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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.

Wise Words from the “Old Ones” of New Mexico

by Trent Gilliss, Senior Editor

There’s a certain amount of serendipity that offers itself to any person who works on SOF. But I have to be open to it, to be able to acknowledge that chance connection or a life lesson is often garnered during a pause rather than while railing to meet a deadline. This is my pause.

While writing an entry on Robert Coles’ book, The Old Ones of New Mexico, for our particulars page for “The Inner Lives of Children,” I re-read a profile about Señor and Señora Gallegos, owners of a small rural market known simply as “The Store.” I was looking for quotes on the relationship between children and their grandparents. What I discovered were threads of wisdom for living a virtuous life as a businessperson during these economic times.

Our series on the spiritual and moral aspects of the economic downturn is called "Repossessing Virtue." Perhaps we here got that title wrong. Perhaps virtue isn’t a matter of ‘possession’ at all but a series of tiny, indiscrete moments of character that emanates from within. You can no more own it than you can cage an electron. In my bones, I know that Señor Gallegos understands this better than most:

"The people near here like to come by every day. Some mothers send their husbands to the store each morning before breakfast. No wonder I have to be ready for them; they expect me to know by heart what they will be asking for. And why not? After all these years I’d be of no use if I couldn’t predict what my customers want and need. Still, with age one has to think a little harder. So, about six-thirty I am picturing the men, and looking at the shelves to see that I have what they’ll come for. Usually they don’t even have to talk much when they enter. I look at them and go for the milk or some cereal or some cans—and of course, I have the doughnuts near the coffee. They put the money for the doughnuts in the glass jar; that is separate. The rest I ring up.

"We charge more than the big markets in the city. We must. We don’t get to buy at the low prices a chain of stores can make the wholesale people set. Maybe one day there will be no stores like ours left. I apologize all the time to my customers. I tell them that if they would only drive twenty miles, they could do better. I know that some storekeepers like me have a fine time bleeding their customers—the people who can’t travel or are in a hurry for something. But it is not in me to run that kind of business. I am too old to do a dance because I squeezed an extra nickel here, and a quarter there, out of some neighbors of mine. I would have nightmares, thinking of what they wished me: a long stretch in Hell. And I would belong there!

"The older I become, the more I think of others. Have I been a good husband and father? Will my friends think well of me when the casket with me in it moves down the street toward the cemetery? What will my cousins and my nephews and nieces and neighbors and customers think when they stand there and see me put to rest: ‘He is a scoundrel who took away from the poor and cheated people by touching the scale with his hand and raised prices far beyond what was fair?’ or ‘He did the best he could, and tried to be honest, and had a smile on his face most of the time?’ I cannot say for sure; maybe I have been more thoughtless and rude than I will ever know. When God gives you the extra time he has given me, it may be because he expects you to examine yourself very closely, and think about what you have done wrong. I know that when I was younger I worried about money: I wanted there to be some for our old age. Back then I thought: If we live to be sixty-five, or seventy, we will be lucky, and we will no doubt be weak and so our son will have to run the store all by himself. But we lived longer, and here I am, still opening the store, so that my son can have a decent sleep, and see his children off to school.

"I didn’t grow rich; nor will my son. He would like to make more money, I know. He resembles me: he is torn between the desire to make money for his wife and children, and a great loyalty to our customers. How can you take more than is due you—especially when you know you are lucky to have the store and live comfortably as you do, and many of your customers aren’t at all in the same shoes? I have no answers; I wish everyone in the world had enough to eat, good clothes, and a roof that doesn’t leak over their heads. I tell our priest all the time that it is no joy, taking money from people who don’t have much, and who work so hard for the little they do have. He slaps me on the back and tells me that it is not me or Señora Gallegos or our son who are the enemies of the poor. He tells me about other stores he knows of, from his past work: the owners are politicians, and they push the people around and take every cent they can get. I feel good, hearing him speak well of me, but I still worry: God must know that I have had my moments of greed.

"There have been people I have not liked, and they have pushed me hard: Why do you charge such high prices? Why do you try to bleed us? I have tried to answer: it is trying and lonely running a store like this one, and if I give everything away, I will have to beg myself, rather than run the store. But I can hold firm; no one will knock me down, not when I think I am in the right. Sometimes I feel ready to fight; and sometimes I have said to myself, ‘Take all you can get, because they are the mean ones, and they will only respect a man who is as mean as they are.’ And you know, that is true: there are people on this earth who have contempt for a man who tries to be generous; he is seen as a fool, or up to some clever trick. That is God’s way—to put many different kinds of people here, and let us all prove ourselves to him."

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Repossessing Virtue: Joan Chittister on Christmas

» download (mp3, 16:33)

by Krista Tippett, host

I spoke with Joan Chittister this week. She’s been thinking and writing about Christmas, the prism through which economic crisis is coming home uncomfortably to many of us right now. It is a wonderful, eloquent 15 minutes of her energetic wisdom — highly recommended listening. The gold, frankincense, and myrrh of the kingly biblical gift-givers, she’s learned, are not displays of wealth but of blessings of character — generosity, serenity, and spirit.

Such states of being are counterintuitive, perhaps, at this moment in time. But perhaps they are precisely the qualities that can help us emerge with our humanity intact and enriched. I wish them for myself, and for all of us, in this season.

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A New JubileeAndy Dayton, Associate Web Producer
Just when I thought I’d had my fill of historical Jewish customs for the time being (last week I waist-deep in Scott-Martin Kosofsky’s The Book of Customs for our Hanukkah program), I ran into an interesting Financial Times article referencing a tradition of routinely absolving debts described in the Old Testiment and Torah.
Deuteronomy dictates that “at the end of every seven years you shall grant a release of debts.” After seven of those seven-year cycles (called Sabbatical cycles), comes the jubilee year — a year where material possessions and land are returned to their original owners, and servants are emancipated. The FT article suggests that one solution to the current economic crisis could be to have our own version of the jubilee year — not by absolving debts outright, but by converting them into government-backed, low-interest loans.
I was equally intrigued by the image that was selected to accompany this article: The Moneylender and His Wife, by Flemish painter Quentin Metsys (seen above). According to the description on the Musée du Louvre’s Web site, “the shiny gold, pearls (a symbol of lust), and jewelry have distracted the wife from her spiritual duty, reading a work of devotion.” The objects behind the two figures are also ripe for interperetation, but perhaps the most potent item in this painting — especially for an artist intending to send a moral message — is in the foreground: a mirror “reflecting” the world outside.
Find more of our coverage of the economic downturn, see our Web site for Repossessing Virtue.
A New JubileeAndy Dayton, Associate Web Producer
Just when I thought I’d had my fill of historical Jewish customs for the time being (last week I waist-deep in Scott-Martin Kosofsky’s The Book of Customs for our Hanukkah program), I ran into an interesting Financial Times article referencing a tradition of routinely absolving debts described in the Old Testiment and Torah.
Deuteronomy dictates that “at the end of every seven years you shall grant a release of debts.” After seven of those seven-year cycles (called Sabbatical cycles), comes the jubilee year — a year where material possessions and land are returned to their original owners, and servants are emancipated. The FT article suggests that one solution to the current economic crisis could be to have our own version of the jubilee year — not by absolving debts outright, but by converting them into government-backed, low-interest loans.
I was equally intrigued by the image that was selected to accompany this article: The Moneylender and His Wife, by Flemish painter Quentin Metsys (seen above). According to the description on the Musée du Louvre’s Web site, “the shiny gold, pearls (a symbol of lust), and jewelry have distracted the wife from her spiritual duty, reading a work of devotion.” The objects behind the two figures are also ripe for interperetation, but perhaps the most potent item in this painting — especially for an artist intending to send a moral message — is in the foreground: a mirror “reflecting” the world outside.
Find more of our coverage of the economic downturn, see our Web site for Repossessing Virtue.

A New Jubilee
Andy Dayton, Associate Web Producer

Just when I thought I’d had my fill of historical Jewish customs for the time being (last week I waist-deep in Scott-Martin Kosofsky’s The Book of Customs for our Hanukkah program), I ran into an interesting Financial Times article referencing a tradition of routinely absolving debts described in the Old Testiment and Torah.

Deuteronomy dictates that “at the end of every seven years you shall grant a release of debts.” After seven of those seven-year cycles (called Sabbatical cycles), comes the jubilee year — a year where material possessions and land are returned to their original owners, and servants are emancipated. The FT article suggests that one solution to the current economic crisis could be to have our own version of the jubilee year — not by absolving debts outright, but by converting them into government-backed, low-interest loans.

I was equally intrigued by the image that was selected to accompany this article: The Moneylender and His Wife, by Flemish painter Quentin Metsys (seen above). According to the description on the Musée du Louvre’s Web site, “the shiny gold, pearls (a symbol of lust), and jewelry have distracted the wife from her spiritual duty, reading a work of devotion.” The objects behind the two figures are also ripe for interperetation, but perhaps the most potent item in this painting — especially for an artist intending to send a moral message — is in the foreground: a mirror “reflecting” the world outside.

Find more of our coverage of the economic downturn, see our Web site for Repossessing Virtue.

Comments
Download

Repossessing Virtue: Shane Claiborne on Opportunity for Renewed Community
» download (mp3, 14:10)
Trent Gilliss, Online Editor

In the young Evangelical world, Shane Claiborne is a rock star. And this isn’t hyperbole; I witnessed it first-hand at last year’s National Pastor’s Convention in San Diego. After he spoke on a panel hosted by Krista and another solo lecture, throngs of people surrounded him asking for his autograph or seeking counsel. He’s infusing a new generation of Christians with hope and a sense of social service. It’s this enthusiasm and his way of living in a monastic community that compelled us to ask for his perspective on the current economic crisis.

He looks to the words of Jesus, describing them as fresh and an invitation, an opportunity, to hear them anew during these turbulent times. He looks to the model of early Christians, to Gandhi, to Mother Teresa of Calcutta, to the nobility of the poor. In all of these cases, it’s community, he says, that perseveres no matter the economic state of society. After you listen, please leave us a comment about what you think.

We’ll keep releasing mp3s of our interviews via this blog, our podcast, and now on a Web site for Repossessing Virtue. And, please share your ideas about how this downturn has affected you in terms of personal conscience and values?

Comments
Repossessing Virtue: Humility Is the Basis of My New Faith Jessica Sundheim, Guest Contributor

Editor’s note: We asked our listeners and readers to tell us their stories about the moral and spiritual aspects of the economic downturn. In the coming months, we’ll be featuring some of these on SOF Observed an as part of our First Person project, "Repossessing Virtue."
Jessica Sundheim reminds us that personal transformation and understanding happens at any age. She kicks off this first person exploration, and continues our series of interviews with wise voices, including Martin Marty, Prabhu Guptara, Esther Sternberg, Rachel Naomi Remen, and others to come.

Since I was very young, like just about everyone I know, I had a strong mechanism deep within that could smell injustice, layer upon layer of it. I knew at age three that going to daycare sucked, and I knew that my peers were favored because we were cared for by their mother. However, the complexity of greater social injustices didn’t really begin to sink in until I turned 25. Before then I think of myself as a protestor/whiner. I saw the injustice at face value and whined about it. Growing up on poverty and years of watching PBS documentaries of war demonstrations, the liberation of concentration camps, civil rights marches, The Wonder Years, and listening to my parents old LP’s of The Beatles and Janice Joplin had left their mark.The tragedy of 9/11 took place just weeks after my 23rd birthday. It was shaking, like someone had struck a chord that had resonated for years and then on 9/11 someone struck a new chord, a chord no one knew. I quit my job to stay home with my kids. I flew home to Tennessee with my toddler and eight-month-old baby to visit family. We bought a new car. We waited. I was ready to act, but no direction came. I also began to seek out spiritual renewal and joined a very fundamentalist Bible study. Soon, my car was tuned to a different station, one that focused on my family and my role in it instead of news and the world. My head was filled with directives to isolate, seclude my young, and become as perfect as possible. My goal was to be Jesus Christ and to get everyone else to be just like me.
The mechanism that smelled injustice began to be tweaked. “Could it really be injustice if the person isn’t a Christian? God works for the good of those who believe in him.” Personal behavior and faith status became the stick with which I measured out those who suffered for no cause of their own and those who deserved it. No longer a sheep in the flock, I wasn’t even the shepherd; I was the butcher, me and about 5 million others. So when the war that I had been fated to protest for years came, I was blinded by a belief system that mandated an eye for an eye.My belief system had little sympathy or compassion for people who could not control their sinful nature. I didn’t even believe in funding public schools, or that women should work outside the home. Our society was falling apart because of working women, sex, Godless public education, taxes, and fast food. I really, really believed in this.Shortly after 9/11 my husband became the director of an environmental learning center. Two years later, when the funding was cut and the center folded my life changed. I started a cleaning business at seven months pregnant because no business would hire me, and I got a job as a coordinator for an after school program (in a public school). I also became vehemently opposed to any business that would have the audacity to discriminate against a pregnant woman.My husband worked endlessly. He had three jobs. He went to tutor at the school at 3:00 p.m., from there he went to his overnight factory job at 6 p.m. He got home after working an 11-hour shift at 5 a.m. At 9 a.m., after four hours of sleep, he went on call as an EMT with the local ambulance service. He could still catch some sleep if he didn’t get a call. Without the paycheck that we had become accustomed to, public school began to look like a good deal, my dream of home schooling was fading. Something I had railed against for years (welfare) began to look like a social safety net. I’ll never forget the time I was at a Christian women’s meeting and the director of the food shelf leaned over and said, “You can go to the food shelf so many times per year. You should go.” She squeezed the life out of my hand, as if to say if you don’t go I’ll hurt you. I went.I’ll never forget that experience. I, a hard working, educated, sober, business woman was going to a food shelf! The people were so nice. The form was one page, about five questions. I thought we’d get enough food for one meal, but I had to pull my car around so that I could unload box after box into my car. We were given so much, I couldn’t fit it all in my cupboards. We ate every last can of tuna, box of instant potatoes, and even SPAM with relish.Humility is the basis of my new faith.I do not look at the state of our country’s economy as a crisis in the same way as most. The state of affairs is an opportunity, in many ways. I still have a sense of justice, and so I think that someone should pay for the frivolous, machismo, arrogant politics and policies of the last 15 years. But, I know that for the most part the powerless, not the propagator, will suffer most in this mess.
However, poverty for me is no longer a judgment handed down to the lazy, uneducated, drunken, egocentric sloth. I no longer define poverty by neighborhood, class, education, or even bank account. Poverty is to lack the ability to help others as one would want to help oneself. Poverty is the inability to forgive — the blind, misinformed faith that isolates and secludes a person from joy, self-forgiveness, compassion, and love for one’s neighbor.Our family has gone through a financial crisis much like what the country is facing now. We have learned a lot and I feel that we are better off. The leadership I am looking for at this time is a leadership that believes in everyday people. Leadership that doesn’t look at the person’s bank account or position of status to find value, but instead a leadership that understands the inherent value of every citizen of this country. A leadership that doesn’t seclude or isolate, but reaches out to all of us and in turn gives some useful direction, a map.What am I doing differently? I am no longer a secluded housewife. My kids go to school. We moved to a new community. I am grateful for welfare, food stamps, and Medicare even though we no longer use them. The food shelf still rocks. Involved in my local political party, I fought hard for a candidate with real vision as a delegate to the DFL state convention. (I am the former chairperson for the Big Stone County Republican Party). For the last year I worked two jobs, helped plan a fundraiser, door knocked for Barack, had a house party, marched in a lawn chair brigade in many parades for my local candidate for Minnesota House Seat 10A. As the volunteer coordinator for A Center for the Arts, I naturally voted “yes” on the constitutional amendment.
I find wisdom at a unique church. The church is actually two churches, United Church of Christ and a Presbyterian church, which came together to worship in the same house when a tornado blew through town almost a hundred years ago. The six of us live in a two-bedroom house on the tracks in the “ghetto” of Fergus Falls, and I let the kids play with the neighbors. I could not be more different, or any further from my old idea of “perfection.”I find leadership in my elders, veterans, the people who grew up during the Great Depression, and my grandmother. I also look for ways to be of use. I find spiritual renewal in many forms of art, but my favorite is dance. I enjoy other’s points of view and I don’t always know mine. I like collaborating.I once called into an MPR pledge drive during SOF to protest the show and withdraw my membership. I am sorry. Now, I want to tell you thank you. This [essay] is humongous, but it’s been a journey and I wouldn’t be the person I am now without having listened to the different ideas and perspectives (especially an interview with an Evangelical fundamentalist a few years back). Your show makes a difference, so I look forward to tuning in.
Jessica Sundheim was born during the Carter administration and lives in Fergus Falls, Minnesota.
Repossessing Virtue: Humility Is the Basis of My New Faith Jessica Sundheim, Guest Contributor

Editor’s note: We asked our listeners and readers to tell us their stories about the moral and spiritual aspects of the economic downturn. In the coming months, we’ll be featuring some of these on SOF Observed an as part of our First Person project, "Repossessing Virtue."
Jessica Sundheim reminds us that personal transformation and understanding happens at any age. She kicks off this first person exploration, and continues our series of interviews with wise voices, including Martin Marty, Prabhu Guptara, Esther Sternberg, Rachel Naomi Remen, and others to come.

Since I was very young, like just about everyone I know, I had a strong mechanism deep within that could smell injustice, layer upon layer of it. I knew at age three that going to daycare sucked, and I knew that my peers were favored because we were cared for by their mother. However, the complexity of greater social injustices didn’t really begin to sink in until I turned 25. Before then I think of myself as a protestor/whiner. I saw the injustice at face value and whined about it. Growing up on poverty and years of watching PBS documentaries of war demonstrations, the liberation of concentration camps, civil rights marches, The Wonder Years, and listening to my parents old LP’s of The Beatles and Janice Joplin had left their mark.The tragedy of 9/11 took place just weeks after my 23rd birthday. It was shaking, like someone had struck a chord that had resonated for years and then on 9/11 someone struck a new chord, a chord no one knew. I quit my job to stay home with my kids. I flew home to Tennessee with my toddler and eight-month-old baby to visit family. We bought a new car. We waited. I was ready to act, but no direction came. I also began to seek out spiritual renewal and joined a very fundamentalist Bible study. Soon, my car was tuned to a different station, one that focused on my family and my role in it instead of news and the world. My head was filled with directives to isolate, seclude my young, and become as perfect as possible. My goal was to be Jesus Christ and to get everyone else to be just like me.
The mechanism that smelled injustice began to be tweaked. “Could it really be injustice if the person isn’t a Christian? God works for the good of those who believe in him.” Personal behavior and faith status became the stick with which I measured out those who suffered for no cause of their own and those who deserved it. No longer a sheep in the flock, I wasn’t even the shepherd; I was the butcher, me and about 5 million others. So when the war that I had been fated to protest for years came, I was blinded by a belief system that mandated an eye for an eye.My belief system had little sympathy or compassion for people who could not control their sinful nature. I didn’t even believe in funding public schools, or that women should work outside the home. Our society was falling apart because of working women, sex, Godless public education, taxes, and fast food. I really, really believed in this.Shortly after 9/11 my husband became the director of an environmental learning center. Two years later, when the funding was cut and the center folded my life changed. I started a cleaning business at seven months pregnant because no business would hire me, and I got a job as a coordinator for an after school program (in a public school). I also became vehemently opposed to any business that would have the audacity to discriminate against a pregnant woman.My husband worked endlessly. He had three jobs. He went to tutor at the school at 3:00 p.m., from there he went to his overnight factory job at 6 p.m. He got home after working an 11-hour shift at 5 a.m. At 9 a.m., after four hours of sleep, he went on call as an EMT with the local ambulance service. He could still catch some sleep if he didn’t get a call. Without the paycheck that we had become accustomed to, public school began to look like a good deal, my dream of home schooling was fading. Something I had railed against for years (welfare) began to look like a social safety net. I’ll never forget the time I was at a Christian women’s meeting and the director of the food shelf leaned over and said, “You can go to the food shelf so many times per year. You should go.” She squeezed the life out of my hand, as if to say if you don’t go I’ll hurt you. I went.I’ll never forget that experience. I, a hard working, educated, sober, business woman was going to a food shelf! The people were so nice. The form was one page, about five questions. I thought we’d get enough food for one meal, but I had to pull my car around so that I could unload box after box into my car. We were given so much, I couldn’t fit it all in my cupboards. We ate every last can of tuna, box of instant potatoes, and even SPAM with relish.Humility is the basis of my new faith.I do not look at the state of our country’s economy as a crisis in the same way as most. The state of affairs is an opportunity, in many ways. I still have a sense of justice, and so I think that someone should pay for the frivolous, machismo, arrogant politics and policies of the last 15 years. But, I know that for the most part the powerless, not the propagator, will suffer most in this mess.
However, poverty for me is no longer a judgment handed down to the lazy, uneducated, drunken, egocentric sloth. I no longer define poverty by neighborhood, class, education, or even bank account. Poverty is to lack the ability to help others as one would want to help oneself. Poverty is the inability to forgive — the blind, misinformed faith that isolates and secludes a person from joy, self-forgiveness, compassion, and love for one’s neighbor.Our family has gone through a financial crisis much like what the country is facing now. We have learned a lot and I feel that we are better off. The leadership I am looking for at this time is a leadership that believes in everyday people. Leadership that doesn’t look at the person’s bank account or position of status to find value, but instead a leadership that understands the inherent value of every citizen of this country. A leadership that doesn’t seclude or isolate, but reaches out to all of us and in turn gives some useful direction, a map.What am I doing differently? I am no longer a secluded housewife. My kids go to school. We moved to a new community. I am grateful for welfare, food stamps, and Medicare even though we no longer use them. The food shelf still rocks. Involved in my local political party, I fought hard for a candidate with real vision as a delegate to the DFL state convention. (I am the former chairperson for the Big Stone County Republican Party). For the last year I worked two jobs, helped plan a fundraiser, door knocked for Barack, had a house party, marched in a lawn chair brigade in many parades for my local candidate for Minnesota House Seat 10A. As the volunteer coordinator for A Center for the Arts, I naturally voted “yes” on the constitutional amendment.
I find wisdom at a unique church. The church is actually two churches, United Church of Christ and a Presbyterian church, which came together to worship in the same house when a tornado blew through town almost a hundred years ago. The six of us live in a two-bedroom house on the tracks in the “ghetto” of Fergus Falls, and I let the kids play with the neighbors. I could not be more different, or any further from my old idea of “perfection.”I find leadership in my elders, veterans, the people who grew up during the Great Depression, and my grandmother. I also look for ways to be of use. I find spiritual renewal in many forms of art, but my favorite is dance. I enjoy other’s points of view and I don’t always know mine. I like collaborating.I once called into an MPR pledge drive during SOF to protest the show and withdraw my membership. I am sorry. Now, I want to tell you thank you. This [essay] is humongous, but it’s been a journey and I wouldn’t be the person I am now without having listened to the different ideas and perspectives (especially an interview with an Evangelical fundamentalist a few years back). Your show makes a difference, so I look forward to tuning in.
Jessica Sundheim was born during the Carter administration and lives in Fergus Falls, Minnesota.

Repossessing Virtue: Humility Is the Basis of My New Faith
Jessica Sundheim, Guest Contributor

Editor’s note: We asked our listeners and readers to tell us their stories about the moral and spiritual aspects of the economic downturn. In the coming months, we’ll be featuring some of these on SOF Observed an as part of our First Person project, "Repossessing Virtue."

Jessica Sundheim reminds us that personal transformation and understanding happens at any age. She kicks off this first person exploration, and continues our series of interviews with wise voices, including Martin Marty, Prabhu Guptara, Esther Sternberg, Rachel Naomi Remen, and others to come.

Since I was very young, like just about everyone I know, I had a strong mechanism deep within that could smell injustice, layer upon layer of it. I knew at age three that going to daycare sucked, and I knew that my peers were favored because we were cared for by their mother. However, the complexity of greater social injustices didn’t really begin to sink in until I turned 25. Before then I think of myself as a protestor/whiner. I saw the injustice at face value and whined about it. Growing up on poverty and years of watching PBS documentaries of war demonstrations, the liberation of concentration camps, civil rights marches, The Wonder Years, and listening to my parents old LP’s of The Beatles and Janice Joplin had left their mark.

The tragedy of 9/11 took place just weeks after my 23rd birthday. It was shaking, like someone had struck a chord that had resonated for years and then on 9/11 someone struck a new chord, a chord no one knew. I quit my job to stay home with my kids. I flew home to Tennessee with my toddler and eight-month-old baby to visit family. We bought a new car. We waited. I was ready to act, but no direction came. I also began to seek out spiritual renewal and joined a very fundamentalist Bible study. Soon, my car was tuned to a different station, one that focused on my family and my role in it instead of news and the world. My head was filled with directives to isolate, seclude my young, and become as perfect as possible. My goal was to be Jesus Christ and to get everyone else to be just like me.

The mechanism that smelled injustice began to be tweaked. “Could it really be injustice if the person isn’t a Christian? God works for the good of those who believe in him.” Personal behavior and faith status became the stick with which I measured out those who suffered for no cause of their own and those who deserved it. No longer a sheep in the flock, I wasn’t even the shepherd; I was the butcher, me and about 5 million others. So when the war that I had been fated to protest for years came, I was blinded by a belief system that mandated an eye for an eye.

My belief system had little sympathy or compassion for people who could not control their sinful nature. I didn’t even believe in funding public schools, or that women should work outside the home. Our society was falling apart because of working women, sex, Godless public education, taxes, and fast food. I really, really believed in this.

Shortly after 9/11 my husband became the director of an environmental learning center. Two years later, when the funding was cut and the center folded my life changed. I started a cleaning business at seven months pregnant because no business would hire me, and I got a job as a coordinator for an after school program (in a public school). I also became vehemently opposed to any business that would have the audacity to discriminate against a pregnant woman.

My husband worked endlessly. He had three jobs. He went to tutor at the school at 3:00 p.m., from there he went to his overnight factory job at 6 p.m. He got home after working an 11-hour shift at 5 a.m. At 9 a.m., after four hours of sleep, he went on call as an EMT with the local ambulance service. He could still catch some sleep if he didn’t get a call. Without the paycheck that we had become accustomed to, public school began to look like a good deal, my dream of home schooling was fading. Something I had railed against for years (welfare) began to look like a social safety net. I’ll never forget the time I was at a Christian women’s meeting and the director of the food shelf leaned over and said, “You can go to the food shelf so many times per year. You should go.” She squeezed the life out of my hand, as if to say if you don’t go I’ll hurt you. I went.

I’ll never forget that experience. I, a hard working, educated, sober, business woman was going to a food shelf! The people were so nice. The form was one page, about five questions. I thought we’d get enough food for one meal, but I had to pull my car around so that I could unload box after box into my car. We were given so much, I couldn’t fit it all in my cupboards. We ate every last can of tuna, box of instant potatoes, and even SPAM with relish.

Humility is the basis of my new faith.

I do not look at the state of our country’s economy as a crisis in the same way as most. The state of affairs is an opportunity, in many ways. I still have a sense of justice, and so I think that someone should pay for the frivolous, machismo, arrogant politics and policies of the last 15 years. But, I know that for the most part the powerless, not the propagator, will suffer most in this mess.

However, poverty for me is no longer a judgment handed down to the lazy, uneducated, drunken, egocentric sloth. I no longer define poverty by neighborhood, class, education, or even bank account. Poverty is to lack the ability to help others as one would want to help oneself. Poverty is the inability to forgive — the blind, misinformed faith that isolates and secludes a person from joy, self-forgiveness, compassion, and love for one’s neighbor.

Our family has gone through a financial crisis much like what the country is facing now. We have learned a lot and I feel that we are better off. The leadership I am looking for at this time is a leadership that believes in everyday people. Leadership that doesn’t look at the person’s bank account or position of status to find value, but instead a leadership that understands the inherent value of every citizen of this country. A leadership that doesn’t seclude or isolate, but reaches out to all of us and in turn gives some useful direction, a map.

What am I doing differently? I am no longer a secluded housewife. My kids go to school. We moved to a new community. I am grateful for welfare, food stamps, and Medicare even though we no longer use them. The food shelf still rocks. Involved in my local political party, I fought hard for a candidate with real vision as a delegate to the DFL state convention. (I am the former chairperson for the Big Stone County Republican Party). For the last year I worked two jobs, helped plan a fundraiser, door knocked for Barack, had a house party, marched in a lawn chair brigade in many parades for my local candidate for Minnesota House Seat 10A. As the volunteer coordinator for A Center for the Arts, I naturally voted “yes” on the constitutional amendment.

I find wisdom at a unique church. The church is actually two churches, United Church of Christ and a Presbyterian church, which came together to worship in the same house when a tornado blew through town almost a hundred years ago. The six of us live in a two-bedroom house on the tracks in the “ghetto” of Fergus Falls, and I let the kids play with the neighbors. I could not be more different, or any further from my old idea of “perfection.”

I find leadership in my elders, veterans, the people who grew up during the Great Depression, and my grandmother. I also look for ways to be of use. I find spiritual renewal in many forms of art, but my favorite is dance. I enjoy other’s points of view and I don’t always know mine. I like collaborating.

I once called into an MPR pledge drive during SOF to protest the show and withdraw my membership. I am sorry. Now, I want to tell you thank you. This [essay] is humongous, but it’s been a journey and I wouldn’t be the person I am now without having listened to the different ideas and perspectives (especially an interview with an Evangelical fundamentalist a few years back). Your show makes a difference, so I look forward to tuning in.

Jessica Sundheim was born during the Carter administration and lives in Fergus Falls, Minnesota.

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Repossessing Virtue: Rachel Naomi Remen and Economic Crisis as Spiritual Journey
» download(mp3, 23:20)
Kate Moos, Managing Producer

Rachel Naomi Remen spoke to Krista for a program we called "Listening Generously" some time ago and re-aired recently. In it they discuss the power of story to heal and restore, as well as the power of story, or narrative, to limit and to harm. So I wasn’t surprised when, in the course of this brief interview with me, she said "our story had become too small," and asserted that finding our way back to the largeness of our collective story was part of the spiritual path we are on, as we navigate the economic crisis.

I hardly edited this conversation at all because I was so taken by Dr. Remen’s hospitality and warmth, and I wanted to share that with you. I hope you’ll let yourself sink into her wisdom on the spiritual aspects of our shared anxieties and ask yourself, as she suggests: What do I trust? What do I really need?

We’ll keep releasing mp3s of our interviews via this blog, our podcast, and now on a Web site for Repossessing Virtue. And, please share your ideas about how this downturn has affected you in terms of personal conscience and values?

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Repossessing Virtue: Esther Sternberg on the Economic Crisis in Biological Terms
» download (mp3, 12:28)
Trent Gilliss, Online Editor

Esther Sternberg is a scientist’s scientist. And that, I believe, is what appeals to so many of us who listen to "Stress and the Balance Within." But, it’s not the only thing. She has a way of taking objective data, verifying and analyzing it, and rendering her report. And then what makes her such a special and effective voice is her incredible ability to relate these scientific points on a personal level, often by looking inward and exposing the frailty of her own humanity.

Take, for instance, Kate’s interview with her on the economic crisis. Kate’s first question: “Do you consider this a moral or spiritual crisis?” Almost immediately, she says that she doesn’t see it in either term because she doesn’t know enough about the causes of the crises (i.e., she doesn’t have the data to make judgments, pronouncements). Rather she sees the crises in biological terms.

She could have left it at that and then talked at length about empirical data and scientific evidence. But, she rarely does. She references people and its impact on others — and then she relates by remembering her father, a Holocaust survivor who would read Psalm 23, her own anxieties about the downturn, the need for public service.

We’re releasing all of these mp3s for download in our podcast. And, check back here at SOF Observed for future conversations with wise thinkers, including Greg Epstein, Pankaj Mishra, and Shane Claiborne.

Also, we’re looking to our readers and listeners for fresh thinking and language about how to talk about the current economic crisis. How has this changed you, your family, your community? And not just financially, but in terms of personal conscience and values? We’d like to hear from you. Tell us your first person story about your experiences.

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Warming Coles

Trent Gilliss, Online Editor

I have to express my excitement about the show we have scheduled for podcast release on New Year’s Day. Back in 2000, Krista sat with the wonderfully insightful and heartwarmingly endearing child psychiatrist Robert Coles.

A small part of this 60-minute interview was incorporated into the show "Children and God." This show single-handedly made a SOF superfan out of me. And, it wasn’t until recently that Krista mentioned that she spoke with him for a full hour. Hearing that was a revelation, and thank goodness Rob listened to it and recommended him for a new show, a fresh production.

Eight years later, his ideas about children’s curiosity about understanding the world and their innate spiritual sensibilities — and that they are witnesses to events and behaviors and ideas — resound so much more loudly now than when I originally heard him. Not only because I’m a father now, but more so because I’m a working witness to the economic downturn who’s asking himself basic questions about trust and need and responsibility.

We’ll be posting some preview clips from the program. I can’t wait for you to hear it.

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Repossessing Virtue: Prabhu Guptara on Applying Personal Moral Sense to One’s Work Life
» download (mp3, 14:33)
Trent Gilliss, Online Editor

We’re continuing our exploration of the economic crisis by asking a fairly specific set of questions:”Do you see this as a spiritual and moral crisis?” “Where are you looking now for leadership, for guidance?” As promised, we turned to a financial expert operating within the banking industry, Prabhu Guptara.

Several years ago, Krista spoke with Guptara when the fallout of the Enron scandal was wreaking havoc on the U.S. economy and shaking investor confidence in corporate practices and business fundamentals. His PowerPoint presentation titled "The Gods of Business" resonated with many listeners at the time. His message was simple but challenging, and also quite liberating for much of our audience — bring your personal values into the workplace. For Guptara, doing this is one of the best ways of making ethical decisions that will lead to moral integrity — and less corruption and scandal.

In the coming days, we’ll make available Kate’s interview with medical researcher Dr. Esther Sternberg. Unlike Prabhu Guptara and Martin Marty (listen to his thoughts on trust in uncertain times here), Sternberg doesn’t view this as a moral issue at all, but a biological one. And, we’re in the process of editing Krista’s conversation with Quaker educator Parker Palmer, which will be released via podcast on December 11th.

We’re releasing all of these mp3s for download in our podcast. And, check back here at SOF Observed for future conversations with wise thinkers, including Shane Claiborne.

Also, we’re looking to our readers and listeners for fresh thinking and language about how to talk about the current economic crisis. How has this changed you, your family, your community? And not just financially, but in terms of personal conscience and values? We’d like to hear from you. Tell us your first person story about your experiences.

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Webcast: “Does the Free Market Corrode Moral Character?”

Colleen Scheck, Producer

Today I received an alert about a live Webcast scheduled for tomorrow, December 3rd, that relates to our ongoing exploration of the moral and ethical aspects of the current economic downturn. The John Templeton Foundation (full disclosure: a funder of Speaking of Faith programs on religion and science) is sponsoring a live conversation from London with three contributors to its latest “Big Questions” series, titled "Does the free market corrode moral character?" BBC economics editor Stephanie Flanders will moderate a discussion between economist Jagdish Bhagwati and philosophers John Gray and Bernard-Henri Lévy. Follow this link if you’re interested in listening to the Webcast or hearing the perspectives of other contributors to the series.

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Repossessing Virtue: Martin Marty on Trust in Uncertain Times
» download (mp3, 14:52)
Kate Moos, Managing Producer

As many of you know, we are contacting our listeners as well as old friends and guests of the show to ask them a fairly specific set of questions about the economic crisis that continues to rock us day to day, as we wait for a new administration in the White House, new solutions, and for the next shoe to drop. These questions are simple, but they’re also big: “Do you see this as a spiritual and moral crisis?” “Where are you looking now for leadership, for guidance?”

I spoke to Martin Marty, the acclaimed historian and Christian theologian. He’s retired, though honestly he is the busiest retired person I know. But being retired, the recent market chaos is a very real concern for him, and, in this brief conversation, he shares a good deal of his ”lived theology” — the personal, daily acts of faith that preserve sanity and restore trust even at the most uncertain times. The unpretentious wisdom he shares is such a great example of real-life, grounded piety; it gives me hope.

Stay tuned for more coverage on the radio as well. We just completed a fabulous interview with the Quaker educator Parker Palmer on the crisis and how to find our way forward, which will be broadcast in December. Check back here at SOF Observed for similar conversations with medical researcher Dr. Esther Sternberg and international business consultant Prabhu Guptara in the near future.

Also, we’re looking to our readers and listeners for fresh thinking and language about how to talk about the current economic crisis. How has this changed you, your family, your community? And not just financially, but in terms of personal conscience and values? We’d like to hear from you. Tell us your first person story about your experiences.

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Repossessing Virtue: Rebecca Blank on the Ethics of the Free Market
» download (mp3, 7:36)
Rob McGinley Myers, Associate Producer

The financial crisis has been a topic at all of our recent staff meetings, and we’ve been looking for different ways to address it. One idea was to begin conversations with thinkers in a variety of fields about the moral implications of what has happened and why. For the first of those conversations, we called up the economist Rebecca Blank, co-author of the book Is The Market Moral? She brings together a faith in the power of markets and her life-long Christian faith, providing a unique ethical perspective on the free market at a time when even Alan Greenspan has been expressing his doubts about it.

Give a listen and let us know what you think. And while you’re at it, share your story of how this crisis is affecting you, what you think the implications are, and where you’re looking for wisdom and strength in this shifting economic landscape.

(photo courtesy of PBS)

Editor’s update: Changed the title to include in our Repossessing Virtue series.

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