Thinking Out Loud

September 9, 2009

Rob Bell’s Drops Like Stars – The Book

Filed under: Christianity, theology — Tags: , , , , , , , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 3:31 pm

drops like starsIt’s like a trip back in time.
Like, perhaps when I was five.
We read a few words from the big picture book
…and then we turn the page.
Some pages are all pictures.
No words there.
We turn the page.
Some pages have a lot of words.
We read the words.
We turn the page.
Some pages have lots of words and pictures.
We turn the page.
We turn the page.

I think the only way to truly appreciate Drops Like Stars is if you’ve heard Rob Bell speak; either in person, on audio, or on DVD.    The format of this book — not terribly unlike his previous tomes, but for the page size — really reflects his spoken communication style.  What some have termed “visionary preaching.”  Drops Like Stars is is his fourth book for Zondervan, following Velvet Elvis, Sex God and the recent Jesus Wants to Save Christians.

Some have criticized the ecological aspects of this large coffee-table book, while others have complained that the book is priced out of range of the average Christian consumer at $34.99 US/$44.99 CDN.  (Personally, I suspect a standard paperback will happen sooner than later.)   While the critics and complainers have some case, the medium is certainly appropriate to the message.

Since we’re going to miss Rob’s Drops Like Stars tour appearance in Toronto next week, the book provides a good overview of what the tour will include.   There are some good thoughts here that fire the imagination.  Some quotations from authors many of us probably wouldn’t know or read.   Some interesting parallels to a few scripture passages.    (They should do a book for the Everything Is Spiritual and The God’s Aren’t Angry as well, as both were compelling presentations and the script is already out there waiting to be transcribed.)

It’s a book about what it means to hurt and to stand with those who are hurting.   It’s a book about how suffering reduces us to exposing what our core is made of.   It’s a book about pain contributing to the creative process.   It is, and I don’t mean this impolitely, a book about a lot of things, though all related to the less joyful times in life.

The coffee-table book format is suited to art books, and Bell is definitely the consummate artist as he weaves various stories together.   But at the end of the day, I’m asking myself what I’ve just finished reading.   My fear is that, as much as I’m a huge Rob Bell fan, the whole doesn’t begin to equal the sum of the parts; that while the individual stories are powerful and evocative, it’s possible to miss the  ‘big picture’ message front and center this time around.   That message has to do with suffering and pain and God’s place in all of it.   But will everyone see the same thing here, or do different readers take away different things?

The potential for photography in this print format is gigantic, yet the number of pictures is surprisingly few.    Worse, on page 129 there is a promise of something greater to come;  something that will be revealed at the end of the book; then about 50 words later on page 133, he is wrapping everything up.

So bottom line, I enjoyed it.

I just didn’t get it as I have his previous works.

Here’s some comments from people who did perhaps more than I:

-Brandon Vogt at The Thin Veil

Most pages only have a line or two of text, some only one or two words. In fact a good number of pages don’t have any words at all. But I don’t think that the scarcity of words necessarily dampens the book’s impact.

What Rob does say in those few words is deep and engulfing. Suffering is a topic that has been discussed for millennia, even back to the first words of the Bible—the miseries of Job are purported to be the earliest writings of Scripture. Instead of attacking the ‘why’ of suffering, though, Rob sits in the reality of pain and then asks ‘now what?’…

Like many of Rob’s writings, the words aren’t as significant as they are in typical books. In Rob’s writings the words are only one medium that the message is communicated through. They only contribute to the experience, which is a great way of describing what reading through this book is like.

An experience. Sitting down to ponder these words isn’t ‘reading’, it’s participating in an experience.

The pictures and colors engulf you into the narrative that Rob paints in a way that can’t be described without reading the book yourself. After finishing the book, there wasn’t really a pithy quote or grand idea I came away with, but instead felt my soul refreshed by the experience.

– Rachel at Choosing Joy

GOD SCREAMS.   I love that picture. I love that I have a God who matches and indeed surpasses my emotion. I love that I have a God who doesn’t sit back and look at all of the injustices of the world and say in a calm voice…It will get better (although it will and HE knows that) but instead He screams right alongside us and His screams are louder and filled with more love and sorrow than I could hope to understand.

-Mike Todd at Waving or Drowning?

If you don’t have a story of suffering you might not appreciate this book. And the prevailing logic of the world would say that you should count yourself fortunate. Or, I have Christian friends who would say that you were ‘blessed’. However, I would disagree. No growth without pain. Redemption through suffering.

-Preston at A Fresh Focus

It is a piece of art wrapped in an enigma that drips with fragrant truth.  Rob weaves together a variety of stories and unlikely analogies – producing a cogent mix that did more for my understanding of pain and suffering than most books on the same topic seem capable of doing.  …  It’s definitely a creative approach to Christian literature and I strongly encourage anyone who has faced suffering to pick up a copy.  My wife and I read it on the couch last week and it was beautiful.

-Benjamin Zimmerman at Down Write Honest

Although similar in writing style to all of Bell’s previous books you will be surprised at the over sized and highly visual coffee table book that drives you to ask yourself difficult questions about the connections between suffering and your response to suffering. Bell’s dramatic pauses and short sentences continue to draw out the best in the reader by provoking countless inter-mingled thoughts about what is really happening when suffering occurs. Regardless of who we are or where we live; suffering will happen.

So there you have a number of comments.  Suffering is a huge topic on a lot of peoples’ minds right now and it’s an unresolved issue for people who are close to the Kingdom, but not willing to cross the line of faith until they can get it sorted.

… If you’ve read the book or attended the tour, what did you think?

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3 Comments »

  1. Check it out, the book doesn’t end on page 133. It ends on page 139. I think the “falling star” on the lower corner of the final pages speaks louder than words.
    A fascinating approach…
    P

    Comment by Preston — September 9, 2009 @ 3:39 pm

  2. Well, I was less than thrilled with the book. Here is my review.

    Comment by Aaron — October 1, 2009 @ 2:23 am

  3. […] by Rob Bell; a review of a book where the format left me somewhat puzzled and where I eventually retreated to quoting other bloggers‘ treatment rather than forge ahead with my […]

    Pingback by Rob Bell — Drops Like Stars — The Video « Thinking Out Loud — November 9, 2010 @ 8:29 am


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