On Being with Krista Tippett

Jen Bailey

What We Inherit & What We Send Forth

Last Updated

July 29, 2021


Original Air Date

July 29, 2021

“I’m entering into this next phase… with a great deal of curiosity and perhaps tenderness, wanting to hold each other tight, because I think that there are ramifications of last year that have yet to be felt.” Rev. Jen Bailey is a wise young pastor and social innovator, and a “friend of a different generation” of Krista. This conversation is a loving adventure in cross-generational mapmaking and care. Jen is a leader in a widening movement that is “healing the healers” — sustaining individuals, organizers, and communities for the long, life-giving transformations ahead.

This conversation came about in partnership with Encore.org.

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Guest

Image of Jen Bailey

Jen Bailey is Founder and Executive Director of the Faith Matters Network and serves on the staff of Greater Bethel AME Church in Nashville, Tennessee. Her first book, to be published in October 2021, is called, To My Beloveds: Letters on Faith, Race, Loss and Radical Hope.

Transcript

Krista Tippett, host: The Rev. Jennifer Bailey is a gentle source of my confidence in the human future. She’s a young pastor and social innovator, wise before her time. As healers of the healers, she and her colleagues support people “to sustain themselves, their communities, and social movements from a place of spirit, creativity, and courage.” Across these last years, I’ve also come to love Jen as a friend of a different generation. She and I both believe that cross-generational accompaniment is essential to meeting this century’s callings towards belonging and healing. We draw each other out, this hour, in that spirit.

[music: “Seven League Boots” by Zoë Keating]

Rev. Jennifer Bailey: There is something about the fact that we are mortal, that there is a definite beginning, middle, and end to the arc of our lives, that is at once humbling, but it also frees up so much. It does allow us to have this generational view that, like, well, I’m here, and one day, I’m not going to be here, [laughs] and so I can do what I can do during this time. And at the same time, I can pass on that which came to me as seed, as blossom, and let somebody else plant it and tend to it And that is so freeing. And if I could go back and talk to a younger version of myself, I would say, “It’s OK to not build the whole house. It’s OK to lay a foundation and be satisfied in that.” 

Tippett: Yeah, but it’s so great that you can say that to your younger self when you’re still only in your 30s. [laughs] That’s kind of evolutionary progress, in my mind.

I’m Krista Tippett, and this is On Being.

Back in 2016, when I first experienced Jen Bailey, she reminded me that the biblical word for “apocalypse” does not mean, as we throw it around culturally, a “cataclysm.” It means an “uncovering.”  The organization she founded and leads, Faith Matters Network, has stepped in across the societal ruptures that have been uncovered in our time. She’s also on the staff of the Greater Bethel AME church in Nashville, where she lives. And this exchange came about in partnership with Encore.org, with Jen, who invited it, taking the lead from the first.

Bailey: Well, you are one of my favorite conversation partners, so I feel so blessed to be able to be in conversation with you today. And I was thinking about this concept of intergenerational friendship. And I remember the first place I started thinking about it was on the On Being Studio couches in Minneapolis, and I think it was 2018, when I was a fellow. And I remember we were all gathered around, and you were telling us the story of yourself as a young person in, I think it was, West Germany, and the role as — during that part of your life when you were doing diplomacy and international relations — of intergenerational friendships, for grounding you. And so I wonder if you might tell us the story about that time, go back to when you were a young person, and the value of those friendships for you.

Tippett: That’s such a good question. I just want to say, one thing I remember about you on that couch is that you also took naps, and I realized how tired you were. [laughs] And I think, actually, that that’s related to what we’re going to talk about, because I’ve watched you — I’ve watched you really lean into the need for care, for self-care, for care for the caregivers. And just think about how, between now and 2018, how unimaginably the world has shifted on its axis.

Yeah — I don’t remember talking about intergenerational in Berlin, but it’s true that, for some reason, I always sought out — I always had a couple of much older friends. And in Berlin, I had two women — one was a journalist, and she was in her 60s when I met her, and I knew her through her 70s, and another woman — and they were just so, so important to me. It’s a long time ago, but that word, “grounding,” that word “grounding” is what comes to me.

I’ve thought a lot, also, even just in the conversations I’ve had with the show and as I get older, I think there is actually something about getting older that you just inhabit your body ever more fully. And I think that that’s something that children are attracted to in grandparents and that we are attracted to in older people. And you know, when you’re in the middle of life — and you’re in that now, your childbearing — you’re in your body in certain ways, incredibly. But there’s a presence that you just — it’s not something you can talk about. It’s not something conscious. It’s just, “oh, this person is on the Earth fully.” And there’s something so comforting about getting close to that.

Bailey: As somebody who is a new mom, who feels like my body — a new mom who’s breastfeeding in this season, I very much feel like my body is not my own. [laughs]

Tippett: Yes. [laughs]

Bailey: I think you’re right, my attraction to hanging out with and being in the presence of, either virtually or in person, with older folks is sort of that magnetic attraction of wanting to be around, in particular, women, who do seem to inhabit and carry their bodies in a different way.

I’m learning things about my body I didn’t know.

Tippett: Oh boy.

Bailey: I didn’t know it could produce and nourish and feed. I didn’t know …

Tippett: Right — you didn’t know it was made for this. I mean, you knew it, but you didn’t know it.

Bailey: Exactly. I’m also now about to hit my mid-30s, and so I’ve heard that your body starts aching in a different way, [laughs] and —

Tippett: I don’t know. Do yoga. I think that’s a self-fulfilling prophecy that one can circumvent.

Bailey: OK, I will embrace that, because I’ve started to discover joints and bones and muscles I didn’t know existed, lifting up Max, my baby boy.

Tippett: Well, yeah.

Bailey: Another thing that has been on my mind — one of the things I love talking to you about is just what’s been on my mind lately. And I think emerging out of the past four years, I’ve really been holding closely to this famous prayer that was made upon the sainthood of Oscar Romero. And it says and begins with the line, “It helps, sometimes, to take a long view.” And coming out of what has felt like the chaos, confusion, the grief that was 2020, I’ve found myself being attracted to those who have a long view of time, particularly elders and those who are older. And I wonder, particularly in a time where everything seems urgent, what the role of pause and breath is, in this season, to help us gear up for whatever this transformational moment we find ourselves in is. And so I’m curious if there have been spaces or places in your own life where taking a long view of time has been helpful.

Tippett: Well, you know, that’s something I’ve really, really just walked with. I think part of that, for me, it’s very much a spiritual view of time. It’s a biblical view of time. It’s the “long arc of the moral universe” view of time. And it’s, in fact, a scientific view of time. But I think, for me, it actually comes from my geopolitical youth, because I think it really got planted in me from living in divided Berlin, in the 1980s, on what really was the fault line of the world at that time — the great drama that seemed like that it might spell the end of humanity, at that time — there’s ways in which we’re now reckoning with things that didn’t get reckoned with in the 20th century, because of the Cold War. So I see — I see the scope of the Cold War. I think our — the excesses of American capitalism, our — I think the Cold War also was when we started to equate the market with moral good, with moral superiority. And that’s so deep. That’s so in our DNA now.

So I see the Cold War in all of its dimensions, but to have had the experience, to live on its fault line — we all knew things were shifting. There was a fluidity that was new. But nobody would’ve predicted that the wall would fall so quickly and that the world would upend and change so transformatively. So I feel like I lived through this moment of experiencing a global “before” and “after.” But what I see — what has shaped me is seeing how much we didn’t see, seeing how much was possible that we weren’t taking in. And I mean, really, all of us.

So yeah, so I take a generational view of time, but that also means that I understand that time doesn’t work on our schedules. It doesn’t work like this bully that we treat it as. Real transformation is generations in the making, and yet, things can also happen quickly, quickly and slowly at the same time.

I’m curious if, for you, this 2020 and beyond feels like a before and an after.

Bailey: Yeah. As you were talking, I was thinking about, what are my Berlin Wall moments throughout the course of my lifetime, because I have no conscious memory of the wall falling. [laughs] I think maybe I was one or two years old at the time.

Tippett: [laughs] Yeah, I was going to say, were you even alive?

Bailey: [laughs] And when I think about the before and after moments that have defined the arc of my life as a millennial, and now as I’m settling into an in-between generation space, which has been really beautiful in many ways — I think about 9/11 as one of those moments for me as a young person that sort of shifted my consciousness and awareness around the  interconnectivity of global dynamics, some of those things that were not quite uncovered, coming to bear. 9/11 was my first week of high school …

Tippett: Really?

Bailey: … so there was a distinct before and after — alongside, you know, what a time to have that kind of before and after, as a young person emerging into adolescence.

I think about the uprisings in Ferguson, in 2014, as a before and after moment of reckoning with racial justice issues. And now 2020 very much feels like a before and after moment, both because of what it revealed about the common fate of humanity, as we were all battling this common enemy in the coronavirus and the death of George Floyd and just seeing, from that moment in 2014 to the moment in 2020, the shift. And so to your point, while it very much feels like that moment was generations in the making — that the response, the uprisings were generations in the making — the shift from the term “Black Lives Matter” being controversial in 2014 to it being chanted globally in 2020 was just such a tremendous — not just shift, but worldview change that I saw unfolding before me.

And so I find myself with a great deal of curiosity, both about what we’re learning on the other end of 2020 and the apocalypses yet to come, the uncoverings yet to come, because I do think, as the world is slowly beginning to open back up in certain places, certainly here in the United States, there are so many things that we aren’t thinking about quite yet. I think we’ve rushed to a space, in some places, of celebration, forgetting that over half a million people have perished or are no longer with us, that there are families that don’t have parents and children who are going to have to make their way in the world. And as a new mom who welcomed a 2020 baby, I’m so curious the impact of being sheltered in place with Max for the first four or five months of his life, my baby who’s now nine months old — the fact that, for the first nine months, he mostly saw people with masks.

Tippett: [laughs] Right.

Bailey: I think “eyes have not seen and ears have not heard,” [laughs] right — the long-term impact of that on the kids who were born last year. And so I’m entering into this next phase on the other side with a great deal of curiosity and perhaps tenderness, wanting to hold each other tight, because I think that there are ramifications of last year that have yet to be felt. And that can be scary for folks. The fear of the unknown is very real. So I’m sitting with all of that in my body right now.

[music: “Viltu Vitrast” by Samaris]

Tippett: I’m Krista Tippett, and this is On Being, today exploring belonging and healing in the world ahead, in cross-generational friendship with Rev. Jen Bailey.

[music: “Viltu Vitrast” by Samaris]

I’ve always found you so wise about sitting, attending to the breadth of experience. You are a pastor, right — it’s a pastoral sensibility. I mean, I feel like that question that you asked me, I feel you really embody, of seeing that the work that is upon us has been long in coming, and it is the work of the rest of our life. It’s funny, I think — I remember when I first was studying the bible when I went to seminary, because I wasn’t religious for a while, but reading the story about how Moses doesn’t make it to the Promised Land and thinking that that was such a wrong ending. I was just like, why did they — that doesn’t make any sense. And now that I’m 60 and we’re in this world we’re in, I feel that so clearly, that what I’m going to do for the rest of my life I will not see the end, the final fruits of. And that is fine. And it’s the way of things. But I’m also partly able to just embrace that because I see you. And so I want to — if part of what I have to do is figure out how I can walk alongside you and be of service.

Bailey: I’m sitting on that reflection, the image of Moses not nearing the Promised Land, [laughs] and I think an 18-year-old Jen would, like you, have been very dissatisfied [laughs] by that conclusion to the story. Like, “You mean, I did all this work, and I can’t even see it? I can’t see it?” Or “I can’t enter it?” I should say.

And I’ve been reflecting a lot, lately, about what is it, or what has it been about my life experience that has helped me see this long view at a relatively young age. And I think — I think it’s been my proximity to death: having lost my mom at 28, when she was 63 years old, having lost three or four friends, all women of color, to suicide in my early 20s. Two weeks after I gave birth, one of my best friends from high school died unexpectedly. And experience of walking with my mom, her last few months on Earth, when she was — after battling cancer for 14 years. And walking with her and alongside her and feeding her and changing her and caring for her and loving for her and being in the room when she transitioned — I think those experiences throughout the course of my life have allowed me an insight into just how precious and finite and short life can be. And so the question then becomes, if our time on Earth is not guaranteed, it’s OK to just do what we can do while we’re here and enjoy it while we have it.

And I wonder how much that might be reflected generationally, with other folks. I’m thinking in particular of young Black folks in the U.S. who I’ve grown up alongside and are coming behind me, who have seen death literally become spectacle in front of our eyes, this constant encounter with death via social media, whether it be police shootings or other things that are now just right in front of our eyes. And given that we live in a culture, in the U.S., that does not do death well — we like to shut it down and forget it …

Tippett: In any case, yeah.

Bailey: [laughs] … in any case — I wonder if, emerging out of this 2020 moment, there might be a re-interrogation of how we sit with death and grief, not as just something that is sad that we dwell in.

Tippett: Yeah — well, it’s also we don’t dwell with the fact of mortality.

Bailey: I think that’s it. That’s what I’m trying to get at, is that we live, and then we die. And I think it was Toni Morrison who once said that that might be the point of it all; [laughs] that there is something about the fact that we are mortal, that there is a definite beginning, middle, and end to the arc of our lives that is at once — I think the word that I want to use is “humbling,” but it also frees up so much. It does allow us to have this generational view that, like, well, I’m here, and one day, I’m not going to be here, [laughs] and so I can do what I can do during this time, and at the same time, I can pass on that which came to me as seed, as blossom, and let somebody else plant it and tend to it. And that is so freeing. And if I could go back and talk to a younger version of myself, I would say, “It’s OK to not build the whole house. It’s OK to lay a foundation and be satisfied in that.”

Tippett: Yeah, but it’s so great that you can say that to your younger self when you’re still only in your 30s. [laughs] That’s kind of evolutionary progress, in my mind.

Bailey: I think it might be one of our gifts, as millennials.

Tippett: I think it is. I think it’s a gift, yeah, of millennials. But at the same time that you say that, you and your community are really holding the great civilizational challenges and crises. There are layers, there’s nuance to what you just said, because on the one hand, there’s you can do what you can do; and I think you’re also saying, we must rest. We must love. We must laugh. That’s what I wish somebody — I had been able to say to myself. I didn’t have permission for that.

But you’re saying it — you’re also saying it because, I feel like, you all see, and you feel in your bodies — this is where it feels like an evolutionary advance to me — that you are working with an inheritance of — “problems” is too small a word, but problems and possibilities, unrealized possibilities, an inheritance of — where you can count decades, you can count centuries, right? And that you are all picking that up, and you are going to carry it forward in this generation. And another reason you need to stay rested is not just to be humble about the contribution you can make, but because you see that this — that you are engaged in this huge work.

Bailey: I think one reason for that — I can only speak from the particularity of my experience, but it was witnessing so many women from my mother’s generation just be so tired and worn down. And I think it might’ve been a result of sort of this second wave of feminism that pushed and pushed and pushed and pushed and pushed …

Tippett: [laughs] “You can have it all” — yeah.

Bailey: … and the cognitive dissonance, I might argue, that particularly the Black women in my life who — my mom was the first in her immediate family to go to college, right — holding that tension of the societal expectation or pressure of “you can have it all, you can have it all, you can have it all,” in a post-integration space — so my mom grew up in a segregated community in Southern Illinois — alongside sort of this ancestral way of knowing that, particularly as a Black woman, and your labor might be exploited, and you’re expected to hold the entirety of your family and your community on your back.

And in my less generous, more angry days where I so desperately want to pick up the phone and call her and ask a question about mothering, then knowing I can’t do that — I get mad. I get really, really mad about the fact that she felt that pressure to carry the weight of her community on her back, and I wonder what implications that had for her long-term health. And so I wonder if part of the shifting and prioritization of rest and nurture and is because we have inherited a legacy, in some cases, of overwork, of seeing the deathly consequences of “productivity.” And I also am carrying a curiosity of what the generational shift will be, then, of those who are coming behind us. [laughs]

So if this might be one of the contributions of this moment, of the work that I’m up to and so many of my colleagues are up to, about reprioritizing care and healing and spaces for nurture and movements for social change, there’s always going to be a response to that. And so I’m curious what the response to that is — if, one day, God willing, prayers up, fingers crossed, there is a time where every movement organization in the United States has a chaplain on staff who’s attending to the spiritual, holistic well-being of a person — I would argue every organization has somebody on staff that is doing that, that tender, tender work — then what is the contribution or pushback on that that will come, that will help refine it even more, right? So I’m carrying both the wisdom of the lineage of which I’m a part of and the need for that intervention, and a great deal of curiosity about how’s my kid going to rebel against me [laughs] in this space, right? What is he going to say?

Tippett: [laughs] Well, and that doesn’t make you special, OK? That dynamic [laughs] is as old as time.

Bailey: Exactly. Exactly. And how is that pushback going to push us forward? I have this theory that millennials were called to be cartographers, to be mapmakers at a time when institutions were crumbling and the world was shifting in completely different ways, and so we’re creating blueprints, or trying to survey the land and understand it, and that the folks who are coming behind me, in Gen Z — man, they are builders. They have this no-nonsense way of cutting through things and a fierce sense of urgency that I both honor and respect and I worry about for them, because I think they are facing so many existential crises at once, and they haven’t quite had enough of the time or experience to know that they don’t have to answer those questions all at once. But they’re coming in with a sophistication and a nuance that I think is the stuff of building the new infrastructure, whether that be spiritual infrastructure or physical infrastructure of our time. And so I’m excited to see.

[music: “City Music” by Kevin Morby]

Tippett: After a short break, more with Reverend Jen Bailey.

[music: “City Music” by Kevin Morby]

Tippett: I’m Krista Tippett, and this is On Being. Today, in a moment in which so many of us are pondering what the past year has planted in us and who we will be, moving forward, I’m with Rev. Jennifer Bailey. She is a leader and innovator in creating spiritual sustainability and community for changemakers and faith leaders and activists engaged in the long-haul work of generative social transformation. Jen is taking the conversational lead here as part of an ongoing cross-generational friendship she and I began years ago.

Bailey: I want to talk to you about what we think of the role of our sacred wisdom traditions in this particular moment of rupture and what they might offer us in this season by way of — I mean, we can call it spiritual technology, we can just call it ways of being and knowing — because when I turn on the news or scroll through my timeline on my phone, I see a lot of brokenhearted people who are being attracted to ideologies as new theologies and ways of understanding themselves and the world. And I can’t help but think that these traditions that have been around for centuries and millennia might have something to say to us about what it means to be together, because I think that is the great question of the 21st century, is how we are together.

Tippett: Yeah, absolutely. I — you may have heard me say this: I mean, I think the questions that I started pursuing in my work are these ancient questions of what does it mean to be human, and how do we want to live, and who will we be to each other; and I think our great traditions arose to address those questions. They’re universal human questions. And I — this is just another way to say what you just said — to me, in the 21st century, the question of what it means to be human is inextricable from the question of who we will be to each other. And I think how we meet that question is really going to be the difference between whether we find ways to flourish, or just survive.

And what’s been so present for me, in this last year in particular, is how I’m just feeling so clearly that words and notions and approaches that only exist in religious tradition are exactly what people are wanting to talk about and approach: like “redemption” and “repair” and “lamentation,” right? I mean, when you said we don’t know how to accept mortality, we don’t know how to work with death, we don’t know how to live with our grief but walk into a future — “forgiveness” and “atonement” — “repentance” is another one. There’s just — the language we have for this comes from these places, these repositories, this part of the human enterprise where we have been asking and asking across generations who God might be — and that’s a way of asking who we are and what we pay homage to and what really matters and who we will be to each other — and even the language of mindfulness, right?

It’s really fascinating, having started with a show called Speaking of Faith, near the turn of the century — and that was a hard sell — and finding that we come kind of full circle in my lifetime, not to an embrace of the forms of the tradition with which I grew up, or even with which you grew up, but of these — of the heart of these aspects of the heart of it.

Bailey: Yeah, almost like there’s been this moment of recognizing the challenges before us can’t just be legislated out of. They can’t just be tended to with these other facets of civic life that we’ve leaned so heavily on. But part of what is before us are spiritual questions, are questions, as you’re saying, that go back to the essence of being human. And I wonder, as somebody who is clergy in a Christian tradition, about my role generationally of excavating, of composting the best of what we know about our traditions and, also, leading people through a healing process, recognizing that those institutions have also caused a great deal of hurt and harm, particularly for younger folks.

And so it’s been so powerful to me to see this move of folks seeking to recover these old ways of knowing and being, whether it be the young people I know who build ritual altars as part of their social justice practice or folks who are asking these questions about what it looks like to repair after harm and in a way that doesn’t center punishment, doesn’t center a particular sort of carceral understanding of rupture and repair. And that’s what gets me excited and leads me into a space of what I think about as radical hope, rooted hope, hope that is not detached from the present reality and challenges before us. But I see these promises on the horizon, of folks who are asking these big questions.

Even if that is not the narrative that is most dominant or loudest, it’s the one that I see, as people are considering the question of what wants to emerge in this season and what is already blooming beautifully. There’s a lot of focus, I think, on what is dysfunctional or what is not working or what is tearing us apart.

Tippett: Yeah, you’re talking to me, a journalist.

Bailey: [laughs] Yes, absolutely.

Tippett: [laughs] I’m aware of that, yes.

Bailey: Right. [laughs] And if we quiet down and listen and look long enough, I think we can see these seedlings not just growing but flourishing in this moment, as we ask these big questions.

[music: “Town Market” By Blue Dot Sessions]

Tippett: I’m Krista Tippett, and this is On Being, today exploring belonging and healing in the world ahead, in cross-generational friendship with Rev. Jen Bailey.

[music: “Town Market” By Blue Dot Sessions]

You’ve been in a dialogue with and in relationship with civil rights elders, and we’ve been in relationship with some of the same ones — Ruby Sales. I mean, the Civil Rights Movement, of course, had this incredible spiritual ground. But the thrust of those movements in the ’60s and ’70s was — the accomplishments that we look back on were secular, right? They were the passage of laws. And I feel like even that generation of civil rights leaders were people of their time, right, and so there was really this faith — and I think that’s an accurate word — that if you change the laws, you would change the society. And also, I’ve heard so many stories, and I’m sure you have too, of the spiritual depletion that came after those years of the peak of the movements.

And when I watch you and your — I actually do like this Cold War word, your “comrades” — [laughs] your community, I feel like you are really offering a corrective. Whether you just kind of were born knowing this or whether it was passed on consciously, you’re picking up that experience. And of course, there was so much good that came in those communities and in those people and in those movements. It’s kind of like what you said to me a minute ago about, how will the kids — how will the people coming after you both push back on and improve on what you’re doing? And I actually see you doing that so beautifully, and not in a spirit of “we’re going to get this better,” but actually in a spirit of reverence for those elders and all that was carried and all that was created, and sort of insisting that, while the work is important, the exhaustion cannot, cannot be expected, cannot be necessary.

Bailey: Yeah. I think we carry a great deal of reverence for our elders and enough respect for them to see them as the complete human beings they are. I think there is this way in which we talk about relationships with elders that we sort of default to almost this elevation to sainthood of elders that really does a disservice to seeing their full humanity and the places where they got it wrong, [laughs] or the spaces where we might push them a little bit further in their thinking around issues that they just hadn’t considered.

And I think part of what I have been reflecting on lately is that those elders from the Southern Freedom Movement were able to diagnose the issues and challenges before them with the tools they had. And just in the same way that medical technology has advanced dramatically over the past 50 or 60 years, so too I think our lens towards evaluating what’s at the heart of the challenges before us, the heart of these moments of rupture and the possibility of repair, the technologies are simply different, and so the viewpoint is different. And so it may be that we are looking at the same long-term disease, but that we have a new set of tools to evaluate some of the symptoms.

And so I say all that to say, as I think about the relationships that I have been able to forge with elders, both within my faith tradition and outside, and friendships that I’ve been able to form, there’s just been this great deal of acknowledgement, when you ask people and see them as human [laughs] and ask them the deep questions and probe and push in a deeply respectful way, of the places where folks feel like they got it wrong, or they couldn’t quite see because they just didn’t have the lens to see. And so I think this pattern of the need for rest and renewal and community and care and pause — not as a way of deflecting from the challenges before us, but as an integral part of the work of what it means to stay in it, because I think they did see what burnout did, even though they might not have called it burnout at the time. They did see the limitations of the tools that they had and the exhaustion and the heart attacks, the addiction that emerged out of those spaces because there just weren’t the same type of tools to cope.

Tippett: I remember John Lewis saying to me: We created the beloved community among ourselves. Within the movement, we were the beloved community. And that was also cross-racial community. I really do believe that, as you say, with the tools — with, also, just the things we’re starting to understand about how our brains work — I mean, that equation of “change the law, change the society” does not contain a sophisticated understanding of the human condition or what we know from neuroscience now — I mean how do you really change habits and how much we’re walking around with that’s unreflected, that’s unselfconscious.

They didn’t know that. And I really feel like the audacious possibility of this century — that again, at best, you will stand on my shoulders every once in a while, and I won’t see it, I won’t get there — but is actually for creating the beloved community. I mean, that’s the question, right? That’s the theological way to say — and I think you started this conversation with — our belonging. And let’s call it beloved community. And so they had the language. And they started it. And we have other ways to get there. You do.

Bailey: Yes. And I can hear the cynics, the pragmatists in my ear, who would say, “Wow, you all are having such a Pollyanna-ish conversation about beloved community. Don’t you know that white supremacy is on the rise, and don’t you know X, Y, and Z?” And I hear that. And to those folks, I would say what I can just hear the church mothers saying to me as a young girl, in the kitchen of our church, whenever I would complain about something, which is, “Baby, just keep living. Baby, just keep living.”

Tippett: [laughs] Yeah.

Bailey: And that — coming out of the mouths of women who were born in the Great Depression, who saw so much and who faced so much and many of whom lived through the horrors of Jim and Jane Crow, that impulse to just keep living is actually revolutionary …

Tippett: It’s revolutionary.

Bailey: … in a world that would tear you down or kill you — just keep living.

Tippett: I worry about that, too. I not only hear that cynic, I — that’s in me, too. And if whatever sounds idealistic or aspirational, what you and I also understand when we speak that way is that you throw your life at it. It’s not an idea. It’s not an abstraction. It’s your job to make it not an abstraction.

But also, there was a day when I was really doubting this and challenging myself, and I opened up Patrisse Cullors’s book When They Call You a Terrorist — I think on the first page, she refers to that discovery in our lifetime, our generation, that we are made of stardust. And she reflects on her ancestors and all that they survived and suffered. And she ends this paragraph — it’s a beautiful paragraph — she says: What could they be — what could they have been but stardust, to accomplish all of that?

Bailey: I love that image. I’m going to sit with it for a second.

Tippett: I’ll send you that passage.

Bailey: Yes, please. Please do. I want to hold that close. I want to hold that very close in the moments that it feels scary. In the moments that it feels like we are at an end, holding onto that image of us as stardust feels like the only way to help us get through. So I think that is also the question of — the most immediate question is how we get through — how we get through this moment and how we continue to get through. I think the answer is: only in community with other stardust beings.

Tippett: [laughs] Yeah.

Bailey: Oh man. Can we talk all the time, Krista? [laughs]

Tippett: [laughs] We can talk as much as you want. I do want to say to you, before we finish, just what a joy it’s been to watch you become a mother.

Bailey: Oh, thank you.

Tippett: I just — it’s so thrilling for me to watch this, even though I haven’t seen you in the flesh, and I haven’t seen Max in the flesh. But even from afar, I don’t know, it’s — it kind of just — I mean, all these things we’re talking about, about the passage of time and the generations and what we inherit and what we — how we send others forth and what we transmit, and to watch that incarnate, [laughs] to use a religious word, in you becoming a mother and just the delight that that little boy is that just comes through pixels — it just jumps out of the computer screen — and you and Ira, and making that family together — it’s just been amazing. I love that. I love actually being — I told you about my — I’ve always had elders, but to be the elder and then to have this experience is a real gift.

Bailey: Well, thank you for not minding being on the receiving end of many a photo text message …

Tippett: [laughs] No.

Bailey: … and not minding me sharing pictures. And I remember, before Max was born, you offered a blessing to our family that was around this notion of transfiguration. And I have held that so closely to me as I’ve begun to emerge into whatever this version of my life and personhood is. Those words of comfort are words that I have — I’ve leaned into, as I’ve seen myself be transfigured in all of these different ways. So thank you. Thank you for not minding the overwhelming, sometimes annoying messages about my baby. [laughs]

Tippett: No; no annoyance.

Bailey: Thank you, Krista, for this time. It just feels so sweet and so gentle and so loving.

Tippett: Yeah. Blessings, Jen, and one day, I’ll see you again.

Bailey: Yeah! One day soon. I’m going to make it happen. It’s going to happen.

Tippett: OK. OK. OK. Thank you.

Bailey: Thank you.

[music: “Arrière-Pensée” by Melodium]

Tippett: Jen Bailey is Founder and Executive Director of the Faith Matters Network. She also serves on the staff of Greater Bethel AME Church in Nashville, Tennessee. Her first book will be published in October 2021, and you can order it now. It’s called To My Beloveds: Letters on Faith, Race, Loss and Radical Hope.

And this conversation came about in partnership with Encore.org, an organization that brings together older and younger changemakers to solve problems, bridge divides, and create a better future. A shorter version of the conversation I had with Jen was part of a video event called “Co-generate!” which you can find online.

[music: “Arrière-Pensée” by Melodium]

The On Being Project is: Chris Heagle, Lily Percy, Laurén Drommerhausen, Erin Colasacco, Eddie Gonzalez, Lilian Vo, Lucas Johnson, Suzette Burley, Zack Rose, Colleen Scheck, Julie Siple, Gretchen Honnold, Jhaleh Akhavan, Pádraig Ó Tuama, Ben Katt, Gautam Srikishan, Lillie Benowitz, April Adamson, Ashley Her, and Matt Martinez.

[music: “Arrière-Pensée” by Melodium]

The On Being Project is located on Dakota land. Our lovely theme music is provided and composed by Zoë Keating. And the last voice that you hear singing at the end of our show is Cameron Kinghorn.

On Being is an independent, nonprofit production of The On Being Project. It is distributed to public radio stations by WNYC Studios. I created this show at American Public Media.

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