Posts Tagged ‘ Hell ’

Who Is the Street Preacher

Way back in college, well in the beginning as it kind of took me 15 years to finally get a BS degree. I had at least double the hours needed for a BS. I have had, if nothing else, a very liberal education. Look at that digression in the very first sentence, wow. Okay, I’ll try to get to the point, if I have one. Way back in the beginning of my college career I had an idea to show how I see certain aspects of the world.

My girlfriend, Carla, was a videographer, or was studying to be a videographer–in those days it was all analog and linear. Carla was also a photographer. Through her photography I saw that she could communicate how she sees. I thought then that maybe, just maybe that through photography I could attempt to show those aspects of the world I wanted to show. So, I enrolled in photography classes. I really liked it. Photography was my art in school, satisfied that requirement. I haven’t thought about this in a long time. You see I gave up photography in the late 80s when I left the photo editor position at Vienna In Progress, an award winning prison newspaper. Mostly because I couldn’t afford it after I got out. Then as time distanced me from it… It just went by the wayside. But I was reminded the other day when I read Sarah Moon’s blog I Saw Love Win Today in which she talks about a street preacher.

How are my past interests in photography and Sarah’s blog related? Well, the way my mind works they don’t necessarily need to be for me to recognize a connection (although IF I felt like taking the time I could trace it all back and reveal the relationship, again I digress). But, that isn’t the case in this instance. The relationship is that in one of my more advanced composition classes I accepted an assignment to photograph street people.

In the town in which I grew-up there was a man who would stand on the corner of Genessee and Washington streets downtown and read out of the Bible. He was a little, older, black man who always wore a black fedora and black trench coat. He was always well dressed. There he would be everyday, always on the same corner, the Northwest corner of the intersection. Preaching. The little street preacher. Most of the people I knew and hung around with just dismissed him as some sort of nutcase, as a religious zealot preaching hellfire and damnation. But these were assumptions we made without even taking the time to hear a word he was saying. I have no excuse for my dismissal and judgment of this man reading and talking to passers-by, both those on foot and those in their cars. Seems no one really paid much attention to him. He was one of Waukegan’s legendary street people.

After accepting the street people photography assignment. After shooting some seedier things such as people shooting up dope, being drunk and passed out, the drug culture I decided that such images, while powerful were just too cliche. I went down into Chicago and hung around Union Gospel Mission shot some of the homeless and hungry. This too was too cliche. Not that these things aren’t important enough, they are. We don’t see enough images of the suffering that goes on right in out own backyards. But this was for an assignment, I wanted out of the box. I walked out of a dingy little dive bar on Washington St. one day and saw this little man preaching. For the first time I actually noticed him. I came back a couple days later, sober, and watched him preaching on his corner, reading from his Bible. I watched from several perspectives. I heard what he was saying. He was NOT preaching hellfire and damnation. He was reading messages of love. He talked about the love of Jesus. This man was no cliche street preacher. I found the subject of my assignment, if he would agree.

One Wednesday afternoon I returned with my equipment. I asked him whether he would mind if I photographed him while he preached on his corner. He readily agreed. I shot him from all of those angles I had scoped out a couple days before. I got some new angles, up close. I probably shot two rolls of black & white. (I bought in bulk). When I was done the sun was setting, dusk was arriving, this man was getting ready to head home for the day. I asked him if he’d let me buy him a up of coffee, as payment for letting me photograph him.

We sat at the rail in the nearby restaurant/coffee shop (this was before the St. Arbuck’s craze, this was in the early 80’s, so this coffee shop was more akin to Monk’s from Seinfeld). I asked him about who he was, where he had come from. This little street preacher told me his story. I cannot remember his name, but I will never forget him.

In my initial description I mentioned that he was black. Normally I wouldn’t include that as a descriptor because to me it is irrelevant, but it is integral to this man’s story. You see he told me that he was the first black man to graduate with an engineering degree from Illinois Institute of Technology. He had been married for many years. His wife died after he retired. He lived in the Waukegan Hotel, an SRO now that his wife was gone. In talking to him you could tell he loved her very much and missed her terribly. He found his reason to continue on in reading the Bible to strangers, most of whom weren’t listening. Telling people who could care less about the love of Jesus. Out of loneliness and despair he found solace in God and just wanted to share what he had found, a new raison d’etre after the passing of his wife.

Too many people were like me, dismissing the crazy preacher man on the corner. Too many failed to hear what he said and assumed he was like the rest telling passersby that they were damned and going to Hell. Too few, including many who served him in the restaurant where he ate several days each week, failed to get to know him, to hear his story.

Those who stand on corners telling passers-by that they are damned, that they are going to burn, that God hates fags, please stop. You see my frined from years ago was a lonely man. A man who found the love of Jesus and wanted to share that love with everyone. But because of you, all of you who preach hate in God’s name this man was ignored. People painted him with the brush you created and handed them. They know no difference between this lonely, loving, older man and you. You are not the same. Please just stop. You are hurting people and not just those you hate in the name of love. You hurt my friend and those like him.

Passers-by, not all the street corner preachers are the same. Some are lonely and just trying to share the love of God. Share God’s love with them too.

I am a Heretic

I want to admit and declare that I am a heretic.

Let me take some time to explain how I see some things and I am sure you will agree with me that I am a heretic. Maybe, just maybe you’ll be one, too.

7 So again Jesus said to them, ‘Very truly, I tell you, I am the gate for the sheep. 8All who came before me are thieves and bandits; but the sheep did not listen to them. 9I am the gate. Whoever enters by me will be saved, and will come in and go out and find pasture. 10The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly. (John 10:7-9, NRSV)

6Jesus said to him, ‘I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. (John 14:6, NRSV)

I realize that John’s Gospel can be a bit mystical, like chapter one verses one through 18 is very mystical, but I don’t think that the passages above are too mystical. In these verses Jesus tells us that He is the way to the Father, to God. He tells us that He is the gate to the Kingdom of Heaven. I think that Jesus is pretty clear that it is He that decides who gets in and who doesn’t. The gatekeeper to the Kingdom of Heaven is Jesus. If you want to get to God, Jesus is the one who grants us audience. Jesus decides!

So far so good? I’m not a heretic, you say? Well, read on.

Throughout the history of the Christian church we have interpreted the Bible, we have developed theologies, created doctrines, made them dogmas. We do this to help us understand, and that is good. But, we have also created doctrines and dogmas to say who is in and who is out. There are a couple of problems with this. For one any of our doctrinal statements, nay all of our doctrinal statements fail. They fail because God cannot be contained by our understandings no matter how elaborate or complete we think they are. This is okay if we recognize this and are humble about what we believe about God and salvation. When we know that not everything we believe is right and are open to correction, growth, learning, development our doctrinal beliefs are good and guide us, hopefully, into further understanding. However, when we make our beliefs about God and salvation dogmatic essentials then we err.

Some branches of the church today have elaborate dogmatic doctrines about who is included and who is excluded. They have a collection of essential beliefs that one must accept to be a Christian. We have done this from very early in church history with the ecumenical creeds. While I think that the early creeds have guiding value in defining the church I reject them as failing as God CANNOT be contained in our creeds, doctrines, theologies, dogmas. Some of our traditions go way beyond the early creeds.

Some claim that if we do not believe that the Bible is completely inerrant in everything that we are out. I do not accept Biblical inerrancy. the difference lies in our views of what it means that scripture is inspired, God breathed. The modern inerrantists seem to hold a view that is akin to God dictating what He wanted written. This doesn’t make sense to me. I, on the other hand, believe that God revealed Godself within faith communities. These communities then struggled with how to communicate these revelations to posterity and other faith communities. Out of these struggles documents were created when someone finally began writing the results of these struggles. These were in turn combined to form the bible as it has come to us. That until the canonical councils the texts that make up the bible were works in progress, perpetual progress. Maybe we err when we did this, made everything static.

Some claim that the bible is to be taken literally. This is an impossibility.

Some will tell yo tat you have to believe in a literal 6 day creation AND reject evolution. Bullshit! The best the Bible says is God created. No where does it say how He created.

I think I’m headed somewhere with all of this, I hope so.

Here goes, I believe that God told Israel, which we must remember means to wrestle with, or to strive with God, that they are to love. Love God and everybody else. In an attempt to codify love Israel created the Law of Moses. The Decalogue and the 600+ sundry laws. These reflect a patriarchal society, the reflect the faith communities to which God revealed Godself and His instruction to love. The laws that ancient Israel created in their effort to codify God’s revelation do not necessarily reflect our society today. I think that the rabbinic tradition recognized this and allowed for many different interpretations and even for the letting go of some of the laws, yet we want to make it all static, universal in time and context.

I think that that is it, we are to love. Love each other, love those like us, not like us, love even our enemies. Love those who will not love us in return. Jesus tells us that this is what all of the law says. Isaiah tells us something very similar. Love, that’s it, that’s how we will be known. That’s how we recognize those that know and are known by Jesus and the Father, because love comes from God. Not by their cognitive assent to our sets of doctrinal statements.

See the heresy yet?

So, we have created these elaborate doctrines about who is in and who is not. Many of these doctrines have nothing to do with love. I am specifically thinking of the LGBT community. I am also reminded of how Christians, especially here in America, talk about Muslims. There are those who would usurp the authority that belongs to Jesus and Jesus alone and decide that these communities are necessarily excluded because they do not meet the requirements of their set of doctrines, which to them is the real gate, the real way.

I deny their sets of doctrines have the power of Jesus to decide who is in and who is not.

PS I am gay affirming!

Forgiveness

Forgiveness. I have been thinking about forgiveness of late. We are told throughout the Bible that we are to forgive.

In The Lord’s Prayer  we pray that God will forgive us as we forgive others. Really? Do we really want to be forgiven as we forgive? Do we really want God to treat us as we treat each other? I don’t think so. I mean what would we have to look forward to if we got what we give? C’mon, be honest, what would you really have coming if God answered that prayer for you?

In my last post I talked a little about some false motives having been ascribed to me. I was hurt by it. I don’t know why, I don’t even know the person who did it, but hurt I was. In the pain I felt some anger, it’s amazing how we tend to turn our pain into anger when maybe we should just feel the pain and maybe express the hurt rather than fly off into some rage or another. Like I said I was hurt and the pain was starting to come out as anger.I kept thinking of that passage where Jesus tells the crowd, if you do not forgive others, your Father in Heaven will NOT forgive you. This person questioning my motives and projecting evil into them was obviously NOT forgiving ME.

I was going to enter the conversation as say as much when I saw that someone else had done exactly that. When I read that comment telling this person that they were removing forgiveness from themselves by not being forgiving I immediately saw the error in making such a statement, a statement I was just about to make, a statement that my mind had been screaming out for what seemed an eternity.

The error in telling someone who we perceive has been less than forgiving is that it is a demonstration of unforgiveness itself. I was so convicted, so remorseful for having even thought that, for having directed condemnation against another if only in thought. In the Sermon on the Mount Jesus makes clear that our thoughts are every bit as damning to us as our overt actions. My thought, in the disguise of a righteous rebuke, was nothing more than a condemnation. The person who commented, kind of in my defense (but probably not) was condemning whether or not they knew it. I cannot condone any such action, especially on my behalf.

If I am being attacked, if someone is displaying unforgiveness towards me. Please do not come to my aid in the form of reminding the other that God will not forgive them if they do not forgive. Please do not do this. And I entreat you to not do this for yourselves either. I do not think that this is what Jesus intended when He made the statement.

So, as I was thinking about this statement from Jesus about not being forgiven if we do not forgive I began to wonder just what does it mean. So I thought and prayed and thought and recalled my experiences when I withheld forgiveness. What I think Jesus is doing is warning us that our unforgiveness puts us in a Hell right here and now. A Hell from which it is difficult for us to receive forgiveness. I know that the times I have withheld I suffered. I became bitter, angry, hurt. I moved into a Hell right here in my own existence, a Hell where the forgiveness I have received could not retrieve or rescue me. I was only able to leave that Hell when I could forgive that which I had not forgiven. Once I forgave I could claim the forgiveness offered me, because I really don’t think God withdrew forgiveness from me, I just set it aside. And God let me enter my Hell until I forgave, I received  the measure I gave. Was able to receive the forgiveness I offered.

Just thinkin’.