Friday, December 20, 2013

Do-It-Yourself Holy Ground--Here and Now

I got to Rob Bell's latest New Age Parable Challenge after he'd already posted "the answer." But I stopped myself from reading the post with the answer(s). You're just going to have to take my word on that. I went back to the parable(s) Bell had posed as a challenge for his readers' interpretation. [And I invite you to play along with me and take the challenge yourself before you read any further and see our answers.] I slept on it. Nothing came to me by this morning (maybe the bed was too comfortable?) so I read it aloud to Dear Husband (DH).
Not Larry, but DH and Sam, oblivious to the
possibility that Dublin airport may be Holy Ground

But as I was reading, The Answer came to me: Bell had told three stories about amazing real love, lost and recovered, that could have been unfolding at the baggage claim area of an airport (while you wait with Clueless Larry for an aunt and uncle from Sarasota). You, standing with Larry, think you may be witnessing the kind of love many of us are lucky enough to experience just once or twice in our lives--the sometimes-bittersweet love made only more poignant for all the work (emotional, physical, artistic, charitable...) that we and others did, all the obstacles that were overcome, to get to that miraculous place.

Yes, I was sure of it. Bell had given us three mini-parables about love, loss, and the heavenly joy of recovered treasure. In this case--and maybe every great case--the recovered treasure is love. Love Wins, as they say.

So in response to the first part of Bell's challenge, which was replying to our clueless friend Larry, who does not appreciate the miracles unfolding before him,  I would say: "Larry, the Kingdom of God is like this baggage claim area."

I'm not good at citing chapter and verse, but -- in response to the second part of Bell's challenge, guessing what part of the Bible this parable is inspired by, I would say: "This alludes to Jesus' three 'lost' parables describing the Kingdom of God." The great thing about Bell's parables is that they're not about Pie-in-the-Sky-when-we-Die Heaven, but rather describe heavenly possibilities right here, right now, in 2013--almost 2014--if we only have eyes to see it, ears to hear it, hearts to find it.

The parable brought DH to completely different places. The first was reflecting on a time when he was flying out to meet his late wife (who had been working for the U.N. in Kosovo) in what had very suddenly become a war zone in Eastern Europe. Not sure he'd make it back alive to see the 18?-year old son he and his wife had left at home in the UK, he wrote a letter with all the things he meant to tell son-Rob about how he loved him. When both DH and his wife survived, he wondered why he hadn't realized that every day is just such an opportunity to tell others how we love them.

But DH knew this was a very personal response to Bell's challenge. From there he stepped back a bit and thought about how, all too often, (especially when it comes to religion?) we try to strong-arm other people into seeing one particular, narrow view, namely OURS--rather than just opening a skylight and inviting people to identify their own bit of heaven (gratuitous Woodstock reference).

And then DH said how moved he'd been by something I'd emailed him -- a brilliant exchange from my old church's seasonal "Twittering Through @dvent." Evidently my old (--sorry, Ron, I should say my FORMER) pastor had opened a skylight in his sermon last Sunday, and this week #PhuongBui, a member of the congregation, had made quite a heavenly sighting. You have to read that to appreciate it. DH and I were both gobsmacked, blown away by this sighting, and by the power of just opening the observatory roof and letting people have a look. That's what Rev Ron Foster had done, what Rob Bell had done... It's what parables do. Maybe what all would-be evangelists should aspire to.

So DH, being a Franciscan (St. Francis evidently having been misquoted on advice to use words only as a last resort in preaching the gospel) fills in the blank in Rob Bell's challenge thus: "Larry, let me buy you a coffee." Presumably this invitation will also include your aunt and uncle. Who knows what little bits of heaven will come upon you all in that conversation.

And the bit of the Bible that DH concluded Bell was drawing on follows the parable of the sower and the many types of ground/ears that seed (or The Word / enlightenment from God) falls upon. Back in Jesus' day, when they used broadcast sowing of seed, some landed amidst weeds, some on rock, some in the mouths of varmint. Some gets lost to Larry's preoccupation with air dryers.

But some seed lands on good soil/receptive listeners. Phuong Bui hears Ron Foster's message, sees the generosity of the person working on the cash register, and is moved to pay the last bit on the grocery bill for a woman who can't cover it. But I digress. DH, struck by Larry's obliviousness and the fact that this is a parable challenge, responded to Bell's Bible citation quiz with Matthew13:10-17:
"10 And the disciples came, and said unto him, Why speakest thou unto them in parables?
. . .
"17 For verily I say unto you, That many prophets and righteous men have desired to see those things which ye see, and have not seen them; and to hear those things which ye hear, and have not heard them"
So what was the "real" answer -- at least the one Bell claims he had in mind? Bell says respondent sethbthomas got it right:
You look at [Larry] and say - 'That isn’t just two people embracing. That is two people realizing life will never be the same again.' This is based off the story of Jacob Genesis 28? Jacob falls asleep using a rock for a pillow (Serta, if you’re reading this, ditch the memory foam - nothing says good night’s rest like stone), had a crazy dream with angels climbing a ladder, and God said 'Dude, the ground you're on is yours” Jacob is given insight and was made aware that surely, God was in that place
Holy Ground in Aller? Sunset over
the Levels,  Dec. 19, 2013
[Choristers may now suddenly hanker for the Gaither classic, "Standing on Holy Ground..." or one of my favorite bits of spiritual/gospel, "We are climbing Jacob's Ladder".]

We're just going to have to trust Bell when he says he really did have this answer in mind when he wrote the parable. This despite abundant clues that Bell is an imp, full of playful fun, laughter, and sly humor. I wouldn't put it past him to toss out a parable with no rational, logical answer in mind --  just a feeling that there was some kinda holiness in these seeds he was broadcasting -- and faith they would hit some good soil among his online congregation.

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