A religious cleric is the last person I would think of listening to. Having grown up in a ultra religious family where not a moment went by without reference to the holy scripture, the prophet, or the judgment of God, I run like a chicken without a head if I hear a faint whisper of such a conversation outside my family.
I was struggling with a story I was writing one day when I gave in to a distraction that are podcasts. After listening to a brilliant advice this guy gave to an aspiring writer on Magic Lessons, I decided to follow his podcasts and I was hooked. A quirky pastor, Rob Bell reminded me a little bit of the preacher from The Grapes of Wrath who had given up his life as preacher but believed that “maybe all men got one big soul ever’body’s a part of”.
I was not raised with Christian heritage but have benefited from Rob Bell’s talks on spirituality as much as I learnt from Reza Aslan’s books on the history of religion. Though Aslan’s approach to understanding is more academic and based on the empirical study of history, his and Bell’s eventual aim is quite the same: to help people move beyond the conventional understanding of God and make religion relevant again. After all, if we are neurologically disposed to religious impulse then rationality demands that we make it more relevant and suited to our lives now and do not interpret, literally, the stories of a thousand years ago.
The world is becoming increasingly polarized it seems. No one wants to let go of their beliefs whether theist or atheist, either for fear of persecution or because it gives them an identity, abandoning which might brutally challenge their self-worth. Social media makes matters worse where each and every thought of ours is being aired through status messages, photographs and tweets that create our virtual identity for the world to see. This almost necessitates never changing our mind. In such a culture where confidence has become synonymous with clinging to your opinions and ideals (no matter how appalling) with all your might, and where bigotry trends, listening to this guy is like a breath of fresh air for his openness and flexibility.
Bell actively brings to light a different perspective of Christian faith that I believe, will resonate with people from different faiths and from all walks of life. He challenges conventional definitions of faith and the use of labels that try to fit dynamic personalities into discrete little categories like believer, non-believer, theist or atheist:
“[…] the church must stop thinking about everybody primarily in categories of in or out, saved or not, believer or nonbeliever. Besides the fact that these terms are offensive to those who are the “un” and “non”, they work against Jesus’ teachings about how we are to treat each other. Jesus commanded us to love our neighbor, and our neighbor can be anybody. We are all created in the image of God, and we are all sacred, valuable creations of God. Everybody matters. To treat people differently based on who believes what is to fail to respect the image of God in everyone. As the book of James says, “God shows no favoritism.” So we don’t either.”
I’d like to think that Bell may be the kind of psychoanalyst that Zooey would’ve preferred for Franny. Minus Zooey’s edginess, Bell is essentially giving the religious sort amongst us a much needed reality check about how they’re “missing out on every single goddam religious action that’s going on in the house”. Bell reaches out to the Franny in us and reminds us that even if we went out and searched the whole world for a master or guru to tell us how to say our ‘Jesus Prayers’ properly, how in hell are we going to recognize a legitimate holy man when we see one if we cannot even recognize the chicken soup our mom made us as consecrated because that’s the only way she knows how to provide us comfort?
Here are some of Bell’s podcasts that are a total pick-me-up for your Franny moments:
The River, The Mountain, and You
Pete Rollins on God Part 1-4
We Are The Committee
The One About Boundaries
You and Your Bookkeeping
Levi Gardner the Gardener
Feature Image Illustration borrowed is from Kat Kon.