This past thursday night I had the joy of hanging out with a couple of friends and checking out the latest tour from Rob Bell. I’ve seen him speak before, and have been a huge fan of his Nooma series for a while.
Rob did what he does best, crafted a story we’ve heard a thousand times before in a way that made it new and fresh. Breathing new life into old stories is his gift.
He started with the story that Jesus told of a man and his two sons. The younger son calls his dad worthless, takes more than his share of the inheritance and runs off and wastes it all away. When he returns, the father embraces the son and throws a celebration in honor of his return.
It’s a great story of forgiveness and redemption.
Unless you’re the older brother.
When all is said and done, in the midst of the celebration is an older brother who has been shamed, embarrassed, and left out. He is still laboring in the fields when the party begins.
Things are not fair.
The older brother is angry with his dad. He asks his dad why the younger brother gets a whole calf when he has never even received a lamb for him and his friends to share.
The dad replies that everything he has is his sons, and that now is the time to celebrate the return of his brother.
And the story ends.
Right when we expect the Father and son to reconcile, or split up, or do something…. the story ends and we are left watching the credits roll. It’s the kind of ending that leaves the audience wanting more. We tend to get frustrated when things are left unresolved. We want closure. We want answers.
We want God to tell us how the story ends so we don’t have to ask why.
But God calls us to use our imagination.
What happens at the end of the prodigal son story is what happens to us. It is called the art of the disruption. We operate with certain expectations, and when pieces of that framework are removed our lives our disrupted and we are left wondering why. But the bigger question, and maybe the more important question is ‘what now’?
Disruption brings about the art of honesty. When our framework is dismantled, we resort back to the things that we know are true. In times of crisis we focus on the things that are most important.
Which brings about the art of elimination. The things that can be let go, are let go. If our life is a narrative, then crisis brings us to point of the story. What’s important about this art, is that the pieces that are left behind are just as essential as the final product.
Up next is the art of solidarity. The things that disrupt our lives bring us together. This is what stands out the most from the night, because Rob used a very powerful exercise to demonstrate his point. Every one of us had a notecard, and we wrote ‘I know how you feel’ on the card. Rob asked everyone who had been directly affected by cancer to stand up. A majority quietly rose. He then asked us to trade cards with a stranger. We did this once again for several other issues that come in life. It was a unique demonstration of what it means to be a part of a larger community.
Sidenote: Rob said the first time he did this exercise he was surprised at the reaction. With something as solemn as cancer, he did not expect there to be much talking. But the audience was noisy. We laughed, traded cards, and somewhat celebrated what we were sharing. For that moment, I was not at a lecture, I was simply a guy celebrating my father. It was a great moment.
We started wrapping things up with the art of possession. The idea is that there is a big difference between ownership and possession. Just because we own something does not mean we possess it.
As for the rest, my notes are a blur and I don’t want to do Rob a disservice by butchering his ideas. There is much more depth than what I am able to convey here, and I highly recommend checking out the book and the dvd when you get a chance. It’s a great fresh perspective on looking at an age old question of ‘why God?’ from a modern framework.
Speaking of looking at things with a fresh perspective, and an open mind; the title Drops Like Stars comes from a story of Rob with his nephew. They were watching the rain hit the back porch one day and his nephew kept saying “stars”. Rob asked his sister what he meant, and she explained that the little boy thought the raindrops looked like stars.
May we all see drops like stars.
One love, one heart.