"Be soft. Do not let the world make you hard. Do not let pain make you hate. Do not let bitterness steal your sweetness. Take pride that even though the rest of the world may disagree, you still believe it to be a beautiful place." -Kurt Vonnegut, Jr.
I just spent 2 days at a fascinating workshop, Craftlab, with my literary and personal hero/inspiration Rob Bell (author of Love Wins, The Velvet Elvis, SexGod, and other books). He's a progressive Christian pastor who founded Mars Hill church in Michigan -- which quickly went from a small gathering in a school to a church in a literal shopping-mall - and he left Mars Hill in late 2011 and moved to the Orange County area near Laguna Beach (where the workshop was held) to focus on some new endeavors, namely getting a TV show with LOST producer Carlton Cuse. (I dont have a TV in my house that gets actual television, but it does play DVDs and so a couple years back, I watched all of LOST on DVDs and it is absolutely brilliant. I also got the book The Gospel According to LOST by Chris Seay for Christmas from my mom (I requested it). There are a lot of subtle and hidden themes and messages within the series).
Bell has broken a lot of molds and hence pissed off a lot of the conservative/mainstream Christianity, particularly with his most recent book Love Wins which questions whether Jesus actually talks about an eternal damnation/hell or whether – as the title suggests – Love Wins; at the same time, many, many people have a lot of respect for him, and there is no doubt in anyone's mind that he has a true gift in terms of his ability to creatively present the messages of the Bible -- love, grace, doing good, etc -- through his intellectual, creative, funny, engaging speaking style, and his writing. Not to mention the short NOOMA videos he produced - they also are incredible. I haven't seen them all, but the ones I did see blew me away. He takes a very simple idea and presents it visually, through a simple story. And Time Magazine named him one of the 100 most influential people in the world (he said at the time he was told, his wife said, "in the WORLD?!" He joked, because I'm #6 in my house).
In person, I have to say, Rob is just like what you see in videos. He's engaging, funny (witty), and deep, but what you don't see in videos that I got from being around him personally was first, how down to earth and second, how joyful he is. He was always smiling and really excited to interact with each person and help them craft something they were working on. He laughs a lot, and seems to really enjoy what he is doing. The photo I took was at 940pm on the second day and he looks a bit tired and probably was, but in person he looked really healthy and happy. He said this year "off" -- where he's just given a few of these workshops and has been working on the TV ideas -- has been really good for him. I also met his wife Kristen, and at one point he brought out his 12-year old son Preston who talked about how to engage that age kids in church messages.
The workshop was 50 people, mostly pastors and people otherwise engaged in ministry, and a few writers. There were some things I would have done differently (like we never went around and had everyone introduce themselves, which would have been nice, and we only barely touched on my book in the general workshop part), but at the end I talked to him about my book on evolution and he looked me in the eye and said, "You need to do this book," and he said to call his agent, and to say he said we talked. I was blown away. I think I said to him, "This is *your* agent?!" in shock. I will follow up for sure. I need to dust off the manuscript and start thinking about it as I have changed a bit in the past couple of years. I feel I will probably change some parts of it, and tweak the proposal a bit. I need to print it and cut it into little bits so I can rearrange them and figure out where everything goes! LOL!
The people at the workshop totally inspired me. I connected with Keith Page, who founded Reclaimed Church with a few friends in Costa Mesa CA, and he's the
pastor there. He also started Rock Bottom Ministries, and this cool company that sells adorable "Kauzbots" stuffed plush robots that each support a different cause. He gave me one named Kale that supports the environment. How cool is that!
I met a pastor, Joe, and his wife Jodi, who experienced rejection from their former church after a 7-year illness, and went on to work in a small Presbyterian church in Woodlake California among gang members and impoverished people, where he literally had a member of their congregations son killed by machine gun fire a couple days ago. Gang kingpins attend his church, but he shares the love and grace of God with all. He's a converted Jew who came to Christ after spending time in his youth with - you got it - Keith Page! Then there's the Anglican youth pastor who was kicked out of a Nazarene church (as its pastor) because he served wine at his wedding. No kidding! And another pastor whose church of 800 dwindled down to 200 and he experienced a backlash from the entire community he lives in for showing Rob's NOOMA videos and talking about some of his ideas. You know, it's one thing to be at Rob Bell's level and say the things you do, and it's quite another to be a pastor of a small church and experience the kind of ostracism that some of these guys have. But they keep fighting the good fight and doing incredible things for people, showing true love, kindness, grace. There was a woman working in prison ministry, and another working in hospice care for UCSF who just started teaching first-year med students a one-hour workshop on spirituality and why it's important in medical care. I was blown away by the work represented by the people at Craftlab. There were a couple sweet United Methodist women pastors I met and ate lunch with, and there are just so many more stories here.
Here's one of his NOOMA videos, Rain.
On another note entirely, here's a link to a funny blog post by my friend Laura Zera, based on a conversation we had on a small writer group I started online about my latest article: Say, Did That Strawberry Flavor Come From Beaver Butt?