Rob Bell and Kristen Bell bring ‘The ZimZum of Love’

Rob Bell in OPRAH magazineROB BELL has reinvented himself yet again, thanks to his new friend Oprah Winfrey. Rob began the year as the subject of a long story in OPRAH magazine, featuring a big photo astride his surfboard looking more like an action-movie star than a pastor. Then, Rob appeared in various Oprah TV shows and public events. He is closing the year by publishing his first book with his wife Kristen Bell, who is emerging as an eloquent, wise and often downright funny co-author.

The OPRAH photo isn’t a fanciful illustration. Rob actually is an avid surfer now and that photo serves as an apt metaphor: Once again, Rob has landed squarely on his feet, surfing deep waters of cultural change.

For those readers who have forgotten the early history of Rob Bell: As a young man, he was restless and even performed, for a while, with a punk-rock band. He studied at the famous evangelical college, Wheaton. He left Wheaton with a classmate (Kristen) at his side and with a desire to bring fresh energy into the Christian pulpit.

After a sojourn at another big church, Rob eventually founded the Mars Hill megachurch in Grand Rapids that, for a time, held the record for weekend attendance among Michigan congregations.

His creativity didn’t stop there. Rob wanted to pioneer new formats for bringing his Christian message to millions of un-churched Americans, so he launched the best-selling video series, Nooma. For several years, “Noomas” became the trendiest multi-media shown in mainline churches nationwide.

Then, Rob began moving with his pulpit! In addition to preaching at Mars Hill, he began touring the world doing long, stand-up performances about Christianity in comedy clubs and theaters.

Eventually, America’s self-appointed evangelical gatekeepers had enough of his inclusive preaching. Various yellow flags were thrown as Rob wrote and preached and toured, including a major controversy over Rob’s suggestion that people who are not Christian may wind up in heaven along with born-again Christians. Evangelicals called, “Foul!” and sought to drum him out of the evangelical camp.

Rob Bell book cover The ZimZum of Love

Click the cover to visit the book’s Amazon page.

The Bells moved from their home in the conservative-Christian heart of northwest Michigan to southern California where their circle of friends dramatically expanded. With that trans-continental move, they also signaled their decision to step away from the controversy over whether Rob truly is “an evangelical.”

Today? When Rob and Kristen are asked about the evangelical bubble in which they once lived? “We’re really out of that world now,” Rob says. They’re still devoutly Christian; they’ve just left the trenches of what amounts to an evangelical civil war.

What Oprah has given to Rob Bell is confirmation that millions of Americans really do want to hear about the life-affirming joy represented in Christianity’s core teachings. When Rob appears in Oprah’s programs, he is identified as a Christian pastor. He preaches that hope and joy is possible in our lives, today, if we allow faith to lead us into a larger, more compassionate awareness of our world.

ReadTheSpirit Editor David Crumm interviewed Rob and Kristen Bell about their new book on marriage, The Zimzum of Love: A New Way of Understanding Marriage. Here are …

HIGHLIGHTS OF OUR INTERVIEW
WITH ROB AND KRISTEN BELL
ON ‘ZIMZUM  OF LOVE’

DAVID: As usual, you’re very timely with the subject of this new book. According to Pew, Americans’ attitudes toward marriage are deeply ambivalent, these days. Pew says that the percentage of American adults who’ve never been married has hit an all-time high of 20 percent. Beyond that, half of American adults now say that marriage isn’t necessary to have a happy life.

Even worse from the viewpoint of religious leaders, most Americans don’t look to clergy for advice on marriage. Most Catholics don’t like their church’s policies on divorce and remarriage. Many couples are annoyed that both Protestant and Catholic clergy tend to require marriage counseling before setting a date. The New York Times reports that it’s trendy simply to have a friend perform your wedding with a quickee Internet diploma as a “pastor.” All in all, the church’s relationship to the institution of marriage is pretty troubled right now.

Rob Bell and Kristen Bell on The ZimZum of LoveROB: “The church” is vast and complex. That phrase can mean lots of different things and some churches are better than others in helping people with marriage.

We do have lots of people today who grew up in a culture where there were lots of things called “marriage” that were not beautiful, giving relationships of love. Lots of people grew up in homes where their parents wore rings and seemed to do all the right stuff associated with a marriage—but there was no spirit to the relationship, no flow, no ZimZum to the marriage. If that’s your experience, then marriage isn’t a big deal.

But relationships are a big deal in our lives. Lots of people are looking for guidance in trying to share their lives with someone. And most people understand that they are spiritual beings and there is something spiritual about marriage. That’s what we’re writing about.

KRISTEN: There are so many people who’ve seen what they don’t want in marriage—but that can be a good thing, too. It can lead you to ask: What do I want?

When I was in high school, I read Bill and Lynne Hybels’ book about marriage, Fit to be Tied, and that was very powerful for me because they talk honestly about their struggles. I began to think a lot at that point about what I wanted in marriage and that was good timing for me in those dating years.

Rob and I like to tell the story about the six weeks of pre-marriage counseling we had before we got married. We went to see someone who was about an hour’s drive away. Each time as we made that drive, we would try to come up with all the topics he would ask us about—and then we’d try to talk through everything because we wanted to be the best couple ever. What was interesting about that experience was—it set the tone for our relationship. We decided, right then, that we would be intentional about our marriage.

ZIMZUM OR TZIMTZUM?

DAVID: One thing I like about this new book is that it draws on a very old idea that you’ve borrowed from medieval Jewish mysticism: tzimtzum, or as you spell it zimzum. This is an idea associated with the great mystical teacher Ha’ARI or Isaac Luria, who is one of the major figures associated with Safed in northern Israel. On two trips to Israel, I’ve been able to spend time in Safed and I’m enjoying your very contemporary approach to reviving marriage drawing upon something so steeped in Safed’s mystic traditions.

For the readers of this interview, can you explain a little bit about what you call zimzum?

ROB: For a number of years, I studied and read about the ancient Jewish masters and I stumbled across this concept. I love strange words that unlock a new depth of meaning. And, of course, I realize there is much more to this idea than what we touch upon in our book. It’s a giant idea and many traditions and teachings now stem from this.

DAVID: In the book, you describe it as “a Hebrew word used in the rabbinic tradition to talk about the creation of the world.” You explain that the term describes how God—at the very beginning of the Creation—realized that God needed “to create space that wasn’t God” so that other things could fill the universe and thrive. Sometimes this is called God’s decision to “contract” to make room for creation to thrive independently.

ROB: When I talked to Kristen about this idea, we both had this reaction: God creating space for the creation of the universe sounds like marriage–the way we create space for another person to thrive with us. We create space in our lives for someone we love and they do the same in making space for us.

DAVID: You could have subtitled this book: “A Metaphysics of Marriage.”

ROB: Yeah. And I love that word, too: metaphysics. But if we used that word, a lot of people would keep asking: What are you talking about?! We’re already introducing the unusual term “zimzum.” We’re talking about the space that two people create between them in a marriage. And this space between us has an energetic flow to it. When you first meet someone, you have your own center of gravity—your own dreams and goals. Then, as you fall in love, there is this shift in your life. Your center of gravity expands and you find yourself making space for this other person.

KRISTEN: If you stop and think about the depth of what is happening between you and your spouse, it helps you to appreciate it, to treasure it and to act for each other’s well-being in a new way.

MAKING SACRIFICES IN MARRIAGE

DAVID: Kristen, that touches on another idea in your book that may seem strangely old fashioned in our self-centered culture. You write about the power of making sacrifices in marriage.

KRISTEN: You’ll find that, when you give something to the person you love and it costs you something, it actually brings you great joy. Some people may be experiencing marriage as a constant power struggle, always trying to get out of it what you want. But, we’ve found in our marriage that, when you’re willing to let things go and you have this mutual love—you find that things come back to you.

ROB: What we are describing is someone in a marriage choosing to place the other person’s well-being ahead of your own. When that happens, it can move and inspire us. We’re still telling stories about what firefighters did on 9/11 because their sacrificial actions filled us with hope.

What we’re not talking about in this book is the old suggestion that we have to suffer in marriage. In fact, we’re turning that idea on its head. We’re saying that it can be an exhilarating move toward the other person—if you choose to put their well-being first. If you listen to people talk about their marriages, you realize that the really great marriages involve two people committing themselves to each other. We’re talking about making a conscious decision that you want to do something for the other person.

We want people to pick up the idea that there are a thousand little moves back and forth between us in our relationships, every single day. We want people to be asking: What am I doing today that will help the other person? Can I pick up something on the way home? Can I take the kids for a while so you can do that thing you really want to do? It’s a constant process—a thousand little moves.

ENDLESS MYSTERY OF MARRIAGE

DAVID: Ultimately, you write that a way to test the health of your marriage is to consider: Do you still appreciate that there is a fascinating mystery in the person to whom you’ve committed yourself? Have you turned your partner into an opaque, two-dimensional figure—or can you still appreciate the deeper mystery in your partner? My father recently died in his late 80s and, even in his final year of disability, I was amazed at how eager my parents were to spend each day together. Even in that final year, I could see them discovering new things about each other.

I think that’s one of the best lessons in your book: Rediscover the mystery in your partner.

KRISTEN: One thing that’s happened to me recently is that, with the writing and publication of this book, I’ve joined Rob’s world. Now, I’m part of all of these experiences that he’s been having for some time, but that are new to me.

DAVID: For example …

KRISTEN: Feeling the nerves before an event starts. Or the way you think about an event when it’s over. There are numerous times in recent weeks when I’ve looked at him and said: You’ve felt like this? I have a whole new appreciation for what he has experienced.

ROB: So much of how you understand marriage flows from your understanding of what it means to be human. For a lot of people there isn’t much curiosity about life or about other people. So, if you don’t have much interest in other people, then you can stop trying to learning about the other person in your marriage. You’ll find that people in thriving marriages live with the assumption that this other person in your life is endlessly interesting.

OPRAH AND ‘HELP DESK’

Rob Bell appearing on Oprah Winfrey's OWN network Help Desk show

CLICK on this image to watch two short clips of Rob Bell appearing in Oprah Winfrey’s “Help Desk” TV series.

DAVID: Rob, tell us about your work with Oprah. This year, you appeared as part of her The Life You Want Weekends. You’re among her “Life Trailblazers.” How is this changing your professional role?

ROB: I’m doing what I’ve always done. I’m a pastor. And, I help people see that everything is spiritual. I do my best to let people know: Your life matters. I’m in a new setting and I love it and I get to talk to a lot of people I’ve never talked to before.

KRISTEN: They always introduce him as Pastor Rob Bell. When he speaks, he gets down to real issues. It’s very convicting and pastoral. He states the truth and he invites people to make a shift in their hearts. And then at the end he does a benediction. I agree that it’s definitely the same trajectory he’s always been on. Rob has always had a passion for communicating. And his intention has always been to help people connect with God, to remove barriers people might have. He just keeps giving and it’s really fun to see him on that bigger stage, now.

DAVID: So, let me ask you the question I’ve asked you in our many interviews over the years: Should you still be described as “evangelical”? For a while, some of your critics wanted to debate you and eventually wanted to kick you out of the evangelical camp for some of your more inclusive teaching.

ROB: I don’t follow all of that anymore. We’re really out of that world now. I would say, if “evangelical” means hope in this buoyant announcement that we all, together, can do something about the problems in this world because there has been a Resurrection—then, yes, absolutely. But if “evangelical” means a particular sub-culture that has no larger cultural relevance anymore—because it’s focused on fear—then, no, that has no interest for me anymore. If you use “evangelical” in its original meaning—proclaiming good news—then, yes.

DAVID: OK, so a good example of taking good news into the public square is your appearance on Oprah’s Help Desk series. Clips from that episode are all over the Internet. You’re good at it. We’re going to show our readers a couple of examples from that show.

Then, let me close our conversation today by asking: What do you hope readers will do with your new book?

ROB: We hope that people will see they have tremendous power to change their relationships. In a marriage, you have way more power to affect the space between you than you may think. We hope it’s empowering and illuminating. And secondly we don’t want anyone just to settle. If you’re going to spend your life with someone—don’t settle. Marriage should be great.

KRISTEN: We hope that people will rediscover the mystery in their marriages—so that their marriages will bring them great joy.

(Originally published at readthespirit.com, an on line magazine covering religion, spirituality, values and interfaith and cross-cultural issues.)

A Mother’s Plea

Urban Leage women protesting in Ferguson Missouri

MOMS on the MOVE in FERGUSON. Have you noticed how many of the peaceful protesters in Ferguson, Missouri, are women? Many of their signs and slogans indicate that they are mothers. The photographer known as “LoavesOfBread” has been chronicling the demonstrations and uploading photos into Wikimedia Commons.

By BENJAMIN PRATT

Protests in Ferguson Missouri photos by Loavesofbread via Wikimedia CommonsI’ll never forget July 20, 2014.

None of us knew Michael Brown at that point. He was just another 18 year old, getting ready to pull on a green graduation robe, zip up the front and add a red stole. He already was talking with friends about the start of a training program on August 11. With his diploma in hand, Michael would soon be learning how to repair heating and air conditioning systems.

He was on his way like millions of other young men and women.

On July 20, my wife and I were in Orlando, Florida. We strolled into the entrance portico at the Holiday Inn Universal, thinking about our own family. Two benches faced each other across a 12-foot-wide, slightly sloping concrete sidewalk.

A middle-aged father was meticulously loading, cleaning and sorting his white SUV with Georgia plates as his wife and another younger woman sat talking on the bench closest to their car. They seemed in no hurry to depart from their vacation.

My wife and I sat down on the facing bench.

Suddenly, the automatic door to the hotel opened and four children rushed out. The youngest girl, about 4, was crying and rushed toward the two women on the bench, cradling herself in the older woman’s arms. A young boy, perhaps 6, was holding his mouth and whimpering as if he had been hit and might be bleeding.

Two older boys, perhaps 12 and 13, stood attentively as the two younger children were comforted. They had opinions they wanted to voice! The father joined the circle; an interrogation began. The focus narrowed, the voices and tears quieted, and finally attention zeroed in on the two taller boys.

The verdict was announced: first, they evaded telling the truth, and second, they were responsible for the tears.

After a few minutes of total silence, the mother began to speak. She spoke directly to the two older boys—a come-to-Jesus plea. With each word the boys became more straight-backed, more rigid but with heads bowing more and more as each word was uttered. She named their infractions: lying, attempting to mislead and not represent their actions accurately.

Then she emphasized carefully their absolute need to be honest, to work hard and have faith in God. Her words developed a cadence as she reinforced each point. Then she paused. They didn’t move a muscle. She was sure she had their attention.

“How many times do I have to tell you? You started this life with two strikes against you! You are black and you are male. If you want to make it in this world—if you want to stay alive in this world—you will need to live with integrity, be honest and be faithful to God every minute of every day.”

“Yes, Ma’am,” they responded.

She continued pleading. Her words were a prayer. She was proclaiming her truth until tears came in her eyes.

As I stood to leave, she looked at me and said, “I apologize that you had to hear that family turmoil.”

I responded, “Don’t apologize. You were speaking a painful truth—a truth I’m sorry to admit is still a part of our society. We all wish it weren’t so, don’t we?”

“Thank you,” she said.

I walked away thinking: What a powerful plea! And, how tragic it was to recognize that painful truth!

We were 1,000 miles from Ferguson that morning. No one had heard of Michael Brown.

Twenty days later, the whole world knew his name.

Looking at the photographs of the peaceful protests in cities across the U.S., I’m haunted by the faces I see: Mothers. Marching.

(Originally published at readthespirit.com, an on line magazine covering religion, spirituality, values and interfaith and cross-cultural issues.)

The David Gushee Interview on ‘Changing Our Mind’

David P Gushee Changing Our Mind front cover

CLICK THE COVER to visit our Bookstore, learn more about the book and order a copy from Amazon, Barnes & Noble or other retailers.

NEWS already is spreading that America’s leading evangelical Christian ethicist, Dr. David P. Gushee, has reversed his traditional opposition to LGBT relationships in a landmark book called, Changing Our Mind. One online news report about his new book racked up 42,000 mentions on Facebook by readers who understand the significance of this new stance by Dr. Gushee.

After 20 books—including the award-winning volume that now is a standard reference book for evangelical leaders, Kingdom Ethics—Dr. Gushee is completely rewriting his ethical and biblical approach to gay and lesbian men and women. The news has been welcomed by families, teachers and religious leaders who realize that traditional evangelical teaching has hurt countless men, women and teens. Predictably, the news also has sparked opposition from traditionalists.

ReadTheSpirit Editor David Crumm interviewed David P. Gushee about his book. But before we bring you that author interview, here is a convenient outline of other resources you’ll want to consider:

HIGHLIGHTS OF OUR INTERVIEW
WITH ETHICIST DR. DAVID P. GUSHEE
ON ‘CHANGING OUR MIND’

CRUMM: Let’s start with the most obvious question: Why now? You are a devout Christian, a serious scholar and you’ve already written enough books to fill a shelf in the library. Now, mid-career, you’ve chosen to reverse yourself on one of the most important issues dividing thousands of churches and millions of families. This is a rare reversal for a scholar of your stature.

In his Foreword to your book, best-selling Christian writer Brian D. McLaren calls this a historic moment and compares your new stance to some others that made headlines. Brian writes: “Older readers will remember when Billy Graham shocked American evangelicals—first, by refusing to segregate his evangelistic crusades, and then, by working with Roman Catholics. Younger readers will remember when Pope Francis shocked Catholics by washing the feet of a Muslim woman, or by refusing to condemn gay Catholics.”

So, David, the first question is: Why now?

Gushee author photo

David P. Gushee

GUSHEE: More with this book than with any other book I’ve written, I have a sense of being carried along by a power that goes beyond me. It’s like these ideas have been germinating underground for a long time.

Now, I feel compelled to do more to address this issue in a public way. I feel that this is the issue of the early 21st century in the way that race was the issue of the 1960s and, in my evangelical world, the way that women’s roles became the issue of the 1980s. By God’s grace, I have evolved into a leader in American Christianity and I feel like I have not met my responsibility up until now to lead on the LGBT issue. Now, I’m ready. It took me a while to get here.

CHRISTIANS ON A JOURNEY

CRUMM: That sense you describe of “being carried along by a power that goes beyond me.” Some of the early endorsers of your book are making this same point. One of the most inspiring, I think, is the strong endorsement by Wesley Granberg-Michaelson, who served as General Secretary of the Reformed Church in America from 1994-2011. He calls  your new book “courageous, clear, balanced and … grounded in biblical faith.” And then he writes that your book “will be a challenge to some, an inspiration to others, but a gift to all who find themselves at some point on this journey.”

What he’s saying—and many other Christian leaders are saying, too—is that this is a moment of historic change.

GUSHEE: For a long time as evangelicals we made it impossible for LGBT people to exist around us in an honest way. We allowed no recognized space to be an LGBT Christian. Of course, we know that there are millions of LGBT people in America, but in the spaces we controlled? There seemed to be zero. Of course that means LGBT people were hiding. We were forcing them to remain invisible. That’s a form of marginalization that’s as acute as it gets. We have been saying: In our world, you can’t exist. You can’t exist as a devout Christian. We have been trying to create and enforce environments where it’s impossible for you, as an LGBT man or woman, to exist.

We made people suffer through what we said and taught and, by enforcing this kind of environment where people had to hide, we made people suffer even more.

AN EMERGING JUSTICE ISSUE

CRUMM: One thing that’s important to understand about your response is: You’re not saying, “Well, the culture is changing and we should change, too, to remain relevant.” What’s driving your new work is really an awareness of the suffering that traditionalist Christian preaching and teaching has caused among countless families—not only LGBT men and women but their brothers and sisters, mothers and fathers, sons and daughters.

In the opening pages of your new book, Jane Clementi writes about the importance of your book to families who have gay loved ones. Jane and her husband now have co-founded the Tyler Clementi Foundation after their son Tyler was lost to suicide in the wake of that infamous case of cyber-bullying at Rutgers University. Jane concludes her note to readers this way: “Praise God for patiently guiding each of us to this place of new understanding as God moves the Church into the 21st century.” Unless your heart is made of stone, you’ve got to be moved by the Clementi family story.

So, your critics may accuse you of just surrendering to popular culture—but anyone who reads your book will realize that’s not the case. This is a theme that runs throughout your career as a scholar: In each time and place, we must look for those who are suffering and reach out to help.

GUSHEE: You’re right. Popular culture is not my prime motivation.

The prime motivation in all of my work is to help Christians discern what it means to follow Christ faithfully. Just because culture may be moving in one direction does not mean that we should just go along. My doctoral dissertation was on Nazi Germany and the Holocaust where millions in Germany simply went along with the dominant culture.

This is difficult to discern. Sometimes the culture is leading the way in a good direction; and sometimes culture is moving in a direction where the church should dig in its heels. My book addresses that issue directly: Is this change I am describing a surrender to sexual libertinism in our culture? Or is this an emerging justice issue for Christians who want to faithfully follow Christ? I don’t have any doubts about it anymore. This is an emerging justice issue for Christians who want to be faithful to where Christ is leading us.

I would say at the cultural level, while the conservative branches of the church are losing substantial numbers of people and substantial cultural ground on this issue, the responses I’m hearing from the cultural Right demonstrate they’re digging in their heels in a very strong way. Some on the cultural Right are going to be digging in their heels until the very end.

DISCERNMENT TAKES TIME

CRUMM: As a journalist, I’ve devoted my career to covering religion around the world. I’m fascinated by religious leaders who break with tradition on justice issues. Recently, we published an interview with biographer Charles Marsh about how Dietrich Bonhoeffer became one of the first Christian leaders in Germany to publicly oppose the Nazis—way before other Christian heroes followed his example.

I always wonder: How did these heroic Christian leaders decide to step out into the forefront and take such courageous positions? What fueled their decisions? Another example: I’m fascinated by the life of John Wesley who took decades to figure out that slavery was wrong, that it was a Christian justice issue—but finally Wesley became a leading abolitionist and published a stirring anti-slavery pamphlet in 1774.

GUSHEE: It took me basically 20 years to reach this point: 20 years and 20 books before I reached this point of discernment on this issue.

I think that no human being has the bandwidth to reconsider everything at the same time. John Wesley didn’t. Discernment takes time.

In the context and pace of global change today, it may seem as though we’re reconsidering everything every day. But, as a Christian, you inherit paterns of belief and ways the Bible has been traditionally interpreted on dozens and dozens of issues—money, environment, war, human relations, on and on—and something has to arrive in our lives to crack open a settled pattern of interpretation. Usually that takes the form of a transformative experience with people who are negatively affected by that traditional pattern of interpretation. If we encounter the humanity affected and suffering because of a particular pattern of teaching—then our lives begin to crack open and there is space to reconsider.

If you’re a Protestant, then the Bible is your main authority in life. And, if you’re an evangelical, you want to be sure you have a solid biblical base to your thinking. So, I needed to revisit the Bible passages that have been the main cluster of passages raised when this issue is discussed in evangelical circles.

When I began that careful study, I realized that I should have been clued into the flaws in the traditional analysis long ago. None of the passages cited in the traditional arguments about gay and lesbian relationships is a central passage on which we as Christians normally base our lives. Think about what we consider central as Christians: passages like John 3:16 and the parables of Jesus and Jesus’s own teachings. So, I should have realized that there were flaws in that traditional biblical analysis when it rests on passages like the one in Leviticus. Where else in contemporary life do Christians quote Leviticus as a guide for daily living? Yes, there are a couple of passages in the New Testament that are often cited as well, but they’re not the core passages of the Bible on which we rely every day.

The more I studied this, the more I realized: What a disaster! We have allowed a traditionalist reading of a small cluster of relatively marginal passages in the Bible to trump the heartbeat of Christian morality, which is based on the teachings of Jesus. I feel the scales have fallen from my eyes on this. I’m saying we need to treat LGBT people like Jesus commanded us to treat everybody we meet.

A HUMBLE APOLOGY

CRUMM: I was moved by your book, especially the final chapter. You close this book with a humble apology “to those who have been hurt by my prior teaching and writing on the LGBT issue.”

And that passage made me look back earlier in your career to the years of research you conducted into courageous Holocaust rescuers—men and women who now are called “righteous gentiles.” These people risked their lives, and many actually died, because they were convinced that they should reach out and help the suffering during the Shoah.

I  pulled off my shelf your book, based on those years of research, titled, Righteous Gentiles of the Holocaust: Genocide and Moral Obligation. And, toward the end of that book you write: “Most rescuers … believe that their actions were in fact both morally obligatory and not especially commendable. Their obligation to help Jews seemed perfectly clear to them, and from their perspective a person deserves no praise for fulfilling an obvious obligation.”

Now, years after first publishing that book, you’re publishing Changing Our Mind and you close this new book on a similar note. You’re not asking people to praise you as a great hero. You’re humbling yourself at the end of this book. You’re publishing this book because it’s the right thing to do.

To echo a famous evangelical line: Here you stand; you can do no other.

GUSHEE: I’m really glad you discovered that quote in Righteous Gentiles. You’re right, I was deeply shaped by that research. I spent three years day and night reading about rescuers and researching in Holocaust archives—immersing myself in all of these hidden stories. That was my dissertation and the deepest I thought I’d ever go on researching any topic. Studying these rescuers set my course. I have been attempting to live up to what I learned from them ever since.

I’ve often talked about trying to follow a “rescuer Christianity” rather than a “bystander Christianity” or—even worse—a “perpetrator Christianity.” So, yes, I totally resonate with that quote you just read.

What I’m trying to do is to let Christians know: Here’s an idea. Treat gay and lesbian people just like you’d treat anyone else. Welcome them. Show them hospitality. That’s what we as Christians are supposed to do for everyone. This isn’t rocket science.

And, I don’t deserve praise for having taken 20 years to figure this out. Now that I have, I plan to stand in solidarity with the people we have made to suffer for so long—for the rest of my career. It is the least that I can do.

(Originally published at readthespirit.com, an on line magazine covering religion, spirituality, values and interfaith and cross-cultural issues.)

Why David P. Gushee represents hope for the Church

By KEN WILSON
author of A Letter To My Congregation

A Letter to My Congregation cover with Ken Wilson

Click the image to learn more about Ken Wilson and his book, which includes an opening written by David P. Gushee.

David Gushee is arguably the preeminent Evangelical ethicist of our time. Until this book, that is, which is more than a book. It is an event and it is one that will propel Gushee outside the camp of approved Evangelical scholars.

But this is where Jesus did his best work. It is the place where the gospel first happened for all people. Gushee’s book will draw many Evangelicals to find Jesus outside the camp with his vulnerable gay, lesbian, bi-sexual and transgender followers, those who have suffered in exile for a very long time.

The thing you will notice in Changing Our Mind, beyond the faithful scholarship, is Gushee’s voice. Words do matter and the thoughts they convey. But the good shepherd is known primarily by his voice. Gushee’s voice is by turns warm, pastoral, prophetic, irenic, careful, authoritative, humble, sorrowful, repentant and even occasionally funny.

Gushee’s new book is a great read.

But his mission is deadly serious. Gushee is out to save the lives of people living with the stigma of sexual minority status. And he is out to save the soul of the Evangelical church, so that it can be good news for all people again.

I met David at a retreat sponsored by the National Association of Evangelicals in 2006. Five years later, I was on a writing retreat—gathering my troubled and troubling thoughts on a way to fully include people in same-sex relationships in the church. I had just finished reading Gushee’s Kingdom Ethics and found the few pages on homosexuality wanting. Those pages didn’t live up to the approach to ethics that Gushee and his co-author presented in the book. With trepidation (Who was I to criticize Gushee in his own field?) I told him so. And to my surprise, he responded with what I now know to be characteristic humility.

He said, “I’m rethinking that section too.”

That’s when I knew that evangelicals are able to—and will—change their minds on this issue for the sake of the gospel. That’s when I felt hope for the evangelical church—that guided by our passion for the gospel, we could find a better way. Today I am aware of several evangelical churches in the dicey, messy, difficult process of changing their minds on this issue.

When I telephoned Gushee that day, I couldn’t imagine such a thing. When I hung up the phone, I could.

So read this book—but only if you are willing to venture outside the camp of modern-day evangelicalism for the sake of the gospel. There you will enjoy sweet fellowship with Jesus that is available nowhere else. And you will discover again the thrill inherent in the goodness, the sheer, stupefying goodness of the gospel for all people.

Miller Elementary School builds a ‘Fence of Friends’

Teacher Krista Jewett and Principal Aimee Bell at Miller school lead an anti-bullying assembly

USING VISUAL AIDS TO PREVENT BULLYING: At a Miller Elementary School assembly, teacher Krista Jewett (left in gray sweater) and principal Aimee Bell (at right) work with groups of children to discuss the best responses when bullying arises.

Hundreds of children agree:
Bullying Is No Laughing Matter

By DAVID CRUMM, Editor of ReadTheSpirit magazine

“I was lonely, when I first came to Miller as a teacher. I didn’t know anyone! I was new here. I didn’t have any friends,” music teacher Mary Manier told hundreds of children in two assemblies at Miller Elementary School in Canton, Michigan. Behind her was a huge screen displaying the simple outline of a picket fence. Inside that outline were sketches of smiling people holding hands.

Miller teacher Mary Manier shows how to form a Fence of Friends

‘FENCE OF FRIENDS’ BEFORE & AFTER: In this photo, Miller Elementary music teacher Mary Manier talks about arriving at the school and meeting her first new friend. In the photo below, Mary Manier’s story ends with a long ‘Fence of Friends.’ (Photographs by Becky Hile for readthespirit.com)

“But do you know what happened on my first day? Someone greeted me and that made me feel a lot better,” Mary Manier said, inviting that first friendly teacher to walk to the front of the assembly, stand beside her and link arms to show their friendship. Then, Manier recalled a series of simple, kind actions by other teachers—and invited them to stand side by side. Soon, teachers had formed a long “Fence of Friends.”

Then, Manier turned to the hundreds of children sitting in rows on the gymnasium floor. “You all have people who care about you, too. You all have friends. Who is in your Fence of Friends?”

The school is racially, ethnically and religiously diverse, posing an ongoing cross-cultural challenge to the school staff. This year, the entire school—children, teachers, office staff and even janitors—are helping the children to understand how to build safe relationships at Miller. A school-wide survey of students alerted the staff that some children were anxious about the possibility of bullying. No major incidents have surfaced, but Principal Aimee Bell and her colleagues want to be proactive.

In early October, Bell, Manier and 4th grade teacher Krista Jewett invited me, as the head of ReadTheSpirit Books, to brainstorm ideas for engaging children in the effort. ReadTheSpirit publishes two helpful books: Michigan State University’s The New Bullying (for parents and teachers) and also Bullying Is No Laughing Matter (for adults to use with kids).

Miller teacher Mary Manier completes her Fence of FriendsThe Miller team especially liked the “Fence of Friends” activity, based on the Dennis the Menace comic strip. That activity guide is one of many that we provide in the Bullying Is No Laughing Matter website.

Last week, Miller held two assemblies, separating the students by age. The assembly for older students was longer and involved more talks by teachers, student skits produced by Krista Jewett’s students and brief videos on the big screen. The assembly for younger kids was geared for a shorter attention span. The high point for both groups was Mary Manier—with help from the school’s faculty—demonstrating the Fence of Friends.

“In the next week or so, you’re all going to get a chance to draw your own Fence of Friends,” Aimee Bell told the students.

The staff has duplicated hundreds of fence outlines on 8-by-11 paper, awaiting these student drawings. Teachers know that some students immediately will fill their fences with sketches of friends. Other children will sit quietly with a nearly empty fence. That’s when teachers will encourage students to look at the drawings that are emerging around the classroom—and students will be invited to “draw themselves in” to those fences that are still quite empty. In doing so, children commit themselves to being good friends for others throughout the school year.

During the assembly, Aimee Bell and Krista Jewett often turned the microphone to the children to get their responses. They asked: “Why is this so important?”

A boy named James said, “If somebody wants to bully you—you have someone to guard you.”

A girl named Julia said, “You know someone will stand by your side—they’re part of your fence.”

Through their short talks, student skits and short videos, the Miller staff stressed the nationally accepted definition of bullying (that definition is included in the Bullying Is No Laughing Matter book), then they demonstrated several strategies kids can use for quickly responding, and also they emphasized the need to alert adults if bullying persists.

Aimee Bell closed the assemblies by encouraging the students: “We’re going to talk a lot about how to respond to bullying this year. Now, we all know what bullying is—and we all know what to do when we see it.”

As children make their own Fence of Friends drawings in coming weeks, Miller teachers plan to post those drawings side-by-side to form a very long Fence of Friends around the walls of the school.

Bullying Is No Laughing Matter: Creating a ‘Fence of Friends’

Dennis the Menace in Bullying Is No Laughing Matter

CLICK THIS IMAGE to visit our free ‘Dennis the Menace’ activity guide.

WHAT are you doing for Bullying Prevention Month?

We are providing parents and teachers creative ideas for interacting with children about this problem plaguing many kids nationwide.

IS THIS A REAL PROBLEM? Yes. These days, it’s tough for adults to help kids get a handle on bullying because the attacks seem to surround children 24/7 through social media they can’t escape. This isn’t the same problem adults remember as uncomfortable playground encounters years ago. In our book by Michigan State University journalism students, The New Bullying, research shows that bullying is indeed a more persistent and dangerous problem than even a decade ago.

What are these “creative ideas” we’re providing? Teachers at Miller Elementary School in Michigan are asking their hundreds of students to take a page from our Bullying Is No Laughing Matter book—and draw pictures to discuss and display all around the school. Specifically, they’re using the free Dennis the Menace activity guide in our new section with the same name as our book: www.BullyingIsNoLaughingMatter.com

HOW ONE SCHOOL’S STUDENTS ARE CREATING A ‘FENCE’

As Editor of ReadTheSpirit, I met with some of the staff at Miller Elementary School recently to discuss how this particular activity guide could be used school-wide. They already had printed out our Dennis the Menace activity page. On that page, a large comic shows Dennis and a friend standing shoulder-to-shoulder in a way that causes a would-be bully to walk away in a frustrated huff. The activity page then prompts readers with a thought: “The best defense is a Fence of Friends.”

Then an invitation: What does your Fence of Friends look like? Try drawing a picture of you with your Fence of Friends. Try not to forget anyone!

Then a reminder: “While Dennis the Menace is known to be a troublemaker, he’s never crossed the line into bullying.”

One of the teachers said: “We could have our children each draw their own ‘Fence of Friends’.”

We all agreed: Good idea! But, what about the more isolated children in the classroom who can’t think of friends to sketch to fill the “fence row” on their 8-by-11 piece of paper?

The answer … “The adults helping with this activity can watch for this happening in the group,” I said. “Some kids will whip off a sketch with many friends. Others will sit staring at their own figure on the paper. Here’s the best part: You can ask the speedy-sketching, outgoing children to consider walking around the room to look for children who have space on their paper for a friend. The kids themselves can demonstrate this concept of forming a ‘Fence of Friends’ by drawing themselves into another child’s ‘fence.’ “

“I like that!” another teacher said. “Drawing yourself into someone else’s Fence of Friends to show that you’re going to be an ‘up-stander,’ someone who stands up as a friend for others. That’s a good idea.”

This week, Miller school kids are working on this idea. Teachers are having children make their drawings, which may wind up forming a school-wide Fence of Friends. And they are planning two assemblies this week to talk with younger and then older kids about the problem of bullying. They plan to show off their ever-growing fence as a school-wide commitment made by the children themselves.

GET INVOLVED WITH FRIENDS!

And, that’s just one study guide in our growing website. The book contains three dozen different comics, each one useful as a “discussion starter” for teachers and parents who want to interact with kids about this tough problem of bullying. While looking at a cartoon in the book, it’s easy to ask questions like: “Have you seen that happen?” “What should happen next in this comic?” “Want to draw your own?”

Bookmark www.BullyingIsNoLaughingMatter.com and come back every week for another new activity guide.

In addition to Dennis the Menace, we’ve also published guides to these comics: Blondie, Broom Hilda, Pickles, For Better or For Worse, Rip Haywire, Luann, Jump Start, Stone Soup and It’s Magick.

A new guide appears each Monday, so stay tuned! And tell friends! Use the blue-“f” Facebook or envelope-shaped email icons with this column to spread the news.

Back to School buzz: News about ‘Bullying Is No Laughing Matter’

Bullying Is No Laughing Matter headlinesTHANKS—to all of our colleagues in news media nationwide who are sharing headlines about Bullying Is No Laughing Matter with their readers. Before we look at some of those news stories, let’s answer a few questions:

THE LATEST NEWS …

What’s the buzz? Here are some of the stories this week …

NEW JERSEY’S ANN BRASCO—She’s the “Parental Guidance” columnist for the 12 newspapers that team up at the NJ.com website. In Ann’s column about the new comic book, she writes about the strong link between childhood and comics: “As a child, I loved to read comic strips. Lively casts of characters and unlikely heroes made me laugh and they made me think. It was exciting to join them on their adventures, to learn the lesson in their mistakes, and I certainly slept a little better at night believing that there was a team of heroes out there a bit braver than I was, who would come to my rescue should I need help. A new team of heroes has now been assembled to address a national epidemic.” You can read her entire column here. (Want to do a good deed right now? Go to Ann’s column, where you can Facebook “like” it or send her another kind of encouraging note. In this era of vanishing newspapers, journalists need your encouragement!)

WHY WRITERS LIKE ANN BRASCO MATTER—Media is so deeply interconnected today that we’ve already seen Ann’s coverage of the Bullying Is No Laughing Matter campaign show up as a recommended link on other websites concerned with parenting and back-to-school issues. That’s one reason Ann’s thoughtful work matters—because others can quickly share it across the Internet. (Have you got a blog, newsletter, Pinterest page or website where you could share a link to Ann’s column? Every time we share this news, it helps.)

King Features Comics Kingdom logoKING OF COMICS—King Features, the huge comics network, is a big supporter of this new comic book. First, King Features published a news story about Bullying Is No Laughing Matter. Then, King recommended the book in a special column that was posted in King’s giant online website for comics: COMICS KINGDOM. In that column, King editors said the anti-bullying comic book is a sign of how much good-hearted comic artists want to help people in need. The column groups the news of the new comic book with news about comic artists joining in the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge. (Want to see a couple of cool new Ice Bucket videos? Check out this column in the OurValues website. Come on! One of them features Kermit the Frog!)

Mary Worth salutes Bullying Is No Laughing MatterMARY WORTH’S ADVICE—Since the 1930s, Mary Worth has been sharing her sage advice on newspaper comic pages. In recent years, she has tackled every social ill from drug abuse to teen pregnancy. At ReadTheSpirit, we thank Mary Worth for contributing a comic strip to this new book—and now for quickly telling her online fans about the project.

CLEVER COVERAGE FROM NICK GLUNT—In Ohio, the Medina-Gazette’s Nick Glunt cleverly looked through our new comic book to find comic artists who live in his part of the country. “Localizing news stories” has become a mainstay of contemporary journalism. Nick Glunt found that Tom Batiuk, a major contributor to the book, lives in Ohio. Nick began his story: “When nationally syndicated newspaper comic strip writer Tom Batiuk was in grade school, he once saw a girl bullied by his peers and did nothing.” You can read Nick’s entire story here. (Want to localize a story for your readers? Email us and we can tell you if there are local connections with Bullying Is No Laughing Matter.)

(Originally published at readthespirit.com, an on line magazine covering religion, spirituality, values and interfaith and cross-cultural issues.)