399: (But seriously,) What We’re Learning from Shane & Rob These Days

If you’re looking for April Fools stuff, that was yesterday — yeah, seriously.

Today, WE’RE ASKING: WHAT CAN Shane Claiborne and Rob Bell teach us about thriving in tough times? We’ve asked people who’ve just seen them on tour help us answer that question.
    It’s a huge question right now for millions of us! All this week over at the OurValues.org Web site, Dr. Rob Pasick has been sharing wisdom about what he calls “Balanced Leadership in Unbalanced Times,” a way of rethinking what it means to become a leader who is truly a “whole person.”
    Shane and Rob Bell both talked about similar concepts in two major events in Michigan last week. But, even more important than the specifics of their teaching is their enthusiasm for life! It’s infectious. On Friday, in a newsy item about Marcus Borg and John Dominic Crossan, I already shared some people’s responses to Shane’s enthusiastic opening line:

    “It’s a wild and beautiful time to be alive!” Shane delivers that line in high spirits in his long-slow Tennessee drawl.
    Shane (right) doesn’t think the world is ending. He scoffs at evangelists who claim we’re in the “end times.” But he does believe we’re in the midst of a great, historic “unveiling.” He told the crowd: “We’re starting to see all the underlying powers and forces in the world revealed to us and we’re discovering it’s all very fragile.”
    At one point, Shane said it’s a bit like the moment in the “Wizard of Oz,” when Toto pulls back a curtain to reveal the Wizard: “And, all of a sudden, we see: Oooo-eeee, there’s just a little old man in there!” Shane said. “Very fragile.”
    But also — “wild and beautiful!”

    Then, if I had to distill Rob Bell’s two-hour talk, “Drops Like Stars,” into a single line, he’s saying: Right now, God is calling us to put aside all of our past regrets and feuds and mistakes — and stand side by side with others sharing both our pain and our hopes.
    Rob signaled this from his opening words to the crowd, talking about how risky it is for him to launch a worldwide tour like this about suffering, creativity and faith. It’s a crazy idea that eventually will take him to Australia and South Africa. But, Rob said: “If there isn’t a real chance you can fail — then why do it? It’s an excellent way to live!”
    And it is.


    The Rev. John Miller, pastor of First Congregational Church of Royal Oak, Michigan, attended the Rob Bell event — the debut performance of Rob’s tour. John wrote this:

    I have thought a lot about Rob Bell (right), especially in the weeks just ahead of this new “Drops Like Stars” tour. Through Facebook, I joined his group or “fanned his page” or whatever it is you do there. I was excited to see the tour and see him in person having enjoyed his DVD’s and some of his writings.
    When I checked out his Facebook stuff, I was struck by some discussions going on about heresy; specifically, just how much of a heretic is Rob Bell? Answers were emotional, ranging from “absolutely complete” to “absolutely not,” with most in some mushy middle of: “I’m still trying to figure that out,” or “I have some concerns,” or “I have heard that and wondered,” or even — “What is this all about?”
    I was stunned.
    But those thoughts lingered as I headed to the Royal Oak Music Theatre last Friday. I wanted to be a critical listener — and I think I was.
     Here’s the deal, as I see it:  Rob Bell is an inviting speaker, a utilizer of modern technology, a student of history, philosophy and religion, as well as the human condition, and a down-to-earth person.
    This is threatening to some. He speaks clearly about God in the world. He does not use much jargon, and when he does he explains it thoroughly, rendering it non-jargon in the process. He is a believer alive and well in the 21st century who makes his claims and insights in 21st century terms.
    Since he doesn’t sound dry or academic or churchy or perhaps even polished, he must not be legit — that seems to be the argument in opposition to his work.
    Instead, he tells stories. He invites you to try a few experiments in the theater. He tells you about college applications, sprained wrists and life so crazed there is no “box” left to “think outside of.” He knows we sometimes scream in our pain and frustration — and he want others to scream with us. In saying and doing all this, he invites us to thrive within our struggles.  And some dare to listen — now they too are threatening to some.
    I believe Rob Bell teaches in a Christ-like way, speaking in modern parables and inviting us into the tension of that, just like Jesus did telling his tale of a man with two sons.
    I hope we can lovingly challenge one another to take on life, instead of creating some parallel “religious” path that we deviate to periodically, and compare with others in judgment. The path of life is ours all the time, even when it pours down rain.


    Danny J. Bartos (left) sat next to me in the Royal Oak theater. Colorful tattoos run up both of Danny’s arms and, just as he has committed his skin permanently and fully to those images — he has committed his life just as fervently to Christianity and to building innovative new community groups among people often regarded as marginal by the rest of us. Danny wrote this:

    Rob Bell is my teacher of the scriptures. I live 250 miles from him, but have not missed a Podcast since the very beginning of them. I credit Rob with regenerating my faith in the church with a historical and narrative lens to the Bible. My wife and I have found a place in Christ that is exciting. This was not our first time seeing Rob teach. We drove to Grand Rapids for the earlier “God’s Aren’t Angry” tour and we also commuted to Mars Hill for several months until gas prices put and end to that. With all that said, he did not surprise me with anything theologically new. The style, format and content of “Drops like Stars” was what I had expected.
    Talking about pain and suffering is not what everyone wants to hear, even talking about it in relation to our faith in God. In his talk, Rob pointed out that there are many books already written trying to explain why bad things happen to people. Like Rob, I have read those books and never really been satisfied with what they share.
    But, then, Rob said he was not even going to talk about that question of “why” bad things happen. Instead, he said, we all know that people suffer. He’s asking: “What next?” And: “What are we going to do with this pain that we find in our lives?” That kind of question — and the historical and biblical approach of Rob’s answer — is very important to all of us who have met challenges in life — challenges that just were not fair. The stories he told and the gentle, articulate way Rob delivered his message brought us into the narrative, made us a part of every challenge and every character. That is the magic behind Rob Bell, making us a part of the biblical narrative and not necessarily giving us the answer, but making us think about this faithful journey we share in a new and fresh way.
    My wife and I host a weekly young-adult Bible study and two of our students attended the show with us. The four of us were in conversation before we left the lobby of the theater. Standing there just trying to take that very material deeper — tossing it around every way we could — I guarantee you that very discussion will be a part of our Bible study for the next couple weeks. That is the cornerstone of Rob’s teaching style. The story of pain, suffering, and God’s presence in that did not end when the house lights came on in the theater.
    The conversation just started. That’s the reason I love Rob’s teaching.

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