On Being Blog
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—Henry Hobhouse, quoted in Out of the East: Spices and the Medieval Imagination
After listening to Lynne’s segment with Charles Perry on the golden age of Islamic food and conquest, I’d asked The Splendid Table folks about the book they discussed (Now I know it’s called Medieval Cuisine of the Islamic World: A Concise History with 174 Recipes). Up to the 15th century, more cookbooks were written in Arabic than all other languages combined.
Jen Russell, one of the producers, couldn’t find that book but placed Out of East on my chair. This book has me reexamining my own preconceptions and some of the “facts” I was taught in my high school and university world history courses.
The wonderful quote above opened the first chapter; Paul Freedman, you had me at paprika.
It’s hard not to see life as utterly random and meaningless in the face of disasters like the recent cyclone in Myanmar or the earthquake in China. And this is an issue that comes up again and again in theological circles, referred to as as the theodicy question: How could a just god let innocent people suffer and die?
On our show A History of Doubt, the historian Jennifer Michael Hecht addresses the theodicy question through the Book of Job. To test Job’s faith, God takes away his livelihood, his children, his status, his health, and finally Job breaks down and demands to know how God could do this to him, an innocent man. God appears to Job in a whirlwind and responds with a tirade.
Have you walked in the depths of the ocean? Have the gates of death been opened to you? Where does light come from? And where darkness? Hast thou entered into the treasures of the snow? Has thou seen the treasures of the hail? Hath the rain a father? Who hath begotten the drops of dew? Out of whose womb came the ice?
Hecht gives her wonderful reading of this passage in her book Doubt: a History.
This is how God accounts for himself. He does not say, Here is proof of justice or of my existence; he simply cites the weird glory of the natural world…. [The Book of Job] is not a parable of divine justice. It is a parable of resignation to a world-making force that has no justice as we understand justice. God comes off sounding like a metaphor for the universe: violent and chaotic yet bountiful and marvelous.
Krista explored the same theodicy question with the geologist Jelle de Boer, not long after the December 2004 tsunami disaster, in our show The Morality of Nature. Jelle de Boer pointed out that the horrifically destructive power of earthquakes and volcanoes is actually the same power responsible for bringing water and nutrients to the surface of the earth, therefore making life possible.
So through these volcanoes, over billions of years, this beautiful blue planet has formed, and its watery expanse is what gives life. And so life is directly dependent there on these geological processes…the processes where these plates separate and crack and where they run over each other and crack, and as a consequence of that, magmas form at deep levels in the earth, they are brought to the surface, and they bring not only those nutrients I talked about earlier, but also water. And that is the essence of life.
That magma running under the surface of everything, ready to destroy and remake life, puts a dark spin on something the Jesuit paleontologist and philosopher Pierre Teilhard de Chardin once wrote.
By means of all created things, without exception, the divine assails us, penetrates us, and molds us. We imagined it as distant and inaccessible, whereas in fact we live steeped in its burning layers.
Spring has finally arrived in the upper Midwest. And it's about time because Andy (the new associate Web producer) and I cranked away in our flourescent-flooded cubes on last week's site for “The Beauty and Challenge of Being Catholic — Hearing the Faithful.” (Long title, non?) The production process took some surprising turns that ended up with a format-breaking radio broadcast, and some pretty groovy ways of telling individuals' stories online.
We wanted to produce a show delving in to the Catholic Church from a practitioners' points-of-view for some time now. Oh, to find a way in… We first started out working with two compelling conversations Krista had with Fr. Donald Senior (mp3, 1:49.05) and Sister Katarina Schuth, (mp3, 1:09.05) two Catholic theologians and educators who navigate Church doctrine and seminary life as a daily vocation. The entire staff was smitten with the uncut conversations, so Krista edited and scripted around them. Usually, when we're at this stage of the process the show is a go because of the significant amount of effort and time required.
In an unusual turn of events, the staff listened to the first cuts-and-copy (c+c) session. FYI: during c+c, Krista reads her script and the staff listens to the in-cues and out-cues for the isolated audio segments. Then the staff critiques and suggests changes. No music or actualities are placed yet. Strangely, we felt like the humanness of the Catholic experience was lost in the edit — the essence of the story that sometimes gets lost in reporting on the Catholic Church.
I suggested that maybe we could do something similar to our program on the spirituality of parenting. Since I was going to ask our audience to contribute their stories and experiences of being Catholic, maybe we could introduce their voices. Lay Catholics might give the program a certain grounding and represent the complexity and diversity of how the tradition is lived.
We received well over 300 responses to begin. We isolated about 30 responses, asked people if I could interview them, and ended up recording each person reading their essay, with follow-up conversations (which we hope to release in the coming days). Rob and I were moved and amazed. Rob whittled that number down to about 15 for a group listen with Krista and the rest of the production staff.
What resulted was a surprising declaration by our host: these stories are the show. I was a tad stunned, and I'll admit, excited. That ended up being the easy part.We had to ask ourselves how we'd step it up online too, rather than only producing a single page for the site representing these voices. We needed to let all those stories breathe oxygen rather than subterranean database CO2 where they'd never see the light of day, never contribute to the depiction of what it means to be Catholic. So we did. We crafted a pretty groovy dynamic mapping application and theme-based display that will continue to grow and convey more individual stories — the core of what we do here at SOF — and gave them greater context through geography, visuals respondents submitted, themed commonalities, and through the wonder of audio for a select number.
And we got to work with some smart colleagues in other departments under such tight deadlines: Maria, Dickens, and Jinzhu in IT and Melody at MPR's Public Insight Network.How does the timelapse video of cherry blossoms factor in? Well, I just needed a moment to be mindful, as Thich Nhat Hanh would say, and smell the virtual blossoms until Minnesota's arrive.
"You gotta kill your darlings." That was one of those sayings that permeated our discussions back in film school, something our teachers would tell us during the editing of our film projects. It means you have to be willing to let go of that shot or that sequence that you invested so much time, effort, and probably money into making but, for some reason, slows down the pace of the story or isn't as strong as our hope for it. In some weird way, it's like that Buddhist saying, "If you ever meet the Buddha, kill the Buddha." Don't turn the Buddha or your "darlings" into idols that bar your path to enlightenment or a perfect film.
I'm now editing an interview for a show we are so eager to put out there about the 20th-century rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel. Heschel was a contemporary of Martin Luther King Jr., and equally provocative and challenging.
Sometimes we record an interview, and we have little trouble finding places to edit out. Sometimes the interview digresses from its core and we have to wrangle it back by cutting out some material. Other times, you listen to an interview, and it seems like every word is a darling. For myself, I count the interviews with Jean Vanier and Janna Levin in that category.
The other day, as we were doing our pre-edit listen of an interview with Arnold Eisen, chancellor of New York's Jewish Theological Seminary, who was greatly influenced by the late rabbi, there were more than a few times when I thought I'd burst into tears, whether from Arnold Eisen's own storytelling or from his reading of choice Heschel excerpts. I've highlighted a few in this audio excerpt:
- The first part features Arnold Eisen talking about Heschel's advice to young people, his encouragement to them; it's something that echoes with the self-doubt I felt for many years in my twenties.
- Following that is one for the SOF blooper reel.
- The last part is Arnold Eisen reading from Heschel's writing. It's gorgeous.
There's another reading, in the interview, that comes after this one. It renders me helpless and it's too good to spoil by throwing it out as a teaser, so you'll just have to listen to the final show, which is a few weeks away.
Meanwhile, as I edit all this great material, I'm afraid that some of it will have to be lost for the sake of time constraints. But what do you let go, when it's all gold? I'm having serious trouble killing my darlings.