At the end of this post is an audio recording of my phone call with Rob Bell, if you want to scroll past my entire preamble and get down to business.
If not, read on!
Once upon a time, in a land far, far away, I was a Christian missionary in the former East Germany, and I was beginning to question and doubt ALL THE THINGS.
We can delve into all the wherefores and whatnots of *that* at another time (I do keep meaning to write about it all, but I suspect it needs to be a book instead of a series of blog posts, so that’s one reason I haven’t gotten to it). For now, I want to zoom in on one particular influence I discovered at the time, namely, NOOMA videos narrated by one Rob Bell.
I watched several of the videos, and they all resonated–but the one that truly struck me was “Noise,” the fifth episode, which was released in May 2005. In “Noise,” Rob addresses the question of why we must always have some set of sounds going on around us: music, tv, headphones (yes, I think it was still headphones back then), traffic, airplanes, other people’s voices. Why do we find it so difficult to tarry with silence? What is it about silence and quietude that terrifies us so much?
As a full-time missionary with constant demands on my burnt-out spirit, I was starving for quietude, solitude, a cessation of all the voices. I could write an entire chapter just on this video and how it sharply twanged every significant string of my soul. But all of this is just part an introduction to what I really want to share with y’all today, so let’s plunge ahead. Tally-ho and all that rot.
After Ed and I returned to Oklahoma in November 2007, Rob Bell dropped off my radar for several years — until the release of his book LOVE WINS in 2011 and the evangelical world went cuckoo bananapants.
People loved the book. People hated the book. They called Rob galling, tragic. They called him a heretic. They called him innovative, a practitioner of biblical imagination. They called him a brilliant communicator.
They called him a false teacher. Three thousand members of Mars Hill Bible Church, which he’d founded in 1999, up and left.
Vaguely aware of these goings-on but still wrapped in the ever-deepening darkness of my own doubts and fears, I didn’t investigate. I think it was 2013 or 2014 before I read LOVE WINS. Once again, Rob’s words resonated with me. He didn’t give me answers to the questions I’d been pursuing. He only intensified the questions. And increased their number. And their quality.
In late 2017, early 2018, the small “organic” “house church” group Ed and I had been part of for nearly 7 years fell apart. Imploded. Fizzled out. Y’all I WAS SO DONE. I felt hurt, betrayed, unmoored, untethered, adrift, lost, alone. A few of us maintained our friendship through the entire debacle, and one day, when we few were together in one place, my friend Scott walks in and goes, “I have some content for us.” And he sits down and starts playing us a podcast by none other than Rob Bell.
For months, we huddled around a tiny speaker, listening to Rob talk about lifetheuniverseandeverything. We were particularly taken with Peter Rollins, one of Rob’s podcast guests. We talked through what we were hearing. We laughed at Scott yelling at technical difficulties (“PODBEEEAAN!”). We disagreed with each other. We discussed. I started listening to the Robcast on my own. *gasp* In early 2019, we went to Tulsa for Rob’s talk at Cain’s Ballroom.
Lots of things changed.
Again, I think there’s a book here.
I’ve been a regular listener of the Robcast for 5 years now. I’ve read most of his books. I’m enjoying having him along for my journey; it feels like I’m in a conversation with his ideas, with the ideas of others whose work I follow, with my own thoughts and wonderings. In my mind, Rob converses with Glennon Doyle, who converses with Maya Angelou, who converses with Jesus of Nazareth, who converses with Peter Rollins, who converses with Thomas Aquinas, who converses with Liz Gilbert, who converses with Julian of Norwich, who converses with Richard Boothby, ad infinitum. We’re all in this great conversation together, and I love it, and I don’t want it to ever stop.
In the meantime, in early September 2023, I started reading Rob’s latest: a…a what? a science-fiction novel?
Yeah. Rob Bell — heretic, megachurch pastor, spiritual-stuff writer, podcaster, son-of-a-judge Rob Bell wrote a sci-fi novel.
WHERE’D YOU PARK YOUR SPACESHIP? (Book One: Welcome to Firdus) is an indescribable experience about weirdness and wonder. It’s about liminal spaces. It’s about grief. It’s about what happens to you when your entire life gets turned upside down MULTIPLE TIMES and you have nothing familiar left to hold onto (hmm, where have I heard that before?). It’s about HE GREW BEARS. It’s about love. It’s about how we arrange things so we can live as humans in this universe together. It’s about how A PLANET ISN’T EVEN A PLANET IF IT DOESN’T HAVE GOOD BREAD.
During the first week of September 2023 my grandmother, who suffered from Alzheimer’s and had lived in a nursing home since June, became mostly unresponsive. Family started coming in from various places to sit, to keep watch, to say goodbye. On the second day, I spent most of the day there with my parents. At one point, my mom turned to my dad — who is rarely without something to read — and said, “You didn’t even bring a book.”
Guess what I was hauling around in my black hole of a purse that day?
As we sat and watched and waited, as we intermittently talked to Grandma and to each other, my dad read about loss and grief and discovery and bread. Three days in, he’d finished the book and gave it back to me. “You’ll like this.”
He was right.
I also like thinking that all the characters in WHERE’D YOU PARK YOUR SPACESHIP? sat vigil with us that week.
And I liked the book enough that when Rob Bell said, on his podcast, “If you have a blog or a podcast, I’d love to talk to you about this book,” I said out loud, in my car, where I was listening, “Rob Bell, I’d like to talk to you about this book too.”
So I emailed him. And I asked him if he’d talk to me. And he said YES.
I know nothing about talking to in/famous professional authors whose work I admire about their first science fiction novels.
I did it anyway.
This wasn’t an interview. It was a conversation. An utterly delightful, illuminating, joyful, and FUN conversation. I hope you enjoy it as much as I did. It took place on October 26, 2023.