Who begins a talk about the mysteries of the cosmos with a story about a broken foot and a Polish jack-of-all-trades miracle worker?
Rob Bell does.
In my last post, which was a review of the Progressive Youth Ministry Conference, I ended by alluding that Rob Bell spoke, without giving much print to him.
Truth be told, Rob was indeed the featured “celebrity” speaker, the reason why some choose to attend the conference and for many the highlight of the weekend.
For ten years, much of my youth ministry teaching and pulpit preaching drew ideas and insights from Rob Bell’s books and Nooma videos. I have always appreciated his thoughts and admired his way of communicating. I know he has received a bad rap by a sub-sect of more fundamental Christians, but I still applaud his vision and was very happy to see him invited to come and speak at this year’s conference.
In classic Bell fashion, he cleverly crafted a story that helped illustrate how every question (and relative answer) always lends to another question…with a set of answers that inevitably lead to more questions.. Etc.. etc.
Every question and answer leads deeper down into mystery.
One of the basic premises of his talk was the view that all discoveries of humanity thus far, have actually done little to make sense of the human experience and emotions involved. Scientists becomes theologians the moment they exclaim “Wow” at some wonder they observe. Similarly we become theologians when we experience something profound that no discovery can address.
To Bell, the world will always need those who can create spaces for people to share in the unexplained mysteries of life. The human experience is rife with raw emotions that cannot be simply explained or rationed away. These emotions and longings draw us inextricably together in ways that modern science (such as quantum entanglement) may beginning to now realize.
The posture for people of faith towards the advancement of the sciences should be an openness without fear that it will limit our view. Rather, all discoveries and “truth” should be claimed and celebrated as an expanding of God’s presence in the cosmos and our particular lives.
This mindset does indeed enhance, rather than inhibit, our sense of the inter-connectivity of everything and that the presence of God does permeate in all, through all and with all. This seems to concur with the ancients view of God and Jesus’ own beliefs. The great religious traditions have a beautiful role to still play in the world, but too often focus on creating (and then defending/protecting/expanding) their own particular “temples” i.e. institutions, buildings, doctrines, denominations, creeds, etc..
The challenge, Rob offered, is for church to build up the temple in order to inspire others but not to focus on the temple…rather tear it down and let the Divine flood into the world. This does not insinuate that God’s presence and activity is not already permeable throughout the cosmos, but rather how often people of faith believe that it somehow exists and operates almost exclusively within particularities. The Jews certainly believed that to be true with the Divine and the Temple. Jesus came onto the scene and radially revolutionized that concept in many ways, one of which was his conversation with a woman at a well:
1 Jesus said to her, “Woman, believe me, the hour is coming when you will worship the Father neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem. 22 You worship what you do not know; we worship what we know, for salvation is from the Jews. 23 But the hour is coming, and is now here, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for the Father seeks such as these to worship him. 24 God is spirit, and those who worship him must worship in spirit and truth.”
Sadly, many Christians have continued this false dichotomy and almost dualism by insisting that God can only be found, understood and experienced through very specific (and often limited) means. This may include one’s particular creed, denomination, theological view, style of music, method of baptism, etc. etc.. etc…
What if the whole thing is a temple?
Everything and everywhere. The heights and depths. The earth and the heavens. The past and the future. Those of homo-sapien origins and perhaps those of extraterrestrial existence?
It seems to me that if this were true, it would expand God’s majesty and beauty, while at the same time enhancing the importance of every aspect of life. No more would the sacred -secular divide exist, which appears to be what Jesus desired and ushered in.
Well, every question leads to other questions, so I will ruminate on this idea for some time but am glad that Rob came to not only entertain us comically, but also enlighten us theologically in brilliant Bell fashion.