The full range of human experience
|Bibliography:||“Dear Mars Hill”, Rob Bell’s farewell sermon/letter to Mars Hill Bible Church in Grand Rapids, MI|
In the eight months since we’ve moved to Kenya, the fabric of our day-to-day lives has had some new threads woven into it as we’ve been exposed to more suffering, pain, death and poverty than we previously thought bearable. This is just part of the reality of life here, where most people live on less than $2 USD per day, and so we’ve had to adapt.
Our theology (our understanding of God and his ways) and our hearts have had to change and expand in order to have a real flesh and blood good news story (the ‘gospel’) that can be brought to bear in every situation we encounter; one which doesn’t tend towards the theoretical and abstract, but can handle the grittiness and granularity of specific situations. One which doesn’t ignore the bleeding, dying, painful, and dirty, or only offer those people a tract or a five step plan to salvation instead of a cup of clean water, but which is actually good news for them, wherever they are at. This process of change and expansion has required humility, a willingness to think well and deeply, and an understanding that we are literally God’s hands and feet on earth in everything we do.
Rob Bell gave his farewell sermon to Mars Hill Bible Church last week, and if you want a taste of heaven on earth in the here and now, listen to it or read it here.
I was particularly moved by a lesson he reckons he’s learned since founding Mars Hill, as it is also one that is near and dear to our hearts. In his words, he has learned “not to fear the full spectrum of human experience”. From his farewell sermon:
…for many people, the simple dualisms of right and wrong and good and bad are the sole prism, the lens, through which they look for God in the world. so if things go well, then ‘God is good’ is how the thinking goes, and if things don’t go well, all kinds of questions arise about God and hope and faith and was it all just a grand illusion in the first place?
the life we’ve found together, however, is far more subtle, nuanced, and complex than those simple dualisms, and i’ve seen you discover this deep well of insight as it shapes you in profound ways. i’ve seen you get cancer and struggle with infertility and attend funerals of people you love and get let go from your jobs and lose tens of thousands of dollars and get sued and find out your kid is using drugs—and at the same time i’ve watched you find God in the mess. in the tension. in the chaos. i’ve seen you find peace and joy and calm and rest in situations in which everybody else is convinced that peace and joy, much like Elvis, have left the building.
there’s an ancient midrash about jacob who wrestles the angel. they say that he walks with a limp afterwards, but at least he’s experienced God.
i’ve watched many of you walk with a limp. it’s a deeper wisdom you have attained, a higher level of consciousness,
a more refined and ultimately more enduring way of seeing that you have acquired. it’s a spirituality that doesn’t need quick and easy answers, it shuns the trite and cliché, it understands Christ is here somewhere in this mess, and no matter how dark or foreboding it gets, we will at some point see him, friday will give way to sunday and while there are blood and tears and heartache and at times we’re barely holding on by our chiny chin chin when we do stumble into the daylight, when we do find a little respite, a sliver of shalom, when we eventually do meet the resurrected Christ it will be real and it will matter and it will be true and it will satisfy.
i’ve seen you lament and laugh,
cry and celebrate,
weep and wail
and then whoop it up,
pull your hair out from pain and frustration
and then dye it bright colors because someone’s throwing a party.
you have taught me not to fear the full spectrum of human experience but to embrace it, to celebrate it, to wallow in it and soar with it. many Christians are eager to point out that Jesus said he was the son of God and that’s the wedge issue, the crux of the faith, the divisive point you have to take a stand on. i believe he is. and in the same breath, i remind you that he also referred to himself a shocking number of times as the ‘son of man.’ you know what ‘son of man’ means?
now that’s shocking.
take a stand on that
From the bottom of my heart, here in Kenya, Amen.