the hell there isnt….

“She thought she could get well again if children believed in fairies…

Peter flung out his arms. There were no children there, and it was night time; but he addressed all who might be dreaming of the Neverland, and who were therefore nearer to him than you think: boys and girls in their nighties, and naked papooses in their baskets hung from trees.

“Do you believe?” he cried.

Tink sat up in bed almost briskly to listen to her fate.

She fancied she heard answers in the affirmative, and then again she wasn’t sure.

“What do you think?” she asked Peter.

“If you believe,” he shouted to them, “clap your hands; don’t let Tink die.”

Many clapped.

Some didn’t.

A few beasts hissed.”- Peter Pan by J.M. Barrie, Chapter 13: Do You Believe in Fairies?

Of course, none of us desire for there to be a literal, Biblical place of eternal torment where “the worm does not die, and the flame does not go out”, a “lake of fire reserved for the devil and his angels” Our consciences are singed at the very thought of an all loving Father, for whom even His very own Son was considered an available sacrifice to take away the sins of the world, sending some individuals into the outer darkness, perpetually separated from His love, and where there is weeping and gnashing of teeth. My heart’s desire is that, when the final trump(!) is sounded, that this all encompassing loophole of God’s compassion, this universal salvation of substitutionary attonement would grant that every human ever created would willingly bow the knee and slip gracefully into the bosom of Abraham. But in 2000+ years of orthodox saints, sages, writers, luminaries, and other professional thinking persons it seems like the view of an all encompassing salvatory experience that does away with the necessity of Hell is a disesteemed position to take, if not completely nonexistent.

While we could all sit around reading and debating the works of the early church fathers, the apostolic fathers, Irenaeus of Gaul, Arnobius of Cicca, Athanasius, Origen, Augustine, Rohr, Bell, and all the rest, personally I am more persuaded by looking at the teachings of Jesus Himself. The Greek word “Hades” appears a limited number of times in the mouth of Christ, either in the gospels or accredited to Him elsewhere (in John’s Apocalypse for instance), and unfortunately He never sits the apostles down for a heart to heart about the specific mechanism, function, and even relationship between His uses of this term for the Greek otherworld reserved for tortured souls of the dead, the outer darkness, the lake of fire, and all of the other phrases He turned to describe the final judgement.

What was Jesus trying to teach when He scolded “That whosoever is angry with his brother without a cause shall be in danger of the judgment: and whosoever shall say to his brother, Raca, shall be in danger of the council: but whosoever shall say, Thou fool, shall be in danger of hell fire.”?  When He implored that it was better to go on with ones right eye, right hand, or various other limbs willfully plucked off rather than risk hell’s chastisement?  When He exhorted Peter as the scaffolding on which the church would be built, against which the very gates of hell would not prevail, or chided the hypocritical scribes and Pharisees for making their disciples twice the children of hell as they themselves already were?

The closest I think Jesus comes to a clear explanation of the existential divide between hell and “the bosom of Abraham” (whatever the heck that is) is the parable of Lazarus and the rich man.  As with all His other parables it’s important to look at the intended audience of the fable.  Obviously the original listeners would already have had some experience with this explanation of the afterlife, with their own preconceived notions about who, what, when, where, and how which we twenty-first century westerners have regrettably little connection with.

The “Tinkerbell Effect” is an expression which reveals that people expect existence based solely on other people’s belief. I think it’s patently clear from this rambling response that I have absolutely no idea about the nuts and bolts beneath the surface of this great mystery, but I think it’s extremely important for us to listen to each other’s (sometimes opposing) viewpoints on what is obviously an incendiary topic of debate within our faith. And to extend to each other the same measure of grace we would desire for ourselves, not as a free pass that allows us to throw off all restraint under the guise of Christ, but as an offering of love and peace within the family of His church.

Musings on Richard Rohr’s Falling Upward

“My eye fell upon my hand. Now the hand of Henry Jekyll was professional in shape and size: it was large, firm, white and comely. But the hand which I now saw, clearly enough, in the yellow light of a mid-London morning, lying half shut on the bed clothes, was lean, corded, knuckly, of a dusky pallor and thickly shaded with a swart growth of hair. It was the hand of Edward Hyde.” Robert Louis Stevenson


I’ve been reading Falling Upward by Richard Rohr as part of a book club on Facebook.  The dismissal of the “Loyal Soldier” motif in Chapter Three of Rohr’s book seemed particularly resonant to me, at this particular season of my life as my Lenten abstinence has focused on trying to control my unruly tongue which always seems to lash out with some clever comment in any situation before giving my brain a chance to ponder. This knee-jerk and instinctive reaction, an instantaneous retort from the shadows of the subconscious, has been my constant companion and frequently prime motivator into action for most of my life.  I have relied upon this “gift” as a means of being the source of mirth and entertainment, even (especially) in the face of otherwise uncomfortable or awkward social situations, and when faced with sudden unexpected conflict my tendency is to smirk and spout off some one-liner.  This personality has served me admirably in the past, a pretty obvious defense mechanism against laying my ego bare in front of a cold and disinterested audience, but I have noticed that these barbs (witticisms and charmingly ironic quips though they sometimes are) are frequently the source of emotional pain in the folks that I care about.

I’ve always joked that growing up in a German family of origin, we showed affection through insulting and making fun of each other, and no doubt I’ve inherited this personality quirk in spades from my father who experiences the same tendency towards verbal diarrhea. And as a young man, this ability to reach lightning fast decisions and opinions in real-time and ahead of my companions has certainly been a great boon. But as I age, perhaps even occasionally growing in depth of spirit and relationship with Christ as well as greyness of beard, I have come to the startling conclusion that these first rapier quick reactions to situations and ideas are generally wrong!  If I allow myself time to think, to chew on the reasons behind the curtain, to pray for Godly wisdom in how I should proceed, I generally am convinced of the opposite line of action than my initial reactive mouthing-off would exhibit.

The travelogue host, occasional celebrity chef, and general sage Anthony Bourdain says “I understand there’s a guy inside me who wants to lay in bed, smoke weed all day, and watch cartoons and old movies. My whole life is a series of stratagems to avoid, and outwit, that guy.” I can totally relate.  My personal “Loyal Soldier” has bamboozled me more often than not, and yet despite the destructive nature of his personality I cling to these vestiges of my old personality through my own sense of loyal desperation to the framework I have built.  Like Henry Jekyll I enjoy keeping Mr Hyde about, as he offers an excellent scape-goat, a means of denying responsibility for the monstrous emotional sins I commit against my family and loved ones. I think perhaps we enjoy the company of monsters too much to slay them outright, or like the baby elephant that is taught from youth that the slender rope is proof against his escape, as we grow into a titanic mastodon we believe that frail tendril will still hold us tight against our escape from its bondage.