first person

first person

April 19, 2012

Shoah: a Table of Elements

“The trade of chemist (fortified, in my case, by the experience of Auschwitz), teaches you to overcome, indeed to ignore, certain revulsions that are neither necessary nor congenital: matter is matter, neither noble nor vile, infinitely transformable, and its proximate origin is of no importance whatsoever. Nitrogen is nitrogen, it passes miraculously from the air into plants, from these into animals, and from animals into us; when its function in our body is exhausted, we eliminate it, but it still remains nitrogen, aseptic, innocent.”
—Primo Levi, The Periodic Table

The Holocaust represented a contradiction in perception: ordered, regimented evil and unrestrained, billowing pain. For decades, artists have sought to capture the ineffable destruction that befell the Jewish people.

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September 17, 2011

For one woman with MS, a tree reminds her to make t'shuva — to turn inward, to return to goodness and godliness in preparation for the High Holy Days. A guest reflection for all to ponder.

September 16, 2011

Obama and Bush Pray at 9/11 CeremonyU.S. President Barack Obama and his wife Michelle Obama and former U.S. President George W. Bush and his wife Laura Bush observe a moment of silence at the time the first hijacked airliner crashed into the north tower of the World Trade Center during the tenth anniversary commemoration of the September 11, 2001 attacks at the lower Manhattan site of the World Trade Center in New York. (photo: Stan Honda/AFP/Getty Images)

Last weekend, as the nation marked the tenth anniversary of the September 11 attacks, our collective media gaze focused on lower Manhattan, where the memorial service and dedication led by Mayor Michael Bloomberg had already provoked controversy. Though the focal point of these events was undoubtedly — and rightfully — on remembering those lost, that controversy was a revealing glimpse of contemporary American religion.

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September 13, 2011

Rita Patel offers this wonderful story from architect Christopher Alexander about a Japanese man and his fish pond that's a way of being to remember and make a habit.

September 10, 2011

The lightPhoto by Aftab Uzzaman/Flickr, CC BY-NC 2.0

September 11, 2001 was a Tuesday. Most of us remember that day and what we were doing around nine o’clock that morning. (I was at the veterinarian’s office; we had just gotten a puppy the Saturday before).

September 11, 2011 is a Sunday. For those of us who will be in church that morning — in the pulpit or the pew — there’s an expectation that something important must be said; that appropriate ritual solemnity must be observed; that meaning, in some form or fashion, must be made.

September 03, 2011

SevenPhoto by Alicia Reiner/Flickr, CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

I am from fire.

I’m from the fire my father had for life and the fire my mother had for living. His was fueled by parties, drugs, wit, and self-involvement, hers by longing, anger, spite, and sweat. He was vivid; he hit her skin like sunshine and she finally felt warmth from an external source. She smoldered. He was curious to know how her sweat turned to the steam that hovered over her skin. What was her heat source? How could someone burn so hot without catching fire?

September 02, 2011

“I am from”

Someone submitted this unfinished phrase for a potential guest post. Rather than discard the entry, let’s use this incomplete line as an opportunity to share and learn about each other, have a little fun on this Friday before the holiday weekend, and get creative!

Here are the guidelines: answer it any way you like. If you want to build on this phrase in prose — with one word, one sentence, one paragraph, one essay, then do so. If you want to finish this phrase with a photo or a photo essay, then do it. If you want to elaborate on this phrase with a line of poesy or a stanza, then do so.

Share something about yourself, your heritage, your geography, your interior mind, your imaginings or vulnerabilities. I’ll be featuring some of the most intriguing and creative ones from the comment section to this post in the coming days.


April 18, 2011

by Caitlin Shetterly, guest contributor

Cait with Matty at Home in MaineCaitlin with her son at home in Maine. (photo: Dan Davis)

What is the American dream, anyway? Do any of us know anymore? Is it F. Scott Fitzgerald’s vision of a “green light” and an “orgiastic future” that forever eludes us? Is it our founding fathers’ notion that all men are created equal to pursue happiness? Is it a house with a perfect lawn, an SUV, and all the material things we could want? What I do know is that many of us in the working middle class grew up believing in the promise of “fruited plains,” ours to harvest if we worked hard enough. America was “made for you and me.”

February 15, 2011

A Mechanic's Light
(photo: Eric Tastad/Flickr, licensed under Creative Commons)

Last summer, soon after returning from meeting my new niece, now nearly nine months old, the check engine light on my ’98 Honda hatchback came on. We brought it in to a mechanic’s shop that we hadn’t been to before. All the men who worked there were wearing these shirts that looked like bowling uniforms to me, with the script of Import Authority dancing across their backs. I had entered another world.

When we returned to pick it up, I looked down at the receipt and saw the phrase “Diagnose: cause of light.” Once again, I had entered another world.

February 06, 2011

Afghan Family
Akbar, Rahima, and children two years after emigrating from Afghanistan. (photo courtesy of the author)

In 2001 my husband approached me about hosting an Afghan refugee family of four. I was hesitant. But my reservations — lice, tuberculosis, loss of solitude — seem petty and insulting now. In the end, they were outweighed by his enthusiasm.

So our family arrived one evening just before Memorial Day, exhausted from long travel. We stood outside nodding, smiling, shaking hands. Akbar wore a dark suit, Rahima a blouse and skirt and heels, the children ribbons and a bow tie and shined shoes. We had pizza and soda and very few words.

February 01, 2011

A magnificent reflection capturing the sentiment many of us are experiencing as we watch the protests in Egypt from afar.

January 24, 2011

A guest post from Charity Burns on her new-found respect for the Sufi poet while slipping on an icy Brooklyn sidewalk.

December 05, 2010

The Advent tension is a way of learning again that God is God: that between even our deepest and holiest longing and the reality of God is a gap which only grace can cross.
—Rowan Williams, A Ray of Darkness

November 07, 2010

Our own civil conversation about our editorial content.

September 16, 2010

Muslim Woman Attends Friday Prayers in Lower Manhattan
Reem El Shafaki, an Egyptian now living in New Jersey, stands in front of the proposed site of the Park51 mosque and cultural center in lower Manhattan. (photo: Spencer Platt/Getty Images)

The news has been thick with polarized debates about proposed Qur’an burnings in Florida and the Park51 project. Tamara Lee, a listener from Hopewell, New Jersey, writes us looking for some advice:

September 12, 2010

Martin Buber Postage Stamp

There’s spirituality thriving in our houses of worship, often unnoticed and unappreciated. It flourishes in the ordinary give-and-take of congregational life, in person-to-person exchanges that Jewish thinker Martin Buber called I-Thou. And we would do well to better recognize this very common and accessible spiritual opportunity.

September 10, 2010

Yesterday I posted this good morning message on our Facebook page: “Shana Tova! Special memories from New Years past?” Lauren Rosenfeld, an author and blogger living in Asheville, North Carolina, shared this wonderful memory:

September 08, 2010

Within a month of joining Speaking of Faith, I was told the program I work for was going to be changing its name. Since then, it’s been a hectic journey of learning how to produce while supporting the name change tasks. But it has also been a crash course in the thoughtfulness of our listening community.

Ever since Krista first announced the change, I have been obsessed with reading your reflections. You have eloquently shared a range of feelings and opinions from loving the change to mourning the loss, to disliking Being. Here are some samples of what has been said:

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