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Walter Brueggemann is one of the world’s great teachers about the prophets who both anchor the Hebrew Bible and have transcended it across history. He translates their imagination from the chaos of ancient times to our own. He somehow also embodies this tradition’s fearless truth-telling together with fierce hope — and how it conveys ideas with disarming language. “The task is reframing,” he says, “so that we can re-experience the social realities that are right in front of us, from a different angle.”

“Prayers are tools not for doing or getting but for being and becoming.” These are words of the legendary pastor and writer Eugene Peterson, whose biblical imagination has formed generations of preachers. At the back of the church he led for nearly three decades, you’d be likely to find well-worn copies of books by Wallace Stegner or Denise Levertov. Frustrated with the unimaginative way he found his congregants treating their Bibles, he translated it himself, and that translation has sold millions of copies around the world. Eugene Peterson’s down-to-earth faith hinges on a love of metaphor and a commitment to the Bible’s poetry as what keeps it alive to the world.

An exuberant experience of conversation and singing. There are nearly 5,000 spirituals in existence. Their organizing concept is not the melody of Europe, but the rhythm of Africa. They were composed by slaves, bards whose names we will never know, and yet gave rise to gospel, jazz, blues, and hip-hop. Joe Carter lived and breathed the universal appeal and hidden stories, meanings, and hope in what were originally called “sorrow songs.” This was one of our first weekly shows, and it’s still one of our most beloved.

We were introduced to Lucas Johnson by the great civil rights elder Vincent Harding. He said that this young man embodies the genius of nonviolence for our century — nonviolence not as a withholding of violence, but as a way of being present. And it was a great pleasure to bring him together with Rami Nashashibi, a rising visionary and kindred force in the Muslim world. Lucas is based in Amsterdam. Rami’s center of gravity is the South Side of Chicago. They have much to teach us all about the lived practicalities and tensions of the “strong, demanding love” to which Martin Luther King, Jr. called the world of his time — a call that is echoing again in ours.

“A dysfunctional family is any family with more than one person in it.” Mary Karr has a captivating ability to give voice to what is funny in life’s most heartbreaking moments. She is beloved for her salty memoirs in which she traces her harrowing childhood in southeast Texas — with a mother who once tried to kill her with a butcher’s knife and her own adult struggles with alcoholism and breakdown. Mary Karr embodies this wryness and wildness in her lesser-known spiritual practice as a devout Catholic — an unexpected move she made in mid-life.

“It’s very likely that the universe is really a kind of a question, rather than the answer to anything,” says philosopher technologist Kevin Kelly. He was the founding editor of WIRED and is an original thinker on shaping the character and spiritual meaning of technology. He says our role as good askers of questions will remain the most important contribution of our species in a coming world of AI.

The poet Christian Wiman is giving voice to the hunger and challenge of being religious now. He had a charismatic Texas Christian upbringing, and was later agnostic. He became actively religious again as he found love in his mid 30s, and was diagnosed with cancer. He’s written, “How does one remember God, reach for God, realize God in the midst of one’s life if one is constantly being overwhelmed by that life?”

The renowned actor as you’ve never heard him before. He has appeared in over 100 films, including Apocalypse Now. He’s best known on television as President Bartlet in The West Wing. But Martin Sheen, born and still legally named Ramón Estévez, has had another lesser-known life as a spiritual seeker and activist. He returned to a deep and joyful Catholic faith after a crisis at the height of his fame in mid-life. He’s been arrested over 60 times in vigils and protests. “Piety is something you do alone,” he says. “True freedom, spirituality, can only be achieved in community.”

The moral life, Marie Howe says, is lived out in what we say as much as what we do. She became known for her poetry collection What the Living Do, about her brother’s death at 28 from AIDS. Now she has a new book, Magdalene. Poetry is her exuberant and open-hearted way into the words and the silences we live by. She works and plays with a Catholic upbringing, the universal drama of family, the ordinary rituals that sustain us — and how language, again and again, has a power to save us.

Men of all ages say Richard Rohr has given them a new way into spiritual depth and religious thought — through his writing and retreats. This conversation with the Franciscan spiritual teacher delves into the expansive scope of his ideas: male formation and what he calls “father hunger”; why contemplation is as magnetic to people now, including millennials, as it’s ever been; and how to set about taking the first half of life — the drive to “successful survival” — all the way to meaning.

To be Evangelical is not one thing, even on abortion. This conversation about Christianity and politics with three generations of Evangelical leaders — Shane Claiborne, Greg Boyd, and the late Chuck Colson — feels more relevant in the wake of the 2016 election than it did when we first recorded it. We offer this searching dialogue, which is alive anew, to a changed political landscape.

Before Pope Francis, James Martin was perhaps the best-loved Jesuit in American life. He’s followed the calling of St. Ignatius of Loyola, the founder of the Jesuit order, to “find God in all things” — and for him that means being a writer of books, an editor of America magazine, and a wise and witty presence on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram. To delve into Fr. Martin’s way of being in the world is to discover the “spiritual exercises” St. Ignatius designed to be accessible to everyone more than six centuries ago.

There’s a kind of brilliance that flashes up in early adulthood: an ability to see the world whole. Nathan Schneider has been able to articulate and sustain that far-seeing eye of young adulthood. He’s also a gifted writer, chronicling the world he and his compatriots are helping to make — spiritual, technological, and communal. At the Chautauqua Institution, we explore the wisdom of a millennial generation public intellectual on the emerging fabric of human identity.

Something of a celebrity in Quaker circles, Carrie Newcomer is best known for her story-songs that get at the raw and redemptive edges of human reality. This week, a musical conversation with the Indiana-based and born folk singer-songwriter who’s been called a “prairie mystic.” She writes and sings about the grittiness of hope and the ease of cynicism.

She became a national figure as the face of the “Nuns on the Bus.” Sr. Simone Campbell is a lawyer, lobbyist, poet, and Zen contemplative working on issues such as “mending the wealth gap,” “enacting a living wage,” and “crafting a faithful budget that benefits the 100%.” She is a helpful voice for longings so many of us share, across differences, about how to engage with the well-being of our neighbors in this complicated age.

The philosopher and Catholic social innovator Jean Vanier is a teacher of the wisdom of tenderness. The L’Arche movement, which he founded, centers around people with mental disabilities and is celebrating its 50th anniversary this month. We experience how Jean Vanier brings the most paradoxical religious teachings to life: that there’s power in humility, strength in weakness, and light in the darkness of human existence.

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