I couldn’t help it.
A religious text from a living leader I have heard of and respect causing an uproar in the Christian world?
The release of a book that incites pastors to respond prematurely, warning and questioning before even reading a word?
The possible (beneficial) overthrow of the church I love because of some typed text?
I was at the bookstore within days to purchase Love Wins: A Book About Heaven, Hell, and the Fate of Every Person Who Ever Lived by Rob Bell. The deciding factor was the trailer:
Picking up the book was an act of hope for me. I haven’t read much recently of a Christian bent. I haven’t picked up any new texts or books from living pastors or speakers. (Living and New being the keywords there.) If you don’t read this blog often you won’t know, and I will only touch on it quickly because I imagine you might be asking why?
A number of years ago (2003-2005) I was massively involved in church. I led teams, led small groups, led missions. I interned and served. I spent several days a week standing in services and helping put things together. It was my identity.
Then, I began to travel. I began to see things differently. I began to see that a large portion of my thoughts and ideas about God and being a Christian didn’t fit in the rest of the world. I came face to face with memorized answers that didn’t apply to the situations I was in. Meaningless, weightless words that didn’t help, didn’t support, didn’t inspire once I left my cushion. There were ideas about God that didn’t fit together, that I was not comfortable explaining away, and, most importantly, there were people that I couldn’t possibly turn my back on or release to a depraved eternal existence just because a person who had never met them, heard their pain, or held their hand as their life swirled about told me that there was no hope because they didn’t believe.
I was jaded.
Hearing that, perhaps, maybe, with a little bit of hope, there would be a book that could touch on these issues released the tiniest bit of light inside me that we could get back to loving people and believing in love in a way that was healthy, fearless, and encompassed all. It made me think, perhaps, there was another person out there that had words to explain what I had been circling – that there is a process happening in every person. In that process they (and we) choose daily if we will move towards actions of love and justice or towards actions of depravity and hell and that our process doesn’t necessarily have a ending point. And, that there is, perhaps, a lot more to living on earth then getting folks to say a certain prayer.
Could it be?
I realize that saying perhaps our belief that there is only one way and that a special prayer is all it takes is false makes people uneasy. It made me uneasy, too, because it moved things from black and white to grey. Grey is not an easy place to be. Actually, I would argue that it moved it from black and white to color. In an artists palette there are a lot more options and, frankly, I consider God an artist.
So, when Rob Bell starts his book off asking how do we know Ghandi is in hell? I think to myself, Yeah! How do we know? and why would that be something we are comfortable knowing?
Response 1: Opening a dialog
I do not like, under any circumstances, making God small. I don’t like cutting him off, denying his abilities, putting time limits and boxes around him. That is not the kind of God I want to know or get to know. The blanket Heaven and Hell statements about who is getting in and who isn’t make God small. A few person’s attempts at either expanding (or perhaps it is just denial) by saying We will just never know about a person’s fate are not the kind of answer I seek out. They are weak.
What I do like is being able to ask questions and start a discussion and I firmly believe that Bell’s book does this. It opens up a dialog for people to be honest and ask those tough questions that matter to eternity and rarely find a voice. They are the questions that make God big again. They are valid and worthwhile and can be pursued. Talking about them – not dictating them or preaching them without conversations and people being involved – will help us understand and live a way that has seemed to eluded so many.
Response 2: It is all about the process
Being a human is a process. It is a process of figuring things out. Believing and then unbelieving. Growing and digging. Being challenged and finding your way. Remembering that we are in process and that every single other person around us is in process is vital to how we align our hearts towards them. Writing some one, or some religion off because they are colorful instead of black and white is trying to sift the wrong thing. It is futile, frustrating work.
Response 3: There is hope for this world
I don’t know about you, but from what I see the world is a fekking mess. It is chaos and pain, it is hurt and abandonment, it is destruction and fear. It was these things that I thought I had no power over when I just had a little bit of faith and some memorized fridge magnets. But, the truth is, this earth is hurling towards something and, if we believe God is good, we can believe that it’s direction is good. Our own lives, too, are hurling towards something. Based on the decisions we make every day we are dictating the truth or the lies that have power. Being handed back the hope that my decisions can make a difference may be the number one ‘like’ I have about this book. Also, that others have that same power and I can stand with them, believe in them and believe in change is a beautiful thing.
Response 4: I may not be alone
Basically walking away from what I thought I believed and the life I had built has been a rough road. It is often lonely here and my heart is sometimes skeptical. Reading (and I will admit fairly often crying) through the words of the book, thinking to myself that I was not off my rocker, that others noticed this world and what we have been saying about God are not right, and that there is a path where I can live is the most blessed feeling – one I have not often had in the 2 years I have been questioning.
Response 5: Just because I am thinking these things doesn’t mean I am a heathen, fallen off the bandwagon, universalist, or pagen – and so what if I am?
Well, to tell the truth, I don’t care what you call me. The focus of my life is to figure these things out and if that means I have to ask questions that make others uncomfortable, I have to wait on answers or I am called some silly name then so be it. My life will only be lived well if I take the chance at chipping away the muck and finding the truth.
I was telling a friend about the book and she asked, “Yeah, but will it make be cynical? I have a tendency to be cynical about the church…” My response is NO. If anything I found more life and love and belief in the people that are choosing to seek out truth. Please, church, honestly seek and please, friends, be willing to love.