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!
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.