Christian Musings, Parables

The Narrator: Jill’s Story

An immediate, blissful peace washes over Jill. Then, a stark but welcomed silence.

She is aware, but disembodied in a way that isn’t of tremendous concern. Her surroundings matter little, mostly because there don’t appear to be any.

Just a moment ago, she was heckled by sirens, and flashing lights, and cold steel, and uniformed men screaming as they slammed black, heavy objects against her chest again and again.

There was a series of beeps, she thinks. Or maybe it was just one long beep. She’s no longer sure, and the memory fades as effortlessly as a recent dream.

“Welcome, Jill,” The Narrator says.

“Hi. Could you tell me where I am?”

“Irrelevant,” interrupts The Narrator. “We’ll spend this conversation reviewing the time you spent in your life on the earth, which culminated some time ago.”

“Oh, so I’m … dead,” responds Jill, more whimsically than she expected, as though anxiety were prohibited.

“Your word, not mine,” dismisses the now agitated Narrator. “According to our records, your time was brief – just nineteen years. You were a bright child, prone to love, and brought regularly to church by a caring grandmother. You even excelled early in education, but like many, trouble awaited you in adolescence.”

The Narrator weaves together the good and bad details of Jill’s life with stunning indifference. From those events that occurred in public, to tragedies that would tunnel her many poor choices, to her most intimate thoughts and fears–everything is laid bare as her story is made known.

Jill remains unflinching, which she finds comforting.

“At 12, you showed tremendous promise, a light amid a dark place, given your mother’s addictions.

“It was about that time you were raped.”

The Narrator doesn’t spare the tragic elements of Jill’s compromised youth. The neighbor’s house. Muffled, broken screams that went unanswered. The panting. The smell of his breath–a toxic stew of alcohol and marijuana. And blood. So much blood. Finally, the shame. The Narrator reveals a cruel twist: Jill’s mom had made an arrangement with the neighbor for drugs just minutes before.

She hadn’t known this until now.

Jill is stoic, but feels propped up, as though she’s become a passenger as the brutal and hellish details are retold of her final seven years.

“You numbed yourself, as so many of you do, with chemicals,” continues The Narrator, lacking any sense of empathy. “You turned away from your faith and God, and wore your disbelief proudly in public and private. This helped you justify an abortion, and later cope with a miscarriage, after a boyfriend beat you in a rage that left you hospitalized. It was hell on earth for you.”

The closing chapter was imminent, as Jill wonders what is to follow.

“Your love for family, in particular your grandmother, was quite genuine,” comments The Narrator. “Yet a coldness was born of the circumstances, some on your account, others not, that fostered a hate that was perpetually in conflict with your capacity to love.”

Jill identifies the cosmic choice that she had made in, or through, life, but cognizant it was never really a choice.

“No, you never really had a choice,” affirms The Narrator, understanding Jill’s thoughts, because in this place–whatever this place is–there isn’t a difference between words spoken and thought.

The Narrator concludes with Jill’s final moments on earth. Suddenly, the memory of her demise is resurfaced, like photographic evidence to accompany the trial. The Narrator’s voice becomes nearly muted, as Jill’s final experience is relived.

She sees–no, she feels–the dirty needle entering her arm, the pinch of it breaking her skin, and the brief smirk that crossed her face as the pain is lifted. She had been alone in a cold, darkened alley that final night, a dilapidated soul battling away demons, escaping the reality of a life that ended much earlier.

The scene ends, and the silence returns.

“So, may I ask again, where am I?”

“Hell,” concludes The Narrator. “You’re in hell.”

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Christian Musings

How to Enter Hell and Emerge a (Real) Christian

What Syria, Ancient Rome, and Explosive Diarrhea Can Teach Us About the Kingdom of Heaven

I wrote a post last week about hell, and while identifying theoretical acts that might qualify as “hell on earth,” I blatantly left out the atrocities in Syria.

Which is, quite literally, hell on earth.

Or maybe worse. After all, we can safely classify chemical-attacks-on-children as something far more sinister than anything the Hands of an Angry God could ever conjure.

The images shared on social media and CNN are tragedy defined. Like the bodies of drowned refugee toddlers washed ashore, or Omran sitting dust-covered in the back of an ambulance, we have reminders that something in this world is very broken.

We see it.

We can feel it.

We’re inherently aware of it.

All of which brings us to the first Christians, intestinal explosions, prefab homes and your cable-internet package. And third century Rome.

It was about that time when a smallpox (or measles, no one is quite sure) epidemic wiped out sizable portions of third-century Rome, and ultimately played a role in its fall. The “plague of Cyprian” was so fierce, so brutal, so unforgiving, it killed around 5,000 people a day and left many others deaf and blind.

Some writings from the day described bowels dissipating “in a flow,” or intestines shaking “with continuous vomiting” that would set the eyes “on fire” with blood.

Or, in a word, hell.

It was so hellish, in fact, that some scholars believe medieval and even some modern depictions of the Christian “hell” originated from the many accounts of the horror, such as the burning of corpses.

But it was in that misery, in that place of hopeless despair, in hell, that a small start-up, a spiritual Jewish off-shoot, took root. These were your Christian ancestors.

In the face of certain, agonizing death, these Christians, followers of “The Way,” walked among the suffering,

caring for them,

healing them,

providing proper burial.

Even if it meant their own death.

As the pagan cowered in fear, confident the wrathful, angry gods were making known their displeasure, the Christian walked through the literal valley of the shadow of death — suffering as Christ en route to martyrdom.

Because their God doesn’t cause the suffering. Their God enters into it.

They entered hell — and brought the Kingdom of Heaven with them.

(Side note: Many scholars believe the acts of these Christians was a major spark behind the movement. Basically, you’re a Christian because of their sacrifice!)

Fast forward to today, and hell is still very real. Syria being the most visible example. This time it’s a different type of enemy — a human-invented atrocity we call “war.”

Sometimes, it’s easy to feel helpless.

Like when you’re sitting several thousand miles away in a recliner, watching the horrors unfold on cable news, while the slow, steady hum of forced air reminds you, ‘You’re OK. You live in a pretty decent subdivision. Thank God you aren’t there. What’s on Netflix this month? #SoBlessed.’

And none of the above is necessarily a bad thing.

Unless, of course, you’re a Christian.

Because you can’t have it both ways.

In the United States, we’ve recently had an opportunity to open our doors to Syrian refugees. Yet the majority of American Christians were among those who battened down the hatches, voting in Donald Trump and his vehement anti-refugee stance, and voting down any attempt to love our neighbor.

Why?

Well, we have really important lives.

And we have really important stuff.

And we don’t want to jeopardize our stuff!

And the majority of American Christians were among those who supported Trump’s missile attack on a Syrian airbase, aggravating an already dire situation, and continuing the cycle of violence Jesus sought to end at the cross.

Now, no one is compelling you to go to Syria. In fact, don’t.

It’s the 21st century, and we have education and we have resources and we have medicine and we have modern communication and we have nonprofit groups and we have democracy.

In fact, we have many more tools at our disposal than our Christian forefathers — we’re just doing a lousy job at using them. We’re distracted. And we’re selfish. And maybe most importantly, we’ve lost The Way.

Thankfully, we have a blueprint to remind us.

 

Photo: A Syrian refugee mother living in Amman, Jordan, shows the wounds on the face of her young daughter after she was hit by a neighbour. /UNHCR/O.Laban-Mattei/June 2013

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