In this episode of The Bible for Normal People Podcast, Pete and Jared talk with Kirsten Powers about faith, political disagreements, and extending grace for your own good as they explore the following questions:
- How has Kirsten’s spiritual journey influenced her political views?
- How do we confront injustice without being self-righteous?
- Do we compromise our beliefs when we have relationships with people we disagree with?
- How has Kirsten’s use of the Bible changed over time?
- How does fear influence our theologies?
- What lead Kirsten to Roman Catholicism?
- What is friendship evangelism?
- What’s the difference between reading the Bible to be “right” and reading it for nourishment?
- How did Kirsten move away from dualistic thinking?
- What caused Kirsten to reconsider her orientation towards people she disagrees with?
- How has Kirsten been able to work against judging other people?
- What are some techniques Kirsten finds helpful to ground herself in the midst of disagreement?
Pithy, shareable, less-than-280-character statements from Kirsten Powers you can share.
- “If you really want to change people, then you’re probably going to have to be in a relationship with them. If you just want to be self-righteous, you know, you can do that, but you probably aren’t going to bring anybody along.” @KirstenPowers
- “You don’t need to let other people’s bad behavior corrode your own heart.” @KirstenPowers
- “I just think we need more grace.” @KirstenPowers
- “Any religion that I learn about seems to have these principals in them about humility, forgiveness, loving other people… it’s sort of interconnectedness of all of us.” @KirstenPowers
- “There’s a lot of bad things that are happening and you do need to speak up and you need to still name those things, but I think you have to be very careful about the position of your heart…Are you just naming it, or are you also judging and holding yourself as only righteous, good person?” @KirstenPowers
- “The only place that you’re gonna develop is if you’re around people who don’t think like you.” @KirstenPowers
Mentioned in This Episode
- Book: Falling Upward
- Article: Toxic Public Debate
- Website: Braver Angels
- Podcast: How to Do You
- Instagram: Kirsten Powers
- Patreon: The Bible for Normal People
Pete: You’re listening to The Bible for Normal People. The only God-ordained podcast on the internet. I’m Pete Enns.
Jared: And I’m Jared Byas.
[Jaunty Intro Music]
Pete: Hey everybody, welcome to this week’s episode of The Bible for Normal People. Our guest is Kirsten Powers.
Jared: Yeah, she’s a journalist, a political analyst. You’ll see her on CNN with Anderson Cooper quite a bit. She writes for USA Today.
Jared: So, she’s out and about.
Pete: She’s sort of a big deal. Yeah, and our topic is the journey to grace, because she has a really interesting spiritual journey that is just, it’s rocky, like most peoples are, ya know?
Jared: Yeah, she had some doubts.
Pete: At least, when you’re allowed to talk about it, right, and be honest and authentic about it, so.
Jared: Yeah. I appreciated her openness and her honesty about sharing her journey and how it’s impacted some of the conversations that she has with others and how she’s learning to, ya know, walk with grace. And something I think that all of us can relate to on our spiritual journeys as well.
Pete: Yeah, in the political climate where there isn’t a lot of grace.
Jared: Yeah, yeah. Excellent. All right well let’s just jump into the conversation with Kirsten.
Kirsten: If you really want to change people, then you’re probably going to have to be in a relationship with them. If you just want to be self-righteous, you know, you can do that, but you probably aren’t going to bring anybody along. And just like you’ve got to ground yourself in something, for me it is spiritual practices and spiritual beliefs and kind of remembering what I believe and who I want to be, if you really want to spend your time honing in on things that need to change, a good place to start is with yourself.
Pete: Kirsten, welcome to the podcast. Great to have you!
Kirsten: Thank you for having me.
Pete: Yeah, wow! Well listen, you know, people know who you are. We know who you are, and, but, you know, there’s maybe a side of you, you’ve had a religious journey over the years, and maybe just give us quickly, just a thumbnail sketch of what that looked like for you.
Kirsten: Okay. I’ll do my best to make it as condensed as possible because it’s quite an epic journey, actually, in the sense that I grew up in a very liberal family. My mother was a lapsed Catholic, and my father was Episcopalian, and we went to an Episcopal church with my father, my parents got divorced when I was five. So, you know, I had a kind of nominal Christian upbringing. We went to church and Sunday school, but it wasn’t anything particularly intense, and I became, you know, by the time I went off the college I was an atheist or agnostic, kind of back and forth. And in my thirties when I was living in New York, I was dating somebody who went to Redeemer Presbyterian, Tim Keller’s church –
Pete: Mm hmm.
Kirsten: And he had asked me to go to church with him. Long story short, I ended up going to that church. I didn’t know it was evangelical, because I didn’t even know anything about Christianity, really. Had I known, I would not have gone because I didn’t like evangelicals even though I didn’t know anything about them.
Kirsten: And so I went with him and I was really taken with Tim and I was really just sort of fascinated by it I guess, you know, almost from an anthropological standpoint, and over the year of going there, you know, I ended up breaking up with that guy, but over that year of going there I became a believer and kind of intellectual believer. I didn’t have any kind of big spiritual experience. Then a little bit later I did have a big spiritual experience, and I became quite serious about my Christianity and I didn’t know anybody else who was talking about faith or religion or anything spiritual, really, because all my friends were atheists, you know, for the most part. Maybe sort of nominal Christians, but it just wasn’t something that we talked about. And so, I sort of felt like, well, these people are the only people I know who are talking about this, so I guess they must know what they’re talking about. And so, that sort of is where I fell down the evangelical rabbit hole, as I say, and was sort of in that for many years. I would have to count them up at some point to figure out exactly when I started kind of moving away, but probably at least up to the year before I became a Catholic, so, and that was 2015. And I was never all in, in the sense that I’m not a conservative person, right? So I wasn’t, a lot of the stuff they would say, I’d be like, I don’t think that’s in the Bible.
Kirsten: But I was, ya know, I fell far enough into it and got deep enough into it, that actually they did a lot of damage to me. And so, it’s something that I’m still processing, frankly. And so, it was with that kind of in my background that I decided to become Catholic, which I can, you know, tell you about that as well. But I feel like this story is already getting kind of long.
Pete: Well, not really. So, why don’t you get into that a little bit, what brought you, maybe, to maybe even the faith of your childhood, so to speak. At least there was a lapsed Catholic in your upbringing, but what led you to Roman Catholicism?
Kirsten: Well, yeah. I think it was always sort of in the back of my mind, because my grandparents, who were by far the most important people in my life, were very Catholic, my mother’s parents. And so, even that was a presence in my life when I was growing up. And I went to a Catholic high school, to a Jesuit high school, because my grandparents really wanted me to go there. And so, that was pretty formative. And so, it was always kind of in the back of my mind, and then I started, there’s a priest, you know, I was working at Fox News at the time, and there was a priest there named Father Jonathan Morris, and we became friends. He was a, you know, religion commentator. And so, we became friends and we would go to dinner and we would talk and whenever we would talk about theology, I’d say, well that’s what I think.
Kirsten: Like for example, we would talk about, ya know, who goes to heaven and who goes to hell, and evangelicals would be saying, ya know, the only way you get to God is through Jesus, and, ya know, it’s not what Catholics believe. They don’t, they’re like, I don’t know who’s going to be in heaven, and, ya know, there’s gonna be a lot of people there who weren’t Christians.
Pete: Yeah. More opening to questions.
Kirsten: More open, also, to mystery, ya know, conscience. You know, these different things and so, whenever I was like, oh, well this is interesting, and obviously they’re very theologically rigorous, and so, that sort of started to plant some seeds and then I went on a trip for journalists to Rome. And I was only half paying attention when I accepted the invitation, and it was to basically introduce journalists who write about faith, which I do, to, ya know, all the people at the Vatican so you could be informed when you’re writing about Catholicism, but there was also a pilgrimage. So, which I didn’t realize until I got there. And so, we did a pilgrimage around Rome. Every day we would go to different holy sites and I just was really intrigued by how many women there were. Where they would say, oh, this was so and so, and she’s, you know, saint so and so and she was advising the Pope in the 15th century, or, ya know, and it’s just, after being in the evangelical world, where like, women couldn’t teach men, right?
Jared: Mm hmm.
Kirsten: And then you have like, a woman teaching, probably, a girl, frankly. I mean, she was probably, you know, a teenager or something, advising the Pope, and obviously Mary is very, ya know, is such a prominent role. There’s just much more of the feminine in it, I guess, which I know surprises a lot of people probably when they think of the Catholic church because it is so patriarchal. And I think I was at a place where I felt like, I’m not ready to give up on Christianity, I’m pretty close, but I’m not ready and I’m not ready to give up on Jesus and I’m trying to somehow make this work.
Kirsten: And I just felt like the Catholic church was the place where I could, I could make it work and it was a place, and I love the liturgy and I love all the rituals, and I love, I even love confession. I love all that kinda stuff.
Kirsten: So I, that was sort of the mindset that I went in with, and I was quite happy, and then, ya know, it just was started being a lot of the similar stuff, the fights in the Catholic church. Now, the difference is, of course, in the evangelicalism there is no fighting between the liberals and the conservatives –
Kirsten: In any kind of serious way, because, they say the liberals aren’t really Christians. In the Catholic church, they actually have a seat at the table.
Pete: Mm hmm.
Kirsten: So, no, there’s this constant sort of, fighting back and forth with the conservatives and the liberal sides of the church, and I, ya know, I found that a little exhausting and then I, of course, ya know, turned out they weren’t totally honest about all the things that they were supposedly had come clean about in terms of molesting children.
Jared: Mm hmm.
Kirsten: So, I got very frustrated about that, and increasingly became, again, very frustrated with the patriarchal nature of it, because if you look at the situation with molesting children, it’s just hard for me to believe that the fact that this place is such a boys club is completely 100% run by men, and doesn’t have something to do with it.
Pete: Mm hmm.
Kirsten: And so, I just, I’m in a place now of, I don’t want to even call it questioning, because it’s, I’m even past that. ]
I’m in more of a, I am very much embracing the mystery and trying to figure out if there’s a way for me to make it work with Catholicism, and my spiritual director, Father James Martin, I don’t know if you know him.
Pete: Of course, yeah. We had him on the podcast.
Jared: He was on the podcast just a little bit ago.
Kirsten: Yeah, so, he’s amazing. And, ya know, I’ve been very frank with him, and, ya know, he’s just, has really urged me to take my time and pray about it and thinks I have plenty of reasons to be upset and a lot of people are upset, but I don’t know really know where I’m going to end up I guess is what I would say. So, I just, I’m in, continuing on this journey, and I’m in a very, very different place than I was, ya know, even five years ago.
Jared: How does that, you know, where you are in your spiritual journey, how has that tracked with your politics and maybe even more concretely or practically, how you dialogue or talk about politics with other people, because there is, in my tradition there’s this connection between, we have these deep-seated convictions that kind of God is on our side about some of these ethical things, and that’s what leads to, maybe, the way, the more combative or aggressive way we talk to other people about that. Has that shifted in you as your story unfolds?
Kirsten: Well, I think if I was to look back, so let’s see. I started going to Tim Keller’s church in, I want to say it was 2005 probably? So, If I was to look back between now and then, I’m, I became more liberal. That’s what kind of curious. You know, I actually became more liberal after I became a Christian. And I was always a Democrat, but I was more of a third way Democrat, you know, like a Bill Clinton Democrat kind of thing. You know, I worked in the Clinton administration, and it was a more, ya know, the moderate, capitalistic kind of democrat. And I became, as the more deeper I got into it, the more progressive I became and the more, ya know, I mean I don’t know if I’m socialist, I don’t have a problem with it, ya know, it seems smart to me, and that is sort of what happened to me. It’s not, I never really, even when I was surrounded by all these conservative people, I was just like, this just isn’t what the Bible says. Like, I just, I can’t, I don’t know where you’re getting it. And I did have friends, I would say, I was so sincere. That’s the thing, right? I didn’t know anything. I had no baggage, I didn’t have a, like, serious upbringing, religious upbringing, and so I just read the Bible every day, ya know, and then people started talking about it, and I would just be like, where does it say that we’re supposed to have a strong military and a small government? Like, I don’t know where this is coming from.
Kirsten: You know what I mean? And they’d be like, what? You know, and I was like, I’m not being snarky, like I’m serious. Like, I was so sincere, right?
Kirsten: I was like, I don’t know, where is this? They’re like, oh, yeah, I guess it’s not in there. Ya know? It was just, so I never really came around and never made me particularly more conservative. The one place that I did get pulled in a little bit on was abortion and I think, in hindsight, I never thought abortion should be legal, and I continued to vote for democrats, but I did get kind of like, pulled into this whole late-term abortion thing. Which I kind of look back on now, and I’m like, what was going on? And the only thing I’ve been able to figure out is that I think I felt like I had to somehow prove that I was, like, a real Christian.
Jared: Yeah, you’re still in.
Pete: Yeah, right.
Kirsten: Yeah. I don’t know, because the only thing I could think of, and now I look at it and I’m like, what was I even talking about?
Kirsten: I don’t, like, why would these women go in and get, you know what I mean?
Pete: Yeah, you like, walk about and you’re like, what happened?
Kirsten: I pulled up some of my columns and I read them to my fiancé, and I was like, can you explain what this even means? I was like, I don’t know what this means. It’s illogical, ya know?
Kirsten: A woman going in to get an abortion at eight months, probably has a really good reason. Like, who waits eight months to get an abortion?
Kirsten: You know what I mean, like, you wanted to be pregnant. So, it’s just like, I started looking into it more, and I actually wrote a column saying I just was completely wrong about this, ya know –
Pete: Uh huh.
Kirsten: Because, and so I did get pulled into that and I think that, but I think what you’re talking about is that very kind of black and white, dualistic, like, either/or, in/out thinking. I definitely fell into that.
Pete: Yeah, and that’s, I mean, I think a lot of our listeners and Jared and I, we really, we feel that because that is certainly something that people struggle with.
And just, ya know, I mean I think what you’re saying is really very encouraging to a lot of our listeners that, you know, you’ve gone through a process where you had a dose of certainty, and dualistic thinking, but then you say, it doesn’t explain my reality, but you don’t want to let go of God.
Pete: And I think that’s a powerful instinct that humans have and many, many people listening are, that’s where they are, ya know? There’s no question. It just, the mystery, the taking the mystery of God, the mystery of the infinite creator, seriously, and not feeling as if we need to have the answers to all of life’s questions and it sort of takes the pressure off and you get to journey and to explore and to ask questions and to say, I don’t know or I’m not sure, because that’s just part of being human. I mean, that’s a really encouraging thing for people to hear. I like hearing it, ya know?
Kirsten: Yeah. Well I know I would have needed to hear it because I do, so the, really what pulled me off the ledge, because it was before I met Father Martin, where I really was at the point of, I just can’t. I just don’t think I’m a Christian anymore. It was really painful for me, right? I was having this real existential crisis and I can’t remember, do you know Jonathan Merritt?
Pete: Yes, of course.
Kirsten: So, Jonathan is one of my best friends and I was really having a hard time.
Pete: We had him on here too, by the way.
Pete: All your buddies, you have any more? Any more recommendations, anyway, okay, all right.
Kirsten: So, we were, you know, on vacation in Italy and we were like, sitting in the hot tub, and I’m like, I just don’t even, I can’t anymore, ya know? And he’s like, you need to read Richard Rohr.
Kirsten: I so, I was like, yeah, I always hear about Richard Rohr but I never read him, because, of course, probably when I was an evangelical someone told me he was a Satan worshipper or something, ya know, right?
Jared: Mm hmm, yeah.
Kirsten: It’s like, oh, tt’s the dark side, ya know? So, I ended up downloading Falling Upward, and I was like, this is, oh my gosh, this is it. You know, I was like, I can actually breathe again. Because I was like, this is what I think, ya know?
Kirsten: Everything he was saying theologically, and so then, Jonathan said, oh, well, he’s having a retreat. And I was like, well, I have to go. You know? And so, he managed to get me into this retreat and it was like, with ten people, and just, we spent like, three days with him and he just taught and that was a real turning point for me.
Pete: Can you flesh that out a little bit? Because, again, a lot of people have read Rohr who listen to this, and what was it that helped you, what maybe opened your eyes to a different way of thinking, you know, non-dualistically, and accepting mystery and all that?
Kirsten: Well, for me it really was what I had always thought until I kind of got pulled into this world, right? So, the best way I can explain it is, it’s like, there’s this meditation teacher Jonathan Foust, and he tells this, you know, to joke or whatever. I’m not going to tell the whole thing because it’s very long, but it sort of explains what happened. Is, you know, he says like Satan is walking along with a junior demon, and there’s a person in front of them that’s about to become a believer. And the little junior demon is like, you know, we gotta do something here. We’ve gotta stop them, we’ve gotta stop them, they’re becoming a believer. And Satan is like, eh, whatever. It’s like, no problem, I’m not sweating it. And he’s like, you know, so you keep going and the guy is getting closer and the little demon keeps freaking out and Satan is like, totally chill, not a problem. Finally, the guy falls on his knees, accepts God, and the little demon is like, now what are we going to do? And he’s like, don’t worry, I’ll help him organize it.
Kirsten: And I was like, that is what happened to me. So, I had a very profound spiritual experience and I had people say, now we’re going to give you a theology. And we’re going to tell you what that experience meant. So, prior to me buying into the theology, I thought what Richard Rohr says, right?
Kirsten: It was like, but I got this whole other theology and it was, I thought that they knew what they were talking about. And honestly, I think in hindsight I had some trauma that probably set me up to be receptive to some of this stuff.
Kirsten: And I wasn’t this super fearful person, but I think that I had enough fear that they were able to, ya know, it was always amazing to me also because of how often God talks about not fearing, how much fear really was a driving factor. And just to be clear, I’m not putting this all on Redeemer or Tim Keller –
Pete: Right, right.
Kirsten: That’s not, I was only there for a couple years and then I moved to another church, and ya know, so, I was in various churches and then I, you know, when I moved to D.C. I started going to an Anglican church. I was kind of moving little by little, but that ended up being way more evangelical than I realized it was going to be.
Kirsten: And so, yeah, so I don’t want anyone to think this was coming from Tim necessarily, but it was just people around me, and I was uncomfortable with a lot of it. I was uncomfortable with the idea that women, you know, weren’t allowed to teach men.
You know, I obviously never, ever accepted the homosexuality argument, just never made sense to me. And so, there was a lot of tension. It was not a happy time for me.
Jared: Mm hmm.
Kirsten: I look back on it, it was, it’s weird that I stayed as long as I did, but I do think it speaks to how fearful you can become, because it’s this kind of idea that if you start questioning or you start, you know, not believing, or reading the wrong things, that somehow you’re on the wrong path. It sounds so crazy to me, saying it now, but that’s how I felt.
Jared: Well, not to create some whiplash here as we go to a completely different topic, but I am curious to talk a little bit about, you know, we’re in an election year here in 2020, and I was fascinated as we were doing some background on USA Today opinion piece you wrote on being a part of toxic public debate.
Jared: And how you were planning to change that. And I think it’s just a really relevant topic in the midst of, kind of the era of Trump and divisive language and polarization, and now, it’s only going to get heated over the next few months.
Jared: So, could you maybe, as in kind of the vein of sharing your story, could you just share how you came to that realization as well?
Kirsten: Yeah. I think that I had, I’ve always been, I feel like I’ve been a fairly balanced, you know, person in terms of my analysis, my weird late-term abortion columns notwithstanding. And I noticed after Trump that I was really becoming agitated all the time and I was agitated on the air, I was agitated at home, I wasn’t even, I got the point where I didn’t even want to talk to the people, right, who were there to defend him.
Kirsten: So, I would go into the green room and they would be there, and I was like, I don’t even want to know. I don’t care what’s happening in your life, I don’t want to know about your kids, I don’t want to know anything. Which is not really how it’s typically been for me. Typically, I’ve always been able to have relationships with people, even if I, I mean, I’m not best friends with them, but I’m, you know, I’m cordial, and I’m friendly to them, and I –
Pete: You’re not repulsed by them.
Kirsten: Yeah, yeah. I’m like, you know, I’m treating them with humanity, and I mean, I worked at Fox News. I was a left of center person, and I have relationships and friendship with a lot of people that I disagreed with on a lot of things. I now realize that a lot of those disagreements were actually not as big as I thought they were, because we’re in a completely different terrain now, obviously. So, that was happening. I was noticing it, but I didn’t really know what to do about it, and then the whole Covington thing happened, and I, with the kids, you know –
Jared: And the Native American.
Kirsten: And the Native American, yeah. And I got, you know, very involved in that, you know, online and upset. Of course, again, because I had this thing of like, I’m a Christian and I need to speak up and I need to say. It’s like, you know, you can talk about the enneagram, I’m an eight. You know, so, it’s like –
Jared: Yeah, I’m an eight too. Fellow eight here.
Kirsten: Yeah, so, it’s just like, calm down sister.
Pete: I’ll sign off right now. I’ll let you two go at it.
Kirsten: Yeah, you’re not the savior of the world. You know, but I was definitely still in that mode and when the dust settled, I was like, what is going on? Ya know, I just was like, I don’t, this is not who I want to be. And this is not, it doesn’t matter how badly, ya know, I think Trump supporters behave or Donald Trump behaves. Like, this is not what I believe. And, I still am enough of, identify enough as a Christian, ya know, that I was like, this is nothing that, like, aligns with the teachings of Jesus. The way I’m behaving, because I’m so judgmental, I’m so sure that I’m so much smarter and better than everybody else, and you know, I just basically, like, I deleted the Twitter app and I just got offline and I stayed off, for I think about a month, and during that time spent a lot of time reflecting and I just was like, you know, I just think at different points in my career I sort of looked back over. I used this example of, you know, late-term abortion stuff, and I just was like, this is not helping things, you know, and it’s not who I want to be and I just think we need more grace. And, yes, there’s a lot of bad things that are happening and you do need to speak up and you need to still name those things, but I think you have to be very careful about the position of like, your heart. You know? Are you just naming it, or are you also judging and holding yourself as only righteous, good person?
[Producers group endorsement]
Jared: Can you, can you say more, can you speak more to that? Because I do think that’s a very nuanced position between, on the one hand, naming it and having our convictions and not compromising our convictions, and being gracious to other people about those things. And, I just, and I have friends who would, you know, call me out and say that, you’re not standing up for what you believe. You’re sort of compromising your beliefs by having a relationship with more conservative people and not yelling at them about all the things that we disagree with. And so, but then, on the other hand, it’s a fine line. So, could you just say more about, you said it’s a tricky thing to do. How have you figured that out?
Kirsten: Yeah. Well, it’s very tricky and let me just be totally transparent and tell you that I’m an unbelievably judgmental person. Like, I have, like it is a struggle, right? So, like, that is something that I have to work against, and I think that I actually have been able to do it. So that’s the good news, that I really feel like I’ve made a lot of progress on that since identifying that. I have tons of opinions, I really believe strongly in, you know, in equality and, you know, I’m anti-racist, and I’m anti-misogyny, and all these things. And I think that, for me, it really does go back to my spiritual beliefs. I, you know, I think it’s maybe a little harder if a person doesn’t have those spiritual beliefs, but I really do feel like the person I’m trying to emulate is Jesus, or Buddha, or, you know, people who have really set a really great example whether it’s Martin Luther King, Jr., but, you know, these really great people who, we revere, you know, as people. Why do you believe in Jesus as the son of God, right? But the people look at that and say, you know, they look at Martin Luther King and, I mean, was he hating people? Was he being nasty to people? Was he being, you know, snarky and doing the clap back and all that kind of stuff? No. Of course not. So, if you really pull the lens back and go, what are really great people in history doing, they’re not doing this, you know.
Kirsten: They’re really building relationships with people and they’re trying to change them. And you know, Jen Hatmaker, do you know Jen?
Pete: Oh yeah.
Jared: Mm hmm.
Pete: She was on too, yeah. Keep going.
Kirsten: So, Jen had a really great –
Pete: We had Jesus on too. You keep talking about him, so, yeah.
She made a really great Facebook post, which I can’t do justice to, but she got a lot of flack because she was having, she’s doing a podcast series, I guess, and she had some people on who were not affirming.
Pete: Yes, yes. Yeah, right.
Kirsten: Right? And she has become affirming, and believes that homosexuality is not a sin, and all of that, but she was having these people on and a lot of people felt betrayed. And what she said was that she’s like, but that used to be me.
Kirsten: Right? So, it was like, all these people who love Jen are saying don’t talk to the people who believe what you used to believe not that long ago.
Pete: Mm hmm.
Kirsten: And she’s saying, like, I changed my beliefs because I was in relationship with other people.
Kirsten: So, if you really want to change people, then you’re probably going to have to be in relationship with them. If you just want to be self-righteous, then, you know, you can do that, but you probably aren’t going to bring anybody along.
Kirsten: Now, if you’re somebody who is marginalized or has been harmed by, you know, by something, let somebody else handle it, and that was Jen’s point. Jen was like, I’m doing the work, so you don’t have to do the work. If you’re a gay person who grew up in the evangelical church, like, this is not work that you need to be doing, you know? You don’t need to be, you know, trying to make people change their minds. You don’t need to be in relationships with people who are saying harmful things about gay people. She’s like, I can do that.
Jared: That’s interesting.
Kirsten: Yeah. And so, and I thought that was really interesting way to put it. It’s like, you’re not, because you’re not affirming. There was another, I forget what his name is, but he runs something called Braver Angels, uh, David something.
Jared: Yeah, we had one of those at our church this last, maybe two weeks ago. It’s like a full day seminar for people on the right and left to dialogue.
Kirsten: You know, he, I was on the panel with him, and his backstory is that he used to be, used to run an organization that literally existed only to oppose gay marriage. And he used to go around the country and debate Jonathan Rauch, who’s gay, and who’s written, you know, a lot about the issue, and they became friends. You know, because they were on the road all the time, you know, debating each other, and they got caught, they were going to the airport and they got caught in traffic, and they were in a car together for two or three hours or something, and during that time, through that relationship, and also through meeting other people through Jonathan, David changed his mind. And this man, this was his entire life. He’s, you know, was dedicated to stopping gay marriage, and he changed his mind and he lost his everything. I mean, he had to sell his house, his whole company, like, collapsed because it was like, a nonprofit that all the funding existed for this. But the point is, if Jonathan Rauch had just been like, I’m not going to have a relationship with you because you don’t agree with me –
Kirsten: Then he never would have changed his mind.
Kirsten: But again, I want to be clear – that may not be, if you’re somebody that’s listening to this and you’re like, I just can’t do that. That’s okay.
Kirsten: I don’t, you know, I don’t think that you have to do it, but I would say right? It’s just what was happening to me. It was like, you’re kind of giving them power in a weird way, because they’re like, getting inside of you and they’re making you angry, and they’re making you judgmental and hateful and, it’s just like, that’s theirs, you know? Don’t take it on.
Pete: Yeah, I mean, what you’re saying that just makes so much sense, and I love the point you made about Jen too, and her rationale for doing what she did, because of relationships, and you know, I’ve had my own experiences where people I don’t, I’m sort of judgmental too, so, people, I just, they’re wrong. And I don’t like what they say, and then there’s some animosity, but, you know, it’s happened more than once, that those people have reached out to me, and we start talking differently, right? And you start to, all of a sudden, some of those differences, they don’t mean as much. Now, again, this is not about things that actually hurt people, these are like, fine theological points.
Pete: Which are boring. But, you know, that can create some tensions too with people, but, you know, the whole notion of how relationships and getting to know people, honestly, you need to know, that’s why we have you on the podcast. We’re concerned about you. We were hoping in relationship you can change a lot.
Pete: Because I’m right and you’re wrong, so how does that sound? Okay.
Jared: Well, if I can, I think that is one danger though, and maybe you can speak to that, because you said, like, if you want to change people you have to be in relationship. And for me, that smacks a little bit of growing up with like, friendship evangelism. Where it’s like, well, be in relationship with someone so that you can preach the gospel to them and they’ll be like Jesus. And it turned people into projects, and I kind of wince at the projects that I had as a kid that were people who, it’s a bait and switch. And so, you know, I don’t know what you think about that, but for me, I’ve come to the place where I feel like my calling is to be in relationship and to be in friendships with people and then have that be the full stop. And not so that I can try to change their mind on these things. How do you feel about that?
Kirsten: Well, I think that I don’t think I could be really friends with somebody who didn’t agree with me on some of these core issues –
Jared: Mm hmm.
Kirsten: I mean, just being truthful with you. I mean, I’m not going to, I don’t have any close friends. I’m trying to think if I have any, you know, I do have like, a friend who was like my best friend in college who still thinks homosexuality is a sin, right, so that’s a good example.
Jared: Mm hmm.
Kirsten: That’s a twenty-fivse year relationship. We disagree on, she certainly knows all my feelings about it, trust me. And I’m not going to end that relationship, so maybe that’s an example. Now, am I going to start a new relationship with somebody who thinks that? Probably not.
Kirsten: You know, I just think we’re not going to be aligned enough, probably, on a lot of things and I don’t have a lot of time and, you know, and so my closest relationships are people who tend to, you know, care broadly about the same things I care about. But the question is, can you have them on your podcast if it’s relevant the way Jen is. Or, you know, can you have a friendly relationship with them at work or can you, you know, these kinds of things where maybe you have coffee with them every now and then. They’re not in your inner circle –
Jared: Right. Acquaintances and people you have, not negative emotions toward.
Kirsten: Yeah, right. So, you know, can you have them to, maybe, a party or something? I don’t know. I think every person is called to different things.
Kirsten: You know, for me, I was just so passionate about the things that I believe, that, you know, for me this more would apply to people who are already in my life, you know, who would apply to some people, maybe to their family, right?
Jared: Right, right.
Kirsten: Where, you know, I don’t have that in my family, but, you know, a lot of people do.
Kirsten: You know, how do you, how do you maintain grace in those situations, where you’re not always, you know, getting in fights? And so, I’m actually working on a book about grace, so, this is something that I will be thinking a lot about over the next year.
Kirsten: So hopefully I will have better answers for you, I’m starting it probably next week.
Pete: Just not dualistic answers, right?
Kirsten: Right, exactly. Yeah, yeah. So, I don’t think, it’s not an easy thing. But like I said, for me, I just, I don’t think, if you take again, somebody like, you know, a Nelson Mandela would be another person, right? He can show grace towards the people who treated him so badly, but we can’t show grace toward somebody who disagrees with us, you know, on, yes, important issues. I’m not saying that they’re not important. But the point is, you know, or MLK is being persecuted, right? I mean, it’s like, these people are being persecuted. And they’re still being loving. So, what does that mean? You know.
Kirsten: How do you apply that when you say, you know, there’s certainly nothing, you know, as bad as my disagreements may be, they’re not worse than segregation. They’re not, they’re just not worse. And so, you know, how do you integrate that in and not, like I said, don’t take on the hate and be loving and I guess for me, I think it’s a worthwhile endeavor. I think it’s something that, you know, I’m certainly trying to pursue and trying out figure out along the way. And I’m not going to pretend I have it all figured out.
Pete: Yeah, of course. So is that, I mean, would you say, not to put words in your mouth, but would you say that is, if you had to define what does it mean to be Christian, I’m imagining that a lot of this would go into that definition of just how we treat others and extending grace and not putting up walls between us because we disagree on matters and if people like Mandela can, if Jesus on the cross can say “Father forgive them, they know not what they do,” I mean, that’s sort of a model, right, for how we –
Pete: So, maybe it’s, again, not to put words in your mouths, but it’s sort of like, just respecting other people as human beings and that’s how you show the love of God to them and that’s, you know, we don’t have all the answers to the mysteries of the universe, but we do have stuff right in front of us that we can be doing.
Kirsten: Yeah, I think it’s the interconnectedness, right?
Kirsten: The oneness, and I think it’s, what’s interesting if you, I mean, I’ve, you know, in the last couple years read a lot about Buddhism and it’s interesting how similar a lot of that is in terms of what Jesus taught, right, and so, I think that there are some sort of consistent spiritual principles. I don’t know enough about Islam to know, but I’m pretty sure it’s in there, you know?
Pete: Mm hmm.
Kirsten: I think it’s, any religion that I learn about seems to have these principals in them about, you know, humility, forgiveness, loving other people –
Pete: Yeah, don’t be a jerk.
Kirsten: Yeah, it’s sort of interconnectedness of all of us. You know, that people are made in the image of God and not, you know, and again, not always, it just can’t always be other people that have the problems, I just always feel like, you know, if you really want to spend your time honing in on things that need to change, a good place to start is with yourself.
Kirsten: And so, you know, do these other things, you know, whatever issues it is that you’re passionate about, but I also think for me, and again, this is one of my struggles, is to not put myself in the position of like, judge and jury –
Kirsten: And, you know, a person who knows everything.
Pete: Well, you mentioned Richard Rohr, and you know, one of the things that really got me into him many years ago, was he said something like the religious life is always looking outward and saying what’s wrong with them, and the spiritual journey is about turning it inside and saying what am I learning about myself from what’s happening right now. And that, to me, is just a profound Christian insight, and for other faiths too. Christians don’t own this, but it’s certainly a Christian insight and a powerful one, so.
Pete: Let me ask you a question I hate getting. Can I ask you this?
Kirsten: Go ahead.
Pete: So, what do you think of the Bible? Like, does this factor in terms of, you know, maybe just the broad outline of Jesus’ story? You used to read it a lot. Is it something that’s still a part actively of how you think about what it means to follow this path, or are you sort of done with it and just tired of it?
Kirsten: I used to, yeah, I used to read it every day. I don’t read it every day now. I still read it sometimes, but I really only read like, I want to read like, what Jesus is saying for the most part. A lot of the other stuff I sometimes find upsetting and alarming. And so, yeah, I don’t, I mean, that’s just sort of where I am right now. But I also was so deeply into studying the Bible for such a long time, right. It was just, it wasn’t reading it, it was reading the commentaries and doing the Bible studies and talking about it all the time, and there’s just at some point you’re just like, I get it. You know what I mean, like I don’t, like, I know what it says.
Kirsten: And so, I just, I don’t, like I said, I like to read the Sermon on the Mount or something like that, that’s nourishing to me, but I don’t need to be going through, like, Deuteronomy, you know, trying to understand what that means in my life.
Pete: Well, cause you’re not reading the Bible to be right.
Pete: It sounds like you’re reading it for, you used the word nourishment, so.
Kirsten: Whereas before I was reading it to figure out the rules, you know.
Pete: Right, decode it all. Yeah, right.
Kirsten: Right, like all the answers are in here, and all I have to do is just understand it, and once I found out what it was in the original Greek, and, you know, everything, and what was happening at that time in history, and then I’m going to know exactly, and I’m going to know exactly what to do.
Pete: Right, and so have a million other denominations said the same thing, right, so.
Kirsten: Right, exactly.
Pete: Yeah, doesn’t work too well, but, oh my. Yay.
Jared: So, do you have any, as you’re going on in this journey, any practical advice or input for people as we march toward November 2020 and they have family members and friends who maybe are different parts of the political spectrum on how to, kind of walk this journey with grace while holding onto your convictions?
Kirsten: Yeah, I think that, so I’m a big fan of meditation, and it’s changed my life and so, you know, if you’re a person who prays, that obviously helps, but if you’re not a person who prays than I highly, highly, highly recommend meditation, and I recommend it even if you are a person who prays, because I think whatever you can be doing to like, ground yourself, you know, I do a ton of yoga, I get into a lot of nature, I, you know, I just feel like you’ve got to ground yourself in something. For me, it is spiritual practices, and spiritual beliefs, and kind of remembering what I believe and who I want to be, but it’s challenging. It’s like, high-level spirituality, right? Like, that’s the thing that I realized. It’s just like, it’s not that hard if you’re always around people who think like you. It’s just, how hard is it to have a serious spiritual walk if you just are surrounded by people who are exactly like you and think exactly what you think? Like, the only place that you’re gonna develop is if you’re around people who don’t think like you. Because I can be graceful and nice to people who agree with me, that’s not hard. You know, and so, or even having to deal with Trump. I mean, this is probably one of the biggest challenges that I’ve ever had in terms of trying to maintain that position. And it is a daily challenge, that’s the thing.
Pete: Mm hmm.
Kirsten: It’s a daily thing. You have to daily, like, think about it, practice it, you know, because it’s not, it’s not going to stop. It’s not one of these things where someone did something to you and you need to forgive them and it happened one time, it’s something that just keeps happening. Not just every day, but like, every couple hours, right? So, you know, it’s just this, so for me, I just, you know, I’m not going to minimize it and say that it’s easy. I do think, you know, if you’re in a, say, you know, if you have a family. I have quite a few friends who grew up in the evangelical families, and, you know, have become more progressive and their parents are still conservative and they like Trump. I, you know, I think boundaries are important. You know, I don’t think you have to be putting yourself in a position, you know, if you have somebody who wants to fight with you or wants to, you know, say things that are offensive to you, or whatever it is. I don’t think you have to do that. So, I think you can, you know, have boundaries around, you know, what’s acceptable to you, and I just wouldn’t minimize it. That’s the thing, I mean, it’s a real struggle. I mean, what do you guys do?
I’m actually, personally, I’m in pretty good shape because I don’t have any relatives, really, that are like –
Jared: So, you just get old enough that all your relatives die?
Pete: Yeah, everybody is dying. I’m too old for this, but anyway, just my parents were not like that. My sister is not like that. My wife and her family, you know, more or less, it’s just, we don’t have this kind of tensions, but I know, Jared, you’ve got maybe –
Jared: Yeah, I mean, I’m from Texas and definitely have a lot of family there, and I think, you know, for me it really has been to make sure that I practice not becoming the very thing that I’m trying to oppose –
Jared: And so that has been a lot of, just grounding myself in that grace and for me, it’s also been reminding of, you know, I behave out of the deepest values. And so, if I remind myself what really do I want out of this relationship, do I want to be right, do I want to still be able to love this person and have them think highly of me and the respect that I give them, that sort of orders my interactions with family members and friends and, just because we’re quoting Richard Rohr, I have this quote that’s been really helpful for me. He’s says actually in Falling Upward, he says, “we all become well disguised mirror images of anything we fight too long or too directly. That which we oppose determines the energy and frames the questions for a while.”
Jared: And so, I like that. “That which we oppose determines the energy and frames the questions.” I just think that’s so true, that once you’re locked in that, you’ve already lost, because you start, your energy and the framing of the questions already start to take on this antagonistic feel, and so, I’ve been trying to really redirect my energy, and say, what’s life-giving, and how do I do more of those things and less of the arguing as though that’s going to make a difference.
Kirsten: Right, yeah. And I don’t think you have to talk about it, I mean, I was thinking about another person that I know who voted for Trump, and when he started saying some things, which, was really surprising to me because he was always kind of a, he was a Republican, but kind of a, I don’t know, I just sort of, never thought of him as particularly conservative, right?
Jared: Mm hmm.
Kirsten: You know, and then he started saying something about immigration or something, and I was like, oh that sounds so familiar, you know. And then I was like, it was sort of the Trump talking points, you know, and I was like, what is going on here? And then I was like, oh my god, like, you’re totally, like, saying these things, you know, that are so upsetting to me that I have to hear at work all the time, right? And so, basically, you know, we sort of got into it a little bit, and then he said, you know, let’s talk about it more, and I said, nope. I have better idea, let’s never talk about it, because we’re never going to agree.
Kirsten: So, there’s just no reason, like, there’s nothing you’re going to say that’s going to make me, and there’s nothing I’m going to say, you know, on this issue.
Jared: Right, exactly.
Kirsten: So, let’s just pretend like that politics just don’t exist, because that’s the only solution.
Pete: Right, because getting into it is not going to do anything. You know Brian McLaren –
Pete: Who we’ve had on the podcast too, by the way, in case you wondered Kirsten.
Kirsten: Of course.
Pete: Yeah, who else. Yeah, but anyway, yeah he puts it really well, and I really learned something from him saying that when, you know, you get debated into things by relatives or this or that, and they sort of give a speech and instead of lashing back, Brian just goes, well, hmm. I think differently about that. And that’s the end of it.
Pete: You don’t get into it, you sort of, you maintain your boundaries, you don’t get knocked around. You just say, I just think differently about it. But your relationship doesn’t depend on having to solve that issue, which is something that we can try to model.
Pete: You know, to other people. Which is hard if you like being right all the time.
Pete: You know? And again, I, I mean, I resonate with that because, you know, why do people get into academia to begin with? Because they think they’re right about everything.
Pete: I’m right about most things, but not everything. You know, I’m, right, Jared?
Jared: Yeah, no. No comment. No comment.
Jared: Yeah, what I think it also just, for me, again, because you mentioned the enneagram earlier, like, as an eight, yeah, I want to think I’m right all the time, but I think there’s something too, and this is Richard Rohr-ian as well, that in the west though, once we realize that we’ve privileged rightness as correct opinion about something, and we realize that that’s just some abstract notion, and for me, it took the teeth out of it. That like, I actually, I want to be right about embodiment.
Kirsten: Mm hmm.
Jared: Like, my rightness needs to be looking back on a life well lived, and that’s more important than being right about this particular topic at this particular time. And so, that’s been a helpful, like, long term situational way of framing for me, that’s really been helpful to say, man, it almost, it’s kind of a gut check for me as an eight to say, well, I’m fighting so hard to be right, but what if being right in this way is actually pretty small compared to maybe, there’s other ways of being right in this more mystical or holistic way of thinking of being.
Kirsten: Like a more eternal point of view.
Jared: Yeah, yeah. A more eternal, or just –
Kirsten: Yeah, well no. I was gonna say, I think, so I think, for me, as an eight it’s funny. Well, I’m a split of the subtypes, I think it’s a social eight or something, I can’t remember.
Jared: Mm hmm.
Kirsten: They are less confrontational, actually, but for me, it’s the feeling like I have to always be, like, rescuing people, you know, and saving people. And so, if somebody was to say something, you know, it’s my job, to like fix, like my friend in the immigration, right? I’ve gotta like, say, well all of the people are being mistreated by like, convincing this one person, you know, to see it differently, but I’m not going to, that’s the thing. He’s not actually going to change his mind. You know, I know this, because I do this as a job.
Jared: Mm hmm.
Kirsten: And I like, don’t rarely, you know, change people’s minds. You know, every now and then I do. You know, over, but it takes a lot of time. So, for me, it’s the gut check of like, what am I feeling, so I still feel like I could say, you know, look, you know, what you’re saying, I’m not really sure, it doesn’t really sound quite, you know, right, and here’s some things to think about, but it’s without the judgement.
Jared: Mm hmm.
Kirsten: You know, or if somebody, say somebody say something racist, of course you say, like, hey, you know what, that’s not okay, and here’s why it’s not okay. But it’s not me sitting here going like, you racist, and you’re so bad, and I’m so good. It’s just, very matter of factly, you know, explain it to them.
Jared: Yeah, and what I’m hearing you say is a lot of times it’s not necessarily what you say, it’s how you say it and the posture with which –
Kirsten: And it’s what you’re feeling, right?
Jared: Right, yeah.
Kirsten: Is there an emotional charge where you’re, or are you just naming truth? Are you just saying, you know, this is racist and this is wrong and you just say things like that, you know, and, you know, if you want to say them, you need to go. You know, like, you actually can say something like that without heaping scorn and judgement, you know, on another person.
Kirsten: And I think, and I’m not saying that I, that’s like, would be my natural reaction at all times. It’s more something that I aspire to, I think.
Jared: Well, one thing that’s helped me with that is having four kids. That’s like, a spiritual discipline –
Jared: Where you basically, it’s like, oh, you know what, everyone is happier and healthier and everyone responds better if we have clear boundaries, but we say it without that emotional charge. And just learning, like, oh, the world is just a happier place when we can still have the boundaries and still have the consequences without that emotional reactivity.
Pete: You can work that out having a podcast cohost too.
Jared: Yeah, right.
Oh my. Well listen, Kirsten, thank you so much, this has been so much fun getting to know your story a little bit more and I appreciate you sharing it. You’ve got a book that you’re starting to work on?
Pete: You said, and, it’s about grace and you don’t really know when that’s probably going to be a couple years I guess, right, before it comes out? Or –
Kirsten: Yeah, it’s due in October and I think it will be out, you know, sometime mid-2021.
Pete: Next, oh, that’s pretty good then.
Kirsten: Yeah, late 2021 or something like that.
Pete: Cool. And the title is grace, do you have a title yet?
Kirsten: I don’t really know what the title is, its concept is like, grace-ish, just because I kind of gotten to this thing of like, I don’t really want to be Mother Teresa, but I want to be more graceful. So, like, let’s like, we can do better, right? It’s like, we don’t have to be, we don’t have to be perfect. We don’t have to be Ghandi, you know? I mean, that would be nice. It would be nice, I’m not going to lie.
Pete: Are you back on Twitter?
Kirsten: Not really. I hardly spend any time on Twitter. I’m on Instagram, lots of dog pictures, and, you know –
Pete: What’s that dogs name again?
Kirsten: Well, I have two dogs. One is Lucy, and she’s a real little rascal.
Kirsten: And Bill, yeah, so I’m just @kirstenpowers on Instagram, and that’s really the only one that I do, and I go on Twitter every now and then and always regret it.
Kirsten: And then I have a podcast that I launched pretty recently. I only have like, ten episodes up. It’ called How to Do You, and the concept behind it is sort of talking to people about how to live authentically, and I’ve talked to all sorts of different kinds of people. You know, Jimmy Kimmel, and I just talked to Glennon Doyle about her new book, and I’ll actually be Jen, to Dan Jones, and it’s just different, you know, from all different walks of life and, and I think it kind of grew out of this experience that we were talking about, which was that I kind of lost, I lost connection with myself because I gave away all my power, you know, to the so-called experts in my case, they were religious teachers.
Kirsten: And once I reconnected, you know, with the true self if you want to call it that, or you know, I, my life changed completely, and so, yeah.
Pete: Well that’s great. Well listen, thanks for being on. We appreciate it very much and blessing to you and your work.
Kirsten: All right, thank you!
Jared: Thanks Kirsten.
Pete: Well, another episode is come and gone. Folks, thanks for listening, we appreciate it every time you click download and play.
Jared: And one thing we wanted to mention here is if you like the written word just as much as you like listening to the podcast, we have a Genesis for Normal People, the book, on our website, you can get there as well as on Amazon, wherever fine books are sold online, you can just go and type in Genesis for Normal People, and we basically in that book, do what we try to do here on the podcast and break down the best in biblical scholarship for everyday people. And Pete and I –
Pete: We change people’s lives, Jared. I think, let’s just get down to it, right?
Jared: That’s really what we do, sure. Sure. Sure, yeah.
Jared: We just do it through things like this podcast –
Pete: Books, and podcasts, yeah.
Jared: And Genesis for Normal People, so it just, it keeps us humble, you know, doing this kind of work. Clearly.
Pete: Yeah, I guess. We’re so humble. So, and speaking of humble, we have a lot of people to thank. Our team that makes the podcast possible: Megan Cammack, our podcast producer.
Pete: Do you know any of these people? Reed Lively, is our community champion. All the social media stuff and Dave Gerhart, our audio engineer and Stephanie Speight, our transcriber.
Jared: Yes, we couldn’t do it without them.
Pete: Anybody else? Did we miss somebody?
Jared: I think that’s it, you got them all.
Pete: That’s enough. A lot of mouths to feed. Okay. All right folks, thanks for listening.
I opened it, I happened to open it exactly to the page that it had their name, but it was apparently I’ve written it several times, and I was so confused, I was like, that doesn’t look the same.
Pete: Who’s that?
Jared: Where is this at?
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