Reviewed by Gretchen Winters
Krista Tippett’s latest book is a wonderful testimony to her views on religion and personal growth. Tippett is a Peabody Award-winning broadcaster and New York Times best- selling author. In 2014, she received the National Humanities Medal from President Obama at the White House for “thoughtfully delving into the mysteries of human existence”.
Her personal journey is one of extreme contrasts in that she went from living in a small town in Oklahoma throughout her childhood and teenage years and leapt into another world of academia as a student at Brown University. She describes the transition as “like moving to Mars”. An excellent student, she undertook further study on an exchange at the university in Rostock, East Germany. It was there she witnessed the conflict between communism v. capitalism. Despite attending Yale divinity school, she began to struggle with her religious ideals and made the decision to save the world by way of journalism and politics. On returning to the United States she was employed as a stringer for the New York Times. This was followed by a position in the State Department in East Germany (she was fluent in the language) until the wall came down. She honed her attitudes to conflict and resolution on the intense political situation she witnessed in Berlin as West Germany began the process of reunification with communist East Germany.
In her thirties, she began to again reflect on religious ideology and the mysteries of human existence. In the Introduction to the book she reflects on her own personal life experience and makes observations about the future. “The Internet in its infancy is upending the nature of making and leading and learning and belonging. It’s sending us into a new Reformation, but this time of our institutions all at once – political, educational, economic and religious. The interesting and challenging thing about this moment is that we know the old forms aren’t working but we can’t yet see what the new forms will be. We are making them up in “real time”; we’re even reimagining time.”
Becoming Wise is an impressive narrative of her journey and the book is divided into five themes: words – “generous listening” empowered by curiosity and questions, the body – religion as a whole body experience, love – the human condition of belonging and being loved, faith- the enduring mystery of religious experience, and hope – “a virtue and renewable resource for moving through the world as it is, not as we wish it to be”.
If readers turn to the back of the book and scan down the list of names of the people she has interviewed over a twelve year period for her popular podcast On being (and can also listen to the interviews in their entirety on a website) they will realise the enormous task she undertook to condense the material into a 267 page book. Not only that, but her writing style ensures that this is not just a chronicle of conversations with interesting people, she has managed to get to the spiritual core of the person she has interviewed. Krista Tippett’s prose is intense and meaningful and the wisdom whether personal or transcribed ensures that readers are able to go over her work again and again and find nuances they may have missed initially.
Recommended reading for everyone who is interested in wide- ranging insights of the current state of affairs in living and negotiating in the world of today.
By Krista Tippett
Penguin Random House