On Being Blog
— Ryan Wilson, referring to tribal elders who were listening to young girls singing in Arapaho.
Wilson, a member of the Oglala Lakota tribe and a board member of the National Indian Education Association, is working with the Northern Arapaho tribe to establish Hinono’ Eitiino’ Oowu’, an Arapaho language immersion school on the Wind River Reservation in northwest Wyoming. Wilson’s words remind me of something David Treuer said to Krista about his tribe’s effort to preserve the Ojibwe language:
“What I really love about language revitalization, what is so key to it, is that it’s always been ours and it’s a chance to define ourselves on and in our own terms and in ways that have nothing to do with what’s been taken. We can define ourselves by virtue of what we’ve saved.”
A few times when I was in elementary school, my mom took me out of school to go to the annual pro-life march at the Minnesota state capitol. I remember waiting for a shuttle from Colonial Square in Wayzata, standing in Rexall Drug’s entrance next to a woman with a sign that read, “Real Feminists are Pro-Life.” At that age, I didn’t know what a feminist was and remember asking my mom, but I don’t think her answer made it any clearer for me. Isn’t everybody for women’s rights?
One particular year we were at the capitol and I remember signs that had pictures of aborted fetuses pasted to foamcore; another striking display was a grim reaper effigy being toted around by a cross made of 2x4s, which the strong winds made even more terrifying. My memory tells me that each time it was a gray, overcast January day, with exhaust-covered snow heaped upon the banks of the streets. I don’t know what I was thinking of it at the time, but my recollection is that we were doing what was needed.
I remember screenings of The Silent Scream were offered in my church’s basement. My parents never let me watch it. I guess I was too young to witness that strong a message. But I went to the capitol each year because it was what my mom asked of me. I would do it for her then, and I would like to say I would support her today, a little over a year since she passed away, but I cannot be sure.
My mom always called me her “Jesus-baby,” a moniker my siblings still give me grief about (and perhaps now my colleagues), and an affection my mom expressed to me as late as her death bed. I’m not sure I know the entire story behind this nickname, but I do know that mom quit smoking and drinking two years before I was born and also had a born-again experience during the time when charismatic Christianity was firing up Roman Catholic parishes in the early 70’s. I also know that her doctor tried to persuade her to have a hysterectomy around this time — my mother had had 5 children already. I don’t know how much of this, or all of it, is what shaped my mom’s views on abortion, but they do represent some of the circumstances.
I am very conflicted on where I stand on abortion. I can’t say I would abide by the pro-life position if my wife and I found ourselves in a place which would be too challenging for us at some stage in our lives. I do, however, wish that there were fewer abortions, as I think it is a choice and commitment of such anguish for a woman that no one ever wants to undertake, if possible.
And so this contentious struggle continues, without much progress. Maybe I have softened due to the inevitability of maturing, though doubtful. But I can point to something Rod Dreher said on a recent SOF program that was revealing to me.
“If I were pro-choice, I would feel very strongly about it and I would find it very difficult to compromise.”
What’s there to do when you can’t compromise and are unwilling to see the opposite perspective? When I say that I am passionate about my beliefs, I guess I am speaking theoretically. My problem is that I see both perspectives as valid, a convenient strategy my dad and I argue about that he calls situational ethics. He feels that there are absolutes in one’s faith and you need to abide by those, no matter the scenario. I feel as though no decision is free from the circumstances, and it is the very apt approach to regarding hindsight or looking back on previous decisions that allow us to progress.
Perhaps that’s what I am, pro-gress. But I am sure we all are.
[Editor’s note: Out of the hundreds of responses we’ve received about abortion, many people are wrestling with same personal and societal conundrums of legalization. I encourage you to visit our map and read some, and submit you’re own perspectives.]
This presidential election feels like it’s moving at gastropod’s pace. As subtle as a leviathan, this large body exerts an irresistable gravitational force on everything around it. We keep talking about it here in the office, but we’re also wondering how much politics we can all handle, and trying to balance relevance against saturation.
We’re trying to give voice to some interesting people during this election season, but next week, we’ll back off the political stuff and re-air our show on autism. Following that, a show on leadership, religion, gender, and race with the dynamic preacher Vashti McKenzie. It’s about her but also very much about the issue of biography in this election cycle.
Then comes the weekend prior to the election. What to do…
We will be airing a repeat that week, and the question came up: relevance or saturation? Can we provide a non-political alternative, or should we offer something useful for the occasion? We decided that we couldn’t well ignore the reality of the situation — gravitational pull.
So we went back and forth on what show we wanted to repeat that weekend. An initial thought was our program with three prominent Evangelical Christians. Pro: a look at how this influential community, if they vote as a bloc as in past elections, might sway the election. Con: an abundance of coverage of this issue lately.
Then came the thought of airing our classic program, A History of Doubt. Pro: remaining skeptical in the face of dogmas (and partisanship?). Con: it’s not a political show, so let’s not force it to be.
So finally, we decided to repeat our program on the history of the church-state separation in the U.S. Pro: interesting historical perspective on the issue of faith and politics and how they’ve related. Con? It is a fairly new program, but the timeliness of the subject seems to override that concern.
The week after the election, we’ll broadcast our new program on the science of revenge and forgiveness (and yes, we do talk about some politics in that, too). And the next couple of weeks/months will see some serious, newsy topics: Shia Islam in the context of Iran and geopolitics; potentially the economy, finance, and what we do with all this depressing information; and a potential two-parter on the ethics of international aid and development.
Lots of serious shows coming up looking at serious issues. It’s a serious season, I guess.
Two weeks ag I began working with Speaking of Faith as a production intern, and I am excited to be both at SOF and in Minnesota. I grew up here in St. Paul, but have lived elsewhere for the past several years, most recently studying at the London School of Economics in the UK. Returning to Minnesota and starting at Speaking of Faith are both unexpected gifts that have cropped up rather suddenly in my life. Just a few months ago, I had planned on staying in London and trying to make my way in the UK. I came back to St. Paul to finish my thesis, and at the last minute decided to stay.
Returning home isn’t always easy. In some ways, it is harder than leaving. Things shift gradually while we are away, and the differences, which aren’t always apparent to the eye, are felt deep in our gut. No matter where we are, we constantly readjust ourselves to subtle changes in the world around us. Returning home forces one to confront the many changes that have occurred in our absence all at once. As I start at SOF, I am excited to be on a team of individuals who think deeply about the ways in which the world changes and does not change, and the subtle differences in each of our interpretations of this. The themes that I pick up in the show — faith, difference, belonging, and perception — have run as undercurrents in my life abroad, and are resurfacing again as I begin to sort through my past and my present.
I will be with Speaking of Faith for the next six months. Unlike many media internships, I am lucky in that I will be learning not only about the production of a weekly show, but also about the power of a simple conversation to spur deep questioning, thought, and growth. I am tremendously excited to begin, and I look forward to the next several months.