I thought to myself today, “How do I show what I love and pursue? How do I illustrate my love for the pursuit of beauty?” And this is part of the answer: to write on it, to physicalize my thoughts. So, as all pieces of writing, this is as much for me as for you, reader.
It all began when I was dancing in the grass down the gravel driveway on a sunny summer day, holding a picture of a rainbow emerging from a cloud, and beside it, written the song I was singing:
“Oh, it’s a beautiful day, all our sins are washed away
Oh it’s a beautiful day, and the skies are no longer gray!”
It was the day of my awakening to grace and beauty and God’s favor, though in a simple and childlike way. Thank you, Sunday School. I had no idea of the breadth of God’s favor at the time, but saw Beauty Divine in the limited panorama of a 6-year-old’s eyes.
The beauty faded into seeking favor as I got older, deepening my pursuit of memorizing Bible verses and learning creeds instead of the Source which drove their creation. I had no concept of context or credal politics, but rather saw the verses and creeds as divine keys and principles leading to eternal life, ergo, divine favor.
As I got into my teens, I became more intimately aware of my need for divine favor, and I saw it most clearly in Jesus, the Christ, willingly dying, according to Paul and the apostles, for me. In Him, I knew I was safe. He was my divine experience of Love, of Beauty Divine–as my pastor said, religion was “do”, Jesus was “done”.
So, in my teens and early 20s I was passionately grateful for God, deeply hurt by and ashamed of my choice to degrade women through pornographic consumption, and concerned for a world without forgiveness. I had been told that every person had access to a gift of eternal life and love from Jesus, if only they would accept the gift, and so it was my responsibility to share the gift.
It got dicey from there: anyone could accept Jesus, but if they didn’t they were terminated. If they were never shown Jesus in the first place, they were terminated, maybe to a less harsh degree depending on your theology. And depending on your theology, if they went back on Jesus, they were terminated. Termination was a statistical probability for many, and maybe for me too, if I wasn’t careful. This theological framework ushered me into a few years of low-to-moderate level anxiety and depression, all thoughts of a beautiful God and life forgotten and replaced with solving a messy problem. I poured my heart and soul into the just and love-infused judicial system of my Jesus, seeking to reconcile understanding of it, faith in it, and managing the doubts and fears born of it.
Termination’s hypothetical probability became a grounded reality for people I came to care about in college at Saginaw Valley State University (don’t go to liberal arts colleges, kids, you might meet people different from you!). The lack of beauty became a presence of deep-running fear for their eternal well-being with an ongoing mantra, “This is how it is. God is good, just, loving, all-powerful, and all-knowing, and is okay with His kids rejecting Him and being forever separate from Him. This is a good thing.”
I could, and did, share my faith with three distinct people who I love to this day, if you can love someone and not talk to them anymore, that is. They ultimately rejected my vision of God, only admiring my sincerity and love for them and God. Knowing platitudes like “They didn’t reject you, they rejected God”, “Well, you planted a seed”, and “The Pharisees rejected Jesus when He was right in front of them, people will reject Jesus in you, too”, did little to allay my deep anxiety for the state of their souls.
As the years or college wore on, I got on Prozac to help cope with the depressing end anxiety brought on by my fruitless faith excursions to my friends. I engaged them in countless discussions to no avail. I cast them, and billions of other just like them through history, on the grace of God, and began fighting with God over the state of their souls, and His audacity to give them, to give humanity, free will that had such grievous potential side effects. I still grieve and wrestle with God today over Their audacity, though over other parameters.
What parameters? Eternal damnation and hellfire faded, and with it my anxiety (to a major degree–still taking steps). The spiritual and logistical conundrum and nightmare of my original parameters are just too great for this mind. Life after death is beyond my ken, and while my official theology these days is ambiguous on Hell, my heart of hearts screams, “Oh, HELL naw” on Hell. (sorry, I couldn’t resist haha)
No, Hell’s parameters are no longer a future theological probability for billions. Rather, their parameters are a current spiritual reality.
How’s that, you ask? Spirituality is the holistic intersection of all aspects of reality: physical, mental, social, emotional, societal, political, and metaphysical. And Hell is what humans subject one another to, subject Creation to, through individual and social and institutional action and inaction. Hell is only considered a future theological probability in some circles because privileges of those circles places gut wrenching pain at a comfortable distance from them. It is easier to put off Hell to after life is through than to face the ugliness of its current spiritual reality. It is easier to preach Hell and hope away from it once a week from a pulpit than to face Hell and bring hope against it in daily strivings. But sermons are not the drivers of Hope, of Good News, as it’s called. Protests, politicians, counselors, social workers, accountants, city planners, physical therapists, civil engineers, mothers, fathers, poets, artists, lovers, activists. These humans are the bringers of Hope, of Good News, the fighters giving the finger to Hell.
But for every person raising a kid, creating social change, driving political action, facilitating personal breakthroughs, strengthening and transforming community and nation and world, there are two more humans happy to profit off of children singing into the sea, millstones of industrial waste and garbage composing their anchor-necklace; raising their boys to be hard and tough because that’s how it’s been, how they were taught, how they were ignored; line their pockets made of now-extinct species with money from counties made third-world by their cultural imperialism and colonial pride; excluding whole populations by nationality, sexuality, skin color, culture, religion, not even if they believe in exclusion themselves, but because they gain power and popularity by appealing to the dark, broken, twisted sides of human nature.
That we are facing.
It’s almost more depressing than an eternal fire away from Divine Beauty.
But, but, but.
Divine Beauty is not dormant or passive. It bursts it’s way into creation like a metaphysical Kool-aid Man, assuming introducing Jesus Christ that way isn’t too sacrilegious. The presence of God as Human, living 32-ish year on earth as poor, poorly educated, criminal, a religious minority, and ultimately executed says something freaky: God is like us, and in it with us for the long haul. Oh, and I missed one other identifier of Christ: resurrected. His disciples believed He had risen, just as He said He would. And His followers say resurrection is a possibility NOW and a guarantee in the FUTURE.
The END is NOT the END.
There is more on this earth than Hell, and Heaven isn’t a strong enough word to describe what has been, can be, what is, and will progressively be in greater, more complex and true forms: seed money to begin a new business; freedom from addiction; racial equity; rights to marriage and creation of family; freedom of thought and expression; educational and social attainment; elevation of dignity; belonging within community; invitation of those outside of it with an easy smile and open hand; space to think, cry, scream, laugh, hypothesize, work, play, build, reconfigure, ask questions, to be; sustainable and collaborative environments.
And apparently, all of this, this heaven, is in the process of transforming the landscape of Hell in spite of its best efforts, and will extend into eternity, crazy as it sounds.
With that in mind, how we live matters. At the same time, we mess up and there’s grace right there picking us up and dusting us off. There are evil, evil, broken, heartbroken, asleep, unconscious people out there, just waiting to be woken up and rehabilitated to Hope. But grace is not intimidated by them, because whatever it encounters it transforms. The Divine Beauty has made Their home among Creation, and will set all to rights. Every good, noble, true, lovely, pure thing reflects this Divine Beauty and Reality, the Christ firstborn among these living harbingers of hope.
And that’s my faith journey thus far. I’m in a continuous evolving figuring out of what the advancement of Heaven is, with Jesus Christ leading the charge against the strongholds of Hell in my life and community (yes, the evil, brokenness, heartbrokenness, sleeping unconsciousness lives here too), and the messy intersection of Divine Beauty in all this not as platitudes but as Living, Breathing Truth.
Thanks for reading and helping me discover myself and my journey through writing.
Peace and Every Good,