Well, to borrow a phrase from one of my prof’s, I got to ‘touch the velvet’ last night. That’s right, I heard in person one of my favorite celeb pastors, Rob Bell. Rob is the pastor of the other Mars Hill (for you Seattle-ites and those aware of Mark Driscoll) where you may actually experience a woman teaching you scriptures from the main stage. Rob also is the creative force and ‘host’ of one of the first set of Christian teaching videos who’s production style / quality are not embarrassing, noomas. Eugene Cho has another great and lively discussion about it on his blog that’s not worth my trying to duplicate. You can read more about the discussion between Rob and my friend Rose on women in leadership there. It seemed Rob was on the same page at a theological and ‘ecclesiological’ level as Rose (egalitarian), but there was also some disconnect. Final plug for Rob on this topic: I did value his strong statement that went something like, “In the past we used to say things like, there are two different interpretations of scripture that we have to agree to disagree on. No – now we should say, there are two ways of interpreting scripture here, and one of them is wrong.”
The evening with Rob was put on by Off the Map at VCC and included others like Doug Pagitt, Todd Hunter and Sunil Sardar. They were all in town as participants in the Seeds of Compassion conference featuring the Dalai Lama and Bishop Desmond Tutu. You can watch the final panel discussion of the event here. It was good to hear from them about their experiences as I found myself yesterday feeling a little jaded and even frustrated at times. Seattle has been abuzz about the Lama’s visit and really, it should. He is a towering figure in the world as a Nobel peace prize winner and has returned to the main stage with the current conflict in Tibet. But I was trying to hold in tension with the hype, the complex reality of the history of Tibet and the Lama. I wonder if many recognize the role of the brutal caste system within Tibetan Buddhism and what life in Tibet was like prior to China’s invasion in 1950 under Mao Zedong, and the eventual “Lhasa Uprising” in 1959 that led to the current Dalai Lama fleeing to India. But among those I spoke with who attended the conference yesterday, all were very impressed with the multi-faith panel and participants – to the point of being challenged in whether or not their personal Christian faith understood concepts like compassion, righteous anger, justice, etc. as well as the Buddhists, Muslims and others they heard. As Rob said, Christians should not be afraid to go anywhere. And how refreshing that the voice of good Christian leaders were at the table! Rob expressed how wonderfully he was received; over and over hearing, “You are and evangelical Christian? We’re so glad you are here!” He also said, “People are so compelled by Jesus. They want to know about Jesus.” So, that was very helpful for my cynical-self to hear.
“There is a church not too far from us that recently added a $25 million addition to their building.
Our local newspaper ran a front-page story not too long ago about a study revealing that one in five people in our city lives in poverty.
This is a book about those two numbers.
It’s a book about faith and fear,
wealth and war,
poverty, power, safety, terror,
Bibles, bombs, and homeland insecurity,
It’s about empty empires and the truth that everybody’s a priest, it’s about oppression, occupation, and what happens when Christians support, animate and participate in the very things Jesus came to set people free from.
It’s about what it means to be a part of the church of Jesus in a world where some people fly planes into buildings while others pick up groceries in Hummers.”
He talked about the bible having been written about and by a people living under the brutal thumb of military empires. The story begins in Exodus with God hearing the cry of the oppressed in Egypt – the God who always hears such cries – and bringing freedom and deliverance. And particularly in the Old Testament, we see God’s people getting themselves in trouble when they forget this and become the empire (e.g., Solomon). For those of us living in America today (particularly affluent America), Rob stated we need to understand that as the most powerful country in the history of the world who is around 8% of the world’s population but with almost 43% of its weapons, there may be some things we don’t understand about the biblical story. We need to be careful that we don’t align ourselves with ’empire’ so much so that we cannot critique it. He is not the first to say this of course, but his popularity among young Christians, especially young evangelicals, may spread this important corrective further than it has gone before.