To be fair, I’ve always had a rebellious streak. You tell me not to look in the box and I’ll want to do it that much more. Kinda like when Christians got so upset about that Noah movie with Russell Crowe, I rented it just to find out what all the fuss was about. Turns out, it was awful, but you get the point.
That’s why when people told me to stay away from Rob Bell books, I got intrigued. If it was a slippery slope, consider me wet and wild. I remember covertly reading Bell books while being a pastor in a conservative church. I’d keep it hidden in my bag like it was porn. The difference was, when I spoke on Sundays, I’d be able to use Bell’s illustrations in my messages and no one would know. I’d get praised afterwards for my deep insight and blatant plagiarism while the conservative crowd never knew the source. It was the perfect crime.
The problem was, it left me unknown.
That is what we really want, you know.
To be known.
Doubt, warts, mistakes, dreams, and all.
To be fully known is our greatest fear and our greatest need.
That’s why this is about more than a controversial author. This is about you and me and what we’re hiding from others in order to belong.
It’s one thing if you have a destructive addiction or a secret that is hurting you or another. Those kind of things need to come to the light and you’ll need help. I’ve been there.
I’m talking about the kind of things we hide, not because they are inherently bad, but because the perception of them is bad.
I can’t begin to tell you how many Christians I know who live in fear of their perception. It’s no longer about what’s right or wrong, true or false, but what’s perceived well. Loyalty is to appearing Christian rather than to actually following Christ. Holding the company line is king. Authority is in the hands of the latest pastor that finally got the Bible figured out rather than the Spirit of God inside of us.
It’s not a matter of truth, but what is perceived as Christian.
It can become suffocating because the goal line continually moves. It’s yet another buzz word to avoid, and another author or podcast not to listen to. It’s a church to avoid, and a teaching that could lead us astray. The circle of who’s in, increasingly constricts. Believe me, I’ve played that game. But then Jesus says this:
“Are you tired? Worn out? Burned out on religion? Come to me. Get away with me and you’ll recover your life. I’ll show you how to take a real rest. Walk with me and work with me—watch how I do it. Learn the unforced rhythms of grace. I won’t lay anything heavy or ill-fitting on you. Keep company with me and you’ll learn to live freely and lightly.” (Matt. 11:28-30)
See, hiding Rob Bell books was never about the books. In fact, his latest book is about how much you and I should read the Bible. I think that’s something all Christians can get on board with and yet he’s still outside the circle. The need to hide what I was reading was only about my fear of perception. My fear that someone may see me. They may discover my doubt and questions. They may know my unconstructed, messy faith. They may kick me out of the circle.
But here’s the deal.
Hiding even the messy parts of who you are, is robbing yourself of being known.
You and I are the ones that really lose. If we bend to that fear, we keep hiding. We keep running. We keep playing the game. We keep our eye on the circle. We keep isolated and alone and afraid.
It’s a worse hell than any church can threaten you with.
That’s why I’ve stopped hiding my Rob Bell books.
Because it was never about Bell.
It was about my doubt and questions and hope and fear that I can be known.
It was about choosing to fully live rather than bending to perception.
Because perceptions change. Not too long ago, the perception of a slave owner by Christians was rather positive. Thank God, that perception has changed.
Perception is not dependable.
Our need to be known is clear.
When I took my eyes off the circle, I caught a glimpse of Jesus. When I stopped trying to be Christian, I discovered Christ. When I gave up hiding, I was found. When I risked being known, I allowed myself to be loved.
To hell with the perception.
There’s freedom in letting go.
Yes, you may be hurt. You will be rejected.
But you will be known.
Let me say that again.
And that’s what we’ve always wanted.