How to be Here (by Rob Bell)

Rob Bell is something of a controversial writer in the Christian world, particularly amongst US evangelical Christians. This is because he doesn’t always follow accepted doctrine, and he challenges the status quo. Since I find that appealing, not being much of a conformist myself, I have found his books interesting and, in some cases, motivating and encouraging.

‘How to be Here’ is his latest book, published last year. I put the paperback edition on my wishlist and was given it for a recent birthday. The subtitle is, ‘a guide to creating a life worth living’, a theme which seems to be following me around at present.

As with most of Bell’s books, the layout seems a bit strange at first. The paragraphs are short, some of them containing just a few words, and the writing is almost simplistic in style. That can hide some quite profound thoughts, expressed in a personal way; the concepts are much deeper than is immediately obvious.

While some of the author’s books are overtly Christian, this one is less so. He refers to Scriptural stories and theology in a low-key way, but without any expectation that the readers are believers. References and explanations are left to the notes at the back, which made interesting reading after I’d finished the main text.

The book starts with a word picture of a computer cursor, the ‘blinking line’, as he puts it, at the top of a new document, or placed at the end of text. Bell tells us about the first book he thought about writing, and how he tried at first to dictate it, but eventually realised he had to type it himself. And this takes us neatly on to the cursors that, metaphorically, sit waiting for all of us as we think about things we might do, or places we might go, or the people we might be.

The book looks at creativity in a wide sweep of activities, from bringing up children through to sweeping floors. It looks at our expectations, and our anxieties at producing something new for fear of what others might think. It talks of something to inspire us to get out of bed each morning. It makes the point that every one of us is a unique individual, with a life and series of circumstances that has never before been experienced.

The theme is similar to John Ortberg’s classic ‘If you want to walk on water you’ve got to get out of the boat’, but the text is much simpler, and accessible to anyone. It’s divided into seven chapters, and each of those has short sections, just two or three pages long, making one main point. There are plenty of anecdotes from Rob Bell’s own life, including times when he got things wrong, or tried something which didn’t work; but they were still valuable learning experiences. These make the point well: it’s better to do something and fail than do nothing for fear of failure.

As a writer myself, much of this book struck home with me, and gave me plenty to ponder. But it’s relevant to anyone who tends to avoid confrontations, or trying anything new, or getting on with something because of all the problems that might arise. One step at a time, Bell tells us. Take that step, get on with what we can do, and if others don’t like it, that’s not our problem.

Nothing actually new, nothing I hadn’t heard before; but clearly written and just what I needed to read right now.

Recommended to anyone. The worldview is Christian, as are many of the references (Bell is, after all, a pastor) but the principles could apply to people of any faith, or none.

Review by Sue F copyright 2017 Sue's Book Reviews

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