Tag Archive: God


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I get asked all kinds of questions when I go to speak to groups about faith. One of the most common has to do with my understanding of Hell. So I tell them a story about a monkey.

The story goes that if you put something inside a jar that a monkey wants, they’ll reach in and grab onto it with singular determination. The problem is, they can’t get their hand out of the jar while also hanging on to the thing they want, but they’re so stubborn that they will not let go.

The result: they get what they want, in a manner of speaking. But it stays stuck inside the jar, along with their hand. They are slaves to their own desire.

Hell is – pardon the pun – quite the hot topic these days, especially after the success of Rob Bell’s book, LOVE WINS: A Book About Heaven, Hell, and the Fate of Every Person Who Ever Lived. Though I don’t entirely agree with Bell, it’s a worthwhile conversation.

I’m what some might call a Christian Universalist, which basically means that I’m a Christian by choice, but that I don’t think you have to be one to be reconciled with God. There are lots of reasons for this, including the fact that Jews – God’s “chosen people” – didn’t have a theology of hell in their faith. Rather, their Sheol was a place of rest where the dead would reside until God summoned them all.

Jesus adopted more hell-like descriptions, borrowing imagery from the Greek belief in Hades. There are also lots of references to “the pit” and “the fire,” which many scholars agree is a reference to the big trash dumps outside of town. Here garbage was tossed out and burned, but many “untouchables” also scavenged for food and shelter. Not exactly a place one wanted to hang out.

The inevitable question I get when people struggle with this idea is, “So, you think that when we get to heaven, Hitler will be there?”

Well, yeah. That’s pretty much my understanding of how grace works. If grace comes with an asterisk, it ceases to be grace. Grace is un-earnable, unconditional and universal.

I know this butts up against our human love for “systemic justice,” wherein the good and bad each get what they deserve. But we only have to read Jesus’ many parables about the vineyard workers, the Prodigal Son and so on to find the idea that God’s justice isn’t fair, at least in the way we want to define “fair.”

Another response I get is along the lines of, “So, we can just do whatever we want and God doesn’t care?” Hardly. Jesus himself says we’ll know what is right and wrong, not by following written law, but by discerning justice and righteousness in our own hearts. And as my seven-year-old son, Mattias can tell you (he’s prone lately to daily confessions to me and Amy), misdeeds linger with us, and we long to purge them from our system, or to avoid them in the first place.

In Mark 10, a faithful man asks Jesus how to be a part of the Kingdom of God. Jesus’ response: sell everything and follow me. Though this is intentional exaggeration for effect – after all, Jesus had some basic possessions and he had folks who subsidized his ministry – the point is that the only thing that can get between God and us is whatever we love more.

Said another way, the only thing that separates us from God is us. Does this mean we can condemn ourselves to hell? If you mean you’ve blown your chance at angel wings, and all you’re destined for is eternal fire and torture, I don’t think so. But if you mean living a life void of real meaning, a true sense of love and fulfillment, I think that’s exactly what Jesus is talking about.

Does this mojo, good or bad, follow us into the next life? Who knows? One mistake we often make is thinking of eternity as something that happens later, “out there” somewhere. But eternity, by definition, never starts or stops. We’re in eternity right now.

This also drives Jesus’ point home that God’s kingdom is here, now, rather than something to happen way off in the future. Granted, the Love available to us may not be fully realized, but with our help, God’s Kingdom is still under construction.

Setting everything else aside to make room for that Love to be fully realized is what the full potential of God’s kingdom is about. But this Love doesn’t impose itself on us; we have to choose it. The key to our freedom is in letting go.

Christian Piatt is an author, editor, speaker, musician and spoken word artist. He co-founded Milagro Christian Church in Pueblo, Colorado with his wife, Rev. Amy Piatt, in 2004. Christian is the creator and editor of the Banned Questions book series, which include Banned Questions About the Bible and Banned Questions About Jesus. He co-created and co-edits the “WTF: Where’s the Faith?” young adult series with Chalice Press, and he has a memoir on faith, family and parenting being published in early 2012 called Pregmancy: A Dad, a Little Dude and a Due Date. For more information about Christian, visit www.christianpiatt.com, or find him on Twitter or Facebook.

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I could tell when I was putting Mattias, who is seven, to bed the bother night that I was about to get handed more than the typical bedtime conversation. He had that look on his face like he was about to fire me. For a second, I actually was worried that I was in trouble.

Then I remembered; I’m the dad. Right.

“Dad,” he said, not looking up at me, “I’m not sure I believe this whole thing about God making everything in the universe.”

“Okay,” I said, “what are you not sure about?”

“Well, it just doesn’t make sense to me that this guy was sitting up there somewhere and just decided to make a universe all of a sudden.”

“I get that,” I said. “I would have a hard time with that idea too.”

“What do you mean, dad?”

“Some people picture God as this sort of giant person sitting on a throne in the sky, but that image just doesn’t work for me.”

“Me either,” he said. “I mean, there’s not even any oxygen up there. Why would a person live up there with no air?’

“For me,” I said, “God is less person-like and more like a source. Like a place where all the energy and matter and love we ever need comes from.”

“A source?” He looked confused.

“Have you talked at all about the Big Bang in school?’ I asked.

“Sort of,” he said.

“Well,” I said, “a lot of people believe that a really long time ago, everything in the universe was squished down into this one tiny, super-hot, super sense spot. Then, for a reason no one really understands, everything just burst out, kind of like a flower popping up out of a tiny seed, and that’s when everything got started.”

“Huh,” he studied the floor. “So where did all the stuff come from? And what made it all pop out and become the universe?”

“You answer that,” I said, “and you’ll be set for life. But for me, that’s where I see God.”

We agreed to hit the library for some books on the Big Bang. I’m less concerned about giving him water-tight answers than I am going along with him as we follow this mystery down the rabbit hole together. For me, that’s the stuff that life is made of.

Christian Piatt is an author, editor, speaker, musician and spoken word artist. He co-founded Milagro Christian Church in Pueblo, Colorado with his wife, Rev. Amy Piatt, in 2004. Christian is the creator and editor of the Banned Questions book series, which include Banned Questions About the Bible and Banned Questions About Jesus. He co-created and co-edits the “WTF: Where’s the Faith?” young adult series with Chalice Press, and he has a memoir on faith, family and parenting being published in early 2012 called Pregmancy: A Dad, a Little Dude and a Due Date. For more information about Christian, visit http://www.christianpiatt.com, or find him on Twitter or Facebook.

Jesus is standing in front of the temple in Jerusalem
the massive gleaming brick and stone and gold house of God
and he says destroy this temple
and I’ll rebuild it in three days

the people listening to him said how are you going to do that?
it took 46 years to build this temple!
but he wasn’t talking about that temple
he’s talking about himself
he essentially says, listen
I’m going to be killed
that’s where this is headed
because you don’t confront corrupt systems of power
without paying for it
sometimes with your own blood
and so he’s headed to his execution
if you had witnessed this divine life extinguished on a cross
how would you not be overwhelmed with despair?

is the world ultimately a cold, hard, dead place?

does death have the last word?
is it truly, honestly, actually dark
and so whatever light we do see
whatever good we do stumble upon
are those just blips on the radar?
momentary interruptions in an otherwise meaningless existence?
because if that’s the case then despair is the
only reasonable response

it’s easy to be cynical

but Jesus says destroy this temple and I’ll rebuild it
he insists that his execution would not be the end
he’s talking about something new and unexpected
happening after his death
he’s talking about resurrection

resurrection announces that God has not given up on the world
because this world matters
this world that we call home
dirt and blood and sweat and skin and light and water
this world that God is redeeming and restoring and renewing

greed and violence and abuse they are not right
and they cannot last
they belong to death and death does not belong

resurrection says that what we do with our lives matters
in this body
the one that we inhabit right now
every act of compassion matters
every work of art that celebrates the good and the true matters
every fair and honest act of business and trade
every kind word
they all belong and they will all go on in God’s good world
nothing will be forgotten
nothing will be wasted
it all has it’s place

everybody believes something
everybody believes somebody
Jesus invites us to trust resurrection
that every glimmer of good
every hint of hope
every impulse that elevates the soul
is a sign, a taste, a glimpse
of how things actually are
and how things will ultimately be
resurrection affirms this life and the next
as a seamless reality
embraced
graced
and saved by God

there is an unexpected mysterious presence
who meets each of us in our lowest moments
when we have no strength when we have nothing left
and we can’t go on we hear the voice that speaks those
words

destroy this temple and I’ll rebuild it

do you believe this?
that’s the question Jesus asked then
and that’s the question he asks now

Jesus’ friends arrive at his tomb and they’re told
he isn’t here
you didn’t see that coming, did you?
he’s isn’t here
there is nothing to fear
and nothing can ever be the same again
we are living in a world in the midst of rescue
with endless unexpected possibilities

they will take my life and I will die Jesus says
but that will not be the end
and when you find yourself assuming that it’s over
when it’s lost, gone, broken and it could never be
put back together again,
when it’s been destroyed and you swear that it could never
be rebuilt

hold on a minute
because in that moment
things will in fact have just begun

The total negative impact of recent economic developments in the United States alone has conservatively been pegged at around two trillion dollars. That’s more than $6,500 for every person in the country. Now, we have a plan with an $800 billion price tag to help shock the system back to life. Meanwhile, economists not only say it will get worse; many are saying some of the damage is irreparable.

This resonates with recent reports on climate change that suggest even if we stop the increase in Carbon Dioxide emissions worldwide today, some effects of global warming are already irreversible.

We have not seen such pervasive nihilism in some time. After all, part of the American Ethos is optimism in face of the odds, and hope against hope, right? So what in the hell do we do now?

For anyone willing to recognize the facts, this omen has been a long time coming. Consumers have built their lifestyles upon debt, as has the government, and the economy, which once was founded upon a production-based system, now relies more on consumption and credit than on making anything.

As a result, we have presidents issuing multi-billion dollar checks and telling us to go buy plasma televisions with them, and even under a democratically-controlled Congress and White House, we end up with a stimulus package, more than forty percent of which is made up of tax cuts.

We talk systemic change and infrastructure, but short-term solutions and personal comfort and security ultimately dominate public policy. What business, after all, does a nation have in giving itself a tax cut when the already enfeebled medicare and social security systems are dissolving before our eyes on top of everything else? And this economic infusion may be our last, best hope to change things once and for all in the way we operate in the world.

But are we ready?

Perhaps the more appropriate question is, does it hurt enough yet? Sure, most of us have had to cut back, and unemployment is creeping toward double digits, but compared to other nations, we’re still incredibly well off. Most of us have money for new mobile phones, dinner out and the occasional tickets to the movies. Times are tough, but are they tough enough to enact real change?

I think this is one way in which organized religion has the potential to be very relevant in this most important global dialogue. The themes that hold true potential to redeem us, both individually and collectively, are not new, though we may tend to abandon them in times of prosperity. Consider these fundamental spiritual “truths” if you will:

It’s not all about you.

Know the difference between needs and wants.

Discomfort, and even a little suffering, is not entirely bad.

What are you doing TODAY to make the world a better place?

If you/I/we truly lived out the mandate to love our neighbors as our selves, consider how different the world would look.

Simplify.

Seek peace over success, and gratitude over results.

See God in ALL others, not just those who are easier to love.

We are caretakers of the earth. Act like it.

You need much less than you think.

No object you can buy, finance or consume will make you a better person.

Author and theologian Frederick Buechner says that your personal calling can be found where the world’s deepest need and your deepest joy intersect. For me, I believe that is found on the written page. For others, it may be right where you already are, and if so, you experience a rare blessing on a daily basis. If not, how many more days will pass before you find your own calling?

I firmly believe that, if we all were operating within the framework of our personal calling, we not only would be better off as a planet; we would be more joyful as well. The dualistic nature of the human animal is that, in the words of Paul, we do the very things we hate. And not once, but over and over again.

When might we catch on that the voice that has led us this far may not have our best interests at heart after all?

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