I fully expected to be standing at the Electric Factory in Philadelphia last night. It was a concert venue and General Admission tickets generally meant no seats. As a newly converted copious note taker, my plan was to sit on the floor instead of awkwardly stand with notebook and pen in hand while listening to the loved, yet controversial Pastor Rob Bell.
When my husband and I arrived, the dark room was covered in stackable maroon chairs. The entrance way dangled colorful glowing balls of lights made of material interwoven in such a way, that my husband stared at them as we waited in line for our photo op with Pastor Bell later that evening. He was trying to figure out how the staff opened them to change a light bulb.
On the brightly lit stage was a large triangle. I'm talking big! The length appeared only to be matched by lining up my 6'5 husband twice lying sideways.
"What's up with the triangle? I noticed he has them on his t-shirts too," my husband inquired.
"I have no idea. I guess we will see!" I replied.
About a half hour after we arrived, Real Rob Bell, as his Twitter handle indicates, took to the stage immediately providing flair you'd expect from fireworks. A tall presence, sharing my husband's light blond hair, he walked and stood purposefully on the stage. Letting his humor flip through his opening words, he loosened up the crowd. The Philadelphia audience may have been sleepy at 8:45 P.M., but not Bell.
Pastor Bell led one of the fastest growing churches in the country until his book, Love Wins, was published. Challenging the views of mainstream American Christianity about the concepts of hell and salvation, Bell was pushed out into reaching a new audience with his sermons.
I had no expectations. Frankly, I didn't know much about him except for a blip here and there from Oprah and author, Elizabeth Taylor. However, I found myself starting to take notes as the triangle on the stage turned into its purpose - a whiteboard. In the dark, with a small spiral notepad, I wrote for the next two hours without stopping. Whether my handwriting was legible or not, I would not know until the next day, but I could not let that stop me.
He started with concepts like death and rebirth are happening at a cellular level every day. Plus, the concept that we are made up of star dust. There was a purpose to this story. Starting at the whiteboard, he drew a dot. And that's where it all began. Rather than jumping into a spiritual philosophical sermon, Bell spoke for almost an hour about the evolution of the world. From particles to molecules to atoms to cells to us. Building seamlessly, he bound together science into his underlying message - the next evolution of the universe is through unity.
"Everything in the freaking universe wants to be part of something greater than itself," he said with sheer enthusiasm.
Corny jokes and big laughs peppered his presentation along with emotional wrought stories, cutting through our defenses so he could adequately fill our mental cups with a new story, as he called it. Our universe was self-transcending. It keeps going and growing as it has for 13.8 billion years. And perhaps we are lonely, because we are being called to do something we cannot understand.
We all share the common underlying human condition of loneliness. Since the beginning of time, particles bonded together to create atoms and atoms bonded to create molecules and molecules united to form cells. To Bell, loneliness exists in all humans because we, who are made of particles, atoms, molecules and cells, are looking to bond with one another. Yet, we don't. We isolate ourselves going against the very grain of our universe.
The Big Bang created something new each time it bonded with its counterpart over the course of several billion years. Evolution after evolution happened in our universal history simply by uniting with like.
We are like those particles, atoms, molecules and cells, seeking similar essences and energies as our own, Bell explains. The very subatomic particles in our makeup did the same thing. "We want to bond because for 13.8 billion years we have been doing this."
And from all of this bonding, comes the concept of God, or love. The former pastor danced around the word God, but not the subject. He acknowledged the stigma the word invokes for many people. In doing so, he focused on the one concept we can all appreciate - Love.
"Love is when you move beyond yourself for the well-being of another. Love is when you transcend yourself for the well-being of another."
Bell explores the thought that if we let go of hate, racism, persecution and ego, we transcend the self and bond with another. And that bond is what invites in love. It invites in God.
"We are all deeply connected. When one suffers, we all suffer. When one rejoices, we all rejoice."
"Is the universe done?" Bell asks. "Or are you being invited to bond with others of similar essence and substance? And if we do it well, are we creating something new?"
And to that question, Bell leaves the answer up to us. But he leaves it with a side-note. The earth itself is quite young. Humans are just got here. If you take the timeline of the existence of our planet and you use the analogy of one day, humans arrived at 11:59. How can we ask what our greater purpose is in the universe? We just got here, Bell explains.
As my husband equated, "It's like arriving at a party and instantly asking the host 'Am I having a good time? Should I have come here?' Meanwhile the host replies, 'You haven't even stepped though the doorway yet.'"
Maybe we need to go with the flow of the universe and start to bond with like energies. From there, we can relax a bit. We don't need to have all of the answers right now.
Susan Kiskis is the publisher for Freedom Journal and author of memoir, Born Fire Dragon. She has a deeply seeded case of wanderlust.