May-Lily Lee

Six-time regional Emmy award-winner May-Lily Lee has been called “Virginia’s Storyteller” for her more than two decades of distinctive work in Virginia Public Broadcasting. She began her path in journalism by graduating at age 19 from the University of Maryland, where she earned a scholarship as a Maryland Distinguished Scholar. She is a prominent figure in the fields of television and radio, particularly in the state of Virginia. Ms. Lee is not only one of the Praxis Circle’s Contributors, but also our video presenter and Profiles editor. Praxis Circle interviewed Ms. Lee because of her vast personal experience in exploring human interest stories and events, her engaging personality, and her relation to Praxis Circle since inception.

Introduction: Interests and Current Project

May-Lily Lee:

First of all, Doug, I just want to say that I am really eager to have this dialogue with you and I think what you’re doing is fantastic. I think that having this kind of open discussion with people about their worldview is going to be big. It’s needed and it’s going to be big.

So, I know you want me to give a little bit of my background, which is obviously tough for me to do. I would rather sit here and just say, “Oh here’s my vitae. Here you go.” But I’ll talk a little bit about what I’ve done and what I’m doing now.

I’ve always been interested in media, even as a kid. So I’ve been blessed to work in the media for many, many years. That’s my joy. It’s what I love doing. Specifically I love story telling, and we can talk a little bit about what that entails maybe later on as we go through this discussion, but I love the idea of being in a field that entrusts us with good communication, open dialogue, exchanging ideas, and sharing stories. Stories are sacred, stories underscore our humanity, stories illuminate things that might not otherwise be illuminated. So I really have enjoyed a very enriching career in media. So that’s kind of what I’m been doing.

I have a new project, AmericanSpark.tv, and we tell stories about people who have creative passions. Can be just about anything, going all over the country. From the West Coast to the East Coast, down to Florida, up to the Northeast, and these stories are just wonderful. I have been getting some fantastic feedback from people who just stumble upon our stories. Some of them have called them addictive nuggets. Other people say, “This is the kind of stuff we need to see”. So that affirmation’s really great. So AmericanSpark.tv.

May Lily’s Bio Overview

May-Lily Lee:

I was born in Washington, DC, and I’m really proud of that because it is such a transient town that not a lot of people are born in DC and then stay in the area. Most people tend to flock to DC, and maybe even pass through DC, but not a lot of people can say, “I was born in DC,” and I’m really proud of that. So I grew up in the suburbs of Washington, DC, and I went to a small Catholic school, St. Vincent Pilate High School. After years of public school education, and I have to say that that private school education was the best. I really enjoyed it. As liberal as I am, I have to say that that private schooling for me made a difference. And there are many reasons why. One was size. It was a very small school. Another is that I became very curious about the Catholic religion through my time with the school, and I just felt I had the best teachers. So I don’t think my comment about loving St. Vincent Pilate has anything to do with the discussion of private versus public education. It really doesn’t. It has to do with the fact that I loved that school. And it’s still around today.

Unfortunately for me, I didn’t get to enjoy it for very long because I graduated high school early. My friend Eric dissuaded me from doing this. He said, “You’re not equipped to go to college at this stage of life. Don’t do it.” He didn’t think I was equipped socially, or maybe emotionally or whatever, and then when I heard his argument around that I thought, “Well now I need to go prove it.” So, I graduated high school early, I went to college early, went to University of Maryland on a Maryland distinguished scholar scholarship.

Now a lot of Asians play the piano, so I knew that in competing for this scholarship I didn’t want to be another Asian playing the piano, although I was one. So what I did for my performing arts was a magic show. That and my grades got me in. I love that story because I don’t know how many other magicians earned that scholarship.

So anyway, I went to Maryland and I went with the same idea in mind. I really just wanted to get that diploma, graduate as quickly as possible and start working. So ultimately, I finished college in two and a half years. Clepping exams to get credits for courses. Going to summer classes and also just piling on the credits, and so I was 19 when I graduated from Maryland. I don’t regret that, but I don’t have a college experience behind me. I never lived on campus, I really never knew what it was like to truly relax and be in a campus atmosphere. It felt more like I was on a mission. Maryland was kind of the goal to get through and then get to the other side. But having said that, I loved my time at Maryland. It was a great campus to explore and expand, and it was through that campus that I landed my first internship. So, it was really valuable to me in terms of getting a stepping stone into broadcasting.

I was able to actually score two internships because one in one semester was with the NBC affiliate, WRC TV in DC, and the other was with WTTG TV, which is now a Fox affiliate. So, oh my gosh, that was the best to be introduced to these real news rooms early on, right out of college.

Who shaped your life the most early on?

May-Lily Lee:

So, when we talk about who’s integral through our lives, I can’t think of anyone who doesn’t say my parents, so it feels forced to say that, but truly, my parents were amazing people, in every way. They were the best parents. They were great role models. I was spoiled in that, not materially spoiled, but emotionally spoiled in that I was pretty much the only child.

My brother was 18 years older than I was when I was born, so he was already off to Randolph-Macon College and doing his thing, and here I come along. I really was an only child growing up, so I really feel like I got the kind of attention that helped shape who I am. They let me do anything. They were as adventure-some and inquisitive and curious as I was.

They didn’t put any kind of constraints on what I wanted to explore. You want to do ceramics? Do ceramics. You want to play the piano? Play the piano! And I did all of these things, thanks to their creating an environment that said, “You’re okay. You want to try something? Go for it; we’re not going to hold you back.” And that’s the way they were. In fact, I’m thinking back on a time when I was playing piano, and I’d already passed the test, meaning, they didn’t want to invest in a brand new piano without knowing I was going to be committed to it.

They saw that I had this $30 Magnus court organ that I had already played the heck out of it. It was like, “Okay, looks like she’s ready to move on,” and so I got the piano. And I really took it seriously. It was not as if my parents said, “And now you will play the piano, because that’s what we expect of you,” and I don’t think parents can get good results from that anyway.

What they allowed me to do was to decide if I liked it or not, and encouraged me once I did. In fact, I was practicing piano often, not liking the boring exercises you have to do, and there was my brother’s guitar, next to the piano, along with a really cool chord chart. In between, I would kind of check out his guitar and start teaching myself chords. Before I knew, I became as much a guitarist as a pianist.

I really, really feel like my parents set the stage for all of that. It wasn’t just musical arts; it was just about anything. I’m a terrible, terrible visual artist, which is why I appreciate great visual artists and love to explore visual art, as well. I can’t say because I can’t do it I admire it; it’s because I understand how difficult it is to achieve great art.

Anyway, those are all things that really, really sort of set the stage. My parents were even there when … I was a full-grown adult, and I got an offer to work down in Richmond with the CBS affiliate, WTVR TV, that would have been my first on-air reporting job with a television station, and they needed an audition. What did I do? I went to my parents and said, “Hey, do you want to go down to Richmond with me?” And we drove together to the station. They waited in the parking lot while I did my audition. Came out, “Hey, how’d it go, honey?” “I think it went pretty well; I think I might get the job.” And then we drove back up to DC together. They really, really were huge in my life.

Any similar stories from your career? The Glass Castle & Jeannette Walls

May Lily Lee:

Both of my parents were dreamers, and they instilled that in me. And not too long ago I had a chance to interview Jeannette Walls of The Glass Castle fame. She tells a story about how her father was so adventuresome. There are lots of issues going around, like homelessness and issues around maybe alcohol, but to the core, he was adventuresome, he was curious, he was open. She talks about a night that, it was right around the holidays, and he gets all the kids to look up at the stars, and says, “Kids, it’s Christmas. I want you to pick a star and that will be yours.” And Jeannette Walls looks up at the sky and says, “Well, you know, what I really want is Venus. It’s so bright.” And he says, “Well, it’s not a star. It’s a planet. But what the heck, it’s Christmas. You want Venus, you can have Venus.”

I just love that story, because it really encapsulates that a good parent shapes who you are for the rest of your life. Look at what she did with that. She took a story about a very difficult upbringing, and turned it into something with a more positive bent to it. She discusses it. She talks about how her sister looks back on certain things that were done by their father, and laments those things. Well, can you believe he did that? And can you believe he did that? And they’ll look at the same event that occurred, but both with very different lenses. And I often think that goes to the worldviews that we all have. Each of us can a very different lens on the exact same event.

Passion? What are your words? Commitment, Curiosity, Tolerance

May Lily Lee:

So, I’ve heard the word passionate used a lot, and I’ll hear it from newcomers to either broadcasting, or newcomers to music, and they’ll say I’m passionate about this. But the time hasn’t been committed, and you don’t see a history of involvement in it, so I’m a little leery about the overuse of the word passionate. What are you passionate about? Maybe you’re excited about something, but I’d love to hear more people say I’m committed to. And then I’m going to listen. I’m interested in what you’re committed to.

Now, another thing I might use as a cousin to this question about what we’re passionate about is what are you curious about? I’m curious about so much, and I believe that drives me, believe it drives my interest in journalism, in working in story-telling. There’s so much I’m curious about. Whether it’s technical gear that I might be looking at for a video production, or some new musical gear for recording and interfaces with your computer, or whether it’s about people’s religious beliefs, and getting prepared for this in a way that I found myself looking up things in a more scholarly way, but completely into it, because as I started to prepare for this interview that for me would be very new. I’ve never been asked these questions by anyone before.

I started realizing, wow, well that opens up yet this other question. And, you know, I hadn’t considered this other question, and so I really felt engaged by all of this, because I am curious. And I do feel like people who are uncurious and intolerant are scary. I would rather meet someone who has really, really considered all sides, or as Beth has said, looked at everybody’s red wagon and noticed that your red wagon is different from my red wagon, and different from that red wagon. Someone curious will take note of that, and start asking about, well, where did your red wagon come from? How comes yours is rusty? And I feel that that drive is really important. I wish it for everybody.

Plane Flight with an Economist

May Lily Lee:

In my career in media, I’ve interviewed hundreds of people. They run the gamete from well-known to little-known. From true serious, serious interviews to real character interviews that were just fun and entertaining, and in their own way, uplifting. But though there are many, many stories that I can pull there are actually two stories for this particular project I want to share with you. And both of them happened when I was on a plane. I would think that maybe, maybe just thinking as journalist or being open to discussing something with the person seated next to me, maybe that’s what led to these. But these weren’t stories that I was assigned to. They weren’t projects I was working on. It just happened to happen.

The first one occurred on a plane trip. I was seated next to an economist and was discussing all kinds of things with him. I minored in econ, so I was interested in what he had to say. But there was one case study that he shared with me. I will never forget. He said, “You know, there’s been a study about comparative psychology and how it plays into how we interact with each other, how we move in the world.” I was very interested at that setup.

He said, “There’s a there was a study done of people who were offered option A or option B. Option A is you are making $50,000 a year and everybody else is making $25,000 a year. Option A sounds pretty good. Option B is you’re making twice that. You are making $100,000 a year, but everybody else is making $250,000. Now, assuming that everything else is exactly the same … The cost of butter is exactly the same. Prices don’t change because of your correlation to them. You can get and acquire and purchase all the things you would normally purchase right this minute. So all the other things that are in place now are still in place. The only difference being the comparative amounts that other people are making. And most people picked Option B. They would rather make half the amount of money than make less than everybody else. So this was huge for me. This really opened up and parted, for me, the clouds. I thought, “If that’s really the way majority of the people operate in life, and that is to be comparative and to … Hey, I wonder how they’re doing? How are they holding up against me?” Then I found that completely eye-opening. It helped inform, for me, why people do some of the things they do.

I’ll be perfectly frank with you. I’ve never been a comparative person because I really like what I’m doing. I know that’s hard to believe but I think it’s pretty simple. When you’re doing exactly what you want to be doing, it doesn’t matter what everyone else is doing.

I feel that that was such an important insight. That, to me, had nothing to do with economics. Thought it was a very great insight for me to understand people socially, professionally, and in every other way. And that all happened on a plane ride.

“Airplane” Again! With a Pastor (and Jesus) this Time

May-Lily Lee:

Another event that occurred on a plane was meeting a woman who was a pastor, only she had not been a pastor all her adult life. In fact, far from it. And she told me the story of how she had not been involved in the church except to be a church goer and that one day Jesus appeared before her. Now one might argue that “Yeah, yeah right. Jesus appeared before you, but you’re a little either three sheets to the wind right now or you have a couple of nuts loose,” but this woman was completely sane. She was engaging and lively and intelligent and just a truly interesting person. So, I completely believed her and she describes the detail of it, how this happened in her home and how Jesus appeared and spoke to her and indicated that she needed to pursue a career in the clergy. And sure enough, she did it and followed that path.

Now, I’ve ever experienced anything close to what she’s experienced in terms of a full on materialization, as a full on verbalization, and a directive as to what to do. Nothing like that. I was awed by it and I believe her and I feel that that is so powerful and it didn’t matter whether she was someone telling me that someone appeared and said “Go practice Buddhism,” that someone appeared and said “You need to be a Muslim.” I was completely riveted by her belief in exactly what happened and by her sure and steady pursuit of that career that she has no doubt about. That to me is faith.

Regular People and “Worldview”: Should we care? Be open?

May Lily Lee:

I think a lot of people understand that others have differing opinions. I’m not sure that everyone latches on to the word worldview, I think lot of people think of that as academic. I think it’s important that people be polite to each other. That people be curious about, well, tell me more about your view, about your worldview.

I often see this sort of disregard for other people’s worldview. Growing up, a great example would be, that I started to discover that Christmas was the holiday we took off. Oh, and so was Easter. But what about Rosh Hashanah, what about Yom Kippur, what about Passover? That was when I started thinking about how much credence do we give to all of the different worldviews?

Now, I read a great article about one of my favorite magic acts, Penn and Teller. Penn Jillette is actually more than just a magician, he’s also a thoughtful, and open, and out there atheist. He talks about his worldview in a very, very, very engaging manner. I mean, actually shares a story about how after one of his shows, a very, very nice gentle fan came up to him, someone he really liked immediately. Came up to him and gave him a small Bible and inscribed something in the Bible and said, “I want you to read this. I think you’re fantastic. Please have a look.”

Now, I know what you’re thinking, that Penn probably said, “Get out of here, you’re trying to proselytize me.” It’s the complete opposite. Penn appreciated that this man was sharing his faith and here’s why. Because he believes, like I think many of us do, if you truly believe in what you perceive to be the actual series of events that will occur to you if this action is not taken, and you don’t then share that with somebody, then, are you really being their friend?

Despite the fact that we don’t want to make people feel uncomfortable, we don’t want to make people feel socially awkward. No, this man has enough faith in his own faith to say, “I really like you. Here’s a Bible, I’d love it if you’d check it out.” Or, “Here’s a Bible, I think you really need to check it out because it can save you.”

Now, I love his take on that because it says, “I’m open enough to understand that you really believe that and that you like me enough to get past that social awkwardness and tell me what you need to tell me. If you thought there was a train rushing toward me, you would tell me to get out of the way.”

Coming Together, Being Open

May-Lily Lee:

But here’s one way that sometimes, those differing world views might come together. I know that I made some pre-suppositions about my neighbor, Christian, missionary, lived in Pakistan, brought his whole family over there, and worked as a missionary for many years, embedded in Pakistan. My pre-supposition may be, “Oh, I may be too much of an agnostic in his view. I may not be someone he even wants to talk to.” Turns out, he’s an incredible generous, generous of spirit, generous as a neighbor kind of person, and a real tolerant person.

The opposite of what I thought he might be. I thought maybe, based on my worldview of his worldview that he might be intolerant, and he wasn’t. In fact, I was further impressed by his commitment to his faith in that he’s a doctor. He could have made a completely different career choice and earned four times as much as what he’s earned as a missionary. But that’s not his choice, and I really respect that.
May-Lily Lee: Again, it’s about my being open to him if he’s going to be open to me and his treating him with respect. I just think people need to be polite to each other.

Shaping Personal Worldview as an Adult

May Lily Lee:

So, one of the things that I really find interesting to share with you, although I don’t feel like I’ve told this story very often, is that my brother taught Sunday school, my mother taught the children’s choir, and they were both involved in the Baptist church. And then I came along, and about the time that they were fading out in their involvement in those things … At least around me. My brother moved away, or wasn’t around, and my mom was no longer involved with the church, I developed my own interest in the Christian church. And by the time I was 12, I was asking questions. I wanted to know. They gave me a Living Bible. This was all me trying to get answers to what it meant to be a Christian. And I was sold. I wanted to be baptized, so at age 12 I was baptized. And to be a Christian, at least within that neighborhood and within that church and within that setting, was to say, “I accept The Lord Jesus Christ as my Lord and Savior.” That’s the crux of it.

And then I became a teenager and started turning into a young adult with new questions about what it meant to be a Christian, and I wasn’t getting the answers that I’d hoped for, and so I eventually separated from the Christian church. And we could go into a long discussion just about that, but I think you understand. There are certain things that just aren’t answered, and when you don’t get those answers, if you have an inquisitive mind, if you’re kind of a scientist at heart, then you have to sort of abandon ship, which is what I did.

And my brother tried to help me. He said, “You can’t take Christian faith as some sort of doctrine that’s been handed to you. Why not consider it a smorgasbord and just pick and choose what works for you?” And I thought that was a really great view of his, and I’ll bet that’s what he does, too. And he is a Christian. I just didn’t feel like there was enough for me to do that with, either. And so one of the things that comes to mind is that I didn’t feel a loss by saying this isn’t working for me, I just simply felt I was on a path toward spiritual discovery. I’m looking. This is not the answer. Let me see what might be.

Personal Worldview: A Lifelong Process

May-Lily Lee:

And I suppose I could’ve landed with Buddhism or I could’ve landed with another institutional religion, for instance. I didn’t, and I’ll tell you the story about what has transpired over time, but a lot of this is all about a process for me and for many of my friends. One of my friends went to seminary, got her PhD in theology, and entered into that school as an atheist. Guess what happened at the backend when she got her degree? She became more of an atheist!

And so for everybody, that experience is so unique, and I find that it is such a personal discussion Why I’m finding this to be so great is that I’m sharing something very personal with you, but by the time I was deciding as an adult I am not a Christian … I was a Christian. That was my worldview back then. It isn’t now. That by the time I was asked by other Christians, “Oh, dear, have you accepted Jesus? Oh, are you a Christian?” and I felt that there was a proselytizing or maybe, more to the point, a judgment behind it. I always felt someone was asking, “What color underwear are you wearing?” That’s how personal that search is for people, and that is the social awkwardness that a lot of people talk about when trying to bridge those gaps. How can you ask somebody about their faith or engage them in a faith discussion without putting it to them like you’re asking them what color underwear they’re wearing.

The Worldview Test

May-Lily Lee:

I skimmed through the worldview book, and I looked for what category I might fall into, based on your recommendation. And the closest category I found that describes my spiritual path was quasi-theist. I like the sound of it. It sounds fancy. I have never considered myself a quasi-theist, but I’ve never read the book before.

Then I tried to go deeper and see what sub-categories under quasi-theist would fit me, and I couldn’t find one. So that’s it, I’m a quasi-theist. And part of the reason for that is because I am still on a spiritual path, and trying to pinpoint something with a category is really tough, with me and with many others.

You look at my library, you have a really big library, but so do I. I’ve got some Joel Osteen, next to some Deepak Chopra, next to Brian Weiss, next to Carlos Castaneda, I have it all. Because that’s the direction that I’m heading, is all directions. “Hey, what can I learn about this person’s worldview? What can I learn about this person’s worldview?” And it’s really, really tough to try to then take someone who’s in that process, still fluidly looking for…The answers is just so passe to say, but looking for more and more information, is tough to do, is tough to classify. So I was able to stick with the big umbrella, but I wasn’t able to classify myself further.

And also I learned, through some of that research, something I’d never known before, which is that there are tens of thousands of denominations of religion in the world, and although this is arguable as a number, people generally fall on 30,000 different denominations of Christianity, which is phenomenal, in my mind. Absolutely phenomenal. And it brings to mind the fact that that means we all look, even at a faith, through a different lens. Not just with different faiths, do we have different lenses, but within one institutional religion, we have many different lenses.

A Defining Moment

May-Lily Lee:

Many years ago, I was moving out of the house I had lived in for 13 years. I was packing up my books. I’ve told you what a bibliophile I am, and most of the house had been completely vacated of furnishings, and really the books and a few things were still there.

Something happened that was completely unexpected, like momentous occasions can be. It took me completely by surprise. In fact, when something like that happens, you don’t appreciate it in the moment. All you can do is reflect on it, and reflect on it some more, and let it guide your life, which is what happened to me.

While I was sitting there on the floor, amidst the few remaining books of my house I was leaving, there was a voice. Now, it’s not like this Jesus came to the pastor, it wasn’t like that at all. It didn’t even have a distinctive voice. It was my own voice, but I knew I wasn’t talking to myself.

So, I call it “the voice”, but essentially the voice said, “We are all one energy.” Had I been maybe tinkering with some books or thinking about how to dismantle the bookshelf, I probably would’ve missed it. But I remember it with such clarity, and it really, really just knocked my socks off. We are all one energy.

Ever since then, I have seriously contemplated that’s exactly what is. That works for me. That really works for me, because I don’t believe in ignoring things that your intuition brings you, that maybe God brings you, whoever that might be. I definitely can’t dismiss that moment. We are all one energy.

So, I do feel that, and it was really, really heartening, because I’ve never considered myself an atheist. I think atheists are very brave to consider that we are dead when we are dead, and that there is nothing else, is the most brave stance a person can take. I’ve never been that. However, this felt for me like affirmation for what I tend to believe in, that there is continuity and meaning to all of this, and that we are all one energy.

Who is God?

May-Lily Lee:

So God isn’t a white, white-bearded man, like I learned as a 12-year-old. And Jesus wasn’t a Caucasian man either, he was Middle Eastern. So when I think about that, do I think of God as a person? Not now, no. And I think of God as an energy force, or as this one energy that unites all of us. And that’s not easy. That’s not some pat thing that I can now live my life to, because it suggests that I have to treat everybody as part of that energy.

And this is where it goes back to my Christian background. I used to have regular, regular recitations of the Lord’s Prayer, and I would always stop, Doug, when it was time to say that part about forgiving others. Forgive those who trespass against us. I would stop, and I’d let everybody else say that part, because I did not want to be a hypocrite.

And so, to think about the fact that all of us are one, means to forgive everybody. And I’m a human being, that’s tough. That’s really tough. But that leads us to our love question, which we’ll talk about in a minute too.

Worldview Attributes and Influences

May-Lily Lee:

Love is so important and I’m glad you’re introducing that to this discussion. That is as important as having this discussion and including humor in the discussion.

Let’s talk about things that matter, and when I grew up, as a young person looking at the Christian faith, that Jesus was loving and he was accepting, and he didn’t talk about pointing out sins that you must overcome and all of this. He was a cool dude who loved, and it didn’t matter what station of life you were in. He loved you.

That is not the same Christ figure that I’ve been seeing in depictions of Christianity. These new ways in which I’ve discovered Christian representation have a lot to do with righteousness, have a lot to do with not a lot of love, not a lot of tolerance, and that is a little off-putting to me. I prefer that old-fashioned brand of Christianity. I prefer the old standard of what Jesus was.

And I actually had a chance to meet in my adult years, Robert Schuler, a pastor I absolutely loved, listening to and watching on a regular basis as a child. Fast-forward to meeting him in L.A. at an awards ceremony, and I told him this, I went up to him after everything had settled down, and in the hallway said, “You were hugely influential to me as a young person,” and he was quite rude and surprisingly not a loving person.

I was really surprised by that. Wow, that is a memory that hasn’t escaped me. This is a man who should embody love, but doesn’t. So, there are plenty of people who perhaps are Christians, who don’t embrace love, and there are plenty of non-Christians who do.

And it doesn’t go just to Christianity. I think, oftentimes, there’s too much dogma in religion and not enough love.

What kind of God?

May Lily Lee:

So this is an interesting question. I haven’t considered this, but you’re asking about this comparison between having a loving relationship with a god. In my case, to me, we are all one energy … Kind of is my god. What is my relationship to that? I don’t think I have a relationship to that. I think I’m informed by that knowledge.

So, therefore, try to remember that in my dealings with people. I don’t believe that there is a relationship to that energy. I feel that there is a relationship between me and other people.

Is there a spiritual world?

May-Lily Lee:

I do believe there is a spiritual world apart from our physical world. And I think that can be tied to institutional religion and it may not be tied to any institutional religion. I feel it’s there, for reasons I discussed earlier. I’ll read books by some people who talk about other alternate places. I’ve read Sylvia Brown, for instance, a psychic, who talks about an afterlife. And I’m intrigued by her writing, but when she starts to talk about the fact that in the afterlife, we have condos and jobs, can’t quite adopt that for myself. However, I am opening to hearing about her other take…Other takes on the world and the spiritual world and the world beyond. She’s just one example about how I’m interested in knowing how people feel about these things.

One of my favorite readings is the autobiography of a yogi. And it is an amazing story of a young man who took to monastic life in India and ultimately, ended up moving here and setting up a complete establishment in California, an ashram here. When he died, it is said that he continued to be preserved beyond the number of days a corpse would be preserved. His body still glowed. It didn’t disintegrate. It didn’t start fading the way all of the other bodies might through stages of decomposition. He simply didn’t adhere to this basic, scientific fact. A lot of people said that was a tribute to his spirit. He stayed on, is what people would interpret from that.

I love those … And he talks about actually lifting and levitating in spiritual practice. I love reading about that. Have I ever experienced any of those things? No. But I believe. He’s got me on that. I know I lost Sylvia Brown on the condos and the jobs in the afterlife, but I really believe that those things are possible and those are beyond the physical. Those go to the spiritual.

Media Personality Types

May-Lily Lee:

There was a study done on narcissism. And The social scientists concluded that the top narcissists were found as CEOs and in journalism. Those were the most narcissistic people. I was really interested in that because I could see that. Media attracts, I think, that kind of personality. But I’ll bet you if that study were done now and five years from now, they’d find that we’re moving toward a culture of narcissism anyway, because social media puts us there. “Here’s what I did. I went out to the store and I got this Diet Coke six pack. And here’s another thing I did.” And there’s so much narcissism now that our whole culture is going to have to rethink what it is to ask questions about other people and get into real dialogues with other people.

But media, I could see, would be a huge draw for narcissistic personalities. I’m drawn to it. I don’t consider myself narcissistic. I do think I’m curious. I do think that it’s a perfect marriage for the curious. Lots of people are simply journalists because they love people’s stories and not even in a gossipy way either, not in that way that, “Oh, I got something on you.” I always really, really, really was repulsed by that kind of journalism, the kind of “gotcha” journalism that seems to prevail. I like the kind of journalism that tells a good story, that maybe intrigues you enough for you to go investigate this subject or this person even more. That’s what I like.

Journalistic Standards

May-Lily Lee:

I’d like to talk about journalistic standards. I feel that they have fallen. I think that Walter Cronkite would probably turn over in his grave. It’s not the same world. We’re not journalists anymore. We’re something completely different. Media is changing so much that television doesn’t even really play a role anymore. Now the internet plays a role. Not only that, now our phone plays a role. We watch more videos on our phones than we do on a television set. So there’s a lot that’s going on right this minute that’s constantly evolving and changing the way we think of media.

That means journalistic standards are going way, way down. There are so many ways to create disinformation on the internet and beyond, that who knows what’s real journalism anymore? However, to talk about subjectivity versus objectivity, I think it’s fair to say that even in the old school days of journalism, we still infused subjectivity. How could we not? By who we select to interview. By making that one choice we’re making a subjective choice. By deciding what stays on the edit room floor and what goes into the story, that’s a subjective choice too. So I always had a hard time trying to understand what people meant when they say, “Are you objective?” I think we’re as objective, that is true journalists, are as objective as they can be.

Now, the kind of story-telling I do now isn’t predicated upon right or wrong. Did you include all of these political factions when doing this story? The kind of stories I do now celebrate the creative spirit. So there’s a lot more latitude. It’s a form of journalism but it isn’t the kind that relies upon subjective or objective reporting in the way that a network story about the latest political story.

Media Trends

May-Lily Lee:

Now there are a couple of things happening that I find intriguing because I think one of the biggest things that media can provide is a forum for people to have open dialog, share ideas and exchange their viewpoints with each other. You might say “their worldviews” with one another. One of the things I noticed in commercial news is that the length of the typical news story has shrunk dramatically. You’d get two and a half minutes. Now a one and a half minute story is more the norm. A minute and a half. How can you share, in an engaging way, anything in a minute and a half? You can’t, so that’s something I lament.

On the other hand, we see the increased number of talk programs. People who are hosting shows and getting guests on for a whole half-hour block or people who are engaging in dialog more than ever before. You would never have seen this kind of time given to what would have then been just news time. “Here’s our news show. This is what we’ve allotted. There’s no time for talk programming.” Now there’s a huge proliferation of talk programming, so that’s actually a good thing. That really allows people to converse and in a way I wonder if it’s a backlash to the fact that everything has become so catered to the ADD personality. “Well we better get this done in a minute and a half because that’s all the attention this person has.” Maybe the talk programs are allowing that part of our national discourse to blossom.

Is truth relative in reporting?

May Lily Lee:

When I was interning at WRC-TV, I worked with a wonderful journalist. His names Arch Campbell. Arch Campbell is known all over the DC area as a movie critic, but really his roots go back to journalism. He’s a Texas journalist and through and through he believes in all of the principles of good journalism, good story-telling. And one of the most important nuggets he shared with me is “Don’t put it down if it’s not true. Verify. Make sure that what you’re writing, you fact checked.”

I remember being told by a reporter with the Post, the Washington Post, that they’re required with certain articles to fact check three different points. If you’ve written something down, you better have three different touchpoints to verify that fact. Wonder if that’s true still, but it makes a great point, which is don’t write it if it’s not true. I think we could all benefit from remembering that and going back to our roots. Yeah, technology has changed and media has morphed into something we never could’ve even imagined, but that tenant should be just as important today as ever.

Appreciation

May-Lily Lee:

So, this is going to be a convoluted answer to that but it’s an answer nonetheless. When I was growing up, I grew up in a generation of Chinese Americans that was really, really focused on merging with American culture. Don’t stand out. Try to blend. Be assured that you’ll fit in so that you’ll succeed in American culture. That meant things like not learning Chinese. My parents spoke it but they wouldn’t speak it around me. They wanted me to speak English. They wanted me to blend.

I’m sorry for that. I would loved to have been bilingual. I’m also sorry that I missed out on a lot of Chinese culture. I grew up becoming an Anglophile and I should’ve grown up as a Cyanophile who was also an Anglophile. However, I’ve made up for that. I embrace Chinese culture and I embrace western culture and I see the value of both. I really do and I love the fact that I can claim both cultures.

Now I will admit that when I went back to China and visited Beijing, Shanghai, Zhuzhu, I wasn’t really perceived as Chinese. They really perceived me as a Westerner in many ways and that serves to reason. That’s how I was raised. That’s how I was groomed, to be a Westerner. So I love that experience of seeing Chinese culture first hand. If I were to put these sort of positives into one column and then these negatives into another column, I’d start with the positives. Such as, industriousness, value of hard work and the ability to persevere. You know the Chinese revere the rat. It’s one of the Chinese astrology symbols. They revere this animal because it’s pretty much be the one thing that survives when the rest of us are gone. So there’s a lot to be said about that kind of wherewithal and the Chinese have that.

Maybe on the negative side there is that there is a dismissiveness toward many things that I find important. For instance, protecting our environment or protecting public safety. I remember an environment example occurring while I was visiting. I was told by the interpreter that there was a small town in rural China. Just outside of where we were visiting. I don’t remember the town but I was told that the officials actually had the countryside spray painted green to make the mountains look green in preparation for some officials that were visiting from out of state. How amazing is that? Let’s just spray paint the side of the mountain. So that might go in the negative column for me.

American Spark TV:

https://www.americanspark.tv/

Overview

May-Lily Lee

Six-time regional Emmy award-winner May-Lily Lee has been called “Virginia’s Storyteller” for her more than two decades of distinctive work in Virginia Public Broadcasting. She began her path in journalism by graduating at age 19 from the University of Maryland, where she earned a scholarship as a Maryland Distinguished Scholar. She is a prominent figure in the fields of television and radio, particularly in the state of Virginia. Ms. Lee is not only one of the Praxis Circle’s Contributors, but also our video presenter and Profiles editor. Praxis Circle interviewed Ms. Lee because of her vast personal experience in exploring human interest stories and events, her engaging personality, and her relation to Praxis Circle since inception.
Transcript

Introduction: Interests and Current Project

May-Lily Lee:

First of all, Doug, I just want to say that I am really eager to have this dialogue with you and I think what you’re doing is fantastic. I think that having this kind of open discussion with people about their worldview is going to be big. It’s needed and it’s going to be big.

So, I know you want me to give a little bit of my background, which is obviously tough for me to do. I would rather sit here and just say, “Oh here’s my vitae. Here you go.” But I’ll talk a little bit about what I’ve done and what I’m doing now.

I’ve always been interested in media, even as a kid. So I’ve been blessed to work in the media for many, many years. That’s my joy. It’s what I love doing. Specifically I love story telling, and we can talk a little bit about what that entails maybe later on as we go through this discussion, but I love the idea of being in a field that entrusts us with good communication, open dialogue, exchanging ideas, and sharing stories. Stories are sacred, stories underscore our humanity, stories illuminate things that might not otherwise be illuminated. So I really have enjoyed a very enriching career in media. So that’s kind of what I’m been doing.

I have a new project, AmericanSpark.tv, and we tell stories about people who have creative passions. Can be just about anything, going all over the country. From the West Coast to the East Coast, down to Florida, up to the Northeast, and these stories are just wonderful. I have been getting some fantastic feedback from people who just stumble upon our stories. Some of them have called them addictive nuggets. Other people say, “This is the kind of stuff we need to see”. So that affirmation’s really great. So AmericanSpark.tv.

May Lily’s Bio Overview

May-Lily Lee:

I was born in Washington, DC, and I’m really proud of that because it is such a transient town that not a lot of people are born in DC and then stay in the area. Most people tend to flock to DC, and maybe even pass through DC, but not a lot of people can say, “I was born in DC,” and I’m really proud of that. So I grew up in the suburbs of Washington, DC, and I went to a small Catholic school, St. Vincent Pilate High School. After years of public school education, and I have to say that that private school education was the best. I really enjoyed it. As liberal as I am, I have to say that that private schooling for me made a difference. And there are many reasons why. One was size. It was a very small school. Another is that I became very curious about the Catholic religion through my time with the school, and I just felt I had the best teachers. So I don’t think my comment about loving St. Vincent Pilate has anything to do with the discussion of private versus public education. It really doesn’t. It has to do with the fact that I loved that school. And it’s still around today.

Unfortunately for me, I didn’t get to enjoy it for very long because I graduated high school early. My friend Eric dissuaded me from doing this. He said, “You’re not equipped to go to college at this stage of life. Don’t do it.” He didn’t think I was equipped socially, or maybe emotionally or whatever, and then when I heard his argument around that I thought, “Well now I need to go prove it.” So, I graduated high school early, I went to college early, went to University of Maryland on a Maryland distinguished scholar scholarship.

Now a lot of Asians play the piano, so I knew that in competing for this scholarship I didn’t want to be another Asian playing the piano, although I was one. So what I did for my performing arts was a magic show. That and my grades got me in. I love that story because I don’t know how many other magicians earned that scholarship.

So anyway, I went to Maryland and I went with the same idea in mind. I really just wanted to get that diploma, graduate as quickly as possible and start working. So ultimately, I finished college in two and a half years. Clepping exams to get credits for courses. Going to summer classes and also just piling on the credits, and so I was 19 when I graduated from Maryland. I don’t regret that, but I don’t have a college experience behind me. I never lived on campus, I really never knew what it was like to truly relax and be in a campus atmosphere. It felt more like I was on a mission. Maryland was kind of the goal to get through and then get to the other side. But having said that, I loved my time at Maryland. It was a great campus to explore and expand, and it was through that campus that I landed my first internship. So, it was really valuable to me in terms of getting a stepping stone into broadcasting.

I was able to actually score two internships because one in one semester was with the NBC affiliate, WRC TV in DC, and the other was with WTTG TV, which is now a Fox affiliate. So, oh my gosh, that was the best to be introduced to these real news rooms early on, right out of college.

Who shaped your life the most early on?

May-Lily Lee:

So, when we talk about who’s integral through our lives, I can’t think of anyone who doesn’t say my parents, so it feels forced to say that, but truly, my parents were amazing people, in every way. They were the best parents. They were great role models. I was spoiled in that, not materially spoiled, but emotionally spoiled in that I was pretty much the only child.

My brother was 18 years older than I was when I was born, so he was already off to Randolph-Macon College and doing his thing, and here I come along. I really was an only child growing up, so I really feel like I got the kind of attention that helped shape who I am. They let me do anything. They were as adventure-some and inquisitive and curious as I was.

They didn’t put any kind of constraints on what I wanted to explore. You want to do ceramics? Do ceramics. You want to play the piano? Play the piano! And I did all of these things, thanks to their creating an environment that said, “You’re okay. You want to try something? Go for it; we’re not going to hold you back.” And that’s the way they were. In fact, I’m thinking back on a time when I was playing piano, and I’d already passed the test, meaning, they didn’t want to invest in a brand new piano without knowing I was going to be committed to it.

They saw that I had this $30 Magnus court organ that I had already played the heck out of it. It was like, “Okay, looks like she’s ready to move on,” and so I got the piano. And I really took it seriously. It was not as if my parents said, “And now you will play the piano, because that’s what we expect of you,” and I don’t think parents can get good results from that anyway.

What they allowed me to do was to decide if I liked it or not, and encouraged me once I did. In fact, I was practicing piano often, not liking the boring exercises you have to do, and there was my brother’s guitar, next to the piano, along with a really cool chord chart. In between, I would kind of check out his guitar and start teaching myself chords. Before I knew, I became as much a guitarist as a pianist.

I really, really feel like my parents set the stage for all of that. It wasn’t just musical arts; it was just about anything. I’m a terrible, terrible visual artist, which is why I appreciate great visual artists and love to explore visual art, as well. I can’t say because I can’t do it I admire it; it’s because I understand how difficult it is to achieve great art.

Anyway, those are all things that really, really sort of set the stage. My parents were even there when … I was a full-grown adult, and I got an offer to work down in Richmond with the CBS affiliate, WTVR TV, that would have been my first on-air reporting job with a television station, and they needed an audition. What did I do? I went to my parents and said, “Hey, do you want to go down to Richmond with me?” And we drove together to the station. They waited in the parking lot while I did my audition. Came out, “Hey, how’d it go, honey?” “I think it went pretty well; I think I might get the job.” And then we drove back up to DC together. They really, really were huge in my life.

Any similar stories from your career? The Glass Castle & Jeannette Walls

May Lily Lee:

Both of my parents were dreamers, and they instilled that in me. And not too long ago I had a chance to interview Jeannette Walls of The Glass Castle fame. She tells a story about how her father was so adventuresome. There are lots of issues going around, like homelessness and issues around maybe alcohol, but to the core, he was adventuresome, he was curious, he was open. She talks about a night that, it was right around the holidays, and he gets all the kids to look up at the stars, and says, “Kids, it’s Christmas. I want you to pick a star and that will be yours.” And Jeannette Walls looks up at the sky and says, “Well, you know, what I really want is Venus. It’s so bright.” And he says, “Well, it’s not a star. It’s a planet. But what the heck, it’s Christmas. You want Venus, you can have Venus.”

I just love that story, because it really encapsulates that a good parent shapes who you are for the rest of your life. Look at what she did with that. She took a story about a very difficult upbringing, and turned it into something with a more positive bent to it. She discusses it. She talks about how her sister looks back on certain things that were done by their father, and laments those things. Well, can you believe he did that? And can you believe he did that? And they’ll look at the same event that occurred, but both with very different lenses. And I often think that goes to the worldviews that we all have. Each of us can a very different lens on the exact same event.

Passion? What are your words? Commitment, Curiosity, Tolerance

May Lily Lee:

So, I’ve heard the word passionate used a lot, and I’ll hear it from newcomers to either broadcasting, or newcomers to music, and they’ll say I’m passionate about this. But the time hasn’t been committed, and you don’t see a history of involvement in it, so I’m a little leery about the overuse of the word passionate. What are you passionate about? Maybe you’re excited about something, but I’d love to hear more people say I’m committed to. And then I’m going to listen. I’m interested in what you’re committed to.

Now, another thing I might use as a cousin to this question about what we’re passionate about is what are you curious about? I’m curious about so much, and I believe that drives me, believe it drives my interest in journalism, in working in story-telling. There’s so much I’m curious about. Whether it’s technical gear that I might be looking at for a video production, or some new musical gear for recording and interfaces with your computer, or whether it’s about people’s religious beliefs, and getting prepared for this in a way that I found myself looking up things in a more scholarly way, but completely into it, because as I started to prepare for this interview that for me would be very new. I’ve never been asked these questions by anyone before.

I started realizing, wow, well that opens up yet this other question. And, you know, I hadn’t considered this other question, and so I really felt engaged by all of this, because I am curious. And I do feel like people who are uncurious and intolerant are scary. I would rather meet someone who has really, really considered all sides, or as Beth has said, looked at everybody’s red wagon and noticed that your red wagon is different from my red wagon, and different from that red wagon. Someone curious will take note of that, and start asking about, well, where did your red wagon come from? How comes yours is rusty? And I feel that that drive is really important. I wish it for everybody.

Plane Flight with an Economist

May Lily Lee:

In my career in media, I’ve interviewed hundreds of people. They run the gamete from well-known to little-known. From true serious, serious interviews to real character interviews that were just fun and entertaining, and in their own way, uplifting. But though there are many, many stories that I can pull there are actually two stories for this particular project I want to share with you. And both of them happened when I was on a plane. I would think that maybe, maybe just thinking as journalist or being open to discussing something with the person seated next to me, maybe that’s what led to these. But these weren’t stories that I was assigned to. They weren’t projects I was working on. It just happened to happen.

The first one occurred on a plane trip. I was seated next to an economist and was discussing all kinds of things with him. I minored in econ, so I was interested in what he had to say. But there was one case study that he shared with me. I will never forget. He said, “You know, there’s been a study about comparative psychology and how it plays into how we interact with each other, how we move in the world.” I was very interested at that setup.

He said, “There’s a there was a study done of people who were offered option A or option B. Option A is you are making $50,000 a year and everybody else is making $25,000 a year. Option A sounds pretty good. Option B is you’re making twice that. You are making $100,000 a year, but everybody else is making $250,000. Now, assuming that everything else is exactly the same … The cost of butter is exactly the same. Prices don’t change because of your correlation to them. You can get and acquire and purchase all the things you would normally purchase right this minute. So all the other things that are in place now are still in place. The only difference being the comparative amounts that other people are making. And most people picked Option B. They would rather make half the amount of money than make less than everybody else. So this was huge for me. This really opened up and parted, for me, the clouds. I thought, “If that’s really the way majority of the people operate in life, and that is to be comparative and to … Hey, I wonder how they’re doing? How are they holding up against me?” Then I found that completely eye-opening. It helped inform, for me, why people do some of the things they do.

I’ll be perfectly frank with you. I’ve never been a comparative person because I really like what I’m doing. I know that’s hard to believe but I think it’s pretty simple. When you’re doing exactly what you want to be doing, it doesn’t matter what everyone else is doing.

I feel that that was such an important insight. That, to me, had nothing to do with economics. Thought it was a very great insight for me to understand people socially, professionally, and in every other way. And that all happened on a plane ride.

“Airplane” Again! With a Pastor (and Jesus) this Time

May-Lily Lee:

Another event that occurred on a plane was meeting a woman who was a pastor, only she had not been a pastor all her adult life. In fact, far from it. And she told me the story of how she had not been involved in the church except to be a church goer and that one day Jesus appeared before her. Now one might argue that “Yeah, yeah right. Jesus appeared before you, but you’re a little either three sheets to the wind right now or you have a couple of nuts loose,” but this woman was completely sane. She was engaging and lively and intelligent and just a truly interesting person. So, I completely believed her and she describes the detail of it, how this happened in her home and how Jesus appeared and spoke to her and indicated that she needed to pursue a career in the clergy. And sure enough, she did it and followed that path.

Now, I’ve ever experienced anything close to what she’s experienced in terms of a full on materialization, as a full on verbalization, and a directive as to what to do. Nothing like that. I was awed by it and I believe her and I feel that that is so powerful and it didn’t matter whether she was someone telling me that someone appeared and said “Go practice Buddhism,” that someone appeared and said “You need to be a Muslim.” I was completely riveted by her belief in exactly what happened and by her sure and steady pursuit of that career that she has no doubt about. That to me is faith.

Regular People and “Worldview”: Should we care? Be open?

May Lily Lee:

I think a lot of people understand that others have differing opinions. I’m not sure that everyone latches on to the word worldview, I think lot of people think of that as academic. I think it’s important that people be polite to each other. That people be curious about, well, tell me more about your view, about your worldview.

I often see this sort of disregard for other people’s worldview. Growing up, a great example would be, that I started to discover that Christmas was the holiday we took off. Oh, and so was Easter. But what about Rosh Hashanah, what about Yom Kippur, what about Passover? That was when I started thinking about how much credence do we give to all of the different worldviews?

Now, I read a great article about one of my favorite magic acts, Penn and Teller. Penn Jillette is actually more than just a magician, he’s also a thoughtful, and open, and out there atheist. He talks about his worldview in a very, very, very engaging manner. I mean, actually shares a story about how after one of his shows, a very, very nice gentle fan came up to him, someone he really liked immediately. Came up to him and gave him a small Bible and inscribed something in the Bible and said, “I want you to read this. I think you’re fantastic. Please have a look.”

Now, I know what you’re thinking, that Penn probably said, “Get out of here, you’re trying to proselytize me.” It’s the complete opposite. Penn appreciated that this man was sharing his faith and here’s why. Because he believes, like I think many of us do, if you truly believe in what you perceive to be the actual series of events that will occur to you if this action is not taken, and you don’t then share that with somebody, then, are you really being their friend?

Despite the fact that we don’t want to make people feel uncomfortable, we don’t want to make people feel socially awkward. No, this man has enough faith in his own faith to say, “I really like you. Here’s a Bible, I’d love it if you’d check it out.” Or, “Here’s a Bible, I think you really need to check it out because it can save you.”

Now, I love his take on that because it says, “I’m open enough to understand that you really believe that and that you like me enough to get past that social awkwardness and tell me what you need to tell me. If you thought there was a train rushing toward me, you would tell me to get out of the way.”

Coming Together, Being Open

May-Lily Lee:

But here’s one way that sometimes, those differing world views might come together. I know that I made some pre-suppositions about my neighbor, Christian, missionary, lived in Pakistan, brought his whole family over there, and worked as a missionary for many years, embedded in Pakistan. My pre-supposition may be, “Oh, I may be too much of an agnostic in his view. I may not be someone he even wants to talk to.” Turns out, he’s an incredible generous, generous of spirit, generous as a neighbor kind of person, and a real tolerant person.

The opposite of what I thought he might be. I thought maybe, based on my worldview of his worldview that he might be intolerant, and he wasn’t. In fact, I was further impressed by his commitment to his faith in that he’s a doctor. He could have made a completely different career choice and earned four times as much as what he’s earned as a missionary. But that’s not his choice, and I really respect that.
May-Lily Lee: Again, it’s about my being open to him if he’s going to be open to me and his treating him with respect. I just think people need to be polite to each other.

Shaping Personal Worldview as an Adult

May Lily Lee:

So, one of the things that I really find interesting to share with you, although I don’t feel like I’ve told this story very often, is that my brother taught Sunday school, my mother taught the children’s choir, and they were both involved in the Baptist church. And then I came along, and about the time that they were fading out in their involvement in those things … At least around me. My brother moved away, or wasn’t around, and my mom was no longer involved with the church, I developed my own interest in the Christian church. And by the time I was 12, I was asking questions. I wanted to know. They gave me a Living Bible. This was all me trying to get answers to what it meant to be a Christian. And I was sold. I wanted to be baptized, so at age 12 I was baptized. And to be a Christian, at least within that neighborhood and within that church and within that setting, was to say, “I accept The Lord Jesus Christ as my Lord and Savior.” That’s the crux of it.

And then I became a teenager and started turning into a young adult with new questions about what it meant to be a Christian, and I wasn’t getting the answers that I’d hoped for, and so I eventually separated from the Christian church. And we could go into a long discussion just about that, but I think you understand. There are certain things that just aren’t answered, and when you don’t get those answers, if you have an inquisitive mind, if you’re kind of a scientist at heart, then you have to sort of abandon ship, which is what I did.

And my brother tried to help me. He said, “You can’t take Christian faith as some sort of doctrine that’s been handed to you. Why not consider it a smorgasbord and just pick and choose what works for you?” And I thought that was a really great view of his, and I’ll bet that’s what he does, too. And he is a Christian. I just didn’t feel like there was enough for me to do that with, either. And so one of the things that comes to mind is that I didn’t feel a loss by saying this isn’t working for me, I just simply felt I was on a path toward spiritual discovery. I’m looking. This is not the answer. Let me see what might be.

Personal Worldview: A Lifelong Process

May-Lily Lee:

And I suppose I could’ve landed with Buddhism or I could’ve landed with another institutional religion, for instance. I didn’t, and I’ll tell you the story about what has transpired over time, but a lot of this is all about a process for me and for many of my friends. One of my friends went to seminary, got her PhD in theology, and entered into that school as an atheist. Guess what happened at the backend when she got her degree? She became more of an atheist!

And so for everybody, that experience is so unique, and I find that it is such a personal discussion Why I’m finding this to be so great is that I’m sharing something very personal with you, but by the time I was deciding as an adult I am not a Christian … I was a Christian. That was my worldview back then. It isn’t now. That by the time I was asked by other Christians, “Oh, dear, have you accepted Jesus? Oh, are you a Christian?” and I felt that there was a proselytizing or maybe, more to the point, a judgment behind it. I always felt someone was asking, “What color underwear are you wearing?” That’s how personal that search is for people, and that is the social awkwardness that a lot of people talk about when trying to bridge those gaps. How can you ask somebody about their faith or engage them in a faith discussion without putting it to them like you’re asking them what color underwear they’re wearing.

The Worldview Test

May-Lily Lee:

I skimmed through the worldview book, and I looked for what category I might fall into, based on your recommendation. And the closest category I found that describes my spiritual path was quasi-theist. I like the sound of it. It sounds fancy. I have never considered myself a quasi-theist, but I’ve never read the book before.

Then I tried to go deeper and see what sub-categories under quasi-theist would fit me, and I couldn’t find one. So that’s it, I’m a quasi-theist. And part of the reason for that is because I am still on a spiritual path, and trying to pinpoint something with a category is really tough, with me and with many others.

You look at my library, you have a really big library, but so do I. I’ve got some Joel Osteen, next to some Deepak Chopra, next to Brian Weiss, next to Carlos Castaneda, I have it all. Because that’s the direction that I’m heading, is all directions. “Hey, what can I learn about this person’s worldview? What can I learn about this person’s worldview?” And it’s really, really tough to try to then take someone who’s in that process, still fluidly looking for…The answers is just so passe to say, but looking for more and more information, is tough to do, is tough to classify. So I was able to stick with the big umbrella, but I wasn’t able to classify myself further.

And also I learned, through some of that research, something I’d never known before, which is that there are tens of thousands of denominations of religion in the world, and although this is arguable as a number, people generally fall on 30,000 different denominations of Christianity, which is phenomenal, in my mind. Absolutely phenomenal. And it brings to mind the fact that that means we all look, even at a faith, through a different lens. Not just with different faiths, do we have different lenses, but within one institutional religion, we have many different lenses.

A Defining Moment

May-Lily Lee:

Many years ago, I was moving out of the house I had lived in for 13 years. I was packing up my books. I’ve told you what a bibliophile I am, and most of the house had been completely vacated of furnishings, and really the books and a few things were still there.

Something happened that was completely unexpected, like momentous occasions can be. It took me completely by surprise. In fact, when something like that happens, you don’t appreciate it in the moment. All you can do is reflect on it, and reflect on it some more, and let it guide your life, which is what happened to me.

While I was sitting there on the floor, amidst the few remaining books of my house I was leaving, there was a voice. Now, it’s not like this Jesus came to the pastor, it wasn’t like that at all. It didn’t even have a distinctive voice. It was my own voice, but I knew I wasn’t talking to myself.

So, I call it “the voice”, but essentially the voice said, “We are all one energy.” Had I been maybe tinkering with some books or thinking about how to dismantle the bookshelf, I probably would’ve missed it. But I remember it with such clarity, and it really, really just knocked my socks off. We are all one energy.

Ever since then, I have seriously contemplated that’s exactly what is. That works for me. That really works for me, because I don’t believe in ignoring things that your intuition brings you, that maybe God brings you, whoever that might be. I definitely can’t dismiss that moment. We are all one energy.

So, I do feel that, and it was really, really heartening, because I’ve never considered myself an atheist. I think atheists are very brave to consider that we are dead when we are dead, and that there is nothing else, is the most brave stance a person can take. I’ve never been that. However, this felt for me like affirmation for what I tend to believe in, that there is continuity and meaning to all of this, and that we are all one energy.

Who is God?

May-Lily Lee:

So God isn’t a white, white-bearded man, like I learned as a 12-year-old. And Jesus wasn’t a Caucasian man either, he was Middle Eastern. So when I think about that, do I think of God as a person? Not now, no. And I think of God as an energy force, or as this one energy that unites all of us. And that’s not easy. That’s not some pat thing that I can now live my life to, because it suggests that I have to treat everybody as part of that energy.

And this is where it goes back to my Christian background. I used to have regular, regular recitations of the Lord’s Prayer, and I would always stop, Doug, when it was time to say that part about forgiving others. Forgive those who trespass against us. I would stop, and I’d let everybody else say that part, because I did not want to be a hypocrite.

And so, to think about the fact that all of us are one, means to forgive everybody. And I’m a human being, that’s tough. That’s really tough. But that leads us to our love question, which we’ll talk about in a minute too.

Worldview Attributes and Influences

May-Lily Lee:

Love is so important and I’m glad you’re introducing that to this discussion. That is as important as having this discussion and including humor in the discussion.

Let’s talk about things that matter, and when I grew up, as a young person looking at the Christian faith, that Jesus was loving and he was accepting, and he didn’t talk about pointing out sins that you must overcome and all of this. He was a cool dude who loved, and it didn’t matter what station of life you were in. He loved you.

That is not the same Christ figure that I’ve been seeing in depictions of Christianity. These new ways in which I’ve discovered Christian representation have a lot to do with righteousness, have a lot to do with not a lot of love, not a lot of tolerance, and that is a little off-putting to me. I prefer that old-fashioned brand of Christianity. I prefer the old standard of what Jesus was.

And I actually had a chance to meet in my adult years, Robert Schuler, a pastor I absolutely loved, listening to and watching on a regular basis as a child. Fast-forward to meeting him in L.A. at an awards ceremony, and I told him this, I went up to him after everything had settled down, and in the hallway said, “You were hugely influential to me as a young person,” and he was quite rude and surprisingly not a loving person.

I was really surprised by that. Wow, that is a memory that hasn’t escaped me. This is a man who should embody love, but doesn’t. So, there are plenty of people who perhaps are Christians, who don’t embrace love, and there are plenty of non-Christians who do.

And it doesn’t go just to Christianity. I think, oftentimes, there’s too much dogma in religion and not enough love.

What kind of God?

May Lily Lee:

So this is an interesting question. I haven’t considered this, but you’re asking about this comparison between having a loving relationship with a god. In my case, to me, we are all one energy … Kind of is my god. What is my relationship to that? I don’t think I have a relationship to that. I think I’m informed by that knowledge.

So, therefore, try to remember that in my dealings with people. I don’t believe that there is a relationship to that energy. I feel that there is a relationship between me and other people.

Is there a spiritual world?

May-Lily Lee:

I do believe there is a spiritual world apart from our physical world. And I think that can be tied to institutional religion and it may not be tied to any institutional religion. I feel it’s there, for reasons I discussed earlier. I’ll read books by some people who talk about other alternate places. I’ve read Sylvia Brown, for instance, a psychic, who talks about an afterlife. And I’m intrigued by her writing, but when she starts to talk about the fact that in the afterlife, we have condos and jobs, can’t quite adopt that for myself. However, I am opening to hearing about her other take…Other takes on the world and the spiritual world and the world beyond. She’s just one example about how I’m interested in knowing how people feel about these things.

One of my favorite readings is the autobiography of a yogi. And it is an amazing story of a young man who took to monastic life in India and ultimately, ended up moving here and setting up a complete establishment in California, an ashram here. When he died, it is said that he continued to be preserved beyond the number of days a corpse would be preserved. His body still glowed. It didn’t disintegrate. It didn’t start fading the way all of the other bodies might through stages of decomposition. He simply didn’t adhere to this basic, scientific fact. A lot of people said that was a tribute to his spirit. He stayed on, is what people would interpret from that.

I love those … And he talks about actually lifting and levitating in spiritual practice. I love reading about that. Have I ever experienced any of those things? No. But I believe. He’s got me on that. I know I lost Sylvia Brown on the condos and the jobs in the afterlife, but I really believe that those things are possible and those are beyond the physical. Those go to the spiritual.

Media Personality Types

May-Lily Lee:

There was a study done on narcissism. And The social scientists concluded that the top narcissists were found as CEOs and in journalism. Those were the most narcissistic people. I was really interested in that because I could see that. Media attracts, I think, that kind of personality. But I’ll bet you if that study were done now and five years from now, they’d find that we’re moving toward a culture of narcissism anyway, because social media puts us there. “Here’s what I did. I went out to the store and I got this Diet Coke six pack. And here’s another thing I did.” And there’s so much narcissism now that our whole culture is going to have to rethink what it is to ask questions about other people and get into real dialogues with other people.

But media, I could see, would be a huge draw for narcissistic personalities. I’m drawn to it. I don’t consider myself narcissistic. I do think I’m curious. I do think that it’s a perfect marriage for the curious. Lots of people are simply journalists because they love people’s stories and not even in a gossipy way either, not in that way that, “Oh, I got something on you.” I always really, really, really was repulsed by that kind of journalism, the kind of “gotcha” journalism that seems to prevail. I like the kind of journalism that tells a good story, that maybe intrigues you enough for you to go investigate this subject or this person even more. That’s what I like.

Journalistic Standards

May-Lily Lee:

I’d like to talk about journalistic standards. I feel that they have fallen. I think that Walter Cronkite would probably turn over in his grave. It’s not the same world. We’re not journalists anymore. We’re something completely different. Media is changing so much that television doesn’t even really play a role anymore. Now the internet plays a role. Not only that, now our phone plays a role. We watch more videos on our phones than we do on a television set. So there’s a lot that’s going on right this minute that’s constantly evolving and changing the way we think of media.

That means journalistic standards are going way, way down. There are so many ways to create disinformation on the internet and beyond, that who knows what’s real journalism anymore? However, to talk about subjectivity versus objectivity, I think it’s fair to say that even in the old school days of journalism, we still infused subjectivity. How could we not? By who we select to interview. By making that one choice we’re making a subjective choice. By deciding what stays on the edit room floor and what goes into the story, that’s a subjective choice too. So I always had a hard time trying to understand what people meant when they say, “Are you objective?” I think we’re as objective, that is true journalists, are as objective as they can be.

Now, the kind of story-telling I do now isn’t predicated upon right or wrong. Did you include all of these political factions when doing this story? The kind of stories I do now celebrate the creative spirit. So there’s a lot more latitude. It’s a form of journalism but it isn’t the kind that relies upon subjective or objective reporting in the way that a network story about the latest political story.

Media Trends

May-Lily Lee:

Now there are a couple of things happening that I find intriguing because I think one of the biggest things that media can provide is a forum for people to have open dialog, share ideas and exchange their viewpoints with each other. You might say “their worldviews” with one another. One of the things I noticed in commercial news is that the length of the typical news story has shrunk dramatically. You’d get two and a half minutes. Now a one and a half minute story is more the norm. A minute and a half. How can you share, in an engaging way, anything in a minute and a half? You can’t, so that’s something I lament.

On the other hand, we see the increased number of talk programs. People who are hosting shows and getting guests on for a whole half-hour block or people who are engaging in dialog more than ever before. You would never have seen this kind of time given to what would have then been just news time. “Here’s our news show. This is what we’ve allotted. There’s no time for talk programming.” Now there’s a huge proliferation of talk programming, so that’s actually a good thing. That really allows people to converse and in a way I wonder if it’s a backlash to the fact that everything has become so catered to the ADD personality. “Well we better get this done in a minute and a half because that’s all the attention this person has.” Maybe the talk programs are allowing that part of our national discourse to blossom.

Is truth relative in reporting?

May Lily Lee:

When I was interning at WRC-TV, I worked with a wonderful journalist. His names Arch Campbell. Arch Campbell is known all over the DC area as a movie critic, but really his roots go back to journalism. He’s a Texas journalist and through and through he believes in all of the principles of good journalism, good story-telling. And one of the most important nuggets he shared with me is “Don’t put it down if it’s not true. Verify. Make sure that what you’re writing, you fact checked.”

I remember being told by a reporter with the Post, the Washington Post, that they’re required with certain articles to fact check three different points. If you’ve written something down, you better have three different touchpoints to verify that fact. Wonder if that’s true still, but it makes a great point, which is don’t write it if it’s not true. I think we could all benefit from remembering that and going back to our roots. Yeah, technology has changed and media has morphed into something we never could’ve even imagined, but that tenant should be just as important today as ever.

Appreciation

May-Lily Lee:

So, this is going to be a convoluted answer to that but it’s an answer nonetheless. When I was growing up, I grew up in a generation of Chinese Americans that was really, really focused on merging with American culture. Don’t stand out. Try to blend. Be assured that you’ll fit in so that you’ll succeed in American culture. That meant things like not learning Chinese. My parents spoke it but they wouldn’t speak it around me. They wanted me to speak English. They wanted me to blend.

I’m sorry for that. I would loved to have been bilingual. I’m also sorry that I missed out on a lot of Chinese culture. I grew up becoming an Anglophile and I should’ve grown up as a Cyanophile who was also an Anglophile. However, I’ve made up for that. I embrace Chinese culture and I embrace western culture and I see the value of both. I really do and I love the fact that I can claim both cultures.

Now I will admit that when I went back to China and visited Beijing, Shanghai, Zhuzhu, I wasn’t really perceived as Chinese. They really perceived me as a Westerner in many ways and that serves to reason. That’s how I was raised. That’s how I was groomed, to be a Westerner. So I love that experience of seeing Chinese culture first hand. If I were to put these sort of positives into one column and then these negatives into another column, I’d start with the positives. Such as, industriousness, value of hard work and the ability to persevere. You know the Chinese revere the rat. It’s one of the Chinese astrology symbols. They revere this animal because it’s pretty much be the one thing that survives when the rest of us are gone. So there’s a lot to be said about that kind of wherewithal and the Chinese have that.

Maybe on the negative side there is that there is a dismissiveness toward many things that I find important. For instance, protecting our environment or protecting public safety. I remember an environment example occurring while I was visiting. I was told by the interpreter that there was a small town in rural China. Just outside of where we were visiting. I don’t remember the town but I was told that the officials actually had the countryside spray painted green to make the mountains look green in preparation for some officials that were visiting from out of state. How amazing is that? Let’s just spray paint the side of the mountain. So that might go in the negative column for me.

Reference

American Spark TV:

https://www.americanspark.tv/

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