Religion can be divisive. We read of historical confrontations and we witness the divisiveness in the world around us – between major world religions and among the sectarian branches they foster. But while religion and faith claims can be divisive, it needn’t be this way. There are ways to approach faith and differences of faith in constructive, expanding ways. One example is carried on over 200 public radio stations each week, a program called Speaking of Faith. The host, Krista Tippett, explores faith in a narrative approach that draws out the complexities of, the power in, and the wisdom gained from a life of faith.
The aspect that I appreciate most about this program is its focus on the individual voice. The interviews are less about doctrines and beliefs and more about how faith works in the individual – what it means, how it relates, and insights gained. The institutional voice is largely lacking, refreshingly so, and the episodes range from explorations of specific faith traditions to interesting examinations and lessons learned from the songs of whales.
In Ms. Tippet’s own words:
I’m committed to drawing out the contours and depths of what I call “the vast middle” — left, right, and center between the poles of competing answers that have hardened our cultural discourse. In the vast middle, faith is as much about questioning as it is about certainties. It is possible to be a believer and a listener at the same time, to be both fervent and searching, to nurture a vital identity and to wonder at the identities of others.
I started listening on Sunday mornings in the early years of this decade, at least when I remembered to turn on the radio. Now I find these thoughtful and inspirational podcasts are perfect for a commute, a workout, or to simply pass an hour in contemplation.
To get started, I’ll list some of my favorites. These are my top five, but it’s too much to ask to rank them in order. I welcome other SoF fans to list theirs, too – it’s rather illuminating, I’m sure that my list says something about my approach to faith.
Poet and historian Jennifer Michael Hecht says that as a scholar she always noticed the “shadow history” of doubt out of the corner of her eye. She shows how non-belief, skepticism, and doubt have paralleled and at times shaped the world’s great religious and secular belief systems. She suggests that only in modern time has doubt been narrowly equated with a complete rejection of faith, or a broader sense of mystery.
Rory comments: I love the exploration of doubt as a rich tradition, one that needn’t be seen as a negative trait or something to be avoided. We have problems reconciling doubt in a faith that values “I know”. There are those among us that doubt, that question, that are skeptical, and viewing that doubt as a powerful approach rather than a detriment is a refreshing and sustaining concept.
In over 50 years as a Benedictine nun, Sister Joan Chittister has emerged as a powerful and uncomfortable voice in Roman Catholicism and in global politics. If women were ordained in the Catholic Church in our lifetime, some say, Joan Chittister would be the first female bishop.
Ok, this isn’t my comment, it’s Sister Chittister’s, but I wish it were mine: “It takes a long time for ideas to seep to the top, let alone to move the bottom. So you just realize that what is going on right now is simply the seeding of the question. It comes down to how many snowflakes does it take to break a branch? I don’t know, but I want to be there to do my part if I’m a snowflake.”
We delve into the world and meaning of the Jewish High Holy Days — ten days that span the new year of Rosh Hashanah through Yom Kippur’s rituals of atonement. A young rabbi in L.A. is one voice in a Jewish spiritual renaissance that is taking many forms across the U.S. The vast majority of her congregation are people in their 20s and 30s, who, she says, are making life-giving connections between ritual, personal transformation, and relevance in the world.
I’m fascinated by the power of ritual. This episode taught me more about some of the Jewish rituals, and I was particularly interested in the approach of the young rabbi, especially as we face a crisis in the rising generation within our own faith.
Americans are religious and non-religious, devout and irreverent. But in astonishing numbers, across that spectrum, most of us say that we pray. We explore the subject of prayer, how it sounds, and what it means in three different traditions and lives.
An expansive look at prayer, one that might help us to break out of a rut if we find ourselves offering patterned, rote prayers.
Stuart Brown, a physician and director of the National Institute for Play, says that pleasurable, purposeless activity prevents violence and promotes trust, empathy, and adaptability to life’s complication. He promotes cutting-edge science on human play, and draws on a rich universe of study of intelligent social animals.
You’ll never look at your free, purposeless time the same way again.
An unusual take on the mind-body connection with author and yoga teacher Matthew Sanford. He’s been a paraplegic since the age of 13. He shares his wisdom for us all on knowing the strength and grace of our bodies even in the face of illness, aging, and death.
I loved the wisdom, the optimism, and the peace that this episode offers.
And since I’m incapable of just sharing five six, a quick list to round out my top ten:
- Living Vodou
- Religious Passion, Pluralism, and the Young
- The Spirituality of Parenting
- Brother Thay: A Radio Pilgrimage with Thich Nhat Hanh
Ok, I’m going to stop here. Go listen, learn, and share.
What are your favorites? Are there other quality podcasts out there that you’ve found?