Krista Tippett was born on the night John F. Kennedy was elected President and grew up in a religiously conservative family. She spent her 20s as a journalist and also served as a special assistant to the U.S. ambassador to West Germany during the Reagan administration. In 1991, she enrolled in Yale Divinity School. She came up with the idea of a public radio show while serving as a consultant to the Institute for Ecumenical and Cultural Research at Saint John's Abbey and University in Collegeville, Minnesota. Speaking of Faith began as an occasional feature in 2000 before taking on its current form as a weekly program in 2003.
Tippett was convinced that traditional journalistic approaches did not make room for the intellectual and spiritual content of religious perspectives that interested her: "We have had few models in our public life for religious speech that does not proselytize, exclude, anger, or offend." Over the years, Tippet has interviewed theologians, scientists, educators, physicians, social activists, and poets. They have talked about the many ways in which religion nourishes lives and communities.
In this capacious book, the author shares her "adventures of conversation across the world's traditions that has opened my imagination spiritual, political, intellectual, and personal." She sees it as part of her calling to reveal the heights and the depths of "the vast middle" between the poles populated by extremists who are the major players in today's culture wars. Tippet does not write off Christian fundamentalism which is going through changes, and she salutes the social ministry of Pentecostals who are growing in leaps and bounds.
Although the author has a special place in her heart for Reinhold Niebuhr and Dietrich Bonhoeffer, she believes there are many great spiritual teachers in our time and she makes reference to some of them including Desmond Tutu, Thich Nhat Hanh, Joan Chittister, Karen Armstrong, Rachel Naomi Remen, Parker Palmer, and many others. She also covers the work of physician David Hilfiker and the Israeli journalist Yossi Klein Halevi, two authors who are favorites of ours for their ethical perspectives on the world in conflict.
This fine memoir will help radio listeners and readers refurbish and expand their ideas about the words faith, religion, and spirituality. Tippet even concludes with a tribute to mystery, one of our very favorite spiritual practices:
"Mystery is the crux of religion that is almost always missing in our public expressions of religion. It eludes and evaporates beneath the demeaning glibness of debates and sound bites. Mystery resists absolutes. It can hold truth, compassion, and open possibility in relationship. This relationship could redeem our otherwise hopelessly literalistic, triumphalist civic and religious debates. We could disagree passionately with each other and also better remember the limits of our own knowledge. If mystery is real, even more real than what we can touch with our five senses, uncertainty and ambiguity are blessed. We have to live with that, and struggle with its implications together. Mystery acknowledged is, paradoxically, humanizing.
"I find that mystery is a word people of every tradition love, whether they speak of it often or not. It is a word that many nonreligious people are open to embracing and exploring, perhaps more so now than in previous generations. Introduce mystery into any conversation and the conversation gentles; reality doesn't lose its sharp edges but the sharp edges are not all, not the end. Mystery takes form and substance one life at a time, though long ago we learned we could also summon its presence together. Mystery is at the heart of all ritual layers and layers of idea, liturgy, postures, lifted prayer constructed to capture and express something that cannot be contained. Mystery is apprehended fleetingly, but it leaves its mark. Our traditions are imprinted and suffused with it, endlessly washed and chastened by it, evocative of its memory, expectant of its return."