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Nothing less than a reformation’

By KIERA JOHNSEN | Wednesday, September 25, 2013

 

Krista Tippet, Peabody Award-winning journalist and broadcaster of the radio program “On Being”, spoke as this year’s Christian Culture lecturer at Saint Mary’s on Tuesday in O’Laughlin Auditorium.  

The lecture, titled “Civic Healing and Christian Virtue in the 21st Century,” focused on issues of reforming modern Christian society.

Tippet said the modern, technologically driven century forces society to reexamine questions they considered answered. 

“We are reimagining the very nature of authority, of leadership, of community,” Tippet said. “We are fundamentally reconsidering how we structure our lives together. We are in the midst of nothing less than a reformation, but this time it’s all of the institutions including education, economies, politics, and religion. The interesting and challenging thing about this moment is that we know the old ways aren’t working, but we can’t yet see what the new forms will be.”

Tippet said words shape how people understand the world, how they understand themselves and how they treat others. She said, in this light, tolerance is a problematic word for people of faith. 

“Tolerance was the primary civic virtue we chose to navigate difference. And I think this word was always problematic,” she said. “Tolerance connotes allowing, enduring and indulging. In the medical context where it comes from, tolerance is about the limits of thriving in an unfavorable environment. 

“Now I’m not saying that tolerance doesn’t have value and doesn’t have its place but it’s not a big enough word, and don’t think its ever a big enough word, for people of faith. Tolerance doesn’t ask us to care for the stranger. Tolerance doesn’t even bid us to know each other, to understand, to listen, to be curious.”

Tippet said Christians need to rediscover the way in which questions can be spiritual virtues and civic tools. 

“A simple question is not the same thing as the wrong question. I think what I’m talking about here is intentionality in our questions and acknowledgment of something,” Tippet said. “I know very well that questions are powerful things, questions elicit answers in their image. A simplistic question elicits a simplistic answer; an inflammatory question elicits an inflammatory answer. There is something redemptive and life giving about asking a better question.”

Tippet said science demonstrates that humans don’t do their best thinking when afraid, but rather that is when they do their worst.  

“Fear shuts down imaginations rather than opening them up, and depending how vulnerable we are to fear it sends us sheltering back with our tribe, behind our barricades, and makes creative open hearted encounter with the other almost impossible,” she said.   

Tippet said humans are complicated creatures and change takes time. She said she is encouraged by the possibility of this societal conversation working when people are realistic and start small.  

“My encouragement is to honor the difficulty of what we face, the complexity of what it means to be human,” Tippet said. “To be realistic about how difficult this has been up until now. To start small, to realize for example the critical importance of the creation of safe places before anything can happen, to realize we can immediately take part in this work,” she said. 

The annual Christian Culture lecture is sponsored by the Humanistic Studies Department and honors the late Saint Mary’s professor Bruno Schlesinger.