Thankful

Thankful

I’m celebrating Thanksgiving 2018 – Texas-style! – at my son and daughter-in-law’s new home in Austin, Texas.  My daughter also flew in to join us, from Guatemala.

Not hosting Thanksgiving in my own home, I don’t have any responsibilities today (I was asked to chop an onion and to run to the store for toothpicks – but that’s light work for a Thanksgiving veteran).  As my wife and son prepare the Thanksgiving feast, I’ve been relegated to a chair in front of the Macey’s Thanksgiving Day Parade and the Annual National Dog show on TV.  I’m not complaining.  I’m thankful for a relaxing Thanksgiving morning, surrounded by the people I love.

So, as it is Thanksgiving, and I have some extra time on my hands, I’m reflecting on ALL I have to be grateful for.  The problem is, if I attempt to name anything or anyone specifically, I’ll inevitably leave something or someone out, thus potentially diminishing someone else’s Thanksgiving gratitude.  What could be more anti-Thanksgiving than that?

So, if I’m thankful for you, you probably already know it.  If you’re unsure, you have my permission to assume I’m grateful for you, too!  Happy Thanksgiving!

I’ll simply say I’m deeply, profoundly, consciously aware of how extremely fortunate I am, in virtually every aspect of my life.  I’m the beneficiary of many more blessings than I deserve or could ever count!  Even beyond the particular things and people I could name – but won’t! – I simply feel grateful, in an all-encompassing way, for the totality of my life.

I’m blessed, and I know it.  I’m thankful.

Most importantly, in addition to my gratitude for so many people, and to so many people, I know WHO deserves the ultimate thanks.  As we sing in worship, “Praise God from whom all blessings flow.”  Though I may not always be as consciously aware of my blessings as I am right now, or as intentional about expressing gratitude, in moments like these I can’t help but thank God.  I don’t know why God has been so good to me.  But, I’d be an ungrateful, ignorant fool if I denied it.

So, wherever you are and whomever you are spending this Thanksgiving with; whatever you have to be thankful for and whomever you have to be thankful to; take a moment to count your many blessings, and give thanks.

Happy Thanksgiving!

Lament

Lament

I posted the following on my Facebook page in September, 2016.  Someone reposted it today.  I feel like I could have written it today….

Lament.

“Listen to my words, Lord, consider my lament.” Psalm 5:1

For months, I’ve read many posts about issues ranging from gay marriage to the presidential election to the state of the United Methodist Church to whose lives matter (and, apparently, whose lives don’t). And, for the most part, I’ve remained silent.

Frankly, I’m a coward. If I take a stand, on almost any issue, I know it will outrage and offend some, and I will be attacked. While I’m sure I have “friends” who will support whatever position I might take, I also know I will lose the support of others – including men and women for whom I’ve been, or am currently, their pastor. I guess I haven’t been willing to take that risk.It’s just social media.

And, yet, ideas/opinions/perspectives/positions on social media seem to spread like wild fire – spinning quickly out of control. Standing for one thing seems to automatically imply being the enemy of something else.  When did we become so venomous?

So, while I am still a coward, and I still hesitate to lay all of my cards on the table, I will publicly admit my lament.

I lament for our fallen and broken world.

I lament for the families of young black men who have died unjustly. I lament their loss and their grief. I also lament for the many honorable law enforcement officers who feel unfairly vilified.

I lament for the deep and widening divisions in our country, as I see exemplified in this election. I lament the ugliness I hear from the mouths of people we are called to trust and respect. I lament the fear and uncertainty I feel for our future.

I lament the millions of refugees, who have lost everything and need new beginnings. I lament for immigrants – legal and illegal – who leave their homes and travel dangerous journeys, risking their lives, in order to find work to support their families.

I lament the terror we carry in our hearts as a result of night-club shootings and pressure cooker bombs.

I lament our fear and mistrust of one another.

I lament racism.

I lament the state of my church, which is so deeply divided.

I lament for those who have felt, and still feel, excluded and condemned by the Church because of their sexual orientation.

I lament for those who have been labeled bigots or narrow-minded because they are conservative, and who sincerely want to obey God’s Word.

I lament our inability to love and respect one another as brothers and sisters in Christ.

I lament the myriad ways we vilify those we disagree with.

I lament for our inability to be civil, to speak respectfully to one another, to disagree without disparagement – that we seem incapable of bringing our issues to a common table and seek solutions rather than assign blame.

I lament my own cowardice – fearing to take stands and to pay the consequences.

Feliz Dia de Los Muertes (or, for the gringos, “Happy Day of the Dead!”

Feliz Dia de Los Muertes (or, for the gringos, “Happy Day of the Dead!”

While many in the U.S. will observe today as Halloween – a night for Jack-o-lanterns, costumes, parties, and “trick or treating” – our neighbors to the South will be observing a much more ancient tradition called “Dia de Los Muertes” – the Day of the Dead.  The Day of the Dead, originating in Mexico and observed to varying degrees throughout Central America, is a special celebration for honoring loved ones who have died, in hopes their spirits will return for a visit.  Families build altars in their homes, as places of loving remembrance, and they visit cemeteries for family feasts, and to decorate family tombs and grave sites.  Day of the Dead celebrations often include parades, feasts, decorations, and colorful skeletal costumes.

Probably, the most familiar image, to most, from the Day of the Dead is the “Sugar Skull” – images of skulls or skeletons, decorated with elaborated dress and beautiful flowers.

I’ve heard some say the Day of the Dead is evil, or morbid, or, at least, weird.  But, I love it!  If you ask me, Halloween is weird!  Whether Halloween is an opportunity to adorn a different persona, or self-indulge in parties and candy, or, at worst, glorify evil, it’s all a bit strange to me.  But, I think the Day of the Dead is kind of beautiful.

The Day of the Dead embraces death as an inevitable part of the life experience.  The Day of the Dead keeps the love and memories of the deceased alive in ritual form.  The Day of the Dead celebrates life!  The Day of the Dead imagines the distance between the material and spiritual world as being rather thin.

And, frankly, though the Day of the Dead traditions arose from the indigenous peoples of Mexico, aspects of the traditions feel very Christian to me….

  • We believe Christ has conquered death, and opened the gates to eternity.
  • Hebrews 12:1 says we are “surrounded by a great cloud of witnesses,” which I understand to mean the souls and spirits of those who have died in the Lord.
  • We believe in honoring the “saints” who have gone before us, and on whose spiritual shoulders we stand, whose lives deserve to be remembered.
  • We believe life is a gift to be celebrated fully.

No, the Day of the Dead is not, technically, a Christian holiday.  But, it is a rich cultural tradition, celebrating life, death, and the life after death.

In ancient times, Christian monks would keep the skull of a deceased and decomposed brother on their prayer desk, as a reminder of their own mortality.  Can you imagine praying, with the hollow eye sockets of a deceased brother staring at you?  Tibetan Buddhists sometimes meditate with prayer beads in the shape of tiny skulls, sometimes carved from yak bone, for the same purpose.

Death is a reality we inevitably face.  There’s just no escaping it!  Though Christians believe we will live forever, none will do so without passing through death.  While death is an enemy, in that it is the end of our earthly existence, it is also a defeated enemy, in that it is not the final ending of our eternal existence.  Really, death is nothing more than a transition from life to more life.  In some ways, death is akin to birth, passing from one existence to the next.

Dare we also say death can be a friend?  After all, death, if we will embrace it, reminds us that each and every day is a gift and blessing.  Death is a reminder to live every day on earth to the fullest, and strive not to waste even one.  And, death is a promise that when the struggles of this life are over – and some of us struggle a lot – there’s a better life waiting for us on the other side.

Feliz Dia de Los Muertes, mis amigos!

Stuff: Compulsion and Attachment

Stuff:  Compulsion and Attachment

I’ve been thinking about stuff lately.

My stuff.

Literal “stuff.”

I have a lot of stuff.

I have an office full of books and religious mementos, and even more at home.

I have a “growing” collection of bonsai trees, orchids and cacti.  I also have a collection of bonsai pots, most of which are really too small to use.  But, I think they’re neat and fun to look at.

I have collections of statues – monks, asian “mud men,” and carvings of saints from Guatemala.

We have more chairs in our home than we’ve ever entertained enough people at one time to use.  We, likewise, have enough cups and glasses to serve beverages to more people than could actually fit in our home, including if a few were double-fisted drinkers!

My garage is packed wall-to-wall with tools, Christmas decor, future projects, my Harley, and misc biker paraphernalia.

My closets are stuffed with more clothes than I need, including, thankfully, many items that are now too large for me to wear.  Given my history of weight fluctuation, I haven’t had the courage to give away the fat clothes yet.

Though I’ve greatly reduced the collection I had, I still have an assortment of musical instruments, ranging from bongos to guitars to an 8-string ukulele.

I do have a lot of stuff.

Why so much?  Well, I’ve been reflecting on that.

None of my “stuff” is of great monetary value.  But, a lot of if has great value too me.  In some cases, the value is knowledge, as in the books I own and read.  In some cases, the value is enjoyment and entertainment, as in the plants I tend and the instruments I play.  In some cases, the value is pragmatic, as in the different clothes I wear for different occasions and climates.  In some cases, the value is beauty, as in the items decorating my home and office.  In same cases, the value is sentimental, as in the items I’ve collected from varying life experiences.  In some cases, the value is utilitarian, as in the tools in my garage.

Somehow, I confess, I’m comforted by my things.  I enjoy being surrounded by them, looking at them, using them, and remembering where I got one thing or another.  Each thing, unless it is purely utilitarian, tells a story for me.  While some feel pleasure and freedom in simplicity, and some enjoy minimalist design, I like environments that tell a story through the objects on display.

Come into my office, and we could spend hours discussing where all of the different things have come from, what they mean, and why they matter to me.  The same thing could happen in my home, or on my back porch.

I also particularly enjoy the process of searching and finding different things.  It’s like a treasure hunt!  And, at times, I enjoy passing my finds along to others, so they can enjoy them.  (BTW – I have a few plants I’d be glad to share with anyone who is interested!)

But, I also recognize my accumulation of “stuff” might be a problem.  Though I never spend a lot of money on any one thing, the accumulated value of my things is likely greater than I’d like to admit, and those dollars probably could have been used in better ways.  Things take time to maintain – especially plants and Harleys – which is time I could use for other, better, activities.  And, someday, when I’m gone, someone will have to deal with getting rid of all of it (sorry kids!).

The area I likely need to work on most is the way “stuff” can be like a drug.  I’ll admit, there’s a “high” that comes from finding the “unexpected.”  Always on the search for another book, another piece of clothing, another plant, another bonsai pot can be rather compulsive, and perhaps an escapist method of looking for comfort and pleasure in things rather than God.  It can be a way of avoiding, or numbing, negative feelings, too.

Some call it, “Retail Therapy.”

While I love all of my varied and miscellaneous things, I’ve been reflecting on how attached I am to them.  I’ve sold a few things lately, and I’m working on selling some more.  Some things I hold on to because I’ll likely want or need it later.  There are other things, though, I think I could part with… if I had to.  I don’t necessarily want to.  But, if life demanded it, I could part with any number of things I like, but don’t necessarily need.

I think that’s the goal.  Regardless of how much stuff a person has – a lot or a little, minimalist or maximalist – the issue is compulsion and attachment.  Does the thing really have value, beyond the feeling that drove the acquisition?  And, how attached am I to the thing?

In pastoral counseling, I often ask people to hold out their hands, palms up, and to imagine whatever hope, dream, desire, need, demand they have, resting in their open hands.  The point of the exercise is that when we want something badly, we tend to grip it tightly.  But, even with hands open, we still hold the thing.  The difference is, when we stop gripping the thing, it can be removed from our hands, possibly to be replaced with something better.  Or maybe having open, empty, receptive hands is good too.

So, yes, I confess, I have a lot of stuff.  I’m working on the compulsive collecting, and appreciating what I already have.  And, I’m working on holding all things loosely.

How much stuff have you got?

Enough’s Enough: Smear Ads, Social Media Posts, Gossip, and Run-of-the-Mill Slander

Enough’s Enough:  Smear Ads, Social Media Posts, Gossip, and Run-of-the-Mill Slander

“It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.”  Theodore Roosevelt

It always happens, as election days approach.  The TV ads switch from the candidates’ dreams and promises, to smearing the character and career of their opponents.  While I must confess a general suspicion of most politicians, I doubt many are as corrupt, immoral, and self-serving as they’re portrayed.  In fact, today, I’m watching in disgust, as long-time civic and national leaders are being maliciously disregarded and disrespected.

I always hear like-minded people say, “I just can’t wait for Election Day!”

But, the critic’s voices won’t stop after the election, will they?  Whoever loses will quickly fade from the lime-light, and the criticism will become more narrowly focused on the winners.

And, it’s not limited to politics, is it?  Depending on the day, and the issue at hand, someone, somewhere is the target of our collective ire.  The more famous one becomes, and the more public one’s judged flaws or failings, the more vocal and wide-spread the critique.

“Can you believe she wore THAT to the reward show?”

“Did you read what he tweeted?”

“Can you believe the coach made THAT call?”

“Have you heard what that pastor did?”

As I write this, I’m imagining disparaging social media posts, gone mega-viral.

I’ll confess, I do it too.  Like many others, I’m in perpetual evaluation mode, judging people according to my personal ethics, politics, theology, philosophy, and personal tastes, preferences, and biases.  And, frankly, much of the time, people just don’t measure up.  Sometimes, I verbalize by critiques.  Sometimes, I verbalize my critiques publicly.

Let me say that again.  People, much of the time, just don’t measure up to this guy’s impossibly high standards and expectations.  That’s right.  In my eyes, people come up short – WAY SHORT – all of the time.  Any given moment, on any given day, I’m keenly aware of the faults and failings of just about everybody.

  • I didn’t get treated with the respect I’m sure I deserve.
  • I didn’t receive the applause, the acclaim, or the adoration I must be due.
  • The meal, the service, the sermon didn’t meet my expectations.
  • I didn’t get the call or email I was expecting.
  • Or, I’m just feeling annoyed.

I’m exaggerating, slightly.  SLIGHTLY.  But, before judging ME for my rampant judging, YOU’d better check yourself.  I suspect you might be a guilty-critic, too.

In spite of my uber-propensity for judging others (friends, family, and strangers, alike), if I’ve grown weary of the criticisms I hear and see on TV, social media, and everyday conversations, perhaps I need to reevaluate my own critical tendencies.  If I don’t like it, why do I do it?  Perhaps, the television ads and social media posts are nothing more than public manifestations of the same demon that lives and works in me… and quite possibly in you.

  • Who am I to judge and attack the character of another, when I still have so much to work on?
  • How dare I critique another for falling short, when I can’t live up to my own standards?
  • Who am I, to condemn someone, when I don’t know their whole story?
  • Why jump to false-conclusions, based on rumors and mis-information?
  • Who made me the standard-maker, the judge, and the jury?
  • Why does my opinion matter?
  • Why be a critic, when I really don’t want to be criticized?
  • Who am I to judge another’s performance, when I’ve never attempted to do their job?

What if we critiqued others less?  What if, instead of judgement and criticism, we looked for the good?  What if, before jumping to conclusions, we gave others the benefit of the doubt?  What if we were less quick to participate in the rumor mill, and remember what we all learned in preschool…

“If you don’t have something nice to say, don’t say anything at all.”

What if we were more freely accepting, forgiving, and grace-giving?  What if we practiced gratitude more, and judgement less?

The truth is, the ones we criticize the most, are usually the one’s who are striving to do something good, maybe even great.  The old saying is true, “The bigger you are, the harder you fall” – and we can all think of politicians and celebrities who’ve taken hard falls.  But, setting moral and ethical failings aside…

  • The player who dropped the ball was actually playing the game, not sitting in the stands…
  • The politician you don’t like, actually ran for office…
  • The celebrity whose award acceptance speech offended you, actually won an award for their work…
  • The artist who took a creative risk, actually created something…
  • The activist who fights for a cause you disagree with is actually fighting for a cause…
  • The meal you didn’t enjoy, the sermon that offended you, the movie you hated, the class you thought was boring, etc., etc., might have actually been enjoyable for someone else…

The point is, the ones we criticize most, are actually showing up, and probably doing the best they can, for the best reasons they know.  No one – NO ONE – always sings in key, or always throws a perfect pass, or always makes EVERYONE happy.  For the most part – with some notable exceptions – everyone is doing about the best they can do.

And, here’s a closing thought to ponder.  Has criticism ever really inspired you to be better than you are?  Or, has criticism just made you feel more insecure and self-conscious?  Has it made you more defensive?  Hasn’t criticism just made you second-guess yourself more than you already do?  If I’m right – and I’m pretty sure I am – who does the criticism benefit, anyway, besides the critic’s own sinful, fragile ego?

Let’s quit being critics.  Enough’s enough.  And, let’s get in the game.

 

 

“Stay focused! Disruptions are coming!”

“Stay focused!  Disruptions are coming!”

I recently returned to yoga.

Though I’m not a big fan of most forms of exercise, I do really love yoga!   Yoga provides a teacher-led, group-based, meditative practice, building strength from head to toe, burning fat, increasing flexibility and balance – all things I desperately need.  For an hour, or so, yoga consumes the full focus and effort of my whole being.  I generally leave a yoga class physically depleted, emotionally centered, and soulfully re-charged – not to mention, pretty sweaty!

My Monday instructor is a young, petite woman, named Ariel.  She has a gentle voice, clear instruction, a steady pace, logical movements, and she challenges me to push my limits.  I’ve had a number of yoga instructors, and she rates among the best.

This morning, Ariel had us begin, lying on our backs, relaxed, slowing our breathing, and finding our “center.”  All of a sudden, the classroom doors banged open, as chatty students from a different class returned exercise mats they’d borrowed.  Then, some students showed up late to our class.  Then, a maintenance guy came in, drilling something.

Chaos, rudely interrupting our feeble efforts to achieve inner peace.

In the midst of the noisy disruption, Ariel quietly arose, walked to the center of the room, and with a strong, clear voice said, something to the effect, “Stay centered.  Focus on your breathing.  Life is full of distractions and intrusions, just like these.  You have to learn how to stay relaxed and centered – in life and in yoga – even when there are interruptions.  Hold on to your peace.  Stay focused!”  Then she returned to her mat, and continued the class.

I have to say, I was very impressed with her composure, focus, and ability to turn a challenging situation into a teaching moment.  She saved our class, and provided a great life lesson.  “Life is full of disruptions.  You have to learn to stay focused.  Don’t lose your peace.” 

Honestly, if Ariel hadn’t taken control, I was on the verge of getting up and walking out.  I’d quickly lost my focus, and was becoming increasingly irritated.  Her strong, clear instruction calmed me, helping me regain my center, leading to a great – though challenging – workout.

The truth is, that kind of thing happens to me all of the time.  I begin everyday with prayer and meditation.  I start every day centered and spiritually grounded, or try to.  But, as they say, “stuff” happens.  Something on the news or social media irritates me.  Someone misses an appointment.  A driver offends me.  I feel stressed by my “to-do” list.  I spill coffee on my freshly-ironed shirt.  Unexpected crises disrupt my well-planned schedule.  The car won’t start, or I get a flat tire.  Whatever the issue is, the peace I worked so hard to establish, and wish to maintain, flies out the window, leaving me in a frenzied state of irritable distress.

I lose my peace, all of the time.  Unfortunately, it really doesn’t take much.

I bet you do, too.

As Ariel took control of today’s class, I wondered if she could possibly follow me around, everyday, reminding me when the disruptions come, over and over: “Stay focused.  Stay centered.  Breath.  Don’t lose your peace!”?  But, I’m guessing that might seem a little strange.  And, she might actually have other commitments and obligations – like yoga classes to teach.

Maybe I need to learn how to stay centered and focused on my own.

How about you?

Transcending Hell

Transcending Hell

“Some want to live within the sound
Of church or chapel bell;
I want to run a rescue shop,
Within a yard of hell.” 

C.T. Studd

Some think of Hell as a literal place of punishment, awaiting sinners on the other side of death…

  • an eternal destination for the damned…
  • a deep abyss, beneath the earth….
  • a burning lake of eternal fire and brimstone…
  • a state of eternal torment and suffering, where there’s never-ending weeping and gnashing of teeth (what is teeth-gnashing, anyway?)…
  • the underground lair of the Devil and legions of demons…
  • unending, irreversible separation from God.

I’m increasingly doubtful of Hell as a post-life destination.  I just don’t read much evidence in Scripture to support Hell being more than a metaphor for eternal separation from God, which I do believe in.  I could be wrong.  Maybe Hell is a literal place.  I guess we’ll all find out, eventually.

To me, belief in an eternal Hell feels more like a threat, motivated by fear.  God doesn’t need threats to attract us.  God is good, and the offer of eternity with God is very good.  God doesn’t need the fear or threat of an eternal hell to motivate us.  That sounds a bit too mobster for me.

But, that being said, I do still believe in Hell.  Perhaps there is an eternal state of Hell, for those who choose it (for more on this, read C.S. Lewis’ Great Divorce).  But, if Hell is separation from God, Hell isn’t necessarily a future destination.  Hell, for some, is a PRESENT reality.  Hell can be anywhere, anyplace, anytime.

Hell is anywhere a person feels cut off from God.  I don’t really believe anyone or anyplace – including Hell – is cut off from God, entirely.  Psalm 139:7 asks, Where can I go from your Spirit?Where can I flee from your presence?”  The answer?  “Nowhere!”  But, undeniably, there are times, places, situations, experiences in this life when a person might FEEL cut off from God…

  • When a victim is abused or assaulted.
  • When a person is trapped in addiction.
  • When trust is betrayed.
  • When a person is sliding deeper and deeper into depression.
  • When someone has lost their way, and keeps wandering farther and farther and farther astray.
  • When a person is belittled or dehumanized for their age, gender, ethnicity, skin color, nationality, religion, or sexual orientation.
  • When fear is greater than love.
  • When a person is a victim of injustice.
  • When lies speak more convincingly than Truth.
  • When a person is caught in endless, grinding cycles of poverty.
  • When EVERYTHING seems hopeless.
  • When a person is haunted by the sins of their past.
  • When it feels like there’s nowhere to go, and no one to turn to.
  • When a deepening darkness blots out the fading, dimming, failing light.
  • When pain – physical, emotional, psychological, spiritual – overwhelms.
  • When a person cannot escape the consequences of their sins.

I recall a recent conversation about the success of so many conservative, mega-churches, and how many have transitioned from being historically “traditional” to something much more modern and contemporary.  I wondered aloud if their success has anything to do with their belief in Hell?  I wonder if believing “lost” people go to an eternal place of suffering motivates members to “save” people, no matter what it takes, before it’s too late.  I don’t wonder.  I’m sure that’s the case.

But, what if the Hell people need saving from, most, isn’t in their future?  What if the “lost” are already in Hell, in this life?  What if the “saving,” lost people need, isn’t just from a future Hell, but a current and present one?

What if Hell exists in…

  • broken homes and families,
  • poverty-stricken neighborhoods,
  • brothels, strip-clubs, porn-studios, and red-light districts,
  • the bottles or needles of every addict,
  • loneliness – real or perceived,
  • racist/discriminatory attitudes, practices, and policies,
  • where the abuser’s hand touches the victim’s flesh,
  • unsafe school yards,
  • the bully’s threats and verbal assaults,
  • corrupt, unjust governments and leaders,
  • the hearts of many men and women, children and teens, young and old, friends and family, neighbors and coworkers,
  • prisons, homeless shelters, mental hospitals,
  • the minds of the mentally ill,
  • the bodies of the sick and dying,
  • the news of a tragic death or suicide,
  • broken, betrayed hearts…

What if the person/people we live with, work with, ride the bus with, eat lunch with, do business with, is/are currently living in a Hellish state, and we don’t even realize it?  What if they desperately need us to realize it?

What if the job of the Church, and Christians, is to rescue people from their current Hell; not to avoid their Hell, or to stand back and judge them for it?   What if the job of the Church, and Christians, is to set people free from their current Hell, and to invite them into a new, better, godly reality?  What if our job is to be Heaven on Earth, even in the midst of the Hell people are currently enduring?  What if our job is to enter the Hell of others, while remaining deeply anchored in a higher spiritual reality?  What if our job is to find them in Hell, and lead them out?

What if Hell isn’t an eternal state, but only lasts as long as a suffering person must wait for you or me to crash down the gates, keeping trapped inside.

What if our job, Christians, isn’t to avoid Hell, but to dive into the thick of it, shining our light into the inky darkness, releasing the prisoners and rescuing the captives, transcending Hell together, into God’s glorious light?

Transcend:

transitive verb

1ato rise above or go beyond the limits of

bto triumph over the negative or restrictive aspects of 

cto be prior to, beyond, and above (the universe or material existence)

2to outstrip or outdo in some attribute, quality, or power

intransitive verb

to rise above or extend notably beyond ordinary limits

Who do you know currently residing in Hell?  What are you going to do about it?

Another question to ponder, Church:  based on my definition of Hell, have we (The Church) done more rescuing FROM Hell, threatening WITH Hell, or treating people LIKE Hell?  Think about it.