Rob Bell was the speaker at Greenbelt who I though I ‘ought’ to go and listen to. I seemed to remember he’d written something controversial not that long ago, but I couldn’t remember what. I still can’t.
In the end, I heard him twice. On Saturday I followed the crowd, sheeplike, to the Main Stage. There I had my first “tweet-up” with a very nice tweeting vicar from the outskirts of London – but that’s beside the point!
Apparently ‘the Good News is better than that‘! Better than twitter, and talking about interesting stuff with fascinating people? Well yes, obviously – in the nicest possible way.
Actually, I spent the first half hour of his talk wondering what on earth I was doing wasting my time listening. He simply talked about himself – I have to say, he seems to do that rather a lot.
Then he got my attention, or rather, God did. For reasons I’m not currently at liberty to discuss on the web, his message “Be yourself, and take the next step”, was something I needed to be reminded just then. The same went for “don’t constantly worry about what you’re not – other people don’t need to hear it”! By the time he said something along the lines of “be patient about the next step and don’t worry about the one after that” I’d decided he’d been talking to my spiritual director. She too, I’ve since discovered, was also there, but I don’t think they’d met 🙂 I went away knowing God had spoken to me through some of what he said, but still not sure what I thought of him.
“Pure undiluted slog” was Rob Bell’s not a very inspiring talk title in the afternoon, but it was the one I was more interested in. Learning to find the things in ministry that set the creative juices running (courtesy of God’s grace and the Holy Spirit), and balancing them with the more ‘run of the mill’ stuff, is sort of part of where I’m at.
Again, the content of the Rob Bell’s talk wasn’t really that startlingly new. Again, there were quite a lot of amusing stories about himself; or at least amusing if you ‘get’ some of the jokes – I’ve never been to America, and I fear some of them were lost on me.
But there were some things that Rob Bell said, that chimed with me:
- when we are creative we are being hypersensitive to God in the ‘place’ we’re in – which is a good thing;
- we need to move slow enough to ‘see’ God in a place/experience etc;
- collect things like photo’s, ideas, conversations; (that’s why I love my camera, and twitter!)
- the reward for the effort of creating something is if it happens to resonate with someone – yes, that is a good feeling, but you created it first and foremost because God put it in you, so you need to be extra-ordinarily grateful for it;
- creative things can be exhausting, because part of you, or your relationship with God, got dragged up and spilled out; (that’s how we grow in faith and discipleship to my mind);
- the one I like most was that the cost of being creative, is part of a”Eucharist reality”. Well it’s certainly sacrificial in time, energy, and sometimes money, so OK I can buy that! Is being creative also sacramental; an outward and visible sign of an inward and spiritual grace? Well yes, thinking about it now, of course it is. Surely that is what our priests should make the Eucharist: a creative, incarnational experience, for them, and for those who receive it? In fact to my mind, all worship should to mind be a creative space for God to work in people’s lives, which is probably why I got so excited about my “Blessed” and “Molten” experiences.
Some of what he said helped me understand why some of us blog, twitter and generally dump stuff out onto the web – the web has made it so much easier than pencil and paper! Yes, I suppose it’s sort of healthy to just “get it out”, and not worry about how weird it is till later – but on reflection shouldn’t we be more aware of what we are doing than that? We should be able to discern in ourselves what is good and bad, that is why there are edit, preview and delete buttons! Yes, if we’re writing a book, then trust friends and the more experienced to edit it, but we should surely be able to get rid of some of the rubbish ourselves, before it gets to them. If we don’t, perhaps that’s why there’s some serious rubbish out there on the internet!
Of course, as Rob Bell rightly pointed out, especially with the web, but also with a book, you don’t have control over how what you publish is perceived. That is the risk we take. But surely when we’re writing about our faith, or how God could be active in the lives of others, those are the things we should be ultra careful about? Then once committed, we have to rely on God’s strength and insight to live with, and/or respond to the flack that follows?
I think the thing that I found most difficult was some of Rob Bell’s images, and the connections he made with some Biblical passages. It might be my poor memory or bad telling, but when I got home and recounted his ‘gorilla-man’ story to my husband, it clanged with him, and it clanged with me. Surely you give your money to the ‘street-act’ that is the best, whose talent and obvious commitment of time most deserves your respect, rather than too the buffoon who really didn’t have a clue?
In a similar way I didn’t get the link between Jacob’s (creative?) use of a stone for a pillow in Genesis 28, and the importance of his dream. Surely the dream was God’s free gift, his grace to Jacob, and didn’t result from any creativity on Jacob’s part? Perhaps I’m missing something.
So, for me the chiming bits of Rob Bell probably just outweighed the clanging sounds. But I’m still not completely sure to make of him, and I still don’t know why he’s meant to be controversial. To be honest, I’m not sure that I’m that bothered!