Jim Taylor's Columns - 'Soft Edges' and 'Sharp Edges'

To make Comments write directly to Jim at jimt@quixotic.ca

 

Published on Wednesday, March 1, 2017

Doing our dirty work for us

No doubt you’ve heard that Douglas Garland was convicted of kidnapping, torturing, dismembering, and burning the bodies of five-year-old Nathan O’Brien and his grandparents Alvin and Kathy Liknes.

            Garland, 57 years old, was sentenced to three consecutive 25-year terms of life imprisonment. He won’t be eligible for parole until he’s 132. He won’t live that long. Other prisoners will see to that. Even on his first night of his prison sentence, he was attacked and required hospitalization.

            Seventy-five years might seem sufficient punishment, but Nathan’s father wanted more – eternal punishment.

            At the sentencing hearing Rod O’Brien addressed Garland directly: “For those who choose evil, they will get an eternity of evil. A life sentence on earth is nothing compared to what waits for you.”

            Having lost a son myself, many years ago, I can sympathize with the intensity of O’Brien’s grief. I hope his belief in hell – and in heaven for Nathan -- gives him comfort. It wouldn’t, for me.

            Because I don’t believe in hell.

 

Rewards and punishments

            Hell, it seems to me, is based on a vision of God as a ruthless judge, somewhere out there looking down from a golden throne, delivering punishments that mere humans cannot do themselves. A kind of omnipotent auditor, recording every act of good or bad in an eternal ledger.

            Like Gilbert and Sullivan’s Mikado, he’s “got a little list.” Like Santa, he keeps track of “naughty and nice… checking it twice…”

            No doubt O’Brien would like to make Garland to suffer, as Garland made little Nathan suffer. But he can’t. Because, in Canada, that would be a criminal act.

            So he expects God to do it for him.

            I don’t believe in that kind of God.

 

The problem of hell

            Geologically, we know that there is no subterranean sea of fire where sinners go. There’s heat down there, certainly. But eternal torment requires eternal life to experience it eternally. And any life form from the surface of the earth wouldn’t last a second in the molten magma 50 kilometers underground.

            Biologically, then, a physical hell is not possible.

            I used to believe in hell, I suppose. I was taught that it existed, along with heaven, as a system of reward and punishment. God took good people to heaven, and sent bad ones to hell. But both heaven and hell seemed a long way off, so I didn’t bother thinking much about them.

            Later in life, I read the Twenty Articles of Faith, enshrined in the act of parliament that created the United Church of Canada in 1925. Article 19 states, “the finally impenitent shall go away into eternal punishment…”

            And I began to wonder about the purpose of punishment. Was it to cause sinners to repent, to regret their errors? Or was it just a desire to for revenge?

            Did sending them away into “eternal punishment” mean that they lost, forever, the possibility of regretting their actions? Because if they did repent, Article 19 implied, not even God could forgive them and bring them back.

            Wouldn’t that make hell almightier than almighty God?

            Something didn’t quite equate.

            I don’t believe God – at least, the God I believe in -- ever gives up on anyone. Not even Douglas Garland.

*****************************************

Copyright © 2017 by Jim Taylor. Non-profit use in congregations and study groups, and links from other blogs, welcomed; all other rights reserved.

                  To comment on this column, write jimt@quixotic.ca

*****************************************

 

YOUR TURN

 

Stuart McLean’s death prompted a number of letters, as I expected. Perhaps every country has its own favourite storyteller. Bob Warrick, in Australia, thought that Stuart sounded a lot like their Steele Rudd.

            Peter Clark, in England, hadn’t heard of Stuart either. “So, prompted by your tribute, I watched a YouTube clip about taking a carrot to work and the consequences. (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zww8E1mXBAo).  What a wonderful story told in a gentle and compelling way. I shall certainly be watching more clips of his.  Thank you for alerting us to him.”

 

Tom Watson played with the political implications: “Interesting that Stuart McLean was, as you say, ‘just a story teller’ but we will remember him with much more reverence than the vast majority of people who have come and gone among us. Why? Because he played to our greater angels and not our lesser ones. Perhaps those who would seek power by playing to our lesser angels should take note, for they will pass from our collective memory banks without even a whimper from us.”

 

But Peter Scott objected to that line, “just a storyteller.” He wrote, “I know you didn't mean it in a derogatory sense, but we tend to underestimate the profundity of a well-told story.  My preaching improved significantly when I recognized that telling one significant 10-minute story engaged people more and allowed them the opportunity to examine their own lives more powerfully than a 20 minute theological talk, even though the message was essentially the same.  My ego was bruised but my eyes were opened the day that my worship committee chair told me ‘I get more out of your children's stories than your sermons.’   I think Tom King put it best in his Massey Lectures. ‘All we are is story’.”

 

Ted Wilson picked out a different line: “Life, Stuart seemed to say, is too serious to take seriously.”

            “That pretty well sums him up,” Ted wrote.  “I used to listen to him on the way home from church Sunday afternoons and often got more out of The Vinyl Cafe than I did from the service.  Stuart became one of the family.  That allowed him to poke fun at us and our peculiarities in ways that strangers were not allowed to do.  Sort of like -- we can tease our sister but if someone else tries to, them’s fightin’ words.”

 

Mary Elford, Gwen Boyd, and Bryan Strapp simply expressed thanks for the tribute.

 

            Jean McCord agreed, and added, “I loved his stories and was so sad to learn of his death.  I did get to hear the last Vinyl Café broadcast, last weekend, another good tribute to a good man.

            “I also want to applaud you also for your mention of Elizabeth Goudge.  I think she’s often forgotten now, but her books have been important to me ever since I read ‘Valley of Song,’ 60+ years ago when I was in second grade.  I did an ‘Elizabeth Goudge pilgrimage’ once, renting a car and driving to various places she’d lived and/or written about.  It was a great way to see England, and it introduced me to Ely, the site of my favorite cathedral in all of its shabby glory rising above the fens.  When I moved from the States to Ecuador, I brought all of her books with me.  Her people were and are whole persons.”

 

Paul McPherson suggested, “I think that Stuart could read a recipe for making porridge and all would be captivated!”

 

Laurna Tallman wrote, “Stuart McLean surely will be missed. So many people these days are looking for extremes of behaviour, for violence,  and for conflict. Few people have  the gift for appreciating deeply the small dramas of people whose lives revolve within the range of peaceful times and normal lifestyles.”

            Laurna then went back to the previous week’s column: “Your column on listening is one of the most important you have written. Few people, including many counsellors, are prepared to truly listen to someone who needs to talk. While talking can be healing, listening to someone who has something worthwhile to say also can be healing; the act of listening in itself has the potential for healing. (I won't trouble to provide the neurology, but both those points of view can be supported by scientific evidence.)”

 

*******************************************

PSALM PARAPHRASES

 

It is pure coincidence that the lectionary’s choice of a psalm for today, Psalm 32, also focusses on forgiveness:

 

1          Happy are those who have nothing to hide;

2          Even happier are those whose slate has been wiped clean.

3          I used to lie awake worrying about what I had done.

4          My conscience tormented me. I couldn't concentrate. 

I was terrified of being exposed.

5          So I went to God, and confessed. 

I made no excuses for myself; I didn't hide anything.

6          And God forgave me.
What a relief it is to share a gnawing secret!

7          Forgiveness is like a cool drink on a hot day,
like a warm fire in a blizzard.
God's grace renews my strength;
it gives me a second chance.

 

8          God says, "I will teach you how to take charge of your behavior.

9          You are not like horses and camels;
they need bridles and bits to control them.

10         You have a mind; you can think.
You can anticipate consequences before you act."

11         Experience isn't always the best teacher.
Let God guide you through life.

 

For paraphrases of most of the psalms used by the Revised Common Lectionary, you can order my book Everyday Psalms from Wood Lake Publishing, info@woodlake.com.

 

*******************************************

 

YOU SCRATCH MY BACK…

        Ralph Milton most recent project, Sing Hallelujah -- the world’s first video hymnal -- consists of 100 popular hymns, both new and old, on five DVDs that can be played using a standard DVD player and TV screen, for use in congregations who lack skilled musicians to play piano or organ. More details at www.singhallelujah.ca

        Isabel Gibson's thoughtful and well-written blog, www.traditionaliconoclast.com

        Wayne Irwin's "Churchweb Canada," an inexpensive service for any congregation wanting to develop a web presence, with free consultation. <http://www.churchwebcanada.ca>

        Alva Wood's satiric stories about incompetent bureaucrats and prejudiced attitudes in a small town are not particularly religious, but they are fun; write alvawood@gmail.com to get onto her mailing list.

        Tom Watson writes a weekly blog called “The View from Grandpa Tom’s Balcony” -- ruminations on various subjects, and feedback from Tom’s readers. Write him at twatson@sentex.net

 

*****************************************

 

TECHNICAL STUFF

 

If you want to comment on something, send a message directly to me, jimt@quixotic.ca.

            To subscribe or unsubscribe, send an e-mail message to jimt@quixotic.ca. Or you can subscribe electronically by sending a blank e-mail (no message or subject line) to softedges-subscribe@lists.quixotic.ca. Similarly, you can un-subscribe at softedges-unsubscribe@lists.quixotic.ca.

            My webpage is up and running again -- thanks to Wayne Irwin and ChurchWeb Canada. You can now access current columns and about five years of archives at http://quixotic.ca

            I write a second column each Sunday called Sharp Edges, which tends to be somewhat more cutting about social and justice issues. To sign up for Sharp Edges, write to me directly, jimt@quixotic.ca, or send a note to sharpedges-subscribe@lists.quixotic.ca

 

********************************************

Comments (0)Number of views (719)

Author: Jim Taylor

Categories: Soft Edges

Tags: Hell, heaven, judgement

Print

Tags

"gate of the year" #MeToo 150th birthday 1954 1972 3G 9/11 A God That Could Be Real abduction abortion Abrams abuse addiction Addis Ababa adoption Adrian Dix affirmative action aging Ahriman Ahura Mazda airport killings Alabama albinism albinos Alexa algorithms Allegations Almighty Almighty God ALS alt-right altruism Amanda Todd Amazon Amerika Amherst amnesia analysis Andrea Constant Andrew Copeland Taylor anniversaries antidote Ants aphrodisiac apoptosis App Store Archives Ardern armistice Armstrong Art artifacts artists astronomy atonement atropine Attawapiscat attitudes attraction audits authorities autism automation autumn B.C. election B.C. Health Ministry B.C. Legislature B-2 baby Bach bad news baggage Bahai Banda banning books Baptism Barabbas barbed wire barbers Bashar al Assad BC BC Conference Beans bears beauty Beaver Beethoven beginnings behaviour bel-2 belief systems beliefs belonging benefits Bernardo Berners-Lee berries Bible biblical sex BioScience birds birth birthday birthdays Bitcoin Blackmore blood blood donors boar body Bohr bolide Bolivia Bolivian women bombing bombings bombs books border patrol both/and bottom up Bountiful Brahms brains Brazil breath breathe breathing Brexit broken Bruce McLeod bubbles Buber Buddha Buddhism Bulkley bulldozers bullets bullying bush pilots butterflies butterfly Calendar California Cambridge Analytica. Facebook cameras Canada Canada Day Canadian Blood services Canal Flats Canute caregivers caring Carnaval. Mardi Gras carousel cars Carter Commission cats cave CBC Cecil the lion. Zanda CentrePiece CF chance change Charlie Gard Charlottesville Charter of Compassion Checklists checkups chemical weapons Chesapeake Bay Retriever Chesterton Child Advocacy Centre child trafficking Chile chivalry chocolates choice choices choirs Christchurch Christian Christianity Christina Rossetti Christine Blasey Ford Christmas Christmas gathering Christmas lights Christmas tree Christmas trees Christopher Plummer church churches circle of life Clarissa Pinkola Estés Clichés cliffhanger climate change clocks close votes coastal tribes coffee collaboration collective work colonial mindset colonies Colten Boushie Columbia River Columbia River Treaty communication Communion community complexity composers computer processes conclusions Confederacy Confederate statues confidence Confirmation confusion Congo Congress Conrad Black consciousness consensual consent conservative Conservative Party contraception contrasts Conversations conversion therapy copyright coral Cornwallis corporations corruption Cosby Cougars counter-cultural Countercurrents courtesy courts Covenant Coventry Cathedral CPP CPR CRA Craig crashes creation creche creeds crescent Creston crime criminal crossbills cross-country skiing crucifixion Cruelty crypto-currencies Cultural appropriation cuneiform Curie curling cyberbullying Cystic Fibrosis Dalai Lama Damocles Dan Rather Danforth dark matter darkness Darren Osburne Darwin data mining daughter David David Suzuki de Bono dead zone deaf deafness death deaths decision decisions Definitions Delhi Dementia democracy denial Denny's departure Depression Descartes despair determinism Devin Kelley dew dawn grass Diana Butler-Bass dinosaurs discussion dissent diversity division divorce dog dogs dominance Don Cherry Donald Trump Donna Sinclair doorways Doug Martindale Dr. Seuss dreaming dreams Drugs ducks Duvalier dying Dylan Thomas earth Earth Day Easter Eat Pray Love Ebola e-cigarettes eclipse economics Eden editing editing by committee Edwards-Sawatzky Egypt eight-track tapes Einstein either/or election Elizabeth Gilbert Ellithorpe email embassy emergent emotions Empire encryption English Entropy epiphany epitaph Erika van Oyen erosion Esteban Santiago eternal life eternity ethics Ethiopia Eucharist eulogy eunuchs evacuation evacuation orders Eve Evelyn Glennie Every Note Played everything evil Evolution expectations experiment extinction extinctions extremes extremism eye for an eye Eyes Facebook faith falling leaves False Creek fascist fate fear Fedex feel feminine hygiene Fentanyl Fibonacci Field figure skating Fire fireball fires First Nations Fitbit flirting flooding floods floppy disks flow chart flow charts flowers fluency flying Flying objects fog Folk sayings Food Bank forensic Forest fires forests forgiving Four Pests campaign fracking franchises free free speech free will freedom freedom of speech frequency friend Friendship friendships fruit fundamentalism future Gaia games Gandhi Garbage Garrison Keillor Geese genes Genghis Khan genocide Gerald Stanley Gerard Manley Hopkins Ghomeshi girls glaciers global economy global warming go north God gods Golden Golden Rule Goldilocks good Good Friday good intentions goodness Google Google Play government Governor General grammar gravity Great Barrier Reef greatest story green Green Eggs Green Party Greta Thunberg Gretta Vosper grief Grinch Grounded Group of seven groups growth Guiado guilt guns Habits hackers Haidt haircuts Haiti Hal Niedzviecki Halloween handshake Harari harassment harem Harjit Sajjan harmony Haskins hate Hawaii health health plans hearing hearts
Copyright 2020 by Jim Taylor  |  Powered by: Churchweb Canada