Krista Tippett is one of the most insightful and thoughtful journalists working today. Her show On Being opens up the animating questions at the center of human life: “What does it mean to be human, and how do we want to live?” On Tuesday, I was privileged to hear her talk about her new book Becoming Wise: An Inquiry into the Mystery and Art of Living in conversation with my friend Andrew Zolli, author of the book Resilience: Why Things Bounce Back.
I was most struck by a comment that began the conversation: Tippett had lived in East Germany in the 1980s, and as she said, there was a change in the air at that time… but no one knew explicitly that it was coming. On its face, it looked like the Cold War would go on for decades, while in fact, underneath the surface, the rumblings of a new social system were rising up.
As Tippett recounts:
On the night the Wall fell, after a bumbling bureaucrat misspoke at a press conference, the entire city walked joyfully through it. The border guards joined them. It truly nearly was that simple. There are places in human experience that politics cannot analyze or address, and they hold more possibility for change that we can begin to imagine.
My time in Berlin began to point me to the kinds of questions I’ve asked ever since. How to give voice to those raw, essential, heart-breaking and life-giving places in us, so that we may know them more consciously, live what they teach us, and mine their wisdom for our life together?
We need to remember that there is so much more change within us than we believe possible. Yes, we struggle. Yes, we fail. Yes, we don’t always live up to our best selves. But when we wade into those dark and scary places, we find the seeds of growth.
For Jews who are celebrating the High Holy Days, these days remind us that we need to go towards the places where we’d rather hide. Indeed, their theology might make us very uncomfortable. But whether or not we are Jewish – or whether or not we even identify as “religious” – Tippett reminds us that thinking theologically can help us approach the biggest questions we face:
As much as theology’s public face has been equated across time with abstractions about God, and fights about God, I cherish its robust tradition of wrestling with the maddening complexity of human nature, human action, human being. It has insisted on the cultivation of qualities that would sounded suspect, laudable but idealistic, to my ambitious younger self: wholeness beyond progress; hope beyond pragmatism; love beyond realpolitik.
The challenge we always face is to grow in those qualities that seem idealistic, but in fact, are deeply necessary. If we can discover the wholeness, the hope and the love in ourselves and in others, we can find the ways we truly want to change ourselves, and from there, perhaps, slowly but surely, change the world.
Rabbi Geoffrey A. Mitelman is the Founding Director of Sinai and Synapses, an organization that bridges the scientific and religious worlds and is being incubated at Clal – The National Jewish Center for Learning and Leadership. He was ordained by the Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion and served as Assistant and then Associate Rabbi of Temple Beth El of Northern Westchester. In addition to My Jewish Learning, he’s written for The Huffington Post, Science and Religion Today, and WordPress.com. He lives in Westchester with his wife, Heather Stoltz, a fiber artist, and their daughter and son.