A few weeks ago, Christians (mainly the evangelical type) had their panties in a wad over Rob Bell’s new book, Love Wins. I should point out that the book had not even been released yet, but people were blogging all over the place and angrily posting on FB about what a heretic he was. I refrained from joining the discussion except in instances where I trusted I could have a civil debate--which means I only discussed it with ONE person over Facebook.
Anyway, his book came out and oddly enough all the vitriol that had been running like hot lava from a giant overreactive Christian volcano subsided. Weird.
I was frustrated for three reasons with this situation. 1) Obviously, I think it’s unfair and straight up wrong to criticize someone based on assumptions--which is all these people had to go on since the book hadn’t even been released. 2) On a related note, all the people who were discussing the fate of Rob Bell’s soul as if they were in charge of it probably STILL haven’t read the book. 3) All of the hubbub that was created is still insignificant in the lives of the rest of the world who don’t give a crap about a (pointless) heated debate going on among a small group of Christians who are too self-absorbed to realize just how pointless it was.
Having ACTUALLY read the book, I thought it might be nice to add something to the “conversation” as a way to continue with this whole “It’s in the Bible” series of posts that I obviously quit writing a few weeks ago. After all, even though I miserably failed at reading the Bible in 90 days, I have been having a pretty good time with God the last few weeks.
First of all, within the first five minutes of reading Love Wins, I had to put the book down and ruminate a bit. I was expecting Bell to sort of ease into the topics at hand--tell a little humorous pastor story to break the ice (you know the type--when pastors start their sermons with a joke before heading into the more challenging parts). But no. Bell starts off with a bang, and I felt like getting on the computer and shooting him an email, something along the lines of:
If you could please get out of my head, I’d appreciate it. Thanks!
I mean, really. Bell starts off by asking questions--a lot of questions--all the questions I’ve asked a million times when I’m lying awake in bed at night contemplating the state of the world when I should be sleeping. Which happens a lot.
Once he is finished spinning his web, he gets right to the point--let’s answer these questions. At the heart of these questions is who is going to heaven, who is going to hell, and what the hell does that even mean?
My children have several books from a series called “Usborne Touchy-Feely Books.” All of the books involve some object--most often an animal, and each page tells in detail why that object or animal does not belong to the narrator. For example, in That’s Not My Puppy, the narrator points out things like “its coat is too hairy.” In other titles, we learn things like “That’s not my dragon...its ears are too tufty” or “That’s not my train...its wheels are too slippery.”
You get the point.
Anyway, Rob Bell makes a point that so many people have rejected Christianity and ultimately the person of Christ because the version that has been shown to them is not an accurate portrayal. He goes so far as to say that “Jesus’ story has been hijacked by a number of other stories, stories that Jesus isn’t interested in telling, because they have nothing to do with what he came to do.”
Bell states that he has written this book for two reasons--to allow those of us who are angry about the hijacking to know that we’re not alone and to address the questions that such a good portion of “the church” is afraid to answer. One more important note--Bell makes the point that nothing that he is saying is new (I have always adored that whole part in Ecclesiastes about there being nothing new under the sun!)--that what he is saying is part of a centuries-long tradition of asking questions.
This is important for people to understand. The current brand of American Christianity that is hurting/turning people off by the droves is not what Christianity has always been.
Which brings me to why I brought up the kids books. When I think about the damage the church has and continues to do to people’s lives, it makes me want to scream, “That’s not my Jesus...his people are too angry!”
Or “That’s not my Jesus...his people are too judgmental!”
Or “That’s not my Jesus...his people are too hypocritical!”
Or “That’s not my Jesus...his people are too selfish!”
Or...this could go on for pages.
When we decided to “move” to OKC, I enrolled the kids at a preschool/Mother’s Day Out at a church close to my parents’ house. I’d heard good things about it, but I’d never actually been inside this particular church. On the days when both boys are in school, Ben gets out fifteen minutes earlier than Will.
Ben and I wait at the entrance to the preschool area, usually having a snack or talking about Ben’s day until Will comes out. In the entryway is a statue of Jesus. It’s life-sized, and he’s surrounded by children--some on his lap, some holding his hand. The statue is made out of a sturdy bronze, and it never fails--EVERY time we’re in the atrium, half a dozen kids are crawling all over Jesus.
I’ve seen kids put their fingers in his eye sockets. I’ve seen them sit in his lap, swinging their feet and kicking the edges of his robe. I’ve seen them run in circles, shouting and laughing while they chase their friends. I even saw one little girl stand up straight on his lap, grab his face in her hands, and kiss him right on the mouth.
In the time I’ve spent hanging out with the bronze Jesus, I have never once heard an adult tell the kids to stop. I have never even heard an adult say, “Get down!” or “Be careful!” It’s the kind of everyday miracle that makes me smile as I watch and makes my eyes well up with tears as I write about it.
On Thursday, as we sat in front of Jesus, the book burning a hole in my purse as I couldn’t wait to get home to finish it, I wanted to stand up and shout:
“THAT’S MY JESUS...HE IS KIND AND LOVING AND FORGIVING AND HUMBLE AND SELFLESS AND JOYFUL AND PEACEFUL AND COMPASSIONATE AND PATIENT AND FULL OF GRACE!”
That’s my Jesus.
I would LOVE to talk about the rest of Rob Bell’s book, but I really just want you to read it. I know some of you will read it and respond with a “Right on!” mentality because he’s saying the things you’ve been thinking. For others of you, the book is going to open up new ideas that you’d never entertained. For others, you are probably going to hate it, bristle at some of his ideas. And you know what? That’s okay. It is okay to hear other people’s viewpoints--ones that don’t align with our own sometimes because it challenges us. Despite what we’ve been told, having a thinking faith is okay--in fact, for me it has been life-affirming and even life-saving.
Think about it. And if anyone needs to borrow the book, I’ve got a copy.