Isn’t She Beautiful?: Arts and Creativity

Tonight I looked at my friends, the ones who came with me, and we all said the same thing. We didn’t even have to speak it. We are simply euphoric.

Bell was giving us gold tonight. Pure gold.

Oh, and I have 25 pages of notes. 25.

There are two forms of creativity, Bell says. There is the kind that says “I’m so far outside the box.” And then there’s another kind which says “What box?”

When this creativity truly comes from the soul it’s addictive – you just want to be a part of it. It seems real. And it seems like the kind of creativity that doesn’t fit into a box (the second kind). Those are the kinds of creativity that get me fired up, those are the ones I bookmark. These are the ones that keep you up at night thinking about, dreaming up your own ideas.

A pastor is an artist. A pastor uses creativity in a special way, and that’s a lot of what Bell talked about tonight. It’s 1:00 o’clock in the morning and I’m still fired up about it. The art of tension, for instance, was what he described as being the reason we don’t have to resolve everything in a nice neat little sermon.

Sometimes we do people a great injustice by resolving things.

Rob Bell, “Isn’t She Beautiful?”

Jesus, for example, doesn’t end the story of the prodigal son in the way that Hollywood does it. It isn’t an evangelical approach. There is no nice neat little answer, there is no series of points delivered, and it really isn’t a conclusive ending. It just stops. Why? Well, for one it gives the reader the chance to put themselves into the story and do so from a variety of times and contexts within their life. It also places trust in the story that it has the ability to work through people on its own. But it is weird, since it isn’t the way we are used to thinking today.

Bell talked about the art of turning the edit button off; he used this to describe how we should search for ideas in all of God’s creation. Don’t limit God to working for you in a fifteen minute block of preparation time on a Tuesday afternoon. Get out and find God. And when you do find God don’t talk yourself out of nurturing your ideas. Most of Bell’s great ideas begin with “eh, what if?” The example he used was this conference. Six months ago he said “What if we held a pastor’s conference and the first morning presented a 2 hour talk on being a living Eucharist…”

Rob's notes Visitors Crowd on stage

He pointed out that abandonment is central to creativity. Anyone reading this who has truly tried being creative or innovative has faced some abandonment, I’m sure.

Finally (well not finally for the session – there was much more; what I mean is ‘finally’ to what I have to share here) there is the art of risk. In Bell’s situation, in mine, in many of the lives of emerging ministry leaders in this postmodern world, risk is a very real issue.

Sometimes I think preaching is like learning to play the violin in public.

Rob Bell, Isn’t She Beautiful?

Bell brought up the criticism that he faced after Velvet Elvis was published. If you haven’t read that book by the way, stop reading this and go do it right now. It’s better than anything you’ll find on my blog, trust me. Anyway he brought it up to say that he received a lot of negative criticism concerning his book, many of which showed up anonymously on He received anonymous letters. People who had never met him said horrible things about him, his wife, and his sons. There were blogs about him. He was hurt.

So what is his advice? Don’t read anonymous letters or comments. Be careful what you expose yourself to. You don’t owe them your time (whoa, that was a big one). Oh, and don’t google yourself.

It was around this time that Rob put an e-mail he received from one of his friends on the screen and read it to us. It was encouraging him in spite of the nasty things he would hear from certain groups of people. And toward the end, just when the e-mail became most heartfelt, Rob choked up. He was losing it. He was trying really hard, but he was losing it. It was a part of the e-mail where his friend was telling him just how much he was doing in the world, and how it was worth more than he would ever know. As Rob struggled to get the last few lines out, applause broke out in the room. Before long he was given a standing ovation. All at once over 2,000 leaders from churches on all corners of the globe were standing on their feet and applauding the man in front of them as a spiritual inspiration, as a leader. They were saying thank you.

Rob wept.

It was a beautiful moment, and one that I’m glad I could be there to experience.

Rob made a final point before he was finished for the night, and it’s what I want to finish my night with too.

For every fundamentalist you offend there may be 1,000 people who say ‘ah, now I’m listening’…When you’re working to keep so many people happy, remember that there are those who need to hear what you’re saying.

Rob Bell, Isn’t She Beautiful?

3 thoughts on “Isn’t She Beautiful?: Arts and Creativity

  1. Hi Ryan,

    Thanks for your posts from all the sessions, sounds like an amazing time. Even better, it sounds like you were inspired and refreshed by Rob – which is very, very cool.


  2. Hi! I was googling blog entries about this conference and found yours. I was there, too. I regretfully missed this incredibly poignant and powerful moment, although I heard about it later. What an amazing experience…

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