photo: Evan Lane/Flickr

We had great fun pulling this week’s show together. I kept recalling that Lewis Carroll line I love from the White Queen in Through the Looking Glass: “It’s a poor memory that only works backwards.” Our program that’s soon to be titled Being, formerly known as Speaking of Faith, carries all the weight and wonder of these last seven years in its editorial bones. We got to this moment voice by voice and show by show. The moments we revisit in this show are fueling our change and will continue to form the spirit in which we inhabit that ethos.

Near the opening we listen again, for example, to the sage sociologist Peter Berger, who reminds us that while influential American thinkers (including him) proclaimed that religion had ceased to matter in modern lives after the 1960s, religion never went away for most people in most cultures around the world — nor indeed in this one. In the United States, though, we stopped having a robust, diverse vocabulary for talking about the part of humanity we call “religious” and “spiritual.” This is one of the factors that made it so tricky to start a public radio program called Speaking of Faith in the early 2000s — and, in my mind, so necessary.

As soon as we had launched this adventure, the world kept changing around us, kept reframing what we needed to be opening up for exploration. On this anniversary of 9/11 as much as any that preceded it, I am so grateful to hear Seemi Ghazi’s elegant, soulful recitation of the Qur’an from the first program we created about Islam in the weeks following the terrorist attacks. And, even now, the window she opens into the aesthetic, spiritual, and intellectual heart of Islam is a surprise and a kind of balm. She offers something far more compelling than a defense or argument. She embodies a contrast to violent images of terrorism — and a kind of everyday contrast that is simply buried from view by dramatic headlines.

Yet, in a way that is much larger and I hope more enduring than the crises and antagonisms of the moment, our cultural frame for seeing religion, spirituality, and the reality of religious others has also shifted dramatically. We are turn-of-the-century people. The challenges of our age are vast. From politics to ecology, from economics to family life, we are reimagining basic words and structures that have served us for decades, even centuries. The change in our title reflects that and so do the voices of this show.

Lindon Eaves proposes a definition of the spirituality of the scientist. Katie Payne wonders at the inner lives of the complex animals — whales and elephants — she has studied as a scientist. David Hilfiker offers working definitions of “charity,” “justice,” and “relationship” that point at new ways to approach poverty around the world, such as in post-Katrina New Orleans. “Historian of doubt” Jennifer Michael Hecht eloquently describes “the corner we’ve gotten ourselves” with labels of “atheist” and “agnostic” as much as “religious” and “spiritual.” These words may not be not big enough for the richness of our convictions or the ways in which all of our perspectives might inform our common humanity.

Here’s the thing, as true in life as in the naming of a radio program: letting go of words we cherish doesn’t mean we let go of what they mean to us, of that aspect of our identity and knowledge. Rather, it challenges and frees us to represent these things more vividly and invitingly in a world that needs all of our deepest moral imagination, our best spiritual, theological, and ethical insights. Letting go of words that have defined us creates a possibility of reintroducing ourselves, our best knowledge and virtues, to the world. I believe and trust that this turning point in the life of this program will have that effect too. It is an invigorating challenge, one we walk with our guests as well as you.

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I wrote a blog entry about the "N" word that hit a lot of nerves. It's not an easy subject. What Krista said about words is exactly the point I was trying to make only she did it much more eloquently. Krista Tippet--"Letting go of words that have defined us creates a possibility of reintroducing ourselves, our best knowledge and virtues, to the world."

Brice Howe, CLC

The "letting go" Krista refers to in the last paragraph here nearly always seems such a challenge to us in our human condition That central dichotomy between both the reach/meanings and boundaries/limitations of our words seems to become a crux for each and every one of us at various stages in our lives amid this perplexing, immensely challenging, and ever-changing world.

Krista's comments bring to mind two oft-cited passages regarding the chorus and too often the chaos of words swirling within and around us in our day-to-day lives--William Carlos Williams' poetic assertion that "It is difficult / to get the news from poems / yet men die every day / for lack / of what is found / there" and the poet Percy Shelley's prosaic assertion about poets as "the unacknowledged legislators of the world."

This isn't an argument that we all should take up poetry; no, rather that we do well to note how are lives are ALREADY deeply, inevitably enmeshed in/characterized by poetic how we each dredge, choose, deploy, even sometimes create, words to express, to mark, and to define our lives. If we will, we can create room to breathe, to renegotiate, and to broaden our horizons by recognizing this. "The world is made of stories, not of atoms" said the poet Muriel Rukeyser, and the recent SOF show with Dr. Rachel Naomi Remen, beautifully, succinctly reiterated that generous and compassionate insight.

Krista's show--regarding faith and being in this world--is such an immense gift. I urge everyone to revisit, to re-read and really take to heart the final paragraph in the above essay she has written for us...truly, it seems, a gift of words, gentle, from the heart.

Two, briefly:

"A blindness unknown to itself might as well be vision / So I opened the door that had been my shield and walked out / Into the coils of wind and blurs of tattooed light / That marred the ground. The day lay cold upon my skin. / "Out of my way, " I said to whatever was waiting, "Out of my way." / In a trice the purple thunder drew back, the tulip dropped / Its petals, the path was clear. I headed West, over the Great / Divide, and down through canyons into an endless valley. / Oh my. I had stepped into a mode I wasn't prepared for. / I was happy. The air was pure, the houses were vacant, / and not one of the fields was ploughed. That's what I loved."--Mark Strand's "Somewhere Else"

And these last lines from Milton's "Paradise Lost"--

"The world was all before them, where to choose / Their place of rest, and Providence their guide: / They hand in hand with wand'ring steps and slow, / Through Eden took their solitary way."

I love your show, and as a pastor have appreciated it. It has enriched my preaching and I've recommended it to my colleagues and members of the congregation I serve. My heart sank when I saw that you had changed what is a lovely name to one that is, at best, obscure . I saw you are redeeming the word 'faith' every week by speaking of it in its many forms. You write, "letting go of words we cherish doesn't mean we let go of what they mean to us." If not, then why let them go? I suspect it has more to do with marketing than anything else, and it makes me sad that you are no longer proclaiming that it's faith you are speaking about. Of course words always limit us when we are talking about God or other big ideas, but choosing language that is less specific and less likely to offend is the first step toward not saying much of anything at all.

I have to admit that the word "faith" has been thrown around by so many zealots in the last few years that anything with that word in the title has caused me to turn the channel, put down the book, etc. Thanks for catching my eye with this name change. Now you've got my ear as well.