“The Christmas Waltz” by She & Him to Dance Us Into the Weekend
by Trent Gilliss, senior editor
Tis the season and, yes, I’m a fanboy of She & Him. How can you not love the stripped-down, melodic version of this classic Christmas song? You can’t. Enjoy!
Editor’s note: The title was changed due to a last-minute scheduling change. Unfortunately, Tuesday turned into Wednesday!
Mario Savio and “Bodies Upon the Gears”
by Susan Leem, associate producer
Born on this day during World War II, student activist Mario Savio delivered his now-famous “bodies upon the gears” speech on the steps of Sproul Hall at the University of California, Berkeley in 1964. It was considered a clarion call of the Free Speech Movement:
“We asked the following: if President Kerr actually tried to get something more liberal out of the Regents in his telephone conversation, why didn’t he make some public statement to that effect? And the answer we received — from a well-meaning liberal — was the following. He said, “Would you ever imagine the manager of a firm making a statement publicly in opposition to his board of directors?” That’s the answer!
Now, I ask you to consider: if this is a firm, and if the Board of Regents are the board of directors, and if President Kerr in fact is the manager, then I’ll tell you something: the faculty are a bunch of employees, and we’re the raw material! But we’re a bunch of raw material[s] that don’t mean to have any process upon us, don’t mean to be made into any product, don’t mean to end up being bought by some clients of the university, be they the government, be they industry, be they organized labor, be they anyone! We’re human beings!
There is a time when the operation of the machine becomes so odious, makes you so sick at heart, that you can’t take part; you can’t even passively take part, and you’ve got to put your bodies upon the gears and upon the wheels, upon the levers, upon all the apparatus, and you’ve got to make it stop. And you’ve got to indicate to the people who run it, to the people who own it, that unless you’re free, the machine will be prevented from working at all!”
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.
The influential Evangelical preacher’s turned 93 yesterday. Happy belated birthday to you, reverend!
I was surprised to learn that Graham shares a birthday with Leon Trotsky, and to be reminded of the degree to which he departed from the Moral Majority, especially on social issues. Not my path, but I’m glad there are alternatives in the world.
I have been a part of a long online conversation about school districts banning Halloween. It has all the earmarks of the contentious dialog Parker Palmer seeks to lead us beyond in his new book, Healing the Heart of Democracy (Jossey Bass, 2011). But the greatest light I have seen shone upon this particular debate comes in the form of a blog post from a guest contributor to the Being Blog. I love the non-dual perspective Caroline Oakes adopts, and recommend it for your edification this season.
by Caroline Oakes, guest contributor
Photo by Susy Morris/Flickr, CC BY-NC 2.0
Like most people, since I was a child, Halloween brings a heady rush of excitement that definitely goes beyond costumes, jack-o-lanterns, and even trick-or-treating for good chocolate.
Year after year,…
I have always enjoyed Being’s thoughtful attempts to increase understanding. Ramadan began two days ago, and Being revisits its efforts to elicit the meaning of that time for everyday people who observe it. I believe a civil society is one which takes time to increase its understanding of all of its members, and I invite you to that project.
The Triumph of Ramadan
by Trent Gilliss, senior editor
Two years ago I had the privilege of interviewing three dozen people for an online project we were calling “Expressions of Muslim Identity.” It was a single phrase that sparked this initiative: “the Muslim world.” This three-word bit of shorthand was — and still is — being used by television reporters and newspaper columnists, bloggers and foreign correspondents, and it was even creeping into drafts of our production scripts.
But how could this phrase possibly be applied to more than a billion Muslims living in all cultures and segments of society — from Indonesia to Saudi Arabia, from Turkey to the United States and Canada? When we journalists repeatedly employ this phrase into our scripts and our copy, how do we homogenize this diverse group of people and create a monolithic bloc with erased faces?
So we aimed to change the conversation — for ourselves and for our audiences — by directly appealing to Muslims. We asked them to respond to these questions:
- What does “being Muslim” mean to you?
- What do you find beautiful about Islam?
- How does it find expression in your daily life?
- What hopes, questions, and concerns are on your mind as you ponder the future of your tradition?
We received hundreds of eloquent responses and selected more than 30 people to interview. What was meant to be an online-only project quickly morphed into a radio an podcast production. Our intent was to craft one hour of radio to be called “Living Islam,” but, once we started listening to all these voices, we realized that almost every Muslim offered an unsolicited story about Ramadan.
With all these wonderful memories of fasting and prayer and family, we decided to create a second hour of radio featuring the voices of 14 Muslims. Even then, we were still discarding more than double that number of poignant stories about Ramadan, so we created a special podcast that was promoted by iTunes: 30 voices in 30 days, one voice for each day of Ramadan. “Revealing Ramadan” was the result, and I couldn’t be prouder.
Give it a listen and share with your friends. Whether you know a little or a lot about this holiest month, you’ll be moved and reminded of the distinct character of the many Muslims who observe Ramadan. They will delight and surprise you, and paint a self-portrait of what it means to be Muslim in their own words.
Walker Art Center Honors Silenced Voices with Public Sit-In
by Trent Gilliss, senior editor
This week the Walker Art Center organized a silent demonstration outside its doors. Inspired by Chinese artist Ai Weiwei’s 2007 installation “Fairytale: 1001 Qing Dynasty Wooden Chairs” and commemorating what would have been his 100th day of detention this week, the Minneapolis-based cultural institution invited the public to bring a chair of one’s own to their Hennepin Avenue terrace to acknowledge the many artists around the world “who work under oppressive conditions where artistic freedom is compromised.”
After people from Ai Weiwei’s studio heard about the effort, they sent a desk chair from his Beijing studio, which was placed among the other chairs. Guess which one it is.
More photos of the turnout can be seen on the Walker’s Facebook page.
All photos courtesy of the Walker Art Center.
My favorite song has been blogged by my favorite podcast. Life is good.
Tuesday Evening Melody: “The Sound of Sunshine” by Michael Franti
by Chris Heagle, technical director/producer
They say that miracles are never ceasing, and every little soul needs a little releasing…
As the first day of summer came and went last week, I found myself raising my fist to the sky and shouting La Niña! Please pardon the blatent regionalism, but here in the Twin Cities, where On Being is produced, it’s been a pretty slow start to summer. Tons of rain for an already soaked landscape and temps that have been about 20 degrees below average.
In this part of the country, knowing the details of the weather are not just a staple of small talk. It borders on obsession. Normally, I would include myself in that camp (after all, I’m blogging about it now!), but these days, I just want a couple weeks of uneventful summer sun.
This Michael Franti track, which came out last fall, is definitely more pop and less political than his previous releases. That might be too much of a departure for diehard Franti fans, but I can’t help putting this hopeful song near the top of my summer playlist.
What’s on your summer playlist? And more importantly, why? Send us your Tuesday Evening Melody and we just might publish it next Tuesday.
Once the soul awakens, the search begins and you can never do back. From then on, you are inflamed with a special longing that will never again let you linger in the lowlands of complacency and partial fulfillment. The eternal makes you urgent. You are loath to let compromise or the threat of danger hold you back from striving toward the summit of fulfillment.
John O’Donohue, Anam Cara
O’Donohue’s book is still on my list of things to read. However, I have blogged about his interview with Krista Tippet on Being, here and at The Considered Kula. It’s so funny that this morning I was just thinking about how someone once addressed an assemblage of yogis as “seekers.”
This is some kind of challenge, even in the privacy of one’s own room.
Bobby McFerrin’s Daily Singing Exercise
by Nancy Rosenbaum, producer
The musician Bobby McFerrin describes the art and act of improvisation as “simply motion, just the courage to keep moving.” In the audio above (from this week’s show “Catching Song”), he offers a three-week challenge for building improvisational muscles and describes how it works. Here are the steps:
- Set a timer for 10 minutes.
- Open up your mouth and sing.
- Don’t stop for 10 minutes.
- Do this every day for three weeks.
Sounds pretty simple, right? McFerrin, however, warns that every inch, atom, and molecule of your being will want to bail. Self-judgment will creep in. But don’t falter. Keep going. McFerrin holds open the tantalizing promise that, in a few short weeks, you’ll see a change.
So, who’s up for the challenge?
Once you’ve tried McFerrin’s improvisational workout, we’d love to hear what it was like. What surprised you? Delighted you? Share your reflections here in the comments section. You can even record yourself and send in your improvisational vocal creations here at (612) 326-4044. If enough people participate, we’ll produce an audio montage and post it to the blog.
Are you in?
Being an Anusara yogi, I nearly fell off my chair when I heard Bobby McFerrin talking about “a place where grace can come in.” Please give this podcast a listen.
The Elemental Force of Music and the Human Voice: A Place Where Grace Can Come In with Bobby McFerrin
by Krista Tippett, host
Years ago, when my children were young, we danced around the house to Bobby McFerrin’s Hush album. I’ve followed his adventures with magnificent orchestras and with the jazz great Chick Corea. I’ve heard his setting of the 23rd Psalm, addressed to a female deity, played in churches. And I’ve watched him leading thousands of strangers in the “Ave Maria” — singing notes they did not know they knew to sing — to their own deep delight.
Bobby McFerrin is an explorer on frontiers of the human voice; he sings the territory between music and the human spirit. I knew this when I sat down to speak with him, but I couldn’t guess how beautifully he would be able to put it into words or how theologically he does so. As an interviewer, I’ve learned that words can be unfamiliar and blunt tools for people whose principal mode of expression is art.
As we first begin to speak, this famously hyperkinetic performer is very quiet. He tells me that as a teenager he considered becoming a monk, because of his love of quiet. He tilts his head upward, with a thoughtful smile, and says he was fascinated by the monastic rhythm of life that brought one, compulsively and predictably, back to an awareness of the presence of God.
Bobby McFerrin instead took up art as a measure of his days. His way of making music — “catching songs” as he describes it — points at the elemental force of music, especially the human voice, in what is human and what is sacred.
As I was preparing to interview him, I found an online review struggling with the spirituality that is never far from the surface in Bobby McFerrin’s music. “He may be spiritual,” the blogger wrote, “but he apparently knows the world of the flesh as well, and has a very wicked sense of humor.” Here’s the truth as I see it: spirit, body, and playfulness are of a piece in Bobby McFerrin’s music and his person, as they are in all of us when we’re getting the complexity of our being halfway right.
But he takes it a step further. He uses music, as he tells me, to lean into that place where flesh and spirit are in tension. He sings the Psalms, pacing back and forth for his morning prayer. He loves that they mine the sweep of human experience, from gratitude and delight to rage and self-pity. He even proposes singing in moments of temptation — singing, before saying a word or lodging a critique that you know is unkind, or that you know would be best kept for another moment. Singing as an ethical discipline.
I begin to wonder if this is a subtle part of the reason that we find music and musicality of wondrous variety at the very heart of our many religious traditions. As breath has a power to join body, mind, and spirit, so too and more passionately does music. Bobby McFerrin’s projects across the years — including his “instant opera” Bobble, inspired by the biblical Tower of Babel story — have incorporated Tibetan throat singing, Qur’anic recitation, and liturgical chant. He attends an African-American church sometimes, he tells me, and it cannot help but be soaked in energy and beauty, because the worship service is a kind of addendum to hours of singing together.
In recent years, Bobby McFerrin has taken the mysterious and life-giving delight of singing together to rooms full of strangers. On a stage with neuroscientists at the World Science Festival, he moved his body and the audience saw and sang the pentatonic scale. Science is now able to study what is happening in our brains in this kind of musical moment. And at the same time, we rediscover the primal joy and homecoming in the simple act of singing together with a bunch of other people. There’s a parable of our time in there, one that I like.
Near the end of our conversation, he tells a remarkable story of an ethnomusicology student who came to one of his concerts and approached him backstage with some urgency. She had been unearthing and cataloguing dead, extinct languages in Africa. How, she asked him, do you know some of these languages? He was, she said, singing their vocabulary and syntax when he was ostensibly improvising.
We are “embodied memories,” Bobby McFerrin says. Music may be one key (the only key?) to unlocking some of those. For me, this story also makes me wonder, “Is music older than language? Is song at least as elemental to what it means to be human as words?”
Bobby McFerrin says, “This is what I want everyone to experience at the end of my concert … this sense of rejoicing. I don’t want them to be blown away by what I do. I want them to have a sense of real, real joy from the depths of their being. Because I think when you take them to that place, then you open up a place where grace can come in.”
Grace came in to my conversation with Bobby McFerrin. And it’s left me humming.
Photo by Trent Gilliss.