When I told my students that I was going to speak at Mars Hill, the Rob Bell Mars Hill, I had three immediate responses: (1) “The Real Rob Bell?” [Yes.] (2) “Why are they asking you?” [What does one say to an insult?] and (3) “You’re kidding me, of course.” [And that from one who is from Mars Hill.] Well, such is the life of a professor.
By the way, this Elvis picture I took with my iPhone in the “green room” at Mars Hill and I wonder if it is THE “Velvet Elvis”?
First, peeps: I met Rob and was glad finally to do so. And I saw so many others I know there: Greg Mutch and Brad Nelson and … plus a bundle of Jesus Creed friends (John and Julie Frye and Ted and Deb Gossard) and all sorts of folks (John and Tammy Raymond and kids, Gary and Jan Raymond, Dan Mulder and Don and Jan Chapman and Rus and Brenda Tien … I could go on). A saw a number of former students, including Kindra Voorhies and Anna Bolinder and Megan Sall.
Mars Hill — and some know this and some don’t — is a converted shopping mall, which means it’s already got a structure into which the community fits itself. Which means it’s passageways are sometimes as wide as the sanctuary at St Peter’s in Rome! It also means the ceilings are lower — the “sanctuary” is a former department store. I like what this structure says about “converting space into sacred space.” The space comes off as stark, which sends off a message of its own.
We began our morning with prayer with some leaders, and they also brought in an elderly woman who is facing cancer surgery this week — and we laid hands on her and prayed for her and an elder anointed her with oil and the sign of the cross.
By the way, there are twenty-two doors into the sanctuary, and each has a mezuzah with one stanza of Psalm 119 in it and that means there is one stanza for each door — nothing left over. That one point I made during the sermon was about the Benedictine chanting of Psalm 119 weekly made the mezuzot special to some (and to me).
The platform is in the round and speaking with an audience all around me was new for me — and it would take some getting used to… but I tried my best to move around and face everyone.
As for topics, I was asked to speak on prayer and, for awhile I thought I’d work through Psalm 77 and show how memory of what God has done can shape the emptiness we sometimes feel, but then I realized my text was the Lord’s Prayer in Matthew 6 and that Mars Hill is going through the Sermon on the Mount. So it was suggested to me that I build on what I said about the Lord’s Prayer in The Jesus Creed: Loving God, Loving Others
, so I did just that. A major theme I developed was that transformation in Judaism came not by jettisoning or demolishing tradition but by adding to it in such a way that the whole was given new life.
Thanks to everyone at Mars Hill who made our visit a joyful and memorable one.