On Being with Krista Tippett
On Being takes up the big questions of meaning with scientists and theologians, artists and teachers — some you know and others you'll love to meet. Each week a new discovery about the immensity of our lives — updated every Thursday. Hosted by Krista Tippett. Discover more at onbeing.org. On Being Studios is the producer of On Being, Becoming Wise, Creating Our Own Lives, and more to come.
This is a strange, tumultuous political moment. With columnists David Brooks and E.J. Dionne, we step back from the immediate political gamesmanship. We take public theology as a lens on the challenge and promise we will all be living as citizens, whoever our next president might be. This public conversation was convened by the John C. Danforth Center on Religion and Politics at Graham Chapel at Washington University in St. Louis, the day before the second presidential debate on that campus.
“A dysfunctional family is any family with more than one person in it.” Mary Karr is beloved for her salty memoirs in which she traces her harrowing childhood in southeast Texas with a mother who once tried to kill her with a butcher’s knife and her own adult struggles with alcoholism and breakdown. She has a captivating ability to give voice to what is funny and wild in life’s most heartbreaking moments. Mary Karr embodies this wryness and wildness in her lesser-known spiritual practice as a devout Catholic — an unexpected move she made in mid-life.
Fundamental forces of physics somehow determine everything that happens, “from the birth of a child to the birth of a galaxy.” Yet physicist Leonard Mlodinow has an intriguing perspective on the gap between theory and reality — and the fascinating interplay between a life in science and life in the world. As the child of two Holocaust survivors, he asks questions about our capacity to create our lives, while reflecting on extreme human cruelty — and courage.
Alain de Botton is a philosopher who likes the best of religion, but doesn’t believe in God. He says that the most boring question you can ask of any religion is whether it is true. But how to live, how to die, what is good, and what is bad — these are questions religion has sophisticated ways of addressing. So he’s created The School of Life — where people young and old explore ritual, community, beauty, and wisdom. He explains why these ideas shouldn’t be reserved just for believers.
The history of rebellion is rife with excess and burnout. But new generations have a distinctive commitment to be reflective and activist at once, to be in service as much as in charge, and to learn from history while bringing very new realities into being. Quaker wise man Parker Palmer and journalist and entrepreneur Courtney Martin come together for a cross-generational conversation about the inner work of sustainable, resilient social change.
Where does it hurt? That’s a question the civil rights icon Ruby Sales learned to ask during the days of that movement. It’s a question we scarcely know how to ask in public life now, but it gets at human dynamics that we are living and reckoning with. At a convening of 20 theologians seeking to reimagine the public good of theology for this century, Ruby Sales unsettles some of what we think we know about the force of religion in civil rights history, and names a “spiritual crisis of white America” as a calling of this time.