January 31, 2008
Krista Tippett
Remembering Forward

Before a live audience at the Fitzgerald Theater in St. Paul, Minnesota, Krista reads from her book, “Speaking of Faith.” She traces the intersection of human experience and religious ideas in her own life, just as she asks her guests to do each week. Krista reflects on her adventure of conversation across the world’s traditions — and on the whole story of religion in human life, beyond the headlines of violence.

Share Episode


is a Peabody Award-winning broadcaster and New York Times bestselling author. In 2014, President Obama awarded her the National Humanities medal for “thoughtfully delving into the mysteries of human existence.” In 2013, she created an independent, non-profit enterprise designed to deepen the engagement of diverse audiences and amplify the unusual social impact of this content.


January 31, 2008

MS. KATE MOOS, MANAGING PRODUCER: I’m Kate Moos. Today, “Remembering Forward,” our host, Krista Tippett’s recent appearance before a live audience at the Fitzgerald Theater in St. Paul, Minnesota. She’ll read from her new book, Speaking of Faith, and share reflections on her own intellectual and spiritual adventures.

MS. KRISTA TIPPETT: This book is a chronicle of a change of mind and of a discipline of listening that keeps my mind and my spirit stretching. There are places in human experience that politics cannot analyze or address. And they are among our raw, essential, heartbreaking and life-giving realities.

MS. MOOS: This is Speaking of Faith. Stay with us.


MS. MOOS: I’m Kate Moos, producer of Speaking of Faith. This hour, an opportunity to hear our host, Krista Tippett, reading from her new book and speaking before a live audience about her spiritual genealogy and the intellectual journey behind this weekly radio program.

From American Public Media, this is Speaking of Faith, public radio’s conversation about religion, meaning, ethics, and ideas. Today, “Remembering Forward: Krista Tippett on Speaking of Faith.”

Krista Tippett was born in Oklahoma on the night John F. Kennedy was elected president, portentous beginnings for the granddaughter of a Southern Baptist minister. Her childhood was defined by the tragedies and excesses of the ’60s. In the 1980s, Krista Tippett found herself in divided Berlin as a journalist and then a diplomat, at the heart of the Cold War, when the nuclear clock was ticking its fastest. No one then could have imagined the collapse of the Soviet empire with a whimper just a few years later. In her book, Speaking of Faith, she writes, “I hold on to these memories now as a reminder that there is, at any given moment, much reality we do not see, and more change possible than we can begin to imagine.”

In this appearance recorded live at the Fitzgerald Theater in St. Paul, Minnesota, on April 5th, 2007, Krista describes an adventure of conversation across the world’s traditions, conversations that are spiritual, intellectual, and personal. She shares her vision of how to speak about faith, a method of inquiry that defuses the predictable polarities and mind fields. Here now, with musicians Dan Chouinard and Marc Anderson, is Krista Tippett.

MS. TIPPETT: Creating Speaking of Faith has been a great adventure, creating it in years in which the world changed around us, and religion moved from the sidelines to the center of world affairs and American life. We started piloting this program at Minnesota Public Radio and American Public Media in late 2000.

And on September 11th, 2001, I was in Washington, D.C., to raise our first big grant for the program. That meeting was cancelled as we all watched airplanes crash into buildings and the Pentagon in flames. And I drove back to Minnesota in my rental car, knowing that I had this one little hour of radio with which, perhaps, I could address some of the spiritual confusions and questions that had been raised by those events.

In all these years, people have asked me, how did I come to care about such questions. How am I changed by these encounters I have week after week with people across the world’s traditions? How do I see the world differently because of them? I can’t answer those questions in five minutes, and so I’ve written this book, in part, to give them the textured answers they deserve.

I do something in my radio work and in my book that I call “remembering forward.” It’s inspired by a line I love in Lewis Carroll’s Through the Looking-Glass. He wrote, I think the white queen says, “It’s a poor memory that only works backward.” And this captures some of the profound and concrete learning in my life of conversation. I believe that we are all theologians in some sense. We build our understanding of ultimate truths, of what is sacred through the raw materials of the lives we’ve been given.

“My early life in and out of faith found its reasons between frontier Protestantism and secular global politics, two arenas that still bracket our contemporary struggles today. My maternal grandfather was the Reverend C.T. Perkins. I called him Gaggy. 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. My mother grew up forbidden to dance, swim, go to movies, wear pants, or play cards.

But she did not subject me to his rules, and so I was free to be intrigued by him. 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. Also, 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.

I believe that Gaggy held intellectual clarity and personal pleasure in a truce with his faith. He kept them a respectable distance away from beliefs and rules he had accepted as true and beyond question, indeed dangerous to think through to the end. He was as passionate physically as he was spiritually, and handsome to the end of his life with sharp cheekbones and an elegant bald head. He had eloped with my grandmother Mary, a petite dark-haired beauty at the piano in one of the churches where he evangelized. “Exactly nine months” later, so I heard it many times, she gave birth to a stillborn boy on their kitchen table. C.T. and Mary believed they would never have children until my mother came along, like a miracle, nine years later. There was a fear in Gaggy as large as his laughter, as vigorous as his mind. And the Christian faith, as I learned it from him, saw human beings as weak creatures set loose in a world awash with dangers. The wages of sin — as the Apostle Paul said it, and my grandfather heard this connected exclusively with individual, often sexual morality — was death. He carried this conviction as a burden, a grave personal responsibility to stave off eternal damnation one life at a time.

My children love this story about my grandfather, rich with echoes of Eden and apocalypse: once, in the summertime, while I was helping him do chores around the yard of a little mission church in his charge, I found myself in a shed with a large, dark coiled snake. I raced out of the shed, screaming. Gaggy came to my rescue of course. He harassed the snake into the open with a hoe and it reared up as tall as him in my memory, or taller, looking him in the eyes. I can still conjure that moment in my mind’s eye to this day: the preacher and the serpent, salvation and damnation embodied and facing off. After a few heart-stopping failed swings, Gaggy severed the snake’s head. This is my emblematic memory of my grandfather.”

I hold on to my memories of my grandfather’s complexity, his fear and fallenness, along with his humanity and virtues, against stereotypes of conservative Christianity that are alive in our culture now. I’ve also come to see that the rock-solid, certain aspects of his faith are the foundation upon which all of my questions and ideas now are planted.

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 the religiosity of my childhood ceased to make sense to me as I moved into the wider world behind Oklahoma as a young adult. Ultimately, I ended up in divided Germany for most of the 1980s, most of my 20s. I could not have chosen a better place than Germany to confirm the sophisticated, late-20th-century view that religion was extraneous and dying.

MS. MOOS: This is Speaking of Faith from American Public Media. I’m Kate Moos. Today, “Remembering Forward: Krista Tippett on Speaking of Faith.” You are listening to Krista in a live appearance at the Fitzgerald Theater in St. Paul, Minnesota. She’s sharing a chronicle of her own spiritual and intellectual development, and how she sees the word differently through her life of conversation across the world’s traditions. Here, she reflects on how her encounter with religious thinkers unsettled her political and secular view of the world in divided Berlin in the 1980s.

MS. TIPPETT: “I first met the original memoirist of the Holocaust, Elie Wiesel, in that vanished divided Berlin. He survived the Nazi reign of terror, but his sister and father and six million other Jews succumbed. I had become a journalist by this time, schooled by some great New York Times reporters. Wiesel was visiting Berlin for the first time since the Holocaust as a guest of the German government. He had asked to meet with a group of young Germans. He was nervous about this meeting. And afterward he was visibly shaken. Together with another journalist, I sat with Wiesel and his wife. 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.’

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.

The voice of the Christian theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer also broke into my thinking in those years. There is no clearer voice of Christian theology formed by the tragedies and terrible mysteries of history than Bonhoeffer. A pastor and a pacifist, the son of a gracious German family, he became involved in the July 20, 1944 plot to kill Hitler. He was executed in the German system of terror that Elie Wiesel survived.

Before Bonhoeffer died, though, he brought weighty, creative, challenging theology into the world. In my radio life now, Bonhoeffer’s name punctuates my conversations with wildly different people. I’ve found that many others take solace and courage in a phrase of Bonhoeffer’s that emboldened me even in the years in which I was defiantly not a religious person. He wrote from prison in 1944, ‘I’m still discovering right up to this moment, that it is only by living completely in this world that one learns to have faith. … I mean living unreservedly in life’s duties, problems, successes and failures, experiences and perplexities. In so doing we throw ourselves completely into the arms of God.'”

I was drawn to Germany originally because the world’s great symbolic divisions swirled at its heart. But it sent me away with an attention to the human life that swirls full of contradiction and beauty and grief and defiance beneath the grandest categories of history and politics. Now I see myself as engaged in probing for human and spiritual dynamics beneath our present surfaces of rancor. I’m able to do so in part because I began to imagine, in the years after I left Berlin, how it might be possible to take religion seriously, reconciling it with my mind and with everything I knew of the world.

“We miss the essence of great religious figures. Karen Armstrong insists, if we imagine them sitting, uttering a list of doctrines. ‘And our theology,’ she says, ‘should be like poetry.’

This is a lovely and important way to understand why we can’t compare faith flatly to reason and declare it intellectually inferior. Its territory is the drama of human life where art is more precise than science, where ideas are lived and breathed. Our minds can be engaged in this realm as seriously as in the construction of argument or logic, but in a different way. Life and art both test the limits and landscape of argument and logic. We apprehend religious mystery and truth in words and as often, perhaps, beyond them: in the presence of beauty, in acts of kindness, in silence. Silence is an endangered quantity in our time — though monasteries and retreat centers are filling up with a new kind of pilgrim, modern people stealing away for solitude, starved for silence. Silence, embraced, stuns with its presence, its pregnant reality — a reality that does not negate reason and argument, but puts them in their place.

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.’

MS. MOOS: This is Speaking of Faith. After a short break, more of Krista before a live audience describing her adventure of conversation across the world’s traditions, including her thoughts on the complementary relationship between science and religion.

Go to our Web site, speakingoffaith.org, and watch the video of Krista’s entire live performance at the Fitzgerald Theater, including portions not heard on this broadcast. Also, listen to our program at your convenience. Sign up for our e-mail newsletter and subscribe to our podcast containing free downloadable audio and bonus material. Discover more at speakingoffaith.org.

I’m Kate Moos. Stay with us. Speaking of Faith comes to you from American Public Media.

MS. MOOS: Welcome back to Speaking of Faith, public radio’s conversation about religion, meaning, ethics, and ideas. I’m Kate Moos, producer of Speaking of Faith. Today, “Remembering Forward: Krista Tippett on Speaking of Faith,” an opportunity to hear our host reading from her new book, and speaking before a live audience, sharing reflections on the evolution of thought that led her to create this weekly program.

MS. TIPPETT: In our time, many essential human questions and institutions seem to be up for grabs: definitions of the beginning and the end of life, of marriage, of community, of government. And we’ve let our most important discussions on these questions be framed by strident answers, by poles of competing certainties. But I believe that most of us between those poles — left, right and center — know that at the very least, we have lots of questions in common with different others, and that for the sake of our children, we want to live into some new answers together.

One false dichotomy we’ve set up along the way is that the insights of science and religion must inevitably clash, that they are irreconcilably at odds. I love my conversations on Speaking of Faith with scientists, and those are also some of our listeners’ favorite conversations. We’ve even gone back to the legacy of Darwin and Einstein and found riches there.

“Now I know that even as episodes of religious hostility to science make headlines in this country, there is a lively interface between religious thinkers and scientists across many traditions, globally, and in many fields — astronomy, computer science, biology, physics, genetics. Beyond our culture’s entrenched debates, a parallel universe of dialogue is unfolding. Things in this universe confound and transcend the narrow imagination of our culture wars. There are points of disagreement, to be sure, and contrasting perspectives and areas where the conversation stops. But blinders off, defenses down, I see that scientists — especially those who work with mathematics — possess a reverence for beauty as strong as their reverence for reason. If an equation is not elegant and beautiful, they will tell you as a solemn point of fact, it is likely not true. Science’s theoreticians are as likely to employ analogy and metaphor as poets or mystics. They routinely proceed to new heights of knowledge by way of faith in things unseen.

Images and ideas from the world of science repeatedly give me new, creative ways to think about the ‘rationality’ of religious modes of thought. The wildly imaginative discipline of physics alone is rife with pointers. Contemporary physics revolves around objects, premises — quarks, for example, and strings — that no one has ever seen or expects to “see”; but worlds of passion and discovery and progress thrive on them because the idea of them gives intelligibility to the whole of what can be measured and experienced and observed. Or consider this: a scientific puzzle that Einstein chewed on, the question of whether light is a particle or a wave, was resolved with the unexpected, seemingly illogical conclusion that it is both. And here’s the key that made that discovery possible: how we ask our questions affects the answers we arrive at. Light appears as a wave if you ask it ‘a wavelike question,’ and it appears as a particle if you ask it ‘a particle-like question.’ This is a wonderful template for understanding how contradictory explanations of reality can simultaneously be true.

It’s not so much true that science and religion reach different answers on the same questions, which is how our cultural debate has defined the rift between them. Far more often, they simply ask different kinds of questions altogether, and the responses they generate together illuminate human life more completely than either could do alone.”

I’m quite aware as I speak, and as we put the show on the air every week, that not everyone hears the word religion and associates it with a word like “illuminating,” or imagines it, as a I do, as a potential source of intellectual and spiritual vitality, even in conversation with science or medicine or politics. One of the great challenges of the work I do is that all of the words around this subject have become loaded. Religion, faith, and spirituality, each of these words is richly meaningful for some of us, and difficult for others, for understandable reason.

My interest is in reclaiming all of the connotations of these aspects of life as they are lived. I want to explore the whole story of religion in the world within and beyond headlines of violence. And people often ask me, ‘Why do you think religion is so dangerous?’ Well, religion is dangerous because it is powerful. It is an elemental aspect of human experience. It is a container for that fraught experience of human identity. But I do believe that our spiritual traditions also contain some of the most powerful correctives we have against religious successes.

“When I first interviewed people across the Christian world, I began to imagine religious truth as something splintered and far-flung for good reason, too vast for one tradition to encompass. I saw reformers, across time, as people who noticed a scattered piece of the Christian truth that the Church itself was neglecting. They picked it up, and loved its beauty, and saw it as a necessary, and embodied its virtues. The Anglicans saw common prayer. Lutherans saw the Bible. Mennonite saw pacifism. Calvinists saw intellectual rigor, and the Quakers saw silence. This analogy holds as I now explore the splinters of all the world’s traditions. The gentle singlemindedness of Zen complements the searching discipline of Theravada Buddhism. The exuberant spirituality of Sufism rises to meet the daily-lived piety of Sunni and Shiite Islam.

But truth and beauty interact with human frailty. The shadow side of my tale of a world of scattered truth is that as soon as human beings pick up a piece of the truth, they make their mark on it. They codify and literalize. They distort the rest of the picture to fit their chosen center. This happens with every kind of truth, surely, in politics, as well. But religious truth flattened out, becomes an especially blunt instrument when it enters the political theater of debates and power plays — a weapon with the same transcendent power religion has to inflame hearts, to infuse life and death with meaning.

There is a difference, of course, between religion and spirituality, and some say that religion alone is what complicates our political life. Religions would be the containers of faith, containers malleable and corruptible in the hands of the people who fashion and control them. Spirituality would be faith’s original impulse and essence. I appreciate this distinction and, at the same time, I’m wary of drawing it too starkly.

A rabbi, Sandy Eisenberg Sasso, gave me the best illustration I know of the difference between spirituality and religion. ‘On Mount Sinai,’ she says, ‘something extraordinary happened to Moses. He had a direct encounter with God. This was a spiritual experience. The Ten Commandments were the container for that experience. They are religion.’ I find this example wonderful because it gets precisely at the wrong way religion is often taught, and the way it enters politics through words and positions.

We proclaim and pass on the rules. We divorce them from the sweep of the spiritual history by which they were discerned, a history that tells of an incomplete and ever-evolving human capacity to comprehend the nature of God and the ultimate meaning of religion.”

I like the analysis of a Croatian-American theologian, Miroslav Volf, whom I’ve interviewed, who has formed and tested his theology in a place in the world where people have many times waged war in the name of faith. And he describes religion that justifies violence as ‘thin religion,’ religion reduced to a formula. Thin religion also becomes manipulable. It comes to look like ideology. Traditional journalism, the stuff that fills our news, is good at covering thin religion, which lends itself to crisis and violence. The gentleness of thick, lived religion can elude the calculus of politics and journalism. But I’m out to investigate thick religion. I’m out to expose virtue, and still, that is not quite as straightforward as it might sound.

“As a journalist, I’m deeply aware of how strangely tricky it is to make goodness seem relevant or, at least, as perversely thrilling as evil. As perpetually horrified as we are of terror and brutality and war, we are riveted by them, and we let them define our take on reality. The communications miracles of the 21st century make wondrous connections possible, and yet, they also bring us images of horror with an immediacy and vividness that are debilitating. Violent images seem altogether more solid and substantial, more decisive and telling, somehow, than kindness, goodness, and lived peace. It is easy to bow down before these images and give in to the despair they preach. But if I’ve learned anything, it is that goodness prevails, not in the absence of reasons to despair, but in spite of them.

If we wait for clean heroes and clear choices and evidence on our side to act, we will wait forever, and my radio conversations teach me that people who bring light into the world wrench it out of darkness, and contend openly with darkness all of their days. For me, their goodness is more interesting, more genuinely inspiring because of that reality. The spiritual geniuses of the ages and of the everyday simply don’t let despair have the last word, nor do they close their eyes to its pictures or deny the enormity of its facts. They say, ‘Yes, and …,’ and they wake up the next day, and the day after that, to live accordingly.”

MS. MOOS: I’m Kate Moos, and this is Speaking of Faith from American Public Media. Today, “Remembering Forward: Krista Tippett on Speaking of Faith.” You are listening to Krista describe her spiritual and intellectual formation, and read from her new book before a live audience at the Fitzgerald Theater in St. Paul, Minnesota.

MS. TIPPETT: So, in these past few years of Speaking of Faith, I have met Elie Wiesel for the second time. And this time, we talked about prayer and his understanding of God that did endure the Holocaust. I’ve also explored the resonance of Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s life and ideas for our time. I’ve interviewed the great scholar of the three monotheistic traditions, Karen Armstrong. I’ve interviewed the Zen Buddhist monk and poet, Thich Nhat Hanh. He is not a theist, but sitting in his presence felt like the closest I would ever get to sitting in the presence of God. And I spent a great deal of time these last years in conversation with Muslims from across the spectrum of that tradition. It should not have taken the catastrophic events of September 11th, 2001 for that religion of 1.2 billion people to figure in a Western view of the world. But now, our understanding of the world, and to some extent, I think, our hope for the future is dependent on learning ever more deeply to hear Muslim voices and see Muslim lives that contradict to the actions of terrorists.

Along the way, I’ve also interviewed a Quaker acoustic biologist whose spiritual life is formed by her study of the songs of whales and the calls of elephants. I’ve interviewed physicians and poets and police officers, and I’ve been surprised and delighted by the insights they’ve all given me into the essential questions that lie behind all religion: What does it mean to be human? What matters in a life? What matters in a death? How to love? How to be of service to each other and to the world? And so, after all of this, people often say to me, ‘Well, you must be so wise.’ But the truth is, like everyone else, I’m left with my own story, my own life to make sense of, my gifts, as well as my failings and flaws. I’d like to leave you tonight with two readings from the final chapter of the book.

“I am helped by my ever-deepening understanding that faith as a whole encompasses and blesses human vulnerability. It took years, even after I had apprehended this idea intellectually, before I thoroughly internalized its implications in my own life. The perfectionist in me is strong, and at first I approached spiritual challenge as much as I had approached the Cold War. But gradually, I have been able to understand healing, like faith, as paradoxical, most effective when it incorporates what is broken rather than denying or curing it.

I learned from the physician Rachel Naomi Remen, not a religious figure per se but a kind of quiet modern-day mystic, that the way we deal with the losses of our lives, large and small, may be what most determines our capacity to be present to the whole of our lives. We burn out, she says, not because we stopped caring, but because our hearts are too full of grief.

Hard realities — the problem of evil, the failure of love on the largest possible scale — and the consequences of endless, needless suffering in the world do not become less troubling with time. Even as I learn new vocabularies of sense and wonder I continue to find that suffering too has imponderable variation. I learn not to imagine that beautiful words and lives will somehow snuff out what is dark and difficult. Again and again I am fatigued by a sense of powerlessness at injustices and atrocities close to home and far away. But religious traditions give me language and ideas to hold on to ambiguity — the pleasure and pain of human experience that complicate and enliven each other at their depths. I have this redemptive exchange with Dr. Remen, who speaks to these dilemmas of the human condition through her experiences as a doctor. She says: ‘We thought we could cure everything, but it turns out that we can only cure a small amount of human suffering. The rest of it needs to be healed, and that’s different. It’s different. I think science defines life in its own way, but life is larger than science. Life is filled with mystery, courage, heroism, and love — all these things that we can witness but not measure or even understand, but they make our lives valuable anyway.’

But I ask her, aren’t the destructive aspects of life also mysterious and unmeasurable? We can also observe evil. Yes, she concurs, that’s certainly true, then adds, ‘But you know, the issue is not to eradicate evil. I’m not sure evil can be eradicated. I think it’s part of the human condition. The issue is to commit yourself to what’s important to you.’

This kind of journalism I do is, as much for myself as for others, about looking beyond the horrors of the evening news to the redemptive stories that are not being told, to ways of being in a world that keep sense and virtue and the possibility of healing alive in the middle of the world’s complexity.

From the beginning of my life of listening, I have observed fierce humility as a quality in the lives of people I admire. But deep spiritual humility defies the connotations of self-debasement, of ineffective meekness, that our culture assigns to the word humility and that I too imagined until I dug into sacred text and lived with my children and embarked on this odyssey of conversation.

I know of no richer source of theological enlightenment than parenting. This is the body of raw experience with which I constantly revise and fill my image of God — as father, as parent — with complex meaning. The God of my childhood was sovereign, all-powerful; the real experience of parenting is more often one of excruciating vulnerability. Our love for our children is often defined by the fact that we cannot spare them pain and save them; that we give them their freedom as necessary steps to creativity, wisdom, and love; that we raise them for the world they go on to create. And the humility of a child, moving through the world discovering everything anew, is closely linked with delight. This original spiritual humility is not about debasing oneself; it is about approaching everything new and other with a sense of curiosity and wonder. It has a quality of fearlessness too, that I first recognized in monastics and have since experienced in a vast far-flung communion of saints of many faiths and no faith at all. Spiritual humility intensifies one’s sense of the limits of words about God, of words about mystery, their narrowing possibilities and their vulnerability to distortion by the human frailties even of the institutions created to preserve them.

Nevertheless, we keep speaking, St. Augustine said, in order not to remain altogether silent. I started out this adventure with my grandfather’s face — stern and full of maddening contradictions, intelligent eyes bright with humor, and the best he could muster of love. Now, my head is full of many voices, elegant, wise, strange, full of dignity and grief and hope and grace. Together we find illuminating and edifying words and send them out to embolden work of clarifying, of healing. We speak because we have questions, not just answers, and our questions cleanse our answers and enliven our world.”

I want to thank Dan Chouinard and Marc Anderson for bringing their gifts tonight, and thank you all for coming.

MS. MOOS: Krista Tippett’s book is entitled Speaking of Faith. You’ve been listening to her appearance before a live audience at the Fitzgerald Theater in St. Paul, Minnesota.

We’d like to hear your thoughts about today’s program. Contact us at speakingoffaith.org. Our companion site includes video of Krista’s entire live performance. And sign up for our e-mail newsletter and podcast, which includes MP3s of current and past programs. Now look for SOF Extras, too. Listen to Speaking of Faith on your own schedule. Discover more at speakingoffaith.org. Special thanks for today’s show to the Fitzgerald Theater and its staff, Tony Bol, Leif Larsen, Tom Campbell, Shane Wethers, Jude Mitchell, Josh Kubasta, Chris Benson, and Mike Wangen. And thank you to musicians Dan Chouinard and Marc Anderson.

The senior producer of Speaking of Faith is Mitch Hanley, with producers Colleen Scheck, Jody Abramson, and associate producer Jessica Nordell. Our online editor is Trent Gilliss. Our consulting editor is Bill Buzenberg, and I’m Kate Moos.

Books + Music

Recommended Reading

Author: Krista Tippett
Publisher: Viking Adult
Binding: Hardcover, (256)Pages

Music Played

Label: Orchard Road

About the Image

Krista Tippett and Dan Chouinard perform live at the Fitzgerald Theater on April 5, 2007.

Share a Reflection