some inhabitants of the two towns use avidly, the loudspeakers still play such a commanding role.

In any case, the PRI on the national level emphasized the pre-Hispanic origins of Mexico and invested much in restoring the pyramids. In 2000, however, the PRI lost the presidency of the country to the PAN. The change fostered a greater political appreciation for the colonial arts and architecture that contributed much to the Hispanic and Catholic heritage of the country. The National Institute of Archeology and History (INAH) is busily restoring the colonial ex-cloisters. About a year ago, INAH finished its work on Tochimilco’s Asunción de Nuestra Señora church. This imposing temple is a part of a chain of stunning monasteries in the foothills of Popocatepetl, which were added to the UNESCO World Heritage List. This shines a bright light on Mexico, especially considering all the bad news coming from the border. Now if they could just turn down the speakers a little bit at night…


Christoph RosenmüllerChristoph Rosenmüller is associate professor in the History Department at Middle Tennessee State University. He is the author of Patrons, Partisans, and Palace Intrigues: The Court Society of Colonial Mexico, 1702–1710.

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

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So, what does this story have to do with modern-day Iran and Iranians? Everything. For the vast majority of Iranians who identify as Shi’a and even for many who don’t, the story of Karbala lies at the heart of all struggles against oppression and tyranny — personal and political.
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Melody Moezzi writes this smart, informative piece about the relevance of the one-thousand-year old story behind Ashura and modern-day politics in The Washington Post.

~Trent Gilliss, senior editor

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GOP Presidential Candidates’ Stories Reveal the Depths of Their Positions at the Thanksgiving Family Forum

by Susan Leem, associate producer

Republican Candidates at the Thanksgiving Family Forum

"You guys are in a church, and that is not by accident."
~Bob Vander Plaats

There’s something that “opens everything up,” as Paul Raushenbush said on our program, when you ask a person about their religious or spiritual tradition. Asking such an intimate question conveys a sense of respect. And to be asked may be somewhat disarming; it tells the person that you’re interested in not only his or her worldview, but what makes that person who he or she is. More importantly, it communicates that you’re ready to sit and are willing to listen to a thoughtful, complex, nuanced response. That’s something we don’t expect or demand enough in our national political races.

The Thanksgiving Family Forum at First Federated Church in Des Moines, Iowa gave six GOP presidential candidates that chance. Absent were the gotcha questions that left Rick Perry fumbling to remember the government agency he wanted to eliminate and prompted Herman Cain’s Libya flub. Instead, personal storytelling and exploration of formative experiences fueled this faith-focused conversation.

Moderator Frank Luntz, a pollster for FOX News, began the two-hour conversation by laying out his intentions in his introduction, “I want you to understand what’s in these people’s hearts, not just the soundbites” and “understand their worldview so that you will know what to do come January 3rd.” His style of questioning gave the candidates an opportunity to flesh out their ideas and explain their moral positions in the context of their Christian traditions.

There were plenty of unscripted, dare I say sometimes moving, moments too. Luntz asked several valuable questions to draw out the candidates’ character: to describe a personal failing that would inform their work as president, to share an experience that helped shape their faith and spirituality. A choked-up Herman Cain relayed a story about facing his mortality upon being diagnosed with cancer. Minnesota Rep. Michelle Bachmann describes the pain of her parents’ divorce while she was a teen. Former Pennsylvania Senator Rick Santorum confessed to seeing his daughter who suffers from Trisomy 18 as less of a person, and trying not to love her to avoid the pain of losing her during her medical crises as an infant. Rick Perry confesses that Jesus filled a hole in his soul.

And even though Luntz, in an artful move, invites Occupy Wall Street protestors to address the audience before the roundtable discussion, former House Speaker Newt Gingrich did not extend a hand across the aisle of the culture wars in America with his attack on Occupy Wall Street protestors and specifically secularism, “…(secularism) has dominated our academic world, our academic world supplies our news media, our courts, and Hollywood, so you have a faction of America today who believes things are profoundly wrong…they are determined to destroy our value system.”

The event was hosted by The Family Leader, a conservative Christian organization based in Iowa, and co-sponsored by Focus on the Family-affiliate CitizenLink and the National Organization for Marriage. Bob Vander Plaats, president and CEO of The Family Leader, said in introductory remarks, “We don’t the church to be political…we don’t need you to be Republican or Democrat, but we need you to be biblical.” His effort to make religiosity non-partisan was later overshadowed by his comment that the next President of the United States will come from the Republicans present at the debate that night.

The civil nature of the discussion was the real standout of the evening, and how that tone was created and sustained is worth pondering. Was it the way Luntz established the ground rules for the discussion? Without overtly saying so, he somehow made it clear that the “winner” of the night would not be the candidate who outdid or shamed the others, but the one who emerged from the discussion with the most integrity.

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I had an opportunity to read the speech, and I almost threw up. In my opinion, it was the beginning of the secular movement of politicians to separate their faith from the public square, and he threw faith under the bus in that speech.
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Rick SantorumRick Santorum

The GOP presidential candidate, who, like John F. Kennedy, is also Roman Catholic, was speaking to a group at the College of Saint Mary Magdalen in Warner, New Hampshire in October when he made this comment about JFK’s seminal speech in 1960 in which the then-Democratic presidential candidate expressed his faith in the separation of church and state.

Photo by Gage Skidmore/Flickr, cc by-nc-nd 2.0

~Trent Gilliss, senior editor

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In Gabby Giffords’ Voice

by Trent Gilliss, senior editor

Listen to the first 80 seconds of Melissa Block’s piece on last night’s All Things Considered. And then fast forward to the final 67 seconds of the audio. What a powerful message, a powerful couple minutes of radio. To hear the contrast of the fluid voice of the Congresswoman before her brain was penetrated by a bullet in January of this year, and then witness the powerful will of her language several months later rages with hope.

Now, listen to the full ten-minute piece with Block’s interview with Representative Giffords’ husband, Mark Kelly, which is bookended with Gabby’s voice. The context makes her readings all the more powerful. Non?

Yes, even those of us who work in public radio are not immune to those “driveway moments” in the darkness of the early evening. What a gift.

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My sense of the holy, insofar as I have one, is bound up with the hope that someday, any millennium now, my remote descendants will live in a global civilization in which love is pretty much the only law. In such a society, communication would be domination-free, class and caste would be unknown, hierarchy would be a matter of temporary pragmatic convenience, and power would be entirely at the disposal of the free agreement of a literate and well-educated electorate.
- Richard Rorty (1931-2007), from an exchange between the American pragmatist philosopher and the Catholic philosopher Gianni Vattimo in The Future of Religion.
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Herman Cain Sings Gospel Song at The National Press Club

by Trent Gilliss, senior editor

Herman Cain is trending on Twitter again. But, this time it’s not for his latest television ad but for his rendition of a gospel song at The National Press Club. Facing some tough questions about the sexual harassment allegations made against him and his tax plan, the current GOP frontrunner for the presidential nomination ended by taking the opportunity to “share a little bit” about his faith with “He Looked Beyond My Faults.” The man can sing.

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The Nameless, Faceless 1,027 Palestinian Prisoners and One Named Israeli Soldier
by Trent Gilliss, senior editor
On the surface, it seems like the Palestinians and Hamas won a major victory in today’s exchange of prisoners. Gilad Shalit, one Israeli soldier, in exchange for more than a thousand Palestinians. The numbers are theirs to claim. How could Palestinians not be declared the victors?
With all this media coverage, I really only know one name. The general public truly only knows one name. One face. One set of parents. One human story of drama and pain and sacrifice. I know Gilad Shalit. He’s my son and my brother and my friend. He’s the child I would sit out in the rain and the blazing sun to protect and bring home. I ache for his family and his country. He’s human, he’s real, he’s flesh and blood.
With the Palestinian prisoners, I don’t know the name of one person. We don’t know the name of one person. No headlines in the papers or blogs exclusively devoted to the single surname of a Palestinian prisoner returned to her family. I know only numbers and politics and negotiators. I don’t know the woman above. We don’t know her. The story of a daughter and a sister and a mother and a wife. We don’t identify with her because she has remained faceless, nameless, lost. How long has she spent inside an Israeli prison? How long has her family begged their government to make a deal for an exchange? She goes unnoticed and unnamed by all of us.
Even the description of the photojournalist doesn’t identify her but names one man:

 
"A Palestinian prisoner hugs relatives after arriving in Mukata following her release on October 18, 2011 in Ramallah, West Bank. Israeli Defense Forces soldier Gilad Shalit was freed after being held captive for five years in Gaza by Hamas militants, in a deal which saw Israel releasing more than 1,000 Palestinian prisoners."

This is the tragedy of the circumstances. When the dust settles and history remains our only chronicler, we will remember the name of Gilad Shalit — a young man who spent five years in Palestinian cell — but not the name of this one Palestinian woman. And we will remember that the Palestinians received 1,027 people in return. Numbers get confused in our memories, but the story and image of one individual, one life worth retrieving, will remain with us forever.
But, now at least, I know her face. We see the love of a family and the pain of return. And, even though it’s not the equivalent, it’s a beginning. The Palestinian leadership would do well to remember this, and so should the media, including us.
Photo by Ilia Yefimovich/Getty Images

The Nameless, Faceless 1,027 Palestinian Prisoners and One Named Israeli Soldier

by Trent Gilliss, senior editor

On the surface, it seems like the Palestinians and Hamas won a major victory in today’s exchange of prisoners. Gilad Shalit, one Israeli soldier, in exchange for more than a thousand Palestinians. The numbers are theirs to claim. How could Palestinians not be declared the victors?

With all this media coverage, I really only know one name. The general public truly only knows one name. One face. One set of parents. One human story of drama and pain and sacrifice. I know Gilad Shalit. He’s my son and my brother and my friend. He’s the child I would sit out in the rain and the blazing sun to protect and bring home. I ache for his family and his country. He’s human, he’s real, he’s flesh and blood.

With the Palestinian prisoners, I don’t know the name of one person. We don’t know the name of one person. No headlines in the papers or blogs exclusively devoted to the single surname of a Palestinian prisoner returned to her family. I know only numbers and politics and negotiators. I don’t know the woman above. We don’t know her. The story of a daughter and a sister and a mother and a wife. We don’t identify with her because she has remained faceless, nameless, lost. How long has she spent inside an Israeli prison? How long has her family begged their government to make a deal for an exchange? She goes unnoticed and unnamed by all of us.

Even the description of the photojournalist doesn’t identify her but names one man:

"A Palestinian prisoner hugs relatives after arriving in Mukata following her release on October 18, 2011 in Ramallah, West Bank. Israeli Defense Forces soldier Gilad Shalit was freed after being held captive for five years in Gaza by Hamas militants, in a deal which saw Israel releasing more than 1,000 Palestinian prisoners."

This is the tragedy of the circumstances. When the dust settles and history remains our only chronicler, we will remember the name of Gilad Shalit — a young man who spent five years in Palestinian cell — but not the name of this one Palestinian woman. And we will remember that the Palestinians received 1,027 people in return. Numbers get confused in our memories, but the story and image of one individual, one life worth retrieving, will remain with us forever.

But, now at least, I know her face. We see the love of a family and the pain of return. And, even though it’s not the equivalent, it’s a beginning. The Palestinian leadership would do well to remember this, and so should the media, including us.

Photo by Ilia Yefimovich/Getty Images

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The problem starts with the ridiculous crowns we claimed for ourselves and with the hypocrisy, emptiness, and blindness characterizing them. … Who isn’t against terror and for Shalit’s release? But that same sobbing society did not for a moment ask itself, with honesty and with courage, why Shalit was captured. It did not for a moment say to itself, with courage and with honesty, that if it continued along the same path there will be many more Gilad Shalits, dead or captured. In successive elections it voted, again and again, for centrist and right-wing governments, the kind that guarantee that Shalit will not be the last. It tied yellow ribbons and supported all of the black flags. And no one ever told it, with courage and with honesty: Shalit is the unavoidable price of a state that chooses to live by the sword forever.
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Hope for Gilad Shalit / protest tent in Jerusalem 7/17/2011Gideon Levy, from his op-ed in Haaretz"Shalit Is Returning to a State in Psychosis"

A stark contrast to the perspective of Yossi Klein Halevi and the quotation we posted from his latest piece on Gilad Shalit’s release and the trading of prisoners with Hamas. Both should be read.

Photo by Erin Nekervis/Flickr, CC BY-NC-SA 2.0)

~Trent Gilliss, senior editor

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Grace Lee Boggs on the Challenge and Responsibility of the Occupy Wall Street Participants

by Trent Gilliss, senior editor

"This enemy of ours is not just Wall Street; it’s a whole culture."

Grace Lee BoggsWho better to turn to about Occupy Wall Street and all its other offshoots than Grace Lee Boggs. Born to Chinese immigrants in 1915, the philosopher has seen and thought deeply about issues of social justice, racial and gender equality, and the resurrection of community for more than 70 years now — not from within the halls of academia but from the pedestrian malls and streets of the United States.

"You’re going to have to be thinking about values and not just abuses."

She offers a historical, sideways approach to OWS and provides a long view of constant questioning. Not only does she think on the grand, larger scale of social values, but she also is embedded, rooted and dedicated to a place — the city of Detroit.

In the video above, she addresses all the people participating in Occupy Wall Street with a note of encouragement and a call for contemplation and reflection. She embraces the movement but also challenges the protestors too, asking them to examine their own minds and hearts about whether they’d happily be part of the culture their against, if they were given the opportunity. She also calls for deep introspection and intellectual rigor as part of the effort.

For a good introduction to Grace Lee Boggs life, check out this two-minute introduction from the documentary film tracing her life, American Revolutionary: The Evolution of Grace Lee Boggs. It’s definitely worth watching.

(Photo of Grace Lee Boggs by Photo by David Schalliol/Flickr)

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For more than a year the Shalits have lived in a tent near the prime minister’s office. When I walked nearby I would avoid the protest encampment, ashamed to be opposing the campaign. This past Israeli Independence Day, though, I saw a crowd gathered around the tent, and wandered over. “GILAD IS STILL ALIVE,” banners reminded: It’s not too late to save him. Inside the tent, Noam and Aviva were sitting with family and friends, singing the old Zionist songs. I wanted to shake Noam’s hand, tell him to be strong, but I resisted the urge. I didn’t deserve the privilege of comforting him.

I wanted to tell Noam what we shared. As it happens, my son served in the same tank unit as Gilad, two years after he was kidnapped. I wanted to tell Noam that that was the real reason I couldn’t bear thinking about his family. That in opposing the mass release of terrorists for Gilad, it was my son I was betraying.

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Shalit's Parents Return HomeYossi Klein Halevi, from "Everyone’s Son" in Tablet

This beautifully written essay is poignant, well-reasoned, and honest. And perhaps that’s what makes me so uncomfortable about this necessary read. Yossi Klein Halevi, whom On Being recently interviewed during our trip to Israel and the West Bank, puts you inside the difficult mindset of those Israelis who are frightened about giving ground to Hamas and Hezbollah, even at the expense of their own families, and yet lauds the decision of a benevolent state and its “hard leaders” to release 1,027 Palestinian prisoners in exchange for one Israeli, Galid Shalit.

~Trent Gilliss, senior editor

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U.S. Senators Discuss Religion and Its Role in Political Life (video exclusive)

by Trent Gilliss, senior editor

"In some ways, our religious traditions give us guidance about the lack of working together, the partisanship, because as different as our faith traditions are, there are some common values. And one of them is something as simple as justice."
—Senator Bob Casey

"Colson would warn that salvation does not lie in what comes out of the United States Congress or the White House in Washington D.C."
—Senator Dan Coats

"If politics is the art of compromise, purity is not compromise; it’s inconsistent with it." 
—Senator John Danforth

Civil conversation among our politicians is at a premium these days. So rarely do we get to witness our political leaders respectfully engaging each other in a discussion about matters of the spirit and how they intersect with their civic responsibilities that we might not think it possible. But there are places trying to make this happen, venues that provide a human space for this type of thoughtful dialogue.

The Brookings Institution in Washington D.C. and the John C. Danforth Center for Religion and Politics at Washington University in St. Louis are creating such a communal space. The ”Danforth Dialogues” — moderated by, you guessed it, former Senator John C. Danforth — kicked off its inaugural event with Senator Bob Casey, a Democrat and Roman Catholic from Pennsylvania, and Senator Dan Coats, a Republican and Evangelical Christian from Indiana.

For the most part, the first half of this conversation is a warm-up period that covers somewhat well-trodden ground: the culture of Washington, compromise on taxes and entitlements, the budget. But there are moments of resonance too. When I hear the three men regret that there are limited opportunities for social interaction, I think of Princeton philosopher Kwame Anthony Appiah, who posits that regular, seemingly inconsequential bump-ins are a necessary starting point for deeper, more meaningful discussion. Senator Casey puts a point on this idea when he tells a story about introducing his daughter to Senator Coats on an elevator for the first time and says “the fact that it stands out in my memory indicates that those interactions are pretty rare.”

If you’re interested in a more personal discussion about faith and how it influences politics for the two currently serving senators, the discussion gets rolling about 27 minutes in. A couple of moments to highlight come in the form of references: one to a book by a former Nixon aide, the other to a church hymn.

When asked if he thinks religion is more directly involved in politics than ever before, Senator Coats cites Chuck Colson’s Kingdom in Conflict as a philosophy that informs how he navigates his distinct responsibilities as an elected official and a Christian:

"He [Colson] warns in his book that you have to be careful that the kingdom of man, kingdom of government, doesn’t dictate the essential message of the kingdom of God, and vice versa. And so it takes some discernment to not go too far either way."

Near the end, Senator Casey remarks:

"There’s a great hymn in the Church, "We Are Called to Act with Justice." The refrain goes on to say, ‘We are called to act with justice. We are called to love tenderly, to serve one another, and to walk humbly with God.’ If members of Congress focused on those four things, we might be better off."

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