November 14, 2007

The Rob Bell Show

Last month it was Avenged Sevenfold. Next month it's David Gray and B.B. King. But two nights ago it was Rob Bell. A preacher. From the Midwest.

I doubt the famous Wiltern Theatre on Wilshire has ever experienced so many white, middle-class patrons in it's seventy-six years of existence. There were no mosh pits or banging heads or black fingernails. What you did have was a clan of black-rimmed glasses filing into their seats with Promise Keepers like precision and order.

We packed in - all 2200 of us - to hear Rob Bell speak...or teach, or whatever "The God's Aren't Angry" tour would bring to us. The anticipation was obvious. Cheers went up as the lights went down. One guy in the third row even opened his laptop to take notes. I felt like I was getting ready to experience some yuppie John Mayer type concert, except instead of a drum set and guitars on stage there was an alter.

Rob Bell has become famous for well deserved reasons. One, his methods are usually unconventional and sometimes controversial. He started a new Church and spent the first year preaching long winded yet profound sermons on the blood and guts of Leviticus. He speaks from controversial books like Honest to God and even did a series on the environment. And his latest book is called Sex God, which incidentally isn't about my friend in High School named Sam. Two, he's a tremendous communicator. He possesses an uncanny ability to assess audiences. Even his pauses and pronunciation seem almost flawless.

The tour's subtitle states the following: "Part anthropology, part history, part deconstruction - this is new material that Rob hasn't taught before, exploring how humans invented religion to make themselves feel better."

He walks out on stage wearing all black, shirt sleeves rolled up and New Balance walkers. He was greeted to an anxious-riddled cheer and then dove straight in. And 103 minutes later he finished to a standing ovation and walked off the stage. No q&a, no encore, no book signing. I liked the simplicity of the night.

What disappointed me was how much the tour subtitle didn't match the talk. I thought he might actually address the age old question as to why humans need religion. I hoped that he would explore the common human experience of creating Gods to understand the world, and by linking the past to the present, help us better understand faith today. Instead I received a devotional voicing the same old ideas in a newer package wrapped in a art-deco theatre with a hipster ribbon. And if this was simply another inspirational devotional, then what's the point? His talks every Sunday at Mars Hill receive thousands of downloads. Why didn't he share this devotional at his Church and let everyone download them for free, saving all of us $24?


::athada:: said...

Why not? Because then he wouldn't get a few bucks from you for the microfinance project :)

Anonymous said...

**Just so you know, my questions are not related to this entry :)***

1) Have you reviewed Babel yet? Interested in your thoughts. Saw it last night and am changed.

2) I see Catcher in the Rye is still on the media list. Have you read other Salinger, namely, Franny and Zooey or Raise High the Roofbeams, Carpenters? In my opinion, they better represent his voice.

3) How is Bird by Bird? I admire Anne Lamott's impossible way with truth (and adjectives) but have not yet read that book. It is from early in her career, yes?

Keith Drury said...

Thanks for that review of "for whom the Bell tolls." I skipped the concert/service/lecture. I think you are right in what you are calling for... a "tour" along the lines you describe would be worth the entry fee.

Josh Jackson said...


You might be the best blog commenter ever. Or at least one of my favorites.

1. Loved Babel. It was like Crash on a global scale - seemed appropriate for this new world we find ourselves in.

2. No, sadly, I haven't read any more Salinger. But Franny and Zooey is on my birthday list. The list also includes A Moveable Feast by Hemmingway, Farewell My Lovely by Chandler, The Stranger by Camus and
Naked by Sedaris. This will keep me busy through at least January. :)

Any other suggestions?

Anonymous said...

2) I admit, I probably misrepresented my reading prowess in previous comments... I'm a sucker for Salinger and Lamott, and you had mention of MOTH! So I guess I lucked out on that one.

1) Interesting comparison between Babel and Crash... I need to see both again. The language thing... I'm still chewing on it like salty jerky, trying to get all the flavor I can...

p.s. Thanks for the Commenter Gold Seal. And also... is a jerky reference a very Michigan thing to do? Or do people in California get equal satisfaction out of gnawing on a peppered strip of dried meat?

Anonymous said...

Hahahahaha... mention of moth?! Blushing at proof that I didn't proofread...

Josh Jackson said...

Ha! I had to ask Kari if she could figure out what MOTH meant, even after your second comment. Thanks to her keen sense she realized it was BOTH. I get it.

What I did notice is that you made your first point 2) and your second point 1). Like it was a top 10 list or something.

BTW - I was all over the jerky reference. I can't speak for the rest of California, but here in LA, there is jerky everywhere...I doubt I'm the only one. :)

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