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Hell? No!

This post is part of the May Synchroblog “What The Hell” – thoughts about the controversial subject of hell. You will find the links to all the other participants at the end of this post.
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I don’t believe in hell.

There, I said it.

I cringe a little every time I say it out loud because I come from a place where I was thoroughly indoctrinated into the idea that there was a place called hell. It was where those who did not believe in God/Jesus would go when they died … but, if you believed in God/Jesus you would go to heaven instead of hell.

No one ever said what would happen to you if you didn’t believe in hell but it was kind of an unspoken assumption that if you didn’t believe in hell you probably weren’t “really” a “real” Christian and that meant you probably didn’t believe in God/Jesus and well … no need to repeat myself … you get the picture.

Once I got the picture I realized right away that I didn’t want to go to hell. It was an easy decision for me … believe in God and get a ticket to heaven … which by the way was the complete opposite of hell – it was a place where everyone was happy – so happy that no one ever shed a tear, and it was pretty too! Duh! – that’s where I wanted to go. So, I believed and I “confessed” that I believed and I got dunked and that was that … I was safe. I had my insurance and hoped everyone would be as smart and nice as me about it so no one would ever have to go to that horrible place called hell.

And the way I thought of hell was truly horrible. It was a place where those who “went” there would endure horrendous pain and suffering forever. The picture I had in my mind was a place where people were actually on fire – burning for eternity! The sounds I imagined coming from that place were even more horrible than the scenes that were conjured up by the hell fire and brimstone sermons I had heard. In my imagination the people were in so much pain that hell was filled with constant screams of agony that were louder than the music at a rock concert. Hell was a very scary place and any time I thought about it I was glad that I wasn’t going to go there when I died.

Then several years ago I began to seriously think about what I believed and what I based those beliefs on. That was when I realized that the idea of hell sounded out of place and wrong. It didn’t fit with what I believed about God. So, I began to re-examine what I believed about hell. Right away I discovered that the word hell (Sheol) in the Old Testament has nothing to do with a place of punishment and in the New Testament it (Hades and Gehenna) is used symbolically and masks a ton of metaphor.

It can be difficult for someone like me to see what scripture does and doesn’t say about hell as I had been thoroughly indoctrinated with what I’ve come to think of as “one hell of a lie”. But, a thorough study of scripture combined with a little knowledge and understanding of historical context and original language clearly revealed that scripture was being misrepresented and being made to appear as if it said stuff that it didn’t say.

From there it wasn’t a big leap for me to come to the conclusion that I had bought into a lie and although I might not have all of the answers about the afterlife I certainly couldn’t find sufficient evidence to support the idea of hell.

After more in depth research I have come to believe that hell is the invention of man and surprisingly, most, if not all, of our popular concepts of hell can be found in the writings of Roman Catholic writers like the Italian poet Dante Alighieri, author of Dante’s Inferno and the English poet John Milton, author of Paradise Lost. But, none of our concepts of hell can be found in the teaching of Jesus Christ! 

Since I have stopped believing in hell I have found that I am free to serve God because I love him and his ways – not because I am afraid of what will happen if I don’t. I feel more compelled to love others just for the sake of loving them – not to convince them to believe something. Without hell I don’t find that there is as much need for thinking about who is “in” and who is “out” which can lead to more cooperation and unity … in other words we can do more good together.

At the same time not believing in hell has led to other questions which anyone reading this might be asking at this very moment. In an effort to give you some answers and much more food for thought here are three resources that you might find helpful:

One resource that I found especially helpful was the work of Crystal Lewis. She has written an excellent E-book (available for free) called Quenched – What Everyone (Especially Christians) Should Know About Hell. In the book she covers all the Old and New Testament verses that mention hell, the origins of the idea of underworlds and why people continue to believe in hell. You can download her E-book here and access her individual blog (which includes a series called “One Hell of a Lie”) here.

Another good resource I ran across was the story of Bishop Carlton Pearson. He was a super star preacher with a huge, devoted following. He rubbed elbows with the most powerful political and religious leaders in the U.S. He had it all. He was on top of the world. Until one day while watching the evening news he realized that he had bought into one hell of a lie and had been spreading it. He was so convinced that the hell he had preached about was a lie that he risked (and lost) everything to share what he believes to be true.

Here’s a little bit of Bishop Pearson’s story in his own words:

My kids were real small. My daughter, who’s now 16, was an infant in my lap. And I was watching the evening news, about the Hutus and Tutsis returning to Uganda. I was angry with God and very disgruntled – these poor African people were suffering so violently and I was overwhelmed with compassion and grief and guilt and anger.

I thought: “I’m here with this little fat-cheeked baby, and I’m eating my dinner watching the news in my lovely home, Mercedes in the garage, beautiful wife, everything going great.” I looked at children like my daughter, with flies around their eyes. And I assumed they were non-Christians under the judgment of God and going to hell.

You could see the little babies’ bellies distended and swollen, and they were scratching and crying and their mother was sitting there with this blank expression on her face, with her breast deflated, the child pulling at it, no milk. I thought, they’re probably Muslims or into Juju, they’re headed to hell.

I said to God: “How could you allow that? Call yourself a God of love? You let those poor people suffer, then suck ’em right into hell.”

And that’s when I felt I heard God say: “So that’s what you think we’re doing?”

I said: “Well that’s what the Bible says. They’re not Christians. They’re going to hell.”

“Can’t you see they’re already there? That is hell and I’m pulling them out of there, out of that place that you as humans have created for them and yourselves.”

You can find more of Bishop Pearson’s story here and watch a 4 part MSNBC video series “To Hell and Back – Is Hell Real?” that tells his story here.

And finally here is an excellent response from Shane Hipps that concentrates on the reality that whatever any of us believe about the afterlife it’s all purely speculative. I particularly like this piece because Hipps concludes by pointing out that perhaps we should be spending less time pondering the afterlife and more time on the here and now – which is something I wholeheartedly agree with!

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Check out the other contributions to this month’s synchroblog:

Jeremy Myers – Does Jesus Talk About Hell More Than Heaven?
Wesley Rostoll – Hell, thoughts on annihilationism
K. W. Leslie – Dark Christians
Angie Benjamin – Hell Is For Real
Paul Meier – Hell Is For Real – I’ve Been There and Came Back
Glenn Hager – Abusing Hell
The Virtual Abbess – What The Hell?
Kimbery Klein – Hell, if I know.
Michael Donahoe – Hell Yes…or No?
Liz Dyer – Hell? No!
Margaret Boelman – Hell No I Won’t Go
Loveday Anyim – Why the hell do you believe in hell?
Linda – The Y In The Road
Edwin Aldrich – What the Hell do we really know.
Mallory Pickering – The Time I Blogged About Hell
Elaine – What The Hell?

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You can’t get there from here

you-cant-get-there-from-hereThis post is a contribution to the April Synchroblog “Bridging The Divide”.  This month bloggers are encouraged to offer ideas on ways to heal divisions in the church.

 

You’ve probably heard the saying “you can’t get there from here.” The urban dictionary defines the saying to mean “the problem can’t be solved.”

As I thought about solutions to the divisions the Christian church is presently experiencing I realized I felt like “you can’t get there from here.”

When I think about healing the division in the church “here” becomes Christian unity and that’s where I see us needing to “get to” … I believe we have to know where we want to go before we can plan on how to get there, but, in order to pursue Christian unity we must first understand what it is and what it isn’t …

I don’t have a clear vision of what Christian unity is, so, I am limiting my contribution to some basic thoughts about Christian unity…

What I hate about Christian unity:

I hate the way the term or idea is used to shut down a criticism.

I hate the way the term or idea is used to bully someone who is disagreeing.

I hate the way the term or idea is used to avoid conflict.

I hate the way the term or idea is used as if it means agreement or uniformity.

Some things I believe about Christian unity:

Some things are worth division.

Uniformity is not unity.

Agreement is not unity.

Unity is better than uniformity or agreement.

Getting along with everyone is not equal to Christian unity.

Open acts of injustice are a real and formidable obstacle to Christian unity.

Christian unity is related to shalom in that it doesn’t have anything to do with a lack of conflict but has everything to do with right relations.

Christian unity is not so much a destination as it is something that we are continually striving for in each present moment.

What I love about Christian unity:

It is other centered.

We get glimpses of it when we look through the eyes of the other.

It is a high ideal.

It is centered around, justice, love and mercy.

We can make it happen.

Questions I have about Christian unity:

Is Christian unity the opposite of division?

Can Christian unity exist in the midst of divisions?

Should Christian unity be more about a way of living and interacting than about a list of rules or beliefs that we agree on?

How can I have unity with someone who embraces something I believe is harmful to people?

Is Christian unity really nothing more than the agreement of a few basic ideas?

What do you think? Can we get there from here?


Here are the links to the other contributions to this month’s synchroblog. I hope you will take the time to read more.

New Life, Empowerment and Dropping Keys

This post if part of the March synchroblog. This month’s synchroblog theme is New Life. I’m late to the party – the March synchroblog actually happened last Wednesday but my youngest son was home from college during his spring break and I was busy enjoying my time with him.

 

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Dropping Keys by Hafiz

The small man
Builds cages for everyone
He
Knows.
While the sage,
Who has to duck his head
When the moon is low,
Keeps dropping keys all night long
For the
Beautiful
Rowdy
Prisoners.

 

My one word theme for 2014 is “empowerment” and the idea isn’t primarily about my own empowerment but the idea of helping to empower others. It’s so easy to spend our energy keeping others small and caged so we can feel more comfortable; but I believe cages stifle creativity and ingenuity and end up robbing our world of ideas and innovations that need to be born in order for us to continue to progress and move forward. So, I’m trying to focus on being the sage who is dropping keys for the beautiful, rowdy prisoners locked up in cages rather than the small woman who is building those cages.

I see dropping keys as helping others consider possibilities that may have previously seemed out of reach, by connecting people to others and to resources that might be helpful, by taking the time to build up others who are life-givers, by spreading stories that seem to be changing the world into a better place, by encouraging those who still have work to do but might be tired or afraid or discouraged, by being willing to share my own “know how” about anything I do well with anyone who wants or needs it.

My hope is that by dropping keys someone will experience new life and in turn become a life-giver.

The inspiration came from the beautiful poem “Dropping Keys” written by Hafiz, a poet from the 14th century along with this thought from Chris Guillebeau:

“Think about the times when someone has really helped you think or live differently. It was like they placed a key on the ground in front of you; you picked it up and unlocked a cage. You had to open the cage yourself, of course, but it was a lot easier with a key.”

What keys do you hold that could set someone free and give them new life?

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I hope you will check out the other posts about New Life:

Michael Donahoe – New Life
K.W. Leslie – Sin Kills; God Brings New Life
Carol Kuniholm – New Life. Mystery Fruit.
Jeremy Myers – I Get Depressed On Facebook
Glenn Hager – A Personal Resurrection Story
Loveday Anyim – Spring Forth – Ideas That Speak New Life
Loveday Anyim – Inspired By Spring To Create A New Life
Sarah Quezada – Post Winter Delight
Edwin Aldrich – Finding New Life In Our New Home
Doreen A. Mannion – Each Day A New Decision: Choose Life
kathy escobar – new life through nonviolent communication
Anita Coleman New Life, The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks, and Eternal Living
Sonja Andrews Persephone
Mallory Pickering New Life Masterpiece Theater Style
Liz Dyer New Life, Empowerment and Dropping Keys

Advent 2013: The Way Home

This post is part of The December Synchroblog and part of Christine Sine’s annual Advent synchroblog, both of which invite bloggers to reflect on the idea of “coming home” and what that means to them during the season of Advent. The bloggers who participate will be listed at the bottom of this post for you as they become available. 

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The word “home” brings to mind a feeling that is hard to describe … it has to do with belonging and being loved and relaxed and letting one’s guard down and feeling safe. Sometimes home is found in a particular place such as a state or a city or a house, and other times it is found in the company of others or in a particular activity such as painting or riding a horse.

When my son comes home from college and we give each other a great big hug that lasts 10 or 15 seconds I get the feeling that I’ve found my way home. At times I experience that “coming home” feeling when I realize that someone “gets me”.  Other times I feel like I am home when I hear a particular song or am in the process of creating or when I’m hanging out with friends.  And sometimes I find my way home in a simple act of giving or listening or helping.

Whether the feeling of home is brought about by people, places or activities it is a blessing that is like a deep, refreshing breath for our souls … it feels right and there is a lightness that occurs within.

Thinking about the holidays and home reminds me of the sermon “Are You Going Home For Christmas?” by Frederick Buechner in which he talks about what it means to be truly home.

“I receive maybe three or four hundred letters a year from strangers who tell me that the books I have spent the better part of my life writing have one way or another saved their lives, in some cases literally. I am deeply embarrassed by such letters. I think, if they only knew that I am a person more often than not just as lost in the woods as they are, just as full of darkness, in just as desperate need. I think, if I only knew how to save my own life. They write to me as if I am a saint, and I wonder how I can make clear to them how wrong they are.

But what I am beginning to discover is that, in spite of all that, there is a sense in which they are also right. In my books, and sometimes even in real life, I have it in me at my best to be a saint to other people, and by saint I mean life-giver, someone who is able to bear to others something of the Holy Spirit, whom the creeds describe as the Lord and Giver of Life. Sometimes, by the grace of God, I have it in me to be Christ to other people. And so, of course, have we all-the life-giving, life-saving, and healing power to be saints, to be Christs, maybe at rare moments even to ourselves.

I believe that it is when that power is alive in me and through me that I come closest to being truly home, come closest to finding or being found by that holiness that I may have glimpsed in the charity and justice and order and peace of other homes I have known, but that in its fullness was always missing. I cannot claim that I have found the home I long for every day of my life, not by a long shot, but I believe that in my heart I have found, and have maybe always known, the way that leads to it … I believe that home is Christ’s kingdom, which exists both within us and among us as we wend our prodigal ways through the world in search of it.”

May we all find our way home during this season of Advent by spreading love and kindness wherever we go.

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check out the other synchrobloggers

 

Changing Hearts Rather Than Minds

This post is part of the August 2013 Synchroblog – Parables: Small Stories, Big Ideas

“Religious writing is usually designed to make the truth of faith clear, concise, and palatable. Parables subvert this approach. In the parable, truth is not expressed via some dusty theological discourse that seeks to educate us, but rather it arises as a lyrical dis-course that would inspire and transform us. In light of this, parables do not seek to change our minds but rather to change our hearts.”  Peter Rollins in The Orthodox Heretic and Other Impossible Tales 

I love the way a good parable surprises us and turns our thinking upside down.  Many good parables take a well-known story or situation and give it a twist here and a tweak there in order to cause the audience to think about something from a different perspective.  Jesus was a master at crafting and telling a good parable.

But I notice that Jesus parables don’t always seem to have the impact that they should have on me and I think that is because they have become too familiar.  Which is why I think I got such a kick out of the collection of parables that Peter Rollins wrote a few years ago.

If you haven’t read Rollins’ collection of parables you should pick up his book The Orthodox Heretic and Other Impossible Tales.  I think the 33 parables in his book might end up pushing you around a bit and that’s what a good parable should do.

Here’s one of the parables from the book to whet your appetite:

You sit in silence contemplating what has just taken place. Only moments ago you were alive and well, relaxing at home with friends. Then there was a deep, crushing pain in your chest that brought you crashing to the floor. The pain has now gone, but you are no longer in your home. Instead, you find yourself standing on the other side of death waiting to stand before the judgment seat and discover where you will spend eternity. As you reflect upon your life your name is called, and you are led down a long corridor into a majestic sanctuary with a throne located in its center. Sitting on this throne is a huge, breathtaking being who looks up at you and begins to speak.

“My name is Lucifer, and I am the angel of light.”

You are immediately filled with fear and trembling as you realize that you are face to face with the enemy of all that is true and good. Then the angel continues: “I have cast God down from his throne and banished Christ to the realm of eternal death. It is I who hold the keys to the kingdom. It is I who am the gatekeeper of paradise, and it is for me alone to decide who shall enter eternal joy and who shall be forsaken.”

After saying these words, he sits up and stretches out his vast arms. “In my right hand I hold eternal life and in my left hand eternal death. Those who would bow down and acknowledge me as their god shall pass through the gates of paradise and experience an eternity of bliss, but all those who refuse will be vanquished to the second death with their Christ.”

After a long pause he bends toward you and speaks, “Which will you choose?”

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Be sure and check out the other contributions to this month’s synchroblog:

Jesus’ Parables are Confusing? Good! – Jeremy Myers

Parabolic Living – Tim Nichols

Seed Parables:Sowing Seeds of the Kingdom – Carol Kunihol

Parables – Be Like the Ant or the Grasshopper – Paul Meier

The Parables of Jesus: Not Like Today’s Sermons – Jessica

Penelope and the Crutch – Glenn Hager

Parables and the Insult of Grace – Rachel

Changing Hearts Rather Than Minds – Liz Dyer

Young Son, Old Son, a Father on the Run – Jerry Wirtley

You Had To Be There

POST-IT-WHIP

This post is part of the July Synchroblog which invites bloggers to tell a story about a favorite prank … either one you pulled, one that was pulled on you or one you know about. (If this is your first time to learn about the synchroblog it might be good to know that we typically cover more serious subjects but once or twice a year we choose a more light hearted theme like this.)

As I started to write about a favorite prank I realized two things:  (1) I don’t have that much experience with pranks … neither pranking nor being pranked.  (2) Pranks lose a lot of humor in the telling … in other words it is one of those things that fall into the “you had to be there” category.

There were a few pranks that I thought of that would have been funny if I would have had a video of the prank because one of the funniest things about most pranks is the reaction of the person being pranked.

Soooooo … I went looking for a video of a really good prank because a video is almost like “being there”.

I found quite a few that had me ROTFL. I finally decided on one I thought was not only funny, but unique and creative. It is an “Easter Prank” some college guys played on some college gals.

I hope you enjoy it as much as I did. (I first watched it during my lunch hour at work and had trouble stifling my laugh so I wouldn’t disturb the people around me. :>)

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Be sure and check out the other July Synchroblog posts:

(I’ll add the links as soon as they are available)

Turn the other clip, this one is empty

imagesThis post is part of the March Synchroblog “Guns and God” which asks us to explore the controversial subject of gun control from our faith perspective.

First, I should let you know that I am all for stricter gun laws and I believe I could use scripture and my Christian faith to argue my point because my impression of Jesus is he was not only non-violent, but perhaps even a pacifist  However, it seems that those who disagree with me are also comfortable using scripture and their Christian faith to prop up their arguments.

For example, some Christians who oppose stricter gun laws have used Luke 22 to support the idea that Jesus would approve of individuals owning guns to protect themselves and their families because he said, “if you don’t have a sword, sell your cloak and buy one”. And Wayne LaPierre, the NRA Executive Vice President, said that “No government gave [the right to bear arms] to us and no government can take them away” which in turn caused many Christians (some right from the pulpit) to begin to proclaim that owning guns is a “God-given” right.  It seems that some Christians are hearing a message that sounds more like “turn the other clip, this one is empty” when they read scripture than the one of non-violence that I hear.

Of course I could probably put up a good argument against that kind of logic.

I might bring up that later in Luke 22 Jesus actually rebukes one of his disciples for using a sword for protection and in Matthew 26 (another telling of Jesus’ arrest) he not only rebukes the disciple but adds that “all who draw the sword, will die by the sword”.  Or, I might caution Christians who talk about owning guns as a “God-given” right about confusing constitutional issues with kingdom issues as I don’t think the freedom Jesus talked about had anything to do with the second amendment.

But, I would also be careful about getting caught up in that kind of back and forth as I am not so interested in winning an argument as I am at solving our problem and I believe our problem is bigger than whether we should have stricter gun laws or not.

Don’t get me wrong.  I want stricter gun laws. I think we should ban automatic and semi-automatic weapons and high capacity clips.  I am in favor of stricter registration laws, better background checks and better mental health services.  And although I don’t think those things will solve all of our problems I do believe they would help reduce gun violence and even contribute to changing our culture (I realize it would be a process and wouldn’t happen overnight).

But, what weighs heavy on my mind and keeps me up at night is the question as to why other countries, where lots of individuals own guns, have a significantly lower murder rate than the U.S.

After a lot of thought I’ve come to the conclusion that it might be linked to the individualism that has grown out of pursuing and living the “American Dream”.  The pull yourself up by your own boot straps, every man for himself, I don’t want to pay the way for freeloaders, this is mine, not my problem attitude creates a society where people are alienated and separate from each other.  In that kind of society we see others as a threat to our freedom and well being rather than someone we are together with on the path of life. Most other countries around the world seem to have realized that there is a national benefit to taking care of the sick, elderly and poor but here in the U.S. most people think that everyone should take care of themself. I’m not saying it is perfect anywhere but I do think it is time that we stopped ignoring the fact that something is awry in the U.S. when it comes to gun violence.

Which brings me back to looking at this thing from a Christian perspective and causes this thought to keep going through my mind:

It’s harder to kill someone if there is a sense of connection.

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I hope you’ll check out some of these other great posts for this month’s synchroblog: