Strawberries and Clooney and Vietnam

Rob Bell gets accused of not mentioning Jesus enough but there is a moment about 15 minutes into his “don’t call it a comeback” Grand Rapids show as part of his new Everything Is Spiritual tour where he mentions Jesus.

But you may have missed it. In a seemingly throw away statement it’s almost as if He didn’t want everyone to hear it. That this Jesus is somehow so much more unique, exciting and imaginative that you could even handle.

Which is one of the criticisms that Rob Bell has faced countless times. He talks about spirituality and Jesus and God and Love in ways that we don’t like. Ambiguous, mysterious but intriguing.

Where on earth could he have got such an idea for talking about spiritual matters like this?

For the rest of us, Rob Bell gets it.

In what I think is over two hours (I never once felt like checking my watch) which seems like both a long time, whilst never being boring and yet nowhere near long enough; he describes the trajectory of the world from the big bang to particles to atoms to Molecules to cells to you and me, human life.

I don’t remember science, last period on a Friday ever being so thrilling.

Even his fiercest critics have conceded that Rob Bell is a wonderful communicator and by keeping us engaged for so long on what is essentially a very basic science lesson, it’s almost as if he’s showing off.

But you’re maybe not interested in the science stuff. You want to know how he weaved Jesus, God, and the Gospel message into all of this.

He begins by linking the ever forward trajectory of existence from the big bang to the tiniest particles to complex human beings to itself. We’re all connected. In every progressive step there are characteristics of before to be found in it’s make up. The potential for all the joy, pain, awkward conversations, Taylor Swift, first time you tasted Chocolate, thrill and every other experience under the sun was present there in the beginning.

In one important analogy so desperately and currently needed, he showed us that racism is the inability to connect with someone of similar substance.

Loneliness is going in the wrong direction because it’s the antithesis of all of us being connected.

Cells, sub atomic particles, racism, loneliness. It’s all the same. We need to connect to move forward.

You want a message about the need for church to be real and authentic with the world and itself? You got it.

You want a repent message? You got it. If you’re not moving with others in the direction we need you to, you better rethink what you’re doing.

When you provide evidence from English researchers Kate Pickett and Richard Wilkinson from their book “The Spirit Level” that the larger the gaps between the rich and poor in countries, the lower the literary rates, more serious mental health and the lower life expectancy not simply for the poor, but for the rich, it’s hard to not see Jesus in all of this.

Maybe Jesus isn’t explicitly mentioned as much as some of us would like, but He is there in everything tonight.

We need to be generous, peaceful, hopeful and graceful to each other. Getting more stuff, finding that individual inner peace for yourself is not enough. Connection with others is where its at.

Finally, Rob Bell takes some time to connect what all of this means practically in three areas of our lives. Our past, present and future.

There were many collective mmmm’s throughout this evening. Not the “that’s an interesting thing to know” type but that “deeply felt, everyone knows it, even if we never explicitly knew how to express it”, type of knowing. These all happened during this last phase of the night.

A beautiful example of all of this at play between hundreds of complete strangers.

This part of the evening was for me the most meaningful.

Through stories of people who experienced deep suffering finding each other by simply saying “Me Too” to hilarious stories of dealing with the fallout of his book “Love Wins” (which he describes tongue firmly in cheek as being unique in the history of published literacy since everyone loved it, even the people who didn’t read it) a few years ago, Rob Bell showed us that even when the very thing that our ego fears most happens, shame, we’re still standing.

“You’re fine, you’re good. In fact you’re great!”

This isn’t a wishy washy new age message, the Universe loves you dude message, like so many of Rob Bell’s critics have accused him of delivering before, but a hopeful, Jesus filled, Spirit filled, Gospel good news filled message that we all need to hear.

You get the feeling that through all of everything that Rob Bell is excited as ever about sharing this with people. I for one am grateful for someone who is able to communicate all of this in new, fresh ways which sends you out with a new found peace and vigor for discovering the mysterious wonder and Love of God. Rob Bell, as he reminds us tonight about human beings, is just getting started.

Farewell no more.

Rather

Welcome, Rob Bell.

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Shame, Sin and The Adam and Eve Effect

There aren’t many more powerful forces in society than shame.

Shame is killing us and we don’t even realize it. Sometimes we mistake shame for guilt. We mistake the idea that doing something bad is that same as ‘being’ something bad. (Thanks Brene Brown)

Which of course is rubbish. We all do things that are bad everyday. But are we all bad deep down?

If you’re brought up with a certain faith you probably think yeah actually, we are all evil underneath and sooner or later it will show itself. The Adam and Eve effect. A mistake made a long time ago that has had devastating implications for humankind ever since. We’re all affected by it apparently. But their problem wasn’t guilt but shame. For the first time they were acutely aware of what it felt like and it sucked.

It’s a funny relationship we have with shame and sin.

We’re all sinners and have acknowledged this with a pretty amazing ease. But the minute that someone screws up we pile on a huge helping of shame. But aren’t we simply exhibiting the traits you say we have? Why make us feel ashamed for something that you continually tell us we are?

Now the traditional Christian message has a solution, as do other religions but even with this solution in action right now, we still mess up.

We’re still addicted. We’re still liars. We still kill and get greedy and you know the rest.

But maybe the solution is continually working to cure shame, not just sin. What if we let go of shame and just said no more.

Think about it. How often after you did something you didn’t really want someone like you to do did you just stop and think about what you were really thinking.

Was it guilt or was it shame?

Because if it was shame it has no use and you should let it go immediately. You’re not a bad person and I’m sorry to inform you, not all that unique. You’re not the first person to do that thing. You won’t be the last.

Sure, the religious part of you will step up and say you are just trying to get out of trouble. To skirt your responsibility. But is this really about you or about others perception of you? Do you want to look like you are sorry because you are or because this is what you think others need?

But maybe it’s time to stop worrying what others need you to show. To let go of shame. To remember who you are truly in Jesus.

And remember that if you really want to stress about whether others really think you or sorry or not, go right ahead.

Just don’t lie to yourself that they’re really any better.

I’m a Christian and I don’t like church.

I’m a Christian and I’m not a big fan of church.

There I said it.

Now I know what you may be thinking. Here comes another Christian blog where the writer says something kind of shocking but when you read the article it turns out they were being clever or were kind of lying to you.

But no, I don’t really like church. I don’t really like worship music, I don’t want to recite the Lord’s prayer one more time in my life, and most Pastors say the same things you’ve heard a million times. Well at least I think they do; I’m usually about to fall asleep by the time most sermons come around.

I want to like church, I really do but I don’t. church

I haven’t given up on church. I have my frustrations but I’m not willing to let those stand in the way of being part of church, it’s just right now my idea of church has changed drastically than it was a few years ago.

Growing up, I loved my church. I still do even though I live in another country and haven’t attended my home church for years. I have so many happy memories of growing up in church. My mum still goes there and her family there is made up of some of the most Godly and loving people I know.

So my suspicion of church doesn’t come from there.

Going off to uni and having the freedom to do what I wanted, I took full advantage of not going to church and I loved it. And actually think it was good for me. It allowed me to spend some time out of that culture, to not be shaped by cliches and if it wasn’t for that period of time I was churchless I’m not sure I would be a Christian today.

By the end of my time at uni I was beginning to delve into my faith again for the first time really in years. People like Rob Bell and Don Miller were hugely influential for me and I started to see that there was a different type of Christianity that I had never heard of or experienced before.

Fast forward a few years and now married and trying to figure out this church stuff with Brittany we were led to Village church in Belfast. Without a doubt, this was the richest experience I have ever had of church in my life.

And this brings me where I am today. Detroit. 2015. Without a church. At least not a church building with sermons or a kids program or cool teaching series. But I have church. I have people who I spend time with talking about important things that matter.

You see, when I’ve belonged to a church the temptation has always been there to slip into the background. To make it out every Sunday and tick it off. But is that church? Is that all that church is for to hear one person give their interpretation of an ancient book every week.

“He brought the word.” “He really preached this morning.” That’s great. But I’m just going to go home now and look at porn.

When you’re told every week that Christianity is about every moment of every day not just one hour each Sunday, yet that hour on Sunday has little effect on you the rest of the week it’s hard to see the point of church.

Now, I know this is on me. I’m not shifting the blame of my life onto others. If I’m a dick to my best friend during the week that’s not the fault of the Pastor just because he didn’t preach a sermon called “Don’t be a dick to your best friend, asshole”.

But increasingly I wondered what influence belief, or faith, or church had on my behavior. I developed a porn addiction, I didn’t become more generous to the poor and I started to question everything I believed. All while being part of a church in one way or another.

And herein lies my problem. My problem is not you, it’s me. Church and faith became about what I can get out of it. Did I enjoy the sermon? Did the worship music fit my taste? It became about the brand, the name, reputation. Not just of the church but of myself.

I wasn’t really worried about whether I was addicted to porn. I was worried what people would think. I wasn’t really worried about challenged or moved by the sermon or worship. I was worried about being entertained and having my own beliefs validated.

And all those things distanced me from others because I didn’t care about them as much as myself. This too feels like a dangerous place to be because I am so aware of how important it is to take care of yourself, to love yourself, to not be afraid to be yourself. But that wasn’t my particular problem here (although it still is argggh). My particular problem was being selfish to the extent that I didn’t care about others as much as what I got out of church.

This is why the question “Where do you worship” is much less of an important question than “who do you worship with?”

I’ve had the privilege of working with xxxchurch for the past number of years. Part of that is sitting with a group of guys who over the past 3 years have gone from strangers to people I consider family. These guys listen to each other share their experiences of struggling with addiction. Honest, often brutal conversations about life sucking and being hard and we don’t always have the answers for each other. And in amongst those difficult conversations are glimmers of joy that continually shine.

That to me is church. It’s removing the barriers that exist to being honest with each other when all we’re used to is nice graphics and a worship band who are “rockin” for Jesus.

A few years ago when Brittany’s best friend died in the States, friends from our community in Belfast got together and helped pay for both our flights back to Detroit, the very next morning.

There wasn’t one sermon preached or one badly covered Hillsong United song sung to, yet there was no doubt that we had experienced church.

Feeling loved, loving others, generosity, being allowed to be angry or doubt, not giving up on someone, not trying to control, not having to have all your community believe in a set of doctrine to be part of that community.

These are things that make up a church, not how good it looks.

And honestly, I’m not sure that you always need a church building or a structure to experience that. Sure it can help facilitate it and I will always love going to church and experiencing liturgy and being around other people.

But I’m just not sure we’ve understood church correctly if we feel we need to be part of a “proper” church to experience church.

I’m not saying I will never be part of a church ever again. I’m saying that maybe I need this time outside a church to truly learn what church is.

And that may be the one thing that really challenges me more than any sermon I could hear.

Yes, The Bible Is Offensive

The old saying that the Bible is offensive is correct.

It’s offensive because some people won’t like what it says and so will fight to suppress the good news message that much of it proclaims.

It’s so offensive that many will put all their energies and strength in constricting the Hope, Love and Grace that it proclaims.

It’s offensive because they won’t like the fact that their ‘freedom’ is taken away from them because of what the words on these sacred pages seem to say. Bible

It’s offensive because it continues to break down these already crumbling walls of us and them, that these people feel safe behind.

It’s offensive to many because to them, they don’t like to be told they are wrong or that they need to repent.

It’s offensive because they think they have it all figured out while this new, revolutionary message takes everything they know and threatens it.

All this is true.

The only mistake we make is about who this group of offended people are.

They aren’t the poor or the weak. They aren’t the people who hate church. They aren’t the porn stars. They aren’t the people who have problems with organized religion. They aren’t the ones who are angry with God. They aren’t the people who like Jesus but not His followers. They aren’t the people who fight for equality for everyone.

They are me.

They perhaps, are you.

They are the church leaders who have built the Gospel into a way of controlling and maintaining the status quo.

They are the people who claim that unless you think like we do about Christianity, you are wrong.

They are the ones who are so caught up in defending the Bible that they miss that it doesn’t need defending.

They are the people who warn against picking out verses to suit your purpose, yet do the same without a sense of irony.

They are the the older brother, they are the rich young ruler, they are the poor sod who somehow got a plank stuck in his eye, they are the disciples fighting over who would be close to Jesus in Heaven.

But the Bible is indeed good news to the oppressed, poor, trafficked, marginalized, the porn star, the addict, the Muslim, the Christian, the Jewish woman, Hindu, Jedi, the family in mourning, the trafficker, the oppressor, the dictator, the racist.

People like the woman caught in adultery, the tax collector doing over his own people, the son who decides to abandon his family, the Pharisees, the Roman centurion who has a conscience, the disciple who is beginning to doubt everything, Pilate, Herod, and everyone who has ever believed that they need to earn approval, Love and acceptance.

The group that the Bible is good news for includes everyone.

And for some, that’s just too offensive to bear.