When I was younger I was invited to a mainstream denominational church who was putting on a "sort of haunted house." At the time I had no idea what it was, but now I commonly refer to it as a "Hell House" which some churches put on around Halloween. After arriving, we were funneled together in groups and ushered throughout the church. Children and adults of all ages were packed in. The first room came which began a story about two teenage boys. One of them had gone to church and believed in Christ while the other had not. In the second room the boys wrecked a car killing them both. Our group was then led into hell where the boy who did not go to church went. It was a fiery, hot, loud place where people shouted, yelled, and were tortured. I have to admit it was uncomfortable watching it. Next we moved into heaven where the other boy was. It was pristine white, with angels, and anything and everything you ever wanted. Finally the story finished asking what would you choose. We were led into a room and asked if we had accepted Christ into our hearts. There were ministers standing by to recite words with you if you had not. I quickly moved on getting out of the place.
Throughout the whole production I found myself angry. I was upset because I felt like the whole event was used for scaring people into Christ. I had been taught that God was love. In my mind no one should ever have to come to God by way of fear. I realize this is a common practice among some churches which I do not agree with. Here is a similar story out of Relevant Magazine. I think many people have pushed away from religion because of these types of practices. Let's take a closer look at fear based practices, hell and how fear impacts us.
Fear Based Programs
Scared Straight and Boot Camp programs have been around for decades. They advertise getting kids to make better decisions so they do not end up as delinquents. However what most people do not know is that these programs are discouraged by the Juvenile Justice System and have been since the late 90's. If you don't believe me click here. These programs have been found to actually cause more harm than good leading to further trauma or more offending behavior. An important part of this is kids make decisions in the moment and in adolescence kids are at a low point in thinking about the consequences of their behavior.
Gehenna was a ravine outside of the southwest wall of Jerusalem. It's modern name is the Valley of Hinnom. In early days this was the place where the Kings of Judah sacrificed their children to fire causing it to be a cursed place. The commentary by William Barclay states, "When the valley had been so declared unclean and had been so desecrated it was set apart as the place where the refuse of Jerusalem was burned. The consequence was that it was a foul, unclean place, where loathsome worms bred on the refuse, and which smoked and smouldered at all times like some vast incinerator." This physical place became a symbol for "hell". Now some scholars do not agree with Barclay's suggestion of Gehenna, as a physical place. Explaining the differences in interpretation might come because the idea of Gehenna changed. It was specifically a place where physical bodies went to burn and through time changed to a place where souls went. So are Gehenna and Hell the same thing? Various theologians argue since there was a change in interpretation they have different understandings and hence are not the same. On the other hand there are theologians who think they are. Further exploration of the term is needed for you to identify what it is you believe. I would encourage you to look through other commentaries such as Moody's, Barclay's, etc. I think it is always important to use historical context when seeking understanding of scripture because it reshapes our thoughts. Exploration of terms which are sometimes messy, deepens our faith. However in today's society these messy terms are used inappropriately to produce fear instead of focusing on the gospel message.
No Fear in Love
“There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear. For fear has to do with punishment, and whoever fears has not been perfected in love” 1 John 4:18
I have to ask isn't Jesus' story compelling enough? Isn't love the essence of Christianity. Jesus' showed perfect love to those around him. The compassionate love he shared captures and continues to capture people. It seems that scaring people into Christ doesn't really help them come to know love. Their decisions are based out of fear of what may potentially happen. Fear traps us into actions that we may not fully want to participate in, actions that do not really capture our hearts. This produces guilt, regret, and bitterness in our lives which can fester. Shouldn't love be what we lead with? Shouldn't love be our goal? Love does cast out fear!
Have you ever experienced a "Hell House"? How did you feel about it?
What experiences have you had with organizations instilling fear into others?
What do you think or believe about Hell?
When is a time love has overcome fear in your life?
I feel blessed for all those reading out there! This week contemplate how fear lives in your life and how you can use love to cast it out.
My wife and I were driving back from St. Louis this last week when we came upon some road construction. It was bumper to bumper traffic. Cars continued to zoom in the left lane going as far up as they could go before merging despite the signs saying no passing. A big rig in front of us pulled over to the left lane physically blocking the other vehicles who were attempting to zoom by past those who were waiting. I could hear a collective shout from the cars both in front and behind mine because the action the driver took. We joked about how events like this are when society is the most unified. This of course was the unification of the cars to keep out those who had not waited their turn.
This event reminded me of the importance social justice has in today's world. More than ever before we as a community desire to have social justice even in the smallest arena's of life. Some people have left churches because the lack of action and care for their community. I completely understand this because churches need to be actively living out the message of Christ. I also believe churches can be the primary change agent for social justice in a community. So lets look a little closer at social justice and who knows maybe you have the idea that a local church or community needs.
Value the Idea
Improv comedy is so much fun to watch. I laugh at the randomness and complete chaos it produces because it's original and authentic. One reason it's so great is because those acting value the ideas of those around them. If they didn't there would be lashing back and forth instead of a collective product for those watching to enjoy. Here's a clip of a group called Roman Improv. They play a game called Speak in One Voice which starts around the 1:30 minute mark. While you watch also see how they value the other's ideas.
Ideas are precious and need to be gently taken care of. When ideas are valued people are valued. The idea is something from the person, a part of them that could lead to something great. So how does this connect with social justice. Creating social justice starts with an idea. You never know how one little idea could impact your community. So hold up others ideas! Creatively think with them and together maybe change can happen.
The truck driver took action when he saw a need. We have opportunities everyday to take action too. Open your eyes to the needs of those around you in your community. I am sure ideas will float in and out of your head if you intentionally look. Harness the power of your thought and move on it. Remember, action is about collaboration. Who else is working towards the same goals? Who can benefit and build on this idea? What resources or people do you need to carry it out? Do you have a diverse team with different perspectives?
Doctrine and Covenants 165 1d&e
"Undertake compassionate and just actions to abolish poverty and end needless suffering. Pursue peace on and for the Earth. Let nothing separate you from this mission. It reveals divine intent for personal, societal, and environmental salvation; a fullness of gospel witness for creation’s restoration."
You Make a Difference
In the story above I have been both the person that zoomed ahead and also the person that waited in line. Social Justice in society is all about our perspective and culture. I think its important we keep this in mind. If you find something unjust than how you communicate it makes all the difference. The goal is to unify those around you so they see the need. Everyone makes a difference in creating social justice. I could have very easily slowed down and let cars in despite the action the truck took. But all those in line pulled together tighter for the same common goal. This shows we all have a role to play.
For those out there that are wanting to meet the needs around them and push forward social justice. I encourage you to find a community that will support your ideas and your initiative. I believe most Community of Christ congregations can be this place. Most are starving to become the hands and feet of Christ. It may just be your idea that they need.
Thank you for following our blog! This week think of ways you can help your community. Write them down and share them with a friend.
Many years ago I went to a talent show at a family church camp (Reunion). There was lots of talent among the participants but what I remember most is a song sung by a 7 year old little girl. Her voice echoed in the outdoor shelter as the room quieted so much you could hear a pin drop. The prophetic, touching words floated into the hearts of everyone listening. She sang, "There is so much love in this world, how did I get put in a place without any." The perspective of a little girl not having someone to love her shook my core as well as everyone else's in attendance.
I share this story because so many times we do not feel loved or worthy of being loved preventing us from experiencing the genuine, wholistic, healing power of the Holy Spirit. Our own personal blame, guilt and shame causes us to fade away instead of stepping into the loving communities before us. Let go and know you have worth. There is a community waiting to love you for who you are the beloved child of God.
Worthy of Being
A year or so ago, I watched the Brene Brown TED Talk talking about the power of vulnerability. Brene Brown is a social worker who does qualitative research to determine connections between individuals. She was really trying to understand why some people feel love and belonging and others do not. Part of her studies showed that many times the feeling of shame came from the fear of disconnection with others. In other words people feel “I’m not good enough.” As she continued to categorize all the research and stories she had received from people, she found only one thing separating those who had a strong sense of love and belonging and those that didn’t. Those that had a sense of love and belonging feel they are worthy of being loved.
Have you doubted or are continuing to doubt whether or not you are worthy of being loved? Do not give into those false perceptions. You have inestimable worth and are loved beyond measure. What would it mean if you truly believed this?
Being the Beloved
This summer I was introduced to Henri Nouwen's Sermon about Being the Beloved. It's an incredible sermon with 8 parts. I wanted to share a part of it with you because he authentically illustrates how we are God's beloved sons and daughters. Below is the 2nd part of his sermon. If you have time I encourage you to watch all of them which can be found on youtube.
I love how he says everything we do is from the knowledge that we are the beloved of God. Our identity is being lived as the beloved. If we live this out in our daily lives how would we change? our families? our communities? I believe Nouwen is challenging us to deeply believe we are worthy of being loved.
What live performance has impacted you?
When have you felt loved?
Do you truly believe you have worth, that you can be loved for who and what you are?
What does it mean to be the beloved child of God?
Thank you all for following along! Please share our blog website on Facebook, Instagram, or Twitter. We want all to hear the message that they have worth!
A dog turned up at our neighbor's farm a year after my father died. He was a mutt that looked like he was part german shepherd. His rib cages were clearly visible, showing the lack of food and proper nourishment. As with any stray dogs we were weary of him however the dog showed a lot of playfulness. After some discussion my mother decided that I could keep him. I named him Rusty. Rusty immediately became my world and we did everything together. I would get off the bus from school and he would be waiting for me. Everyday we ran, played fetch, and explored the countryside. Rusty made me feel loved and cared for.
A few months after, I got home from school expecting to see Rusty waiting for me, but he was nowhere to be found. Instead I saw my mother with tears in her eyes. She hugged me and told me Rusty had died. She explained how Rusty was hit while he excitedly ran beside a passing truck. I sobbed and held onto my mother tighter once the news sank in. I kept thinking how Rusty would never run with me again. We walked around the house finding him laying on the ground, unmoving. I noticed blood on his side where his thin rib cages used to be just months before. Again I cried for the loss of my friend and the best dog I ever had.
It was years later, when I found out a different part of the story. My mother had actually found Rusty while I was still at school. She remembers crying profusely because she knew how upset I would be. She knew I would be hurt and there was nothing she could do about it. It was in that instance where I understood what true compassion is. Compassion is caring about the concerns and sufferings of others. When we truly care about others we have compassion for them.
I find this relates to our spiritual lives because caring about the human spirit is the root of spirituality. It's not just our own human spirit but those around us. When we look at finding ourselves or our communities its about finding relationships with reciprocating compassion.
Jesus was the ultimate model of compassion. He looked past what was happening in the moment to really grasp what individuals need. Much of Jesus healings took place after Jesus was filled with compassion. He cared for these individuals and the circumstances their lives where in.
Just as Jesus, we can model compassion everyday in the interactions we have with others. One way to do this is to understand how your tone of voice, cadence, body language, and facial expressions can impact communication. Sometimes we are incongruent with our messages. When this happens people begin to guess whether what you said is really what you meant. Modeling compassion means our whole presence needs to match our verbal message. This something I struggle with and continue to work on daily. But when we truly show compassion with all of our presence we our taking after Jesus.
I'll Pray For You
Many times when others are hurting we say, "I'll pray for you." That's great prayer really does wonders and I believe it is important. But I think we have to ask ourselves is that all this person needs at this moment? Can we provide anything else to them during this difficult time that might put them at ease? When my father died our house became a jungle because of all the plants we received. There were so many that I could hide behind them and move throughout the house in complete camouflage. It was thoughtful to receive them but what my mother felt was most helpful was the gift of stamps given by a friend. The person knew my mother would send thank you's notes. It was the extra thoughtfulness that made the biggest impact.
One important part of the story above is my mother was there and supported me during a terrible incident. Sometimes we would rather go the other direction when bad things happen wanting nothing to do with it. But being part of a community calls us to stick it out through the muddy waters others find themselves in. Just like Cleveland Browns fans throughout what seems like forever since they have been good.
No matter what our records have been a community is there for you. They tell you the bad news, they embrace you, and they continue to support you days afterwards. So be filled with compassion and give that compassion to those around you.
What pet has meant the world to you?
When have you been filled with compassion?
Who has modeled compassion for you?
Who has stuck it out with you?
What community would be there for you?
I sincerely hope all of you have had a pet that has meant a lot for you! This week use your presence to be there for someone else. Give them compassion, love, and support.
One time in elementary art class, I was sitting across from my friend Nathan. I had this thick rubber band I was playing with as the teacher was instructing us on what we needed to do. Jokingly I pulled it back and pointed it at my friend who was sitting two to three feet across the table from me with no intention of letting it go. He cautiously moved around avoiding the direct line toward him. In the middle of this playful dance between us the rubber band slipped from my finger springing it forward. It flew straight at Nathan hitting him right in his eye.
Immediately he grabbed his eye and his facial expressions showed a disbelief and anger for my actions. I felt horrible and apologized profusely. His eye turned red, watered, and he had trouble seeing out of it. The teacher eventually came around to our table at the far end of the room. First she noticed we were both behind having not listened to her instructions and second, Nathan's red eye prompting her to ask, "What had happened?" Nathan had every right to say something for my poor choices which probably would have ended with me going to the office however he instead told the teacher he got something in his eye. I was amazed and still am for the grace Nathan bestowed on me in the moment. A moment when he was in pain and yet chose to save me despite my actions against him.
There is so much here relating to our spiritual journey which I will try to break down. Hopefully it can be helpful to anyone who has been unintentionally harmed.
Churches sometimes hurt people when they do not mean too. This unintentional harm can come from practices, policies, personal disagreements, relational disputes, lack of action, and many other things. Many times a church or religious organization may not even realize the hurt they have been involved in because they are just practicing what they believe. We justify it in our heads that its ok because of our interpretation on scripture or some other religious experience. However if what we are practicing and believing is causing significant pain to others than an in depth reflection is needed. Our goal should always be on creating right relationships and healing in this world not brokenness and discord. I think God calls all of us to reexamine our beliefs, practices, and interactions with others. When we do this we create opportunities for us to become more knowledgeable, welcoming, inclusive, and supportive.
When a person is in pain because of some kind of unintentional harm than the community has been hurt. Now I know what you are thinking, we can't keep everyone happy, so why should we be concerned. Well no you probably can't, however being community is about acknowledging disagreements, valuing differences, and supporting those whom need supported. When someone is hurting than the community is hurting. Sometimes unintentional harm causes people to stop coming. Sometimes that person just needs to know that they are wanted. Other times they have concerns which need addressed. Who has been hurt in your community? Who haven't you seen for awhile? Who needs to be listened to and valued?
Doctrine and Covenants 161
3c. Be patient with one another, for creating sacred community is arduous and even painful. But it is to loving community such as this that each is called. Be courageous and visionary, believing in the power of just a few vibrant witnesses to transform the world. Be assured that love will overcome the voices of fear, division, and deceit.
If you noticed in the story, I immediately apologized profusely for my actions. Apologies are sometimes magical. They have the ability to soothe the situation and make things right. They can repair relationships and create healing in places where there has been pain. Sincerity is the essential part of any apology. Without it the heart and meaning has been lost and true healing has been missed. As I mentioned earlier churches or even personally we may not even know we have hurt someone which makes this part tricky. However when you first discover there has been harm done than we have the responsibility to address it and apologize for the actions that have occurred.
The last and most important part of the story is grace. No matter what we do God freely loves us. Despite our shame, guilt, and fear. God's grace prevails because its not about us. My friend Nathan bestowed grace on me. How often are we giving others grace, the benefit of the doubt in situations that arise? When we give others grace we give compassion, hope, and the ability for God to work in the moment. So no there is nothing we have to do to earn God's love however what we choose to do may end up being the hands and feet of God in this world. It may be your actions that lead someone else to experience grace.
When have you caused unintentional harm to someone?
Why is building community so difficult?
When have you felt the sincerity of an apology?
How have you felt grace in your life and how have you given it?
I'm so glad fall is here! Bestow grace on someone this week whether at the grocery store, work, or in your home. Give them the benefit of the doubt and love them for who they are.
Craig Hidy like the majority of ministers in Community of Christ is a bi-vocational, self sustaining ordained minister. He is a member of the Midlands Mission Center Emporia Team and an ordained Seventy. He and his family, live in Topeka, Kansas.
What is a Seventy?
The Seventy carry out missionary work for the church in close association with other missionary leaders. They represent Christ primarily as ministers of evangelism through witnessing, inviting, and church planting. They especially proclaim and promote Jesus Christ’s invitation to faithful discipleship through vibrant witness, and train individuals and congregations in witness and invitation. They particularly minister with seekers, individually and in groups, to share the gospel in relevant ways and to invite response. They support sacramental ministries by preparing people for baptism and/or confirmation, presiding at sacramental services, and performing most sacraments. They promote community by inviting individuals, households, and families to respond to Christ’s call to discipleship. They promote justice and peacemaking by inviting people to experience all aspects of Christ’s peace through active discipleship. They create ministry partnerships with mission center officers, apostles, elders, and evangelists.
The views expressed here are those of the authors and do not necessarily represent or reflect the views of Community of Christ. We believe individuals should be allowed to have their own opinions and be at different places in their faith journey.