Cultivating Uncertainty, Compassion, and Equity

Tuesday, October 18, 2016 - 7:00 pm

Cultivating Uncertainty, Compassion, and Equity

Greetings to you on this gorgeous autumn day!

As part of the Danforth Dialogues in St. Louis, Krista interviewed two pairs of conversation partners: David Brooks / E.J. Dionne and Eboo Patel / Natasha Trethewey. While we were editing the two conversations for podcasting, my colleague Chris Heagle trotted out this fabulous phrase:

“We’ll be fighting the reverb tail on this one…”

I’m still not entirely sure what it means, but it’s such fun to turn over and repeat aloud. These lenses on life are all around us, giving us new ways to formulate meaning — and they’re yours to relish if you keep an ear out for them.

(Bethany Clarke / Stringer / Getty / © All rights reserved.)

Bob Dylan: Old Testament Language, Beat Poetics, and a Theology of Service

Upon reading the news that Bob Dylan (who grew up on Minnesota’s Iron Range) was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature, we turned to this marvelous essay from Mitch Bogen to honor Dylan’s work, and as the author would offer, the many lives he’s saved:

“Showing people the power of language and helping them to fall in love with it is no small thing. When I was young and didn’t know what I could offer in this life, he showed me it could have something to do with that love. I’m not sure what kind of service Dylan had in mind when he composed ‘Gotta Serve Somebody,’ but the beauty and honesty of his work is as good an offering to his Divine — and to humanity — as one could hope for in this world.”

My favorite response to this essay comes from Cheryl Moos, who, after reading this post, commented on our Facebook page:

“I’m so happy for Bob Dylan and this honor is so well deserved. Always a fan of his. Paul, please return my Dylan albums, CD’s and tapes and any writings of his that might be hidden in one of those many boxes of books that you carted off to O..High..O.”


(Minette Layne / Flickr / Some Rights Reserved)

Tod Marshall: The Cultivation of Uncertainty

“As the political rhetoric of this election season becomes more and more shrill, I find myself more and more confident that the only thing that can save us is the cultivation of uncertainty, of questioning, of openness to the world, to the possibility of being mistaken.”

Tod Marshall is the poet laureate of the state of Washington, and what a surprise (and an honor) to see his guest submission come across my desk. Tod’s essay is a meditation from the open road, where he finds potentiality in the vast landscapes and the communities of his glorious state. The arts — poetry, in particular, he says — are not a balm but a practice in which we can cultivate a space for the inner life that’s at the heart of mystery.

( Jorge Quinteros / Flickr / Some Rights Reserved)

Parker Palmer: We Deserve the Compassion We Give

“None of us can ‘mend’ another person’s life, no matter how much the other may need it, no matter how much we may want to do it. Mending is inner work that everyone must do for him or herself. When we fail to embrace that truth the result is heartbreak for all concerned.”

Channeling Mary Oliver’s poem “The Journey,” Parker offers some useful ways to think about serving our companions by tending to our own selves first. (Aside: if you haven’t listened to Krista’s conversation with Mary Oliver yet, you’re in for a treat!)

(Zlatko Vickovic / Flickr )

Courtney Martin: A White Parent’s Lament

There are many well-intentioned, thoughtful parents and grandparents out there who are making difficult choices between doing what’s best for their children and doing what’s best for our collective culture. And these decisions can be excruciatingly complex, mired with tension and no definitive resolution. Courtney’s column this week walks us through this interior monologue:

“If I’ve learned any one rule that seems worthy of repeating about parenting it is this: it’s what we do, not what we say, that our kids will remember and embody. So I can talk myself blue in the face about race and class with my daughters, but if they see me pouring all of my energy and resources into improving their chances of success, while other kids get poisoned, undereducated, stressed, discriminated against, then what am I really teaching them?”

And, some other interesting essays and podcasts in my queue this week:

  • [read] Embracing Aristotle at Yom Kippur. Eylon Aslan-Levy’s smart piece from Tablet artfully wrestles with the idea of character and ritual and how we interact with our perceptions of the world.
  • [listen] How I Built This. Launching On Being as an independent media project three years ago required a bold, entrepreneurial spirit. I only wish Guy Raz’s podcast — featuring innovative entrepreneurs telling their own launch stories about creating something from nothing — would’ve been around as we started our venture. It would’ve been welcome listening in 2013!
  • [read] Room for Improvement. The state of Utah is modeling a new way of addressing chronic homelessness — and it’s shockingly simple. Treat people with dignity by giving them a permanent place to live without first making them pass tests, fill out forms, or get clean. Interesting results when state government and the LDS church work arm in arm.

A World Through the Hands

And to lead you into the rest of your weekend, I recommend this heartening four-minute film featuring Renate Hiller, a fiber artist and co-director of the Fiber Craft Studio at the Threefold Educational Center in Chestnut Ridge, New York:

“In a way the entire human being is in the hands. Our destiny is written in the hand.”

The way she talks about the process of creating with the hands as a spiritual practice has captured so many people’s imaginations. Take the time to see for yourself.

I’m always looking for your good feedback about this weekly Letter from Loring Park. Send me your thoughts at

May the wind always be at your back!

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is the cofounder of On Being and currently serves as publisher & editor-in-chief. He received a Peabody Award in 2007 for his work on “The Ecstatic Faith of Rumi” and garnered two Webby Awards (in 2005, and again in 2008). The Online News Association nominated his journalistic work multiple times in the general excellence and outstanding specialty journalism categories. Trent’s reported and produced stories from Turkey to rural Alabama, from Israel and the West Bank to Cambridge, England.

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