Go to Heaven. Go to Hell.

March 16, 2011

Rob Bell’s new book “Love Wins” is apparently stirring up controversy. From what I can see, many Christians are thinking that he is saying that hell doesn’t exist, and that anyone, who wants to, can get into heaven, no matter what they believe. I have no idea what he says in his book, as I have not read it. I did however just watch a couple of interviews with him, and he didn’t seem to give any sort of really concrete, controversial answer in any way. His main point is just that God loves everybody, no matter what. I agree with that.

The funny (not “ha ha funny” at all) thing about all of this is, while people sit around and argue about whether or not there is a heaven or hell, and the location, and the guest list, and the cover charge, and all of that, there are people around them who are living in literal hell on earth. People often get so caught up in “what is to come” they forget about what is happening now. If this earth, and all of the people within it were created by God, is He not concerned about this life, now? I’m worried about it. I think Jesus worried about it too. He is my number one Christian role model.

Even people like Bill Maher, an outspokenly anti-religion, anti-Christian person, agrees that Jesus lived an incredible life; I heard and saw him say it with my own eyes and ears in a video just yesterday. Jesus’s life was a literal example of how to live, love, serve and accept. His words and lifestyle offended the religious who were blinded by pride and legalism, but His life and words touched and comforted those who were cast out by society. He lived a life of selflessness, that many of us in the modern-day church will never be able to grasp, or even come near to; not that we shouldn’t try. I mean, He had no home or possessions to speak of, at least that we know of. These aspects often get left out of sermons and discussion in and around church and Christianity. Probably, and mostly, because we are often self serving, and we like our “things”, and we especially hate to be inconvenienced.

I think it is fair to say that humans are innately selfish. We often like to know what’s “in it” for us before we get into something.  It is interesting to see different Christians’ reactions when you take the threat of hell and the enticement of heaven away from them; like, if you pose a question, which is very scary to them, “What if there is no heaven or hell?”. For some, it really puts the lives they are currently living in question, because the majority of their spiritual identity is placed on the afterlife. Maybe it’s a good question to ask ourselves, because I do not think it changes who God is; but maybe it changes who you thought God is, or how you have made Him to be.

And it is for this reason I respect people like Rob Bell, and Jesus, and Chris Boeskool (a Facebook friend who’s always challenging people’s beliefs and starting conversations on modern-day spirituality, and specifically wrote a note that got alot of feedback on this very topic). They don’t just accept the religious set-up as is, and they offer important questions to a continuous dialogue, and though some of these questions can only be answered with more questions, they are still not afraid to ask them. That is brave. Most people are scared to do that. And it is that fear in asking those questions that leads us to continue to guard our tiny beliefs with fury, while people sit waiting on the outside for us to respond with love. Because yes, often the lives those very people are living cause us to ask the deepest questions about God, life, humanity, and ourselves. Sometimes it’s easier just to defend what we already know, and ignorance is bliss.

 

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When life gives you a dead lizard…

February 5, 2011

I went to a worship service last night. The main reason I was interested in going was because a kid I used to babysit, way back in the day, when I was merely a baby myself, was leading worship. Well, he’s not really a kid anymore, and has turned out to be a fine young man, despite any involvement I might have had in his life. As he was up there playing music, and the people were around me worshipping God, I found myself looking around and thinking. I saw people passionately speaking and singing words of praise and adoration; some more or less passionate than others. I couldn’t help but wonder what was going on in those people’s lives, you know, like, behind the scenes.

I didn’t know what they were going through, but I started thinking about how easy it is to offer praise when everything’s going your way. I equally thought about how beautiful it is to see someone offer gratefulness when they are going through the most difficult, horrible experiences. It’s truly a beautiful thing to observe; truly moving. The night went on and my thoughts about that continued.

Which, eventually, led me to think about gift receiving…

Imagine a little six-year-old boy at his birthday party. I will call him Bud. All of his best friends are there, dressed like cowboys, or whatever. The atmosphere is festive; balloons, streamers, annoying blower-noise-maker-thingys, a group of people singing Happy Birthday in different pitches, and a huge, colossal stack of presents! Each present in the stack is uniquely wrapped; some done “professionally” by a store, others done by the parents, and some boasting of a genuine effort of a child. And, eventually, it comes time to open the presents. Exciting! Imagine Bud opening all the different presents you might see these days; you’re going to have to truly imagine it because I’m pretty out of touch with what might be seen at a six-year-old’s birthday party in this day and age.

Bud would probably receive all kinds of nice, expensive things, with the tiny gift givers beaming in pride as Bud excitedly says it’s “just what” he wanted; Playstation games, iTunes gift vouchers, robotic hamster toys, the complete Harry Potter box set, and the likes. But then Bud comes to one of the last gifts, one that got pushed to the side and unnoticed, maybe because it’s wrapped in a Kroger’s brown paper bag, and not even really taped, but held together with a dirty old shoe string.

The little gift giver, however, feels no shame, and watches with excitement as Bud reaches for his gift. I’ll call him Billy. Billy, in comparison to the other kids’ clothes, is dressed in the equivalent to the way his present is wrapped; like, hand-me-down-and-down-and-down-and-downs. As Bud begins to open Billy’s gift, maybe with a, “What could this be, Billy,” Billy glows with pride, as though it is the best gift he has ever given. Parents, more tainted and jaded by lives lived, nervously watch. And then, finally, Bud makes it through the brown paper bag, sticks his hand in, and comes out with a…dirty, scratched up, used, neon yellow frisbee!

It is obvious by the look in Billy’s eyes when he sees it emerge from the brown paper, that this was not just some random item found and wrapped; this meant something to him, and he was giving it with a true giving heart. Other kids look around awkwardly like, “What is that thing?” or “What kind of gift is that?!” as Bud holds the frisbee up in the air. Bud smiles ecstatically, grips the frisbee tighter, looks Billy in the eyes and says, “Man!! A frisbee! I’ve always wanted one of these! I can’t wait to get out and try it!” Billy looks like he might just possibly explode from pure delight. The other kids don’t get it.

I guess the gift could have even been “worse”; an old dirty shoe, a half eaten candy bar, a marble with a chip in it, a dead lizard, whatever. But whatever you imagine the present as, Bud’s reaction was genuinely grateful. In comparison to the gifts around him, the used frisbee was modest, to say the least, but Bud found real words to express genuine gratitude, maybe not even so much for the gift itself, but rather to the gift giver, and the heart behind it. I wonder how I would have responded as a six-year-old?

And yes, not all gifts are given with a true giving heart. A kid could have been like, “Ugh, I have to go to this stupid party AND I have to buy a gift, oh wait, there’s a dead lizard, perfect!” But the way the gift is received is still up to the receiver, and purpose can be found within every gift, no matter how big, or small, or “useless” it is perceived to be. At the same time another kid, we’ll call him Dick, could have opened the many various Playstation games, and what not, and shown the very minimal amount of thrill. Kind of like, “Oooh, Maddan 12. I bet it’s just like the other 11, but with different players,” as Dick tosses it to the side and reaches for the next gift. Imagine how a kid like Dick would respond to the used frisbee. Ouch.

When all is said and done, it is really not about the gift itself, though some gifts may hold more sentimental value. I would go as far as saying it’s not really even about the heart with which the gift is given, though that makes a huge difference in our emotional response. It all comes down to the gift receiver, and whether or not he or she can be truly thankful, no matter what the gift may be. And I’m not talking about mustering up fabricated words of praise, “Oh, Wow! You have gone way too far! This is extraordinary! Oh man, oh man! You have outdone yourself!” Dick, “Um, yeah, it’s just a dead lizard I found in my yard.” No, I’m talking about true gratefulness, despite the gift, finding real purpose in it, no matter what it may be. That can be tricky.

I see life, in and of itself as a gift. I think there are other smaller gifts, not to mention challenges, that come with that greater gift, but I see life itself as the one true gift. Whatever comes after the initial gift are mere details. Sometimes we may go through a dead lizard season, and sometimes we may be in a Lamborghini season, and we are capable of responding gratefully or ungratefully in either or both of those seasons. Even Dick might be able to muster up excitement when gifted a Lamborghini, though I would not put it past him to even be ungrateful like, “Oh cool. A car.” But it takes a real trooper like Bud to find true purpose in that dead lizard present, offering real, genuine words of gratitude.

I think life is a gift, and sometimes it’s perceived usefulness changes and shifts in our mind, depending on what we are going through. Sometimes it really sucks, sometimes it’s awesome. But I don’t think it changes the fact that every moment we breathe is another moment that was given to us, something we did not work for or earn. People whine and moan and complain about stuff, looking up to the sky blaming God for things He might not even be responsible for, whilst others look up to the sky and say, “I’m just glad to be here,” in the very same situation; like Miss Celie in The Color Purple when she expressed, “I’m poor, black, I might even be ugly, but dear God, I’m here. I’m here.”

So, I guess the question is, even when we feel like life is throwing dead lizards at us, and nothing’s going our way, are we a Bud or a Dick? I’m asking myself that.