This week's Wrap was guest curated by Sojourners contributor Adam Ericksen. Read along for his top stories and notes from the week!
There was a lot of negativity in the news this week, but mercy also filled the airwaves. In case you missed it, here’s a list of some merciful events from the week:
Sure, we have some differences, but we’re still crushing on the Pope. “To pass through the holy door means to rediscover the infinite mercy of the Father who welcomes everyone and goes out personally to encounter each of them.”
The universe is made up of 96 percent dark matter and energy, swirling with complexity — black holes, empty spaces, bad dreams, failed marriages, unknown territory, broken bowls and bruised shins and loneliness. And yet — look! — everything is still churning along. And in a way that can only be explained in the gut, these alarming dark things are perhaps the only things that have the tendency of bringing people together into community.
As Jean Vanier, founder of L’Arche writes, “In community life we discover our own deepest wound and learn to accept it. So our rebirth can begin. It is from this very wound that we are born.”
According to Gallup, Pope Francis’ favorability ratings have dropped from 76 percent in 2014 to 45 percent in 2015. America magazine writer Kerry Weber explains the pontiff’s recent dips in the U.S. polls.
"America loves to defend those it perceives to be the most vulnerable — i.e. young white girls — at the expense of and detriment to young girls of color. … Though some may say this is just a pointless Instagram beef between children, this mentality of putting white womanhood on a pedestal has violent, real-world ramifications."
Wait … what, now? According to NASA, its Kepler spacecraft has identified a planet some 1,400 light-years away — the first "nearly Earth-size planet to be found in a habitable zone of a start similar to our own," according to CNN.
Rob Bell is on the move. In his “Everything is Spiritual” tour, which makes its way through the Washington, D.C., metro this evening, he is focusing on the connections between science and spirituality and how we can sit within the reality of our ever-expanding universe. Sojourners’ Catherine Woodiwiss spoke with the author and speaker to talk spirituality, the “nones,” Oprah, science, and surfing.
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
While I can make things happen, contribute to long-term movement, and rally folks around a vision, I can also overwork, form my identity around the things I do rather than who I am and, in the end, miss out on the sacredness of being present in the beautiful mundane of everyday.
This is an important realization (and a hard one!) and I’m having to do a little extra evaluation of it in my current season of life with nearly four kids, a non-profit, and a household that requires the attention of a Fortune 500 CEO.
I was recently on a walk to the park with my girls Ruby (4) and Rosie (2). While I was distractedly responding to an email on my “smart” phone, I looked over and noticed that Rosie had fallen behind and was bent over staring at the ground. As I circled back around to speed her up, I noticed that she was looking at a crack in the sidewalk admiring the little twig that was sprouting between the concrete slabs.
For her, she wasn’t at all concerned about arriving at a destination, but about being fully present along the way. In this tiny twig, Rosie found beauty and she wasn’t about to miss it.
She was one of the best students I’ve ever had in a youth group. She’s funny, smart, friendly, warm, and likeable. She exerted a quiet sense of confident leadership among her peers and she’s serious about following Jesus. She’s everything that a pastor would want in a member of a youth group.
And I’ll never forget the day she told our youth group that she’s a lesbian.
My God I love that girl.
And so did our youth group. Girls and boys listened attentively as she described her experience of “coming out” to her parents, siblings, friends, and now her youth group. Like so many other young women and men, her deeply personal experience was full of joy and pain.
“Thank you. That took a lot of courage," one girl said as she held back tears of inspiration.
“When did you know?” Another girl asked.
“Who did you come out to first?” Another asked.
It was a profound moment of vulnerability and acceptance. I was very proud of her and of the youth group.
“This,” I thought, “is what church is all about.”
That was years ago. Unfortunately, it still takes a lot of courage to come out of the closet. As elated as I was about that experience, today I read an article that made me continue to worry about LGBTQ kids in other churches. It’s titled, “Dear Rob Bell: The Church Isn’t Giving an Inch on Gay Marriage.”
Once again I begin to dread the message that awaits so many Christian kids who desperately want to come out of the closet but can’t for fear of being ostracized by their church.
Rob Bell was once the evangelical It Boy, the hipster pastor with the thick-rimmed glasses and the skinny jeans whose best-selling theology was captured in books with names such as “Velvet Elvis” and “Sex God.”
By 2006, the Chicago Sun-Times wondered aloud whether the Michigan megachurch pastor could be the next Billy Graham.
And then he went to hell.
In 2011, his book “Love Wins” pushed the evangelical envelope on the nature of heaven, hell, and salvation. Many dismissed him as a modern-day heretic, unwilling to embrace traditional evangelicals beliefs about the hereafter.
Christianity consists of thousands of tribes, cliques, and communities — each with different theologies, traditions, and doctrinal beliefs. Within a Westernized society obsessed with celebrity, entertainment, popularity, conflict, and money, it can be easy for Christian groups and communities to clash with each other.
For the modern church, much of its recent legacy has involved conflict, division, and controversy. Christians have developed a love-hate relationship with theologians, pastors, and church leaders — and it’s dividing the church.
Many Christians see their faith journeys as series of either/or situations and decisions — this is bad. Because as much as we want things to be clear, concise, and black-and-white, reality is complex and messy.
Pride, greed, hatred, bitterness, fear, and ignorance often cause Christians to promote distrust instead of unity — but what if Christians were more patient, graceful, and forgiving of each other?
Everywhere we turn, someone or something is vying for our allegiance. Sports teams. Car companies. Television networks. Politicians. Political parties. Flags. Countries. And of course, the church. Many of us will readily admit that Jesus taught our allegiance is to be, first and foremost, to God. That is, until someone steps on our toes and throws our church into the mix. For many, their allegiance to God and their church are so intertwined it's difficult to tell where one ends and the other begins. But what does Jesus have to say about all of this?
From my estimation, God makes it pretty clear that he does not want to vie for our allegiance. Isn't that the whole point of the first commandment? Jump ahead to the New Testament and we find Jesus teaching the same thing. At one point Jesus goes so far as to tell us that our allegiance cannot be divided. Either we will love the one and hate the other, or hate the one and love the other. According to Jesus, serving two masters isn't just difficult, it's impossible. To further illustrate this point, he even turns away a would be disciple. From reading the story, this man seems to have a legitimate concern. All he wants to do is bury his father before taking off to follow in the footsteps of this rabbi. But from Jesus' perspective, his allegiance is divided, so this won't fly.
Today is no different. God doesn't want to vie for our allegiance. Yet he must, because our allegiance is divided between church attendance, theological stances, and denominational commitments (among other things), as if these things take precedence over following Jesus.
For a period in his younger life, the host of The Pete Holmes Show on TBS, which debuted late last year and follows Conan on late-night TV, was on a trajectory to become a youth pastor.
“That’s why I went to Gordon,” Holmes said, referring to his alma mater — Gordon College in Massachusetts, an evangelical Christian school — during a conversation on my back porch in Laguna Beach earlier this month.
“I wanted to be a pastor. I was going to be a youth pastor. I mean, I play guitar, I like to make people laugh. … The skill set of pastor and comedian are incredibly similar. You want to affect people. You’re good at reading rooms. You’re persuasive and you’re likable.”
Christianity is facing an identity crisis that boils down to one question: Who is God? It’s the question that Rob Bell tackled in his latest book What We Talk About When We Talk About God and it’s the question Rob and Oprah Winfrey discussed this week on Oprah’s Super Soul Sunday ... From nearly the beginning of religion, the human experience of the sacred has been marked by ambivalence. The gods were fickle and you never knew where you stood with them. They were loving and wrathful, forgiving and judgmental.
(The Controversial figure Rob Bell has created another firestorm with his latest provocative book What We Talk About When We Talk About God. Raven Foundation Education Director, Adam Ericksen and Tripp Hudgins will share our thoughts on the book in this blogalogue. We invite you to join the discussion by leaving a comment.)
Sadly, this is our last post on Rob’s book What We Talk About When We Talk About God. As Tripp Hudgins stated, my previous post was a lengthy missive, and yet I feel like we have just scratched the surface of this book. I promise to make this concluding post shorter, but I’m tempted to inflict upon you the longest post ever! because there is so much in these final 30 pages.
I noticed that we haven’t made a list yet, and every blogalogue needs a list! So, to keep this from becoming the longest post ever!, I offer you the top 3 reason that Rob Bell matters.
Nuanced or not, are Christians, especially evangelicals, perceived as being against things like peacemaking? Or is it that their version of peacemaking is backward looking toward some halcyon day of yore (or 1950s America)? At this point in the book, Rob spends a lot of time walking us through the development of justice in the Bible from “eye-for-an-eye” to “turn the other cheek.” I want you to read this chapter for yourself and make your own conclusions about what Rob sees and tell me if you see it, too.
Rob's thinking is that people are gradually cluing in to God's vision of a world without retributive violence. “Revenge always escalates,” he writes. Always.
Why does Rob write this stuff? Whose side is he on? Yours. Mine. Ours … Rob is on everyone’s side. He’s trying to live like the God who meets him when he’s surfing, hanging with his kids and friends, walking along the city streets, or doing just about anything.
Tripp, how can you say such a thing! “Rob is on everyone’s side”? How could Rob possibly be on the side of those who ruthlessly criticize him?!? I’m sorry my friend, but that’s just ridiculous and absurd.
And yet the ridiculous and absurd is at the heart of the Christian message. I hope that Rob is for everyone. Not because I need Rob to be on my side, nor because I need his approval or acknowledgment. (Although, I wouldn’t mind it!) Rather, I hope it’s true because at the heart of the Christian message lies the ridiculous, absurd, and even scandalous message that God is for everyone.
It's the Monday after Easter, and I couldn't think of a better day to talk about God being with us. Adam Ericksen wrote about the dance of doubt and faith on Good Friday, the challenge and beauty of embracing the fullness of the journey. Rob takes that all one step further in this chapter: With.
There is, I believe, another way to see God, a way in which we see God with us— with us, right here, right now. This isn’t just an idea to me; this is an urgent, passionate, ecstatic invitation to wake up, to see the world as it truly is.
(Kindle Locations 1201-1203)
Suddenly I have “Right Here, Right Now” by Jesus Jones playing in my head. Excuse me for being a child of the 80s.
My take-away? This God doesn't choose sides like we do.
(The Controversial figure Rob Bell has created another firestorm with his latest provocative book What We Talk About When We Talk About God. Raven Foundation Education Director, Adam Ericksen and Tripp Hudgins will share our thoughts on the book in this blogalogue. We invite you to join the discussion by leaving a comment below.)
Tripp Hudgins always gets me thinking. He is right that Rob’s chapter “Open” in What We Talk About When We Talk About God is about science and religion but that it’s also not about science and religion. This is the longest chapter of the book, and it’s full of scientific information that points to the mystery of the material world. What’s the point? As Tripp states, Rob is “asking for a little humility. He’s asking for a little poetic imagination. He’s asking for curiosity.”
That’s the point of the next chapter, too. Titled “Both,” in this chapter Rob points out a major problem we have with “God-talk.” That problem is language. Tripp set me up for this at the end of his post by asking, “Are words actually enough? Ha! Write about that. Words. Words. Words.”
When I was in seminary I learned about apophatic theology, or negative theology. It tries to define God by what God is not. A 9th century apophatic theologian named John Scottus Eriugena asserted, “We do not know what God is. God Himself does not know what He is because He is not anything. Literally, God is not because He transcends being.”
This is going to be a problem. This chapter on faith and science and quantum mechanics is going to be a problem. Why? Well, because this faith and science thing has been done to death. Did you know that the Vatican has an observatory and that one of the authors of Red Shift Theory was a Jesuit? Yep. The famed Scopes Monkey Trial was more than a century ago and those of us in the Protestant Mainline have long ago made peace with it. The Vatican apologized for the oppression of scientists, most specifically it said that Galileo was right. Scientific inquiry and Biblical interpretation are not the same thing. So what's Rob's purpose for this chapter?
Well, it's manifold. He's an evangelical. He's writing in some ways to other evangelicals, specifically those who have felt cut off from the tradition. Here in the States, the classic evangelical line holds echoes of the arguments used during the Scopes Monkey Trial. Some in that Christian tradition are still fighting that fight. Heck, some progressives are, too. Powerful (if false) dichotomies have been established.
(The Controversial figure Rob Bell has created another firestorm with his latest provocative book What We Talk About When We Talk About God. Raven Board Member Tripp Hudgins and I will share our thoughts on the book in this blogalogue. We invite you to join the discussion by leaving a comment below.)
Thank you, Tripp Hudgins, for your “Open Letter to Rob Bell.” As always, you are inspirational and thought provoking. The letter provides a great introduction to our blogalogue on Rob’s latest book What We Talk About When We Talk About God. I want to emphasize one point you make and relate it to the first chapter of the book, called “Hum.”
You claim that, “This book is not about a ‘new’ thing. It’s simply about God and how we come to know God in this world.” This is such a great point because Rob isn’t making up new ways to talk about God. Throughout the book, Rob explores what God has done in the past and how God continues to pull all humans into a global future that has “greater and greater peace, love, justice, connection, honesty, compassion, and joy” (19).
This letter was written on a plane a week ago. I posted it originally on Facebook as a status update. Out of curiosity I took a gander at it again and decided I wanted to share it here. Things are so fluid on the Ol' F-Book that I thought keeping it here would be good to do. Rob's new book, What We Talk About When We Talk About God, offers someting new and something familiar all at once. What I think Rob is doing is not so much giving us new ideas (though, given some of the ecclesial silos many of us have been reared in some of these ideas might seem new). Instead, Rob is lending his voice to many Christians. His pastorally framed theology is just the kind of thing many people have been clamoring for these last several decades. My grandparents would have loved his new book. So would have their parents. I kid you not.
This book is not about a "new" thing. It's simply about God and how we come to know God in this world.
"Can we watch a video with that guy who has the weird hair and the dark rimmed glasses?" -Member of My Youth Group
"Love wins the in the sense that God’s will is the reconciliation of all things—the soul, the body, the earth, the cosmos, and everything in it." -James Wellman, Rob Bell and a New American Christianity, 59.
American Christianity is experiencing a theological shift. Many have tried to explain it, sometimes making the shift far more confusing than it actually is. Fortunately, the shift can be explained quite simply, and while it may be new to American Christianity, it is actually very old. Indeed, it dates back 2,000 years. The shift boils down to the two theological axioms of the New Testament, both found in the letter 1 John:
“God is light and in him there is no darkness at all” (1:5) and “God is love” (4:8 and 16).
Those statements, while simple, are far from simplistic. John was bold in affirming these statements. He knew he had to give it to us straight – probably because he and the other disciples had a hard time understanding what Jesus meant in his teachings and parables. So, John cut to the chase and simply claimed that Jesus reveals, “God is love and God is light. There is absolutely no darkness within God.”