Going to Hell

 

Isaiah 5:14, 14:9-11, 5:14, King James Version (KJV)

Hell hath enlarged herself, and opened her mouth without measure: and their glory, and their multitude, and their pomp, and he that rejoiceth, shall descend into it.

Hell from beneath is moved for thee to meet thee at thy coming: it stirreth up the dead for thee, even all the chief ones of the earth; it hath raised up from their thrones all the kings of the nations.

All they shall speak and say unto thee, Art thou also become weak as we? art thou become like unto us?

Thy pomp is brought down to the grave, and the noise of thy viols: the worm is spread under thee, and the worms cover thee.

Therefore hell hath enlarged herself, and opened her mouth without measure: and their glory, and their multitude, and their pomp, and he that rejoiceth, shall descend into it.

Sorry to disappoint some of you, but this reflection has little to nothing to do with the Pretty Reckless song of the same title.  😉

Recently, at church, i was talking with one of the former Bishops of our ward. He was asking me how i was doing, and while i am pretty open and disclosing with every one anyway, this particular man of God has a most comforting of gifts in that being in his presence always creates a safe space, no mater where we are, where i can talk about anything. All of a sudden, i found myself confessing in the most casual manner how my inner voice, my inner self, often senses the mouth of hell opening for me. All of a sudden, during that conversation, i realized how much of an outlier i probably am in my church community. I would probably be correct in assuming that most church goers don’t consider themselves in danger of such a destiny, and i hope they are right. However, in my case, from time to time, that dreadful sense wells up inside me, and not without reason.

Yes, i believe i have reason for experiencing these moments. Every one who knows me knows that i struggle a lot with certain things like addiction, that most of my church family are not so intimately acquainted with. Of course, i also struggle with other things like attendance, and general faithfulness, that probably most of them can relate to very well, albeit, from where i stand it looks like they manage more successfully than i do. However, i think that most Christians don’t see their own sins and transgressions as mortal. In my case, i never feel like i have that luxury, because in the midst of my cups, i lose all sense of free agency. I am under the command of the spirits… and that is a very frightening place to dwell. It consumes me to the point where “i” am cast out of my own body.

When i routinely wall myself off from every one (you), and every safety-net (again, you), i spiral into that malignant pattern of avoidance and insanity of isolation that always precedes me some how persuading myself that opening a bottle is a wise course of action. I am choosing hell. Or, after i have managed to escape Death’s door one more time, and emerge from the acute withdrawal from my latest drinking binge, i often experience a genuine, visceral sense that i am falling into the Abyss. I am going to Hell. This is a sentiment that an addict trying to hold to the right understands very well. And i can’t remember a life where i didn’t feel hell fire chasing me. Once upon a time it did exist though… i think.

Why would i say this, that i still fear Hell as a Christian? I don’t yet know how to fully articulate it. It is like i have this covenant with God, and with myself, not to give up. I will try to explain. Looking back, i realize now that i was already an alcoholic by the time i walked into that church at fourteen, and accepted the Gospel. In that moment, i was gifted the grace to put the bottle away for some years. After flunking out of the Marine’s, and flunking out of church, i turned to the bottle again. By the time i was thirty, i knew i had a real problem. Now at forty-six, i am an advanced alcoholic, and at this point in my illness, each binge is potentially deadly. I can not drink. Period. And yes, i am sober now -but that is always a place i can never take for granted.

So what does my sob story about addiction have to do with going to Hell? Well, whenever i isolate, and cut off my spiritual life lines -that being you -i have in effect, given up. I am no longer living by the right kind of faith. I am withdrawing from my covenant to never quit. It is in those moments that i am in fear of Hell. Some how, my personal redemption is contingent upon never giving up. I can not speak for any one else. I can not project this on any one else. But, yes. Hell is very real to me -not just a figure of speech. Not just an allegory, or an archetype idea of suffering. And yes, Hell can be both in this world and in the next, with the only difference being hell, or Hell. Take your pick. But again, i suspect that every addict who tries to keep fighting has also come to this same conclusion in one form of language or another.

As i alluded to before, as a youth, i was taught the doctrine of eternal security. They made pretty good argument for it. There are also many teachers who can make a passionate argument against it. But my point here is not to argue it one way or another. My point is this. If you really believe in Hell, like you may say you do, would you want to wager your eternal destiny on a disputed doctrine? I know i don’t. I think it is a dangerous game to base my salvation on men’s fallible understanding of the revelations in Scripture. I do not wish to enter the next life under the safety-net clause of 1 Corinthians 3:15, If any man’s work shall be burned, he shall suffer loss: but he himself shall be saved; yet so as by fire.

When i find myself in those dark places in my journey; when i close my eyes and feel Hell is closing in on me because i am just using my profession of faith, my lip service to Heavenly Father, as some sort of fire insurance -that is when i know my road is not right. When Hell is looming especially real to you, and literal, one realizes that your own inner guide knows better than all the Doctors of Divinity with all their degrees, about what Hell is and how you end up there! And with that in hand, i would rather base my salvation on a living relationship with the Lord Jesus Christ, than some vague, near forgotten memory of one day when i “prayed a little prayer and asked Jesus into my heart to save me from hell fire for all eternity”. When Hell is stretching it’s maw wide beneath you, It is in those moments when you will realize that some teacher’s assurance of eternal security isn’t enough to replace that day to day relationship with the Savior!
And why is this important to me? Avoid eternal torment? Yes, sure, that is part of it. I sometimes sense that is where my own actions; my own choices are leading me. And while, i am not afraid of God sending me to Hell; i am afraid of making my own bed there, and finding in the end, i have no where else left to sleep. I am afraid of being sucked into what have created for all eternity.

Still, far beyond this, the Gospel means more than deliverance from Hell. It represents everything good; it is the greatest of gifts to this life. It represents the love of God being with us. I need to have something to show in the next life, for my time here. I need to have something that does not burn into ashes in His presence. And as much as i may stumble and fall, i truly believe that my task -at least right now, is to endure to the end. Perhaps at some point i can take on a new calling: to flourish. But for now, i need to work with where i am, and learn how to deal with this life on life’s terms.

And the things that burn away in that moment of judgment? The older i get, the more i entertain a peculiar notion. How many incarnations of myself really exist on a metaphysical level? How many versions of myself are vying to be the final me? Will they burn away? Will they suffer that fate i feel such a pernicious relationship with? Perhaps it is fitting that they do. Perhaps that is the only way i will ever remember who and what i once was before wearing this body. But in the end, i hope that some version of myself is found worth redeeming, and crosses into that eternity with the words, “…Well done, good and faithful servant; thou hast been faithful over a few things, I will make thee ruler over many things: enter thou into the joy of thy lord.”

The Hall of “That Thing’s”

This page will consist of a number of titles i will post over time who will share the common phrase “That Thing…”.  These will mostly be reflections of questions, struggles, and events from my past that i have spent my lifetime trying to sort through and make sense out of.

So, with no further discomfort, may i share…

 

 

That Thing That Wont Go Away!

Decisions have consequences. We all know that. But something what is much harder to predict, is which decisions will have consequences that reverberate through every day for the rest of your life, or how to quantify the weight of such decisions after the fact. Here is an example in my own life. Any one who knows me and my horrific drinking binges that would take me to the Underworld and back, depositing me at Death’s door, would be shocked if i said that picking up a bottle was not the worst decision i ever made. No, it is only number two. The worst decision i ever made was going to church!
“But Michael… you still go to church. We talk about God and the Bible all the time. You constantly post apologetics for Christianity and Christians -especially Catholics (oddly enough since i’m not Catholic) and for Jews too (& i’m not Jewish). You identify yourself as a Christian!” And all these things are true. And still, the worst decision i ever made was to go to “that” Church in an impersonal town in Colorado, back when i was fourteen years old, self destructing, and searching for help. I will try to explain. But i am not sure that any one who hasn’t gone through a similar experience will really understand it -or understand my malignant relationship with it.

As a youth, i was searching for a church that preached the Gospel powerfully. I really didn’t have much of a church background at that point in my life, but my parents did give us basic Christian primer, and would sometimes pray with us, or read the Bible to us at the supper table. So i figured, no one else, nothing else seems to be able to help me, maybe God will? What did i have to lose? I lived right next door to a huge Evangelical Free church. I went to school with the pastor’s son. He was a nice kid -a good kid, but i knew i didn’t want to attend there. They were far too integrated into the same worldly culture that i was trying to separate from. As things transpired, i found my way instead to an Independent Fundamentalist Baptist Church. When i stepped into the sanctuary that Sunday morning in September of ’86, i was thirsty. I knew how needy i was. My life was a wreck and i was unraveling. Indeed, the Pastor preached a powerful sermon. After the sermon, during the invitation, even though i was very shy and insecure, and a complete stranger, i was compelled to come forward. That day, i made my personal profession of faith & turned my soul over to the care of Jesus Christ. This renewal helped me face some of my demons.

Now, maybe if i hadn’t gone back again. If i had just grabbed the Gospel and ran, like most people instinctively did when encountering that church -this story would have ended differently. I could have found a more constructive place to attend services at. Instead, loyal to a fault, i felt joined at the hip to this congregation, and was soon sucked into their culture. It was a very ugly culture. It was a culture where you couldn’t get down in the gutter to help some one -for fear of “appearing” soiled yourself. Hell, we were wrapped so tight we couldn’t even stoop over and offer a hand without popping a button. (And on the side, just for the record -by & large, Baptist women don’t know a damn thing -and i mean not one stinking devil-be-damned thing about cooking! Never attend a Baptist potluck! You have to trust me on this. I have been to Baptist potlucks from the Pacific Northwest, to the flatlands of Texas; from the mountains of the Rockies, to the hills of Tennessee. And i am telling you, on the continental USA anway, they are all equally awful, no matter where you go!) It was a culture where if you didn’t know what was right – you certainly knew what was wrong -and what was wrong was you! It was a culture where every good and perfect gift from above was treated with suspicion. Art was evil. Literature was evil. Music was evil. Free time was evil. Most everything was evil! Life was something to be feared -not embraced. The world was a place you hid from -you didn’t challenge or minister to. You might preach at it, but you never tried to actually help it. However, todays task is not to laundry list church dysfunctions.

Perhaps this all would have been a lot easier to walk away from if i didn’t enroll in their church academy -we will call Nameless Christian School. But i did. Why? Well, at the time it certainly made sense. I felt so alienated and lonely in public school. I literally had no friends. Not even one. And there was so much going on at the public school i was diametrically opposed to. Add to this, i was a troubled youth, sincerely trying to do the right thing. Sincere in trying to find and accomplish God’s will. And i thought i was. So i put up enough of a fuss with my parents, that they finally began footing the bill to go to this school. And right here is where an important problem begins. I insisted on attending this school. I haggled my parents until they consented. Now i owned it. And so whatever happened next -well, that was on me!

I didn’t realize it at first how coercive and manipulative the school was. It was sort of the frog in a pot scenario -the temperature of the water slowly rising, but me unable to feel it until it was too late. The content of a day at school there can be summed up in our chapel sessions, being reminded on a regular basis by the principal… “Rights? I am sick and tired of hearing about your stinking rights! You are born with only two rights: the right to die, and the right to burn in hell!”. It was all really personified in that one single figure: the school principal, the one entity i actually will name here, Mr Tom Geer. Tom was a very angry man, who had been abused as a child himself, and in turn, abused the children under his watch. He was a bully, and an idiot who of course fancied himself very intelligent. Certainly some one who should never have been allowed anywhere near children. Unfortunately he ran both the church school, and the church bus ministry. Go figure! The one good thing i can say about Tom Gear is this: at least, to my knowledge, he wasn’t a pedophile!

So why was such a one allowed so much access to children? It is because he was very hard driven; the kind of guy you ask when you need to get things done.  He was willing to do the jobs every one else didn’t have (or wouldn’t make) time for. Without Tom Gear standing in as principal, the church could not maintain it’s private school. Without Tom Gear running the bus ministry -there was no bus ministry. And for that, i think a lot of people who should have known better, turned a blind eye to how he treated the children.

I am going to shorten this up. Maybe as time goes on, i will fill it in more. But for now, let me try to just get to what i really need to say. Why didn’t i just walk away? If i had a stronger sense of self maybe i would have. But every time i tried, i was always shamed back into returning. Also -i felt a guilt riddled responsibility to stay the course. After all, i had insisted that my parents make the financial sacrifice of sending me to this school. So again, it was my duty to stay the course. Also, in the midst of all my adolescent confusion, i some how felt that leaving this church and school, was equivalent to abandoning God altogether. So again, it was my duty to stay the course.

I did manage to spend my senior year at a church-school in Oregon. I lived with the pastors family there. Same denomination, but very different spirit. Our school principal, while he had his own issues i bristled against (he is the authority figure after all), was not a bully, actually was quite intelligent, but most importantly, he loved, cherished, and nurtured the youth in his care. He was a good man, who sadly passed from cancer some years back just barely middle-aged. Unfortunately, by then, for me the damage had already been done, and i was on a trajectory i couldn’t seem to pull out of. However, i suspect that had i spent my formative years as a Christian there instead of in Colorado, this story still could have ended differently.

The end result was this. I lost God! And for that, i do not know how to forgive them. While my faith wasn’t eradicated -it certainly went into a coma. I had planned on going into the ministry, for crying out loud! Instead, i spent the next 20 years saying i was an atheist. Not because it was true -but because i did not know how to have this conversation about how devastated i was -from going to church. For all those years, i could not walk into a church without walking straight back out again. Yes, i have regained my composure somewhat -my faith functions a little now. But it is not the same as it was. It is so much harder now. It is no longer a wellspring flowing through me. It exists much more in my head now, than in my heart. I have to fake it a lot. I operate on vapors. How do i forgive some one for robbing me of that most precious of things, and leaving me so crippled? If i had been given the choice, i would have sacrificed anything, and I mean anything, to maintain the purity of my faith. But i wasn’t given that choice! Oh but wait a minute! I did have a choice. I could have just walked away. That didn’t seem a valid option at the time, but the fact that i did have that choice makes my loss all the more bitter.

So how did i end up in the LDS (Latter Day Saints) church? Well, for starters, you can blame it on those missionary kids that go door to door. They bugged me until i finally attended a service at the local Tabernacle. I was surprised to find that they weren’t the wild eyed lunatics that i was expecting. It felt like home. I am not a very good Mormon. My attendance is shoddy at best. No one trusts me with a ministry -and they are wise not to. Was Joseph Smith a prophet? I don’t know. Do i believe the Book of Mormon? I don’t know. But what i really found was a beautiful community of Christian people who live the Gospel. They are not afraid of the world -they don’t hide from it. They shine their light into the darkness. They are not afraid of life. They embrace it. And they look for the good in people instead of always obsessing over faults. They are my friends. At the end of the day, i believe the Gospel in them. And yes, i know that not all LDS communities are so sweet like mine here in the Riverside ward of Spokane County, WA.

So the Critic (that inner Critic that never leaves) says, “Michael, i still say it’s your own stupid for not just walking away.” Yes, i suppose it is. Perhaps i find it so difficult to forgive “them” for the things that happened, because i find it so damn hard to forgive myself. Unfortunately, i grew up in a house full of know-it-all’s. As a coping mechanism, i think i developed this delusion that i always had to be right. Or was i just another know-it-all myself? Probably. Anyway, once i got involved with that church, their teachings and their attitudes fed right into my dysfunction. Only it was much worse now because “I was right: by God!”. If i admitted how bad things really were, i would have to admit that i was wrong. I couldn’t do that. It is funny looking back on it now, if it weren’t so tragic. I really wanted to know God. I really wanted to follow God in thought, word, and deed. But i was never able to let go of having to “always be right” and let God be God. It is stupefying how “sincerely” wrong you can be. Spiritual life doesn’t work according to the rules i was trying to bend it to. Hell, earthly life doesn’t even work like that! But, dear Critic, do you have any idea of how imbecilic i feel when i look back on all of this, realizing that all i had to do to end this was to just walk away? The pathological self-loathing, and flagellating i have born for decades, knowing that in the end: i did this to myself? Some how, Critic, i doubt you do!

So… maybe my worst decision wasn’t going to church. Or rather, maybe it is both my worst and my best decision. At least i encountered the Gospel there -and i count that a good thing. My biggest mistake was just being too thick to realize when it was time to go home! And the wings of my faith that remain broken, are they crippled out of fear? Fear that if i were to let them heal and spread again, that that this story will repeat itself, just with different plot lines and characters? At this stage in my life, were such a mutilation to occur, it would surely destroy whatever is left of me. Can i “really” heal, or is this just my road to journey? Truly, this burden is mine, and mine alone, and it has been incredibly difficult to make any one else understand it. I think this account that i have written here has been my best attempt at communicating what is really going on in my inner self. But it is still looking through a glass darkly. And i can live with these things. But i do not believe i could live with this ever happening to me again.

They say that whatever doesn’t kill you just makes you stronger. Am i stronger now? I certainly don’t feel stronger.  I feel like there is much less of me now.  I can only guess, when i look at my addiction that never leaves me, look at the loneliness of my bachelorhood which has left me unable to form intimacy, look at my basic failure to become a fully functioning adult (yes, in a way i’m still that fourteen year old kid that walked into a church), and especially, look at my failure to become a fully functioning Christian, i can only suppose that the strength i am being asked to exhibit, is the strength to endure. And i suppose, endure i will. As long as i do not have to endure alone. All of you are family now.

PS.  It did not occur to me later, but upon re-reading this reflection a number of times, i realized i needed to clarify my rant about Baptist women and their cooking.  There actually was meaning to my madness -but it was so obscure i did not even consciously realize it while writing -i just felt the need to vent a peeve.  However, the meaning behind it was so much on the “inside” that any one on the outside would be quite unlikely to catch it.  I will try to explain.  I am one who loves cooking, and takes pride in it. I also happen to be one who firmly believes that one’s emotional state of being inevitably transfers into one’s cooking!  When you are happy, heart filled with love: you just cook better.  I believe that in my core.  When i ran’t about Baptist women (& i mean these particular circles of Baptists), being terrible cooks, what i am really saying is that they were terribly unhappy.  Their cooking was terrible not necessarily because they were terrible cooks, but because there was no joy in their hearts when they cooked.  In these circle, women really were treated as “subjects” of their husbands, and not as equals.  Women were not only treated as intellectually inferior to men, but spiritually inferior as well. Everything these women did, seemed to be out of a sense of guilt-riddled duty.  The only times they showed a spark of happiness was when they were together with each other, away from the company of their men. And please understand too, while i may believe this represents a universal trend in these circles, i do not claim it represents a universal absolute.  The church that i walked into as a youth in Colorado, was particularly virulent in this regard.  Whereas, the church i attended my senior year in Oregon, was largely free from those attitudes, and was blessed with loving community and good spirit.  However, on the whole, i never understood what these churches had to offer girls and women that would make them love God, or Christianity, other people, or even their own lives.  I hope i have explained this better now.