Tuesday, May 27, 2008
Book Review: Speaking of Faith
One of my favorite podcasts is NPR's radio program Speaking of Faith, described as a conversation about "religion, meaning, ethics, and ideas." Each episode the host, Krista Tippett, interviews scholars and practitioners from a stunning variety of religious backgrounds - evangelicals, Muslims, atheist humanists, Mormons, Catholics, Buddhists, Jews, even a Haitian Vodou priest with a PhD. The diversity is great, and Tippett is deliberate about letting each person tell their story and their experiences rather than trying to steer the conversation into the hot button issues or religious controversies. Her stated goal is to "expose virtue", to allow the good in religion to come out and become normative, rather than constantly focusing on all the negative things that religion can also produce, as our mainstream media typically does.

Recently I also read Tippett’s personal memoir from the show, also titled Speaking of Faith: Why Religion Matters and How to Talk About It. More than just a distillation of her numerous interviews, it is also a narrative of her personal faith journey, from her conservative evangelical roots, through an apathetic secularism, to a renewed embrace of a wider, more intellectually honest and diverse faith - a faith that includes both mystery and reason. A faith that is layered, complex and multi-faceted. For instance, she opens her third chapter, "Rethinking Religious Truth" with these words:

I've come to understand religious texts and traditions as keepers of truths more openhearted and realistic than many of the arguments against them and the practices in their orbit. We have to think about truth and about knowledge itself differently - the insides and edges of words and ideas, the richness of their forms - to understand the nature of religion and the work of theology, the human attempt to pin God, however fleetingly, down to earth. In many ways, religion comes from the same place in us that art comes from. The language of the human heart is poetry. Music is a language of the spirit. The metier of religious ideas is parable, verse, and story. All of our names for God are metaphor - necessary license, approximation, and analogy. Our sacred texts burn with that knowledge and dare us to use all of our faculties of intelligence and experience and creativity. But we forget this; our fact-and argument-obsessed culture is deaf to it, blind to it.

This is an approach to faith that resonates deeply with me. In fact, I have found that listening to Speaking of Faith (and reading the book) has rescued and renewed my faith. In my regular online dialogues with atheists it can be easy for me to get so lost in the arguments that I forget why religion makes so much sense to me in the first place. As C.S. Lewis has said "A doctrine never seems dimmer to me than when I have just successfully defended it." Tippett's work helps me to remember the beauty and logic which has drawn me to faith in the first place, regardless even of who she's talking to or what religion they represent. What she does is remind me that there is a wildness and complexity and depth to life that religious beliefs attempts to express. She reminds me that there is more than just wishful thinking in religion and spirituality, that there is in fact wisdom and truth and a grasping after the inexpressible yet ultimate reality (or as Peter Rollins puts it "that of which we cannot speak is the one thing about whom and to whom we must never stop speaking".)

Tippett also reminds me to have humility when approaching those whose beliefs differ from my own - to listen and learn and seek to understand the truth of their experience. I find that when I do that, I find more that I have in common with them than what divides us. Through Speaking of faith (the program and the book) I have been encouraged and strengthened in my Christian faith by Jewish rabbis, agnostics, scientists, and Vodou witch-doctors as well as Christians from a wide spectrum of traditions. What it reminds me of is the bigness of God, that he will not be contained merely to the small set of people who believe and worship like me, but rather that he is at work all throughout the world, revealing bits of his truth to all kinds of people.

At any rate, I highly recommend both reading the book and listening to the radio program. Your faith will be better for it. (And even if you don't have a faith of your own, you will still be enriched by exposing yourself to so many diverse viewpoints on the topic.)

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posted by Mike Clawson at 3:20 PM | Permalink |


At 5/28/2008 07:08:00 AM, Blogger Tripp Hudgins

Thanks for this review. Now I need to go get the book. Huzzah!

Oh, did you get my e-mail about Isaac Everett last week?


At 5/28/2008 09:49:00 AM, Blogger Mike Clawson

No, I don't recall seeing it.


At 5/28/2008 10:30:00 AM, Blogger D

Love the program. Didn't know about the book. Thanks! It's the only program I know that deals intelligently, rather than stereotypically, with evangelicalism and Pentecostalism.


At 5/29/2008 06:57:00 AM, Blogger Tripp Hudgins

Isaac Everett is going to be in town...so, I thought it would be good to host him and his band at Community Church for a Vespers service. Would you mind helping me get the word out at up/rooted. I have a new e-mail address...

tripp (at) communitychurchofwilmette (dot) org

Perhaps your spam filter caught hold of it.

www.isaaceverett.com is Isaac's website. He's part of an emergent/underground congregation in New York city.

Thanks...for anything...


At 5/29/2008 10:46:00 AM, Blogger Nicholas Price

Nice post Mike. I really enjoy both the book and the program as well. I actually was honored to be able to have dinner with Krista at the 5th Conference on Interfaith Youth Work in Chicago last October. She is a wonderful person and very engaging. One thing I really liked about her, which also comes out in her interviews, is that she is always questioning. Even when silently listening you can see her wheels turning and an inquisitive smile on her face. Props for plugging her book. It is a great example of a person in process with what it means to be a person of faith.



At 5/29/2008 05:41:00 PM, Blogger meeegan

In your paragraph about dialogues with atheists, you wrote, "What she does is remind me that there is a wildness and complexity and depth to life that religious beliefs attempts to express."

That's probably the very same wildness, complexity and depth that your non-believing compatriots are attempting to express in non-theistic terms.

Religious belief is one language in which one can talk about the wildness, complexity and depth. Scientific method is another language in which one can discuss it. And I'm sure there are numerous other such languages, but it's the same subject they all attempt to express.


At 5/30/2008 12:37:00 AM, Blogger Mike Clawson

Or different aspects and facets of our experiences. For instance, I find that science, while good at describing the mechanics of the natural world, does not do a very good job of describing most existential human realities (e.g. love, beauty, justice, meaning, suffering, etc.). For those I tend to turn more often to literature, music, philosophy and religion, among other things.


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