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Please join Melissa Studdard and Tiferet Journal on 1/09/14, from 7-7:30 PM EST, for a conversation with author, journalist, producer, and talk show host Krista Tippett about her non-fiction works Speaking of Faith and Einstein's God, and her radio program, On Being.
Speaking of Faith is a memoir of religion in our time and covers Tippett’s move from geopolitical engagement to theology and the cumulative wisdom of her interviews. Of Speaking of Faith, Elizabeth Gilbert says, "Her intelligence is like a salve for all who have been wounded or marginalized by the God Wars."
Tippett’s program On Being is currently broadcast on more than 200 public radio stations in the United States and globally via NPR Worldwide, its website, and its podcast. Tippett has described her work with the program as "tracing the intersection between great religious ideas and human experience, between theology and real life."
Tippet holds a history degree from Brown and a Masters of Divinity from Yale, and she has served as a freelance foreign correspondent (reporting and writing for The Times, Newsweek, the BBC, the International Herald Tribune, and Die Zeit) and chief aide in Berlin to the U.S. ambassador to West Germany.
To buy The Tiferet Talk Interviews book, a collection from our first year, Click Here.
Hello and welcome to Tiferet Talk. I'm Melissa Studdard and this is the Blog Talk Radio show for Tiferet, a journalist spiritual literature where we publish writing then engaging dialogue to promote peace in the individual and in the world. We're thrilled that you are with us right now and we will love for you to also join our global online community. You can find it at www.tiferetjournal.com. There, in addition to interacting with our members, reading their writings and posting your own, you can subscribe to the journal in each issue for those beautiful spiritually and intellectually compelling poetry, prose and art. This evening's guest is Krista Tippett. Tippett is the author of two best-selling books and host of the award winning program "On Being" which is currently broadcast on more than 200 public radio stations in the United States and globally, and which explores the intersection between great religious ideas and true human experience. Tippett's first book, Speaking of Faith, presents cumulative wisdom of her interviews and a memoir which covers the many facets of religion in our time as well as Tippett's move from geopolitical engagement to theology. Of Speaking of Faith, author Elizabeth Gilbert says, "Her intelligence is like a salve for all who have been wounded or marginalized by the God Wars". Tippett's most recent book, Einstein's God, eliminates the nexus of science and spirituality and illustrates some of the important ways on being and Tippett's vision have continued to evolve. Of Einstein's God, Jonah Lehrer says, "In this sparkling book of interviews, Krista Tippett demonstrates that science and religion both benefit from a genuine dialogue. It doesn't matter if Tippett is talking about free will or the anatomy of the soul - she is always probing, measured, and illuminating. This book is a hopeful reminder that the intellectual conflicts we take for granted don't need to exist." Krista, welcome.
Oh, thank you Melissa. It's great to be with you. And thank you for that introduction.
Oh you're most welcome to have you here. You could start by talking about the beginning of your carer and I know you are a journalist but what drew you to journalism in the first place and then what drew you to diplomacy and then to a life of deep conversation and the exploration of final questions and ideas.
The big question and I think I was, actually I think I was, I grew up in a very small town in Oklahoma. You know, in a world that did not much of a view of the outside and when I got out, I think I was really drawn to -- yeah I wanted it all, I wanted that whole drama of life. I was always interested in politics and I was also raised in a very religious community but I, you know, I think in my college years, I became convinced that politics was really where it was happening and where the important questions were playing themselves out and that engaging on a political level would be my way of engaging with what was truly important, you know, that eventually led me to divided Berlin which was kind of a fault line of the world geopolitically at that time and it was absolutely fascinating but as the end of the 80s during the year kind of and I was moving to my late 20s, I started to ask questions which I eventually understood to be spiritual questions. I started asking again these questions of meaning and whether working at that high political level was really where I wanted to be putting my energy, I was very fascinated by the human drama of life in divided Berlin. It was kind of great social experiment to had, you know, you literally had two worlds on both sides of that while in Berlin, but the thing that I have observed, you know, which is so simple that we often don't put this into words is, you know, in the end, I saw that people could be living under so many different conditions but the choice was still there for people to make up their life __5:19__ and I saw people who had a great deal handed to them on the Western side of the wall and you know, their lives we're kind of empty and unreflected and I saw people on the Eastern side of wall who had very little but who crafted life of great intimacy and dignity, and so that started me thinking in a deep point about what I wanted do with my life.
Uhm, great thank you. You know one of the things that struck me the most about your books, Speaking of Faith, is that you are so intrinsically engaged with the world and other people that your memoir is actually a chronicle of ideas and histories and conversations with other people, almost like the whole world is your most intimate community and I thought that was so unusual and so beautiful. I am not really sure what my quest for, maybe, you know, how can people be more that way? I know I am not that way as much as you are. How did you to come to care so much, I guess?
It just an interesting question and I don't know if I thought about myself in that way. As I say, for me, the world in all its complexity was just this great discover at 18 when I went to college. You know, it's almost like I went to Mars, I mean, it's almost like I went to other planet and I just, I wanted to explore it and I always had an impatience with things that -- you know, I love the life of the mind, you know, that was a great gift because I really did not, that was not something that was nurtured in the world of my childhood and so that was great. Thrilled to have my own mind be, be energized and captivated. But I was always impatient still at the same with ideas that didn't have an application. And so you know, when I would myself to becoming religious again in my late 20s and spiritually curious and thinking of, you know, I started, as I say, asking me these big questions but it took me a while before I started calling that, you know meditation or contemplation or prayer, but that's what I was doing but it was really important to me then that if I was going to take religion seriously in my show and in the world, that it had to be relevant in the face of all that complexity that I have experienced especially in divided Berlin and I, so I don't know how I explained that. It's just, it's been kind of what's driven me for a long time.
Wow (laughs). You know, you began by talking about the life of the mind and In Speaking of Faith, you said that one of the things about becoming wiser without spiritual things meant learning to live in your body and not just your head.
Yes, that's right.
And I find it interesting in light of what just have said so, why don't you go elaborate on that a little bit.
Well, I think that has been my further spiritual evolution. My spiritual evolution has been about getting out of my head a little bit more and you know, being less cerebral and being warm-bodied. And I think this is a move that a lot of people are making. I think that in the west in Western culture and even in Western religion, you know, we made these things very chin-up experience, right? I mean, you think about church, you know, became a place where you sit on in uncomfortable pew and you will sit up straight and you know, it was not interactive and you hear a monologue, I mean that's obviously a character, but religion across human history and I mean the whole sweep of human history, has always been a cathartic place you know, physically as well as intellectually, you know, emotionally, was a place for a people sing and dance and laugh and cried and we kind of, you know, you can trace this in all kinds of ways, and I think, you know, the line of Descartes, I think therefore I am, which is really an idea that penetrated Western civilization is such an impoverishment of who we are and so, you know, as I embarked on this journey of the last 10 years of being in conversation with people across the spectrum of, you know, spiritual experience and even, you know, even people who don't consider themselves spiritual but who I think are asking questions of meaning and shedding light on, on our common understanding of what it means to be human, you know, as I have embarked on that journey, I also find this very vibrant connection between spiritual ideas that are powerful and people and experiences that they are embodied. You know it's Rabbi, Abraham Joshua Heschel marching with Martin Luther King in Selma and saying I feel like my legs are praying, you know, it's...
It's images that a lot of us in the 2001 century are as aware as may be human beings have ever been before of our place in the cosmos and kind of the wonder of ourselves in the universe through the images that are coming to use through the Hubble Space Telescope. You know, it's that there is some very mysterious but incredibly powerful connection between spiritual, what do I want to say, spiritual life and physical reality and I think somehow we forgot that as a culture in the West certainly for a couple of hundred years and we're remembering it and you know, one of the demonstrations of that remembering are the yoga studios on every corner now, you know, it's the up surge in meditation. It's all the ways people and I think it's just even just exercise the way people are getting back into their bodies and whether they know or not, I think that is an adjunct and that is nurturing also our spiritual lives and I think we're getting more and more, we're going to become more smarter and smarter about that.
Uh-um, wonderful. You say in Einstein's God that whereas the scientific emphasis on what can we know that once took humanity away from the seriousness about spiritual and emotional aspect of human vitality, it's now bringing us back and I think just, I'm in love with that (laughs).
...some examples of what you mean by this?
Well, you know I, when I started my show 10 years ago in the early 2000s, I, if you had told me then that science would be just you know just an absolute staple of my life of conversation, that is something that I think would have really stunned me. It is not something I knew in the beginning. But those have become such important conversations to me and I really do see -- I have seen a development even over the last 10 years, such a pretty short period of time from this idea that has you know, that has been around for a couple of hundred years that science and religion and even kind of science and spiritualized science and I don't not know, the humanity of things are somehow very separate and at times at odds, you know, I have seen that softening but even more interestingly, I am just so fascinated by the way Science now and again this is picked up just in the last you know, 10 years. It's beginning to take seriously to take into the laboratory. The spiritual technologies of the ages you know the virtues, the practices that are spiritual traditions have carried forward in time. You know, science is studying compassion and empathy and forgiveness and that is just completely fascinating. There is a sense in which science is mapping out of some of the great questions of who we are and what it means to be human in a way that philosophy and theology did in previous generations shining a whole new light on these things.
Oh wow. You know, you said also, I heard you said this phrase, a life of conversation, and it's something that has come up over and over in my reading of your work and it's just such a wonderful way to describe what not to say in interviewer or in a host. A life of conversation, which tells me obviously that this is not a job to you, this is __15:28__ work and I just wanted to ask __15:33__ personally to live this life? Immersed in this exchange of ideas including God.
Uhm, it's, you know, it's a path that I kind of created for myself but I didn't know that I was creating it in the beginning and it's a wonderful thing. I also though, I was just having a conversation today with someone, a young woman, who was talking about her desire which of course we all share to be leading a life of meaning and you know, to make as directly connection as possible between her work and her deepest values, and you know, I am aware that I'm very fortunate for that connection to be so over in what I do and it's two of you as well, right? This is a gift. But I also said to her (laughs) that uhm, I really think in terms of vocation, I really encourage especially younger people to think in terms of vocation rather than just career path and I don't think vocation necessarily equates with the work you're doing, you know, for many people. And I think vocation is something so much bigger and more generous and more complex and that it's been wrong in this culture to equate those things so closely, you know, and I think, at times, in anybody's life and it's two of me too, you know, at times, uhm, my most important vocation is my energy on spending as a parent, you know. And this particular young woman I was speaking with, you know, she has a job that it's a good job, she doesn't feel like it represents her value but she has this very rich life of community service.
And I just said, you know, that is just as worthy, right? That matters too.
Oh yeah. Yeah.
And I think that we, right? So, I'm saying at one of the same time, I am grateful for this gift and then, but I also, I don't think there are many ways to be leading a life of meaning and purpose and the job is just one possibility there. And the other thing is that my work, yes, there's this piece of it, there's the life of conversation piece of it. And that's you know, maybe 10% of what I do, and you know, and in addition to that, as with any work, I have money to raise, I have office politics, right? I have all the, I have the struggles to put my energy, you know where I wanted to put it, I have the struggle of balancing home life and work life. So, I have all of the same issues, you know, I can be buried in admin, I can be buried in email, so, you know life is life and I get nervous when I feel like people, you know, would look at my path and think that, you know, somehow I've gotten it all right because it still ends up being a human endeavor and it's always a complicated picture.
You know, I'm so glad you said that because I was thinking earlier, oh she's so lucky, she __19:15__ all these people and I do that, but I'm also teaching and writing and being a single mom and doing all these things, and you know, now hearing you say it, it just makes you all the more inspiring to me, really to see how you balance and how you continue to do that. So, thank you for that. Something that you said that I really like in one of the books and I can't remember which one it was but you were talking about how spiritual geniuses are also really needs blood and human beings.
And they are actually great in the context of this not in spite of it and I thought that was really wonderful.
Oh that's so important. That phrase spiritual genius, I love that. That comes from Einstein. It's one of the things that he talked about that doesn't come down in history the way his scientific achievements did. He was very dismayed by scientists in his age, you know. He really, religion, science was really, he really had a religious reference for science and he also believed that the international community of scientists should transcend national boundaries and tribal hostilities and then he watched scientists become the creators of weapons of mass destruction and he said at one point that science in his generation had become like a razor blade in the hands of its real world. And you know, in that context against that backdrop, he was looking at the world and moving through life and Gandhi was his contemporary and he, you know, he said that he really believed at life like of spiritual geniuses like Gandhi or Jesus or Buddha or Moses or St. Francis of Assisi, that these were lives of spiritual genius and that they were as necessary to the dignity, security, and joy of humanity as the purveyors of objective knowledge. And you know, there are those spiritual geniuses, you know, the names who come to mind immediately I'm sure he might have added Martin Luther King Jr. or Mother Teresa, they're also, the spiritual geniuses of the everyday. And the thing about that, it's just, again, so important for us to all hold on to is none of those people, not the same as ones who know about, you know, they were all real human beings, and they had all kinds of struggles...
and they have all kinds of flaws and spiritual genius comes out of how you wrestle with darkness as much as how much light you bring into the world and it's also true of the spiritual geniuses of the everyday. Any of us, you know, if we think about who are those lives, people we've known in our lives up close, and the reality that we know up close if we really knew them as human beings is also not about perfection and that is not disappointing (laughs). It is embolding...
Right? Oh hope and sustenance.
Thank you so much. You know, also I like how you said that it's actually kind of an irony that the people who are living according to the deepest virtues of religious and spiritual traditions are often not the ones who are standing in front of the microphone or waving in these photographs, doing what they do.
It works for the both of us to seek them out and find their stories. I'm wondering how do you go about finding these people?
So, that's a question I get asked a lot 'cause something I'm committed to on my show is not just interviewing the famous people, you know, the biggest names, and it's not that I never do that. In fact, sometimes, I've been scornful of people who are too well known and then I, you know, I've been wrong, right? 'cause there's a reason (Laughs)
There's a reason that it does when __23:49__, right? But, I really try, you know, as a core value to invite invoices, you know, that lair of goodness that is just below the cultural radar. Now, you know, again, the spiritual geniuses of the everyday, whether it's their local community or their state or their profession, you know, these are people who are imprinting lots of lives. You know, they're making a difference, but they may just be too busy with that important work to be good self promoters, right? Or maybe they don't write books because they're doing other things. And so, but you do, you know, the people who write books, the people who are good self promoters, the people who are fortunate enough to get the right kind of publicity or to know how to seek the right kind of publicity, they're out there, you know, and it's not actually, I don't think it's hard to find this other lair, but it does require an effort, you know. It's just, it's looking, it's listening, it's reading. You know, when people ask how do we find the people in the show, it's a very unscientific process. It's something that is constantly going on. And, you know, it has happened by picking up a book off a table at Barnes and Nobles that nobody sent me, no publicist sent me, but saying this is somebody I have. To people telling us about, I'm sure this happens to you, you know, everybody out there knows of these voices and these lives that deserved more attention.
So, you know, we get a lot, you know, people send ideas and I don't, you know, sometimes it's years, but they don't get lost and then it's interesting how a name will suddenly surface and it's the right time. You know, the world is so complicated. It's also not a, I think even 20 or 30 years ago, when we were all more or less watching the same television and reading the same publications, it was easier to, you know, easier to see some things. There were more monolithic figures. But now, there are all these worlds within a world, right? There are all these communities, there are all these professions. Now, there all these online communities, and you know, little galaxies and each of those has its leaders and its visionary figures and its nurturing figures. So, part of it is just keeping your ear to the ground in these kinds of spaces that are not out on the surface of the culture that I'm kind of wondering 'cause, as they said, it's not scientific. I do believe that if you start asking a question or if you start exercising a discipline, you know, I really like this biblical phrase, developing eyes to see and ears to hear, I mean that's an intention for me. And, if you set an intention like that, you know, you move through the world differently and the world meets you there. It really does.
One of the things I also really like about what you said is that you're not just saying that it's a responsibility of journalists but also the word citizens in there. So, to hear you say this now, to hear you talk about setting the intention, I think is instructive, kind of how to do that, you know. Also, it makes me think about how the conversations that you have really can actually be used as models for other people to have more types of conversations and I'm not necessarily talking about on the radio, but just in their lives to have conversations that encourage understanding, compassion, respectful living, you know, averting different. And I'm wondering, do you have any insights on how people can master having these conversations in their own lives in a way that can help them personal?
This is a, this is an important question that I'm asking myself right now. Nothing makes me happier than when people say that that's the effect the show has for them and you know, we've been experimenting the last couple of years to something we call the civil conversations project and it started as just, it's a series of radio shows like the radio shows we do but with a special lens of saying, you know, right at this moment where so many of us feel discouraged and alienated even from our own public life or common life and we don't recognize a place for ourselves in a way that debates are framed or the issues are framed or the way problems are resolved, and I think a lot of people have just gotten kind of defeated and paralyzed and turned inward, but there's an anguish because we care and we want to engage, and we want to be part of how we collectively take out, you know, these great challenges of our time, which are practical and spiritual. So, the simple conversations and shows have been conversations with that mind. But, what you're saying, this question of you know, how can people do this themselves, that's what comes up, and people say, you know, it's very inspiring to hear this and yeah, I'm so, I mean, again, there's nothing that could make me happier for somebody saying that we model something. And they've asked, you know, how could we help them start something in their own community. So, this is a question that we're pondering as a project.
I think the most important thing I can say is just to have that commitment to begin, right? The way people use to frame the question 10 years ago and I really feel this is changing, is people used to say to me how can we change politics and journalism, right? How can we affect the media? And what can we do so that politics isn't broken and so that this is healthy again? And you know, those are big questions and I actually, especially in journalism, I feel a lot of good things happening under the radar, I mean, whether it's for good or for bad, the one thing we know is it will change, right? These things will change because that's the way life goes, but this matter of all of us bringing ourselves, bringing our passion and our integrity and our care into our public spaces in a new way is too important to wait for politics to change or for media to change, right?
And public life is bigger than politics. Public life, you know, is everything. I mean it's just not politics so I think the most important thing is to resolve to, you know, to start having those conversations that you want to be hearing. It's obviously, it's a great big subject that you know, just one core value I think in approaching that is hospitality, you know, how can you cultivate spaces of hospitality so that new possibilities might arise and I like hospitality as the starting virtue. It's a virtue that's across, you know, all the great spiritual traditions. But what I think is really important about hospitality is it's much more doable, immediately practical than something like compassion or forgiveness or love, right? I mean...
hospitality is something that we can all start with and it does not mean you have to agree with the people who you are inviting into this space. It doesn't mean that you have to, you know, love them. It doesn't even mean, you know, I think part of, we have work to do getting in the same space with people for whom we don't know to feel compassion, right?
Uh hmm. Right.
And part of what we have to do is be honest about that. But I believe we can create hospitable spaces where that reality can be true, but these spaces are designed to help us discover, you know, each other as human beings, just that, and through that, find ways to walk forwards, to live together differently, even if that means we never disagree, you know, we never, you know, are on the same page. But even if we're not on the same page on the issues that divide us or the, you know, the orientations that divide us, you know, we may be raising children, all of us in this world. You know, there are plenty of things we can work on together, but we have to create hospitable spaces and I mean physically save, intellectually hospitable, you know. There are some prerequisites and that's one of them and again, what I like about it is that it's so doable.
You talked about the importance of asking seemingly unanswerable questions and I kind of want to process this question because it may be totally unanswerable, but I want to ask you anyway because I just want to hear what you're thoughts are. And you talked about religion obviously and what I want to know is what do you think that religion can do in the world that is not worth doing or maybe another way to say this instinct or experience of religion or the way we're acting in order to align it more with a purpose.
Uhm, I think that religion's deepest, that our traditions are repositories of the virtues that we need now in a globalized world in a way that we've never needed them before. Uhm, you know, our religion traditions were the earliest places where human beings began to consider that it might be important and life-giving to consider the well-being of those who don't belong to your family, who don't belong to your tribe, right? That there was some meaning in service beyond that. But, in a sense that's been kind of optional, you know, it's been a choice, human beings could make or choose not to make, but the way the world works now with technology with, you know, what we're learning about the environment with interconnected economies, we have a proximity in a relationship to people so different from us, right? Like a proximity to different others that is unprecedented in the human history and in fact, you know, our survival depends on those relationships. And, our religious traditions, you know, by having these centuries of contemplation of things like compassion and empathy, care for the stranger.
At their course, those are precisely the virtues that we, as human beings, need to really, really internalize and put into action that our well-being is linked to that of others and that we can make that real. Uhm, you know, and here's where it's interesting too because science, you know, the science of the brain is showing us that in fact, yes, we do have the capacity to become more compassionate, to be forgiving rather than violent, but that these are qualities that have to be cultivated and that's where you'll see the genius of our traditions because what they have, you know, look at Buddhism which has for thousands of years, you know, developed these spiritual technologies for becoming mindful, you know, or you know, ritual, right? I heard the Chief Rabbi of Great Britain say you know that the importance of ritual is being vindicated by the cutting edge neuroscience, right? Because it is practice, it's what we do over and over and over again that forms us, right?
And so, so there's this beautiful convergence of our traditions having what the world needs and that's not about evangelism, you know, that's not about needing to convert people, that's about putting this into action for the sake of the world, which is so faithful, right? Which is so true to the heart of our traditions. And it couldn't be in a greater contrast to the worst caricature for religion that's out there is something that divides and creates violence, right? So, and those divisions and that violence, that doesn't represent most people of faith or you know, of deep practice. It never does. But what the world needs is for the deep practitioners to mind what they know, you know, to dig more deeply into the core of these traditions and make that more present in the world. I think it's a fascinating possibility.
Hmm... Me too, me too. That's beautiful. Uhm, I think that's a wonderful piece to end to. So, in closing, I'd like to ask what's next for you and do you have any publications or events or anything coming that you'd like to announce that you think we may not already know about.
Uhm, well you, you invited me to put something on your website and I'd love to do that and I'll think about it and I do have a lot of travel this year and there might be some things of interest, but I am working on another book, and I don't know if this is going to be the title and it's a ridiculously large subject, but it's kind of on this question of you know, what is spiritual genius and what are the qualities and components of lives of wisdom. And what are, you know, recurring themes and so that's kind of daunting and also you know, nourishing for me to be working on and I'm working on that now and that might be in the next year or two, but it's been a wonderful conversation for me, too. I really want to thank you, Melissa, and I am glad that we're now in contact.
Oh, I am too. It's just been wonderful speaking with you and you and your books sounds incredible. I can't wait to read it.
Okay, well thank you so much and I look forward to hopefully receiving something from you for Tiferet, and in addition to putting it on the website, we'd also like to put something in the journal itself so that would be great.
Great. Okay. Well, thank you and yeah, I'll reach out tomorrow.
Okay. So, wonderful.
Good night. Thank you again.
Thank you. Bye, bye. Before we close, I'd like to let our listeners know that you can subscribe, donate or purchase single issues of Tiferet Journal at our website. It's www.tiferetjournal.com as well there you can find out about our upcoming events. While you're at the site, be sure to also check out the new Tiferet Talk Book, it's a collection of our best interviews from the first year of Tiferet Talk Radio and it's available for purchase at Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and other bookstores as well as at the website where we offer a free copy monthly through our giveaway. I'd like to thank my executive producer and Tiferet publisher, Donna Baier Stein, producer and Tiferet associate editor, RJ Jeffreys, contributing editor and assistant producer, Udo Hintze, and Michelle Mangen for the work every month and helping the show to run integrally. Our next interview will be January 29th from 7 to 7:30 p.m., Eastern standard time with William O'Daly. We hope you'll join us then and in the meantime, we wish you peace, love, happiness and fulfilling work. Until then, goodbye.
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