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God. Life. Spirituality.

An Evening with Krista Tippett

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Krista Tippett reading from her book

Krista Tippett reading from her book “Speaking of Faith.”

Krista Tippett is the host of the Peabody Award-winning public radio program and podcast On Being (formerly known as Speaking of Faith). In 2014, she was also awarded the National Humanities Medal by U.S. President Barack Obama.

Growing up in the 60s in a religiously conservative family, she was deeply influenced by his grandfather, the Reverend C. T. Perkins. She later traces her attraction to religion to him.

My later fascination with religion had surely to do with his singular integrity among all the members of my family. Here I use that word integrity strictly; he had it all together, for better or worse. He discerned certain truths about the nature of the universe, and he lived by them. They both clarified and constrained his range of vision and movement.

Though he had only a third-grade education, he was a highly intelligent man.

…though, he only had a third-grade education, my grandfather possessed a strange prodigious intelligence. He could perform complex mathematical feats in his head. After his death, I inherited the bibles he studied and preached by — mighty leather-bound King James versions with feather-thin pages — and found page after page marked with notes, annotations, cross-references, every margin full of observations that speak to a love for the life of the mind. From an early age I sensed this in myself, an unlearned pleasure I could take in ideas, the written word, and the thoughts in my head, their powers of making sense.

However, some family members thought he was a tyrant, but she thought otherwise.

I could never buy in to the popular idea in our family that he was a tyrant. He was funny. He told jokes. He laughed easily. He bought a farm after he retired from evangelizing, planted a vegetable garden, and lovingly built wooden birdhouses. Even as he preached hellfire and brimstone, he had a sense of play. He was a man of God with a sense of humor — and to this day, that is a combination I admire and seek out.

Above all:

He taught me to trust in an overriding sense behind the universe. I learned from him to look for grace and for truths that reveal themselves, at times, baldly, but just as often, between the cracks in my ability to see and hear what is important. Above all, he imparted me with a sense of belovedness woven into the very fabric of life.

But as she moved away from Oklahoma, where she grew up, religion ceased to make sense to her. For most of the 80s, for most of her 20s she lived in Germany.

Starting out as a freelance journalist (writing and reporting for The New York Times, Newsweek, the BBC, the International Herald Tribune, and Die Zeit), she ended up working as a diplomat for the Reagan administration. First, as a special political assistant to the senior diplomat in West Berlin; and, after a year, as the chief aide in Berlin to the U.S. ambassador to West Germany.

During those times, however, she began to ponder the moral questions arising from her experience of being close to the powers-that-be. This led her again to explore religion and spirituality.

One of the religious thinkers that influenced her during this period of her life was the original memoirist of the Holocaust, Eli Weisel. Eli Wiesel was visiting Berlin for the first time since the Holocaust when she heard him speak before a group of young Germans. She was struck when he said:

I had never before considered that it could be as painful to be a child of those who ran the camps as a child of those who died in them.

Deeply moved by what she heard, she writes:

I was astonished that Wiesel, a victim of German genocide, was open to seeing the tragedy and the resilience of the human spirit on every side of it. His words unsettled and moved me. They stirred conclusions I was struggling to articulate in that country with a tortured past and present. I was thoroughly caught up in the enduring strategic, geopolitical consequences of Germany’s descent into Nazi terror. Yet through Elie Wiesel’s eyes, goals like human redemption and healing — and not just retribution, economic rebuilding, and balances of power — also appeared urgent. I felt that Wiesel’s words belonged on the front pages of newspapers, that they should be shouted to the world. But I believe this had nothing to do with God. Wiesel’s faith, as he wrote in Night, had been consumed forever by the flames of the ovens at Auschwitz. Two decades would pass before I could speak with him again, and be surprised again by his words.

Burnt-out, she resigned from her job as a diplomat in Berlin, and spent some time on the Spanish island of Mallorca. She describes this period of her life in this manner:

Quiet and submission born of fatigue were the beginnings of wisdom for me after Berlin. Fresh air and the sun’s warmth, almond and apricot and lemon trees, fresh bread and strong Spanish coffee, the ocean in late afternoon — these were its elements. I handed my resignation to the ambassador and his wife, believing I was headed for Washington in a matter of months. But first I decided to go back to one of the most beautiful places I had ever visited — Deia, a village ringed by mountains on the Spanish island of Mallorca. I put my furniture into storage and packed two suitcases, out of which I would live, as it turned out, for the next two years.

Alone in Deia, I began to realize how tired and confused I was. I felt this physically, before I could turn it into ideas and words. This was salutary for me. I had made my way through the world up to now — and this is still my greatest virtue and vice rolled together — by my wits alone, headfirst. I forced myself out of bed at daybreak every day and rushed a silly, shallow novel about Berlin into being. I thought this was my purpose for being there and the accomplishment I would have to show for it. But in moments I thought were not productive, I looked out the tiny window by my desk. I saw a mountain, sky, and air that dwarfed nuclear weapons and the life and death they seemed to threaten. I breathed deeply. The world began to realign itself more generously, or rather my vision did. None of this was logical, none of it made sense.

Early, quite early, I put away most of the books I brought along. I read Rilke, whom I had loved for years and whose gorgeous iconoclastic language felt right in this place. I reread his advice to a young poet: ‘to have patience with everything unresolved in your heart and to try to love the questions themselves as if they were locked rooms or books written in a very foreign language. Don’t search for the answers, which could not be given to you now because you would not be able to live them. And the point is to live everything. Live the questions now. Perhaps then, someday far in the future, you will gradually, without even noticing it, live your way into the answer.’

She eventually went back to the U.S., and studied theology for most of the early 90s at Yale Divinity School. The idea for a public radio show came to her while serving as a consultant to the Institute for Ecumenical and Cultural Research at Saint John’s Abbey and University of Collegeville, Minnesota. She wanted to conduct a conversation about faith, religion and spirituality in a way “that doesn’t proselytize, exclude, anger, or offend.”

Starting out as an occasional feature in 2000, it evolved, starting in 2003, as a weekly program. Since then she has interviewed theologians, scientists, educators, physicians, social activists, poets, and even atheists and agnostics.

…the words ‘atheist’ and ‘agnostic’ are narrowing boxes in our culture as well. Spiritual questions don’t go away, nor does a sense of wonder and mystery cease, in the absence of a belief in God. Non-religious people are some of the most fervent seekers of our age, energetically crafting lives of meaning.

In 2007, she wrote the book Speaking of Faith. Part memoir, part reflections on the issues of the day – it is also a record of the insights she gained from her weekly interviews of her conversation partners.

To watch her read excerpts from her book to a live audience at the Fitzgerald Theater in St. Paul, Minnesota, click this link:

An Evening with Krista Tippett

— Matt

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Written by MattAndJojang

April 30, 2015 at 1:57 pm

2 Responses

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  1. I greatly enjoy the On Being podcast and I discovered it through your blog.

    I was privileged to be able to see Krista Tippett record 3 episodes at the Wild Goose Festival two years ago. Thanks again for making me aware of her wonderful podcast.

    Bill

    May 3, 2015 at 10:10 am

  2. You’re welcome, Bill!

    Same here. Since I discovered On Being about 7 or 8 years ago, I’ve enjoyed listening to it very much. Krista Tippett has introduced me to interesting people whom I find inspiring. Her open-minded, inclusive and intelligent approach to religion and spirituality has opened up a conversation that many find illuminating, and a source of intellectual and spiritual vitality.

    For some, it is their only source of spiritual nourishment. For instance, when President Barack Obama awarded to her the National Humanities Medal in 2014, the President mentioned to her that his brother-in-law considers her podcast as his church. Also, I came across a person who had blog in the internet, and he calls himself as a member of the church of Krista Tippett!

    By the way, I just got hold of her book Speaking of Faith and I’m enjoying reading it. Part memoir, part reflections on the major issues of the day – it is a record of the evolution of her intellectual views and spiritual theology. A great read!

    –Matt

    MattAndJojang

    May 3, 2015 at 7:26 pm


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