Tuesday, December 09, 2008
ROB BELL'S NOOMA 16-22
The Nooma video series (from the Greek word pneuma--- spirit) continues to be produced apace at the rate of two-four videos a year, and we are now up to twenty two of these 13 or so minute presentations. The production values continue to be remarkably good, the background music continues to sound remarkably whimsical, (like it was out-takes from the Sgt. Pepper's Track 'Being for the Benefit of Mr. Kite'), the content continues to be remarkably creative, and Rob continues to be remarkably Rob-- with that puckish grin and the Buddy Holly or Elvis Costello glasses and scenes mostly filmed in and around Grand Rapids Michigan where his church can be found. The DVDs still come with study guides or booklets to help along the reflection or use of the material, and they still come in those Carolina blue sleeves with some picture on the front and with one word titles (e.g. store, today,name, open,shells,she, and tomato are the titles of this batch included in this review).
In one sense these films are quintessentially post-modern. They tell stories about life with which most of us can identify in one way or another, and then the stories are related to this or that text, theme, motif in the Bible. Rob has a considerable gift of being able to speak clearly and directly even about complex theological and ethical concepts, and he understands the need to tease the mind into active thought. Some of the videos are more effective in accomplishing this than others, and some are actually provocative in a good sense.
Some of these videos have an anthropological focus. Take for example 'Store' which is actually about our experience of anger in all its manifestations from road rage all the way to righteous anger, or 'Tomato' is all about the false self and how it needs to die in order for a person to be reborn. Still others deal with traditional topics of Christian discourse for example prayer is the subject of 'Open' which is perhaps the best of this new batch of videos. More provocative (at least for some) is 'She' in which Rob talks about the maternal instinct of all sorts of creatures ranging from a mother goose he once encountered to God's maternal instinct (reminding the listener that the Hebrew word often translated compassion, even when God is the subject, means more literally 'womb'). God who is spirit, who is neither male nor female in the divine nature, nonetheless has aspects of the divine personality that we would associate primarily with women or with men. This is hardly a surprise since we are told that both male and female are created in God's image.
In the video 'Shells' Rob reminds us that the good is often the enemy of the best. Too many Christians spend time doing a variety of good things, which in fact prevent them from doing God's highest and best for them. In the video entitled 'Name', Rob talks eloquently about the difference between our personas and posturing and fronts, and our real identity, our real names, and our need to know who we really are, and whose we really are.
On the surface, some might be tempted to accuse Rob of serving up chicken soup for the soul, or pablum for the masses, or what passes for Christian pop psychology, but in fact on further review there is much more Biblical substance to these videos than might appear on first glance, and one needs to bear in mind that Rob is speaking to a post-modern generation that even if church attending are largely Biblically illiterate, and Rob is not. Indeed his teaching, including in his books tends to be consistently grounded in the Word, and those who keep complaining that this is not so: 1) need to lighten up; 2) need to consider the audience and level of discourse Rob is dealing with, especially in these videos.
Rob has learned the truth that you have to start with people where they are and lead them somewhere or persuade them to go on a journey of discovery. It is no good starting with them where you would like them to already be. And yet there needs to be enough challenge and impetus in the message and presentation to motivate a response, a change, a repentance, a recommitment. The testimonies from around the world to these videos, is that they are achieving the ministry Rob and others envisioned for them-- as they are used in Bible studies, small groups, youth rallies, Sunday school classes, evangelistic outreaches, and a host of other settings. Indeed, they accomplishing far more than Rob and his team could ever have imagined they would when they first envisioned taking on this project. I personally am happy for any and all creative and constructive ways of getting people to think about life in a more Christian and Biblical way. Kudos to Rob for pushing the envelope a bit, and advancing the conversation a bit in a Jesus haunted culture that is Biblically illiterate.