More and more, I find that I have trouble listening to that which is labeled the good news by those who are considered Fundamentalist or Conservatives or Literalist or Progressives or Liberals. I will own it - it is my heart that is troubled. But Sweet Baby Jesus - this is driving me nuts more and more of the time. I've lost my interest in heaven and hell. I've grown sick of threats and rewards. I've had my fill of mandatory religious clothing and ritual actions and pious words and pronouncements. I abhor designated holy places. And yet, I have never been more inspired and moved and given a sense of meaning and worth from what has been called the Good News. Although, these days I am becoming more aware of how I hear that News from wider circles than the New Testament.
This next bit of ranting may repulse folks - but hell - that sometimes happens when I'm working through things. There have been a number of triggers that have set me off. The most important one was as I caught myself standing at a rally with a bunch of religious leaders of all sorts of backgrounds. The language being used was reminding us of God's invitation to be people of justice and peace and mercy and hospitality and grace and compassion. It was inspiring. It is the stuff that gives me hope and moves me to take risks and act with and for others - no matter who they may be. But then, in the middle of this rally - this resistance movement - this call for the healing of all people, came that bit of nuance - that reference to a day of Judgement - that word of threat to those who we think better start acting right - that picture of standing in front of One who just may shut the door on folks unless they change their way. And there in those passing moments, heads were shaking, Amens were given voice, and all the creativity that had been offered up was swallowed up in a simple mist of righteous flatulence. Ah, Sweet Baby Jesus, we have such a way of turning your words and promises sour and foul.
Morality smells each time we claim to be a moral people calling for others to live a moral life. It smells because now God is left on the sidelines and religious folk take on the task of defining morality as we want it - need it - and insist all must take hold of it. Quite honestly, I find that our calls for morality that are laced with images of heaven and hell or last day judgments brings about nothing more than death. It is a part of a terrorist movement. Yes, a terrorist movement that is popular and accepted and even greeted with grand applause and a thunderous Amen. In, with, and under all the religious words are percolating threats that thrive because so often, threat closes the deal - the loud voice of justice that leads to either/or decisions drives people to sign up.
I need to hear the voice of God's endless Creativity that never deals in threat - but alway unfolds the promise. This voice is the voice of confrontation - a confrontation with how God promises to creatively empower each of us to walk within God's Reign - an everyday life that endlessly seeks peace and reconciliation and even risks being damned by good religious institutions and powers. Recently I heard many good words filled with inspiring images that caressed the boundaries of the wonder of God's promises. But then, there is the attachment - the must - the shall - the condition - the babble of heaven and hell that inevitably makes it easy for folks to miss the promised land and the life therein. Sweet Baby Jesus dropped those sour words and actions for the unbounded sweetness of a love that lets no one go.
When we dabble in the babbling of threat - we linger in the domain of violence. For to suggest that one may not make it - doesn't deserve to be included - has to clean up or dress up or fess up, is to violate the person who is already judged as the beloved of God. Too many religious groups settle for ways to make more religious folk who are grasped by threat or fear or shame. I can only suggest that we all listen to what is being said at our religious gatherings. The message may be inspiring and even filled with all the power and creative images of God's love for all. We may even sing songs with a message of love that may bring a tear of joy. But listen again. Is there any suggestion of that sour taste of condemnation that somehow is able to keep on the mask of grace, forgiveness, and mercy even as the bottom line calls for a formulaic response that is always the death of us. It is always the death of us because when we talk in the images of heaven and hell we are already dealing in death and not life. Sweet Baby Jesus somehow gets known for leaving a sour taste in our lives - a taste we unfortunately come to expect and accept. When it tastes sour - when it smells sour - when it leaves you wanting to judge or condemn or exclude - when it sours your thoughts and actions toward others, Sweet Baby Jesus, confront it with love - unending love. Sweet.