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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.

So many NFL players, so many men, carry the festering wound of having been abused themselves. As has so often been said, hurt people hurt people. It’s not until we reveal those wounds, examine them, heal them, that we will actually see a shift in male-perpetrated violence of so many kinds.

No amount of humiliation can accomplish that, and in fact, any amount of humiliation will prevent it. People may make themselves feel better as they tweet away about what a monster Ray Rice is, but they are actually increasing injury in the process.

- Courtney Martin, from her On Being column examining the violence of humiliation that’s ensued from the recent news about Ray and Janay Rice.
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"Strength without a sense of direction leads to violence. Strength with a sense of direction is grace." —Matthew Sanford
For an unusual take on the mind-body connection, listen to our interview with Matthew Sanford, who has been a paraplegic since the age of 13. He shares his wisdom for us all on knowing the strength and grace of our bodies even in the face of illness, aging, and death.
About the photo: A former patient of a Red Cross orthopedic center in Kabul, Afghanistan constructs a prosthetic leg as part of an effort to assist those affected by mobility disabilities, including hundreds of mine victims.
Photo by Kanishka Afshari/FCO/DFID
"Strength without a sense of direction leads to violence. Strength with a sense of direction is grace." —Matthew Sanford
For an unusual take on the mind-body connection, listen to our interview with Matthew Sanford, who has been a paraplegic since the age of 13. He shares his wisdom for us all on knowing the strength and grace of our bodies even in the face of illness, aging, and death.
About the photo: A former patient of a Red Cross orthopedic center in Kabul, Afghanistan constructs a prosthetic leg as part of an effort to assist those affected by mobility disabilities, including hundreds of mine victims.
Photo by Kanishka Afshari/FCO/DFID

"Strength without a sense of direction leads to violence. Strength with a sense of direction is grace." —Matthew Sanford

For an unusual take on the mind-body connection, listen to our interview with Matthew Sanford, who has been a paraplegic since the age of 13. He shares his wisdom for us all on knowing the strength and grace of our bodies even in the face of illness, aging, and death.

About the photo: A former patient of a Red Cross orthopedic center in Kabul, Afghanistan constructs a prosthetic leg as part of an effort to assist those affected by mobility disabilities, including hundreds of mine victims.

Photo by Kanishka Afshari/FCO/DFID

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The Hunger Games: Reality TV Not Lost on Our Youth

by Steven Martin, guest contributor

Hunger Games Mall Tour - may the odds be ever in your favorFans give the three-fingered salute of District 12. The gesture is one of admiration, meaning thanks or goodbye to one’s beloved. (photo: Doug Kline / © 2012 PopCultureGeek.com)

I was certain I was going to hate it. All of my four kids have been fans of the series of books by Suzanne Collins since before they were cool; therefore when the movie was announced, we all knew the midnight screening on the night of release was a must-do.

But in the run-up to last night’s trip to the IMAX theater, the reviews I read and heard helped confirm my feeling that this would be a disgusting movie: violent, gratuitous in every way, repulsive to my social conscience.

I was wrong. Very, very wrong.

I tend to approach these cultural phenomena with a concern that my comfort level will be jolted. What I should be concerned about is what these phenomena say about our culture, and in the case of The Hunger Games, what it says about the generation that elevated the story to its current status. With an eye to the latter, I drove home early this morning with a deep satisfaction that my kids were smarter than I was at their age, and that their generation understands something mine did not.

First: yes, the movie is violent, and disturbingly so. The story is one about a future world in which a wealthy ruling class dominates a world that it is linked to, but separate from, itself through overwhelming police and military power, and entertainment that both enthralls and intimidates the underclasses. The focus of the story is an annual gladiatorial ritual in which representatives from the “districts” under domination give up children to a tournament of slaughter and death. Yes, this movie is based around images of children killing each other.

It is a valid question to ask: why must we tell stories that constantly elevate the level of violence necessary to grab our attention? Why is it now necessary to portray children killing other children, and children dying by each others’ hands? This is indeed an important question for our society to wrestle with. But more importantly, we should direct our moralizing to the question the film itself seeks to ask: why are we satisfied to be part of a society that finds it necessary to feed upon its young?

Viral successes like The Hunger Games reach mass audiences because they strike a nerve. The audience for the books and the film, the “millennial generation,” is not lost on the message. Our society is held together by a craving for violence. What is, say, middle-school football, after all?

We should ask: is it tolerable for us to send our young boys into a game that breaks legs, destroys knees, causes concussions, and otherwise changes the course of life forever? Of course it is! Not only does the game bring our community together, provide economic opportunities, but for the lucky few, college scholarships and professional opportunities. For the players, they are willing to risk limb and even life for a lottery-styled shot at fame and fortune. For the audience, we are willing to cheer when the fallen player limps off the field, or worse, is carried off to the emergency room, sighing a concern or uttering a prayer for the well-being of the child who may suffer permanently in the name of our entertainment.

The Hunger Games causes us to consider other forms of this structural violence. Not to only pick on the venerable institution of football, the film’s prevailing metaphor can be applied to all kinds of American institutions of empire: soldiers in Iraq or Afghanistan, Treyvon Martin, state-sponsored gambling (the lottery), Wall Street, and so on. Face it: our society is one that eats its young. Through its horrific portrayals of a society that dominates via a tournament in which children kill children, The Hunger Games might well shock us into seeing the way we ourselves do it.

After the movie, my kids wanted to know my reaction. Did I just see it as yet another violent kid-pic? “No,” I said, “I didn’t expect to come here and see a movie about the young Israeli soldiers sent to occupy the West Bank.”

In return I asked if, when they read the books, they saw them as overtly political. “Yes,” my fourteen- and seventeen-year-old kids replied. And while they discussed on the way home the ways the movie changed story details of the books, I went to bed at 3:15am knowing that the major theme was not lost on them.

It gives me hope.


Steven MartinSteven D. Martin is a documentary filmmaker, photographer, and activist. He currently serves as a founder and executive director of the New Evangelical Partnership for the Common Good. You can read more of his thoughts at the Uncommon Voices.

We welcome your reflections, essays, videos, or news items for possible publication on the Being Blog. Submit your entry and contribute a deeper understanding of the world around us.

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Hate Crime: A Poem of Grace and Gratefulness

by Luke Hankinsguest contributor

Grocery store parking lot(photo: The Consumerist/Flickr/CC-BY-2.0)

I was verbally and physically assaulted in a parking lot at a local grocery store by four people because they thought that my shorts were too short and that I looked like a “faggot.” They didn’t try to take any money. They didn’t try to steal the beer I had just bought. They only wanted to hurt someone. And so they left me with a swollen face and jaw and a black eye, with a confused mind and troubled heart. I was up all night with tears and nausea and roiling emotions, then went to the ER. Three fractures in my face.

Below is a poem I wrote about the incident. I don’t feel anger against the perpetrators, only confusion and pity and sadness. I also don’t take credit for not feeling anger. It’s simply the natural course my mind and heart have taken. But I will say that it has allowed me to recover psychologically from the incident in a way that I don’t believe would have been possible if I were plagued by anger and desire for vengeance. I’m grateful for this grace.

The Way They Loved Each Other

What to be more astonished at:
my calm as the fist made contact
and I saw a flash of white
and the world went silent
as if I had stepped out of it
momentarily, only to be brought back
with a rush of sound and visible objects—
the way I asked them to help me
find my glasses, expecting them
(even as they taunted me,
even though they had just assaulted me)
to feel underneath the violent tribal urge
the obligations of empathy—
the way even as one of them found my glasses
and smashed them again on the ground
I refused to believe that was really
what he wanted to do—the way
they loved each other
in the most primitive manner
but loved each other nonetheless
despite feeling the need to punish a “faggot”
who did not dress like them, because
he did not dress like them—
the way tears and nausea overwhelmed me
nightlong much more than had the blow itself—
the way such small suffering can feel
unbearable—the way no strength is found
for what seems to have no explanation,
a troubled mind more harmful
to the body than fractured bones.


Luke HankinsLuke Hankins is an associate editor of Asheville Poetry Review and lives in Asheville, North Carolina. His poems, essays, and translations have appeared in Connotation PressContemporary Poetry ReviewNew England ReviewPoetry East, and The Writer’s Chronicle, as well as on the Being Blog. He is currently editing an anthology of poems due out next year from Wipf & Stock Publishers entitled Poems of Devotion. He regularly posts to his blog, A Way of Happening.

We welcome your reflections, essays, videos, or news items for possible publication on the Being Blog. Submit your entry through our First Person Outreach page.

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The Violence We Live By

by Debra Dean Murphy, guest contributor

I Think I'm Ready To Fly Away"I Think I’m Ready to Fly Away" (photo: DiaTM/Flickr, by-nc-nd 2.0)

"However much we try to distinguish between morally good and morally evils ways of killing, our attempts are beset with contradictions, and these contradictions remain a fragile part of our modern subjectivity."
Talal Asad, On Suicide Bombing

You can often detect it when a politician or journalist uses a word like "barbaric" to describe the actions of any suicide bomber before, on, or after 9/11: the assumption that “Islamic terrorism” represents an uncontainable hostility toward modernity.

The extremists, on this view, are primitive; we are civilized. They are irrational; we are people of prudence and reason. This is the “clash of civilizations” narrative that has held sway in the West for generations, but with a special power in the last decade.

Yet as anthropologist Talal Asad points out, the histories of Europe and Islam are not so neatly separated and thus the clash of civilizations rhetoric ignores a rich legacy of mutual borrowings and continuous interactions among Christians, Jews, and Muslims. More than that, though, the very selective heritage that shapes a people (that strange, unknown hybrid called Judeo-Christianity, for instance) often bears no relation to the hard facts on the ground — to the way people self-identify, to what they do, how they negotiate the world, and so on.

The concept of jihad is a case in point. Asad notes that the term is not central to Islam, but Western histories of the religion have made it integral to an Islamic civilization rooted in religion. In fact, jihad has been a subject of centuries-long debate among Muslim scholars of different historical and social contexts. It is simply not part of a transhistorical Muslim worldview but rather belongs to, as Asad writes, “an elaborate political-theological vocabulary in which jurists, men of religious learning, and modernist reformers debated and polemicized in response to varying circumstances.”

All of which is to say that the West’s tidy narration of Islam vis-a-vis modern liberal social orders has posited a set of very persuasive yet fictive binaries: freedom vs. repression; savagery vs. the rule of law; legitimate warfare vs. terrorism. So much so that in the deeply partisan, brutally contentious world of American politics, both Democrats and Republicans, liberals and conservatives, routinely employ a model in which, Asad says, “rational democrats in the West react defensively to destructive terrorists from the East.”

The point here — mine and most certainly Asad’s — is not to condone or justify atrocities committed by extremists. Osama bin Laden was a bad guy and the violence he was responsible for indefensible. Period. The point, instead, is to question the moral high ground America regularly claims in response to criminals like bin Laden and to ask the difficult questions that arise from inhabiting such a lofty perch.

The point also is to be willing to entertain unsettling answers to these questions — to name the contradictions that beset our attempts to rationalize, and celebrate, state-sponsored violence while we categorically condemn, and punish, rogue terrorism.

Can we begin to acknowledge that violence is embedded in the very concept of liberty that lies at the heart of liberal social orders like the United States of America? As Wendell Berry puts it in a poem, “When they want you to buy something they will call you. When they want you to die for profit they will let you know.”

Can we begin to acknowledge that there is no moral difference between the horror inflicted by state armies and the horror inflicted by insurgents? Shot-off limbs, dead babies, destroyed livelihoods — these are the on-the-ground realities whether the munitions come from teenage suicide bombers or the U.S. military.

Can we begin to acknowledge that Americans seem to take a de facto stance in which war is condemned only in excess but terrorism in its very essence?

Can we begin to acknowledge that terrorists often talk about what they do in the language of necessity and humanity (as do five-star generals and American presidents)? But, as Asad notes, the banal fact is that “powerful states are never held accountable to [war crimes tribunals], only the weak and the defeated can be convicted of war crimes and crimes against humanity.”

Can we begin to acknowledge that, as Asad perceptively puts it, “human life has differential exchange value in the marketplace of death when it comes to ‘civilized’ and ‘uncivilized’ peoples” and that “this is necessary to a hierarchical global order.”

Can we begin to acknowledge that events in recent days ought to disturb us sufficiently to resist the prepackaging of acceptable responses by corporate-controlled media outlets?

To entertain the possibility that the violence wrought in the name of “liberty and justice for all” bears a moral equivalency to that waged by operatives of al-Qaeda is not to impute sinister motives to the American military or its leaders. Not at all. That’s the easy, cynical view born of occupying the moral high ground on another plane.

But the uneasy truth remains: Osama bin Laden is dead, and we have killed him. And the story of violence continues — his, ours, and the inextricable link between the two.


Debra Dean Murphy

Debra Dean Murphy is an assistant professor of Religion and Christian Education at West Virginia Wesleyan College and serves on the board of The Ekklesia Project. She regularly blogs at Intersections: Thoughts on Religion, Culture, and Politics.

We welcome your reflections, essays, videos, or news items for possible publication on the Being Blog. Submit your entry through our First Person Outreach page.

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