Thursday, July 9, 2015

Patrick Henry - Introduction of Krista Tippett

Patrick Henry, who lives in Waite Park, Minnesota, was professor of religion at Swarthmore College in Pennsylvania (1967-84) and executive director of the Collegeville [MN] Institute for Ecumenical and Cultural Research (1984-2004). Since 2007, he has been a monthly columnist for the St. Cloud Times. He joined the Minnesota Humanities Center Board in 2013 and is especially interested in fostering its work in Central Minnesota.

This post is adapted from Patrick’s introduction of Krista Tippett, who was honored at an event at the Humanities Center on April 30, 2015.

The New York Times says Krista Tippett’s style “represents a fusion of all her parts.” Those parts can be traced to and through her story: growing up in Oklahoma (born on the day John F. Kennedy was elected President); graduating from Brown University; Fulbright to the University of Bonn; newspaper reporter; chief aide to the U.S. ambassador to West Germany. In this last position she saw “high power, up close,” and became disillusioned.

Far more fundamental than her disillusionment was the conviction she came to — through the lens of study at Yale Divinity School — as the world transformed in the early 1990s. “There is, at any given moment, much reality we do not see, and more change possible than we can begin to imagine,” she writes. Krista believes this about history, cultures, nations, communities, people — you, me, herself, everybody — “much reality we do not see” and “more change possible than we can begin to imagine.” This is what the humanities have been about ever since Socrates got into conversation with his friends.

Krista, who has a scholar’s precision and a journalist’s flair, conjures with time. In her heart Krista thinks Lewis Carroll penned what could be the motto for her radio program, On Being and its earlier iterations. The White Queen says to Alice, “It’s a poor memory that only works backwards.” In a 1997 talk she said, “I have long suspected that the spiritual impoverishment of our due at least in part to the way we Americans devalue memory, seek quick fixes, mistake reinvention for progress, forget, move forward, move on.” In other words, we don’t even remember backwards!

Krista is a both/and person. She sides with Charles Dickens, not his publisher, in a New Yorker cartoon that has the publisher saying, “Come, come, Mr. Dickens, surely it was the best of times or the worst of times, but not BOTH!”

And like Dickens, she knows that truth is in story. She is a wizard at eliciting stories that reveal her interviewees not only to her listeners but also to themselves. One reason she’s so good at this is her alertness to what she calls “the insides and edges of words and ideas.” On Being provides its worldwide audience a safe space for wondering about, being frightened by, marveling at, their own deepest questions, and then often finding surprising answers: “If that famous and thoughtful person can be puzzled, then it’s okay for me to be too.”

At the beginning of this century Krista undertook what seemed a quixotic task: persuading public radio that there is an audience for serious conversation about perennial spiritual questions: What does it mean to be human? How do we want to live? Minnesota Public Radio, to its everlasting credit, listened, and decided to give it a try. Now, twelve years later, On Being airs on more than 330 public radio stations nationwide, and the podcast is downloaded around the world. From the beginning, Krista has imagined “a social enterprise with a radio show at its heart.” And it really is a two-way, both/and street—as we read on the website for what has been, since 2013, Krista Tippett Public Productions: “We keep finding new ways to listen to our listeners and online communities, and they keep pointing new ways forward for this adventure.”

The citation for the National Humanities Medal presented to Krista by President Obama at the White House on July 28 last year sums it up: “Radio host and author, for thoughtfully delving into the mysteries of human existence. On the air and in print, Ms. Tippett avoids easy answers, embracing complexity and inviting people of all faiths, no faith, and every background to join the conversation.”

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