I did it.
I saw it promoted for a couple years, and I always thought “Two Days with Rob Bell” sounded a little pretentious. But then he changed the name from “Two Days with Rob Bell” to “Craft Lab.”
I was sold!
I booked my seat/flight/hotel/car and spent two days last week in beautiful Laguna Beach, CA with Rob Bell and around 50 or 60 people from all over North America. I met some incredible people doing seriously mind-blowing things, made more foster-adoptive connections, tried (and hated) surfing, and, of course, met Rob Bell.
Initially there was a lot of what my wife calls “peacocking” – people strutting their stuff, trying to distance themselves from the rest of us lower-tier humans. But then Rob (or Robbie-Rob as I decided to call him) entered the room. An awe-full hush settled over us star-struck drones and without even saying a word, he’d begun.
Eventually, peacocking gave way to beautiful honesty and transparency. And by the end I declared it to be two of the most important days of my entire ministry.
Rob Bell has a gift. Not just preaching, not just writing, but he has a gift of getting to the heart of what a person is truly saying in a matter of seconds. He’s a relentlessly hard worker and a genuine inspiration. He spent the first morning asking people about projects they’re working on. Within a few moments, he opened door after door after door to each person’s insight and what the project is actually about. It sounds a bit arrogant to say he sat and told people how to make their books-films-sermons better, but that’s exactly what he did and it was amazing. He read excerpts from his new book set to release in August called Yes, You. He shared some personal stories about ministry, about criticism, and about making the move from Michigan to L.A. to find a way to share his message on television. He explained his move this way:
Politics and religion are the two hot-button issues in America. Politics is everywhere on television, but where do you turn for religion? Where’s the religious equivalent to Jon Stewart or Stephen Colbert?
He starts filming his show in a couple weeks, and it airs in October on the Oprah Winfrey Network.
He gave us priceless advice on the craft of presenting our thoughts like:
Be tight and ruthless
No B-minus stuff
Be able to tell the gist in 30-seconds
Structure breeds spontaneity
Use the particular to explain the universal
These have already had a profound impact on my preaching, and I’ve only been back one week!
Yes, Rob Bell has a gift.
It’s interesting to me that he receives so much criticism. I get it, I mean he says some things that are knowingly on the edge, if not over it. I don’t agree with 100% of what he says or writes or teaches, but I’m drawn to him because of the way in which he speaks and writes and teaches. He approaches God as I think God should be approached: with wonder and awe, fully aware of the mystery. His teaching style models that of ancient rabbis in that he asks far more questions than he has answers for. Questions unlock the door to mystery. Questions tell us more about who we are than any answer might. Questions are the way we move forward through time and space. Answers are the end of a trail, questions are its head. I think many people struggle with Rob Bell not because of his answers, but because of his questions. He doesn’t seem afraid to ask “the big ones,” nor is he afraid to arrive at an answer different from the one we’ve all be conditioned to regurgitate. I find that beautiful and inviting. I see in that a genuine sense of wonder at who God is. I see the disciples doing the same thing with Jesus, especially in John’s gospel. It’s there that John repeats over and over that the disciples had no idea what was going on, and it took them until well after Jesus’ ascension to begin to understand what his life meant.
Asking questions to which you’re unsure of the answers is the way of the disciples, and it was the way of the rabbis, and it’s a beautiful way forward for any and all who are tired of regurgitating the same old answers we learned as children. We will never fully grasp the enormity of God. We will spend our entire lives searching without fully knowing even a fraction of God’s Being, and that reality sets us free to explore and wander and ask and doubt and struggle and resurrect our faith time after time after time. That’s what it’s all about anyway, right? Resurrection? Death to one way of being and new life to another. We experience resurrection on large and small scales every day, and in resurrection we find the powerful love of God drawing us deeper into himself.
If you ever get a chance to spend two days with Rob Bell, I suggest you take it. You may not agree with everything he says, but you’ll find yourself sucked into the mystery of God and discovering a new side of the Kingdom you’ve never before explored.