The following is a guest post by Chris Estus. Chris is an “Aspiring Emergent.” He left the friendly local mega-church in 2011 to start Pioneer at Asbury – A worshiping community of people in, in need of or interested in recovery. His worship CD – The Chris Estus Band can be sampled at www.thechrisestusband.com His email is firstname.lastname@example.org. This report of Chris’s experience is posted with Rob Bell’s permission. In Part One, Chris wrote about what led him to sign up for Two Days with Rob Bell. Now, here’s the payoff:
For the event last week, people came from all over the US, Canada and even Sweden. I spoke with a number of Lutherans, a couple Methodists, a Mennonite, a Southern Baptist as well as Church of Christ, United Church of Christ, Episcopal, Catholic and Non-denominational pastors and members. One woman was an Atheist. I made friends with a young Agnostic/Atheist college professor. I’m sure other faith traditions were represented. A number of people said they were Reformed. As an Aspiring Emergent, I knew I should avoid them, lest I be beaten to death with a bible.
I talked to Pastor Jim from the Texas Hill Country in the hot tub. He used to be an Emergent Church Planter in Austin, TX. He was friends with all the leaders of the movement. He said he couldn’t do that anymore because he needed to be able to afford to eat. Now he pastors a Lutheran – Missouri Synod Church. I don’t know what that it, but it doesn’t sound very emergent.
Rob and others used the words Emergent, Emerging and Emergence, but I found the context confusing.
Rob recommended Phyllis Tickle’s book The Great Emergence, but said if someone says they are Emergent, ask them what Baptist Church they grew up in.
Rob said Peter Rollins was his friend, but laughed when someone talked about people in churches sitting in a circle on smelly couches.
I wasn’t sure if I should disclose that I am an Aspiring Emergent. I didn’t know if they would laugh at me or try to buy me a sandwich, so I kept quiet.
The venue was an open-air 2 Story courtyard of a boutique hotel on the main drag of Laguna Beach. It is ½ a block from the beach. Most of the crowd of 100 sits on chairs arranged in a semi circle downstairs. Rob sits facing us in the middle front. It is real close quarters but comfortable and intimate. 15 or so of the people sit on the upstairs balcony. He stuck large sheets of white paper on the wall behind him to write outlines, key words and drawings that helped illustrate his teachings.
From 9 AM to 9 PM on Monday and on Tuesday, with breaks for coffee, tacos and surfing, Rob tells stories, teaches, encourages, lectures, laughs, cries, draws, jokes, asks questions and is amazing. His ability to communicate verbally is well known.
In the group setting he is gracious, warm and on top of his game. For 2 days he is animated with energy. Although much of the 2 Day event is outlined and scripted in his head, he frequently used responses to questions he asked as an opportunity to cover new ground. He also answered every question he was asked. He is a master of making the person who asked the question feel like he is talking directly to them, while he is actually teaching the entire group something he had planned already. He loves rabbit trails, but loves the outline too. Structure enhances flow.
Although the demands of celebrity have trained him to put up extra strong personal boundaries, he was mildly approachable during breaks. He remembered me and asked about my hair (long hair and ponytail no more). He listened to and was amused by the ridiculous story I told. That released me from the need to make some sort of public speech/question just to be noticed.
Rob does not spend 2 days trying out new book ideas on a friendly crowd. He understands whom he is talking to, the state of mind they are in and the point we are at culturally and spiritually. From the beginning he pours out all he has for our healing and equipping. Many of these pastor/leaders, like the rest of culture, are starving for identity, community, affirmation and direction. There is a lot of loneliness and some bitterness.Using his own story frequently as backdrop and example, he talks about how everybody is moving too fast. Insanity is the new normal. He said he brings us to Laguna to show us how insane our lives are. Using Dt 30:11-14 he teaches that Reality is here and now present, in us and among us, with us. We already have it.
Combining Eph 4:4-6 with ideas from his Everything is Spiritual DVD and Richard Rohr’s book Falling Upward, he talks about binaries. God isn’t only in the “good”. Growth comes primarily from disruptions. The labels and systems we use fail and have to be renewed. He talked about Unitive Consciousness rather than Dual. He points out our tendency towards “Shadow Management” – How we name the sinner of the week so we don’t have to look at ourselves. If I can point out who is abandoning the faith, I don’t have to talk about my own doubts.
He spent a couple hours on Spiral Dynamics. This is a theory of human development and stages of consciousness. It is based on the work of Clare W. Graves, Don Beck and Ken Wilbur. Rob has presented this all three times I’ve been with him. Embracing and understanding this model is helping me to not look at where I came from with disdain and not look at those at higher stages (higher doesn’t mean better) with fear. Google it.
Again chronicling his own experiences, he spends considerable time on handling criticism. He has lots of experience here. The sermon is an art of which he is a master and holds in high value. He talks about it at length and gives great practical advice. See Poets/Prophets/Preachers.
Some other nuggets either by him or him quoting someone:
Liturgy is like a cathedral of words. Every time you walk in you see something new and beautiful.
Parable means placed beside. Sometimes we mistake the thing that’s placed beside for the real thing. What we get from Jesus: It’s like this. What we get from Reformed: The thing placed beside became the real thing.
Religion argues about the menu. Some have tasted the meal.
We refuse to participate in something that degrades our humanity – Gandhi.
The inability to receive grace is a cultural disease.
During the Spiral Dynamics discussion he made a point that caused many gathered to take notice. Mentioning the name Joel Osteen in a crowd like this usually draws smirks, laughs and head shaking. This crowd, perhaps thinking they were expected to or perhaps needing a villain or perhaps looking with disdain at those on a lower level of consciousness on the Spiral, acted as expected. Rob, however, then presented a fresh take on the ministry of Pastor Joel – That Joel Osteen is doing a magnificent job re-parenting millions of people.
Joel will say something like: “You can get a job”. The cameras then show people in the crowd shaking their heads and writing it down. “God is not angry with you” – Amen, nods of agreement, note taking. “You can be part of a family, the Church” – That’s right. He is telling them things their parents may not have, or life helped them to forget or ignore. He is helping them move from Powerless Purple to Empowered Red on the Spiral. Google it. He is re-parenting.
Rob Bell is the Joel Osteen of the Frustrated, Disempowered, Bored, Lonely, Over Educated, Underpaid, Jaded, Cynical, Bitter Pastor/Leader/Academic/Intellectual set. Last week I realized he was re-parenting us with skill and grace. He told us things like:
Be ruthless about your own health.
Find friends you can have long meals with.
There is a 6 and 1 rhythm to the world so take a Sabbath, a day off.
You have an inner wisdom, listen to it and not the voice that says yeah, but.
Most emergencies aren’t.
We all took notes.
I think his soon to be finalized and announced TV show is going to speak millions of the misinformed and uninformed and overinformed looking for connection spiritually, intellectually and socially.
I am personally having a blast following Jesus along with a community of people in the Post Modern/Emergent/Jewish Roots/Rob Bell/Richard Rohr/Phyllis Tickle/N.T. Wright /12 Step world. I still get to play Happy Clappy Praise and Worship Music frequently. I get to be intellectual stimulated, spiritually nourished, connected, directed and of use to other people. I don’t have to make others wrong or bad or goofy to make me right. I don’t have to worry about “slippery slopes”.
On Tuesday night, Daddy Rob looked me in the eyes, gave me some bread and juice and said:
This is His Body, broken for you.
This is His Blood, poured out you.
I believe him.
My advice to those looking for connection, direction, identity, belonging and mission is to: Pray. Then join me at Christianity 21 in Denver on January 9-11.