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Phyllis Alsdurf


Good Listener

Krista Tippett, Speaking of Faith.

In Speaking of Faith, Krista Tippett's account of her odyssey as a public radio host, the former member of the U.S. diplomatic corps and international news correspondent admits to a "habitual longing to save the world." It's an impulse she has tempered over the years by cultivating the discipline of listening. The book offers a forthright chronicle of her "adventure in conversation" as creator and host of American Public Media's program Speaking of Faith, weaving together spiritual memoir with reflections on her interactions with radio guests and some of the many intellectual and spiritual influences in her life. The book also serves as an apologetic for the style of narrative journalism that she practices.

One of a small cadre of broadcast journalists who speak intelligently about the religious dimension of public life, Tippett knows that listening is as much a professional necessity as a spiritual exercise. And as fans of her radio program will attest, listening and asking smart questions that get people to talk openly about their faith is something that Tippett does very well. The granddaughter of a Southern Baptist preacher who espoused a stern fundamentalist faith, Tippett left that brand of Christianity behind in Oklahoma when she headed east to attend Brown University. (A study-abroad program took her to East Germany in the 1980s.) Subsequently involved as a Fulbright Scholar in the high-powered world of international journalism and American diplomacy, Tippett for a time was energized by the conviction that the world's problems could best be addressed in the political realm. Soon, however, she began to find this perspective too confining: "There is at any given moment much reality we do not see, and more change possible than we can begin to imagine," she writes, citing the dismantling of the Iron Curtain as a case in point.

She had worked as a stringer for the New York Times, Newsweek, and the BBC while in Europe and as special assistant to the U.S. ambassador ...

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