I stayed in Boston this weekend to attend the Minns Lecture Series at the First Church in Boston. The lectures are done by Unitarian Universalists and can be on a lot of topics based on the idea of “creative theological and religious advancement.” This year was a series of lectures – 6 panalists in all – discussing the questions of where we are today and where we want to go in the future.
First of all, the lectures were AMAZING. Can I just give a shout-out to my brilliant colleagues who can write and speak with such skill and vibrancy? Let’s all say AMEN! (Which a lot of us did. It was good.)
Everyone spoke from a different perspective, and I’m not going to try to summerize all of their thoughts and ideas here. But the theme that ran through all of the lectures and the discussion panels was something we’ve spoken a lot about here in Norton – spiritual depth. It is the idea that churches can no longer be content to be community gathering spots, or rely on the idea that people will go to church out of habit. Our churches must offer compelling spiritual depth for anyone who wants to attend. Or to state it simply, we must have a spiritual reason for being.
I keep the book “A Purpose Driven Church” prominently placed next to my desk. I don’t always read the book, and have actually found it less helpful than some other books about churches. But I keep it there because I have to always, always, ALWAYS remember the title. A church without a purpose should close its doors. A church with purpose – with spiritual depth, with a reason for being, who knows and is not afraid of the great religious questions – that’s an exciting place to be!
One of my favorite books is C.S. Lewis’ The Great Divorce. I don’t agree with all of Lewis’ theology, and am certainly not a fan of his distinctly modernist understandings of good and evil. But I *love* the ideas presented in The Great Divorce, specifically the imagery he puts forth for Heaven and Hell.
The basic premise of the book is fairly simple. Hell, or Purgatory, is a place that a lot of people live in. It is a grey, dismal town with no sense of community and a lot of fish and chips shops. Everyone who wants to is free to board the bus, a vehicle “blazing with golden light” that will take people to Heaven. Once in Heaven, the newcomers have to face radical adjustments due to the astonishing beauty that is around them. The newcomers are guided by angels, who both support them and assure them that with time, the beauty and joy of Heaven will become natural to them. But as the story continues, we watch nearly all of the newcomers re-board the bus and go back to Hell….because they would rather be in a place they know and have some false sense of control, than in a place of beauty where they have to work to accept a new and better life.
Sometimes, we would so much rather live a known Hell than work to be part of a new Heaven. The pull to live in the known rather than the unknown is astonishingly strong, even when then known is grey, dreary, and stretches on in loneliness forever. Lewis makes no bare bones in The Great Divorce that becoming acclimated to beauty is painful at first. He talks about how it is hard for the newcomers to walk on the grass because it is so sharp, and to see all of the beauty because it is so bright.
What I love about this book is not the pictures painted of Heaven and Hell – though I do think there is something fabulous about a grey Hell that smells like old fish – but the fact that through this allegory, Lewis acknowledges how hard change is. In this story, people are voluntarily LEAVING HEAVEN to go back to Hell….simply because it is a place they know, and one that does not require them to change.
Change is hard. Seriously, change is hard. Hard and scary and sometimes feels impossible. But I love Lewis’ challenge – shall we live in a known Hell or a brave new Heaven? Can we bear to face the joy that can be ours? In our lives, in our churches, in our communities and our own souls?
What does your Heaven look like?