One of the small delights of a New Year is wondering about who my conversation partners might be over the coming year. But, when I say “conversation partners”, I’m not just talking about the people I might physically talk with, I’m also thinking about the books I’ll read (or listen to), the films I’ll watch, and the online interviews and conversations I will listen to.
I also took some time to review all the conversations I listened to on On Being with Krista Tippett. Listening in on her conversations has been a practice of mine since her early days on Speaking of Faith, and the range and depth has been such a gift.
Here are my Top 7 conversations from her show over the course of 2016. They’re not in any order, other than they’re the seven conversations that have stayed with me, and particularly nourished my own journey and exploration.
“On Being - Taking up the big questions of meaning with scientists and theologians, artists and teachers — some you know and others you'll love to meet.”
I have reflected much on politics / ethics over the course of 2016. Avoiding politics has been nigh on impossible, with ISIS, Brexit, the US Primaries and Presidential Election, and of course the resignation of our own Prime Minister. I’ve read and thought more about politics and ethics (and the consequences of politicking and political-ethical decision-making) this year than in any other year. I’ve listened for alternative perspectives across a wide spectrum of disciplines, and I’ve mined the past for insights and hopefully wisdom. Commentators (and commentary) included: ABC Radio National show The Minefield (here); ABC Religion and Ethics; Luke Bretherton; John Milbank; Slavoj Zizek; Stanley Hauerwas; Rowan Williams; and a whole host of diverse others including Susan Sontag, Rebecca Solnit, and Don Watson in his thought-provoking essay Enemy Within: American Politics in the Age of Trump (see the comments section attaching to this post); Robert Manne; A Clear and Present Danger: Narcissism in the Era of Trump; Noam Chomsky; Rogue Justice: The Making of the Security State. I’ve read numerous articles including this recent one (if you can still call “November 2016” recent / Things don't only get better: why the working class fell out of love with Labour, a talk by Maurice Glasman).
Glasman ends with these lines:
“…The identity crisis that confronts us is generated by this breakdown of relationships and of our ideology. We have lost our ability to understand the world and act within it with predictable results. For many people the world has gone mad and no longer makes any sense. We need to understand where and why we went wrong, in being far too naïve in our understanding of the demonic power of capitalism, and far too sanguine in its effects on the working poor. Human beings are not commodities and free movement treated them as just that…As we know that things don’t only get better we can prepare for the hard work in the decade ahead. To renew our tradition and ideology around the centrality of family, place and work. To renew our covenant with the working poor and build a coalition that can defeat fascism, resist the domination of capitalism, and deepen our democratic way of life. That is why I believe that the past shapes the future that tradition mediates the merciless demands of modernity, and why I believe that our best days lie ahead of us.”
I hope he’s right about our best days lying ahead.
In her July 2016 newsletter NZ author Joy Cowley announced her latest publication:
“…A very different book, newly launched is a collection of spiritual reflections for couples. It is called Made for Love is without gender and is especially for people whose love is outside tradition. I was asked to write this book by a man who produced some alarming figures. In 2012 over 350 gay men committed suicide in New Zealand, many of them young men who had experienced discrimination and bullying. At an early stage in the writing I realised this book wasn't just for gay people, but for all couples living a commitment of love. "Made for Love" has fine art work by Aucklander Miranda Brown and is being published by Pleroma Press in Otane, Hawkes Bay.”
Made for Love: Spiritual Reflections for Couples is available from Pleroma Press in New Zealand. Also available is her small format gem, Notes to a Friend. Published in 2013 it is a series of poetic 'letters' (Dear friend...) written around a number of themes including, devotion. simplicity, discipline etc.
It was reviewed in a recent edition of NZ Independent Catholic publication, Tui Motu. You’ll find the review here. And my own reflection is that it’s a really lyrical and thought-provoking collection of reflections, which I will dip into often.
And again, another link to an earlier post highlighting the recent lecture series delivered at St. Martins-in-the-Field, London (Sept-Nov. 2016). Specifically, I want to highlight the lecture delivered by US Theologian Stanley Hauerwas. It was delivered ahead of the 2016 Presidential Elections, and as a “yellow dog democrat” his early vote had been for Hillary Clinton. His hope, along with many many other people in America and all around the world, was that she would convincingly beat Donald Trump.
But as we all know, that wasn’t to be the case and the US (and the wider world) has to contend with President-Elect, and soon to be 45th President of the United States of America Donald J. Trump.
Hauerwas is well worth listening too and he offers some useful theological / Christian insights into Trump and the state of the US, John Milbank and a range of other subjects. So, I particularly want to single that talk out from the other fine lectures delivered by equally fine thinkers.
You’ll find his talk (audio) here, along with the question and answer session. You’ll fine a ‘hard’ copy of his address here.
Following on from this Maria Popova post and in particular her first “learning”, allow yourself the uncomfortable luxury of changing your mind
I want to highlight an Atlantic article by Eric Liu. His title is Americans don’t need Reconciliation – They need to get better at Arguing. While it has civic application (America post-2016 election), I think it definitely has much wider application.
Liu, in his article, rightfully acknowledges the significant differences in context between America 2016 and South Africa post-apartheid (The Truth and Reconciliation Commission) and offers a way forward for American’s or indeed for any groups in conflict).
‘…Reckoning—“facing history and ourselves,” …means naming the inherited power inequities that have brought us our contemporary conflicts. This is the “truth” part of “truth and reconciliation,” the phrase made famous by the process South Africa undertook after apartheid to reckon with its past. Truth is the hard part because it’s about accepting responsibility…
… In the United States, reckoning is by orders of magnitude more complex. There are no clean breaks in recent American history between good and evil, no single line of culpability that leads to a single large group of living Americans being called perpetrators…
… You can’t easily get to reconciliation without truth. But in America you can’t easily get to truth…
… That’s why I propose a different way forward. It involves three steps: more listening, more serving, and—perhaps counterintuitively—more arguing.
[First Step] When I say listening, I don’t mean “debater’s listening,” in which you pay only enough attention to get the gist of the other person’s point so you can prepare your rebuttal. I mean radically compassionate listening: without judgment, without response.
Imagine forming citizen “talking circles” all across the country, where people of differing world views agree simply to listen to one another. The point would not be persuasion or conversion. The point would be presence. And the method would not be to discuss ideology explicitly. It would be to address a simple universal question—something like “Who influenced you, and how do you pass it on?”…
… This brings us to the second step: doing stuff together. This is the genius of national service. It gets you and me together not to work on you or me but on a third thing. That thing can be cleaning an abandoned lot, tutoring immigrants, helping disabled seniors, preventing youth suicide—whatever it is, if it brings people together across lines of race, class, and politics, it will bring to the fore our common humanity…
…If we listen more and serve more we’ll be ready for the third step: arguing more. More? Most people would say we have such dysfunction today because we already argue too much about too many things. But that’s a misdiagnosis of what ails American politics. We don’t need fewer arguments today; we need less stupid ones…’
I hadn’t heard of English-born Irish poet Michael Longley until I listened to a recent On Being podcast. What a fascinating and wise conversation (aired 3rd November 2016). At once, both insightful and poetic. I was captivated. All the more so as I drove and listened and watched the sun rise in the East. Again I’m so very grateful for the gifts of poets and poetry in my life.
“To reassert the liveliness of ordinary things, precisely in the face of what is hardest and most broken in life and society — this has been Michael Longley’s gift to Northern Ireland as one of its foremost living poets. He is a voice for all of us now, wise and winsome about the force of words in a society that has moved away from sectarianism in living memory. A profound conversation before an adoring crowd at The MAC Belfast.”
Longley (b. 27th July 1939), it turns out, has written more than 20 books of poetry, including Collected Poems, Gorse Fires, and his most recent collection, The Stairwell. He was the professor of poetry for Ireland from 2007 to 2010 and is the winner of the Whitbread Poetry Prize, the T.S. Eliot Prize, the Hawthornden Prize, and the Griffen Prize. In 2015 he was honored with the Freedom of the City of Belfast. In relation to religion, an atheist, he describes himself as a "sentimental" disbeliever.
You’ll find the conversation here. See also the video recording, and listen to Longley reading several of his poems.
UPDATED (Nov 10th onwards) - See Comments for Links I've appreciated post election
I’m not a regular subscriber to Australian publication Quarterly Essay, but issue number 63 is a real gem. It’s written by Don Watson and is titled: Enemy Within: American Politics in the Time of Trump
In Enemy Within, Don Watson takes a memorable journey into the heart of the United States in the year 2016 – and the strangest election campaign that country has seen.
“Travelling in the Midwest, Watson reflects on the rise of Donald Trump and the “thicket of unreality” that is the American media. Behind this he finds a deeply fearful and divided culture. Watson considers the irresistible pull – for Americans – of the Dream of exceptionalism, and asks whether this creed is reaching its limit. He explores alternate futures – from Trump-style fascism to Sanders-style civic renewal – and suggests that a Clinton presidency might see a new American blend of progressivism and militarism. Enemy Within is an eloquent, barbed look at the state.’
You can find more information about this issue, here.
I finally managed to catch up on a conversation with Don Watson (originally aired on the 3rd October 2016, but recorded on the 25th September 2016 at the Brisbane Powerhouse) , a week out from the 2016 US Presidential Elections. He articulated well so much of my own reading of the ‘state of play’, while at the same time adding layers and nuances I’d never have been able to articulate so well.
‘Don Watson ventured into the 'heartland' to take the pulse of America during the presidential election campaign. In this fascinating interview Watson reflects that ‘...so large and varied is America, it is really not one place at all. Watson is fond of America and what it represents. "A wonderland of invention, a marvel of freedom and tolerance, and by most measures the greatest country on earth", is how he describes the US. But he is no fan of Donald Trump and thinks his rival for the Presidency, Hilary Clinton, enhances Trump's chances of victory. The America Don Watson observes is a fractured and fearful place.’