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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.

Filmmaker Wes Anderson talks The Grand Budapest HotelMarcel Proust, and Francois Truffaut at NYPL Live with the lively mind of Paul Holdengraber:

"Almost every Truffaut movie is his adaptation of a book he loves. And, his movies are filled with books. I share that affection for books, just even as objects as well as great stories."

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At this moment in my household, there are two things that are being played and replayed by my immediate family: on the television, the movie Pitch Perfect, and in the car, Lorde’s catchy hit song ”Royals.”

Enter Florida State University’s AcaBelles to beautifully merge these two spheres. The video is nearing five million views on YouTube now and is worth posting, if only to hear an flesh-and-bone a cappella group rival those Barden Bellas. It’s a gorgeous rendition that just might compel you to loop a few times this morning — and in the process smile, groove, and contemplate the message of the song.

Read more…

~Trent Gilliss, head of content

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Seinfeld on How to Tell a Joke

From our senior editor Trent Gilliss’ Tumblr:

“In my world, the wronger something feels the righter it is. So too waste this much time on something this stupid… that felt good to me. “

A superb five-minute short on how Jerry Seinfeld writes a joke from The New York Times.

Seinfeld’s take on wasting time might just be the polar opposite advice given by Jon Kabat-Zinn in our podcast for this week.

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While editing what feels like a multisensory experience for Hussein Rashid’s piece on our blog, "Qawwalis, Found Sounds, and Benghazi: Locating the Sacred in a New York Church," our senior editor Trent Gilliss included this video of Korean-American experimental musician Bora Yoon. She creates soundscapes from found objects and digital devices, mixed with her voice:

"She has an ethereal voice that sounds like it would be at home in the Choir at the Church of the Ascension, which it is, or in the Elvish kingdoms of The Lord of the Rings.”

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I’m a snowboarder—that’s probably my biggest hobby. I’m also into this really interesting podcast ‘On Being.’ A journalist [Krista Tippett] interviews everybody from a man who changed his life through his relationship with animals to this guy who studies creativity in the brain. It’s fascinating.
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Guess what famous actress gave our public radio program a shout-out in the August issue of InStyle magazine?

That’s right. It’s Jessica Biel. Very cool.

Jessica Biel

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What happens when a wise, crusty theologian grounded in Christian realism meets an enterprising, teen pop idol buttered in Christian goodness? Reinhold Bieber, that’s what.
~Trent Gilliss, senior editor
What happens when a wise, crusty theologian grounded in Christian realism meets an enterprising, teen pop idol buttered in Christian goodness? Reinhold Bieber, that’s what.
~Trent Gilliss, senior editor

What happens when a wise, crusty theologian grounded in Christian realism meets an enterprising, teen pop idol buttered in Christian goodness? Reinhold Bieber, that’s what.

~Trent Gilliss, senior editor

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Coffee with Johnny Cash on His 80th Birthday

by Trent Gilliss, senior editor

The sun is on the cemetery, leaves are on the stones, there never was a place on earth that felt so much like home.

Let’s celebrate what would’ve been Johnny Cash's eightieth birthday today with a song his daughter Rosanne Cash composed while mourning the loss of her father. As she explained to us earlier this year, the middle verse of “God Is in the Roses” came about the day after she buried her father:

"I got up at 5:00 in the morning and waited for the Starbucks to open and got coffee and went and sat on his grave and watched the sun rise — the sun, yeah, the sun rise on his grave. And it was really comforting to me. I took two cups of coffee — one for him. And I felt so at peace watching the sun rise on his grave and then that gave me that verse. But then I wanted to go out to, you know, more than just my personal experience, when I’m saying, I love you like a brother, father and a son. And now when I sing that live, I sing, I love you all like brothers."

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Bluegrass Unites: A Musical Collaboration Between an Orthodox Jew and Evangelical Christian

by Trent Gilliss, senior editor

Andy Statman and Ricky Skaggs in studioBluegrass. One never quite knows where this quintessential American music form might pop up or whom it might unite. Leave it to the podcast Vox Tablet to highlight the story of country music star Ricky Skaggs and klezmer virtuoso Andy Statman, who have recorded a gorgeous rendition of the eighteenth-century hymn “The Lord Will Provide” for Statman’s new album Old Brooklyn.

The audio piece above details how these two men, an Evangelical Christian from a small town in eastern Kentucky and an Orthodox Jew raised in Queens, found each other and came to play together. Their recounting of the first time Skaggs visited Statman’s schul is a wonderful testimony to the power of music and its ability to bring people together, helping folks discover the absolute delight of other religious communities.

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Monsters We Love: The Power of Stories in Every Era, in Every Medium

by Krista Tippett, host

When I first sat down to interview Diane Winston, I told her that I didn’t want to start our conversation with zombies and vampires. I didn’t want to spend all of our time on them, but they quickly became the focus of the entire first half of our conversation nevertheless.

Diane WinstonAs I had sensed, and Diane Winston helped me understand in a whole new way, monsters — human and otherwise — are an immensely playful and deeply serious way in to the story of our time. And television — as she and I first discussed a few years ago through shows like Lost, 24, Battlestar Galactica, and The Wire — is a medium where more and more creative people are drawn to tell this story in fresh and surprising ways. Like it or not, TV is a primary place in this culture where we act out the ancient human compulsion to engage who we are, what we fear, who we aspire to be.

Not surprisingly, as much has changed on the planet in the past few years, much has changed on the small screen. There is what I’d call a whole new genre of total civilizational collapse. Art and drama confront reality by exaggerating it. The instability people are feeling and fearing from the economy onwards comes out in the new TV season through scenarios in which a mysterious plague has turned most of humanity into soulless zombies (The Walking Dead); total environmental collapse has sent humans back in time to co-exist with dinosaurs (Terra Nova); and aliens have disabled modern technology and wiped out government and civil society as we know it (Falling Skies). Falling Skies was co-created by Steven Spielberg, and its departure from the sweet memory of E.T. surely says something about shifting perceptions of the hostility of the world “out there” — extraterrestrially and terrestrially.

The Walking Dead and its zombies, as I hadn’t quite realized until I dug into this topic, deserve special attention. Its second season premiere was the highest-rated television drama in the history of basic cable among viewers in the 18-49 demographic. It picks up some of the themes and touches of the wildly popular Lost. It turns them inside out as well. In Lost, bands of survivors were thrown together to find their way out of a supernatural place; along the way, they knew equal measures of love and loss, tragedy and redemption. In The Walking Dead, Earth itself has become a supernatural place in a horror story way. And the zombies — murderous creatures who used to be human and are now reactivated brain stems — are not the walking dead; the survivors are, as the show’s creators tell us up front. Life is reduced to a nightmare. Moments of hope and redemption are scarce and short-lived.

Walking Dead TruckA semi sports an advertisement for The Walking Dead on its payload. (photo: Ewen Roberts/Flickr, cc by-nc-nd)

As Diane Winston points out — and she is one of the sharpest watchers of these things I know — these plot lines are thick with ancient, abiding questions of meaning, of the presence or absence of God, of morality writ large. In this show, we play a scene taking place in an abandoned church in The Walking Dead, which is as overtly theological as anything I’ve seen on television in my life — complete with a cross, prayer, confession, martyrdom, and overtones of Jesus in Gethsemane and the sacrifice of Isaac. Diane Winston says to me, at one point, "People have been asking ‘Where is God?’ for thousands of years and why wouldn’t we be asking the same question? And why wouldn’t we want to represent it in our own language rather than in the King James version?”

It’s a relief, really, to turn from zombies to vampires, who populate a number of shows and who at least have emotional lives and relationships. True confession: I am a True Blood lover, as is Diane Winston. Vampires unlike zombies, she points out, are sexy. They are playful characters for projecting ideas about mortality, otherness, and the meaning of being human. And in part because their “true blood” is obviously fake, they fare positively in contrast to other monsters on TV right now who happen to be human — the serial killer Dexter or the teacher-turned-meth dealer and murderer on Breaking Bad. It is completely fascinating to hear what Diane Winston knows about the intentions of the writers of these series — the fact, for example, that Vince Gilligan, the series creator of Breaking Bad's bleak badness, is all about examining the reality that actions have consequences.

As a mother as much as anything else, I occasionally worry about the severity of these images as tools for examining morality. But Diane Winston’s perspective is bracing and comforting in some sense — reminding us to trust the power of stories which have endured through every era of human confusion and darkness. I remember the psychiatrist and author Robert Coles telling me how children know what to do with stories — and that we shield them from the world’s darkness and despair at their own peril. It is after all their world to make sense of, to navigate, and to repair.

And in the end, this is not a dark hour of radio. We’ve layered lots of great sound of various TV shows throughout my conversation with Diane Winston. We move beyond zombies and vampires to fascinating religious complexity in 24's successor, Homeland, and the fascinating back story to HBO’s Enlightened. It’s a strange and unpredictable mix that’s in the end funny and scary, bleak and hopeful, endlessly mysterious and endlessly familiar. Like life itself.

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In spite of everything that’s gone before, the last 12 months have been the happiest and most special of my life. To become a parent is a blessing I never imagined might be bestowed upon me until recently. It’s an awe-inspiring responsibility and both David and I are determined to fulfil that responsibility — not just to our son but to his generation. We want him to grow up in a Britain where every young person is not just loved as much as we love him, but is afforded fair treatment and respect. However, as we start thinking about Zachary’s future education, it’s clear that this Britain doesn’t exist yet.
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Elton John on Comment is Free, "I want Zachary to grow up in a world without homophobia"

~reblogged by Trent Gilliss, senior editor

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Is Justin Bieber the Evangelical Christian a Prophetic Figure?

by Trent Gilliss, senior editor

Happy Birthday Justin Bieber - 01/03/2011You don’t have to “get” Justin Bieber. Just look around and listen to your teenage nieces or your pre-teen neighbors living next door. It’s more than just a love affair with the seventeen-year-old singer and pop star. He’s a heroic figure to many of his fans, so I get what Cathleen Falsani means when she uses the word “prophetic” to describe him (although I do, admittedly, cringe a bit hearing her making the declaration).

In this interview with PBS’ Religion & Ethics Newsweekly, the author of Belieber!: Fame, Faith and the Heart of Justin Bieber discusses the cultural icon’s religious background, the role of faith in Bieber’s life, and how the young Evangelical Christian talks about his faith in ways that make his fellow Christians uncomfortable.

Photo by Snow Belieber/Flickr, cc by 2.0)

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Zombies, Zombies Everywhere

by Nancy Rosenbaum, producer

ZOMBIE WALK 2008A mass of people dress up for the Toronto Zombie Walk. (photo: Sam Javanrouh/Flickr, cc by-nc 2.0)

For some reason we’re experiencing a zombie moment. From zombie crawls across the globe to the record-breaking 11 million people who tuned in to watch the season premiere of AMC’s The Walking Dead, zombies are seemingly everywhere this season. Even sober institutions like The Centers for Disease Control are using zombies to teach us about disaster preparedness.

As we get ready for next week’s interview with Diane Winston, the Knight Chair in Media and Religion at the University of Southern California, we’re wondering about this collective obsession with the walking dead. Why do you think zombies (not to mention other semi-humans like vampires and werewolves) are so appealing to our imaginations right now? Is it campy escapism from our economic woes? Or could it possibly be a reflection of how many people are feeling at this moment — like the walking wounded?

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Is a Machine Gun Preacher What We Wanted?

by Martin Marty, guest contributor from Sightings

Sam Childers with SPLA SoldiersReverend Sam Childers poses with SPLA soldiers. (photo courtesy of Machine Gun Preacher)

Preachers, pastors, priests, rabbis, and imams number in the hundreds of thousands in the United States. They minister at the borders between what get tabbed “sacred” and “secular” realms, and as such cannot go unnoticed in public media.

Some critics in the culture wars complain that they too often do get unnoticed. But most representations of them in movies and on television evoke, in the minds of those who have positive regard for clergy, George Bernard Shaw’s often paraphrased saying that there are two tragedies in life: not getting what we want, and getting what we want. “Not getting what ‘we’ want,” whoever “we” are, used to be represented in comments that ministers, especially Protestants, usually came across as namby-pamby and culturally marginal types as if labeled “Handle with Care.” They often appeared begowned and silver-coiffed, viewed over the groom’s shoulder, saying, “I now pronounce you… You may kiss the bride.”

Everyone who knew, or was, a full-of-life cleric, resented that cultural posture. In today’s world, however, most clergy representatives on film are not suave mainline clerics, beloved Irish-American priests, or wan and thin play-it-safe rabbis. Today, with the rise of presumably Protestant born-again studs, manipulators of people, and takers-of-the-law-into-their-own-hands types, we see images of law-breakers with macho swagger. Those observations are background comments to this week’s version of the sometimes robed swashbucklers, in a film called Machine Gun Preacher. It was hard to evade reviews last weekend; two which found me were in our local Chicago Sun-Times and Chicago Tribune.

Gerard Butler as Sam Childers in "Movie Gun Preacher"We don’t need to review the reviews or condense all details of the plot. The regular run of characters surrounds the Reverend Sam Childers: his ex-stripper wife, here “stuck with platitudes such as ‘God gave you a purpose, Sam Childers.’” The movie is based on a book which is based on a (presumably) true life story of a convict who gets violently born-again, thoroughly baptized, and self-licensed to pick up a gun and fight in defense of children in Sudan. Childers built an orphanage there, we are told and shown, and evidently does some good things for the kids. But that’s not what the movie is about. To compete today, it has to be violent, and is.

Michael Phillips in the Chicago Tribune deals with the scene in Sudan, personalizing it along the way. Here is how he voices the Gospel: “Staring down an enemy, he seethes: ‘The Lord I serve is the living lord Jesus. And to show you he’s alive, I’m going to send you to meet him right now!’ Blam! Another enemy, smote.” What does the viewer get to see in a plot plotted for today’s American market? Roger Ebert in the Sun-Times, on the reverend gun-slinger: he “is nothing but a one-dimensional rage machine.” So the preacher and the film-maker “can’t wait to get to the ass-whipping part of this inspirational story, [which] lacks any real sense of how Childers underwent his staggering transformation.” Well, “he isn’t the first to go to war in the name of the Lord— He’s born again, yes, but he seems otherwise relatively unchanged — He seems fueled more by anger than by spirituality.”

Until next week’s violence-in-religion movie comes along, Machine Gun Preacher invites some pondering: Is this preacher what we wanted? And, if so, who are “we”?

About the embedded image: Gerard Butler stars as Reverend Sam Childers in Machine Gun Preacher.


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.

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I’m pretty much agnostic at this point in my life. But I find atheism just as hard to get my head around as I find fundamental Christianity. Because if there is no such thing as cosmic justice, what is the point of being good? That’s the one thing that no one has ever explained to me. Why shouldn’t I go rob a bank, especially if I’m smart enough to get away with it? What’s stopping me?
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Vince GilliganVince Gilligan, creator of the award-winning television series Breaking Bad

Now in its fourth season, the show traces the moral evolution of Walter White (played by Bryan Cranston), a middle-aged chemistry teacher who becomes a meth maker after he’s diagnosed with lung cancer. Gilligan’s intent for the character was to transform “Mr. Chips into Scarface.”

(photo courtesy of AMC)

~by Nancy Rosenbaum, producer

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