The other day we were doing what residents do best. Fantasize about having a better schedule. Our colleague BOB seemed to have won the jackpot, he had the last two weeks of Dec off and then an extra five days including News Years for a family wedding.
JANE, another colleague says, “I think BOB got that schedule because he had JESUS on his side.”
I laugh and said, well I go to the same church and it didn’t work for me.
JANE and JOAN stare for a moment.
JANE says, “I didn’t know you were an evangelical” But she said it in such a way that it was like I didn’t know you smoked or I didn’t know you throw rocks at puppies on the weekends…..
“UM, well yeah….maybe a bit more laid back.” I flounder wanting desperately to explain I didn’t love BUSH, Im a pacifist, I haven’t bombed any abortion clinics, I watch trashy TV sometimes, I read Harry Potter and yes in my less thoughtful moments I use off color words I learned from my naval heritage.
JANE smiles, “Yeah, well I love Bob, I was just joking around.”
Then one of us got paged.
….two weeks latter….
Two weeks later I am out with GABI who I have been friends with for a while but whom I find myself having a series of deep and more personal conversations with. GABI tells me she is something akin to gnostic. She impressed I know what that means and we start talking world religions. I am holding my own. Then she comes right out and says it:
“So you love Jesus? You’re a Christian?”
I explain that in all my studies what impressed me the most was the incarnation that God would come down and live as we do to provide a vehicle to get us out of a spiritual life the equivalent of a TO DO LIST which we could never complete and that its all about the relationship with GOD that we can have through knowing and believing in Christ.
This question was easy.
It was the series of next questions that I found myself sweating a bit.
“So how do you feel about missionaries?” (which is a big question if you look at historically and currently) (or as I like to say do you mean in the JOSEPH CONRAD’s HEART OF DARKNESS sense?)
I start with HEART OF DARKNESS and colonialism and move on down to my own experiences. I end with saying what I believe in the context of a relationship is quite different than the HEART OF DARKNESS sense. She nods and talks about how Church NGOs do a lot of good.
“So do you think, Christianity is the only path to heaven? DO you believe in a literal hell?”
(these are loaded questions: If the answer is YES and YES you are condemning 5 billion humans on earth today to hell).
I believe in Christ (note that I separate Christ and the gospel from Christianity which is a human construct) is the truth and the path. However, I don’t really know how it all works out. Only God truly knows people’s hearts and knowledge. As for Hell, Milton and Dante seem to know a lot more about it than I do because other than a parable or two in the Gospels and some heavily loaded metaphor in Revelation, Hell is not described in detail in scripture. I know it will be separate from GOD which sounds terrible but in the spiritual sense not so much the physical sense.
At this point, GABI who is also a physician interrupts me and says “When I think of Hell, I think of homeless schizophrenics at war with their selves and living cast off from any sense of human contact.”
I nod, who knows, maybe HELL is like that. I continue…
As for who goes to whatever it is, well again GOD only knows. The party line Billy Graham crusade answer is that its a punch ticket kind of thing, you go through the right prayer, life style change or whatnot and you get the right ticket punch. Over the millennium Christians have made up all kinds of ideas of loopholes. Babies for example apparently are innocent so if they die, its OK they get to go without a ticket, developmentally disabled people too (a babe in Arms kind of ticket). These babe in arms kind of tickets are made up, they are not in scripture, we don’t know what happens. Now, do I honestly believe that God sends babies to Hell? My understanding of God is somewhat different than that, so NO I don’t believe that. But I don’t how it works. So do I believe that folks in some dark jungle who never heard about Dante or JESUS go to hell? My church peers would say that’s on us to some degree for not going as missionaries. Do I think God will send them to hell? Again I do not know. I don’t know what that looks like. I also don’t know exactly what will happen to all the people pre-Jesus. I don’t know. SO do I believe people, go to hell, YES but I don’t know who or where or what exactly it is.
As for Heaven, some believe the Kingdom of God will come to earth over time as we build it, some believe we will go to it. I think the former is ambitious and maybe a bit impossible but I think the Gospels are pretty clear about trying anyway. While I am interested in hell, I am far more interested in what we do now to mirror heaven and spread its seeds in the mud and mire of the hellish elements of now.
I explain as well that while I believe in things absolutely, I live with mystery in my faith, of unanswered questions and gratitude to a GOD who is big enough to be mysterious to my human mind. I live with unanswered questions, with faith and I am OK with that.
My friend seems impressed. We drank our tea and then we go home. I think she expected me to start reading Romans out loud and pray the sinner’s prayer and give her a tract. Because I am evangelical, right?
As I go home that night, I think what would my friends from church say if they listened to this conversation? What would BOB say? What would they say if they heard me admit that I don’t have all the answers? Would they have done the same? Some would have, but I think most would have stayed within safety of the party line where we have the answers. I think they would think that I lost my religion.
Am I failed evangelical? Have I gone native in all my intellectual quests of reading the Koran, the Mormons, the Buddhists, the Baptists, the Skeptics and the Gnostics, dissecting the layers of culture, history, human creativity from the raw text, from what we call religion? Do I believe in nothing because I “tolerate” and analyze everything?
I do believe in something, actually its quite akin to what I believed when I told my parents I wanted to be baptized when I was five before I knew about all of the other stuff we tacked on to the truth. I believe in the love of a GOD who would love me even though I hit my sisters Emily and Tori every day and some times wish I could go back to being three when I was an only child. A GOD who created the trees, the deer behind our house that left footprints in the snow, my cat, the moon, the stars Daddy taught me the names of, a GOD who created an elaborate plan to love me me despite the my wrongs. The plan included sending someone he loved like I loved my parents and my paternal grandparents (and mostly Emily and Tori), a piece of himself who suffered through annoying little siblings and stuff and in the end died pretty awfully and somehow in something that seemed at the time a lot like magic came back alive to get the rest of us before he went ON so we could all still be friends with God.
GABI says her husband and I have little girl and boy souls, we still believe the same as we did when we were children.
I would say that’s actually quite biblical and I am OK with that.
What has changed somewhere between church camp and now is that the religious brainwashing has melted gradually over the Serengeti grasses, my ferocious appetite for books and reading, the wails of orphaned, neglected Romanian babies, long nights of organic chemistry followed by ethics and human rights essays in college and blood dripping off my gloves, sweat and tears running down my face as I beat on a child’s chest trying to save their life, I lost my religion.
And found JESUS.