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Some of us are kneeling — in respect, in defiance, in exhaustion; some of us are standing — in pride, in defiance, in dignity. Our guests and poets this week invite us all to consider our postures towards each other, in public and in private, and to consider how our practice deepens life, deepens rest, deepens dignity.
For years, I’ve run groups where people from different points of view speak to each other about matters of serious social, religious or political difference. People come together. We make careful facilitation space. We talk to each other. It’s usually polite enough at the start, and at some point, someone says “Look, seriously?” and then things become less polite, more real and risky. Often, someone says something like: While you’re defending your opinion, you’re devaluing my life.
These conversations invite people to extend a hand of collegiality when they feel like their hands are already burnt. These conversations ask much of people from whom too much has already been asked. There is a chosen compromise in such conversations.
And in the midst of such compromises, participants in these conversations regularly speak about how necessary they are. John Paul Lederach reminds us regularly that the moral imagination can be embodied during unexpected gatherings of people in curious relationships of care engaging in creativity and risk. I think it goes without saying that such gatherings are exhausting.
Krista’s conversation with the Episcopal Bishop Michael Curry and Dr. Russell Moore — president of the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention — is one of those necessary conversations. Two male Christian leaders who share a love of tradition, texts and testimonies, who interpret and practice in very different ways. “Learning to live in relationship with difference is called maturity” Bishop Curry says, with the Jewish prophet Micah’s words “Act justly; love mercy, walk humbly with your God” as his guide. For Dr. Moore, multiple postures are also needed. He describes holding conviction alongside kindness, not so as to evaporate differences, but practice them well. Mere “civility” he considers too low a bar. His retelling of the gospel parable of the Good Samaritan is a joyous combination of wisdom, self-reflection, and scholarship.
Krista describes this week’s guests as “bridge people.” And she notes that not everyone is called to be a bridge person. And — importantly — this week’s show highlights how exhausting this year has felt for many in positions of community or faith leadership.When our public conversations exhaust us and the differences between us remain irreconcilable, how can we nevertheless claim replenishment, re-creation and even a sense of kinship? Sometimes that’s through poetry, as Dr. Moore discovers in a love of Wendell Berry with an unlikely friend.
Both of our poems from Poetry Unbound this week speak about marriage, a significant point of disagreement between our On Being guests. R.A. Villanueva’s poem “Life Drawing” is narrated by a poet made uncomfortable by his wife’s sketching of a nude male model in her art class. The poet is uncomfortable, comparing his body with that of the model. He asks permission to write about his wife’s body — perhaps as some kind of attempt to seek solace in his artistic skill — she says yes, but only if she can sketch him naked. It’s a tender poem about all the vulnerabilities and invitations to reciprocality of close relationships. In Ellen Bass’ poem “Bone of My Bone and Flesh of My Flesh,” she searches for a term for her female partner. When you’re arguing with insurance people or dropping off dry cleaning you can’t very well talk about “the love of my life” she says. Written in the time before legal or widespread acceptance of same-sex marriage this poem tracks the connection between public policy and private lives. Wife is the word she’s looking for, but when she was writing, it wasn’t available. Ellen Bass’ poem is deliciously witty — my colleagues had a laugh at hearing me say sweet patootie — but she’s also speaking about impact. R.A. Villanueva is kneeling before the sacred space of his marriage. From the sacred space of her marriage, Ellen Bass is standing for a language that will validate her life.
And a final note this week: as 2020 draws to a close, On Being is preparing a Gathering, and shareable offerings of care, replenishment, and renewal in all of our digital/social channels — for the kneeling in exhaustion; for the standing in dignity; for the many losses we scarcely know what to do with; for the expectant waiting that is the spirit of Advent; for pondering how we want to live once the virus releases us back to each other. We’ll draw on voices and moments from the past year that can accompany all of that. Then at 4 p.m. CST on Monday, Dec. 21, the winter solstice, Krista and Lucas will gather us on Zoom and Facebook Live to accompany each other with all that we’re carrying out of this year and into the next.
Please come and bring others! As a Pause subscriber, we’ll also give you another heads up with links and places to follow in coming days.
So — *see* you soon, and beir bua,
Pádraig Ó Tuama
host of Poetry Unbound
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This Week at The On Being Project
Our Latest Episode
On Being with Krista Tippett
Bishop Michael Curry & Dr. Russell Moore
“Spiritual Bridge People”
Reflecting on God, parables, and a question like “Who is my neighbor?” as offerings to our common life at a tender political and spiritual moment.
A life-drawing class becomes a moment for a husband to consider his own anxieties and vulnerabilities.
Bone of My Bone and Flesh of My Flesh
A woman wonders what to call her female partner. Written before equal marriage legalization, this poem highlights gaps in public language.
Poetry Film: This is what was bequeathed us
Watch this short film by Taian Lu featuring Gregory Orr’s poem, “This is what was bequeathed us.”
A Q&A With Artist Myrna Keliher
If you have been following this season of Poetry Unbound, you may have noticed the individual prints that accompany each poem. Each one is designed and hand-pressed by artist Myrna Keliher. We were curious about what draws her to the letterpress art form and where she finds inspiration, so we asked! Read the full interview here.
Supporting On Being's Work
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Read | Eight Nights of Wellness: A Hanukkah Inventory
Hanukkah, the Jewish Festival of Lights, began this Thursday at sundown. As you light the menorah, tell stories of resilience, and fry up some latkes, I encourage you to reflect on a dimension of wellness, compiled by Rabbi Jason Klien, each night. — Lillie Benowitz, pastoral engagement associate
Listen | Along the Way: A Jesuit Prayer Pod
For those interested in Advent and prayer, this is a Jesuit podcast on prayer for Advent. It’s short, friendly, and you’ll get to laugh at Matt and Damien, the hosts of the podcast. Each episode has a guided meditation. — Pádraig Ó Tuama, host of Poetry Unbound
Watch | "Puppy for Hanukkah" by Daveed Diggs
If you’re looking for a new jam to add to the ever-growing Hanukkah playlist, this song is a playful addition and, for a bit of light in the darkness, Sam Corbin brings us some needed humor with her 30 Hanukkah Puns. — Lillie Benowitz, pastoral engagement associate