June 21, 2019
By Carrie Harris
“Politics is not the problem,” popular journalist and public radio host Krista Tippett said during her keynote address to conclude the 2019 CBF General Assembly in Birmingham, Ala.
Tippett echoed the central theme heard throughout the week—that Cooperative Baptists are called to love in the midst of difference, diversity and adversity.
“The internet is not the problem. Both of these realms in their own ways are a magnified canvas of the human condition,” she said.
For Tippett, civility is not just niceness and politeness and a mild-mannered way of interaction, but rather engaging in loving, nourishing discerning dialogue and relationship. She encouraged attendees, pointing out that “words matter,” we should rediscover questions as civic tools and listening as a social art.
“Words matter,” Tippett said. “The words we use influence how we shape ourselves, our lives, our communities. We chose too small a word in the decade of my birth—the 1960s—to grapple with diversity.” This problematic word, she said was and is “tolerance.”
“Tolerance has not taught us or asked us to engage, much less care about the stranger. Tolerance doesn’t even allow us to understand or to be moved.”
Citing her conversations with poet Elizabeth Alexander and theologian Walter Brueggemann, Tippett spoke to the art of words in the form of poetry.
“What I’m so intrigued to remember with you tonight is that the Bible has known this forever….Poetry is the human voice, and are we not of interest to each other?”
This intrigue with one another, she explained, should lead to our engaging in questions and listening—learning to care about each other.
“What I believe now through my life of conversation is that listening is not about being quiet,” she said. “The quiet is a side effect of being present. Listening is being present. Listening involves a kind of vulnerability, willingness to be surprised, to let go of assumptions, to live with ambiguity.”
When we listen with presence and the willingness to be surprised, Tippett added, we can come together with the common goal to understand, as long we approach differences with the notion that there is good in the other.
“Think virtue,” she said. “Virtues are not the stuff of saints and heroes, they are tools for the art of living.”
Tippett explored the idea of “social technologies” that aren’t applied to the digital realm but dictate human interaction, emphasizing that hospitality is that which brings out the best of a person in a room, but that we all walk into rooms with our own realities.
“I walk into a room with the life I’ve lived, and you walk into a room with the life you’ve lived,” she said. “In this light, the virtue of humility is a leveling agent…and curiosity is a moral muscle. We meet each other at an animal level and if I am pretending to be curious, you will meet me with guardedness. We don’t go into any civic spaces ready for people to surprise us positively.”
While we are not attuned to be surprised positively, Tippett suggested, “hospitality makes the long arc of human transformation enjoyable.”
Meaningful interaction across difference in trustworthy spaces, she stressed, is life-altering. This space allows for understanding of self and an expansion of a person’s world—in the presence of the “other” that now gains a human face and alters what is fundamentally possible in relationship.
Beyond civility, she added, we are called to another aspirational value: love.
“Love is the most perilous and pleasurable of social technologies,” she said. “Love is the most reliable muscle of human transformation. Love is more muscle than pathos.”
Our “everyday love,” Tippett said, is full of “hospitable attention,” so that we can live peacefully and congenially, rarely achieving perfect understanding. Love is our attempt to find ways to tell the truth when it’s hard, which we don’t often get perfectly right, but we get up the next day and try again, she said.
“I see an abundance of good people everywhere doing this work, creating the realities that we want to inhabit and want our children to inhabit,” Tippett said. “We have trouble believing we could make a difference….We are in the midst of a long-term project. It’s a refreshing message to offer to the young among us. This too is all of our calling—to grow up this broken, divided, hurting world to its full human potential—to be fermenters of social healing—to embody and activate civility as the great spiritual healing as it is.”
CBF Executive Coordinator Paul Baxley concluded the 2019 General Assembly with a challenge to commit to support the Offering for Global Missions.
“When we give to the Offering for Global Missions, we participate in the ministries of our field personnel like Karen Morrow, like Lynn and Mike Hutchinson,” Baxley said. “We’ve heard the stories and we’ve seen the evidence of the unique difference the commitment to long-term presence makes. Now the question comes: will we participate so that others may have life and have it more abundantly? We can participate by committing tonight to going back and convincing our congregations to give more abundantly.”
Baxley then called attendees to come around the table of communion to be changed and go out into the world to offer love and abundant life.
“We do not just come to the table to receive or even just to remember—we come to the table to be changed and to be sent out,” he said. “Will you pray how the Spirit is calling you to overflow love more abundantly in your life—in your congregation? Is there some way Jesus is asking you to lift your voice and speak love? Is there some opportunity set before you to let love overflow in your life?
“Come to receive. Come to be changed. Come to change,” Baxley said.
Find complete coverage of the 2019 CBF General Assembly, including news, photos and videos at www.cbf.net/birmingham2019.
The Cooperative Baptist Fellowship is a Christian Network that helps people put their faith to practice through ministry efforts, global missions and a broad community of support. The Fellowship’s mission is to serve Christians and churches as they discover and fulfill their God-given mission. Learn more at www.cbf.net.