Comfort, comfort o my people...

Sometimes, from what seems like out of nowhere, you get knocked on your
butt by a flu bug or something nasty - and your whole day is turned upside down. That's my story for today - a day that was supposed to include pastoral and organizing meetings as well as midday Eucharist - but now has me staying very close to home. Last night after band practice and choir rehearsal, I read the final chapter in John Philip Newell's book, The Rebirthing of God. I really resonate with this quote:

As Christians, we have much to learn from (Simone) Weil and from the many men and women well beyond the bounds of our Christian household who revere the wisdom and the way of Jesus. As Martin Buber, the great Jewish philosopher, said, "I do not believe in Jesus but I do believe with him." What if Christianity had gotten that one right? What if we had realized long ago that the important thing is not getting the world to believe what we believe, getting others to subscribe to particular beliefs about Jesus? The important thing is inviting the world to believe with Jesus, to believe in the way of love.

I am letting that sink in today. It strikes me as much more satisfying than much of what takes place in the church. This is what so many Roman Catholic sisters/women religious do - they share and embody love in ways that make a difference - without any need to force their theological beliefs on others. For them, making God's love flesh is what is most important. It seems to me that this is what Pope Francis I is preaching and teaching, too. Fr. Richard Rohr recently posted this that reflects a similar deep connection to living into the love of Christ.

Kathleen Dowling Singh, an inspired author and hospice worker, says that many times those who, in the last hours of life, fight death the most are very religious people. Fear of God and fear of death are the same thing. When it’s all a matter of counting, earning, meriting, and achieving by various performance principles, you’re afraid of death and also afraid of God. Why wouldn’t you be? Until we clear away the idea of hell, it is not a benevolent universe, but a hostile and dangerous universe where an angry god does not follow his own commandment about love of enemies.

In his book, Inventing Hell, Jon Sweeney blames the modern Christian view of hell on Dante. The imagery that has influenced the Western psyche for 800 years is not the imagery of the Bible, but of Dante’s Divine Comedy. It’s great Italian poetry, but not always excellent theology. It portrays a threatening God, not an inviting, alluring, or revealing God. We’ve been preconditioned by an unbiblical story line. The word “hell” is not mentioned in the Pentateuch. Paul and John never once use the word “hell.” It is not a part of their theology.

This has created a schizophrenic religion in which we have two different gods—one before we die, and another one after we die. The god before we die tells us to love our neighbor as our self, but apparently God doesn’t. Jesus teaches us to forgive seventy-times-seven (Matthew 18:22), but apparently God has a cut-off point. This is theologically unworkable and untenable.


You can’t be more loving than God; it’s not possible! If you understand
God as Trinity—the fountain fullness of outflowing love, relationship itself—there is no possibility of any hatred in God. Finally, God—who is Love—wins. And we're all saved by mercy. Knowing this ahead of time gives us courage, so we don’t need to live out of fear, but from love. To the degree you have experienced intimacy with God, you won’t be afraid of death because you’re experiencing the first tastes and promises of heaven in this world.

Last night Di told me about a young woman friend of ours who finally came out to her mother. She had been raised in an ultra-conservative, fundamentalist Christian immigrant family by a very demanding mother. Our friend said that her mother will now only relate to her as a friend - not a daughter - because she has chosen to bring evil into the home.  I kept thinking of the "rebirthing" words I've quoted above and how the love of Jesus matters much more than the former holiness codes or fear-filled restrictions. Clearly we have "created a schizophrenic religion in which we have two different gods—one before we die, and another one after we die. The god before we die tells us to love our neighbor as our self, but apparently God doesn’t. Jesus teaches us to forgive seventy-times-seven (Matthew
18:22), but apparently God has a cut-off point. This is theologically unworkable and untenable."

It breaks my heart when the love of Jesus that I cherish is used as an ugly weapon against anyone. But so it goes: we do not live in the world as it should be, but in the one that is. And we've been called to love it - and its people - from birth, through life and all the way into death and life beyond death. For me the ancient poet prophet of Israel, Isaiah, got it right in this reading for the second Sunday of Advent: 

Comfort, O comfort my people,
   says your God. 
Speak tenderly to Jerusalem,
   and cry to her
that she has served her term,
   that her penalty is paid,
that she has received from the Lord’s hand
   double for all her sins. 
A voice cries out:
‘In the wilderness prepare the way of the Lord,
   make straight in the desert a highway for our God. 
Every valley shall be lifted up,
   and every mountain and hill be made low;
the uneven ground shall become level,
   and the rough places a plain. 
Then the glory of the Lord shall be revealed,
   and all people shall see it together,
   for the mouth of the Lord has spoken.’ 

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