At this morning’s main session at NPC, Rob Bell delivered a great message about forgiveness.  Skye Jethani has written a nice summary of Rob’s message over at Out of Ur.  Some brief observations:

Rob Bell is a total rock star.  Well, let me take that back — people treat him like a total rock star.  He doesn’t seem at all wrapped up in himself or looking for special treatment.  Before his message, I saw people crowding around him for photo ops.  In fact, during his message, people were snapping cell phone photos as he walked the aisles.  He even asked one photo snapper, in the moment, “Did you just take a photo of this shopping cart?” (which, incidentally, he used to great effect throughout his message).

Now that I’ve gotten that out of the way…

Rob is a fantastically gifted communicator — I’m a fan of his work in the Nooma videos.  That said, I was surprised by how funny he was.  He described the backhanded compliments people always seem to deliver to pastors (e.g., “I defended your honor against those Facebook attackers who were calling you fluff and irrelevant“… which is heard in the mind of the pastor as, “… … you… are… fluff… and irrelevant”) as chocolate covered turds.  You know, sweet on the outside but yuck on the inside.  Speaking of funny, I really enjoyed Michael Jr.‘s comedy routine last night.  Good stuff.)

His discussion of forgiveness was honest, almost raw in the nerve it struck with many of the pastors and church leaders there.  Most of us don’t encounter straight-out martyrdom; instead, in Rob’s words, we often face “death by papercut.”  It’s the small slights, the seemingly minor injustices, that — over time — kill us.  This kind of death isn’t going down in a blaze of glory; it’s more like fading out, passion decreasing while saracasm increases, a gradual wearying of the soul.

Judging from the response at the conclusion, during which Rob invited everyone to write down the name of a person they needed to forgive on a piece of paper and place it in the shopping cart he was pushing around, this was a message many of us needed to hear.  Rob’s prayer for all of us at the conclusion was deeply encouraging; I even caught a glimpse of him wiping away some tears.

He quoted Tim Keller on forgiveness from his book The Reason for God:

Forgiveness means refusing to make them pay for what they did.  However, to refrain from lashing out at someone when you want to do so with all your being is agony.  It is a form of suffering… It hurts terribly.  Many people would say it feels like a kind of death.

Yes, but it is a death that leads to resurrection instead of the life-long living death of bitterness and cynicism.

In the context of the discussion about forgiveness, reconciliation and redemption in the face of evil, terror and genocide in Rwanda (during a brief interview preceding Rob’s message), forgiveness ceasese to be an ethereal concept and, instead, becomes the hard path to actual living.

Special thanks to DJ Chuang for giving me a Twitter tutorial at NPC today.  DJ’s the techno-guru we all wish we could be!  Don’t blame my future Twitter failures on him though — I’m not sure I’ll ever figure that world out.