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February 18, 2014

Ladies and Gentleman, Rob Bell.

What is the Bible? Part 42: Sheeeeeeeet!

There’s a story in the Bible about a man named Peter who falls into a trance.

Like you do.

But it isn’t your ordinary household trance, in this trance Peter sees heaven open up and a sheet come down to earth and on this sheet are all kinds of animals—the writer is keen for us to know they’re four-footed animals—as well as reptiles and birds. Peter hears a voice tell him to

Get up and kill and eat.

Peter protests

But I shop at Whole Foods, I make a kale smoothie every morning, I even order that new tofu at Chipotle…

Peter protests, saying

I’ve never eaten anything impure

to which the voice responds

Do not call anything impure that God has made clean.

This happens three times, the sheet is lifted up from where it came, and Peter is left sitting there trying to make sense of what just happened.

(By the way, the word used here for trance in the original Greek is the word ekstasis. From which we get our English word ecstasy.)

A bit more about Peter: he was raised in a fishing village called Capernaum. His people were deeply committed to keeping the Torah, which included the parts about avoiding impurity. They understood God to be holy and pure and they organized their lives around reflecting this purity. These purity laws included food and also people. In the same way that you wouldn’t touch a dead animal, they also wouldn’t touch someone who was considered unclean. Their commitment to being clean was so extensive that they wouldn’t even go into the house of someone they considered unclean, which meant anyone who wasn’t Jewish. Which meant, basically, everyone else.

Now, back to Peter’s ecstasy trip.

As soon as his trance is over, there’s a knock at the door and it’s some Romans—the ultimate in unclean—asking him if he’ll come with them to their leader’s house. He agrees to go with them, he gets there and tells them that it’s against the laws of his people for him to enter the house, and then he says

But God has shown me that I should not call anyone impure or unclean.

God has shown me?
God has?
How did God show Peter this new truth?

Through a disruption.

Peter had a framework, a paradigm, a way of seeing the world, rooted in his understanding of who God is and what it means to follow God. And central to this understanding was a conviction that some people are clean, and some people are unclean. You can go over to some people’s houses, and you can’t go over to other people’s houses.

But then he has an experience that doesn’t fit within that framework. And what is his first reaction to that experience?

Surely not, Lord! I have never eaten anything unclean…

He resists this new understanding.
And what is the basis for his resistance?

His religious convictions!

In the trance God tells him to eat it all and he argues with God about why he can’t eat it all and his argument is based on his devotion to God. He resists God in the name of…God.

It’s possible to resist the very growth and change and expanding consciousness that God desires for you by appealing to your religious convictions.

Now, a bit about the nature of growth. New stages of growth, maturity, and consciousness bring with them greater


Before, he couldn’t eat it all, now he is free to eat it all.
Before, he had a system of categorizing who is clean, and who isn’t, but now all are included.
Before, things were fairly simple: All of humanity can be divided into clean and unclean. But now, the people he previously thought were unclean…aren’t.


Next, a bit about disruption. It’s disruptions that are often the catalysts for our growth. You travel, you taste, you meet new people from other tribes, you read new things, you hear new perspectives, you see data or research you hadn’t seen before-and you discover that your previous ways of categorizing and labeling and believing aren’t adequate.

You have a choice in that moment: you either ignore or deny or minimize your experience, or you open yourself up to the very real pain of leaving that way of understanding behind.

This is often incredibly exciting and liberating, but it can also have a traumatic dimension to it, like the carpet is being yanked out from under you. (I call this The McLaren Factor.) Like the stable ground you’ve been walking on for so long is now trembling.

And yet you can’t go back.

Once you’ve tasted, you can’t pretend like you haven’t.

Imagine Peter stepping through the doorway of that Roman’s house for the first time. Everything in his upbringing told him that he would be jeopardizing his standing with God to do that, and yet he’s now seensomething new.

And once you see, you can’t un-see.

My hope is that this brings you tremendous encouragement as you grow and change and see new things. Perhaps you were handed a way of seeing the world (and reading the Bible!) that doesn’t work for you anymore, and yet that previous way of understanding still has a strange power over you. Maybe it’s the people who taught you that or raised you to think like that or the leaders who told you that was the only way to see it and if you reject that one understanding your relationship with God would suffer.

Or maybe you were marinaded in a calm, cool, rational world of evidence and data in which that only thing that can be trusted are the facts. You refer to yourself as the logical, rational type who doesn’t go for fairytales. But the truth is, you’ve had experiences that don’t fit into any of your nice, neat, modern categories. You might even use the word divine…but not in front of certain friends or family or colleagues.

Wherever you’re coming from, don’t deny the disruptions.

Don’t panic when the room spins because you’ve seen something real and life giving and beautiful and good and hopeful that doesn’t fit in any of your boxes.

It’s okay. You’re not the first. That’s how it works. That’s how we grow. That’s how God often gets our attention.

Don’t fight it.

Enjoy the ecstasy.

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