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Wednesday, March 04, 2009


I was not prepared to like this. Not one little bit.

And, I do. Very much.

On Tuesday night we started our five-part Lenten Education Series, using the NOOMA DVDs. They are very well done provocative little 10 minute clips on a Very Big Issue.

Our first was RAIN - a highly relevant if not somewhat simplistic approach to considering (note: not 'answering') the question Why Do Bad Things Happen To Good People?

It's based on Matthew 7:24-27 - about building your house on rock and not sand. It's a very simple story about a time when the narrator of the piece, a young, waaay cool man named Rob Bell, and his 1 year old son were suddenly caught in the rain.

The conversation following the DVD was very rich. What is prayer? How is prayer answered? Is God always in control? If God is not in control, why do we pray, "God, help me?" How is a community of faith a manifestation of the divine? What is our responsibility as Christians when we see someone who is obviously headed for some real turbulence in their lives?

Like that.

Good stuff. Each DVD comes with a guide with some questions for discussion. I didn't need it. This group was all fired up and ready to go. I was just Oprah. ;~)

Oh, about Rob Bell. Which is why I was prepared not to like this series.

Rob Bell is an evangelical (yes, I said, evangelical) preacher/pastor. He founded one of those non-denominational evangelical mega churches - Mars Hill Bible Church in Grandville Michigan (near Grand Rapids).

But, wait. Here's the thing.

Rob Bell is a - get ready - CONTROVERSIAL Evangelical. Why is he controversial? Well, because he thinks the message of the bible is more important than the words of the bible. Or, in his words: "The Bible is not the point. The point is knowing Jesus Christ and the power of the resurrection."

My man.

He's part of what's known as the 'emergent church' movement that "crosses a number of theological boundaries: participants can be described as evangelical, post-evangelical, liberal, post-liberal, charismatic, neocharismatic and post-charismatic. Participants seek to live their faith in what they believe to be a "postmodern" society."

"Velvet Elvis" is the title of his first book, written a few years ago, and his metaphor for getting inside of the ancient Jewish mind in order to make the church relevant for today's modern people of faith.

For example, here's a quote I found in an interview with Rob Bell in Christianity Today. Bell said, "This is not just the same old message with new methods. We're rediscovering Christianity as an Eastern religion, as a way of life. Legal metaphors for faith don't deliver a way of life. We grew up in churches where people knew the nine verses why we don't speak in tongues, but had never experienced the overwhelming presence of God."

Christianity as an Eastern Religion? Whew! Don't tell any of this to the orthodite evangelicals who are having hissy fits over the newly elected Bishop of Northern Michigan who claims that Buddhist meditation and teaching influence his understanding and practice of Christianity.

In a Chicago Sun Times article entitled "The Next Billy Graham?", Bell responded to his critics:

"When people say that the authority of Scripture or the centrality of Jesus is in question, actually it's their social, economic and political system that has been built in the name of Jesus that's being threatened," Bell says. "Generally lurking below some of the more venomous, vitriolic criticism is somebody who's created a facade that's not working...But I love everybody and you're next!" he says, giggling. "That's how I respond to criticism."

As you can imagine, he drives the 'orthodite' people absolutely NUTS! Those who don't outright condemn him as a "false prophet" dismiss his theology as "weird."

Like I said, my man.

I have previewed all five of the NOOMA DVDs we'll be using in this series and, based on last night's discussion, I do believe I made the right choices.

The NOOMA series has over 22 entries, the most controversial of the two being 'Sunday', and 'Dust', apparently. You can watch a few second clip preview of each DVD when you visit the NOOMA site. They are only $10 a DVD, and you can mix and match to suit your own preferences. Each DVD comes very nicely packaged with its own easy to use study guide - more like questions to prompt discussion.

If you want a little glimpse of how this guy wants to "repaint the Christian faith," it's in the title of his DVD Series - "NOOMA" - which is another way to spell 'Pneuma' or 'breath' or Holy Spirit. Get it?

The whole message of his brand is "This church ain't your father's Oldsmobile." He also sings, quite well, I understand, having been a member of a professional Rock Band for a number of years. He has that very carefully studied unpolished, relaxed look that says, "Waayyyy cool." He is married with two sons and always takes Friday off to meditate to "regain his balance".

I can understand why young people flock to his church.

Sixteen people came tonight. There were eight people at evening prayer. I made Vegetarian Tomato Basil Soup which was served with Three Cheese Semolina Bread and Red Wine (Yeah, I know it's Lent, but we ARE Episcopalians, after all).

I also read somewhere that Bell is currently working on his next project, titled "Drops Like Stars", exploring the "endlessly fascinating" link between creativity and suffering. I must admit, I'm intrigued and can't wait for it to come out.

The book is being handwritten by Bell, and will also feature some of his photographic work. It is currently in its first draft, and is intended to be released in 2009, and will be followed by a speaking tour of the same name - which would be his third major national and international tour.

I'll give him this much, the boy knows how to market. He's a Rock Star Preacher, Teacher, and Entrepreneur, teaching and singing and selling Jesus and the power of his resurrection. Sounds like a waay cool version of St. Paul, right?

You know, although it's not my Sunday cup of tea, it totally works for him. And, apparently, thousands of others.

Hey, any rock solid evangelical who can produce a video series that gets Episcopalians excited about talking about the Big Issues of their lives in faith and how to apply the significance of the Resurrection to their daily lives, while at the same time giving the 'evangelical orthodites' a compelling reason to have a conniption fit is, like I said, my man.

Stay tuned. I'll keep you posted as to how it all goes.


KJ said...

Have you every watched any of the "Malcolm In the Middle" series? In one episode, because of following some very poor advice from his older brothers, Dewey, the younger brother, ends up in the classroom for children with behavioral/emotional issues. The series was always careful to not make fun of the kids, but certainly was scathing of the system in which they were "educated," where the kids are learning nothing. In one scene, a student asks the teacher why the sound of a motorcycle is different as it approaches one, and changes as it passes."

"I could explain that to you," is the teacher's reply, "But you'd forget the question before I finished the answer."

So, Dewey explains the Doppler Effect to the other student, who responds by jumping up and down shouting, "I learned something! I learned something!"

As did I in this post.

In our diocese, we are collectively reading Phyllis Tickle's new book, "The Great Emergence." As I learn more about it, the more I'm of the persuasion that the "three-legged stool" of "progressive" Episcopalianism (I place "progressive" in quotes, because is it progressive if it's what the Gospel ought to be? Was Jesus progressive, or loving? But, I digress!) has led to a point that others call "emergence" and seems to catch others by surprise, but to me seems to be a very natural following of the breath of the Spirit, as she is not holding her breath.

But, maybe that's just me.

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

No, not just you, KJ. The same thought occurred to me, but I LOVE that you picked up on it. What "they" call "emergent church" we've always known as "The Anglican Spirit of Accommodation."

It's nice to be ahead of the curve, isn't it?

KJ said...

Whew! I'm such an Episcopal Newbie, I thought I'd missed something obvious. I have now been "ritefully" enrolled, and come Easter Vigil, legitimized.

I mean, confirmed.

Malinda said...

I really appreciate your review and comments on the NOOMA series and Rob Bell. I guess my thing is about do we need it on the big screen fed to us like everything else in our consumer culture. I watched the NAME cd at an area youth leader meeting and while I agree that it is well done and provocative - excellent for the questions it asks, I can do just as good a job with the "who do you say I am" question Jesus asks w/o the technology. Maybe I am too reactionary to what is always the next best shiniest thing that comes along that will cure all of our problems in education and formation. I'm still about presence, relationship, contact, touch - not that NOOMA eliminates that but I just always wonder why we have to watch it to get engaged.

Hope I didn't break any comment rules. I think you raise great questions. Malinda

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

Hey, Malinda, thanks for stopping by and for leaving your lovely comments. I checked out your two blogs and it looks like you are a real expert when it comes to Ministry with young people and children, so I'll leave whether or not we "need" shiny toys to engage their minds.

Neither am I an 'expert' on adult education, but after 23 years of ordained ministry and 7 years as ordained leader of this community I do think I have a pretty good sense of what would "play" as a Lenten Series at this particular point in time with this particular community.

The NOOMA DVDs are not 'toys' for adults to play with or the be-all-end-all "cure" for Christian education/formation, so much as they are a fresh, novel way to discuss issues that are often difficult for some adult folks to engage - at least in here in "Upper Suburbia" and "Outer Whiteovia". It's just one more tool in our educational kit, is all.

I realize that I came down rather heavily and had a not-so-hidden rant agenda about the uber-Evangelicals in this post, and that really doesn't do justice to Rob Bell and his real talent in this DVD series, and I have a wee bit of regret about that now. Thankfully, you saw through that to the real issue at hand.

I must also say that not all of the 22 appealed to me. I was glad to be able to have to only select 5. But, I think the 5 I selected are some of his best that suit my particular purposes and needs right now.

BTW, Malinda, I love the theology statement on your blog. Stop by again real soon.

MadPriest said...

Rob Bell is a - get ready - CONTROVERSIAL Evangelical. Why is he controversial? Well, because he thinks the message of the bible is more important than the words of the bible. Or, in his words: "The Bible is not the point. The point is knowing Jesus Christ and the power of the resurrection."

Dammit! I must be an evangelical. And after all those horrible things I've said about them.

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

Me,too, Maddy. Me, too.

Malinda said...

Telling me that you consciously and intentionally chose the cd's which matched your goals and purposes says a great deal - to me it says that you know your parish's "story" and are using tools to fed, fuel, form and transform to that purpose. That is different than what I too often see and have experienced as the "we've got to get this thing - it will solve all the problems," lemming behavior in the church. Kind of like when Journey to Adulthood first came out - everyone rushed to do it whether they had the support and commitment or youth to make it viable, much less considering if it matched the parish mission/identity/story. It is a good program but isn't one size fits all. That's what gives me pause. Good tools used badly mess us all up.

So, again thank you for your thoughts. I'll be interested to know what the overall reaction to the series is, and what results you see from it in the parish.

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

Yup, yup, yup. J2A, along with "Catechesis of the Good Shepherd" and "Godly Play". Gotta problem? I gotta three-ring binder program. $39.99. Step right up folks. Solve all your problems with a program.

(Sighs deeply, shakes head sadly.)

Thanks again, Malinda. You sound terrific. Do you know Tim Wong, my Missioner for Youth and Young Families? I think the two of you would really get along well.