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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.

A Prayer for Nature That Holds 100 Years Later

by Susan Leem, associate producer

Morning light by the streamPhoto by Joel Bedford/Flickr, cc by-nd 2.0

Paul Brandeis Raushenbush, who is our featured guest this week at On Being, shared this poem by his great-grandfather along with his moving Thanksgiving Day Prayer. Nearly a century old, this prayer, Raushenbush writes, “reads so much like something that could/should be written today.”

Prayer for Nature
by Walter Rauschenbusch (1861–1918)
O God, we thank you for this universe, our home; and for its vastness and richness, the exuberance of life which fills it and of which we are part. We praise you for the vault of heaven and for the winds, pregnant with blessings, for the clouds which navigate and for the constellations, there so high. We praise you for the oceans and for the fresh streams, for the endless mountains, the trees, the grass under our feet. We praise you for our senses, to be able to see the moving splendour, to hear the songs of lovers, to smell the beautiful fragrance of the spring flowers.

Give us, we pray you, a heart that is open to all this joy and all this beauty, and free our souls of the blindness that comes from preoccupation with the things of life, and of the shadows of passions, to the point that we no longer see nor hear, not even when the bush at the roadside is afire with the glory of God. Give us a broader sense of communion with all living things, our sisters, to whom you gave this world as a home along with us.

We remember with shame that in the past we took advantage of our greater power and used it with unlimited cruelty, so much so that the voice of the earth, which should have arisen to you as a song was turned into a moan of suffering.

May we learn that living things do not live just for us, that they live for themselves and for you, and that they love the sweetness of life as much as we do, and serve you, in their place, better than we do in ours. When our end arrives and we can no longer make use of this world, and when we have to give way to others, may we leave nothing destroyed by our ambition or deformed by our ignorance, but may we pass along our common heritage more beautiful and more sweet, without having removed from it any of its fertility and joy, and so may our bodies return in peace to the womb of the great mother who nourished us and our spirits enjoy perfect life in you.

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WWJD: The Slogan That Was Once a Moral Compass

by Susan Leem, associate producer

"I want volunteers from the First Church who will pledge themselves, earnestly and honestly for an entire year, not to do anything without first asking the question, ‘What would Jesus do?’ And after asking that question, each one will follow Jesus as exactly as he knows how, no matter what the result may be."
~Charles Sheldon, from In His Steps

In the halls of my high school, back in the 1990s, the initials W.W.J.D. (What Would Jesus Do) appeared as a seemingly sudden trend, gracing armbands, lanyards, backpacks. I associated it with teens either trying to fit in or proclaiming their Evangelical Christian faith through (then) fashion-forward accessories. But, Charles Monroe Sheldon, a Kansas preacher, first coined the phrase in 1893 in his novel, In His Steps. In a sense, those woven armbands draw a loop back to the Social Gospel Movement and the Evangelical impulse it grew out of.

Sheldon was a high-profile Congregational minister and an early advocate of civil rights for African-Americans and women. He also supported prohibition to battle alcoholism, seeing it as a serious social disease. And though Sheldon had the spirit of social activism, he was in many ways out of step with his time. He intended the phrase “What Would Jesus Do?” to guide moral behavior as well as be applied to all aspects of living, including one’s occupation.

The novel begins with a young man who was “evidently a tramp” in shabby clothes coming to town looking for work and for help. He approaches the fictional congregation, even the pastor of a small Kansas town (much like the one Reverend Sheldon served), and finds that no one will help him. He later walks into the middle of the Sunday service and shames those present for the hypocrisy of turning their backs on him asking, "But what would Jesus do? Is that what you mean by following his steps?"

In the audio above, theologian John D. Caputo talks about the evolution of this powerful phrase. It’s a way to see what drives Christianity, he says, even the soul of it. But how it’s been appropriated today as mainly a slogan of the Christian Right is a degradation of a very good question, one that has a “magic to it.” According to Caputo it has most impact when applied to one’s own morality, but when used to with a prescriptive morality for others, “you take the teeth out of the question” and it becomes a kind of weapon with which to judge others.

However, Reverend Sheldon was not exclusively applying WWJD to public or private morality himself. He had a more nuanced approach. He felt that as much as one needed to be responsible for their own actions, “people were defenseless against these larger structural forces in this society,” hence his own contributions to social activism.

One intriguing interpretation issue is the challenge of actually determining what Jesus would have done. As Caputo puts it, “the question really is a question and it’s a difficult question because it involves making an interpretation, of taking Jesus who lived in a very different time a remote corner of the Roman Empire, in an occupied country, and who probably was not a very political person. So we’ve got to look at the New Testament narrative and figure out for ourselves what it’s telling us to do in our time.”

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Many people have criticized the so-called ‘social gospel,’ but Jesus taught that we are to take the gospel to the world. Actually there is no such thing as a ‘social gospel.’ It is a misnomer. There is only one gospel … The cup of cold water comes after and sometimes before rather than instead of the gospel. Christians, above all others, should be concerned with social problems and social injustices. Down through the centuries the church has contributed more than any other single agency in lifting social standards to new heights.
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Rev. William (Billy) Graham border=Billy Graham, from his 1984 book, Peace with God

The influential Evangelical preacher’s turned 93 yesterday. Happy belated birthday to you, reverend!

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We can have democracy in this country, or we can have great wealth concentrated in the hands of a few, but we can’t have both.
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U.S. Supreme Court Justice Louis D. Brandeis (1856-1941)

Justice Brandeis entered Harvard Law School in 1875 without a formal college degree, and broke academic records there. President Woodrow Wilson named him to America’s highest court as its first Jewish member. While serving on the Supreme Court, he wrote of the right to privacy and defended civil liberties. Brandeis University in Massachusetts is named after him.

On November 17th, we’ll be releasing our interview with his great-grandson, Paul Brandeis Raushenbush, in which he speaks about the the social gospel movement and how it may be resurfacing in a renewed interest for authenticity.

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Paul Brandeis Raushenbush: A Twitterscript

by Susan Leem, associate producer

Paul Brandeis RaushenbushKrista’s interview with Paul Brandeis Raushenbush, the senior religion editor at the Huffington Post, is in the can. His pedigree reaches back to towering figures of the 20th century:  social gospel reformer Walter Rauschenbusch (great-grandfather) and U.S. Supreme Court Justice Louis D. Brandeis (grandfather). He reminds us that religion is a valuable and increasingly essential vehicle for communication in our modern world.

We live-tweeted highlights of this 90-minute conversation and have aggregated them below for those who weren’t able to follow along. Look for our show with him in the coming weeks, and follow us next time at @BeingTweets.

  1. "I’m the only one in the history of the Presbyterian Church to fail confirmation…I just didn’t show up."@Raushenbush 1:09 PM Oct 5th
  2. "Only later did I realize what a big deal it was that Louis Brandeis’ daughter married a goy." @Raushenbush on his grandparents’ marriage. 1:15 PM Oct 5th
  3. If you have any questions for Paul @Raushenbush of @HuffPostRelig about contemporary religion, the social gospel movement, etc, please ask! 1:17 PM Oct 5th
  4. "(Walter) Raushenbush was in some ways a skeptic of religion…People can be converted and be worse than they were before."@raushenbush 1:21 PM Oct 5th
  5. "Social problems are moral problems on a larger scale." ~Walter Raushenbush, as quoted by his biographer/grandson Paul @Raushenbush 1:24 PM Oct 5th
  6. "Even if everything was perfect, we’d still need to be aware of the spirit moving in our lives so we continue to grow." @Raushenbush 1:28 PM Oct 5th
  7. Correction: great grandson! 1:30 PM Oct 5th
  8. "I have an interfaith heart. That’s just where I live." @Raushenbush 1:34 PM Oct 5th
  9. "What young people are looking for more than anything is authenticity." @Raushenbush 1:36 PM Oct 5th
  10. "It’s very hard to hurt someone who has shown you vulnerability." @Raushenbush 1:38 PM Oct 5th
  11. "I wrote Arianna an email and told her you’re not doing religion. You have to do religion."@Raushenbush on the launch of @HuffPostRelig 1:43 PM Oct 5th
  12. "The idea of liberal vs. religious is a crazy dichotomy." @Raushenbush 1:45 PM Oct 5th
  13. "What I’m not looking for is political view + Jesus." ~Paul @Raushenbush on bloggers + commenters for @HuffPostRelig 1:46 PM Oct 5th
  14. "Figure out what you believe and why you believe it." @Raushenbush 1:49 PM Oct 5th
  15. "To be an educated leader in the world you…have to be able to talk to people across religious divides." @Raushenbush 1:52 PM Oct 5th
  16. "I want people to feel that there’s a basic humanity to the site." -@Raushebush on cultivating @HuffPostRelig 1:58 PM Oct 5th
  17. "The question is are we willing to be on the same page; some people are just not." @Raushenbush 2:06 PM Oct 5th
  18. "I want you to reference the richness of your tradition, so I can learn." -@Raushenbush 2:09 PM Oct 5th
  19. "Interfaith dialogue is for people who take religion and big ideas seriously and want to go deeper." -@Raushenbush 2:11 PM Oct 5th
  20. "The power of religion is to offer a transcendent vision of more than just me." -@Raushenbush 2:16 PM Oct 5th
  21. "The idea that religious people have some sort of monopoly on morality is absurd." -@Raushenbush 2:18 PM Oct 5th
  22. "The Internet is basically neutral; it’s what we bring to it." -@Raushenbush 2:20 PM Oct 5th
  23. "My primary sense of who I am is as a minister." -Paul @Raushenbush 2:23 PM Oct 5th
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