Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Dr. Ravi Zacharias In Interview!

Recently, I had come across this posting on Youtube of a recent interview with Dr. Ravi Zacharias - Christian theologian, philosopher, apologist, writer and founder of RZIM. I first came across Dr. Zacharias in 2003, while visiting my parents in the Middle East during a summer holiday prior to starting the fourth year of my undergraduate program in India. Having no idea who he was, the name "Ravi Zacharias" meant nothing to me when my parents took my sister and I on a long drive to Abu Dhabi, where he was giving a series of talks at the Sheraton hotel. Although, I have very little memory of the content of his speech, I know something happened to me as I listened to him talk that evening - a defining moment that has quite shaped my life, growth, personality and vision since then.

I found this particular interview as evocative of memories and sentiment in many respects as the actual intellectual content of the conversation itself. Dr. Zacharias' name pops up quite often in one form or the other in my conversations with friends, family and strangers (usually in the context of some discussion related to life and meaning). Most people who know me attribute my liking for Ravi Zacharias because of a particular intellectual bent that I resonate with, or a possible interest in apologetics, or common ethnicity, or various other reasons. Curiously enough, as I watched him talk in this more personal setting, I think I understood much better why I find him so special, and my deep affection for the man. I thought I'd share some of those personal insights and memories here. But first, the interview.

My apologies for the cropping of the videos on the right side due to formatting restrictions; to view them in their full dimensions, please double-click on them to connect to the original posting on YouTube.

Part One:

Part Two:

The mention of his struggles in school brought back memories and reflections of my own wounds while growing up. Unlike Dr. Zacharias, I was educated outside India during my primary and secondary school years (hence sparing me the ruthless pressure and severe competition inherently present within the Indian school system). Nevertheless, my own school culture was one of high expectations, constant comparison and the constant drive to perform, where intellectual achievement was a significant determinant of both social acceptance and self-worth.

A private Catholic institution that was one of the best international schools in the country where I grew up, the consistent scholastic achievements of the students was formidable - the best examination results and admission into top-tier universities worldwide. Thus, I strove to be like 'the others' in my class, dutifully worked hard, and made it into one of the top 5 schools for electrical engineering in the US - only to have all my effort crumble to dust in my hands by my second year there. Dr. Zacharias' description of himself as a 'colossal flop' for much of his schooling years neatly summed up my feelings about myself after my own personal scholastic devastation, exactly a decade ago. Like him, it took the intervention of God to transform both me and where my life was headed, as He put a broken life back together, and propelled my life upwards. But that is a story for another time.

I was once struck by the irony that though one may grow up geographically distant from one's land of ethnic origin, air, land and sea are rendered irrelevant to the strangulating tentacles of deeply embedded negative cultural influences. Sown and grown within, one unwittingly carries them everywhere, and unless made cognizant of them, operates unaware of their influence. I have been painfully discovering this recently; over the last several months God has blown deeply ingrained assumptions that I have held out of the water, one after the other in a most spectacular fashion. More on that in coming posts.

"I lived in India - born and raised there...pressure to perform, in studies, is number one in India. You don't just pass. You better pass right at the top, or you're in trouble, and I was in trouble...the maximum number of suicides in India happens every year after the examinations, because people don't see a future if they haven't performed well and I was one of those statistics. I attempted to take my own life, and I was in a hospital room." I was silent for a little while as Dr. Zacharias recounted his own suicide attempt. I remembered reading countless such stories over the years in the local newspaper when I was in primary and secondary school, of some middle or high school student that had committed suicide because their 10th or 12th grade results were not good enough. I especially remembered one girl in my class that I knew personally during my undergraduate years in university, who locked herself in the washroom of her dorm room and slashed both her wrists with a blade in a suicide attempt during our third or fourth year in engineering. She survived because she was discovered in time by a friend and dorm supervisor and rushed to hospital, and came back to university. All of us in that class had a silent and unspoken sympathy for her, knowing ourselves the massive pressure of social expectation to perform, in a country where every mark in school counts in the battle for economic survival and represents one possible foothold higher up the ladder leading away from poverty. It was a sobering reminder of God's mercy and provision in my own life; I thought of how He had kept me intact through some very difficult years in university, protected me from terrible despair and loss of heart, and kept me going, though intense academic pressure and moments of dejection.

"So there I was at the age of 17 saying 'Jesus, if you are who you claim to be, take control of my life. I don't know how to live. I don't even know if I want to live. But I want life; I don't have it now. If you will take charge of my life and give me what I need, I will leave no stone unturned in my pursuit of truth. That's what happened.'" Ravi's touching prayer reminded me of a similar one that I had prayed along those lines in late 2002, as I hit rock bottom in my own devastating series of seemingly never-ending failures that began after I finished high school. And with tears in my eyes, I remembered God's tender and unfailing answer of rescue in the moment of my own brokenness, as He began the long journey towards healing of a shattered mind and spirit.

In the middle of all these reminiscing and reflection, I think the biggest realization hit me just listening Dr. Zacharias' voice itself as he talked about the 'apologetics of touch', and the character of the man that comes across in those soft spoken, polite and gracious tones. Although there may have been other things of an intellectual nature that may have caught and held my attention as I first heard him talk that evening six years ago, it may finally have been his nature and character that inspired and moved me the most, and continues to do so. It is not so much his intellectual bent, or a love of apologetics, or common ethnicity. It is that genuine outflow of the transformed Christ-like nature - a willingness to honestly engage with and address the deep shared questions and cries of my sinful heart and mind that brings conviction, yet in a tender and gracious manner that is cognizant of the brokenness and fragility of the spirit in need of forgiveness. In a way, he also evokes fond memories of the cultural norms of southern India (where I originate from) that I have witnessed and been imprinted with to some degree by elders, friends and family - lessons of kindness, hospitality, graciousness, empathy and compassion, with tenderness and sensitivity in speech and action. If I had to describe what I am left with time and again as I have listened to, watched or read Dr. Zacharias and RZIM minister for Christ over the years, I believe "peace of mind and comfort of spirit" would sum it up admirably.

As the interview moved on to various other topics, I thought of the testimony of God's transforming goodness to fundamentally broken human beings, which I see beautifully illustrated in the life of this man. I guess in the tapestry that God has woven out of Dr. Ravi Zacharias' life, I see incontestibly depicted the power of God in the words of Christ in the Gospel of John:

"Because I live, you also will live." (John 14:19, ESV)

Over the years, God has used RZIM's ministry and mission, beautifully summed up in their two pithy statements, "What I believe in my heart must make sense in my mind" and "Helping the thinker believe, helping the believer think", to touch me profoundly in my walk with Him. I love them all very much and I'm glad I got to say 'Thank You' through this post!

- The Wisdom Seeker