Let's talk about Hell. Hell, why not? Seems like everyone else is. So, let's go there.
There's one thing I'd like to get out of the way right off the top. The Bible does not talk about Hell. Ever. Period. So, don't say, "Well, Jesus says that Hell...". I know that your
Bible has the word Hell in it, but Jesus didn't have the word Hell in him and neither did the ancient writings that now make up our Bible. As a matter of fact the word itself didn't even come into being until some 700 plus years after Jesus.
Jesus talks about gehenna
(as in the Greek god of the underworld). The New Testament also mentions tartaros
, but only once in II Timothy. The Old Testament talks only of sheol
, the place of the dead. While they all do have similarities to Hell as we have come to think of it (thank you Dante), they are not the same as Hell.
Just for fun, here is a really quick background on those words. Hades
are places of the dead - all the dead, good and bad. Gehenna
is the burning trash dump outside of Jerusalem. And tartaros
is the place that fallen angels go (now, I like you and all...but you're no angel and neither am I).
Again, not the same as our modern concept of Hell (damn you Dante, look what you've done... for that matter Plato didn't help either. Damn you too).
That leaves me with the question, "is there Hell and if so, what is it?" Jesus did speak of something after this life, of eternal life, and he also seemed to indicate that some form or concept of suffering might happen there. The theological kink in this chain of thinking is having an all loving God allowing a child of God to remain in everlasting torment in response to less than 80 years of bad behavior. Does that mean that in some cases Hell wins or is it more likely, as Rob Bell's recent book puts is, that "Love Wins
If you don't know already, it would seem that the beginning of the end has happened. It wasn't the end all be all of endings, at least not in the way we were told to expect it. May 21 came and went and the only thing we had to show for it was a slue of jokes about Judgment Day (including many from yours truly). Some people felt like all the jokes were in poor taste and mean spirited. I felt like it was a pretty typical response to something that could cause anxiousness (to some degree, at least) and that it was a fairly lighthearted way to debunk what I saw as not only poor theology but ultimately hurtful theology.
Much like the outcry around Sarah Palin, Glenn Beck, and Terry Jones, there are many people who feel like we have given Mr. Camping too much attention and while I completely see their argument, I also recognize that there will be certain segments of society that will not ignore him, no matter what. For me that places a bit of onus on counter voices (particularly Christian ones) to give a different perspective. So, I mostly made jokes. You know things like, “...might as well go green. Unplug your stuff Friday night. 'kay?” and a list of jokes ministers could tell in church the day after
I'm not sure what to make of Mr. Camping. Part of me believes that this engineer turned Christian radio mogul turned self anointed prophet, who happens to be worth more than $70 million and gave none of it away before the deadline of May 21, is just in it for the almighty dollar. Part of me listens to him and wonders if he might actually believe what he says and feels the slightest bit of sympathy for him (and that same part then wonders if he may not suffer from a mental issue associated with aging).
Well, by the time I post this is will be right about 6pm EST. So, either the Big Exit didn't happen, I was Left Behind or you are reading this postmortem. Whatever it is, I thought I'd help out my preacher friends with a few lines for tomorrow's service.
The Rapture Happened:
“Well, as you can see, we are missing a few people today.”
“The question to ask yourself isn't, “why did I get left behind?”, so much as, “why am I stuck here with these people?”
“Now that everyone else has presumably been raptured away, I guess we know that, in fact, love doesn't win.”
“So, now that it's just us, I understand there's going to be a lot of fire and brimstone... whose wants to host the barbeque?”
“Being that the time of trials has started, I'm guessing the weather man's job just got a whole lot easier.”
“I have to say, the fact that you know you didn't get swept up into heaven yesterday while others did and yet you came here, would really look good on the books if there was going to be a third coming... but there's not.”
I fully and completely believe that God created us all equally in the divine image. In each of us is a reflection of our Creator. None are more capable of living into that reflection, none are less capable. That is exactly what I hear in the creation stories of Genesis when they tell us that humans were formed in God's image and that God breathed life into humans. To be human is to be formed by God, in the image of God, and given life by the breath of God. All of us. No exceptions.
Today (May 10, 2011), the denomination to which I belong (PCUSA) has taken a very large step in recognizing the intrinsic value of all people. Technically, all we really did was pass an amendment to our constitution (The Book of Order), Amendment 10-A. What it actually does is give more governance of ordination standards to local governing bodies. That seems innocuous enough, doesn't it? You would think so, but this has caused some disagreement and division in our denomination, and I understand that some churches have already voted to leave the denomination while still others are considering doing so. Why all the tension and division? It's the pink elephant in the room.
While this change in constitution is about more than just the issue of homosexuality, the tension and division are because it opens the door to the ordination of gay folk. Oddly, it also opens it to the ordination to those having sex outside of marriage (as well as other things), but I've not heard many people raising a ruckus over that... it's about "the gays."
I hate to see the division in our denomination, but I am glad to see us taking so seriously the biblical reality that we are all created equally in God's image. I do have to say though, while I am glad to see today come, I am dissatisfied with were we are. As an ordained minister in a denomination that will soon allow for the ordination of LGBTQ folk (even though we've actually been doing it forever
), I cannot officiate the marriage of a same sex couple. The state will not allow or recognize it.
So, today I make a new commitment. I tried to be a voice in the struggle to change our Book of Order, that's why today's passage of Amendment 10-A pleases me. I happen to believe, however, that it is the Church's duty to be advocates and partners with those who are not treated in a way which recognizes that they are created equally in God's image. While we have made great strides today, I believe we have just begun, particularly as clergy. With that in mind, today I commit to sign no more marriage certificates until I can sign the marriage certificate of any two people who wish to commit their lives to each other before God regardless of their gender.
The wedding I participate in this Saturday will be my last to officiate. I fully recognize that it will be difficult and there will ultimate be those who, for varying reasons, will be disappointed in my decision, but I cannot sign another wedding certificate knowing that it represents a system that intentionally excludes people who I understand to be equally created in God's image. To be clear, my commitment is to no longer officiate a wedding until I can officiate all weddings. I will still participate in weddings since I can do that for all people already.
I also issue this challenge to ALL clergy regardless of denomination: do the same.
If you are not clergy, send this blog post to your minister. If you don't have a minister just send it to a minister, any minister. I've created a Facebook page where we can gather and publicly take a stand. It's is also a place where those who don't happen to be clergy can stand in support with us. Here's the link to Until ALL Can Wed's
Facebook page. Please 'like' it in support and in taking a stand.
If we collectively stop signing wedding certificates, it would be a statement to states across the US. Imagine each County Clerk's office flooded with people who can't find a minister to wed them because the state won't recognize the desires of same sex couples who simply desire to have the same rights as them. I think it would be powerful. So, I challenge my fellow clergy to take a stand with me and our LGBT brothers and sisters. Alone I can make a statement; together we can make a difference.
If you are willing to stand with us, please let me know in the comment section of this post and by joining the FB page
. Thank you.
Jesus is Coming! Look busy.
A fellow by the name of Harold Camping is claiming that he has biblically calculated the Day of Judgment.... and people are believing him. It doesn't hurt that this civil engineer happens to have 66 radio stations to help promote his hypothesis (honestly, I'm a little surprised he hasn't either bought or sold a station to avoid that number). The interesting thing is, people believe him even though he has been wrong about this before.
In his book, Harold Camping 1994?
, he claims to have used the Bible to calculate when the world will end – September 6, 1994 (or maybe between September 15 and 17). The interesting thing isn't that the world didn't end. The interesting thing isn't even that he now claims to have made a miscalculation. The interesting thing is that he, like almost all others who make these kinds of calculations, places the biblically predicted time within his lifetime. In his case, also like many others, it also happens to be relatively imminent. (I could say that it is just imminent enough to allow time to capitalize on it's occurrence, but that would be rather cynical and far be it from me to be cynical about something like this).
Purely statistically speaking, given the timelessness of time, and the odds of a random person deciphering the mysterious numerology of the Bible only to find that it points to the second coming and the end of the world within their own
lifetime are mindbogglingly astronomical. Yet, many people believe.
Never mind that the Bible itself tell us that no one will know the time, not even the angels. Never mind that his methods mean treating the Bible as if it is a cryptic document. Never mind that the book of Revelations is a book of hope, not death and destruction, writing to a people suffering under the rule of a heavy handed Roman government. All of those things are just facts that get in the way of believing that the day of The Great Hoover in the Sky is upon us (as I've noted before
, I can't help but believe God would have upgraded by now. So, it is probably a Dyson).
Ultimately this is all a rush to judgment. Damn the facts, I want to be saved while others are left behind. It leaves me asking, “what should we do on May 22nd?”
I have a thought: when the Holy Dyson doesn't suck up the holier-than-thou, let's celebrate with a judgment free day. See if you can spend a whole day without judging people for their religion, their sexual orientation, the way they drive, the way they talk, their level of education, the way they dress, the color of their skin, their political alignment, or any other of a long list of things upon which we judge each other daily.
If you truly want to see heaven sooner, that's how you get there.
(Update: I just found a FB page that promotes this idea. Check it out).(Update 2: You can listen to my Rapture sermon here: "The End is Near(er)"
As it became apparent that the President had called an unexpected address to the nation to announce the death of Osama bin Laden, social networks erupted with jubilation. Shortly after that, ground zero and grounds in front of the White House, with their 9/11 connections, became gathering places for the raucous crowds.
For a night, so many of this mostly divided nation were united... over a death. Not just united, joyfully so.
“He's won,” I thought. One of bin Laden's primary goals was to cause terror in the US and he has. Not buildings collapsing terror. Not dirty bombs exploding terror. What happened was more diabolical than that. We lost our humanity...or we lived vengefully into it, whichever way you care to see it. We gave into our primal instinct. We answered blood-lust with blood-lust, vengeance with vengeance. We solved the problem of murder with murder. As Dr. King once noted, “The ultimate weakness of violence is that it is a descending spiral, begetting the very thing it seeks to destroy. Instead of diminishing evil, it multiplies it. Through violence you may murder the liar, but you cannot murder the lie, nor establish the truth. Through violence you murder the hater, but you do not murder hate. In fact, violence merely increases hate. Returning violence for violence multiplies violence, adding deeper darkness to a night already devoid of stars. Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate. Only love can do that.”
I know that is not a popular point of view and I fully recognize that this post will probably evoke more negative responses than positive, but in looking at the teaching of Jesus, I do find it to be a solid biblical point of view. I do not ask you to see it the way that I do. I just need to give voice to it.
I was even more bereft in watching so many of my dear Christian friends quote the Bible in order to justify their understandable need to rejoice that this man, who seems to be the devil personified for most people, was brought to his end – violently. I even sort of understand why they sought out Bible verses: because there was a part of them, the part that is a reflection of God, the part placed in each human as God metaphorically breathed the very breath of God into each of us, that knew this was wrong in the eyes of God. Their humanity needed to overcome the piece of divinity that was trying to speak out.
That piece of our humanity that so easily gives into hate, vengeance, anger, retribution, and blood-lust is the most powerful weapon that a man like bin Laden has. It divides not only nations but the world. It divides not only communities but it also divides individuals against their better selves.
People who would never intentionally cherry pick Bible verses were using text out of context to justify their actions rather than using the verse to guide their actions. Saying things like, “live by the sword, die by the sword,” to give vengeance a biblical sounding edge, never realizing that those kind of swords cut both ways. It divides nations. It divides our very spirits. That is a powerful weapon.
Worse yet, (at least from a Christian perspective), seeing the death of anyone as redemptive reduces love to a trite keepsake, a bauble, a plaything of convenience. Even on the cross it was not the suffering that was redemptive, it was the love of the one who laid down his life for his friends and the love of God that was redemptive. When we try to make violence redemptive (and we can only try, because it never will be), we make violence the end all be all. We elevate it above love... and when we do that, we elevate it above God who is love. We make it a religion unto itself.
It was good to see cooler heads begin to prevail in Christian communities the day after, but this isn't the first time we have lived into that human instinct to try to make violence redemptive. I am left to wonder, will we resist the urge the next time? Because there will be a next time.
I agree with Rob Bell, love wins. Hate begets hate. Fear begets fear. Violence begets violence. Love begets love.
"I have decided to stick with love. Hate is too great a burden to bear." -MLK
(UPDATE: As expected, I've received many more negative responses than normal. The largest majority of them actually proved part of my point by being mostly hateful and verbally violent. The ones that were primarily name calling have been deleted. Negative responses that do not leave their real name and email will also be deleted. For now, I'll leave the comment section open. If necessary, I will switch to approving comments before they are posted. I welcome negative feedback. I do, however, insist it avoid name calling and that it is a response and not an attack.)