It’s been more than two years since the controversial preacher Rob Bell upset conservative Christians by questioning the existence of hell in his book Love Wins. Now Bell is back, with a television talk show premiering this month on Oprah’s OWN Network and a new book on marriage. Rob has co-authored The Zimzum of Love: A New Way of Understanding Marriage with his wife, Kristen. Here, we talk about the book, why they wrote it, and what it says that may surprise readers.
RNS: Rob, the title of this book, “The ZimZum of Love,” sounds very “Rob Bell-ish.” Where did it come from, and what does it mean?
RB: Marriage is about creating space in your life for another to thrive–full of life and energy and love–while they’re doing the same for you. The ancient sages had a way of talking about the divine energies that brought the universe into being, about God creating space for all of what we know to be everything to exist as it does. The word they used for this contraction of the divine to create space is “zimzum.” We came across the word more than a decade ago and thought, “That sounds like what happens when you’re married…we should write a book about that.” So we did.
RNS: Kristen, this book promotes the idea that both partners should flourish. We’ve heard a lot about Rob while you’ve been more behind the scenes. How have you two worked to make sure you too are flourishing on your own?
KB: Yes, I have always liked being behind the scenes, keeping things running. I like to say that I’m the rudder–you don’t necessarily see me, but I’m steering the ship. Rob and I have always had a sense of mission about our life and marriage. We are in this adventure together, which means we make all our decisions together about which direction to go, what to say yes and no to. For us, the zimzum happens with the daily decisions as well as the big picture. We are always having conversations about our own individual lives.
It is very important to me to give my best to my kids during this season, to pursue my own spiritual growth and to keep asking questions and then taking steps towards my calling. My calling has been intertwined with the work that Rob is doing in the world, and I have found great satisfaction and joy in that work. With the release of this book my work is changing and I’m enjoying this new season as well.
RNS: Rob, the marketing materials for this book say that this book will revolutionize traditional teaching on marriage, much like you did with the subject of hell in Love Wins. Which concepts in this book are most revolutionary and likely to ruffle feathers?
RB: That’s not a word we use in the book. The language we use is about giving yourself to the thriving of this person you love while they’re doing the same for you in such a way that it creates an energetic flow of love between you that goes way beyond just the two of you, connecting you together with the deepest creative energies of the universe. We want people to be inspired and empowered and transformed by this vision of what’s possible in marriage.
RNS: Kristen, you two get honest about your own struggles in this book. Tell us about the most serious storms you’ve weathered and how the zimzum concept made a difference?
KB: One of the powerful things about zimzum is returning to your intention. When your marriage is built on the foundation of desire for the other’s wellbeing and you can remind each other of that, it creates a safe, non-defensive place for you to be honest about what isn’t working. Often we get in downward spirals of keeping score of who has done and given more and who is not doing their part or loving well. In this defensive pattern, we can’t get anywhere. We call it throwing out the scorecard. When we move toward each other in love and a desire for their best, it opens up possibilities.
RNS: Rob, you said you support same-sex marriage not long ago. Does this book uniquely address LGBT couples?
RB: We did with whole hearted affirmation on page 16 of the book. The zimzum of love is for anyone–gay or straight–who believes the world needs more love and sacrifice and commitment and marriage. There’s a lot that’s broken and fractured in our world, and when two people love each well it creates space that isn’t broken but one, united, whole.
RNS: Kristen, this is the first public work for you. What’s next for Kristen Bell?
KB: I’m thrilled to see this book come out. Rob and I worked everyday side by side for 18 months trying to take the ideas running around in our heads and express them in a way that would be clear and helpful. It felt like a form of giving birth. Now we get to talk about the ideas in the book and take a deep breath and feel grateful for being on the other side of this creative process. I’m confident that whatever I’m supposed to do next will be clear when the time is right. My life is full, and I’m savoring the goodness of now.
RNS: And what’s next for Rob Bell?
RB: Right now I’m on tour with Oprah, we’re going to arenas around the country, we just released a e-course on Oprah.com that people can take whenever they’d like with over 30 teaching films about finding joy and meaning in everyday life. I’m doing a writing series on Tumblr called “What is the Bible?” in which I’m giving people new way to read the Bible. I have two books written that are sitting in my computer, and another 3 outlined that I’m really excited about. And on December 21 my first television show is on at 8 pm on the OWN network.