I have been a fan of Krista Tippett for at least the last 10 years. She is a good interviewer and she has a real interest in pay attention to both socially conscious issues and how religious backgrounds motivate people.
Listening to this as an audiobook, which I think is probably the best method for this particular book, it is hard not to think of it as a clip show. There are so many clips from her interviews in the book that I was a bit distracted at times from the content. (And many of them I remember from when I heard them originally on the show.) But the clips had real meaning and they did build upon one another to make her point. As a professional interviewer, conversation is what she does. It is perfectly natural that much of her learning is coming from people that she is interviewing.
One of the points that I both appreciate about Tippett and slightly concerns me is that she views part of what she is doing and gaining insight into ‘spiritual technologies’. This term, ‘spiritual technologies’, I think is helpful but also significantly problematic. On the one hand, I get the point that we can learn these spiritual technologies across faith lines and it is a helpful way to think about cross religious dialogue. And I think it sort of fits with James KA Smith and others view of spiritual practices.
But spiritual technologies as a descriptor seems reductionist. Her point of talking about becoming wise is that we often are valuing the wrong things, which leads us to place emphasis in the wrong areas of life. By using the word technology, there is a problem with viewing spiritual practices and ideas as primarily about gaining mastery over the spiritual. I wish she had used another term, like the traditional ‘spiritual practices’ or ‘pathway’ or similar term that was focused less on mastery and tool building and more on internal development and process. We do not become wise, we work on the process of becoming wise. Wisdom is not something we confirm on ourselves. It is something that others confirm about us.
But I do appreciate the focus on wisdom. I think we should value wisdom. And many of the people she is interviewing genuinely appear to have gained real wisdom and understanding about life. The interview subjects are not necessarily powerful or well known (although many have some real influence). She confronts the importance of struggle in achieving wisdom. Her background as journalist and diplomat in Eastern Europe before and during the fall of the Berlin Wall give real insight into how struggle works. And how something that no one really predicts, can suddenly just happen.
Tippett is good about asking questions and listening to the answers. She has a perspective, she is a Christian. But she seems to really attempt to allow people to explain themselves on their own terms and to gain real understanding. Much of the content between the interviews is processing. I think there needed to be some more evaluation. Of course, she was including ideas that made sense to her and fit into the narrative she was building. But there was little push back against any of the ideas. Her own narrative about the struggle of life building character and wisdom, seemed missing in the way she let the narrative play out in the book.
The five sections of the book felt too loose to me. The chapters were Words, Flesh, Love, Faith, Hope. There did seem to be some liberal Christian blindspots in evidence. But also in evidence, was her conservative background that she has been processing and trying to overcome. More than a few that have come out of a conservative background and end up in a liberal Christian theological stream have endured real harm from the church. She hints at that. But somewhat similar to the way that Rachel Held Evans talks, Tippett still sees real value in the church background of her childhood. So I tend to give some real grace there because one of her options was to walk away from the church completely. She has not done that.
Tippett is a few years older than I am. Late 40s and early 50s seems like a natural times to start focusing more on wisdom. She is a voice I want to keep listening to.