Ware Lecture by Krista Tippett, General Assembly 2016
General Assembly (GA) 2016 Event 439
The “art of living” is another way to talk about “practices of faith”—virtues—the being and doing of spiritual life that our world so desperately needs in the 21st Century, now as much as ever before. I’ve become intrigued by unexpected themes that have arisen in my life of conversation—religious wisdom that reveals itself in fresh and compelling language, from fresh and compelling angles. So, for example, I’ve come to think of beauty as a core moral value—a kind of litmus test for whether something is of God; and a quality we should seek as essential to vitality of life. I’ve also learned from scientists and artists as much as spiritual thinkers about the inevitability of failure in life, of the necessity of improvisation—and the mystery that our flaws and failings are at the heart of our capacity to be present to the world with all its flaws and failings.
In 2014, broadcaster Krista Tippett received the National Humanities Medal at the White House for “thoughtfully delving into the mysteries of human existence." Her new book, Becoming Wise: An Inquiry into the Mystery and Art of Living, was released by Penguin Press in April 2016.
The Peabody Award-winning Tippett grew up in Oklahoma, attended Brown University, and spent most of the 1980’s in divided Germany. She was The New York Times stringer in Berlin and also reported for Newsweek, The International Herald Tribune, the BBC, and Die Zeit. Later she served as a special political assistant and chief Berlin aide to the U.S. Ambassador to West Germany.
She wrote her first book, Speaking of Faith, in part to answer the question she is often asked—how she went from that mode of geopolitical engagement to becoming a religious person and student of theology. When she emerged from Yale with a Master of Divinity in 1994, she saw a black hole where intelligent journalistic coverage of religion should be. As she conducted a far-flung oral history project for the Benedictines of St. John's Abbey in Collegeville, Minnesota, Tippett began to imagine radio conversations about the spiritual and intellectual content of faith that would enliven and open imaginations and public discussion.
The show she created, initially called Speaking of Faith and later renamed On Being is now heard on over 330 public radio stations and downloaded by millions as a podcast. From physics to parenting, from civil society to aging, from yoga to neuroscience, and from the environment to the economy, Krista and her guests trace the ancient, animating questions of human existence: 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? They explore these questions in all the richness and complexity with which they are finding expression in 21st Century lives.
“We aspire to create hours of radio that are beautiful, intelligent, nourishing, edifying, trustworthy, quiet, and hospitable. They are also challenging, but not in a way that puts people on the defensive or invites posturing. We invite listeners—and give them tools—to open their minds, to see differently, and to start new conversations within themselves.”
Tippett’s second book was the New York Times bestselling Einstein’s God: Conversations About Science and the Human Spirit, drawn from her interviews with scientists. Her latest initiative, the Civil Conversations Project, is an emergent series of conversations, public events, and resources, offering ideas and tools for healing our fractured civic spaces. In 2013, Tippett created an independent non-profit production company, Krista Tippett Public Productions, to be more nimbly responsive to the public life impact of On Being and the Civil Conversations Project and the evolving 21st Century longing to reconnect inner life with outer presence in the world.
For more information about Krista Tippett and her radio show, please visit On Being with Krista Tippett.
Draft Transcript from Caption File
UUA President Rev. Peter Morales: We are so happy to be here and we are so ready to hear from Krista Tippett.
Good evening and welcome to the ware lecture. Since 1922, we have welcomed notable people to share their insights and to challenge us.
Previous Ware lecturers have included Linus Pauling, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., Saul Olinsky, Kurt Vonnegut, Jr., and Julian Bond.
Tonight's lecture is Krista Tippett. Ms. Tippett is a broadcaster and podcaster. Her radio program, “On Being,” is heard on nearly 300 public radio stations and downloaded by million as a podcast. Perhaps one or two of you have heard the program. The show was originally called “Speaking of Faith.”
Tippett’s first book, Speaking of Faith, was a memoir of religion in our time. Through the lens of her own experience growing up in a Southern Baptist family in Oklahoma, through the Cold War in divided Berlin, and finally to helping re‑frame journalism about religion. Her second, Einstein's God: Conversations about Science and the Human Spirit, argues that science and religion, far from being mutually exclusive, are complementary realms of inquiry. Her latest book, which has just been published, is titled “Becoming Wise: An Inquiry into the Mystery and Art of Living.” She was the 2013 winner of the National Humanities Medal.
This year's General Assembly theme deals with the connections between different faith traditions. I cannot think of a more appropriate Ware lecturer. Please join me in welcoming Krista Tippett.
Krista Tippett: Thank you. Well, thank you for this warm welcome. We all learned this year, we did some audience research and we learned that something like 9% of our audience identifies as Unitarian Universalist.
Which I think is a slightly larger percentage that in the population at‑large. So I know I'm with my people.
I also have to say, all year long, I think I accepted this invitation a year ago, and all year long, wherever I’ve been out in the world, including recently at Lawrence University in Wisconsin, so people of all ages have come up to me and said, oh, you're going to be at General Assembly this year.
And I’ve been at other gatherings, denominational gatherings, and I’ve never experienced people to be so excited about them. Right? So you're doing something right and I have been looking forward to this.
I just also want to share with you, and I hadn't thought about this for a while, it's kind of a mystery. Since mystery is one of words in the title tonight, across the years, so many Unitarians have come up to me and said, my favorite show you ever did was the one with Jaroslav Pelican on the need for creeds. I don't know what that means. I just offer it up to you.
So my topic tonight is billed as the mystery and art of living. But there's so much happening in the world right now that I feel called to address not just our individual life, but our life together writ large. The mystery and art of life together right now in the 21st century.
I am called to ponder something unromantic and pragmatic, like civility, though when I use the word “civility” these days, I always rush to add some unexpected qualifier like “muscular” or “adventurous.” I worry that the word “civility” has connotations of niceness and tameness and politeness, things that are far too mild to be an antidote to our current political culture.
And American culture has narrowly equated political life with public life in recent generations. And we model our activism in our other spaces, including our religious spaces, on the forms of political argument and rhetoric.
But what I want to talk about tonight, what I’m interested in is public life, and I even prefer to use the language of “common life” much bigger politics. “Common life” encompasses all our discipline and endeavors and all of ourselves as citizens and professionals and people as political creatures, yes, but also as family members and neighbors and friends.
And while we are riveted by the most polarized and politicized spaces in our midst, they don't define us. They are not the whole truth of what we are collectively or what we can be living towards. This is especially confusing and demoralizing when the places we have traditionally leaned for modeling and leadership are some of the most chaotic among us, including the political process here and abroad.
And I know you've been here all week, but I have been glued to the news from the U.K. and thinking about its resonance with what's happening here. So I find it helpful and even calming to pull back to a long and wide lens on the challenge of this moment in history, its possibilities for growth and for change.
We are turn-of-century people, and this terrifying and wondrous century is throwing open basic questions the 20th century thought it had answered, questions that are intimate and civilizational all at once. Definitions of when life begins and when death happens, of the composition of marriage and family, of the meaning of gender, of identity itself, of human relationship to the natural world, of human relationship to technology and through technology. We are re‑imaging the very nature of authority, of leadership, of community, of tribe. Fundamentally re‑considering how we structure our lives together. We are in the midst, I believe, of nothing less than a reformation, but this time it's a reformation of all of our institutions.
Now, the interesting and challenging thing about this moment is that we know the old ways aren't working anymore. But we cannot yet see what the new forms will be. We are making them up in real time. We are even re‑defining time. Civic fundaments that looked self‑evident just a decade ago now seem utterly baffling. The design and content of a school, a prison, a workplace. What are politics for? What is an economy for?
The deepest promise of this moment tantalizes and challenges us with paradox. On the one hand, for the first time in the history of our species, and this was reflected in the lyrics, the music we heard just a moment ago, we are developing a capacity to think as a species for the first time, yet, and we are also newly grasping that our particularities are part of our gift to the world and that real change is incubated close to home. In fact, paradoxically, our technologies amplify and embolden what is personal and local.
On the one hand, we are called as human beings to mine truth as best we can and live by it and let it be our compass for change, the change we are called to bring into the world we can see and touch. Yet, and it is also up to us to help form and I know habit creative resilient peacefully in realities in an interdependence with different others, which is unparalleled in human history. You might say that we are living into the original promise and paradox of human moral consciousness.
We trace the origins of the world's great religious and moral traditions back to what some call the Axial Age, a handful of centuries mid millennium before the Common Era when an utterly disconnected culture and continents in another world of upheaval, Confucius was born in China, the Buddha sought enlightenment, Plato, Aristotle examined life and mind and soul, and the Hebrew prophets began to pen a people of god into being.
So the cultivation of inner life arose in interplay with the radical proposition that the well‑being of others beyond kin and tribe, the stranger, the orphan, the outcast, that this was linked to one's own well‑being. Humanity began to give voice to the questions that have animated religion and philosophy ever since.
What does it mean to be human? What matters in a life? What matters in a death? How to be of service?
Foundational and still immensely powerful parts of our brains incline us to describe and divide the world in terms of ourselves and the other. Especially how we perceive a threat. But in this century of technology that binds, the question of what it means to be human has become inextricable from the question of who we are to each other.
Our vulnerability and our flourishing are linked to that of others and on a planetary scale. This magnitude of change, this grandeur of change, this magnitude of exposure to newness and difference and to open questions in the midst of our common life is unsettling for human beings, for human creatures. It is stressful psychologically, as well as physiologically. Science tells us this. For those who feel on the vulnerable and threatened end of this kind of change, it shuts imaginations down rather than opening them up. It engenders pain and fear and pain and fear, when they show themselves in public, very often come out looking like anger. It's no wonder—yeah, and we see that.
So it is no wonder that common life has become daring, a frontier to settle. Not territory we can easily recall or imagine how to get back to. But I believe that you and I, we all have it in us to be nourishers of discernment, fermenters of healing in this moment, that we have it in us to create the spaces for taking up the hard questions of meaning in our time with different others, to discover how to calm fear and plant the seeds of the robust common life we desire and that our age demands. This is civic work and it is human spiritual work in the most expansive 21st century meaning of that word.
So today, I want to offer you what I’m calling a few encouragements. Three encouragements in that direction that have emerged through my life of conversation. And the first is that words matter.
Which sounds like kind of an obvious statement to make in a room full of preachers and teachers and leaders, but I make it as a journalist and especially as a journalist. It is an important truth to keep reminding myself of and living by. The words we use shape how we understand ourselves, how we interpret the world, how we treat others. And the world right now needs the most vivid, transformative universe of words that you and I can draw on and give voice to.
We chose too small a word in the decade of my birth, the 1960s, to grapple with the onset of genuine diversity in this country. And it does bear remembering that it was only in the 1960s that America truly began to integrate racial, religious, ethnic, and social differences into its national sense of self. We did so by pursuing the reasonable order that would be achieved by a civic mandate of tolerance.
Tolerance has value as a civic tool. But as I say, it's not big enough in human, ethical, or spiritual terms. Tolerance connotes allowing ‑‑
Tolerance, the word itself, connotes allowing, enduring, and indulging. And in the medical context, it is about the limits of thriving an unfavorable environment. Tolerance is not a lived virtue. It is kind of a cerebral assent and too cerebral for animate guts and behavior when the going gets rough. Tolerance has not taught or asked us to engage, much less to care about the stranger. Tolerance doesn't even invite us to understand, to be curious, to be open, to be moved or surprised by each other.
I started thinking about this in earnest back in the election year of 2010, which was a toxic election season which is now sadly a familiar spectacle that we're not surprised by anymore. One of the hallmarks of that season was language grown feral.
And then right after the turn of the year in 2011, many of you will recall that congressman Gabrielle Giffords was shot outside a grocery store at a civic gathering. Other people were killed. That week, our scheduled broadcast was with a poet, and the way our show works, it was already up on the satellite. And I was, frankly, quite concerned that putting a poet on the air in a week of national tragedy might seem irrelevant at best and callous at worst. But I watched that podcast go through the roof on iTunes.
I was speaking with the poet Elizabeth Alexander, the poet of the first Obama inauguration. And what she named and addressed that week is even more deeply resonant now that we are starved for fresh language to approach each other. That we crave, and she said she sees this in our children, too, we crave words that shimmer, individual words with power, words to convey real truth, which is different, more nuance and had challenging, it turns out, than stating positions, making arguments, or even conveying facts. I think we've come to the limits of our belief in facts to tell us the whole story or even necessarily to tell us the truth.
Again, we need them, but they're not big enough and Elizabeth Alexander says one of the reasons poetry is magnetic. That poetry seeks to get at undergirding truths at the essence of the world and ourselves.
Here are some lines of poetry of Elizabeth Alexander.
Poetry is what you find in the dirt, in the corner, over here on the bus, god in the details.
The only way to get from here to there.
Poetry and now my voice is rising, is not all love, love, love, and I’m sorry the dog died.
Poetry, here I hear myself loudest, is the human voice.
And are we got of interest to each other?
Are we not of interest to each other?
Listening and Questions
My second encouragement is to re‑discover listening as a social art and questions as civic tools.
The art of starting new conversations, of creating new departure points and new outcomes in our common grappling with important subjects is not rocket science. But it does require that we nuance or retire some habits so ingrained that they now feel like the only way it can be done.
We, for a few generations, have all been trained and trained well to be advocates for what we care about. This, too, has its important place and its value in civil society, but it can also get in the way of the axial move of deciding to care about each other.
So listening, is not as I grew up learning about it, being quiet while the other person speaks so that you can finally get around to saying what you have to say.
Listening is not primarily about being quiet. It is primarily about being present. It is powered by curiosity, and that is a virtue that we can invite and nurture in ourselves and render it more instinctive. It involves a kind of chosen self‑imposed vulnerability, a willingness to be surprised, to let go of assumptions and take in ambiguity. The listener wants to understand the humanity behind the words of the other and patiently summons one's own best self and one's own best words and questions.
Now, in American civic life, instinctively, we mostly trade in answers and we trade in competing answers. Or we trade in questions which aren't questions at all, but tools or even weapons meant to catch, corner, insight, or at least entertain. But in that ever present spectacle, and I know that when I said that, we all immediately have 100 images of those kinds of questions we've heard, those kinds of exchanges.
But in that ever-present spectacle, there is a truth I'd also invite you to notice and ponder, and that is what a powerful thing a question is. A question is a mighty form of words. Here is how I’ve learned to experience it. Questions elicit answers in their likeness. Answers mirror the questions they rise or fall to meet. It turns out it's not true what they taught us in school. There is such a thing as a bad question.
I struggled with this, but I’ve finally decided it's true. It is often true that a simple, honest question is precisely what's needed to drive to the heart of the matter. That remains as true as ever. But it is hard to meet a simplistic question with anything but a simplistic answer. It's hard, almost impossible, to transcend a combative answer, a combative question.
But I can state this positively. It is hard to resist a generous question. And we can all formulate questions that invite honesty, dignity, and revelation. There is something redemptive and life giving about asking a better question.
Here's another quality of generous questions, questions as social art and civic tools. They may not want answers, or not immediately. They might be raised in order to be pondered, dwelt on instead. The intimate and civilizational questions we are living with in our times are not going to be answered with answers we can all agree on any time soon.
The poet Rainer Maria Rilke spoke of holding questions, living questions. And if you've listened my show even a few times, you probably all right know how much I love Rilke. Rilke said we should 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.
I wish I could throw Elizabeth Alexander's question by way of poetry, are we not of interest to each other, into our most charged civic spaces and just let it roll around. That would be counter-intuitive. It would be countercultural, because our cultural mode of debating issues by way of competing certainties comes with a drive to resolution. We want others to acknowledge that our answers are right. We call the debate or get on the same page or take a vote and move on.
The alternative involves a different orientation to the point of conversing in the first place. To invite searching, not on who is right or who is wrong and the arguments on every side. Not on whether we can even agree, but on what is at stake for all of us in human terms? In our age that is increasingly in important spaces, defined by division and disagreement, there must be value in learning to speak together honestly and relate to each other with dignity without insisting on a goal of achieving common ground that would leave all the hard questions hanging or leave us calling it a failure when common ground doesn't remember happen.
Common ground is not the same thing as common life. Again, it's important a lot of the time, but it's not big enough and if we insist on that, we critically narrow our range of imagination and possibility.
Sometimes one wise voice that has been in the world for a while and evolved lived the same human drama from a few different angles, can provide more nuance than any two‑sided debate. Frances Kissling is one of those voices for me. She is best‑known as a pro choice advocate. She was the long‑time head of Catholics for Choice.
Less famously, when she retired from Catholics for Choice over a decade ago, she decided that her great adventure was going to figure out what it would be to be in relationship with her political opposites, just that. She steeped in the context of re‑productive rights, but what she's learned applies to every seemingly intractable conflict before us.
So I drew her out on some of the things she's learned and here's one of the things she said. I think that common ground can be found between people who do not have deep, deep differences, but to think you are going to take the National Conference of Catholic Bishops and the National Organization of Women and they are going to find common ground on abortion is not practical. It's not going to happen. And she says, we could extend that to other issues.
But I do think that when people who disagree with each other come together with a goal of gaining a better understanding of what the other believes, what they do, good things come of that. The pressure of coming to agreement works against really understanding each other. And we don't understand each other.
Here's another thing she said that I loved. Most importantly, you ever have to approach differences with this notion that there is good in the other. That's it. And that if we can't figure out how to do that and if there isn't the crack in the middle where there's some people on both sides who absolutely refuse to see the other as evil, this is going to continue.
There's a lot of pressure and it's much easier to preach to the choir versus listening to the people who disagree with you, but the choir is already there. The choir doesn't need us. The crack in the middle where people absolutely refuse to see each other as evil, that is where I want to live. That is what I want to nourish and embolden.
But this is hard. It's going to take us out of a lot of our comfort zones. Last week at “On Being” at our studio in Loring Park in Minneapolis, we hosted a gathering on public theology re‑imagined, and I grounded that in a conversation which we'll put on the air sometime this summer with Ruby Sales, who was a mother of the civil rights movement, a veteran of the civil rights movement, and a public—she has brought a public theology of the civil rights movement into the presence.
And she very kindly allows me to circle back to the power of a question, the value of a question. She talked about a question she learned in those years and that has never failed her since in opening a whole new encounter with someone who seemed to stand on a side that was evil. And the question is two words: what hurts?
She challenged a group of mostly progressive religious thinkers, possibly a little bit like this room, in ways that were uncomfortable. She asked, how are you present right now to the pain and fear in our public life, a lot of it white pain and fear, that is manifesting in such ugly ways, looking like anger and hatred, seeming only to deserve anger and hatred back and threatening to undo so much of what is good and right and true? She asked, behind the campaigns and the campaigners, how hard are you listening to the people in the crowd in and those are big crowds, so that means that's a lot of diversity of people. How are you listening for the people in the crowd who don't really want or mean to be haters, but are begging to be asked, what hurts?
I see people giving up on civil dialogue, you know, putting those two words in quotation marks, because they can't see any way to engage the loudest, most strident voices on the other side, but we cannot hand over our deliberation of our important issues to those most polarizing voices just because they are loudest and draw so much attention or run for president and steal the air from the room.
I am not sure if there's such a thing as the cultural or political center and I’m not sure how interesting it is if it exists, but I do know this, that left of center and right of center, whichever directions those would be, in the expansive middle and heart of our life together, right up to those strident polls where there are no questions left and there is no curiosity left about the other side, most of us right of center and left of center have some questions left alongside our answers. Some curiosity alongside our convictions, and perhaps even some pain that we share. There we could immediately start to have the conversations we want to be hearing.
My colleague in public radio, Dave Isay of Story Corps, says that listening is an act of love. In my third encouragement tonight, it is that we dare to name what we're tempting to claim and embody that we dare to call this, in public, love. That we dare to ‑‑ yeah.
That we dare to insist that love can be a public good as politically weak and intellectually suspect as that may sound in modern ears. Virtue is an old‑fashioned word that I find is magnetic to the young among us, to young generations, because they instinctively grasp their need for practical disciplines to translate aspiration into action. Virtues are not the stuff of saints and heroes. They are tools for the art of living. They are piece of intelligence about human behavior that neuroscience is now exploring with no words and images. What we practice, we become.
What's true of playing the piano or throwing a ball also holds for our capacity to move through the world mindlessly and destructively or generously and gracefully. I've come to think of virtues as spiritual technologies. And love is the superstar virtue of virtues. It is also the most watered down word in the English language.
“I love this weather.” “I love your dress.” “I fall in love.” “I fall out of it.”
What we've done with this word, we've done with this thing, this possibility, this essential bond, this act. We have made it private, contained it in family when its audacity is in its potential to cross tribal lines. We have fetishized it as romance when its true measure is a quality of sustained practical care. We have lived it as a feeling when it is a way of being.
Love is the elemental experience we all desire and seek most of our days to give and receive. I long to make this word echo differently in hearts and ears, not less complicated, but differently so.
Other languages have a fuller ecosystem of words than English does for describing love's manifold forms. The sliver of love's potential that the Greeks separated out as “eros” is where we load so much of our desire, center so much. Our imagination about delight and despair, define so much of our sense of completion. But there is also “filia,” the love of friendship. There is the love of “agape.” Love as embodied compassion, expressions of kindness that might be offered to a stranger or a neighbor.
The meta of the root Buddhist loving kindness carries the nuance of benevolent active interest in others known and unknown, and it begins with psychological acuity, with compassion towards oneself. I'm also fascinated that the root word for compassion in both Hebrew and Arabic is connected to the word for womb. The love between a mother and a child is the fiercest and most paradoxical and challenging form of love that exists from the womb forward across the span of both lives.
A merger of pleasure and risk and sacrifice. A dance of alternating vulnerabilities. A wellspring of joy. A challenge to endless learning by mistake. The moment-to-moment evolution of care.
On the future of my ability to make this move, to figuring out what love would mean as something practical and robust in public, I have more questions than answers.
But as I’ve said, I believe that good questions generously posed, seriously held are powerful things. And I believe that a paradoxical space has opened up in our public life, our common life as we have begun, in fact, to hold the question of hate, to hold that question together.
We have created a new legal category of crimes to name the breakdown. We have had to see and acknowledge where tolerance gives out and the human condition at its worst rushes in. We have begun to hold the question of hate, and at the same time, at the same turn, I do hear the word surfacing as a longing for our common life, quietly but persistently, and I have to say that in the wake of Orlando, it wasn't so quiet. Did you all hear that? That word “love” was everywhere.
Spiritual geniuses and saints have always called humanity to love, as have social reformers who have shifted the world on its lived axis. When the civil rights leaders began to force a reckoning with otherness in the 1960s, they did so in the name of love. The political and economic aspirations of this monumental work of social change in living memory grew from an aspiration to create the beloved community.
Now, love is not always or often the first response to violence and violation, one human being to another, nor can we expect it to be. Anger is also a moral response. But it seems to me worth insisting that those spaces where the worst has happened, and there are too many of them right now, those spaces do not utterly define us as a people.
Alongside our reckoning with all kinds of structural injustice and I know adequacy, there remain the quiet spaces of the every day, and in these spaces, there is immediate, abundant possibility for the power of conduct, of unromantic practical love towards creating new realities that might, over time, accompany and shape those larger challenges.
One lesson that fascinates me from the frontiers of where we are investigating our bodies and brains is the observation that especially when we are stressed, we imagine more homogeneity in other groups than we know to be in our own. Right?
We associate different others, uniformly in sync with the loudest and most strident and most frightening voices. But we know in our own closest, most intimate circles of family and friends and community, there are people with whom we are totally in sync and there are probably more that drive us a little crazy. There are people with whom we are only able to stay in the room by deciding that there are certain things we will choose not to talk about, balls we love them. We are committed to staying in relationship with them.
If we are going to make love robust and basic, it can not be based on romance. That's clear.
The good news that I want to stress is that we can and must learn from those messy realities close to us, it is things that are familiar. The messy and nuanced way love works in our most intimate spaces. With people we love most, we often know what subjects not to broach. Love on a daily basis in our most intimate spaces has everything to do with small gestures and kind words, whether we feel them or not or whether we feel them perfectly or not. With people we love most, we are often not talking. Just staying in the room companionably.
These are pieces of intelligence for the confused, divided, angry world around us. Our lives are always raw materials for wisdom. In fact, the only raw materials for wisdom we possess. But only if we are searching and honest about what they teach.
I began to learn the kind of conversation that I engage in “On Being” when I was working with some Benedictines 29 years ago. I learned from them you could start a whole new kind of conversation by posing a theological question and asking people to answer it through the story of their life. And you can get to very profound theological places, but you're working with real raw materials. It humanizes doctrine and ideas and so I offer you this.
This is an exercise I undertook when I was writing my new book. And in fact, it was the only way I found that I could write a chapter on love. Pose yourself the question, what is love? And answer that question, searchingly, honestly, through the story of your life.
I spent a couple of days in Youngstown, Ohio, last year where I'd been invited to share some of what I’ve been learning about opening new conversational spaces, new relationships, amidst the challenges we need to approach and those we have not yet figured out how to name. This city grew up as a steel town, an industrial powerhouse in an economic landscape that has well and truly vanished. Generations of livelihood and self‑respect withered with it. Over half of Youngstown's children are now living under the poverty line.
My talk was in an Episcopal church on a rainy, muggy Friday night in June, but the sanctuary was packed. I listened to their questions and their stories and wisdom that night and the next day and person after person put flesh on the bones of what I felt among them before someone finally articulated it like this: This is a community that is dying and being re‑born at the same time. That story is our story, over and over and over again.
The story of each and every one of our communities, of family and place and chosen kinship and the story of all of our institutions, including our religious institutions at this daunting and wondrous moment in history.
We often don't quite trust that re‑birth will follow the deaths of what we thought we knew. We sense that what comes next is up to us, but we're not sure of where to begin. Yet it's precisely in those moments where we let our truest, hardest questions rise up in our midst, allow their place among us, that we become able to live into them rather than away. And to do so together.
I have seen that wisdom emerges precisely through those moments when we have to hold seemingly opposing realities in a creative tension and interplay. Power and frailty, birth and death, pain and hope, beauty and brokenness, mystery and conviction, calm and buoyancy, mine and yours.
I want to end by invoking the wisdom of another civil rights leader, and I should say that I am completely daunted by the fact that 50 years ago, Martin Luther King, Jr. was at this pulpit. So Vincent Harding, I wonder if some of you knew him or experienced him.
Yeah, I miss him. He died in 2014, and I was privileged to be with him a few times. Vincent Harding ran the Mennonite Center in Atlanta. He helped develop the philosophy of non‑violence and nurture it. He helped write Martin Luther king, Jr.'s Vietnam speech. And spent the rest of his life until 2014 working with young people in hurting places, bringing the real world lessons of that movement into their lives.
I want to say that everywhere I go, I was so very happy to meet with some of our teenagers and young adults earlier today, and everywhere I go, I sense this great desire that's bubbling up in our midst for cross‑generational relationship.
I mean, it's one of those things we need and we forgot. So cross‑generational—it's one thing to say that the young will save us, but we have to accompany them.
And cross‑generational relationship and conversation has been a natural and age old natural leavening agent to the gift and curse of impatience and urgency of young adulthood. And the work we have to do in creating new common life for this century is not just about inventing and innovating.
It's also at times about becoming more conscious, more deeply attentive to knowledge that we've had in our midst and forgot. To knowledge that is right there. And sometimes in the form of elders.
So Vincent Harding, who so joy. I embraced his role of an elder, said this to me when I interviewed him. He said, for me, the question of democracy also opens up the question of what does it mean to be truly human? Democracy is simply another way of speaking about that question.
Religion is another way of speaking about that question. What is our purpose in this world and is that purpose related to our responsibilities to each other and to the world itself?
All of that seems to me to be a variety of languages, getting at the same reality, and it seems to me, Vincent Harding said, that we need again to recognize that, to develop the best humanity, the best spirit, the best community. There needs to be discipline, practices of exploring. How do you do that? How do we work together? How do we talk together in ways that will open up our best capacities and our best gifts?
My own feeling, he said, as I try to share again and deny is that when it comes to creating a multi‑racial, multi‑ethnic, multi‑religious democratic society, we are still a developing nation.
He said, we've only been really thinking about this for half a century, but my own deep, deep conviction is that the knowledge, like all knowledge, is available to us if we seek it. This is a wonderful message we can let ourselves take in.
We're in the midst of a long‑term project. It's a refreshing message to offer to the young among us who get so many messages about how they will have to fix what they are inheriting that we broke, but this, too, is all of our calling and our calling together, to grow up this it broken, divided, hurting world to its full human potential.
To convene and curate different encounters and new forms our world is giving birth to. To speak the language of those new forms into vitality. To be fermenters of social healing. To embody and activate civility as the great spiritual adventure it is. Love as a public good. And so to evolve common life for this century in ways that we today can't imagine.
Rev. Peter Morales: Don't leave yet.
Thank you so much, Krista, for words that, indeed mattered. Your three encouragements about listening, questioning, enduring to love. Becoming Wise, her new book, she will be signing copies of outside the hall. If you will allow her to escape, and she's on her way right now, so if you could not fill up the aisles. And maybe the best way to do that is to give one more round of applause. Thank you so very much.
So ends another marvelous Ware lecture.