Most that are close to me know that I'm a fan of Rob Bell's work. I know there are some that don't like him - and that's the cost of being a big name in Christian subculture (there's people that didn't like Billy Graham, but that doesn't lessen any of his accomplishments). I don't even agree with everything Rob talks about, but I still appreciate his work and the words he has to say. He makes me think. And I believe we all need to think a little bit more than we do now.
And sometimes those thoughts cause me to say random things. Like when I first started reading Velvet Elvis. We were in bed, Bekah was almost asleep, and I was reading. I nudged her and asked, "Am I a trampoline or a brick wall?" If you've read Velvet Elvis, this question might (emphasis on the word might) be a reasonable question. Bekah (understandably) was thinking this was some manly version of the "am I fat" question.
At that late hour the question I asked was too abstract and required too much explanation for Bekah to give a cohesive answer. But it is a question I believe all Christians should ask of themselves. In Jump, the first chapter of Velvet Elvis, Rob contrasts the ordinary items of springs and bricks; he relates them to how we express our beliefs and our faiths.
Let's pretend for a moment that springs and bricks are our thoughts about God. They are not God, just bits and pieces of knowledge that help us understand God. Some people call these the tenets of the Christian faith; others call it doctrine. They help us to know the unknowable. These springs and bricks represent the same things: our belief that God is Love, that in Him we have hope, that He is the creator of all things, that He has planned our salvation from before time began, etc. Christians (I hope) share these beliefs - these little glimmers of the character of God. These hints of God's real identity are our bricks and springs. The difference between the two items does not determine which is truer, but what we do with them is of the utmost importance.
Bricks are solid. They have one shape. They don't change. And they can be broken. Bricks are used to build walls. And walls are built to keep stuff in (or out, depending on your perspective). Through reading, I got this idea that when you treat your understanding of God as bricks, you build with them. Once you've run out of bricks your wall is completed. You're on your side of the wall; for someone to come to your side of the wall they have to understand and agree with each and every one of those bricks. But what happens to this brick wall if one of the bricks are broken - or removed? The wall crumbles... and if the wall falls, what is left of your faith? So these bricks become something to fight over - to argue about. Eventually, you begin to spend so much time defending your bricks that you fail to invite people to stand on your side of the wall. Truth is that your side of the wall is better, but it's not very inviting. In the process of trying to understand God, you shut people out from God.
Springs are not solid. They stretch and flex. They can break under stress, but the general idea is that it returns to its original form after every abuse. In Velvet Elvis, Rob points out that springs are used in trampolines. Just like bricks are used to build up faith like a wall, springs surround and support the mat of a trampoline. Trampolines are fun for one reason: as Rob writes, "a trampoline only works if you take your feet off the firm, stable ground and jump into the air and let the trampoline propel you upward. Talking about trampolines isn't jumping; it's talking. Two vastly different things." What if one of the springs breaks or is removed? You can still jump on it can't you? So there is no need to defend a spring. You can see them, and try to understand them; and you know that your God is big enough to support you as you jump. Not many people will jump on a trampoline alone. Inevitably, you invite people to jump with you - to share in this joy of reckless abandon. They don't have to understand how each spring works to jump. The more they jump with you the more they'll see God's glory revealed in those springs. More from Rob: "we invite others to jump with us, to live the way of Jesus and see what happens."
So, what is your faith like? Do you treat your knowledge of God like bricks? Or springs? Are you keeping those who do not share your faith on their side of the wall? Or are you inviting them to jump with you?
For those of you that read my status updates on Facebook, you may be worried about me - that I've flown off the deep end. Truth is that I was responding in frustration. I know that I should better regulate my emotional reactions, and for that I apologize. The reality behind my rants was born of the insults from a family friend who called me a socialist (which doesn't bother me) and a heathen (which puzzles me). She went a step further and indirectly called my wife lazy. That I can't accept as appropriate from someone who I know loves God with all her heart.
This from someone who has fed me and my family - whose sons I refer to as friends. Someone who I consider has an unshakable and admirable faith. Theologically speaking, I share the same beliefs that she does. Yet she attacked me because of my political beliefs. One of my bricks didn't match one of her bricks.
The truth in all this is that I don't have to be right. The political view that I wrote about isn't so important that it's worth calling people names. I have my opinions and my beliefs. But I could be wrong. That's the glory of Christianity - we don't have to be right about everything. That's why God tells us to reason together. That why the apostle Paul ministered through reasoning and conversation. We have to talk about it. Insulting people and tearing down their beliefs accomplishes nothing. Our nation is in turmoil. I have ideas of how our government could improve our plight. There are policies that I would like to see put into place. But I could be wrong. Maybe my ideas aren't that great. But it doesn't matter if I'm right or wrong because I believe that our God is bigger than the economy. I believe that God is bigger than Obama. I believe our God is bigger than bipartisanship. It's OK if I'm wrong. But I could be right.
Once I had my chance to vent, and shared my frustrations via Facebook with my cousin, and a phone call with my dad (two people I trust) I got to thinking about these bricks and springs. I know this dear friend of ours has a deep and rich faith, but I'd reckon it's a brick wall kind of faith. Thinking some more, I revisited that question I asked Bekah that night as she drifted off to sleep... am I a trampoline or a brick wall? Do I have the kind of faith that shuts people out? Or do I have the kind of faith that invites people to jump along with me? I hope I have faith like a trampoline. I hope I have a faith that causes people to think, 'I don't know what he's got, but I want some too.' I want God to propel me upward as I tempt logic and gravity. And I want to laugh in the joy that springs provide.
But sometimes I wonder. Am I jumping? Or am I defending my bricks?