I recently went to hear Rob Bell on his latest tour.
Let me give you the background.
I’ve had a love-hate relationship with Rob Bell over the years, especially in the heady days of my most ardent fundamentalism! I think of my early reactions to his stuff and, many times, he made me down-right angry. I remember throwing his books across the room – usually into the same dusty corner where I’d thrown Brian McLaren books! But you know what? That was much more about me than anything Rob Bell says. It’s not like he’s sitting in a room conspiring how to get up Andrew Clark’s nose (although, how he does it?…amazing!)
Not content to put up with those sorts of unsatisfactory outbursts of myself, in good introverted style, I’ve taken the time over the years to listen to what my responses are teaching me about me, about God and about my reactions to this man.
Firstly, there is the important lesson that you don’t have to accept everything people say – you engage your brain, listen first, evaluate later. Most of us can drum out a good heresy now and again…most of us have aspects of faith and belief we’re still working through. I decided I needed to have a broader mindset to hear what people like Rob Bell are saying. Having listened to his recent ‘Everything is Spiritual’ talk I was actually blown away by some of the ways he brings home his message. The Holy Shift was no less the same.
Secondly, there’s the need to step outside of a dualistic mindset – always intentionally seeking to label things, divide things. My formation in a conservative evangelical-holiness movement setting always invited me to continually judge things immediately lest some unpure, imperfect thing got through and shocked God and my pious sensitivities. Sounds wise, but the result is that you don’t grow in your thinking and ability to engage – you simply become a human tortoise with a very hard shell. And for what?
I’m continually asking the question now, ‘what does this person have to say that speaks into my current mindset and understanding?’ The nature of the church is that its reasonably unlikely that we’ll ever encounter someone who believes all the exact same things as we do…so we need to be able to sit down and listen. You hear?
Thirdly, I needed to deal with my own lazy fear. Lazy fear. Those words don’t always go well together. Fear usually produces fight, flight or freeze reactions. But I decided with my reactions to ‘those-with-whom-I-dont-agree’ that they were largely falling into the lazy trap – feeling fearfully threatened because I’m too lazy to do the thinking about challenges that provocative thinkers bring in case my small mindset might shatter and I’d have to re-think it again. How about that? So many of my doctrinal idols are so fragile that they can’t face robust challenge.
Well – no more. Perhaps much of this shift has come over many years of maturing faith. Yes. Much of it comes with the paradox of no longer denying the contradictions in my own life. Within me is every good intent and thought, and every mindless action and thoughlessness expressed in a myriad of actions and behaviours…and it’s all me! I’m not black and white – life is complex – and as much as we’d like to deny ‘grey’ it doesn’t negate the existance of some challenging aspects of us.
Rob Bell’s latest talking tour went by the name of ‘The Holy Shift.’ He was, in essence, speaking about moving beyond the dualistic minset of easy, dry answers, to accepting that there are things that will not be satisfied with well-ordered squeaky-clean solutions. Rob’s premise is that there are things which remain in the real of mystery, unanswerable, unknowable, weird and unfathomable. It is around those things (like many of the acts of God) that we have to draw a circle and cry out ‘kadosh, kadosh, kadosh’ – Hebrew for ‘holy, holy, holy’.
Some things in life are too holy for words. Some experiences are ruined and cheapened with words. When things happen, when our hearts feel and break, when our hopes are dashed, when our joy is unbounded and when our words are few…God is still God and our needful confession is ‘God, I don’t understand this…and maybe I don’t need to’ – *kadosh, kadosh, kadosh*
Most of the time, life happens. Some of the time, our pat answers detract from necessary suffering, sadness, pain. I remember when my grandmother died, someone said ‘well, maybe she turned to the Lord on her death bed.’ If it was possible to gather words and ram them back down someone’s throat, I may well have attempted it. They meant well, of course.
You see, I can do the thought process around salvation, redemption, healing and forgiveness and the questions surrounding those who die ‘without Christ’. My pain, anguish and sorrow were not going to be soothed by maybes and what-ifs. The pain of grief and sorrow is a holy thing. If we cut those processes short or intrude on them with platitues, however spiritual, we rob them of their gold too early.
This is an example in my own life where I now utter the equivalent of Rob’s ‘kadosh, kadosh, kadosh.’ However much I can figure out the possibilities and theology of it, there is something so ‘other’ in my whole 20 year dealings with this particular and difficult pain. It has taken me to depths of despair and wonder, certainty and doubt, fulness and emptiness, hope and… *kadosh, kadosh, kadosh*
It is the pain that has produced the most compassion in my life. It is the journey that has brought my heart out onto my sleeve. It is the loss that has helped me find so many other things. For all the things it is, most of all, it is a holy affair. It has been an encounter with the heart of the Father.
Sometimes we’re too quick to accept easy fixes, lazy responses, pat answers, smaller ideals in exchange for not having to wrestle with God and come away limping. As the great poet-prophet Leonard Cohen says, ‘There’s a crack in everything – that’s how the light gets in.’
*kadosh, kadosh, kadosh*