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November 12, 2009

Drops Like Stars

Rob Bell is touring the country right now for his new book Drops Like Stars, which explores the relationship between creativity and suffering. Wednesday night, he came through Denver and gave his talk at the Fillmore Auditorium. I'm definitely a fan of Rob Bell and loved his book Velvet Elvis (which I very highly recommend) and I also really like his Nooma videos. Anyway, I took the afternoon off work and drove down with Matt to see the tour. We got there early enough to sit in the fourth row, which is pretty sweet considering there were several thousand people there.

Rob Bell is a very dynamic speaker and he easily engaged the crowd for the full two hours. Other than some soreness with my back from sitting so longer, I never found myself wishing he'd wrap it up and really enjoyed what he had to say. I found myself challenged to consider how I look on the negative events or times of suffering in my life and hopefully will learn to process those a little differently. Here's a brief rundown of some points.

He starts with the art of disruption. When our box (think inside/outside the box), insulators or frame of reference is removed we are confronted with a disruption. We have a plan for how our life should work out and now that plan is no longer possible. We have disruption and we suffer, but that suffering helps to shape and define us.

The art of elimination is where we realize that greatness is already inside us and we just need to figure out what to take away to reveal it. He first explains it as thinking like a sculptor. They create something beautiful by taking away what isn’t necessary. According to Michaelangelo, the block of marble already had the David inside it, but it was necessary to remove parts to reveal that. A musician does the same thing. It isn't about filling every moment with sound, but knowing at any point in the music what needs to be heard and what needs to remain silent. Suffering also works as a design by elimination; helping us realize what is important and what is not, and refines us. It does not necessarily need to be our own suffering because when we encounter other people's suffering, it also helps shape us and bonds us to them.

Then we move into the art of solidarity. Bell argues that the cross unites cultures and even religions because it is a cosmic sign of suffering. The world is made better through Jesus' sacrificial suffering. Early Christians sensed the divine among them as flesh. God was not some distant, deity, but one who came into the world and suffered and had many experiences in a lot of the ways that we do. The cross is God’s way of saying “I know how you feel,” and is the cosmic hope that someone knows how
we feel. Simply knowing that is not necessarily the answer though. There is a difference between ownership and possession. Apostle Paul has nothing, but possesses everything. Bell states, "There's a difference between ownership and possession and sometimes it takes suffering to understand the difference."

I've heard arguments from people who disagree that the cross is about Jesus "relating" to humans. Many might think that the cross is only about payment for our sins, but I don't agree. That is part of it, but not the only part. God is reconciling creation to Himself and all of Jesus' journey on earth includes His ability to understand our pain and suffering because He also experienced it. His experiences here help us relate better to Him.

Finally, you have the art of failing. One of my favorite quotes of the night was, "What every artist must learn is that even the failed pieces are essential. Nothing is wasted in God’s economy." We need to realize that God is not absent when we are going through pain and suffering. As my friend Matt pointed out from the gospel of Like: God is not absent in the desert. Bell pushes us as Christians going through suffering to not sit back and as ourselves "Why is this happening?" Instead, we should as "What is God doing in me through this situation?" The talk was fantastic and I really felt challenged about how I look at suffering...not only in my own life but in the lives of the people around me. It's definitely a talk that I will be considering for some time and an experience I won't quickly forget.


Kingdomseeker said...

Jon, you have such a way with words! I wish that I could have been there, it sounds like it was amazing. Did you get his new book?
Do you loan books out? If you do, could I borrow Velvet Elvis when Sandra is done? And then could I borrow Drops like Stars someday?

Your last paragraph reminded me of the following verses:
"I want to know Christ and the power of his resurrection and the fellowship of sharing in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, and so, somehow, to attain to the resurrection from the dead." Philippians 3:10-11

I don't know about you, but I don't think that I've ever heard that message preached from the pulpit; fellowship of sharing in the sufferings of Christ. Somehow, a message has been communicated in America that we are above suffering. But the Bible tells us we are fellowshipping? Am I reading that wrong?

I will admit, I am not a fan of suffering. I have spent the past week home from work with what has been informally diagnosed as swine flu. Whatever it was, it really wiped me out. I couldn't sleep, I couldn't eat, I was either too hot or too cold. REALLY miserable.
Hmm, was I fellowshipping with Christ the whole time? Didn't feel like it. In fact, too sick to study my Bible, and my prayers were really more like desperate cries for mercy and healing. Maybe now I will be able to show Christ's compassion to other people when they have the flu.
Or maybe I will be able to better show compassion when people have any kind of illness. I was lying in bed, sore from lying in bed, but too tired to do anything else, and I thought of people who are stuck in a hospital. They have to lie in bed for much longer if they have a chronic illness. I now feel more compassion for them. Hmm, fellowship of suffering?

The Bible also tells us that there is no temptation known to man that Christ did not experience.
Wow. So that means when I feel like (.....) Christ did too?
So this fellowship deal is a two way street? Christ allowed himself to face ALL temptations so that He could help me face mine?

Well Jon, very thought provoking article.
Thanks for sharing.


Jon Kelly said...

I do loan books fact, I just ordered a new copy of Velvet Elvis because it never made it back from the last time I loaned it out. We're actually going to go through that one with my small group from church but you're more than welcome to it after that.

I don't actually have Drops Like Stars yet because it's so pricey. They have it at Hastings for like $35 but you can get it at Amazon for $23. It's actually pretty short - and artsy. People refer to it as a "coffee table book." Basically that means it is pretty good size and has a lot of pictures and not a lot of words and it's rumored that it takes about half an hour to read through it. Of course the goal I think would be to inspire you as you go through and that you take time to process it.

I'm sorry to hear that you've been sick. It has definitely been rough this year for sickness. The kids have all gotten a little bit of something but not enough to really knock them out for more than a day and I've avoided it all together.

Funny you mention that verse though. I actually have heard a teaching on it while at Emmaus. We also did a song that is based on that passage. I have a recording somewhere of the band doing it, but I think it might actually be a Vinyard song. It's called "I'm Giving You My Heart" or "Surrender." Great song and great applications because I don't think we realize how little we actually suffer. Someone laughs when we say a prayer or whatever and we think we're being persecuted.

Another fantastic song about faith and struggles is Doubting Thomas by Nickel Creek. There's a line in there that says, "Sometimes I pray for a slap in the face, but then I beg to be spared cause I'm a coward."