If you’ve followed faith podcasts for any length of time, you’ve heard of the award-winning On Being with Krista Tippett.Depending on your comfort level with discussions of religion in general, you’ve responded to the show with appreciation or apprehension. I swing back and forth between the two.
I’m grateful that in a post-Christian world, someone provides a public space for discussions of “faith, ethics, and moral wisdom.” And I’m grateful for Tippett’s hospitable approach to the lived experiences of her guests, who represent various faith backgrounds. At the same time, I long for the Gospel of Christ to be presented with a grace that is unafraid of difficult differences yet remains faithful to the truth of Scripture and creed. Tippett consistently models one part of this equation beautifully; the other is more difficult to pin down.
Since 2001, first as a radio program and now as a podcast, Tippett has interviewed a wide range of people representing art, science, academia, religion, and social action. Whether her guests have professed any faith tradition or none, from Danah Boyd to the Dalai Lama, Miroslav Volf to Maya Angelou, Tippett’s opening question remains the same: “What was the religious or spiritual background to your childhood?”
Tippett’s own faith background is rooted in the Christian tradition influenced most notably by her grandfather, a Southern Baptist preacher in Oklahoma. In various interviews and in her bestselling books, Tippett tells the story of growing up in a religion-soaked culture that contrasted starkly with the environment she encountered in her post-university work in the 1980s in Cold War Europe. In the mid-1990s, disillusioned by the limits of political and journalistic work to address what it means to be human, she returned to the United States to study theology at Yale Divinity school. She wanted her work to offer a response to the “black hole where intelligent coverage of religion should be” and to the political presence of conservative Christians she felt had distorted the rhetoric of faith.
An exchange during a recent episode provides an excellent summary of what motivates her work.
My top five favorite On Being episodes:
1. Where Does It Hurt?: RUBY SALES
2. Spirituality of Imagination: MARTIN SHEEN
3. Listening to the World: MARY OLIVER
4. How Trauma Lodges in the Body: BESSEL VAN DER KOLK
5. Humor as A Tool for Survival: SAM SANDERS, TERRY MCMILLAN, LINDY WEST, ET AL
Last, but not least, if I were able to ask Krista Tippett 2 questions, here they are (in no particular order):
1. Who do you most wish you could have interviewed from history?
2. Has anyone ever mentioned you look like Bonnie Raitt?