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[ Music ]
>> Stanford University.
>> Good evening and welcome to the Roger W. Heyns Lecture
for 2013 on behalf
of the Stanford Office for Religious Life.
I'm Scotty McLennan, the Dean for Religious Life.
And in the mid-1990s, the James Irvine Foundation established
the Heyns lectures on religion and community.
The series brings to the Stanford campus leading thinkers
who examine the intersection of systems of belief and practice
with human groups and societies.
Recent Heyns lectures have included the Dalai Lama,
Karen Armstrong, Bart Ehrman, Amy-Jill Levine, Eboo Patel,
Jim Wallace, Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori,
and Anna Deavere-Smith.
And we're thrilled and honored
that Krista Tippett will be this year's Heyns lecturer.
There's much to honor in Roger Heyns and his legacy.
A professor of psychology and then dean
and then vice president at the University of Michigan.
He came to the University of California at Berkeley
where he served as chancellor from 1965 to 1971.
Heyns led the American council on Education
and then the Hewlett Foundation until his retirement in 1992.
For many years, he lent his energy and wisdom
to Stanford having become a regular participant
at its Memorial Church and a consultant
to university leaders.
We're delighted to honor him again this year
with tonight's lecture.
And I'm grateful to Religious Studies Professor Emeritus
Robert Gregg, formerly the Dean for Religious Life
who worked closely with the Irvine Foundation
to establish this lecture series.
I also want to recognize for the primary work logistically
and organizing and producing tonight's event from NaSun Cho
from the Office for Religious Life.
In a moment, I'm going to welcome my colleague,
Associate Dean for Religious Life Joanne Sanders
to introduce tonight's speaker.
And at the end of the evening, Senior Associate Dean
for Religious Life Patricia Karlin-Neumann will end
And now, can I welcome Joanne Sanders to the podium?
[ Applause ]
>> Good evening everyone.
It is a great privilege to have the honor
of introducing our esteemed guest to you this evening.
Peabody award winning broadcaster Krista Tippett grew
up in Oklahoma, attended Brown University, and spent most
of the 1980s in divided Germany.
She was the New York Times stringer in Berlin and I'm going
to have to ask Krista what a stringer is.
I'm a former tennis coach
and stringer has a different meaning for me.
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 aid to the US 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,
Krista saw a black hole
where intelligent journalistic coverage of religion should be.
She began to imagine radio conversations
about the spiritual and intellectual content of faith
that would enliven and open imaginations
and public discussion.
She says, "It's always been very important to me
to enlarge imaginations about how this part
of life we call religious and spiritual actually works
in real far-flung 21st century lives."
On Being with Krista Tippett, formerly called Speaking
of Faith is public radio's weekly program about religion,
meaning, ethics, and ideas.
The show was produced and distributed
by American Public Media and is currently heard
on over 200 public radio stations
across the United States
and globally via the web and podcast.
With Speaking of Faith and its newest incarnation, On Being,
Krista Tippett has inspired a new mode of intelligent,
in-depth discussion about faith, ethics, religion,
and meaning in everyday life.
She says, "We aspire to create hours of radio
that are beautiful, intelligent, nourishing, edifying,
trustworthy, quiet, and hospitable.
They're also challenging but not in a way that puts people
on the defensive or invites pasturing.
We invite listeners and give them tools to open their minds
to see differently and to start new conversations
Her latest initiative, the Civil Conversations Projects is a
series of radio shows and online tools
for healing our fractured civic spaces.
In conversation with Krista Tippett,
guests like Terry Tempest Williams
and Vincent Harding ask, "How can we bridge the gulf
between us caused by disagreements
around politics and morality?"
I think all of us would agree,
these are certainly timely questions
and considerations offering all of us an invitation to honest
and respectful dialogue.
Many do agree that Krista Tippett is indeed the measured,
balanced voice we need and is a trustworthy guide
to the challenges of religion and faith
in a dangerous complex world.
Please join me this evening in warmly welcoming to Stanford
and our community a true original and authentic author,
radio show host, and journalist Krista Tippett.
[ Applause ]
>> Thanks to Reverend Sanders for that lovely introduction
and I'm so happy to be here.
This has been on my calendar for a long time.
I remember meeting various constellations of the three
of you, Rabbi Karlin-Neumann and Scotty McLennan in other places
around the globe and here we are.
And I can't believe that I'm talking
about civility tonight, this week.
[ Laughter ]
I do want to say I-- we're going to lots of time afterwards
for a conversation here with whatever is on your mind
and I look forward to them, happier in a conversation
than in delivering a monologue.
So, I put the word adventure before civility months ago
when we came up with the title of this speech.
Because I do worry that the word "civility" has connotations
that I don't intend of niceness, tameness, and safety.
Little did I know that I would arrive here and we would be
in the midst of a bruising week of government shutdown
and that civility in the realm of politics would seem
like an impossible dream and far too small to resolve things.
But I'm not here to talk about political life.
I'm here to talk about public life and that is bigger
than politics, though we have narrowly equated these two
in recent years and I think we have impoverished ourselves
as a result.
So, I want to start by pulling back and taking a long view
of our moment in history.
We are turn of the century people.
And this terrifying and wondrous century
that we have entered is opening, throwing open basic questions
that the 20th century thought it had answered,
questions that are intimate and civilizational all at once,
definitions of life and death, of the meaning of marriage
and family, of human relationship
to the natural world, of human relationship to technology.
We are re-imagining the very nature of authority,
of leadership, of community,
fundamentally reconsidering how we structure our lives together.
We're in the midst of nothing less than a reformation
of all of our institutions.
And that includes politics, and education,
and economics, and religion.
And the interesting and challenging thing
about this moment is that we know the old forms don't work
anymore but we can't yet see the new forms
that will take their place.
We are making them up in real-time.
Now, all of this drives us back to grapple anew
with core human questions,
questions that have animated philosophy
and religion across the ages.
Why are we here?
What does it mean to be human?
What matters in a life?
What are we to each other?
We're undertaking this grappling also at the same time
with the proximity and interdependence
with different others that is unprecedented in human history.
For us, the question of what it means
to be human has become inextricable from the question
of who we are to each other.
This magnitude of change is deeply unsettling
for human beings.
Physiologically, science is showing us this.
Now, I am aware that here at Stanford, I'm at an epicenter
of entrepreneurial vigor.
And natural entrepreneurs are actually invigorated
by the stress that comes with uncertainty and change.
But for most human beings, and I think for all of us,
some of the time, change
and uncertainty generate anxiety and fear.
They do. And fear sends a lot
of people sheltering behind their barricades.
It shuts imaginations down rather than opening them up.
It is no wonder that cohesive public life has become something
daring, a frontier to settle,
not territory we can easily recall
or imagine getting back to.
So, we started what we eventually began
to call the Civil Conversations Project
in the election season of 2010.
We've kind of gotten used to this now but it, you know,
election seasons are traumatizing times.
And then this project intensified a few months later
in early 2011 after the shooting of Gabrielle Giffords in Tucson.
Those days and weeks before Tucson were another political
period in which divisive cultural rhetoric had just
reached toxic levels.
And suddenly, for a brief moment after those events,
beautiful speeches were given
and this new vocabulary entered our public life.
The language calls for moral imagination
and social healing and civil discourse.
Those longings never went away
but they were also never really met.
And what I saw is that well so many of us,
including our politicians, resonated with those calls.
We had no idea how to make them real.
We could not point to where visibly
in our public life those qualities are robustly modeled.
We must discover for our time what moral imagination
or social healing or civil discourse can look
like in the public sphere.
What do they sound like?
What makes them possible?
Where can we see them embodied?
Who will be their leaders?
Recently, actually as I was formulating what I wanted to say
to you tonight, I heard a legal scholar give a definition
of politician as a conversational entrepreneur,
someone who shapes, creates, and launches public discourse.
I have to say I don't see many conversational entrepreneurs
in our current political class, but I do believe,
and this gave me some good language
to something I believe passionately,
that we are all called to be conversational entrepreneurs
at this moment in time to immediately begin
to create the spaces for taking up the great, hard questions
of our time with different others,
to start those conversations we want to hear, to discover how
to calm fear and plant the seeds for robust civil society,
for that robust civil society that we desire
and that our age demands.
And these callings are too important and too life-giving
to wait for politics at its most strident to change.
This is civic work and it is human spiritual work
in the most expansive 21st century of that word.
We all have it in ourselves to be nourishers
of discernment, forces of healing.
So, this evening for the next few moments,
I want to offer you what I'm calling a few encouragements
in that direction that I'm going to draw
from my life of conversation.
My first encouragement is that words matter, and it may seem
like a kind of obvious statement to make in a room full
of students and teachers and scholars,
I make it as a journalist.
The words we use shape how we understand ourselves,
how we move through the world, how we treat others.
And the world right now needs the most vivid,
transformative universe of words that you and I can master.
The latter part of the last century was driven
by vocabularies of technological advance and social progress
that aspired to order our common life by way
of ideologies, data, and facts.
And when this country first began
to experience genuine diversity in the 1960s,
genuine diversity ethnically, racially, religiously for the--
for really the first time, we pursued the reasonable order
that would be achieved by a civic mandate of tolerance.
That's the word we chose.
Tolerance was the primary civic virtue
by which we would navigate this new difference.
And that word itself was always problematic.
Tolerance connotes allowing, enduring, and indulging.
In the medical context which is where it comes from,
it's about the limits of thriving
in an unfavorable environment.
Tolerance is not a lived virtue.
It's a kind of cerebral assent and it is too cerebral
to animate guts and heart and thus behavior
when the going gets rough
and the going has gotten pretty rough.
I am not saying that tolerance doesn't have value.
It does. It was probably the right place to start
but it's not big enough for where we need to go next.
And I don't think it was ever big enough from a human
and spiritual perspective.
Tolerance does not ask us to care for the stranger.
It doesn't even invite us to know each other, to listen,
to be curious, to be open, to be moved
and surprised by each other.
The week of Tucson, the week of the Tucson shootings back
in 2011, as that all unfolded, we'd already put our program
to be broadcast up on the satellite.
And it was a conversation with a poet, with Elizabeth Alexander,
the poet who delivered the poet--
the poem at the first Obama inauguration.
And, you know, we were concerned about this, putting a poet
on the air, seeming pretty irrelevant
in a week of national tragedy.
That podcast went through the roof.
Elizabeth Alexander in that week talked about how we are starved
for fresh language to approach each other that we crave
and she said she saw this in her children as much as herself.
We crave words that shimmer, individual words with power,
words to convey real truth
which is something different from conveying facts.
I think we've hit the limits of our collective belief and facts
to tell us the whole story
or even necessarily to tell us the truth.
Elizabeth Alexander said, "We need imagination and spirit
to glean meaning in the midst
of our quotidian difficulties and rise above them."
And that that is one of the reasons that poetry,
her milieu, is magnetic.
"Poetry," she said, "gets at undergirding truths
at the essence of the world and ourselves."
Our spiritual and religious traditions have always
You know, naming is one
of the original fundamental creative acts
in almost every sacred traditional I know of.
And the bible and other sacred texts masterfully use all kinds
of language, including lots of poetry to convey the canvass
of truth about life that facts alone cannot convey,
to deal in words that shimmer and enliven and heal.
The other thing about the language
in those texts is they've also worked with words
that have practices attached, practices that go
where tolerance never could, compassion, kindness, mercy,
mindful attention, practical love,
love of neighbor, love of enemy.
Here are some lines from a poem of Elizabeth Alexander.
"Poetry is what you find in the dirt in the corner,
overhear 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 not of interest to each other?"
Are we not of interest to each other?
You know, what if we just planted that question
in the middle of our common life in the halls of Congress
and just let it sit there and let it echo?
And that gets to my second encouragement which is
to rediscover questions,
questions as spiritual virtues and civic tools.
In American civic life, we mostly trade in answers,
we trade in competing answers, or we trade in questions
which aren't really questions at all, but tools or weapons
that are meant to corner and catch and insight
or at the very least to be entertaining.
In that ever present spectacle, there's a truth
that I'd invite you to really notice and ponder,
and that is what a powerful thing a question is.
Questions I have learned elicit answers in their likeness.
I remember a few years ago, I was at an event
that the Lilly Endowment was hosting.
It was about the future of Christianity and the fact
that like every institution, the forms make no sense
and what will this be and just sitting around just listening
to a lot of really wise people agonize about something
that meant a great deal to them.
And there was a man I was very impressed with
and he talked about how he felt.
One thing he said is,
"I'm amazed at the discussions people aren't having."
And that's a good general statement.
And he said that he was aware that where things went wrong,
they started with the wrong question.
And he said, "A wrong question leads to a wrong answer,"
then he said, "which leads to a simplistic conclusion
which leads to a meaningless argument."
And what a depiction of a dynamic that we've all seen
so many times and we've just seen it unfold again this week,
right, in our public life.
Now, I'm also aware I've talked about this
in educational settings and I know also in my own education
to say that there's such a thing
as a wrong question raises some alarm bells.
And so, I had to think about that.
You know, what I'm not saying is that, you know,
sometimes a simple question is absolutely what's needed
to bring clarity.
So, this isn't about simplicity but it is about intentionality.
It's about being mindful
of the intentionality behind our questions.
And, again, that power,
a simplistic question draws forth a simplistic answer.
It's very hard to transcend
when you are asked a simplistic question.
An inflammatory question elicits an inflammatory answer.
But I can also state this positively.
It's hard to resist and not to rise to a generous question.
We can formulate questions that draw forth honesty and dignity
and revelation in the best sense of the word.
There is something redemptive and life-giving
about asking a better question.
And I have also learned that even
with the most intractable issues,
the issues that we rehash in our public life over and over again
and we're convinced that they can only end in a fight that is,
it is actually possible to start those with a different question
and not trod the same old ground and not end
up in the same dead end place.
You know, are you pro-life or pro-choice?
This is the-- these are the framing questions.
Are you for guns or against guns?
Are you pro-gay marriage or anti-gay marriage?
We can start discussions aimed at the adventure
of exploring what is at stake for all of us in human terms.
One of the wonderful conversation partners
that I've gotten to know through Civil Conversations Project is
And if you know her name, you probably know her name
because she was the long-time head of Catholics for Choice.
She was a very well-known pro-choice activist.
What's less highly publicized about Frances Kissling is
that when she retired from Catholics for Choice
about five years ago, she decided to embark
on a new adventure of exploring what it would mean to be
in real relationship with her political opposites.
And that's what she has devoted herself to these last years
and she's a fascinating person to talk to and, you know,
a lot of the things she's learned have been uncomfortable
and she's still learning them like she talks about--
she's learned about the necessity
of developing the courage to be vulnerable in front of those
with whom you passionately disagree.
That's a long road to walk.
And then this past fall, as part
of the Civil Conversations Project,
I brought together Frances
and David Gushee who's a wonderful theologian
from Mercer University in Georgia.
And he's on the pro-life side of the spectrum but that's really
to diminish him to put it that way, and so what we tried,
what we did is we had a discussion about abortion
which was not framed by the categories
of pro-life and pro-choice.
We actually tried not to use that language
and we almost succeeded.
And, you know, we had a discussion that was big
and messy and provocative in such an interesting way.
You know, what I want to stress is that taking that language
out of it doesn't make it easy or simple.
It actually reintroduces complexity and the hardness.
I mean, we ended up talking about things
like whether the *** revolution was good for any
of us and how we might re-humanize
and deepen our relationship to sexuality in public as well
as private spheres, you know, this was big unsettling,
thrilling stuff that was all new.
It was all fresh.
So, I want to stress that, you know,
the conversations I'm proposing also are not
about leaping to common ground.
That's not the point of this.
They're not about the move tolerance often made which comes
under the rubric of celebrating diversity which has meant kind
of putting diversity up on a pedestal
and not engaging its messiness or its depths.
This, what I'm aspiring to, is about engaging difference
with humility and vulnerability and creating new possibilities
for moving forward while being different,
and while even probably continuing
to hold passionate disagreement.
It's about how we can live together.
Here's something Frances Kissling says,
she's not a big believer in common ground either.
She said, "I think that common ground can be found
between people who do not have deep, deep differences
and in politics, you can find compromise,
although I think that's up in the question right now.
Politics is the art of the possible.
But to think that 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 we could extend that."
But she says, "I do think that when people who disagree
with each other come together with a goal
of gaining a better understanding
of why the other believes what they do,
good things come of that."
But the pressure of coming to agreement works
against really understanding each other.
That's a provocative thought.
And we don't understand each other.
In my work, I have been very deeply formed by some words
of the poet Rilke on living the questions, holding questions.
He wrote that we should love the questions themselves
as if they were locked rooms or books written
in a very foreign language.
Don't search 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.
These intimate, civilizational questions we are revisiting
as a culture are not going to be resolved any time soon
with answers we can all agree on.
But surely, we can agree that we want to live our way
into the answers together,
which flows into my third encouragement,
to honor the difficulty of what we face, the complexity
of what it means to be human, to be realistic
about how badly we've done this in recent times
and that we are beginners again, to start small,
to realize for example the critical importance
of creating safe spaces before anything profound can happen.
Back to that fear place that our non-entrepreneurial brains send
us to in the face of uncertainty and change.
We can't ask people to come vulnerable in front of those
with whom they passionately disagree unless we can make them
And in this, I am comforted and buoyed by a conversation I had
with a very erudite philosopher Kwame Anthony Appiah.
He has an amazing personal story.
He's British and Ghanaian and then now, he's American
and his parent's marriage in the 1950s of--
his African father and his high-born British mother was one
of the love stories that gave rise to the movie
"Guess Who's Coming to Dinner."
So, he actually lived through one of these moments
of social change, of moral change because remember
in that time, you know, interracial marriage was seen
as a moral issue, morally repugnant by many people.
And that was something that, you know, within a generation,
people would look back on that and say, "What were we thinking?
How could we have lived that way?"
I find the memory that we make those turns
in human society very comforting at a moment like this
where it's really impossible to see how we'll find our way
out of this dysfunction.
And then, Anthony Appiah has gone on to study
in many societies across time and geography how these kinds
of pivotal moral, social turning points happen,
how foot binding ended in China, how slavery ended as a fundament
of the British Empire, how dueling ended as a way
for honorable gentlemen to resolve disputes.
And what he found in all of these cases is
that for a long time, there were people in those cultures
who knew this was crazy, right?
And-- but so gradually, so change took place over time
across time in the human heart and then at some point
where that has built, they wouldn't have used the term
"critical mass" in China in the-- or foot binding--
we will get to that, then the movements come along
and they uproot the structure and then the change happens.
But, again, what's comforting about what he found is
that change comes about quietly by way
of what he calls conversation but in the old-fashioned sense.
And that is conversation defined as simple association,
habits of coexistence, seeking familiarity
around mundane human qualities of who we are.
So, we called the show that we created with him
"Sidling Up to Difference."
That's a phrase he uses.
Difference is something you can sidle up to.
He does say that when you turn a dispute over to legislation,
it becomes something of a conversation stopper.
And, you know, that is one thing that we reach for very quickly
in this culture, not only in our political life
but in our religious institutions
and all of our institutions.
Let's make a law and get this over.
So, Anthony Appiah says, "The way to set moral change
in motion is not to go for the jugular,"
or even in the first instance to go for dialogue,
it's not to go straight for the things that divide you.
He says, "It's all right to talk about sports and talk
about the weather and talk about your children
to make a human connection."
And then he says down the day, "If you have that background
of relationship between individuals and communities
that is in that sense conversational,
then when you have to talk about the things
that do divide you, you have a platform.
You can begin with the assumption that you like
and respect each other even though you don't agree
And we also all have a lot of those people
in our own families by the way.
So, we know that it's possible to navigate this and stay
in relationship with people.
And that maybe you can build on that.
And you can know that at the end of the conversation,
it's quite likely that you'll both think something pretty
close to what you both thought at the start.
But you might at least have a deeper appreciation
for the other person's point of view and that turns
out to make it easier to accept the outcome, what,
whether it's the outcome you favor
or the outcome the other person favors,
and there's actually some really interesting science
about that now, that when people feel that they have been heard,
when we feel that we have been heard,
we can also find it easier
to accept something we may even resolved in a way not that--
it's not in a way we hoped to.
We can make peace with that and live with that.
What Anthony Appiah calls conversation almost necessarily
involves another virtue, and that is hospitality.
And as virtues go, I really like this one.
It's also a very small reasonable place to start.
You know, we talk about aspiring to compassion and love
and reconciliation and forgiveness.
Those are complex experiences that take a lot
of investment and a lot of time.
You don't have to love someone to show hospitality.
You don't have to agree with them.
You don't even have to like them.
And yet, you can be gracious in that same moment.
So, I say when in doubt, practice hospitality.
But then, give that practice all the sophistication
and complexity that it has in life when you offer it
to your best friends, right?
It's not just the issuing of an invitation.
It's the preparation of a meal.
It's lighting candles.
It's an atmosphere.
It's knowing what conversations you're going to push
and which ones you will leave for another time.
I love an image of the Quaker author, Parker Palmer,
who some of you may know.
That, he talks about how, in this culture, we're very skilled
at bringing our intellect into public spaces and public events.
We know how to wield our opinions.
And we've actually gotten very good in this culture
in recent generations,
at bringing our emotions into public spaces.
But to invite the insights of the soul,
this deep spiritual human part of us is something different.
And Parker likens the soul to a wild animal in the backwoods
of our psyche and if it's cross-examined,
it will just run away.
And he says that, "For the insights of the soul
to speak its truth, we have to create quiet, inviting,
and trustworthy spaces."
And that's really been a guide for me.
Every time I start one of my radio interviews,
I try to create a quiet, inviting, and trustworthy space.
And that makes all of the difference in terms
of what follows that precedes the words
but it opens possibilities.
And, you know, quiet, inviting,
and trustworthy spaces are strangely rare in our world.
So, what a gift
if the conversational entrepreneurs among us could
begin to plant these and let them grow.
So, again, we have the language, the tools, the virtues,
and the calling as human beings to create hospitable spaces,
to convene and curate the new forms
of encounter our world is giving birth to, to teach
and model these new forms into vitality.
We talk a lot about the downside of technology
in our relationships and this is certainly a huge thing we have
to deal with.
But one upside of technology in this context is
that we have these manifold tools
that can amplify what happens in our smallest most local spaces
and the small yeasty environments and send
that out virally into the world.
And I want to tell you, and we can talk some more about this
in a minute if you want.
There's so much good news on this front.
There are so many amazing initiatives of people taking
out this good work in local spaces and in national spaces,
and it's all happening as we say below the radar.
The radar is broken.
Don't trust it.
And my final encouragement to you follows on that,
that insistence, that observation.
And I draw it from this beautiful biblical injunction
to develop eyes to see and ears to hear.
I think that developing eyes to see and ears
to hear is a critical spiritual discipline for the 21st century.
You know, so much information is coming to us
from so many different directions
and what is failing drives the news
which is what a spotlight is shown on.
So, develop eyes to see and ears to hear.
And this is not just about seeing what is new.
It's also about becoming attentive to the wisdom
of elders in our midst,
to people who have lived how social change happens starting
below the radar.
Absolutely, some of my most treasured conversations are
with people who are in their 80s.
And as part of the Civil Conversations Project,
some of the most important conversations I've had have been
with elders and I want to just close tonight
with Vincent Harding who is a civil rights veteran.
He ran the Mennonite House in Atlanta which was one
of the hubs of nonviolence, philosophy, and practice.
He wrote speeches for Martin Luther King Jr.
and he spent these last decades after the heyday
of that movement, bringing the lessons of that movement
to young people in this country.
And Vincent Harding reminds us
that Martin Luther King Jr. was a preacher first
and a theologian before he was a political figure.
And that the Civil Rights Movement was not merely
about political rights.
It was about creating the beloved community.
And it was always about that from beginning to end.
The Civil Rights Movement used vivid language
and asked world-changing questions.
Also, I was very struck a few years ago,
I spoke with another elder,
Walter Brueggemann who's an Old Testament professor and he's one
of the great scholars of the prophetic tradition of prophets
and he pointed out to me, you know, he said,
"Prophets often use poetic language
and that's how they transcend the, you know,
the forms of speech they get us--
that devolve into argument."
He said, "Think about the most famous political line of King,
you know, the one line we'd all remember.
I have a dream."
That's a line of poetry.
And here's what Vincent Harding--
so I was talking to Vincent Harding
about what wisdom can you impart from the life you've lived
from this vast social change that you took part in for us,
at this moment in our civic life, in our political life,
in our democracy, and this is what 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 that we need again to recognize
that to develop the best humanity, the best spirit,
the best community, there needs to be disciplined,
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?"
That's a different way to talk
about what civil conversation is about.
And then he finished by saying, "My own feeling is I try
to share again and again, is that when it comes
to creating a multiracial, multiethnic,
multi-religious democratic society,
we are still a developing nation.
We've only been thinking about this for about half a century.
But my own deep, deep conviction is that the knowledge,
like all knowledge, is available to us if we seek it."
I find this a wonderfully nourishing message to in
in a week of narrowly averted political catastrophe,
to remember that we are in the midst of a long-term project.
And I also find this a wonderful message
for the young among us 'cause we spend a lot
of time bringing home to them
that the generations have preceded them have left a lot
of messages for them to fix.
But this, too, is their calling and all of ours to grow
up this democracy to its full political as well
as its full human and spiritual potential.
May you develop eyes to see and ears to hear this
as the adventure it is and dare to make it real in ways
that none of us can yet imagine.
[ Applause ]
Oh, is there some water here?
[Inaudible] Anyway, so now, we can talk about that
or anything else you'd like to discuss.
Are we-- oh-- oh, thank you.
Thanks. There's a mic coming around.
[ Pause ]
>> So, you've provided a lot of encouragement
in many different areas but let me begin with two areas,
encouraging discourse in the public
and the social sphere and asking questions.
What specific vehicles can you recommend to instigate the type
of discourse that you referenced in your talk
and what sources can provide us as source for emulation
of asking the right questions?
So, given the current state of things--
>> Where do we begin?
>> What did you-- initially-- what did you say, what views?
>> No, what I said was that based
on what you've provided us with encouragement--
>> Yes. You want something a little more immediate
to start with.
>> Well, you know, I think one has to be inspired,
and listening to you, I am inspired.
But leaving this hall, I'm still not sure where I begin.
>> -- with my circle of friends, my associates
on an individual basis, I can begin to do that.
But we are talking about not challenges
of just our local community
but also national and international--
>> -- challenges that we face.
And we know that United States is in a position to be a source
of emulation for many other parts of the world as it is
in so many different fronts.
>> So, I'm really looking to you
to recommend some specific things that I can walk away with
and know that it has the ability to multiply.
>> OK. Though I have a few different responses,
one is that, you know, there's this pivotal like piece of moral
and this story-- and there's this notion
in Judaism that's essential moral imperative
to repair the world.
And I-- I've been very comforted in, you know, a reading of that
that that's, you know, we're called to repair the part
of the world that we can see and touch, and I think that's
where we have to start
and I think one way we get discouraged is you're right.
I mean, the problems are local, the problems are national,
the problems are global.
But I think that sometimes when we see too much of the problem
that that becomes an impediment to beginning where we can,
you know, just start trying to heal the part
of the world you can see and touch.
That's the calling.
I can talk about some questions, some particular questions that
and ways of starting a conversation
that are useful to me.
I started to imagine that you could have a different kind--
or you could bring religious voice, draw religious voices
out in a way that was completely different
than anything we heard in media.
Through some experiences I had at Benedictine Abbey
in Central Minnesota, Saint John's Abbey
which had been a real pioneer in the whole sphere of ecumenism
when that was a big new thing in the mid-20th century.
And they would take up huge theological questions
that people had argued
and killed each other over for centuries.
But they would ask a theological question,
they would pose a theological idea and/or question and say,
"Answer the question through the story of your life."
You know, theologically,
if you're having a religious discussion, you know,
you could ask a question like, what is prayer?
Who is God?
Answer the question through the story of your life.
I saw that by insisting on people using the first person
which was not to say that it was a completely personal story,
but not trying to speak for God or for their group
but through a life story, it made that story listenable,
it humanized a doctrine.
And I think you can, you know, you can extend this logic
to other spheres, it doesn't have to be about doctrine.
Now, the trick is in that setting, you--
you know, you had five days,
'cause that's really what you have to give people.
So, what I try to do in my interviews is, you know,
I have maybe 90 minutes with someone, and you don't even get
to hear that whole 90 minutes when it becomes a radio show.
But I try to do-- try to formulate some question
that will take them to that place
and themselves quickly enough.
And so a question that I always ask, and again,
there are variations on this, is a-- whoever I'm talking to,
whether it's a quantum physicist or a poet or, you know,
whether they are deeply religious or atheist or--
I'll ask, you know, tell me was there a spiritual--
was there religious or spiritual background to your childhood,
and the thing is, I mean, just think about this.
Probably, the most intimidating question any
of us could be asked, including me,
is tell me about your religious or spiritual life now, right,
that's-- OK, but tell me about the religious
or spiritual background of your childhood.
Everyone has a story, everyone.
But more importantly, the reason I ask that question,
although we may leave it behind and not return to anything
like it, is about where it plants people.
It plants people in a place that is soft and searching,
much more soft and searching than we present ourselves
to the world, and also that happens to be a place
where a lot of us started asking these questions
that we followed-- that we have followed
to the rest of our lives.
So, humanizing the people and the subject at hand.
I could go on about this but I do want to say,
this is a little bit of a plug from my projects,
some of my colleagues are here.
As part of the Civil Conversations Project,
a lot of people have been posing precisely that question to us,
saying, you know, "We want do this."
And so, we've been approaching this on a couple of levels
and one is learning about all the other projects that are
out there and there is actually a lot online in the way
of resources and guides and templates.
So one of the things we're doing is actually mapping some of that
to put it in one place to, you know, find the best of it
and to make available to people.
We don't really have to invent the wheel here.
So one thing I can say is stay tuned.
And go to onbeing.org in maybe three months.
Because it's a perfectly legitimate question and--
but there are some really incredible things happening.
[ Pause ]
>> I just wanted to ask you--
your discussion brings to me the concept of trust.
For me, personally, to really do what you're trying to do is
to have a sense of trust in the other person.
And I wanted to ask you how do you personally deal with--
do you always trust?
Or do you just bring your trust into the conversation
because it will bring probably a better outcome
for the conversation.
How do you manage issues of trust in a cynical, doubting,
manipulating, misinforming environment that is so prevalent
in the world that we live in?
>> Yeah. So the question is about this issue of trust
and how do you-- how does one give oneself over to that.
And I-- you know, those dangers that you're raising are real
and that's why I talk about having-- you have to create.
There has to be structure around this.
I mean, you know, there can also be a great dinner party with it.
But the kinds of things where you're talking
about with trust would be an issue,
where people would genuinely have reason not to feel safe.
That has to absolutely be taking into account.
I also think that-- that, I hate to keep coming back
to the same old issues 'cause there are other issues.
But some of these areas like abortion or, you know,
differences over same sex marriage.
Issues over identity, sometimes the people who are really
on the front lines of that whose identity is being called
into question, probably shouldn't be the first ones
in the room in that dialogue.
I think some of us who are not intimately directly threatened
have to be bridge people.
You know, that we can't ask everyone to muster
that trust to be in a room.
And we shouldn't.
But some of us without being directly intimately threatened
would be able to put ourselves in that place of saying--
you know, and this is where we're talking about saying,
I really want to understand why you can care so much about this.
I remember talking to Richard Mouw who was the President
of Fuller Theological Seminary which is a really one
of the most important evangelical institutions
in the world and, you know he is somebody who actually
on theological grounds, doesn't believe
that churches should bless same sex marriages,
but he also believes that the measure of Christianity is much
about how you treat other people as what positions you take.
And he also is very dismayed by the vitriol and, you know,
what he said to me is I wish we could stop trading, you know,
our insults and try to understand the hopes
and fears we bring to this.
You know, just imagine a reframed discussion around that.
Why are you so, you know, what are you afraid of?
Can we give voice?
And also give voice to our hopes around it.
But again, the people who are most intimately involved maybe
aren't in that room, at least in the beginning.
We can't necessarily ask them to be vulnerable.
[ Pause ]
>> Hello, Krista.
It's wonderful to see you.
I'm a frequent listener of On Being podcast and I thank you
so much for being here.
I remember sometime ago, might been over a year ago,
I heard an interview that you had with Gabe Lyons
and I believe it was Jim Daly focused on the family.
>> And I thought it'd be great to perhaps get Gabe Lyons or one
of them in conversation with Gene Robinson.
And in fact, that's what's happening here in a couple
of weeks, Gene-- Bishop Gene Robinson is coming to Stanford
and Gabe Lyons is coming to Stanford.
And I'm wondering what advice you have for us on how to manage
that conversation that we're hoping to have with them?
>> Yeah. So let me say, so, this was one of these events we did
and I think the most-- It was surprising to many people
that we had Jim Daly who is the head of Focus on the Family.
And Focus on the Family really stand--
is symbolic for a lot of people of that very strident
and hateful face of Christianity of the last few decades.
What's so interesting is he's not James Dobson,
and he is also deeply dismayed by that same face
which doesn't mean that he doesn't have some opinions
that a lot of people would disagree with.
But the spotlight has never been shining on him 'cause he--
you know, he-- I mean, I hold my fellow journalists accountable
for this as much as the strident voices.
You know, it's like these voices throw themselves in front
of microphones and cameras,
and that's where the microphones and cameras go.
Again, this is somebody who holds positions
that have intensified a lot of these difficult debates,
but wishes to conduct himself in a very, very different way,
which is to navigate that and is navigating
that a different way in his life.
So, what could I say about-- I just think, you know,
this is so simple but draw them out as human beings and not
as representatives including Gene Robinson.
Not as the symbol he became but as the human being he is.
in her adventure has comment two questions that she says
when you-- you know, that these are questions you need to get
to the point that you can ask.
And the questions would be what do I find attractive
in the position of the other?
You know, is there something in them or their position,
or their passion that I can respect, and also to be able
to honestly articulate what makes me uncomfortable
in my own position?
And those are kind of magic questions, you know, when I--
when we've done these civil conversations events
in a few different contexts, I introduced those questions.
You know, each side answered them.
You have to build up to that place
where those are the questions you can post and that's
about humanizing and creating the safe space.
But those-- I mean those are some guides.
Does that help?
[ Pause ]
[ Pause ]
>> Do you think there's any place anymore
in civil discussion for debate?
Because that's the way we often frame these matters and we do it
in the academy as well as other places.
Is a well-framed debate a way to get out these issues,
or is everything you're telling us that's no longer helpful?
>> Yeah. Well, you know, there's a place for debate.
But everything shouldn't be debated and one
of the worst things that goes wrong when you turn something
into a debate is you reduce it to two sides, you know.
And when we've taken this debate model and we've applied
to these huge complicated, intimate civilizational issues,
we've just-- we've impoverished right there.
Right from the outset, we've limited where we can go.
And the problem also-- I mean as we've really taken
that to this macro level, everything is defined-- we--
everything has two poles, right?
And what I'm so aware of is most of us
on almost anything you could name whether it's an economic
issue or a moral issue.
Most of us are not at this poll or that poll, you know?
We may be far to the right or far to the left.
I'm not sure I really believe there is
such a thing as a center.
Everybody is somewhere to the right of center,
to the left of center, but most of us stop short
of those two positions, and at the very list,
we know we have a few open questions
or we have a few things we're uncomfortable
with in our own position, right?
But all of our debate-- all of our discussions get framed
in that debate which only gives legitimacy
to those extreme positions.
So yeah, I think, as I-- just as we get
to reject the framing questions and start these conversations
in new places, we get to say this is not a debate.
We can call it any number of things.
We can do it any number of ways.
Sometimes actually-- sometimes a most effective way to get
at the real deep complexity in an issue is
to interview one person who's lived a trajectory, you know,
from being here to being there.
It also doesn't have to be multiple people.
[ Pause ]
>> Hi. A recurring theme of your talk has been the re-imagining
>> Oh, I can't hear you.
>> I'm sorry.
of relationships is a recurring theme of your talk.
I was wondering if you could say anything about the role
or purpose of how we might re-imagine our relationship
with nature in another side especially when--
or effects on of-- of manifest in a global,
entire earth wide scale.
I was just wondering if you could say anything
about the relationship with the nonhuman other if you will.
>> Yeah. Yeah, I mean I have a lot of thoughts about that.
It takes us a little bit outside this discussion.
Although, I also think that that question is something we need
to ponder together and a lot of people are pondering that.
Again, this is really from a different corner but I feel
like something that actually religion has contributed
to is the way in 20th Century, we got a very kind of chin
up understanding of ourselves, you know?
I really feel Descartes has a lot to answer for,
I think therefore I am.
And one thing that 21st people,
century people are doing is rediscovering their bodies
like it sound so simple, we got very disembodied.
And again, religion was disembodied, right?
Like religion is now that, you know, became this place
where you sit on a comfortable pew and listen to a monologue.
And it used to be this cathartic,
our spiritual traditions used to be this cathartic places
where you were dancing, and singing,
and laughing, and crying.
This physical and the fastest growing spiritual traditions,
all of them are full body spirituality.
So I think a lot about that and what I also observe and hear
from other people from different directions is that,
precisely when we get back-- that getting back into your body
which also means getting
into your body is a messy imperfect thing, right?
It makes you more compassionate towards all of life.
It's not necessarily something we think we're doing,
and we're becoming more getting into our physicality.
Yeah, and actually I think--
I think being more embodied is all--
I mean it's related to this discussion we're having
in this sense that I think compassion flows
from being more embodied, just it physically flows from that.
And, you know, if you look at all these debates, you know,
there are all chin up, right?
They don't even acknowledge, they cut,
even the talking heads, right, that's the language we used,
they are actually cut off
from the complexity of themselves, right.
I mean the same people is--
revelations come out about the messiness of their reality.
So I actually think you can,
I mean that's how I would draw a connection.
If, you know, understanding ourselves
as creatures among other creatures,
and that means our relationship to each other,
and our relationship to the natural world.
[ Pause ]
>> You talked about social healing and I'm wondering
if there are certain realms or areas that you are noticing
or identifying nationwide of social healing
or are you really talking about something that happens more
on that like individual or small community level, but are there
like what you be able to name like this a thing in our culture
that needs to be healed, that kind of a top three--
>> -- to five list.
>> Oh, there's so many things that need to be healed.
I mean, I think a great wound that a lot
of people are feeling now is, you know, income inequality
which is also a little bit--
it's kind of a dry way to say it,
but I think that this is incredibly painful for a lot
of us but people have no idea what to do about it, you know?
So I'm really longing to kind of try
to wrap my arms around that like.
And I do believe that part of the reason it becomes
such an abstraction is because we actually--
we're so segregated in so many ways, you know,
in every aspect of our lives.
We don't actually have relationship
with those people we'd like to help.
And so, because we have no relationship,
we don't know them.
We can't have a robust imagination
about what we could possibly do to make a difference.
So that's one thing.
Something else I actually would
like to name is this whole matter of bullying.
I actually want to call this
out because I think something really--
I think we're in one of these moments that I mentioned
like with interracial marriage, we are suddenly looking
at something that has just been, you know,
it's been around forever and parents
and teachers would just you say, you know,
"That's the way it is," right, "It's just--
that's just what happens."
We have just tolerated this for generations.
So I mean, you know, there's another terrible,
terrible story today about a young girl
who committed suicide.
I mean these are terrible things but what I actually want
to make us aware of is this is a moment of growth,
and maybe the internet, maybe the fact
that the cyber-bullying made this so public
and so global has actually contributed
to this being a moment of awakening.
I'm kind of saying I want us to like pat ourselves in the back
and say, look, because this is not--
I mean clearly it's a painful, protracted process.
It's not going to go away tomorrow, but suddenly,
it's just-- it is one of these moments where we shake our heads
and say, "How could we have lived like that?"
So, you know, that is like that's a form
of social healing that's happening
but healing comes by knowing the pain.
>> I really appreciate your words and questions
so I'm glad you talked about them tonight.
And I think I remember that you have children, and I'm wondering
like how do you teach conversation
and how do you teach--
and at what age can people really converse?
And yeah, just the education of conversation.
>> Well, the difficult thing about raising children is,
as much as you want it to be about you teach, you know,
it's just-- it's really just about what you do
but which is really hard.
They're not listening to you but they're watching you.
Yeah, you know, in terms of conversation generationally
like raising new generations.
Again, I just think if we started doing this--
I mean how do we learn language?
How do we learn any language?
We learn language because people talk around us
and we will impart the art of conversation and a love
of conversation, a respect for conversation by doing it
and by showing it to kids.
And, you know, honestly, I want to say, I think it can--
I just keep emphasizing this.
It can start really simple.
I think people should have dinner parties more
and not worry about everything being perfect.
I mean this is something people just don't do in this culture,
and that's something that absolutely rubs off on kids.
If you live in a home where people are invited
over but we stress out.
So, I mean, I'm talking about myself here too, you know,
you stress out so much about do you have time to prepare it
and what will you cook, and will the house be clean?
And we have to understand
that there's something much more important
in life-giving that's possible here and get over that.
And yeah, so I mean, I honestly I can't imagine something
that could instill children with a better regard for conversation
as part of life than living in a home were people are invited
over to be in conversation.
>> How would [inaudible] your children would ask the
>> My children bring me down to earth.
[ Laughter ]
I would tell my children that you said that
and they would roll their eyes.
[ Laughter ]
[ Noise ]
>> I love the term conversational entrepreneur
in your encouragements and the thing that I'm struck
by is beyond the words and beyond the generous questions
and the honoring of the difficulty.
There's also the quality of our presence in our way of being,
and yours is quite remarkable and it comes
through in the radio show
and it's quite palpable here tonight.
And my question for you is what practices do you have
to bring forward this quality of presence in way of being.
So that in a way you're an invitation
into that soft certain place
without even the question just through the presence.
>> Well, I also have my rough sides, you know, I don't know.
I don't know how to answer that question.
I-- this is kind of a serious answer but I--
there's a sense in which I started becoming who I am now
when I went through a really serious depression
in my mid 30s.
I mean, a lot of things obviously I was who I am but one
of the most kind
of countercultural spiritual truths is this notion of,
you know, strength and weakness
which just it doesn't make any sense in this culture
and it hardly make sense to me either.
But the wise people I interview and to the extent
that I have wisdom-- it is about understanding that the things
that go wrong for you are also part of your gifts to the world,
and it's about letting those things,
your suffering be an opening to the suffering of others.
It's something that unites you.
But again, you know, I-- that's why my children are so great
like I tell people, I tell them people say that I'm so serene,
you know, they just find this uproariously funny.
And my colleagues would find it funny too.
So, but, you know, I want to say, yeah, presence,
I mean I do work at that.
And that I-- people say to me, "Oh you must have come
from a family of great listeners" and in fact,
I came from a family where no one listened
and no one was present.
So, you know, to the extent that I've cultivated that it's
in response to something that I realized was absent
which comes back to the point I made a minute ago
that we're only whole with our darkness in our light,
both of those things together.
[ Pause ]
>> Hi. I was struck by your comment earlier
about shimmering language and the idea of expanding.
I've been concerned about the diminishment of English
as a language and about the role of the media in targeting
and focusing, and getting the right word and the right phrase
to literally become triggers for particular reactions.
And I would like to ask you to look past the spiritual side,
because I'm an atheist, to the journalist
and the media specialist side
and ask how do you refocus language?
>> How could journalists refocus language?
>> What's the role of the media?
What's was your role as a media specialist in fixing this?
>> Well, right, you know,
journalism could be a healing art, right, it could be.
I kind of have the same answer that I--
the same feeling that I have about politics which is that,
you know, it is changing, it will change.
There are some pretty incredible things happening,
there are something called the Solutions Journalism Network
which is started, yeah--
so you've never heard of it under the radar?
There-- and it started by some young people.
There's-- one of them who founded that is--
has a column in the New York Times call the Fixes column.
We were just today a place in the Bay Area called the Center
for Investigative Reporting
and they're doing really interesting things
about humanizing the news.
[ Inaudible Remark ]
>> No. Is it alarming but it's just like what's going
on in congress it's like--
>> It's the same thing.
>> We can't let that define our take on reality
and we can't wait for journalism to change to start looking
for the stories we want to be reading, and yeah.
But it does, I think it's redirecting our attention and,
you know, it's so interesting.
If you think about the New York Times, right,
like I read the New York Times Sundays now.
I don't read it during the rest of the week,
but Sunday I read it religiously and I have for years.
Just think about all these years that on the front page
of the New York Times, it says "All the news that's fit
to print" and that nobody ever made fun of that, right?
Like, until about ten minutes ago, I mean I don't know
if this is true, we're not in New York,
but I mean in New York or, you know, yeah, of course,
of course, six white guys can sit around at noon everyday,
sift through everything that's happening in the globe.
>> The Kardashians.
>> So, I mean I think at least we're like waking up to--
and that also makes it more confusing
because then the picture is so huge, but yeah,
I think the question is not how can we change immediate,
it's changing, it will change, we just have
to redirect our attention and really leaven what we get out of
that with other sources.
>> So before I thank Krista, I want to call your attention
to the fact that you have another opportunity
to meet with her.
Tomorrow morning there will be a breakfast at nine in the CIRCLE,
the Center for Inter-Religious Community Learning
and Experiences on the third floor of the Old Union.
There are books in the lobby that Krista will be happy
to sign and you can continue the conversation with the
"flat friend" as well as the "flesh and blood" friend.
And there also are on the tables outside flyers
of upcoming events including the one that was mentioned here,
Bishop Gene Robinson in conversation with Gabe Lyons
and also in conversation with Rabbi Steven Greenberg.
So there's a flyer about that in the foyer.
When we began this evening, a student came up to Krista
and asked her what animates her?
And her first two words were "I listen."
And as we had the opportunity to listen to her listening,
to absorb what she's learned through her listening.
We've heard words that shimmer and generous questions.
So I want to thank you for giving us conversation
that matters and I was thinking about the words
that are part of Jewish liturgy--
[ Foreign Language ]
Blessed is the one who speaks and worlds came into being.
So thank you for bringing worlds into being.
[ Applause ]
>> For more, please visit us at Stanford.edu.