Hiding Bell

LoveWins3To 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.

Irresponsible Belief

The more I’ve learned about Christian spirituality, the less tightly I hold to many beliefs. Certainty is no longer a goal for me. Trust seems to fit much better. However, I have grown increasingly concerned with the fruit of our beliefs. What you and I do is a result of what we believe. If you believe medium rare steak tastes best, you are going to take it off the grill much earlier. If I believe I’m a really good cook, I am probably going to ask you not to grill those filets on the grill in the first place. Come on people, cook that steak in a pan with some butter! You’re losing the juices! But I digress… Jesus put it this way:

“Watch out for false prophets. They come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ferocious wolves. 16 By their fruit you will recognize them.Do people pick grapes from thornbushes, or figs from thistles? 17 Likewise, every good tree bears good fruit, but a bad tree bears bad fruit. 18 A good tree cannot bear bad fruit, and a bad tree cannot bear good fruit. 19 Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire.20 Thus, by their fruit you will recognize them. -Matt. 7:15-20

portrait-1634421_1920-2Total Depravity
This is a belief there is nothing good in us. We are thoroughly and completely sinful. The bad fruit is obvious. If I think you have no good in you, I will inherently distrust you. If you are not a Christian, I’ll expect to receive nothing from you. You will remain merely a project. Any good you offer this world, will quickly be passed off as a misguided attempt to earn your salvation.

The bad fruit effects the believer as well. When I’m “totally depraved”, I gain an excuse. I don’t have to be like Jesus because he was sinless and I’m sinful. I’m the perpetual victim. I will carry around a continual insecurity because God is merely putting up with me and can barely stand to look at me. I’m merely tolerated so I will merely tolerate others. This belief inevitably leads to a callousness rather than compassion. Quite frankly, there’s never been a totally depraved person who has changed the world. It’s the opposite of empowering.

Now, I believe sin is real, I just don’t think it’s the first word about us. The Bible does not begin in Genesis 3. The first word about you and me is we are good. (Gen. 1:31) One of the things I like the most about Jesus is he is quick to share the spotlight. Think about it, in no other religion do we know the names of the disciples. Jesus even claimed we would do greater things than him. (John 14:12-14) He steps aside, and seems to say with a twinkle in his eye, “Your turn.”

Good fruit empowers, encourages, and increases a capacity to love.

This is a belief we will someday go somewhere else. Some call it the rapture, but it’s an understanding the Earth is ultimately doomed and God will evacuate certain people from the bad place into a good place. Maybe you remember the “Left Behind” craze in the 90’s?

The fruit has been devastating.

Think about it for a moment. If it’s all going to burn, why care? If we’re going to leave, why steward? Why not settle for short-term gain when there will be no long-term? I believe this is behind why so many Christians are callous toward environmental concerns. After all, why save it when you can pave it? I know Christians who ignore science(1) and climate change while turning to their faith for an evacuation plan. Callousness has replaced compassion. Irresponsibility has ousted empathy. Selfishness has taken the place of stewardship. They line up each Sunday as if they are boarding Noah’s ark awaiting the flood all while ignoring a planet we were called to love and enjoy. (2)

But what does God throw away?
Now, let me be clear. I actually believe in heaven and hell. However, the vast majority of times Jesus spoke of the kingdom of God, he was referring to the here and now. As Rob Bell puts it, “Those who focus on the hells to come often ignore the hells today.”

Good fruit stewards, cherishes, and hopes.

Final Note
I have dear friends who believe some of the bad fruit beliefs I mention above. They are compassionate, loving, and beautiful people. But they are the exception, not the rule. They produce good fruit in spite of what they believe, rather than because of it. Furthermore, they have adequate Biblical support for why they believe what they believe. However, history shows us, the fruit of this belief has been awful.

I used to get scared when I began questioning what I believed. Now it feels like part of following Jesus. It’s almost as if we’re walking on this path together and he occasionally stops. He stoops down and points at a rock in the path. It’s something I believe and I can tell he wants me to turn it over. I do and hidden underneath is something ugly growing. He’s never been surprised or disappointed but I can tell the rock no longer belongs on our path. This has been my journey the past few years. I’ve changed beliefs about women, the LGBTQ community, and even the cross. If I’m really going to follow Jesus, I need to get used to him changing my mind. I need to allow him to search my heart. I need to let him point out the bad fruit.

So what do you believe?
It will determine what you do.
If you are producing bad fruit, it’s time to change your beliefs.

*Much of this particular blog has been inspired by some recent teachings at Eastlake Community Church and two fruity men, Peter Gadd and Ryan Meeks.

  1. And if you think that scientist is totally depraved with nothing really to offer the world, you will distrust anything he or she says. That’s a double whammy!
  2. For an amazing science fiction series on evacuation theology, you have to check out The Leftovers on HBO. It rocked my sweet lil world.

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Good > Perfect

18921683_10155171931278382_1638430863187282865_nLinc was 5 when we learned he needed glasses. I remember when Laura came home and broke the news to me. We were told he would need glasses the rest of his life. An odd disillusionment swept over me. It felt a lil like the floor fell out from under me. “You mean, he’s not perfect?” was my first thought. My second thought was, “Does this mean he can’t be a fighter pilot?” (He never mentioned he wanted to be a fighter pilot) We even cried a lil and then quickly put on a positive face when he bounded into the room. I know this is nothing compared to what other parents go through. I only share this story to illustrate the misconception we have with perfection.

Perfection can become our loftiest virtue. If we’re not happy, something is wrong. If things aren’t moving up and to the right, we need to make a change. If our relationship isn’t always fireworks, she must not be “the one”.

But things were never perfect.

Genesis 1 & 2 is a poem about God creating the universe. He speaks it all into existence and after completing each part, he announces it “good.”. The starfish and sunsets and snow are good. The planets and porcupines and pine trees are good. You and I are described as “very good”.(1)

But think about this for a moment. If there were animals, how did they eat?
They killed other animals.
If there were stars then there was day and night. If there were seasons, then there was winter and spring.
There was life and death.
Light and darkness.
Birth and pain.
And God deemed all of it.
All of it…
It was never perfect. It was never meant to be.

“Feelings Are the F-Word For Christians”
There is a big difference between reciting a platitude and having peace. We can all nod our heads to the statement, “No one’s perfect” and go on to live a life plagued by comparison and discontentment. We can deny perfection without embracing the good.

Laura’s been teaching me this a lot lately. She’s been helping me realize negative feelings can be good. For most of my life, I’ve trained myself to ignore, suppress, and medicate negative feelings.(2) Feelings like loneliness, fear, and anxiety were to be avoided at all costs. Even a shallow Christianity will reinforce this. After all, “Fear not!”  Or, “Don’t be anxious about anything.” See, it’s right there in the Bible, I’m not supposed to feel those things.
But I do.
And you do too.
And God knows.
And it’s good.

What if learning to feel again will make us become more human? More courageous. More whole. More alive. What if an inner peace is not the absence of negative feelings but the ability to include and transcend them?

Could this be what Jesus was doing in the dessert for 40 days? He didn’t walk through this world weirdly disconnected from the pains around him. He wasn’t a phantom hovering  around unaffected by tragedy. He got his hands dirty. He cried, and sweated drops of blood, and screamed to heaven, and felt the pain of betrayal, and the sting of death.
He taught us how to live.
He felt it all.
That’s why we can call it “Good Friday”.

The Good Book.
The Bible is filled with imperfections. People try hard to ignore or excuse these contradictions but they’re in there. It’s remarkable, the theological back flips people will try to keep the scriptures perfect. (2)
But it’s not.
It was never meant to be.

The Bible was written by imperfect people. They wrote down stories from their imperfect perspective trying to imperfectly explain God. Paul is notorious for terribly long run-on sentences. Mark forgets to even mention the resurrection. (Kinda important) Parts of the Old Testament makes God out to be a genocidal maniac. Honestly, it’s a big mess. A big beautiful mess.

Imagine going to the library and expecting every book you pick up to say the same thing. You grab a book of German poetry from the 1940’s and a recent American history book. They both mention World War 2 but don’t seem to be saying the same thing. You are confused by the contradictions so of course, you stand up in the middle of the library and announce loudly, “Attention everyone, this library is worthless! It’s not perfect! Let’s get out of here! Who’s with me?”

I started giggling to myself while imagining what the reactions of others in the library would be. I’m guessing you’d leave alone. Before you start to think this story is too silly remember the word “Bible” actually means, “Library”.
It’s not a book.
It’s a library of books.
Written by people.

That simple truth has helped me reaccept the Bible. It’s even helped me enjoy it more. I’m no longer trying to cross all the T’s and make sense of all the contradictions. I’m allowing the run-on sentences and genocide and confusing events and poetry and history to be imperfect.
So it can be good.

It’s in the imperfections I get to see a wonderfully patient God interact over hundreds of years with very imperfect people. He gently moves imperfect humanity forward, meeting them where they’re at, always nudging them a lil at a time. Seeing God in the run-on sentences, contradictions, and perspectives of the Bible gives me hope I can see him in my own imperfect life. If the Bible doesn’t have to be perfect, and God still speaks, then I don’t have to be perfect either and God can speak over me.

“God saw all that he had made, and it was very good.” -Gen. 1:31
Three years later, I can’t image Linc without glasses. I would never trade the way he looks up at me over his glasses with this cheshire grin that tells me he’s up to something. Or all the times he’s running around the grocery store and a concerned mom is wondering where his parents are only to take one glance at me in glasses rounding the corner. We both smile, knowing he looks exactly like me. The quirks, idiosyncrasies and imperfections of Lincoln is what makes him Lincoln. He’s not perfect and I’m so glad.

Perhaps good is better than perfect.
Good includes pain and joy. Good welcomes contradictions and inspiration. Good embraces life, death, faith, doubt, humanity and divinity.

Perfect is an illusion but good is a gift.


1. This idea of good vs perfect originated for me from an episode of the Robcast. I think it’s episode 9. Check it out.

2. For more on this, I recommend my friend’s book Feels Like Redemption by Seth Taylor.

3. The idea of the Bible being perfect has only been around since 1913. The enlightenment claimed truth was only that which can be scientifically verified. In response, some Christians got insecure and claimed the Bible was something it was never meant to be.