Every Friday night in New York we've been watching Bill Moyers Journal on public television. It has been one of our spiritual practices, a way to keep abreast of what's really going on in the world. Moyers' guests are committed and insightful scholars, journalists, cultural commentators, politicians, whistle-blowers, writers, and specialists in their fields. From this program and others Moyers has hosted and produced over the years, we have learned about personal faith and politics, the church and state debate, congressional and corporate ethics, civil liberties in wartime, Internet freedom, media consolidation, hunger in America and around the world, government waste, work and wages, prisons in America, money and politics, and much more.
Friday, April 30, 2010, was the last airing of Bill Moyers Journal. Bill, it seems, is retiring. Not having him on television is going to leave a gaping hole in our souls and in our consciousness. It will not be the same world without his sensitive and sophisticated commentary on democracy, journalism, religion, and the arts. So at this turning point moment, we pause to say "Thanks for everything, Bill." How you have enriched our spiritual journeys!
Prior to the latest edition of his Journal, we regularly watched Now with Bill Moyers, a public affairs program on issues of the day. His reporting and his interviews often sent chills down our spines with cutting-edge stories of the corruption, greed, and selfishness of the rich and the powerful. Moyers has been a courageous and oftentimes lone voice crying in the wilderness of these post-modern times. He has tutored us in righteous indignation at discrimination against refugees, immigrants, people of color, and women. He has reminded us that the way we treat these people speaks to the strength or weakness of America. He has brought us to tears with stories about people locked in poverty, families desperately trying to hold things together during hard economic times, and veterans of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars who have been ignored after returning home. By his attention to the suffering among us, Moyers has made it clear that compassion and empathy are two character virtues that will never go out of style and that, indeed, they hold the key to the future.
[Update: Twenty months after retiring from his PBS series Bill Moyers Journal, this award-winning journalist returned at age 77 with a new weekly show, Moyers & Company, which debuted in January 2012 and ran through January 2015. Why did Moyers returning to the fray? On his website, he wrote: "I'm coming back because in tumultuous times like these I relish the company of people who try to make sense of the tumult. These are the people I'll bring to our new broadcast."]
The Moyers Legacy
There is a moral edge to all the television programs Bill Moyers has created. This ordained Baptist minister has always had a special place in his heart for speaking truth to power. We have seen him as a modern day prophet who uncovers injustices and proclaims with unwavering consistency the differences we can all make in the lives of the vulnerable and the unfortunate — the homeless, the unemployed, and the poor. Justice for Moyers is a set of powerful emotions which connect us with the world and make us care.
This veteran television journalist has done more to further the study of the world's religious and spiritual traditions than anyone else around. We have been both edified and enlightened by his many explorations of faith and meaning. There was his pioneering series of in-depth interviews, the first time mythology had been given such a public airing, in "Joseph Campbell and the Power of Myth." In "Faith and Reason" he probed the question, "In a world in which religion is poison to some and salvation to others, how do we live together? In "Genesis" he engaged with a group of biblical scholars on the multiple meanings in the first book of the Bible. In "The Wisdom of Faith with Huston Smith" he introduced us to the man who wrote the classic book on the world's religions and gave him the opportunity to share his enthusiasms for multifaith study. In all his series, Moyers has included spiritual teachers and leaders, bringing his own interests and thoughtfulness to interviews with Coleman Barks, Pema Chodron, Karen Armstrong, Wendy Beckett, Joan Chittister, Desmond Tutu, Jacob Needleman, and Parker Palmer.
During these religious interviews and others, Moyers has demonstrated the importance of questions as tools we can use to open our minds, understand alien thoughts and practices, and build bridges to others. Looking at the face and the body language of this earnest seeker, we have seen the value of deep listening whereby we devote our full attention to the other person during a conversation. Moyers may not see himself as a spiritual teacher, but he is one of the best around thanks to his openness and hospitality. Other aspects of his spirituality shine through his delight in being a meaning maker, taking the long view, pursuing the transcendent, and reveling in the imagination.
Our Gratitude to Bill Moyers
On a personal note, we need to thank Bill for his support of our work at a critical moment in our career. In the early 1990s, we began to focus our reviewing on the spiritual renaissance happening in America. We'd long had a review publication, originally called Cultural Information Service and then Living Room Learning, and we'd reviewed some of Moyers' work for them. Then in 1990, we renamed our publication Values & Visions and began to practice spiritual literacy, reading the culture and the world for spiritual significance. After we'd done some issues with this focus, we sent them to Moyers to see what he thought. It turned out he'd already noticed the publication from the tear sheets we'd sent his office of our reviews. We will never forget the day we received a note from Bill about Values & Visions. Hewrote:
"Our culture is awash with trivia, nonsense, and violence. But in the media morass, we can find artists and writers who do care about the life of the spirit and enduring wisdom. The editors of Values & Visions are publishing the most original and refreshing guide to what's truly valuable in American society."
We remain grateful for his generosity and encouragement.
We are, of course, not the only people working in the field of the arts and media that have benefited from Moyers' support. His "Creativity" series showcased various forms of creative expression via interviews with talented artists and performers. Equally impressive have been the programs featuring novelists such as Doris Lessing, Maxine Hong Kingston, and Louise Erdrich. It would not be underestimating his influence to say that Moyers' coverage of the Geraldine R. Dodge Poetry Festival has put some poets on the map and reminded us of why we love the work of some others. Moyers exhibits real enthusiasm for poetry — its sensuous, intellectual, and emotional potency. Over and over Moyers has asked his viewers to appreciate the gifts of artists.
Moyers and his wife and partner Judith Davidson Moyers, who is CEO of Public Affairs Television, have produced hundreds of hours of television for PBS. We can't mention and pay tribute to them all but here are a few more that bear their singular mark of excellence: "A World of Ideas" which presented the thoughts and perspectives of more than 40 outstanding and provocative individuals from the black sociologist William Julius Wilson to the filmmaker David Putnam to historian Barbara Tuchman; "Beyond Hate" with its thoughtful examination of violence and prejudice in our society; "A Gathering of Men with Robert Bly" on the changing role of men in modern America; and three outstanding discussions with Howard Zinn, Greg Mortenson, and Jane Goodall.
And so we say again, "Thanks for everything, Bill." You have shared with us your passion, your questions, your ideas, your values, and your visions. It is rare that a Renaissance man like you comes along and plays such a transformative role in the lives of so many people. You have blessed us in so many ways with your creative, daring, and visionary spirituality. We are thankful for your teachings, for your prophetic voice when so many others were afraid to speak out, for your modeling of compassion and empathy, for your unswerving devotion to truth and justice. We salute all you have done to further the cause of religion and interfaith collaboration. We admire and treasure how you have demonstrated the arts of openness, deep listening, and hospitality; how you've championed creativity and imagination; and how you've cherished and fulfilling the high mark of excellence in your long and illustrious career.
A Blessing for Bill and Judith Moyers
Since you have blessed us in so many remarkable ways, we close with a blessing for you and your wife as you move on to a new stage of life:
As stillness in stone to silence is wed
May your heart be somewhere a God might dwell.
As a river flows in ideal sequence
May your soul discover time is presence.
As the moon absolves the dark of distance
May thought-light console your mind with brightness.
As the breath of light awakens colour
May the dawn anoint your eyes with wonder.
As spring rain softens the earth with surprise
May your winter places be kissed by light.
As the ocean dreams to the joy of dance
May the grace of change bring you elegance.
As clay anchors a tree in light and wind
May your outer life grow from peace within.
As twilight fills the night with bright horizons
May Beauty await you at home beyond.
— the late John O'Donohue
in Beauty: The Invisible Embrace
Salaam, Shalom, Shanti, Peace,
Frederic and Mary Ann Brussat
Co-Directors, Spirituality & Practice
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