Monday, November 26, 2007

The God's Aren't Angry (are they?).

I drove up to DC on Friday to see Rob Bell on his third speaking tour--The God's Aren't Angry: How Humans Invited Religion to Make Themselves Feel Better. (Fantastic interview with Rob about the tour and more here.)

I'm always moved by Rob. He brings ideas forward and says things out loud that I invariably find myself saying...why didn't I have the courage to say that? I am en-couraged when I hear him. Literally, courage is put in me. Thank you Rob!

I've been wrestling this idea about religion--ready to give up at certain points. Brian McLaren notes that the word itself means to 'rejoin ligaments.' In other words, to repair and restore. But my experience is that religion is in most parts seen, experienced and heard as anything but. More of a way to 'keep the man down' or 'drug the masses into submission' than lift us up to high places of the human spirit and bring about the flourishing of the human family.
So his premise intrigued me.

Here's a summary of his 1:30 talk (my notes won't do it justice).

Cavewoman and caveman started out noticing that there were things
beyond their control. 'The Forces' controlled what they couldn't: Plants needed for survival. The spirit of the hunt. The cycles of the sun & moon, mimiced in the cycles of a woman's body and in the bursting forth of life from the womb.

These forces were 'up' and they controlled things down here. So the altar became the 'high place' that was used to interact with 'The Forces.' This is the emergence of a priestly class who became the experts in how to deal with The Forces and get them to do what you wanted and to appease them.

A sort of primal anxiety emerged about relationship to The Forces.
When can we be sure we have properly appeased the forces? If we had a bumper crop and we did certain things in the high places, then to guarantee the same thing next season, we needed to do more. If things didn't go well, the crops failed, or a child died, then we would need to do more. When was more enough? We couldn't know.

The need to appease these forces still exists today. The prophets of Ba-al cut themselves to show their seriousness, hoping this would appease Ba-al. Rob met three young women in a short period of time who all cut themselves to feel better about themselves and their lives. This primal anxiety has not dissipated with time.

The Israelites introduced an entirely new idea (I think Rob used a helping hand here from Thomas Cahill and his excellent The Gifts of the Jews). The god's weren't angry and didn't need to be appeased. In fact, God (singular) was interested instead of blessing us. This revolutionized religion.

Abraham and his sacrifice of Isaac and his strangely automatic compliance with God's request got Rob's attention. Abraham would have likely thought "Well this, this is just the way you interact with the forces." What is revolutionary in the idea of religion is what happens next. (See Genesis 22 for the rest of the story.)

He then took a brief tour through Hebrews showing how the ritual of a sacrifice is for us--for the inner workings of the human heart that need some way to move beyond a grievance, a dissapointment, a sin--not for God. At the culmination of the ages Jesus reworked forever our relation to the forces.

Rob then spent the rest of the evening (I'm leaving a lot out) talking about how we are now invited to do good in the world. This is the one "sacrifice" remaining. His stories gripped me on a heart level. A family who bought a home for a single mom recently divorced and abandoned, an out of work family loaded down with groceries, a friend sitting across the table from him at a dark hour telling him his life could be different. His close felt a bit like a Nooma video (complete with music & and a blessing)--but it was powerful.

He never mentioned grace. Never mentioned atonement. Never mentioned church (except to paint a picture of the good done through God's people)--yet the ideas were vivid and present. See the movie when it comes out.

1 comment:

Josh said...

great notes, my friend.

and it twas great to see you there.

it is fascinating how he was able to talk about "it" without saying "it". I'm not sure he was talking about atonement...at least in the substitionary perspective. He definitely was talking about relationships with the divine...but without talking about being forgiven by God or receiving his mercy or grace.