I had the pleasure of traveling to the University of Michigan tonight and seeing Rob Bell (again!) during a Q+A and book signing for his new book Sex God. I found out through a good friend that Rob was touring for his new book (and still is) so I gathered together those interested and we took off. It was amazing.
First off, we showed up at 6:15pm at the University of Michigan. We are very good at arriving on time; of course being on time means being early. After finding out that we truly couldn’t get inside we took a walk over to “Great Wraps” and had – you guessed it – great wraps. Around 6:45pm we started walking back to the building everything was going down in, and there was a stream of people flocking toward the doors. Go figure.
We weren’t too worried. Doors opened at 7pm, Bell wasn’t going to speak until 8pm. We did know, however, that we were going to pick up his book before he spoke, since the signing would be right afterward. Who wants to wait in line for a book when you can be waiting in line to have it signed?
The Q+A was very interesting. My pictures aren’t online – I’ll update this post when they are(Update: pictures added). However my notes from the Q+A are up – I hope they help in some small way to capture what it was like in that auditorium. The only part that is lacking is the part of my notes that was going to be for the Nooma video. I decided not to take notes on it.
I think I may have been one of the only ones typing away in there. Kind of funny – everyone asking questions and me clicking away…but those kind of opportunities are once-in-a-lifetime, really. Those kinds of questions may never be asked again, in quite that way or with quite the responses. I know these experiences will have a great impact on me – another reason I take notes.
The questions asked weren’t bad. Every now and then you get a bad nut asking crazy questions that may be frustrating, but we really didn’t have that tonight. It makes me wonder whether Bell draws a more intelligent crowd…or maybe we were just lucky. They were different questions than were asked at the Isn’t She Beautiful? Q+A, but it was still very good.
One of the best questions (due only to the response, really) regarded Bell’s stance on pacifism. Bell responded that he didn’t favor war or pacifism – in fact he said the only reason people choose pacifism is not because they don’t want to do anything, but it is seemingly their only option besides war/fighting. Instead he proposed a third way.
Bell used a couple of volunteers to demonstrate what exactly is going on when Jesus talks about “turning the other cheek.” But he didn’t go the way that is usually gone with this passage. In those days there were two ways you could hit someone – the first way is to slap, the other way is to hit. Slapping was done with the back of the hand and was done to show that you were above the other person. A master would slap a slave, for example. Hitting, however, was done open handed and signified you were of equal stature with one another.
So, with that context imagine the person being slapped across their right cheek. This would mean the “slapper” was using their right hand. The right hand was the hand used for greeting people, eating, and normal everyday things. The left was used for…well, guess. In this case, by turning the other cheek (literally turning your head to them, offering your other cheek) the “slapper” is no longer able to slap you. Their only option is to hit you.
Get it yet? The idea behind this seems to not be “hit back” or “do nothing” but instead position yourself in such a way that you are an equal with the person attacking you. Don’t just take it – make a move. But make a move in such a way that you give the other person a chance for redemption, as well as one that demands respect.
Bell also talked about the overused “if you are asked to carry a pack one mile, go two.” Oftentimes this is used to express the idea of “going the extra mile.” Instead Bell talked about it this way. Roman soldiers could only, by law, require someone to carry their pack for one mile. While they could demand this of anyone anywhere, it was only a mile. So when Jesus tells them to carry it two, imagine the scene that this would cause. Instead of relinquishing your pack after a mile, you continue walking with it. Now you are no longer obeying the soldier’s command; in fact you are offering yourself over and above. But it is just that – you are offering yourself.
I can imagine the soldier at first not taking it seriously, and then becoming worried. If his superiors found out he would be in trouble – it was against the law to demand this much from someone. Can you imagine, then, a Roman soldier pleading with someone to give him back his pack? It’s a beautiful scene. And once again, who is in control? Who has the respect? These things are a far cry from simply “taking it” or otherwise being passive. What Christ suggests is very active indeed.
It makes me feel good to see how much of a smartass Jesus was.
One more thing – and this is my little schoolgirl moment. Leaving the auditorium we found we were in exactly the right location to step right into line for our books to be signed by Bell. How perfect! We really were schocked. We must have been the 20th people in line or something.
In any case, walking up we were all getting somewhat excited. Ashley made fun of us. We were talking about what to ask him. After a few seconds, I knew what I wanted to say. Here’s what happened.
“Hi, I’m Ryan.”
“Hello, how are you.” (shaking hands, handing him the book)
(looks at my shirt) “What’s that say?”
(opening my coat) “I got Marx on my shirt.”
(Bell throws his head back and laughs)
At this point the book is signed and someone Bell knows walks up behind him. He stops to hug him. Then he turns his attention back to the line and takes my friend Justin’s book.
(looking back at me, pointing to the shirt) “That’s brilliant.”
(smiling) “We’re from Fort Wayne, and we were just talking about what it might take for you to come down there for your next tour…”
“Actually we are talking about an Indianapolis stop, but don’t hold me to it.”
That would be exciting.
So Bell laughed at my shirt. Makes me proud. It also makes me look kind of silly, but it’s an exciting thing – similar humors, it’s a conversation starter – is it now? I was joking with my friends about how I would have to wear that shirt every time there was a chance I might see Bell. Hey, it couldn’t hurt, right?
I’m off to read a good book. Today was a good day.