Saturday, September 04, 2010

Tippett point

You may know that "Speaking of Faith with Krista Tippett" is a great aggravation to me. Tippett interviews amazing people, who say profound and illuminating things. Her radio program, which has spawned podcasts, web communities and books, has done much to enrich discussion of "religion, meaning, ethics and ideas."

But Tippett herself grates on me. She seems to me to cut her interviewees off as they get really interesting, to offer banal paraphrases and superficial comparative equations. A review of her book Speaking of Faith in "Books & Culture" nailed it for me last year: her radio series requires never coming to the point of commitment, so her voice becomes the voice of an aesthetic searching unwilling to find or be found. (The review is more personal: she thinks it's Tippett, not just the requirements of radio hosting.) But perhaps that's the service Tippett renders, allowing her listeners opportunities for commitment by forgoing it herself, at least in her radio persona.

In any case, "Speaking of Faith" will soon be no more. A new name is on the horizon which makes me woozy: "Krista Tippett on Being." Lordy. On the series website Tippett writes that she was initially not that enthusiastic about the new title (not her idea, clearly), although it had become clear that the old name put some people off - "faith" is a trigger-word for many. But "Being"? (It's not clear if it's capitalized or not.) On reflection she finds

it feels like home. “Being” is an elemental, essential word. It was a catchword of the existentialism of the 20th century, and existentialism is making room for spiritual life in the 21st. It is more hospitable than the word “faith” for our non-Christian and non-religious listeners. It is, at the same time, an evocation of the primary biblical name of God. “I am who I am” can be better translated, I recall my teacher of Hebrew pointing out, as “I will be who I will be.”

Perhaps. (The mid-century Protestant framework of Tippett's approach is certainly clear.) To me, "Being" is a scarier, less compromising word. It may describe what religiously committed people experience, but it's unwieldy and inflexible. If it seems less threatening, that's because it's flattened into something banal and inert which, incidentally, makes conversation idle. My "Books & Culture" worry grows here, too. The interlocutors - those who have committed to a particular relationship to Being - have disappeared from the title of the show. Instead of "Speaking of," which points to them or at least (or also) to the dialogue, we get "Krista Tippett on." She's the source now, not just the conduit. Medium has become message.

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