On Being with Krista Tippett

A Peabody Award-winning public radio show and podcast. What does it mean to be human? How do we want to live? And who will we be to each other? Each week a new discovery about the immensity of our lives. Hosted by Krista Tippett.

You’ll also find special episodes in this feed, including Living the Questions — an occasional On Being segment where Krista muses on questions from our listening community.

On Being with Krista Tippett airs on more than 400 public radio stations across the U.S. and is distributed by PRX, the Public Radio Exchange. The podcast has been played/downloaded more than 200 million times.

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We were made and set here, the writer Annie Dillard once wrote, “to give voice to our astonishments.” Katy Payne is a renowned acoustic biologist with a Quaker sensibility. She’s found her astonishment — and many life lessons — in listening to two of the world’s largest creatures. From the wild coast of Argentina to the rainforests of Africa, she discovered that humpback whales compose ever-changing songs and that elephants communicate across long distances by infrasound.

Spiritual border-crossing and social creativity were themes in a conversation between Shane Claiborne and Omar Saif Ghobash, two people who have lived with some discomfort within the religious groups they continue to love. Ghobash is a diplomat of the United Arab Emirates and author of Letters to a Young Muslim. One of his responses to the politicization of Islam has been to bring a new art gallery culture to Dubai, creating spaces for thought and beauty. Claiborne is a singular figure in Evangelical Christianity as co-founder of The Simple Way, an intentional neighborhood-based community in North Philadelphia. One of the things he’s doing now is a restorative justice project inspired by a Bible passage — to transform guns into garden tools. This conversation took place at the invitation of Interfaith Philadelphia, which hosted a year of civil conversations modeled after the work of On Being’s Civil Conversations Project.

Darnell Moore says honest, uncomfortable conversations are a sign of love — and that self-reflection goes hand-in-hand with culture shift and social evolution. A writer and activist, he’s grown wise through his work on successful and less successful civic initiatives, including Mark Zuckerberg’s plan to remake the schools of Newark, New Jersey, and he is a key figure in the ongoing, under-publicized, creative story of The Movement for Black Lives. This conversation was recorded at the 2019 Skoll World Forum in Oxford, England.

Forms of religious devotion are shifting — and there’s a new world of creativity toward crafting spiritual life while exploring the depths of tradition. Rabbi Amichai Lau-Lavie is a fun and forceful embodiment of this evolution. Born into an eminent and ancient rabbinical lineage, as a young adult he moved away from religion towards storytelling, theater, and drag. Today he leads a pop-up synagogue in New York City that takes as its tagline “everybody-friendly, artist-driven, God-optional.” It’s not merely about spiritual community but about recovering the sacred and reinventing the very meaning of “we.”

There is a question floating around the world right now: “How can we be joyful in a moment like this?” To which writer Ross Gay responds: “How can we not be joyful, especially in a moment like this?” He says joy has nothing to do with ease and “everything to do with the fact that we’re all going to die.” The ephemeral nature of our being allows him to find delight in all sorts of places (especially his community garden). To be with Ross Gay is to train your gaze to see the wonderful alongside the terrible, to attend to and meditate on what you love, even in the work of justice.

Applied philosopher Jonathan Rowson insists on holding a deeper appreciation for how our inner worlds influence our outer worlds. His research organization, Perspectiva, examines how social change happens across “systems, souls, and society.” “If we can get better and more nimble and more generous about how we move between those worlds, then the chance of creating a hope that makes sense for all of us is all the greater,” he says. We engage his broad spiritual lens on the great dynamics of our time, from social life to the economy to the climate.

Therapist Esther Perel has changed our discourse about sexuality and coupledom with her TED talks, books, and singular podcast, Where Should We Begin?, in which listeners are invited into emotionally raw therapy sessions she conducts with couples she’s never met before. For Perel, eroticism is a key ingredient to life — and it’s more than just a description of sexuality. “It is about how people connect to this quality of aliveness, of vibrancy, of vitality, of renewal,” she says. “It is actually a spiritual, mystical experience of life.”

We must shine a light on the past to live more abundantly now. Historian Annette Gordon-Reed and painter Titus Kaphar lead us in an exploration of that as a public adventure in this conversation at the Citizen University annual conference. Gordon-Reed is the historian who introduced the world to Sally Hemings and the children she had with President Thomas Jefferson, and so realigned a primary chapter of the American story with the deeper, more complicated truth. Kaphar collapses historical timelines on canvas and created iconic images after the protests in Ferguson. Both are reckoning with history in order to repair the present.

The folk-rock duo Amy Ray and Emily Saliers have been making music for over 25 years. They’re known for their social activism on-stage and off, but long before they became the Indigo Girls, they were singing in church choirs. They see music as a continuum of human existence, intertwined with spiritual life in a way that can’t be pinned down.

We still work with the old idea that we should check the messy parts of ourselves at the door of our professional lives. But Jerry Colonna says doing so cuts us off from the source of our creativity. “The result is that our organizations are actually less productive, less imaginative; not just poor workplaces for individuals to be, but poor places for collaboration … and spontaneity and laughter and humor.” Colonna is a former venture capitalist who now coaches CEOs. He says undoing the old model starts with radical self-inquiry and asking ourselves questions like “Who is the person I’ve been all my life?” — and that it’s only after we sort through the material of our personal lives that we can become better leaders.

Men of all ages say Richard Rohr has given them a new way into spiritual depth and religious thought through his writing and retreats. This conversation with the Franciscan spiritual teacher delves into the expansive scope of his ideas: from male formation and what he calls “father hunger” to why contemplation is as magnetic to people now, including millennials, as it’s ever been.

The poet Jericho Brown reminds us to bear witness to the complexity of the human experience, to interrogate the proximity of violence to love, and to look and listen closer so that we might uncover the small truths and surprises in life. His presence is irreverent and magnetic, as the high school students who joined us for this conversation experienced firsthand at the Geraldine R. Dodge Poetry Festival.

Editor’s note: This interview discusses sexual violence and rape.

There are places in the human experience where ordinary language falls short but where poetry can find a way in. Gregory Orr has used lyric poetry to wrest gentle, healing, life-giving words from one of the most terrible traumas imaginable. On a hunting trip with his father at the age of 12, he accidentally shot and killed his younger brother. Since then, he says he has found consolation in words and story. “What’s beautiful about a poem is that you take on this chaos and this responsibility, and you shape it into order and make something of it,” he says.

Today young people are trying to balance the question of “What do I want to do when I grow up?” with the question of “Who and how do I want to be in the world?” Physician and writer Abraham Verghese and education researcher Denise Pope argue that’s because the way we educate for success doesn’t support the creation of full, well-rounded humans. And they see the next generation challenging our cultural view of success by insisting that a deeply satisfying life is one filled with presence, vulnerability, and care for others.

Community organizers Rami Nashashibi and Lucas Johnson have much to teach us about using love — the most reliable muscle of human transformation — as a practical public good. Nashashibi is the founder of the Inner-City Muslim Action Network, a force for social healing on Chicago’s South Side. Johnson is the newly-named executive director of The On Being Project’s Civil Conversations Project. In a world of division, they say despair is not an option — and that the work of social healing requires us to get “proximate to pain.”

Sylvia Boorstein says spirituality doesn’t have to look like sitting down and meditating. A Jewish-Buddhist teacher and psychotherapist, Boorstein says spirituality can be as simple as “folding the towels in a sweet way and talking kindly to the people in [your] family even though you’ve had a long day.” And she insists that nurturing our inner lives in this way is not a luxury but something we can do in the service of others — from our children to strangers in the checkout line at the grocery store.

“What does a good day look like?” That question — when asked of both terminally-ill and healthy people — has transformed Atul Gawande’s practice of medicine. A citizen physician and writer, Gawande is on the frontiers of human agency and meaning in light of what modern medicine makes possible. For the millions of people who have read his book Being Mortal, he’s also opened new conversations about the ancient human question of death and what it might have to do with life.

A Buddhist philosopher of ecology, Joanna Macy says we are at a pivotal moment in history with the possibility to unravel or create a life-sustaining human society. Now entering her 90s, Macy has lived adventurously by any definition. She worked with the CIA in Cold War Europe and the Peace Corps in post-colonial India and was an early environmental activist. She brings a poetic and spiritual sensibility to her work that’s reflected in her translations of the early-20th-century poet Rainer Maria Rilke. We take that poetry as a lens on her wisdom on the great dramas of our time: ecological, political, personal.

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