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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.

Children Help Us Embrace the Mystery

by Krista Tippett, host

The notion of God as father is a metaphor, of course, like much religious language. It is necessary approximation and analogy. When I became a mother myself, I was stunned at how little we have filled this metaphor with meaning from the real experience of parenting. The Heavenly Father of my childhood was implacable, inscrutable, all-powerful. But to become a parent in reality is to enter a state of extreme vulnerability. “To become a father,” the French theologian Louis Evely aptly put it, “is to experience an infinite dependency on an infinitely small, frail being, dependent on us and therefore omnipotent over our heart.”

Raising a new human being in this world is a monumental spiritual task, yet we so rarely call it that. This does not become easier when, at some point, our offspring become little theologians and philosophers. They begin to ask huge questions about life and the universe — basic questions about how we got here and where God lives and why people die and why people hurt each other and what it means to be good and to be happy. These questions are the building blocks of religion and ethics. We refine them all of our lives, but at heart they remain the same. What changes is our ability to articulate and act on them.

Pure JoyAs parents, we want to support this part of our children’s natures. With other mundane aspects of parenting — like how to help them sleep, or how to feed them, or how to teach them to read — we know that we need help. We seek maps, books, and counselors. But when it comes to these personal, existential questions of meaning, we often feel that we should intuitively have the answers. In my own life, and as I’ve spoken with different people across the country these past years, the spirituality of parenting is often a source of anxiety. It provokes a feeling of inadequacy. This is heightened in our age by the fact that so many of us are less connected to specific religious traditions and institutions than the generations that preceded us. And many of us inherit a mix of spiritual practices in our own histories, marriages, and extended families.

As we prepared to create our show titled "The Spirituality of Parenting," we put out a call for the reflections and questions of our listeners and newsletter subscribers. Many, many parents wrote in, as well as grandparents and ministers and teachers. You can hear some of their voices and stories, and see their pictures, on our website. Each contribution has been wonderful to read. The breadth of spiritual searching and the diversity of spiritual moorings among them is startling, reflecting the plurality of the culture we inhabit. And more than a few who are deeply rooted in a particular tradition stressed that even they need guidance on how to teach and model a vocabulary of words and practice for exploring religion and meaning and ethics as they share ordinary life with the children they love.

I don’t believe I could have found a better conversation partner than Rabbi Sandy Sasso. Her ideas have kept me pondering, and I’m delighted to send them out into the world. She encourages us to begin with what we know, and also to let our children lead us on a new journey of questioning and learning. We can seek out maps and books and counselors on this part of their development too, and we should. She also urges parents to explore the place they come from, the communities or traditions in their family and background, even if they have left it behind at another stage in life. Don’t let those who modeled the worst of your faith, she adds, define that faith for you. Understand yourself as an ancestor to the next generation, as part of tradition’s unfolding story.

Most of all, we should attend to our children’s musings about life’s wonders and injustices, their grief at the death of a pet or a loved one, their response to a homeless person encountered on the street. It is all right not to have answers for their large moral and existential questions. Unlike adults, children are not afraid of mystery. But they do need us to help them develop vocabularies and ways of living to keep those questions alive and growing. They need to hear how we think about large questions of meaning, and about what experience has taught us. They need to hear our questions and our stories. Stories are the vocabulary of theology for children. They also crave and will use ritual and routine, and we can form these from daily life and commonplace experiences.

I return to the insight I began with — that children can make the essence of religion come alive. They may ultimately teach us far more than we teach them. “Children open windows for us,” Sandy Sasso says, “or can crawl through windows that we can’t crawl through, and they open part of our life that maybe has been dormant for a long time.” The rest is mystery, and our children will help us embrace that more joyfully too.

(photo: Renata Baião/Flickr)


What Title Would You Have Given It?

Trent Gilliss, senior editor

Third Day of CreationDid you get a chance to listen to this week’s show with Prof. Ellen Davis discussing her approach to sustainability — through an agrarian reading of the Bible — along with Wendell Berry reading his poems?

If you haven’t, swell. This Sunday morning exercise is ripe for the picking. Then you’ll have a fresh perspective unencumbered by the content. You won’t get mired in the details of summarizing or full description. You are our target audience. You are the listeners we want to grab with the title and draw in. Now, if you have heard the show, that’s great too. Then you’ll have an insider perspective, an intimate understanding of the interviews and readings. The content may inform your decision. And you may sympathize with our plight.

Here are a few titles we considered:

» “The Poetry of Creatures”
» “An Exquisite Attention to a Fragile Land”
 » “Land, Life, and the Poetry of Creatures”

Show titles do a lot of work. They appear in one-minute bumpers to the show and within the show itself. They are part of promotional spots on the radio. The appear in iTunes podcast feeds and on our email update, websites, Facebook page, blog, Twitter. Duke University will uses it in their communication.

Which one would you have chosen? What’s an alternative you might suggest? Should it be just catchy? Should it tell you more about the show? Should it be a tease? How will it render in a graphic for our online channels. Will it help in our search rankings?

These are the few of the questions we ask when titling. And, as you can see, we struggle mightily with this task. We labor, we strive, we grope, we concede. But we always end up with something. For this show, I can’t help wonder if we could’ve done better.


Two Vatican Astronomers: A Twitterscript

Trent Gilliss, online editor

Two Jesuits who work at the Vatican ObservatoryBrother Guy Consolmagno, curator of meteorites, and Father George Coyne, its former director (whom you might recognize from his appearance in Bill Maher’s Religulous) — have been on our interview list for years. Yesterday, Krista was finally able to interview them, together, from a recording studio in Arizona. These two astronomers had a great dynamic between them and have a bit of different perspective from most of the “hard” scientists — usually physicists — we have spoken to over the years. Oh, and they have great sense of humor, as you can see in the video to the right of Br. Consolmagno’s appearance on The Colbert Report.

We’ll start producing this interview while Krista’s out on tour speaking about her new book, and we can’t wait to release this program! In the meantime, Colleen and I tweeted some of the lines that struck our ears. A transcript of our Twitter stream:

  1. For the next 90 minutes, tweets from Krista’s interview w/ two Vatican Observatory astronomers: Fr. George Coyne and Br. Guy Consolmagno.
  2. Milky Way
  3. 68 degrees in Arizona. They’re rubbing it in since it is frigid today in Minnesota.
  4. Fr. George is a Jesuit who grew up in Baltimore. Tells a great story about a priest who hooked him up w/ books from the Reading, PA library.
  5. Br. Guy grew up in Detroit and transferred to MIT when he discovered they had the largest science fiction collection!
  6. Br. Guy joined Peace Corps b/c he “couldn’t see the point of studying stars when people are suffering.” Realized that all people love stars.
  7. Fr. Coyne: if all we do is feed and clothe people, we’re all going to be naked; what really makes us human is music, the arts, science…
  8. Br. Guy: you don’t find answers to theological ?s by looking through a telescope; you don’t go to the Bible to find answers to science.
  9. Fr. George: “the God of religious faith is a lover.”
  10. Moonset
  11. Fr. George: “My understanding of the universe does not need God. I don’t need God in my science.”
  12. Br. Guy Consolmagno: “The tragedy of Haiti is the tragedy of death. … There isn’t any answer to that.”
  13. Fr. George Coyne, astronomer: “To limit our human experience to scientific knowledge is to impoverish all of us.”
  14. Br. Guy Consolmagno, on seismic and cosmic activity in the creation of life: “The climate will change. … The Earth is not a paradise.”
  15. Fr. George Coyne: “To have faith is an extreme risk. ‘Rock of Ages’ is a nice hymn but…”
  16. Br. Guy Consolmagno: “We know our understanding of the universe is incomplete; our understanding of God is incomplete.”
  17. Br. Guy Consolmagno: “You have to experience something before you can react to it.”
  18. Fr. George Coyne, an astronomer on his science: “It’s exciting to be ignorant.”
  19. Fr. George Coyne, when he presents papers at scientific conferences: “I’m not dressed as a priest. It just confuses things.” Funny moment.
  20. The Vatican Observatory is staffed by all Jesuits, except one diocesan priest. But the observatory was not founded by the Jesuit Order.
  21. Visuale Orion
  22. 4 Jesuits have asteroids named after them: Xavier, Loyola, and the 2 chaps Krista is interviewing: Fr. George Coyne + Br. Guy Consolmagno
  23. Br Guy on Galileo: why is it that 400 years later he’s symbol of science religion clash when that’s not what it was about at his time?
  24. Br Guy: Don’t just learn science from reading Newton & Galileo, but also from Plato, Shakespeare, and scripture
  25. Br. Guy Consolmagno, a Jesuit astronomer: “Truth can sometimes only be expressed in a poetry.”
  26. Fr Coyne: language of universe is math; it’s a tool to understand beauty; we absract to understand
  27. Br Guy: Being able to do science is trying to understand how God plays with us
Salinger Dies Kate Moos, managing producer
Much will be said and written. But for now, all I can think about is Franny and Zooey, the long theological passage in which Franny Zooey tells his sister she doesn’t have to recite the Jesus prayer to experience God. Janet Malcolm’s 2001 piece in The New York Review of Books says much about Salinger, Franny and Zooey, and its reception by critics who once doted on him.
(photo: “zooey.” by Victoria/Flickr)

Salinger Dies
Kate Moos, managing producer

Much will be said and written. But for now, all I can think about is Franny and Zooey, the long theological passage in which Franny Zooey tells his sister she doesn’t have to recite the Jesus prayer to experience God. Janet Malcolm’s 2001 piece in The New York Review of Books says much about Salinger, Franny and Zooey, and its reception by critics who once doted on him.

(photo: “zooey.” by Victoria/Flickr)