Rob Bell on Church

by

Not smart to post two articles on the same day, but this one has been sitting in my inbox for quite a while now, and I thought I’d throw it out there, too.

In a recent issue of Relevant magazine, Rob Bell responded this way to the question, “What are you doing to reverse the trend of 20-something Christians walking away from church and, in many cases, from faith entirely?”

Bell’s response…

“What a lot of people call church in America has very little to do with the church Jesus had in mind. I think you just begin by acknowledging that [America’s idea of church] is an absolute total failure. The whole system that says these few people, because of what they said, did, believe, etc., are going to Heaven and everybody else is going to Hell, is deeply flawed and must die. The system that says big growth and numbers are the goal must also die. The central metaphor Jesus uses is the Eucharist. His body is broken and His blood is poured out to the healing of the world. God is looking for a body of people who will break themselves open and pour themselves out for the healing of the world.

“I think the problem is that when people say “church,” many mean religious goods and services where you come and there’s a nice inspiring talk, good coffee in the back, snappy music, and everything ends up fine. Jesus speaks of His people who are willing to suffer and die so that the world can be healed — that’s an entirely different position. If you can resolve what’s being talked about just by listening to it, then something’s seriously wrong. The only way to resolve the church service you just experienced, and specifically the sermon, is that you’re going to have to go and wrestle with it and then live it out. Our interest is not in providing goods and services that will leave you with a well-packaged religious experience. We understand the Gospel to be how you are going to break yourself open and pour yourself out for the healing of the world. I know what we believe and what we’re trying to do, but the degree to which we’re successful–I have no idea. Someone else can talk about that. I always get a bit suspicious of religious leaders who talk about how big their [ministry] is or their crowd ratios.”

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33 Responses to “Rob Bell on Church”

  1. DeJon Says:

    Ironically, I subscribed to Relevant recently, and received my first issue today. You posted before I could read the article. But given the excerpt, Bell’s line of thinking demonstrates why I paid for a subscription.

    In this forum and others I’ve expressed my opinion that the idea of church in America is broken… irreparably. We’ve read and heard the responses such as… “There are good things going on in church.” I also hear the idea that “you can’t throw the baby out with the bath water.”

    Yet “the good” going on is in spite of the church subculture, and that subculture in my mind represents the metaphorical bath water… not the baby. And its gotta go. Bell articulates it better than I could. He’s smarter and more eloquent, and its great to hear him say it.

    With that said, I am not completely sold on Rob Bell. He is a lot cooler and more “indie” than I ever will be, and it makes me nervous. But on this issue I give him a loud sustained applause.

  2. urbino Says:

    I think Bell is absolutely right about the centrality of kenosis for Jesus. That is, ISTM, his prescription for the world’s ills.

    The question I then come to, is: can it work?

  3. DeJon Says:

    can it work?

    IMO kenotic theology is an all or nothing proposition. A community that demonstrates a vulnerable outpouring will reap exponential rewards — a providential blessing. But when the community breaks down, people suffer injury. Those unwilling to live in unvarnished honesty cannibalize the vulnerable. I’ve witnessed such a travesty personally.

  4. Terry A. Says:

    I had read a lot by Rob Bell before I ever saw/heard him. (His “Nooma” videos are outstanding, BTW.) His mannerisms immediately reminded me of a certain urbino we all know (and a few of us love). There’s even a slight (I said SLIGHT) facial resemblance.

    I think the church as we know it is at least two eldership generations away from really embracing what Bell is saying. I don’t mean that to be critical; I just think it will take that long to sink in. And by that time, the c of c may well be experiencing an all-out identity crisis (even more than it already is).

  5. mrspeacock Says:

    Help! I’m drowning in a cesspool of negativity disguised as high-mindedness! No, no, I’m kidding. Mostly.

    The early church had problems like daughters and fathers having sex with each other, and Jews and Gentiles wouldn’t even eat at the same table, fer cryin’ out loud. Yet Paul never says, “This is irreparable! Let’s just scrap this whole business and all do our own thing.”

    A big problem with the “church sucks” argument is one the Democrats have frequently used against Repulicans.

    Republican: Government shouldn’t be a charity ward. It’s people helping on their own that really make the difference.
    Democrat: So in what ways do you volunteer to help your community?
    Republican: Um…Err…

    A couple of friends recently had their house fall down on them (and their newborn) during the tornadoes. Amazingly, they are completely fine. Last Sunday, they couldn’t stop talking about God’s provision. But God’s provision manifest itself through the church. Those are the people who gathered around, helped clean up, offered any and everything. If they didn’t have that support system, they would be in a very different situation.

    But…I do agree with Rob Bell. We’ve totally missed the mark in a million ways. I just don’t believe it’s irreparable.

  6. DeJon Says:

    Ms. Peacock… it doesn’t take a high-minded nabob of negativism to suspect we disagree on the current condition of American churches. Yet, I can certainly respect where you’re coming from.

    However, a point of clarification… when I use the word “irreparable” to describe the church’s condition, I am not suggesting that anyone should “scrap this whole business and all do our own thing.”

    I wouldn’t disagree that a scrapping is needed, but should probably define what “business” I would propose be scrapped. And we might agree that doing our own thing gets us nowhere. I would even suggest that churches are essentially doing more of their own thing than God’s thing right now anyway.

    The fundamentalist church subculture would do well to scrap the widely-held distorted ideas of “faith” that allows it to say, “Sure we’ve got our problems, but things aren’t too bad.” I would allow such an assertion to go unchallenged only if one could agree that it is okay to give mere lip service to the power of Christ’s life and resurrection. I just can’t observe such a thing, and call it a reparable problem in need of minor adjustment. This is the “business” I suggest needs scrapping.

    IMO, such a condition calls for a 180-degree change. Of course getting a disjointed, passionate, rigid, and certain group of people like the church to agree such change is necessary, and to demonstrate the courage required to change it would be an undertaking in need of divine intervention. No?

    I am truly thankful that your friends remained safe through a traumatic experience. And it speaks well of those people who rushed to their aide. But does that incident really prove that the fundamentalist church subculture isn’t doing more harm than good?

  7. mrspeacock Says:

    DeJon… Actually, I agree with you. In fact, if you asked my close friends, they would say that I’m always preaching the very thing that you are preaching. Buuut I also love playing devil’s advocate (what an appropriate term).

    I’ve always wrestled with the notion of transformation. Because if we were really transformed into the likeness of Christ, we would be so vastly different than we are. I always have to remind myself that it’s a process and not one magical moment.

  8. urbino Says:

    His mannerisms immediately reminded me of a certain urbino we all know (and a few of us love). There’s even a slight (I said SLIGHT) facial resemblance.

    Dashing sumbuck, is he?

    A community that demonstrates a vulnerable outpouring will reap exponential rewards — a providential blessing.

    I have a couple of questions about that.

    One, on what is the claim based?

    Two, define “community.” It’s a term that has meaning only in relation. Community exists relative to a certain group of people; generally, in opposition to another group of people. How big does a community have to be to reap this providential blessing? And how big can it become before it ceases to be, in any meaningful sense, a community?

  9. alsturgeon Says:

    To the DeJon/MrsPeacock exchange…

    I’ve never read The Brothers Karamazov, but I’ve heard of the famous encounter between a leader from the Inquisition and Jesus, when the Inquisitor asked Jesus, “Why have you come to disturb us?”

    This strikes to my “church” problem.

    I get that “church” is made up of fallen people, and that it has always been screwed up…

    Okay, since most all of us are CoC-bred, let me go at it this way: A bunch of us have had a “grace” revelation over the past couple of decades or so – God loves us in spite of our level of performance. His fatherly love isn’t based on how “right” we are, or how much like the Pharisees we become…

    What we haven’t had collectively – and what Bell hits at – is a “discipleship” revelation. That following Jesus is NOT defined by a church in the sense we use that word. That following Jesus has almost nothing to do with church in the sense we use that word. That it is a lifestyle that none of us truly purport to live (which gets into the Juvenal/DeJon exchange waiting to happen).

    Jesus would disturb us if he came today. He wouldn’t preach on Sunday, go home to his television shows. work out three times a week, teach the 5th-6th grade boys on Wednesday night, catch a movie on Friday night, and rinse and repeat week after week after week after week….

    I’m not sure he’d go to any or our churches, but if he did, he wouldn’t last long. Since he came to break down every wall that divides humanity and to pour out his life for the cause of justice – and churches rarely talk about either – living the “church” life for Jesus would appear a collosal waste of incarnation.

    “Church” has its periodic moments of looking like Jesus, which is more than enough for God to love those churchgoers. The problem is that its good enough for the churchgoers, too.

  10. alsturgeon Says:

    To the DeJon/Juvenal exchange…

    I’m not going to attempt an answer to the questions posed to DeJon, but I would like to pull up a chair and pipe in. We’ve had the discussion before on whether or not a kenotic lifestyle is viable, and I still don’t have a good answer. But I do think the communal component is critical to consider (Al always alliterates!).

    I don’t think kenosis is to be attempted alone. I also don’t think you need an actual steeple, bulletin on Sunday, and the opportunity to lay by in store to form the necessary community.

    Personally, I’ve been wondering if the house church movement is on to something.

  11. mrspeacock Says:

    Amen, Al!

  12. DeJon Says:

    One, on what is the claim based?

    In a word… my claim is based on faith. A part of me feels like that answer is a bit of cop out, but its a bedrock answer. I believe that in order to tap in to the spiritual power of Christianity and the example of Jesus one must be willing to deprive one’s self of all inherent rights for motives of compassion and selflessness. I just hold that truth to be self evident.

    define “community.”

    Two or more people. Again, another self-professed cop out. But its really the best I can do. Maybe others that are wiser and more articulate can provide a better answer.

    The question reminds me of one of my favorite portions of Donald Miller’s “Blue Like Jazz” where he discusses his time spent with a band of “hippies in the words.” Sure that group had their issues. But IMO they are the quintessential community… Not my first choice of communities I would want to join, mind you. But Miller describes their strong interpersonal connection.

    A lament: Our movement from a Gemeinschaft to a Gesellschaft culture has proven great for Capitalism, but detrimental to the ideals of compassion, empathy, and community.

  13. urbino Says:

    In a word… my claim is based on faith.

    Faith is a fine thing. I have no objection to it. I’m not sure I understand the rest of your answer, though. (Or maybe I’m not sure I made my question clear.) Your answer, if I understand it, goes to the call for selflessness, not to the promise of a resulting “providential blessing.” The latter is what my question is about, not the former. Is that — that there will be a “providential blessing” and “exponential rewards” for kenotic communities — what you’re saying you take on faith [alone]?

    If so, it’s an answer I find both satisfactory and unsatisfying.

    It’s satisfactory, I think, because I can’t think of much that Jesus, the purveyor of kenosis, said that supports it. His general message seems to have been: pour yourselves out for others; btw, just so you know, life is going to suck. Not: pour yourselves out for others, and you will reap exponential providential rewards. Unless, that is, we’re talking purely about rewards in the next life rather than this one. Is that your meaning? (For clarity, I do not propose that the this-worldly version would mean some kind of crass material blessing, but rather some kind of providential re-filling of the poured-out self, sufficient to keep a person going — perhaps even content, perhaps even fulfilled, but at least functional and able to continue with life.)

    You answer is, OTOH, unsatisfying to me because it leaves me nothing to go on. You believe a providential blessing will follow a kenotic lifestyle because, well, you believe it. Something in you says, “Yes. That’s how it will be.” That’s a fine thing — a thing I might even be envious of, because I have no such voice inside me, and therefore no reason to think there will be any providential blessing for living kenotically.

    To me, lacking that inner voice of faith, the kenotic lifestyle looks like a fast track to the nervous hospital. Self-abnegation sounds like just a deeply unhealthy and inhumane thing to do to oneself, much less ask anybody else to do. Monstrous, even.

    So what are we to do? You have an inner voice of pure faith that says it will all work out in the end. I do not. We’re at loggerheads. You can’t communicate your faith to me (by which I mean impart it to me). By your own statement, if I understand it correctly, it’s not based on anything external to you, not even Jesus’ own teaching: it just Is. I’m not you and can never have access to your innermost being, so what just Is for you cannot be passed to me, for whom it just as baldly, just as inexplicably, Is Not.

    That suggests to me that Calvin was onto something fundamentally true about Christianity: either you have it (have been chosen to have it), or you do not (have been chose not to have it). Yet somehow I think double-predestinarian Calvinism isn’t exactly what you or Al or Bell or McLaren have in mind.

  14. urbino Says:

    Two or more people.

    Correct me if I’m wrong, but that seems, then, to imply the following: the kenotic lifestyle is not only doable, but will result in exponential providential blessings, when practiced together by as few as any 2 people, and this is so regardless of the size or nature of all the rest of the communities impinging on those 2 people.

    I’m not trying to pick a fight or erode anybody’s faith, but that strikes me as readily demonstrably false.

    I might find some argument along the lines Al hinted at — that kenosis can be practiced, but only within a mutually supporting, kenotic community — plausible, but not when the community is just 2 people, or any number anywhere close to that small. Any 2 people living kenotically in the midst of the normal world will be crushed. A rope of 2 strands might be stronger than a single strand, but no 2-stranded rope can support the weight of the world.

    This begins to get at what I’ve come to see as the fundamental problem with prescribing kenosis as the cure for the world’s ills, which I’ve expressed elsewhere on the site.

  15. alsturgeon Says:

    BTW, I have a new goal in life: I would like to work “double-predestinarian Calvinism” into a sentence. Wait! I just did it! Yea me!!!

    FWIW, I don’t think Jesus’s kenosis prescription guarantees a completely sucky life. On the sucky side, there’s persecution, no material rewards, and well, you may very well be killed. But on the not so sucky side, I still argue for a few good terms like freedom and purpose. And something worth dying for.

    By freedom, I mean freedom from the disappointing path of self-centeredness. And by purpose, I mean love.

    I think there ought to be something worth dying for, and out of all the options I’ve seen, I think love is the best one. And, to me, love and kenosis are the same thing.

    But I think a human being who dares to love w/o ever receiving love in return (the distinction is key: not love TO be loved in return, but love that is loved, too, probably often from another entity) is on the fast track to the nervous hospital.

    I think this is Jesus’s ecclesiology – the kingdom of God. Groups of people set free from a life that gets you nowhere in the end banded together to live a life centered around the very best thing in the world: real, selfless love.

    Then again, I’m often wrong.

  16. alsturgeon Says:

    Oh, and I don’t have a huge problem with the number two (though it was never my favorite on Sesame Street), but it is pretty weak. Two is approximately twice as good as one, but I like Jesus’s four and thirteen combo better – four super-close, but thirteen on the team.

    With thirteen, if one of you is temporarily dead, or let’s say one kills himself after the dead person comes back to life, you still have someone always getting a breather during a pickup basketball game.

  17. urbino Says:

    A brief distraction:

    I just read the Wikipedia article on Bell. Then I read the contributors’ discussion of the article. It goes something like this:

    “Stop posting your loony criticisms of Rob Bell.”

    “I’m not loony. Stop deleting all criticisms of Rob Bell, you Preterist scum.”

    “I’m not a Preterist. And I didn’t delete all criticisms. Just all of your criticisms.”

    “Well, anybody who wasn’t Preterist scum would know that’s a crock.”

    “Look, you don’t understand the Wikirules. Please stop. Oh, and stop calling me a Preterist.”

    “Oh, sure, it’s just like a Preterist to go running to the rules. Who you gonna call next, your Preterist mommy?”

    “Hey, calling somebody’s mother a Preterist is really hitting below the belt.”

    “Yeah? Well it’s nothing compared to burning in hell.”

    I really miss church life.

  18. urbino Says:

    On the sucky side, there’s persecution, no material rewards, and well, you may very well be killed.

    But that’s just the stuff that other people might do to you (or, in the case of material rewards, not do). That’s not the primary problem. The primary problem is what you are supposed to do to yourself — this business of self-abnegation. Even if nobody else is doing you any harm, you’re still harming yourself.

    By freedom, I mean freedom from the disappointing path of self-centeredness. And by purpose, I mean love . . . And, to me, love and kenosis are the same thing.

    I don’t understand why it’s necessary to swing from self-centeredness or self-absorption, all the way to the opposite extreme of selflessness. What about thinking of others and self? There is nothing mutually exclusive about them.

    Is it really the case that love is not truly love unless it’s selfless? I don’t think so. In fact, I’d argue that there’s no such thing as selfless love, because there has to be a self from which love originates, and out of which it acts. Selfless love is an oxymoron.

    And the sentence I elided above:

    I think there ought to be something worth dying for, and out of all the options I’ve seen, I think love is the best one.

    But kenosis isn’t dying for love. It’s dying of love. It’s not sacrificing one’s life for others, but sacrificing one’s Self for others. They aren’t the same thing. The latter leaves a walking husk. It’s consuming one’s innards to manufacture not love, but . . . what? . . . ‘lovingness’? It’s unnecessary. What’s more, it’s counterproductive. Consuming oneself in the expression of love doesn’t increase the amount of love in the world; it decreases it, because it cuts short the life and/or vitality of the lover. Self is an essential part of the human psyche; we’re not doing ourselves or anyone else any favors by “pouring it out like wine.” The world doesn’t need more people hollowed out by trying to manufacture a false kind of love, but more people with the strength and emotional vitality to embrace those around them.

    What’s needed isn’t the loss of Self, but the embrace of Other. Addition, not subtraction. All this imagery about emptying, isn’t it wrongheaded? Love shouldn’t empty; it should fill. That’s how it seems to me, anyway.

  19. alsturgeon Says:

    I’m a bit confused. (And, might I add, it’s good to be back to normal.)

    I’m not reading you and saying, “Hey, you’re wrong.” I’m thinking more, “Isn’t that what I was trying to say?”

    I don’t picture kenosis as masochistic. To me, it’s the willingness to be harmed if need be from compassion for the other. Emptying my selfish desires in favor of what’s best for the object of my love. It’s me telling my daughter in her hospital bed this past week that I’d switch places with her in an instant. And meaning it.

    I think Jesus proposes the idea of seeing everyone in my path like that – or, better said, capturing the potential of that ideal and working that direction.

    Okay, I read “Atonement” this past week while sitting by my daughter’s hospital bed, and I was reminded through that masterful novel that life is going to suck, kenosis or not. I hope my daughter doesn’t read this for a long time, but it made me reflect on my relationship with her and realize the time is coming when one of us will have to say goodbye to the other. But that pain is worth it for the love that is shared in between. As tragic as that is to say.

    I think the call to kenosis is a call that allows for love of both self and others, but when it comes to a choice between self and other – and it often does – choosing the other.

    Which inspires the world’s best songs, poems, and stories…

  20. urbino Says:

    I don’t picture kenosis as masochistic.

    Okay, but the word, as an ethical term, does mean “self-emptying.” The idea it’s getting at is self-denial, self-abnegation, selflessness: ultimately, destruction of the Self. That hardly seems likely to be pleasant, nor does Jesus paint it as such.

    I think the call to kenosis is a call that allows for love of both self and others, but when it comes to a choice between self and other – and it often does – choosing the other.

    But one can’t always choose the other. That’s sort of my point. Quite often, one must choose self. Otherwise, one ends up with no self left — which seems to be the inevitable result of kenosis, but which I’m saying is a very bad thing.

  21. alsturgeon Says:

    Would you give me a couple of practical examples of the difference you perceive in what I’m saying and what you’re saying? Just trying to understand…

    Also, I get that Jesus’s trip to Jerusalem was suicidal, but his day-to-day life didn’t seem so masochistic to me, what with his reputation as a partygoer.

  22. urbino Says:

    There are a thousand small decisions every day, that present one with a choice between self and others. To always put others first, every misunderstanding becomes one’s own misunderstanding, not the other’s. Every miscommunication becomes one’s own miscommunication, not the other’s. Every time something goes wrong, putting others first means blaming oneself. It means taking the blame from others, and putting it on oneself.

    Why? Because no matter what you did or how well you did it, there’s always something more you could have done, or a way you could have done it better. That’s always going to be true, in every situation, every moment of every day of your life. Whatever’s going on, you could always have prepared yourself better, done things better, spoken more clearly, listened more attentively, taken the other person’s point-of-view and unique personal history more fully into account. In short, there’s always going to be a way it truly is your own fault — whatever “it” may be.

    If you know everything you do is unavoidably imperfect, and you’re always putting others first, how can you not always take the blame on yourself when something goes wrong? How can you ever let yourself blame someone else for anything, even in your own mind and heart?

    You can’t.

    But you also can’t live that way, not and remain a functional human being. Nobody can, except those who already have some other madness that, by chance, happens to offset the one created by constant, unremitting self-blame.

    These people we call “saints” (or, more appropriate to our present context, “fools for God”), and they are extremely few and impossibly far between. There will never be enough of them in one place and time to make the world anew, or even to form a single small, local community.

    Dying for others is easy. It’s big and noisy and draws attention and admiration that you know will last after you’re gone — which means it’s not selfless. Choosing a thousand times a day, every day, year upon year, for a lifetime, to silently choose everyone else over oneself, that’s selfless. That’s being poured out like water.

  23. alsturgeon Says:

    Okay, then I’m with you.

    And I need a new word then, because I don’t see Jesus modeling that at all. There is a big difference in my mind: serving others vs. constantly blaming self. I can see Jesus’s life as an example of pouring out one’s prerogative out of compassionate love, but not psychologically beating oneself up.

    What I propose is striving to care about other human beings so much that you can’t help but care for their needs.

    As you aptly observed, addition, not subtraction.

    Which leads to the necessary community.

  24. urbino Says:

    What I propose is striving to care about other human beings so much that you can’t help but care for their needs.

    Not to be difficult, but I don’t think one can do that, either. It amounts to the same thing I described. Sometimes — fairly often, and with some regularity — one has to say, “No. I can help but care for others’ needs, because I have needs, too, and I have to see to them.”

    If Jesus wasn’t calling people to any greater servanthood than that, though, I begin to wonder what it is that’s so special about Jesus or about what he wants people to do. It sounds like his kenosis boils down to just, “Be nice . . . you know, within reason.”

    What’s so unusual or great about that? Lots of people throughout history have said people should be reasonably nice. Lots of people are reasonably nice — including dying for others, which happens every day all over the world, without any encouragement from Jesus. Also, the proportion of reasonably nice people outside churches seems to be about the same as the proportion of reasonably nice people inside them. Thus, there doesn’t seem to be any great need for a special community in which to practice reasonable niceness.

    If what Jesus wants is something more than reasonable niceness, but less than daily self-sacrifice, what is it?

  25. alsturgeon Says:

    Oh, you know you can be difficult with me. I plan to be difficult right back anyway! 🙂

    (And where has everyone else gone? Are we alone in this room?)

    My proposal takes issue with your correction: I’m sticking with caring so much about someone you “can’t” help but care for their needs. To me, this is the definition of compassion, which is probably a better word for me to hone in on than kenosis.

    I apologize for continuing to use my daughter as an example, but picture something where she is hurting badly – emotionally, whatever. If I can help, picture me saying “No, I have needs, too, and I have to see to them.” That would be monstrous of me. I will help her, damning the consequences to me. My needs pale in comparison. I always choose her, not because I’m at fault or because I’m required, but simply because of love.

    This, to me, is Jesus’s proposal. This sort of love, not based on family or friend status, but based on the fact that the “other” is a human being. Breaking down all the walls that divide humanity into this grand notion of equality.

    “You love your daughters. Well, good. So does everybody. But I say to love your enemies. Like God, who pours rainstorms on the whole Hee-Haw gang w/o preferential treatment.”

    I’ve been preaching through Matthew, and my last several lessons have been from chapters 19-21 (just starting 21). The marriage/divorce question, then the children, then the rich young ruler, followed by the parable of the householder and the request from James/John’s mommy all subvert the notion of hierarchy & lay out the project of equality. Then when Jesus marches into Jerusalem on a donkey, he comes not like Herod (with war horse & prestige), but he comes proclamiing peace to the nations – a very different sort of king.

  26. urbino Says:

    I apologize for continuing to use my daughter as an example, but…

    This sort of love, not based on family or friend status, but based on the fact that the “other” is a human being.

    But nobody can do that, not and remain functional. There’s a reason you keep going back to your daughter (how is she, btw?) for your examples: because she’s your daughter. You don’t feel about all others the way you feel about that specific other. You don’t love them the same way. You never will. Nor should you. You’re not built for it. Nobody is.

    Remember how you felt when you were by her bed and the doctor came in and told you both that she was going to have to stay another couple of days?

    Imagine feeling that every single time any person in that entire hospital was told of a setback. Now imagine feeling it for every person in town who has a health problem. Or any other kind of problem. Ever.

    It would be too much to bear. Waaaaay too much to bear. It would leave you broken and useless not just to them, but to your daughter and even to yourself. Nobody has the emotional resources to love that many people that way. You’d consume your insides in the attempt. And there just is no community, large or small, that’s going to constantly fill that hole back in.

    Love is not like lucky penny. Give it away too prodigally, and you’ll end up a charred and empty husk.

    Should we strive to be compassionate? Yes. Should we strive to love all people everywhere with absolute devotion? No. This is a really, really bad idea.

  27. alsturgeon Says:

    Oh, I hate how you always win. 🙂

    But since I’m going to be a lawyer, I’ll keep arguing just for the practice…

    Still, then there’s Jesus. Who didn’t live broken and useless and consume his insides, far as I know. He didn’t race around the world “feeling it” for everyone. My observation is that he loved compassionately the person(s) in front of him.

    I still like Eugene Peterson’s take on the temptations of Jesus – that all three were ways to avoid the person-by-person approach he had chosen. Instead of magically feeding the world, or assuming power over the world, or wowing the world, he chose to meet it personally.

    If any of that is true, then the beauty of the whole ascension/commission story is that it unleashes on the planet a walking army of love – unhurried, with time for the person in front of each disciple.

    And our fast-food, high-speed-modem world is an enemy. Allied with our gated-community, privacy-fenced world.

  28. urbino Says:

    Still, then there’s Jesus. Who didn’t live broken and useless and consume his insides, far as I know. He didn’t race around the world “feeling it” for everyone. My observation is that he loved compassionately the person(s) in front of him.

    But you can’t even do that. That is, you can’t even love every person in front of you like you love your daughter. It still won’t work.

    Nobody said anything about having to go racing around the world, looking for people to love. My examples were local. If they were still too broad-gauge, let’s limit it to just the people you encounter in your daily routine.

    Are you going to emotionally invest in all of them the way you do in your daughter? I’m going to argue you can’t. It might take a little longer to get to “too much” that way, but you’re still going to get there, and pretty darn quickly. (I’m not even going to start down the path of, “Are you going to financially invest in all of them the way you do in your daughter?”)

    As for Jesus, I’ll just say this. Whatever else may or may not be true of him, this much at least is undeniable: he died young.

  29. alsturgeon Says:

    I’d agree that I can’t. What I’ll argue for is more of a worldview. A perspective. Seeing the people I encounter with new eyes – different eyes than normal.

    Jesus “saw” the riffraff. The women. The children. The Samaritan. The Gentile. The tax collector. He cared for them like he cared for those his culture trained him to care for, adopting a policy of nondiscrimination when it comes to respect and love.

    Of course I can’t financially invest in everyone like I do my daughter. We don’t make that much money. (Insert “emotionally invest” in the prior two sentences too.) If so, I would hurt my daughter, which is unacceptable behavior for people you love. Love does no harm. But I can do my best with what I have…

    Once again, you’re absolutely right. Loving everyone in terms of time, money, attention is an impossibility. But “seeing” everyone with eyes of love is the beginning point for me, and extending my resources as best I can to help remains a real possibility.

  30. urbino Says:

    That brings me back to wondering what’s so unusual or special about Jesus. Lots of people “see” the riffraff and extend their resources as best they can. Lots of people don’t, to be sure. But still. Does it really require divine intervention to show humanity how to be reasonably nice?

  31. alsturgeon Says:

    Today, I’ll be playing the part of the pessimist.

    I don’t think lots of people “see.” I don’t think many people see. I say this with the full intention of making you laugh (read: not be insulted), but try going to church again and form your own opinion of how many people see the marginalized and extend their resources as best they can.

    Lots of people don’t even notice the person standing in line next to them at Wal-Mart. Or know the names of their neighbors.

    How many 1000s of years has it been before anyone really entertained the notion of equality? How long have women voted? How long have civil rights been written into law in our country?

    Jesus’s love/equality/freedom project was completely radical. And the world is still a long ways away from “seeing” the marginalized.

    Or, for a more poetic version of my pessimism, just read the Lux poem I shared today! 🙂

  32. urbino Says:

    try going to church again and form your own opinion of how many people see the marginalized and extend their resources

    Not to put too fine a point on it, but: maybe you’re looking in the wrong place.

    It’s not quite fair to generalize from “not many people in churches see the marginalized” to “not many people see the marginalized.” People in churches are deeply enmeshed in a very complex, long-running, internecine, highly ritualized and abstract moral/ecclesiological conversation. So deeply enmeshed in it that they very often can’t see the morally obvious, which people not enmeshed in that conversation can see.

    Clearly, lots of people do notice the marginalized and attempt to help. Enough people, or enough help? No. But quite a lot. It’s just that most of them aren’t in churches. And the freedom and equality you’re talking about, that, too, came about largely through the efforts of people outside churches — often, as you know, (and still today) despite churches.

    To me, that adds up to the rather ironic point that the people who need Jesus to show them how to be reasonably nice are the people in churches.

    If Bell and/or McLaren can help them clear their heads and re-focus on that, more power to ’em. But I don’t see that Jesus’ ethical message, as you describe it, is all that earth-shattering for everyone else.

  33. alsturgeon Says:

    Point well taken. And it makes a nice fit with Jesus’s life story, too.

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