Monday, March 21, 2011

More musings about hell but not really

I listened to a podcast today in which a well-known pastor offered a really articulate sermon about hell, in response to Rob Bell's new book on the same subject. His thinking was nicely expressed, nuanced, and thoroughly orthodox, built mostly around the parable about the rich man and Lazarus in Luke 16.

Please understand, I enjoyed the sermon and I think it was well done. However, about 2/3 of the way into it, I could just imagine Jesus smacking his forehead with the palm of his hand and saying, "Um, guys? That wasn't a theological treatise about hell. It was a really poignant story about who God loves and what really matters. I think you missed the whole point." Maybe he even muttered under his breath, "I don't know why I even bother . . . "

As scary as it is to contemplate the doctrine of hell, it is even scarier to take this parable at face value--it's a story about a man who is in hell because . . . well, because he is rich and lived a comfortable life. Jesus doesn't say that he is wicked or that he failed to "pray the prayer" when given a chance. Jesus' point is that he got his good life on earth, oblivious to the needs of others, and that Lazarus the beggar is given his chance at the good life in heaven after he dies.

Don't get me wrong--because I believe that this is a poignant story and not a soteriological treatise, I believe that God's grace extends to all, even the rich and clueless. But as a person who is clearly rich and comfortable and lives a pretty luxurious life, I'm very unsettled by the parable and its challenge to me and my lifestyle. I'm also deeply grateful that God is the kind of God who values the life of a sore-covered beggar as much or even more than he values mine. (The preacher points out that Lazarus is ironically named--that Jesus and his sense of humor!--and is the only character in any of Jesus' stories who is given a name.)

To complicate things even further, an hour after I listened to the podcast, I was dashing into Walgreens to get Advil and a young man approached me with a tentative story about needing money because of something having to do with his girlfriend . . . I didn't give him any money, but I did drive away feeling even more unsettled than I was before.

I love this!

Thursday, March 17, 2011

The latest controversy

My friend and I were talking the other day and he said, "All I know is, if I get to heaven and Ghandi's not there, I'm going to be confused. And if Hitler is there, I'm going to be confused." A conversation ensued that has been rattling around in my head since then.

If you have your ear to the ground at all, you know that evangelical Christians are worked up about Rob Bell's new book "Love Wins." Some famous evangelicals have been flippant and rude. Others have launched complex theological treatises. It even came up in my Sunday School class this week (during the prayer request time, actually), so I'm going to say a few things about it. I may come back and say a few more things about it later. Or not.

1. I haven't read the book. Until yesterday, neither had most of the people who were commenting on it. Whether they loved it or hated it, they hadn't actually seen it.

2. Several people have suggested reading it along with another orthodox book on the same subject. I've decided to read N. T. Wright's book, Surprised By Hope. Being pretty firmly non-Calvinist, it makes sense that I would read Wright. Besides, I've been really wanting to pick it up and this bumps it to the top of the list. (As an aside, the "list" is literal--there are about 350 books on my wish list.)

3. I love the title. Whatever the book is about, the title is absolutely, 100 percent true. That's the heart of the gospel: Love Wins.

4. Whatever this particular book has to say about heaven and hell, we all need to acknowledge that our thinking about eternal bliss and damnation is far more influenced by medieval art and Roman Catholic theology from the middle ages than any of us realize. If this helps us begin a conversation about biblical thought--in the biblical context--it will be a blessing.

5. Lots of people have had lots to say about this. Quite a few people have had some really thought-provoking, interesting, meaningful things to say. Here are a few: this one from a non-evangelical source and this one from a top emerging church thinker and this one from CT, which is a pretty mainstream ecumenical/evangelical source.

6. Whatever you think about what this book has to say about heaven and hell, don't forget how to act, okay? As my mother liked to say, "We can disagree agreeably." As the apostle Paul liked to say, "Speaking the truth in love . . . " Just because we disagree--and we will--doesn't mean we have to lose our minds and our salvation, you know?

Saturday, March 5, 2011

Working out

There is nothing in this world that can bring my insecurity to the surface like going to the gym. Not public speaking (which would be second), not parenting, not church, nothing. Well, actually, going to an art class probably would. Or dating, which thankfully, I don't have to do. But I digress.

I am not an athletic person. I'm not a person who likes to sweat. Or move much, actually. I'm too addicted to productivity to be a couch potato but I am definitely sedentary. I was that kid that walked around running into walls because I had my nose in a book (and because, frankly, I just wasn't very coordinated.)

There was a brief time when I was a little girl when I could earn extra allowance from my parents just for playing outside. I liked playing outside, though. I liked playing "Little House on the Prairie" because it was a book. Our gym set was the house, with the girls' loft on top of the monkey bars. Our bikes were horses and we pretended we had a covered wagon. As I recall, it wasn't a terribly active game, consisting mainly of standing around acting out scenes from the book. I think my friends must have been as dorky as I was.

So going to the gym is as far out of my comfort zone as I can go. I don't like the clothes you wear to the gym--t-shirt and athletic pants--because in the rest of my life, clothes like that are called "pajamas." I don't like the feeling of confusion I get looking at all the equipment or the looks of confusion I get from other people when I'm doing it wrong. Don't even think for a minute that I'm going to tell that story. I don't like the huge mirrors they put all over everything. If I liked what I saw in the mirror, I wouldn't be going to the stupid gym, okay?

Today, I did the 30-minute circuit, partly because the only other person doing it was middle-aged and overweight like me. Then "Brunette Barbie" joined us--20 years younger, with her long ponytail, size 4 on a "fat day," doing her kickboxing and her deep lunges and that move where you jump up on the step with both feet, then jump back down and repeat for one minute. Without falling. Or dying. The other woman looked at me with a sad little look of defeat. I tried to smile encouragingly.

I think it's great that Brunette Barbie looks so great and is so strong and so healthy. I not only envy her, I admire her. I just wish she'd take her fabulous self over to the part of the gym where the fabulous people go and leave us in peace. But seriously, I didn't give up. And I didn't change the amount of weight I was using on the machines after I finished, to make her think I was using more weight than I was. I was pretty proud of myself. Maybe I'll go back someday.