Recently, I was lucky enough (or blessed enough) to receive a scholarship that allowed me to attend Rob Bell's one day workshop in Brisbane (part of his 2016 Australian Tour).
I’ve read his work with interest ever since he wrote Velvet Elvis in 2005. Any Pastor who steps away from a congregation of thousands to explore his personal faith is my kind of person. The fact that a large proportion of Christians now consider him a heretic? Well, that simply fanned the flames of my curiosity even further.
Rob Bell - the person - is someone who embodies one of my favourite words, because the man is “authentic” to his very core. He learns, grows then is driven to share what he knows. His latest book How to be Here encapsulates his attitude because it explores the idea that we are each placed on this earth to fulfill a unique purpose. He encourages the members of his audience to recognise their roles as co-creators with the divine. Rob teaches that there is not one single person who is not creative in some way. He then proves his point by demonstrating how those viewed as “least creative” still play key roles in creating order out of chaos (accountants), tidiness out of mess (cleaners) or shaping the lives of other people (mothers and teachers). In his opinion, creativity is not to be mistaken for artistic ability or a wild imagination.
Being fully human
Rob’s message reaches far beyond these initial ideas - highlighting the way challenges and obstacles often fuel a deeper sense of our life purpose. He explains the rather obvious point that we all want our lives to have meaning, but even more importantly, we want our suffering to have meaning. And really… this is what it means to be fully “human”. We need to accept that making mistakes and learning from them is also part of the human condition and it is a very great loss to allow our fears to prevent us from trying… and wasting our one precious life.
Overall, both the book, and the workshop which accompanied it, contain great wisdom regarding why we are put on this earth, how each individual is here to serve a completely unique purpose and exactly why it is important to take action on the ideas and passions that mean the most to us. He concludes by explaining that it is imperative to make the most of the gifts - and the moments - we have been given. From the very first seconds of our birth we are given the gift of breath so living each day with gratitude will make for a better life.
A strong sense of peace for me
Personally, I came away from the workshop with a strong sense of peace regarding my own faith journey because of his response to one of the Christians in the crowd who wanted to know about his current religious status. His reply closely mirrors all that I have been mulling over and the conclusions I have drawn recently. To me, his answer to the woman who asked, “Are you still a Christian?” was both honest and brave. She may have found Rob evasive but I got what he said - which was something along the lines of, “I find Jesus more relevant now than I ever have before. His teachings, and the example he set for us, were way ahead of the times… but I find the categorisation or definition of ‘Christian’ problematic because it creates such division among those who claim to be his people. I actually don’t think Jesus himself would appreciate the conflict the word has caused. Jesus was the embodiment of love.”
And so, since the workshop, I have dived into a number of Rob Bell’s other books and found much to appreciate about them as well. The book which inspired me the most has been What we talk about when we talk about God. This book has led me to be gentler on myself for the doubts I often carry and encouraged me to see the divine everywhere. We live in a remarkable universe and yet we are each a unique creation with a unique purpose.
Main photo of Rob Bell. Photo Credit: Photo By David Shankbone (Own work) [CC BY 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons
You can find Rob Bell’s books HERE or tune into his podcasts HERE.
Catherine Joy is a teacher, life coach and single mother of four. She loves trying to keep all of those balls in the air but fails spectacularly at times. Perfectionism and people-pleasing seemed to be written into her DNA but she's slowly releasing expectations imposed by others and settling into a more generous view of a loving God at the same time. Catherine's goal is to experience life in lots of different places and to use every wrong turn as an opportunity for learning. She resides on the Sunshine Coast, Queensland, Australia.
See previous articles by Catherine Joy