Originally written for a select crowd interested in my evening with Rob Bell in November 2011.
I had the good fortune to attend Rob Bell’s “Fit to Smash Ice” tour event at the State Theatre in Ithaca, NY on Friday night with the full support of my bride who was unable to join me.
Fighting traffic due to a rather serious train accident up in Syracuse proper, I purchased my ticket and enjoyed dining with a friend I hadn’t seen in nearly twenty years. Hearing my friend’s story was a foreshadowing of the stories of redemption that Bell would share later in the evening.
I had been praying all day about whether to take notes at the venue (an old 19th century theatre that boasts some really historically precious detail. If there was a detail that I noticed, my introverted self relished in the magic – from the twisted wrought-iron handrails up the stairs to the ornate metal and glass-working in the windows and doors to the theatre) and decided that I would join God in the moment rather than worry about “what did I miss?” as I would have been furiously note-taking for two hours.
No, this was not a “note-taking” event, and if I had taken notes, I would have missed out on a lot of where God was taking me through the anecdotes that Rob shared.
First off, the title was intriguing and there was not a lot to be leaned about it on the internet before I left for Ithaca. I later learned that “fit to smash ice” was a phrased used to describe the S.V. Spray, a sailing vessel rebuilt by Joshua Slocum in the early 1890’s. The vessel was given to Slocum by a friend and was described as a “ship that wants some repairs.” Slocum did more than simply repair her, over the next 13 months. He rebuilt her from the ground up, redeeming her to beyond her former beauty and function, eventually circumnavigating the world in her.
The silent reading of the story about the Spray gave me more than a chill; it truly put a tear in my eye. Yes, that kind of redemption is the result of true care and dedication – the kind that Christ has for us.
Bell’s first story was about Rabbi Akiva, a Jewish Rabbi in the time of (and after) Christ. Akiva became lost one night on the way back to his village by taking the wrong road when he came upon the fork in the road. He ended up at the gates of a Roman outpost.
The Roman guard asked him, “Who are you, and what are you doing here?”
Rabbi Akiva responded, “What?”
Again, the guard, but louder replied, “Who are you, and what are you doing here?”
Akiva asked, “Who are you and what are they paying you?”
The guard, confused, answered, “I am a Roman guard and they pay me 10 denarii a day to guard this outpost!”
Akiva chuckled and responded (as only a gifted Rabbi would), “I’ll pay you 20 denarii a day to come to my house and ask me those same questions!”
Rob would tell several more stories (and some of a personal nature to him) that aroused laughter in one minute and personal contemplation the next. A few takeaways with which I left Ithaca were:
1) Authenticity is about being “unoffendable” and “unembarrassable”. Consider a large tree. The roots are solidly planted in the ground, but the leaves, they sway in the wind. The tree is balanced.
2) Sometimes something severe must happen to end a chapter in the story before the next chapter may begin. Look forward to the next beginning, but not until the end of the chapter has reared its (often) ugly head.
3) If there is something that makes you say, “Someone has got to do something about that,” consider that that someone might just be you. You may have found your calling.
The presentation contained nothing of controversial concern to it and I would consider it to have been family-friendly although younger attention spans may get bored sitting through the evening. Bell’s “ADHD-like” presentation-style and his charismatic inclusion of the audience into the evening are indeed something to behold. His inclusion of a few props (which he placed on stage himself before the show) was not a requirement of an enjoyable time. No, his character, relaxed posture, and pacing mark a truly gifted speaker and story-teller. The evening was not about deep theology – it was a simple series of anecdotes to demonstrate redemption in his life intended to encourage us to consider our own stories and our own redemption.
In two hours, Bell comes full circle and retells the story of Rabbi Akiva, but this time in Spanish (with the help of the audience, at times). So, the point is, “Who are you, and what are you doing here?” In other words, “Are YOU fit to smash ice?”