All Souls’ Day: Everybody Counts, or Nobody Counts

In his post today, blogger David Henson challenges us to think about All Souls’ Day in the context of the #BlackLivesMatter movement. We know that “All Souls Matter,” he writes, but maybe the events of this year should require us to say aloud, “Black Souls Matter.”

We have probably all seen the responses to the #BlackLivesMatter movement that clamor back, “All Lives Matter” or “Police Lives Matter,” from people who think that somehow this movement seeks to make certain lives worth more than others, rather than to highlight the existence of fatal inequalities in our society and justice system.

There is a misconception that stating the value of one group of people automatically devalues other groups, when actually, it is the reverse that is true. It is devaluing one group of people that automatically devalues all of us.

This reminds me of one of my favorite popular authors, Michael Connelly, and Harry Bosch, the central character of his extensive detective series. In a few of the novels, Harry finds himself investigating crimes that others feel are low priority. Who cares who killed a prostitute? Why bother to solve the case? No one cares.

But Harry’s response is this memorable phrase:

“Everybody counts, or nobody counts.”

We are all human, and we all bear the image of God, even if sometimes our human frailty and brokenness may obscure it. Sometimes our brokenness, or our sin, if you like, is our inability to see the image of God in others; to value all life and to seek equality, justice, redemption, and reconciliation for all. When we devalue others, either on purpose or by turning a blind eye to their suffering, we tarnish our own divine image. In making others out to be lesser creatures, we become lesser creatures ourselves. 

If I want my life to matter, I must do my part to ensure that all lives, all souls, are understood to matter just as much.

This isn’t easy because we all like to feel superior to someone or to some other group of people. It’s an easy, cheap way to feel better about ourselves. I think that all of us do this in some way whether we are conscious of it or not: I’m better than that poor person, that badly dressed person, that socially awkward person, that black person, that redneck person, that non-English-speaking person, that genderqueer person, that gay person, that addicted person, that liberal person, that conservative person, that fundamentalist person, that Muslim person . . . the list can go on and on.

Some of these judgments are simply unkind. Others can be fatal.

So, on this All Soul’s Day I challenge us to be honest and to think about the souls that society and we as individuals have devalued and marginalized, and to speak their value out loud.

In doing so, we are not giving special value to these groups because the truth is that they already matter. Rather, we are recognizing their value and affirming that we should live in a society where All Lives and All Souls matter.

Everybody counts, or nobody counts. 

Let’s work toward a world where everyone does. 

Here’s my litany of souls that already matter, but that need to be spoken aloud. Who would you add to the list?

Black Souls Matter

Undocumented Immigrant Souls Matter

Refugee Souls Matter

Non-Christian Souls Matter

Non-Hetero Souls Matter

Trans Souls Matter

Mentally Ill Souls Matter

Disabled Souls Matter

HIV+ Souls Matter

Working Poor Souls Matter

Homeless Souls Matter

Trafficked Souls Matter

Sex Worker Souls Matter

Addicted Souls Matter

Convict Souls Matter

Souls on Death Row Matter

Only when we have said, believed, and most importantly acted as though all of these souls matter, can we simply be content to say

All Souls Matter.

candles

The Light Still Shines

It has been quite a while since I wrote a post, between the spring end-of-semester chaos, a summer of indulging in novel-writing, and a new semester with four courses to teach and a research deadline to meet. My last post was a reading and play list for Good Friday and Holy Saturday, which I created because I wanted to slow down in those two days before the triumphal celebration of Easter morning and contemplate the darkness–the real horror of the crucifixion, and the mourning and uncertainty that would have followed for the ones who followed Jesus.

So, perhaps it is fitting that this post follows that one, because since yesterday afternoon, I have also been grappling with darkness, with mournfulness, and with uncertainty. As I began my third class of the day yesterday, a student read details of the latest school shooting to us from her phone, but right then, the news didn’t quite have time to sink in.

After class, though, came a text from a friend, accompanied by a picture of two men clipped from a news article. Did I know this student, she asked, who had been arrested on suspicion of killing another student from my university? I looked at the picture in shock. I didn’t know the young man wearing correctional-facility orange, but I did know the other man, Antonio “Tony” Moore. He was a military veteran in his late thirties who had been in a class of mine a few semesters before, and had stopped by my office to chat on various occasions, saying that he needed to “escape” from the young engineering “geeks” in his classes and talk to someone who knew how to have a conversation. This always made me laugh and say that I was just a different breed of geek.

I hadn’t seen Tony recently, and I didn’t know that he had been missing for weeks. How had this tragedy unfolded practically right under my nose–the victim someone I knew, and liked, and had traded stories about parenting with–and I hadn’t known about it until my friend’s text?

Probably because I only pay minimal attention to the news. I’m a high anxiety type, and I try to hold events that are out of my control or out of my sphere at a distance for the sake of my sanity. But when my afternoon is twice interrupted with tragic news, there’s no way to escape the fact that I work on a campus where there has already been one shooting and where Tony Moore will not be stopping by my office again.

The darkness is not at a distance. It’s right here. All around.

So with tears in my eyes I came home yesterday and engaged in what I sadly joked to friends via Facebook was “Triple B” therapy: beer, bacon, and boys. After all what could be more comforting than a rich brown ale, salty saturated fat, and long cuddly hugs from the sweetest little fellas around? Not much, right?

But once dinner was over and the boys were read to and kissed and tucked away in bed, all I really wanted to do was curl up in bed and with my laptop and something escapist on Netflix. Or, in other words, squeeze my eyes shut and bury my head in the sand so that I could, in an illusion of safety, ignore everything horrible and awful and dark in the world around me.

But that’s the irony. If you close your eyes and stick your head in the sand, there’s nothing down there but darkness.

As this occurred to me and I thought again about the victims of the most recent shooting, about Tony, and about all of the darkness in this world, a particular Bible verse came to mind, perhaps because I had seen it go by on Facebook recently, posted by another former student of mine on a hand-crafted Christmas card.

“The light shines in the darkness and the dark has not overcome it.” John 1:5

And so I write this post in part to remind myself that this is true.

No matter how much darkness there is, the light still shines among us.

And the “us” is key. 

If we withdraw, disengage, succumb to fear and stick our heads in the sand, then the light is obscured from view.

The light shines when we love each other, when we reach out to one another, empathize with one another, and serve one another.

So let’s love each other, y’all, and keep looking toward the light.  

It hasn’t gone out. 

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Narnia Christmas Card by Kelly Maust at

Spare Room Stationery

A Good Friday / Holy Saturday Reading and Playlist

Instead of writing something new for this already overly-busy Holy Week, I decided to take some time for reading and musical meditation on the death of Christ and the meanings that it has for me. If you also need to slow down and pause to contemplate the darkness of Good Friday and Holy Saturday, here are a few suggested readings and songs from my interweb wanderings on this Maundy Thursday evening. Wander along with me, or share your own favorite readings or musical meditations in the comments.

David Henson – “The Crucifixion: A Tale of Two Kingdoms (Good Friday Homily, John 18:1-19-42)” Reflections on how Jesus’s passion reflects a conflict between two types of two kingdoms: “One, the kingdoms of humankind, which come to power through violence and maintain it through oppression and the sword. The other, the kingdom of God, which comes to power through love and sacrifice and a towel.”

Fr. Stephen Freeman – “A Lesser Atonement” – An Orthodox point of view about how the work of Christ on the cross was about union, not about substitution.

Rabbi Rami Shapiro “Ten Thoughts on Good Friday” – A Jewish point of view on the meanings of Jesus and Good Friday and how even non-Christians can honor the day.

Mark Sandlin – “God Did Not Kill Jesus on the Cross for our Sins” – Mark Sandlin reflects on Jesus’s death as what the fullness of love looks like in action.

Brian Zahnd – “Jesus Died for Us . . . Not for God” – Zahnd approaches atonement with these questions: “Where do we find God on Good Friday? Is God found in Caiaphas seeking a sacrificial scapegoat? Is God found in Pilate requiring a punitive execution? Or is God found in Jesus, absorbing sin and responding with forgiveness?”

What Wondrous Love is This

Were You There When They Crucified My Lord

Beautiful Blood

He Never Said a Mumblin’ Word

When I Survey the Wondrous Cross

“See from His head, His hands, His feet,
Sorrow and love flow mingled down!
Did e’er such love and sorrow meet,
Or thorns compose so rich a crown?
Were the whole realm of nature mine,
That were a present far too small;
Love so amazing, so divine,
Demands my soul, my life, my all.”

– Isaac Watts (1707)

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Del Greco, La trinidad (c. 1577)

Rethinking Hell (Progressive Christian Resources)

Some Christians insist on the scriptural reality of a Dante-esque hell of eternal horror. Some of us, however, have a hard time reconciling the idea of a loving God with traditional doctrines of hell, or we have objections to fear-based theology or to belief systems that over-emphasize the afterlife and turn Christianity into little more than a religion of requirements and rewards. As it turns out, there are biblical alternatives to the hellfire and brimstone approach.

There are scriptural arguments to support not only the belief in eternal conscious torment for the unrepentant in a literal fiery hell, but also the belief in annihilationism or conditionalism (that those who are unreconciled to God are simply annihilated, rather than existing eternally) and even the hope for universalism (that all souls are eventually reconciled to God). In his documentary Hellbound? Kevin Miller claims that the amount of scriptural support for these three positions is roughly equal (see his list of scriptures here, and find a link to the documentary website below).

What this means is that we don’t have to accept an understanding of hell or the afterlife that is inconsistent with our understanding of a loving God who through Christ is reconciling the world (all of it!) to Godself.

Below are resources to listen to, watch, or read that present various arguments for annihilationism/conditionalism and universalism, beginning with an excellent and thorough discussion from the podcast That God Show. If you are looking for alternatives to eternal conscious torment, here are some places to begin:

LISTEN:

 “The Biblical Alternative to Hell” (Podcast) That God Show, Episode 17 with Benjamin L. Corey and Kurt Willems. Synopsis: “Most of us grew up believing that those who reject God will spend eternity in a literal place called hell, where they are consciously tortured day and night, for ever. But is that what the Bible actually teaches? Not quite– in fact, the Bible doesn’t teach hell as we were taught it at all. In this episode, BLC sits down with Kurt Willems to talk about hell, and the theology of “conditionalism.” If you’ve ever questioned hell, but didn’t want let go of something that was in the Bible, this episode is for you– you’ll walk away with your Bible intact, and a totally different view of hell.”

“The What the Hell Show” (Podcast) from The Moonshine Jesus Show. Mark and David tackle the topic of hell. They aren’t as thorough as Benjamin and Kurt, but in my opinion, the MJS is always worth a listen.

WATCH:

Hellbound? A Documentary by Kevin Miller (Currently available for instant viewing on Netflix). Synopsis: “If God is our pure, all-loving creator, can he really turn his back on sinners and allow them to suffer for eternity in hell? Where did this vision of hell come from? Is it possible we’ve got hell wrong? Or are recent challenges to the traditional view merely an attempt to avoid the inevitable? “Hellbound?” is a feature-length documentary that seeks to discover why we are so bound to the idea of hell and what our views on hell reveal about how we perceive God, justice, the Bible and, ultimately, ourselves.”

READ:

Benjamin L. Corey’s “Letting Go of Hell” Blog Series. This series has some excellent, easy reads that make great starting points for exploring biblical alternatives to eternal hellfire and brimstone. The post “What Jesus Talked About When He Talked About Hell” is particularly eye-opening for people who have never been taught about the actual Greek words translated as “hell” in the New Testament. BLC also gets down to the nitty gritty of whether eternal conscious torment is “biblical” with “25 Bible Verses that Disprove Eternal Conscious Hell.”

“What [the] Hell? Is Annihilation Within the Bounds?” This is another Biblical case against eternal conscious torment, from Prof. Ed Christian.

Rob Bell, Love Wins. In this controversial book (which was influential enough to cause the Southern Baptist Convention issue a resolution to double-down on the reality of eternal conscious torment) Rob Bell makes a scripturally-based argument for a kind of Christian universalism. The book references C.S. Lewis’s The Great Divorce, which offers another alternative take on hell. You can also find Rob Bell discussing his views in youtube videos like this one.

Kurt Willems also has a blog series on hell: “Hell Yes. Hell No! Or Who the Hell Cares?”, and more recently he suggested that Christians give up the doctrine of hell for a year to see how it could revolutionize our relationships with others. Food for thought: “Giving Up Hell for a Year.” 

Mark Sandlin, in “Hell: Yeah, I’m Going There -or- Hell yeah, I’m Going There,” has a different take on hell that overlaps somewhat with Rob Bell, but with a unique spin on how we’re all going to hell (but that’s not the end of the story!).

Rethinking Hell: Exploring Evangelical Conditionalism: This website put together by a variety of evangelical Christians contains blog posts, podcasts, and other resources related to beliefs about hell, particularly conditionalism.

Ellin Jimmerson: Baptist Minister. Liberation Theologian. Immigrant Advocate. Film Maker. LGBTQ Ally. Craft Cocktail Connoisseur.

I’m caught this week in a crazy rush of pre-spring break grading and other tasks, so in lieu of the usual post, I thought I’d give a quick shout out to my amazing friend Rev. Dr. Ellin Jimmerson, who is a tireless advocate for justice, a theology nerd like me, and a mixer of most excellent margaritas.

If you don’t already know who she is, Rev. Jimmerson is an advocate for immigration justice and more recently she has been in the limelight for another cause: marriage equality for same-sex couples. She made headlines as one of the first ministers in Alabama to perform a same-sex wedding last month when Alabama’s same-sex marriage ban was ruled unconstitutional.

Rev. Jimmerson has written articles for Patheos.com about immigration and LGBTQ issues, but as of this week she has her very own blog, which I highly recommend that you hop over and check out. Her debut post “What is Q?” draws an intriguing connection between the “Q” in LGBTQ and the biblical “Q” source, and I look forward to reading more of what she has to say!

Rev. Jimmerson is also the writer and director of the award-winning immigration justice documentary The Second Cooler. If you are interested in immigration issues you need to see this eye-opening documentary! Borrowing from the documentary’s website, “The Second Cooler is a documentary about illegal immigration shot primarily in Alabama, Arizona, and northern Mexico. The premise is that Arizona is the new Alabama, the epicenter of an intense struggle for migrant justice. The documentary’s purpose is to bring basic immigration issues into focus. Those issues include the impact of free trade agreements on migration, the lack of a legal way for poor Latin Americans to come to the United States, the inherent abuses of the guest worker program, the fact that many migrants are indigenous people, anti-immigrant politics, the reality of thousands of migrant deaths at the border, and an escalating ideology of the border.”

The Second Cooler has only been available at limited showings around the country at film festivals, churches, and universities, but beginning April 17, it will be available online and on DVD. So if you haven’t been able to see it, your opportunity is on the way!

Follow Rev. Jimmerson’s blog or look her up on Facebook or Twitter to keep up with news about The Second Cooler and her other advocacy work.

Second-Cooler-Poster   www.thesecondcooler.com

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