Sunday, June 3, 2012

We Could Use Some Rain

I have been in and out of the garden watering plants. We did get some rain a few days ago, but less than half an inch at best. Since it’s 93 degrees out there, my plants are using water up at a rapid clip.

The topic of rain reminds me of the one session of NOOMA based lessons hubby and I attended recently at St. Anonymous.  

NOOMA is a series of short films produced by Flannel promoting spiritual reflections on individual life experiences. The name NOOMA comes from a phonetic spelling of the Greek word πνευμα (pneuma), meaning "wind," "spirit," or "breath." (I cribbed all that from Wikipedia.) 

“Pneuma” is also the root word for “pneumonia”, a word most people have no trouble associating with its spelling, so I’m not sure why the producers felt it necessary to replace the spelling with NOOMA, but they did.

At any rate, the title of the short film we saw was “Rain”. It was narrated by Rob Bell, who told the story of the time he took his young son for a walk around a lake near where they had been camping. Bell Jr was around nine months old IIRC, and so was being backpacked by dad in a baby carrier. When they started out, the weather was fine, but when they got halfway around the lake, a storm came up. Not just rain, but wind and lightning. At first the baby was just curious, but when his hood came off and he heard thunder, he began to cry and then to wail. As Bell tells the story, he finally took his son out of the carrier and held him the rest of the way home, while saying over and over, “I’ve got you buddy, and I know the way home.”

Even hearing the story was scary. From the sound of it, and from the accompanying video, they were walking through a wooded area, which means that at any moment, lightning could have struck a nearby tree or wind could have blown a limb down on top of them. For a baby, loud noises are one of the two things they are born to fear. It must have been a huge relief for both of them to get home.

Bell’s conclusion, however, was puzzling to me. He draws the comparison that through the storms of life, God is with us holding us and telling us he knows the way. Quelle surprise. But then Bell goes on to talk about how he would react if someday his son says to him something like, “Dad, remember when you took me for a walk in that awful storm? Why did you do it, Dad? I was so scared.”  You would think most parents at this point would say something like, “Son, I'm so sorry. I had no idea it was going to rain like that. The sun was shining when we left and by time the storm started, we were halfway around the lake and there was no fast way home. I was probably every bit as scared as you were, but I had to stay calm and get us home as fast as I could. I'm so sorry I put you through that, but at least I learned my lesson about checking the weather reports so it wouldn't happen again. ” 

Bell, however, tells the viewer that if his son ever said something like that, he, Bell would be heartbroken because the memory is so precious for him, because he felt a tremendous intimacy with his son, carrying him home in the rain.

I like to give people the benefit of the doubt, so I assume that Bell is tweaking things a little to make his point about God, and that he really wouldn’t brush his son’s fears off and make it All About Bell. I hope so, anyway, for his son’s sake. A parent who takes a baby out for a stroll knowing a storm is threatening sounds a little too much like a sociopath for my taste, and a parent who is heartbroken at hearing that one of his own fondest memories is one of the son’s most terrifying memories sounds a little too much like a narcissist. Somehow I don’t think “sociopath” and “narcissist” were descriptors Bell wanted us to apply to God at the end of his lesson.

Speaking about the end of the lesson, at the end of the film there were discussion questions for our small group to answer. I think there was a longer list than we had time to discuss and that the group leader was picking and choosing questions, none of which gave me an opening to talk about how appalling I found Bell’s closing statement to be. 

So that was the first and last such lesson we attended, mostly because we thought they were going to be something different, discussions of practical ethics, but partly because I found that one really creepy. To be fair, though, NOOMA is supposed to promote “spiritual reflections on individual life experiences.” This film certainly did that for me, just not exactly the way its producers intended.


  1. So let me get this straight:

    A man takes a walk on a bright, sunshiny day and fails to foresee a thunderstorm and that makes him a sociopath?

    That word does not mean what you think it means.

  2. No, no, no. What I meant is, if he had taken the walk with a baby knowing it would storm dangerously that would have made him a sociopath. But since he took the walk not knowing it would rain, the obvious answer to give if his son ever remembered the incident and asked, "Why did you do that, dad?" would be "Because I didn't know that it would rain." (As I said above.)

    It's only when he tried to use the incident as an analogy for how an all-knowing God (one who would know it was going to rain) would act that it made me think of God as a sociopath. I'm not saying it means God is a sociopath, just that Bell made a lousy analogy out of the whole incident, one that made a different impression from the one he was trying to give.