On the Blog

January 28, 2008

As Krista and I hop from meeting to meeting here in New York, we’re overwhelmed by the tremendous amount of listener response to our program on the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. We’re receiving very positive responses from non-Mormons and Mormons alike, from those who know and have studied the church as well as those for whom this was an introduction; at the same time, some listeners have expressed concern that this program was not critical enough to be journalistically valid.

Speaking of Faith models a distinctive approach to journalism about religion. The ethic of the interview is informed by deep listening and informed questioning. That is purposeful, based on her sense that adversarial questioning simply puts the interviewer on the defensive and shuts down the possibility of authentic and genuinely revealing answers. There are many legitimate ways to approach the multitudes of subjects in the news. This approach works for matters as deep and sensitive as religion and what we believe.

January 28, 2008
January 26, 2008
January 25, 2008

I am a “faithful” reader of The New Yorker - for all the kinds of writing and reporting they do. They’ve also by the way had some brilliant pieces on religion in recent years, as the whole field of journalism catches up with this subject, its importance in human life, and the intellectual and spiritual content that has been missed by traditional journalism for too long. But this kind of list still puzzles and throws me - an announcement of a New Yorker conference on “the near future”, with:

“theorists, designers, economists, philosophers, ethicists, animators, inventors, musicians, entrepreneurs, philanthropists, scientists, artists, politicians, engineers, financiers.”

Where are the theologians? Why this assumption that philosophers and ethicists can hold their own in pressing, intellectual conversation - and have relevant and essential insight to add to the mix - and not religious thinkers?

On a lighter note, I love this spiritually profound and true cartoon.


January 24, 2008

Shiraz Janjua, Associate Producer

I spent many years absorbed in the world of comic books. Then, after a while, I got sick of the futility of the superhero genre, where nothing of significance ever happened to these heroes. We know that Superman is invulnerable, but most other characters have “character shields” too. You know this from Star Trek (which I also can’t stand): Kirk, Spock, Bones, and Ensign Smith descend onto a planet (you know what happens next). Nothing ever happened to Kirk or the others because they’re commercial properties, not dramatic ones. Commercial properties can’t die.

January 24, 2008

St. John's bell tower designed by Marcel BreuerI traveled this past weekend to the Guest House of St. John’s Abbey in central Minnesota. I’m about to head off on some travel for my book tour — part of me looks forward to this, part of me does not. It will be exciting and exhausting, and I have a speech to write. But really all that was an excuse to get back up to St. John’s, a place I visit periodically to get quiet inside. I did get a bit done on the speech, but more important than that I slept and read, prayed with the monks, and collected my thoughts.

January 24, 2008
January 23, 2008

While on vacation here in Oaxaca I was paging through a Lonely Planet guide on Mexico, trying to see about religious services and what the opportunities are for travelers. I was specifically interested in attending a Pentecostal service as it is the fastest growing denomination in Latin America, and I wanted to see how a service might be different from one in the U.S.

Aside from some general stats in the front of the book, there was nothing more than a museum-style treatment of old cathedrals, e.g. here is where you go to see this colonial-era cathedral, etc. Interesting that the editors would not think that travelers would want information of religious services, though, somebody (probably Zondervan) has that info covered in another guide. If not, there’s an opportunity there, I think.

When I have more time later, I will tell you the story of how our server at dinner last night just so happen to be studying to be a Pentecostal pastor, and he is planning to take us to his church on Sunday. What luck!

Off to sample the chocolate district of Oaxaca.


January 23, 2008

American Visionary Art Museum

American Visionary Art Museum

We occasionally receive press releases and program suggestions from listeners highlighting the many ways people are exploring the relationship between religion and art. It’s hard to translate visual art to radio, but we’re always talking about other arts programs, especially music, and our website opens up other options for us to consider. One recent alert came from the American Visionary Art Museum in Baltimore about their current exhibit: All Faiths Beautiful: From Atheism to Zoroastrianism, Respect for Diversity of Belief.

January 23, 2008

We’re currently wrapping up production on our upcoming show called Inside Mormon Faith, which will be available for download as of January 24. Our new shows are always available by the end of the day on Thursday (depending on how crazy it is here to get the show out the door).

We’re also in the midst of editing a show in which Krista interviewed Ed Husain, a British Muslim who wrote a hugely controversial book in the UK called The Islamist (which I’ll get to in a second, too, because that’s generated some interesting discussions among us).

The actual radio program for the “Mormon show” (as we refer to it) is done. That means that the process that begins with the research for Krista’s interview and ends with the final mixing of all the different audio elements, is all wrapped up. The website, another huge production, is nearing the final stages of completion.

January 19, 2008

I’m confused. An immense amount of media coverage has been dedicated this past year to philanthropic organizations associated with high-power people and companies doing charitable work in a different way. Bill Clinton has argued that pharmaceutical companies can even make a fair margin off of cheap drugs to developing countries in Africa.

Does corporate social responsibility lead to greater profitability for a company’s shareholders? An article in The Harvard Business Review debunks the idea and determines that there is “a very small correlation between corporate behavior and good financial results.”

January 18, 2008

In a recent Sightings newsletter, the regular distribution from the Martin Marty Center at University of Chicago divinity school, Marty wrote about the religion statistics as reported by the World Christian Database.  Among their findings are the following figures on Christians across the world.

“Roman Catholics” claim 1,130,401,000…The 422,659,000 “Independents” outnumber 386,644,000 “Protestants” and 252,891,000 “Orthodox” and the rest.

January 18, 2008

Cary Tennis, the smart, poetic, intelligent advice columnist for Salon, dispenses some of his usual brilliance to a teenager who seems to be outgrowing (subscription required, or free to view after ads) the faith and/or views of her parents.

The danger of teaching a child only one absolute and inviolable set of rules is that when the child meets contradictions she has no way to integrate those contradictions into her world. Integrating your direct experiences into your world of faith requires nuance. When your experience seems to contradict what you have been taught, you have to move beyond the literal and toward the metaphorical and the subjective. In a world of absolutes, those words may sound like the devil’s words. But they represent experience as we know it, not as we wish it were so. Meeting apparent contradiction also spurs growth. But grow carefully.


January 18, 2008

The List Universe assembles all types of “top 15” lists. Well, they’ve started a series on religious and atheist thinkers. I couldn’t help note the contrast in quotes from the great 13th-century philosopher Thomas Aquinas:

“Wonder is the desire for knowledge.”

and one of America’s great 20th-century writers, Ernest Hemingway:

“All thinking men are atheists.”


January 17, 2008
January 14, 2008

I’m conducting a tiny experiment: reading back-to-back biographies of Muhammad based on free books we got here at SoF: Tariq Ramadan’s In The Footsteps of the Prophet, and Karen Armstrong’s Muhammad: A Prophet For Our Time.


January 14, 2008

In the New York Times Magazine, renowned cognitive scientist Steven Pinker looks at the possible biological underpinnings to the human concept of morality. The wonderful public radio show Radio Lab also explored this issue a while back in one of their episodes.


January 13, 2008
December 24, 2007

A poignant tale of Rabbi Heschel handling discrimination with humor and humanity.

December 18, 2007

A newborn's foot. (photo: Shelley Gilliss)One of the most difficult aspects of working at Minnesota Public Radio is that I often don’t get a chance to listen to public radio on the weekdays, especially during working hours. Thanks to a new baby boy, I was actually able to listen to a documentary on Alzheimer’s disease by a colleague and former producer at SOF, Brian Newhouse.

It’s a wonderfully crafted piece that’s full of facts and figures and scientific experts discussing the problems and approaches to treating and curing the disease. But, the part that sang to me, is a follow-up interview with a man in his 40s who describes the way he communicates with his wife now that he is home-bound:

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