I read A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius for the…
Krista Tippett wrote Speaking of Faith in 2007 and around the same time, I discovered her public radio show of the same name. I often listen to the radio show on my iPod, so her voice is very close to my ear. This made reading this book somewhat challenging because I had a difficult time stopping her from narrating it to me. While I am a fan of the radio show and am thankful for its existence, I have a difficult time with her interviewing style. In my opinion, Tippett can at times be long-winded with her questions and dialogue. Although she labels herself as a journalist, her interviews are more like personal conversations that are recorded for everyone to hear. The implications of this often finds the listener hearing more of Krista than the person she is interviewing.
So it should not have been much of a surprise to me this book read like a conversation, which means it has a flow that weaves and moves in such a way that makes following along challenging. Tippett's writing moves rapidly from personal experience narratives to journalistic examinations of current religious topics and then off to doing theology all in the space of just a few pages. While I can appreciate this for what it is, it was at times exhausting to read because it required constant attention.
With all of the rapid motion between topics and ideas, I think Tippett herself was drowned out in the written conversation. She is a brilliant thinker and does a wonderful job at looking deeply. However, she only teased us with bits of personal information. It was just enough to make one wonder why she included such details without any further explication. For example, at the very end of the book, she mentioned her divorce and revealed enough about it for the reader to show how traumatic an event this was for her. I wanted to know more about how she dealt with this on both a spiritual and personal level. I am not talking about the gory details concerning the divorce itself. Instead, I would have liked to read about her journey through the spiritual dark night.
Despite my criticisms, Tippett's highly cultivated religious mind is all over this book. She spent a great deal of space talking about the importance of having religious and spiritual conversations in the public sphere. She recalled the contributions to this conversation made by great modern day religious thinkers and martyrs like Reinhold Niebuhr and Dietrich Bonhoeffer. This excerpt is a fine example of Tippett working through these issues.
A rabbi, Sandy Eisenberg Sasso, gave me the best illustration I know of the difference between spirituality and religion. On Mount Sinai, she says, something extraordinary happened to Moses. He had a direct encounter with God. This was a spiritual experience. The Ten Commandments were the container for that experience. They are religion. I find this example wonderful because it gets precisely at the wrong way religion is often taught, and the way it enters politics through words and positions. We proclaim and pass on the rules. We divorce them from the sweep of the spiritual history by which they were discerned-a history that tells of an incomplete and ever-evolving human capacity to comprehend the nature of God and the ultimate meaning of religion. By the time Moses had carried the commandments all the way down the mountain the first time, his people had begun to worship the golden calf. (180-181)