Discussion Guide:Failure, Success, and Being Human
Featuring Rob bell
Rob Bell talks with us about success, failure, spiritual growth, and our changing culture. How do we define success and failure, and how might we rethink them? And what might that have to say about the way we continue to grow and learn? Where is the way of Jesus leading us?
“One of the things I noticed over the past few years is every time I would talk to somebody who is doing something they loved or seemed to be thriving in their work, you trace back their story and it’s like one failure after another. And that those always seem to be the most significant moments of definition and sculpting and framing and shaping… ...somewhere in there, I learned the thing that actually got me to this place.”
How would you define failure and success?
Do you have moments from your life you would place in one category or the other?
Do you have experiences where the lines between success and failure have been blurred, or that have led to growth?
“Perfection is in many ways the god of the age… the greeks gave us perfection, the ideal, humanity at its best. But the Jews gave us this word tov, which means good but it’s a good that can handle dark, emptiness… that perfectionist thing can just crush people. And actually if you think about it in terms of power and capacity, if this thing doesn’t have the potential to really bomb then it doesn’t have within it the inherent potential to do something really fantastic.”
Have you ever found yourself distracted by the ‘perfect’ idea of something?
Have you ever experienced the idea of tov in your life?
“You see a lot of people are like ‘I’m thinking about doing this but it might not be well received.’ But if you make anything and put it into the world you are going to experience some form of resistance. So it’s the wrong question. The question is, ‘is there something you need to do?’ So just do it.”
Have you ever had an experience where you didn’t do something that felt important because you weren’t sure how it would be received?
Have you ever done something important despite that fear?
Is there something that you need to do?
“Also one of the ways that fear works - fear generally only has one line of dialogue... Fear is like a character that keeps stumbling into the play… and just goes, ‘uh, no.’ And then three acts later when everything has progressed fear stumbles back in and says, ‘no.’ …and oftentimes what fear says to you is ‘hey, this could really bomb.’ And the proper response when fear says that to you is ‘I know.’ Because fear thinks that’s a new idea… we’re trying stuff, we’re alive, and that’s the thing.” - Section Four - 11:02-12:02
Where have you heard fear say ‘no’ to you?
How could you say ‘I know’ to fear and respond with action?
What might it look like to try one of the things, however small, that fear has held you back from?
“To me this is actually one of the great, most important things about spiritual growth: celebrate movement wherever you see it. Even if it’s something like, ‘I’m a little less angry at that person today than I was yesterday...’ And if you see an evolving universe in which we take an endless series of steps forward and sometimes steps backwards, and then another step forward, then you’re able to embrace movement wherever you see it… But the real joy comes from the tiny little movements forward.”
-Section Five - 16:21-17:02
Do you take time to celebrate the small moments of growth in your life?
Have you ever looked back and realized how you have changed and grown over time?
What might it look like for you to intentionally practice celebrating those tiny movements forward?
“Millions of people keep growing. And the thing about consciousness is once you see, you can’t unsee. And once you taste, you can’t untaste. And when a narrative isn’t working, then you get a new one. So my observation would be you just see right now millions of people updating and adapting the narrative… Oftentimes when people think ‘oh, this narrative isn’t working we need to move forward.’ Actually, everything you need is already in your own tradition… What you need or what would help you go forward has been there the whole time you just didn’t realize it.”
-Section Six - 18:10-20:39
Has your perspective of faith changed over time? How?
Have you discovered things in your own tradition of faith that have helped you grow? Other traditions?
Were you surprised by any of these things?
“You have the Bible mostly written by minorities living under the oppression of global military superpowers. No wonder if you were a citizen of a global military superpower you might miss some of its central themes. It was written with the boot of empires on its neck. So the Bible has a harsh, enduring critique of the use of power because it was written by people who military power has made them absolutely miserable. Lots of themes simply get missed - sometimes you need fresh eyes… Any system that’s like, ‘we have it, everybody else doesn’t,’ is a system that Jesus would say ‘it doesn’t work like that.'"
Have you ever changed your perspective after recognizing a blind spot?
Do you resonate with Rob’s suggestion that for many of us there is likely a blind spot when it comes to power?
What do you think of the idea Rob shares, that any system that creates an in and out group is one that Jesus would critique?
“You’re right, everything is changing. And that’s how historical movements arise - people realize, ‘oh, you could just change it!’ Which is the most basic idea until you don’t see it… And when a number of people realize you can just change it, the whole thing turns… It’s important to always keep in mind that’s how it works is people get something they’ve got to make… That’s how it works.”
Do you feel like things are changing around you?
How does that make you feel about the world you live in?
If you see things that might need to change, how can you participate in that work?
“...I was in a rough spot a number of years ago and a friend took me to lunch. He sits down across the table from me and he says, ‘You don’t have to live like this.’ He just keeps repeating it… For so many people this is just how it is. Despair is the spiritual disease of simply believing that tomorrow will simply be a repeat of today. …but there is the divine in-breaking that suddenly pierces that despair with, ‘no, tomorrow could be different.’ the thing you actually want is to wake up with, ‘I wonder what today will bring?’”
-Section Nine - 30:39-32:42
Have you ever felt stuck, or experienced despair this way?
Have you ever had an experience where you suddenly realized something could change?
What could it look like to approach our days with a sense of wonder?
“I think when people talk about religion vs relationship, or spiritual but not religious, you have a collective consciousness arising that’s realizing ‘Hey the whole thing is a temple, all ground is holy, we’re all human beings... does anybody have insight into what it means to be a human being?’ …Jesus actually takes you somewhere… So CEOs, rabbis, comedians, the guy who delivers stuff for UPS, my daughter’s teacher, my neighbors, they’re humans… I read the new testament as - if church is anything, it’s simply a body of people who ideally display what humanity ought to look like… I actually believe that it takes you somewhere.”
How do you understand what it means to be human?
What questions or struggles do you have when it comes to this conversation?
Where might the way of Jesus be leading you?
Moving Forward, Think About This
Take a few minutes and think about the way things have changed for you over the last few years. What has changed for you that has been challenging? What have you learned? In what ways have you grown?
Over the next week, reflect on these questions also looking toward the future. What do I want to learn? What changes might be challenging? Where do I want to grow?
About Rob Bell:
Rob Bell is the author of ten books, including the New York Times Bestsellers What We Talk About When We Talk About God, The Zimzum of Love, Love Wins and What Is the Bible?. His podcast, called the RobCast, was named by iTunes Best of 2015. He’s been profiled in the New Yorker, toured with Oprah, and in 2011 Time Magazine named him one of the 100 Most Influential People in the World. He has a regular show at Largo, the legendary comedy and music club in Los Angeles, where he lives with wife Kristen and their three kids.
Follow Rob at @realrobbell and on Facebook