Hello Kitty: The Last Day of Childhood

The Destructor has been chosen...this freaking anime cat will take away my daughter's chldhood tomorrow morning.

Tomorrow morning, I will wake up earlier than usual. I will most likely have to rouse my daughter from her bed and usher her into the kitchen, where we’ll begin our normal morning routine. Only it won’t be normal anymore. There will be changes.

She won’t have the option of starting her day with her usual televised friends. She won’t be able to lay about in her nightclothes, playing with her dolls or ponies, until her mother or I insist on her getting dressed. Chances are she won’t even have time to bug her little brother. Ella will get dressed, get fed, put her hair into a bow, and together we’ll walk up the street to her bus stop.

Tomorrow, my daughter, bedecked in Hello Kitty, will say goodbye to the only life she’s known.

Over a single night, all that my family has known will change. And it will be a significant shift, one that will not correct, one that will not return to us except in brief stints known as winter, spring and summer break.

I was doing okay with that reality for the past few days, but much like the evening before major surgery, or your wedding, or any other life-altering day, I’m starting to feel a little less confident and a little more wistful. Almost panicked, even.

Do all people experience these kinds of shifts in the same way? Is it the singular feature of parenthood to feel more acutely those changes in your child’s life that signify maturation? I looked at the faces of other parents this morning at church and couldn’t detect any anxiety on their parts. But I could feel my heart beating wildly with each minute slipping by. I watched Ella play with her friends after the luncheon at our church and all I could think about was that at this same time next year she would be a completely different Ella. She wouldn’t be a precocious pre-K girl anymore; she would be something other, something undefined, something unpredictable.

Something foreign.

Of course that’s only true if I neglect to undergo this metamorphosis with her, and there is a real part of me that wants to scream, “No, this can’t be happening!” I feel as if somehow some giant, faceless force is attempting to wrench my little girl from my hands and take her somewhere I cannot go.

But the truth is, if I do not follow her on this new path, it will not be because I was forbidden; it will be because I chose to stay behind, cradling the past as fiercely as I once held her. This scares me because I can see the temptation of it and feel the pull towards that choice, but I know if I pull back and hold onto my memories of Ella’s early childhood as the basis for how I see and interact with her, I will lose her twice. Once, because she will move on and grow up and become herself as she is meant to be. Twice, because my memories will fade and, having made no new ones, I will be left with a dissolving image even more foreign and frightening than I could imagine.

So I will wake up tomorrow and get her out of bed. I will hold her longer than I normally would because I know that it will be the last time I can pull her into my embrace with the guarantee that nothing will happen to her unless I let it. I will crave that sense of protection that has safeguarded us both, even while we both knew it was a facade. I will let her go, my heart ripping to pieces and rebuilding itself only to rip into pieces again, and I will fix her a Pop Tart. Or a bowl of Cocoa Krispies. Or a bag of Frosted Flakes. Or maybe even a stack of pancakes, though I doubt that because she’s not really been into pancakes recently (just one more sign of the advancing of time). I will hurry her through her breakfast because, for the first time in her life, she will have a schedule that she must keep, a schedule that is enforced by a new entity that is greater than mom and dad and must be obeyed. She will have to dress and get medicine and brush her teeth and check her backpack and put on her shoes and clean her room and trek the Green Mile to the bus stop where her life, her young and frail life, will be forever changed by the opening of those big yellow doors and her first steps onto the Cheese Wagon.

In short, tomorrow morning I release my second-born, first-surviving child into the maws of the masochistic rat race that consumes us all with the same ferocity, while simultaneously losing my own divine illusion of control.

Two innocences for the price of one.

I can hear her singing now, a random yelp to herself and her friends “the Stuffies” that means nothing more to me than the very essence of her purity of soul. I hear it, and I tear up at the thought that some bruiser of a fifth grader may make fun of her tomorrow in the hallway. I hear it and I fill with rage at the very notion that someday some clumsy oaf will make an advance against her will and quite possibly she might feel helpless to resist.

Some people see the first day of Kindergarten as a bittersweet memory that signifies their child is growing up and will soon embark on new adventures.

I see the first day of Kindergarten as quite possibly the first steps to Hell. Or at the very least my own descent into madness.

It’s so bizarre, really, just how much of how I see the world is revealed through Ella’s venturing out into it. How contrary my internal thoughts are to the way I’ve presented the world to her. I’ve raised her to believe in herself, to believe in the powers of goodness and honesty, to trust her own innate creativity and intelligence and to resist the corrosion of conformity for as long as she can.

And all the while, I’ve harbored this festering hatred for the world I’ve painted with such caring detail. In essence, I’ve either lied to my child or to myself, and perhaps both; I’ve spent too long, it seems, dancing between two worlds instead of just inhabiting one.

Tomorrow, then, is my day of reckoning.

Will I choose to follow my daughter into her new world and do my best to reinforce those values and beliefs that I have instilled in her in order to help her become the very best person she can? Or will I hide, like a coward, in a hell of my own making, succumbing to the worst of all possible fates: being a wretched little man, afraid of the world and its unpredictability, who loses his beloved daughter because of his own weakness?

For better or worse, I must choose. As much for Ella’s sake as my own. And the choice will make my world radically different, for the good or the bad.

Who knew a day filled with excitement and potential and squeaky new Hello Kitty accessories could be so metaphysical?

When Hell Is Not Good Enough

This image chapped a few butts last night...and brought out some unbelievable rage.

I have to confess, I didn’t keep up with the Casey Anthony trial at all. Not a bit. I knew it was going on, but the details of the proceedings were lost on me. So when I sat down at my computer last night, it took me a minute to figure out what in the world had happened. My Facebook news feed, normally a nice little collection of inanity, was suddenly a vituperative group teeth gnash. Some of the comments from last night:

“God will judge this evil woman! She may have escaped justice here, but she won’t in the next life!”

“I can’t believe the jury was that stupid! She was clearly guilty. It’s like OJ all over again!”

“Here’s hoping this slut gets the crap beat out of her in jail tonight.”

“Thank God there’s a hell, because that’s where this woman belongs, and even that may not be good enough.”

At first, I thought they were talking about Ann Coulter and her latest comments. Then I realized the verdict had come in, and that a jury of our peers had decided Casey Anthony was only guilty of lying to the police. Granted, that’s four counts of lying to the police and obstructing the investigation, but still – it wasn’t what a lot of folks expected.

And it certainly wasn’t what a lot of folks wanted. If the public had gotten its way, they jury would’ve disemboweled Casey on the courthouse steps with dull safety scissors, lit her body on fire, and danced like pagans around the pyre.

Pesky 4th Amendment.

I was horrified by what happened to Caylee Anthony, and I don’t mean just her murder. I have a five year-old daughter and two year-old son, and if they disappear from my sight for more than thirteen nanoseconds my heart begins to seize. The idea that they could be missing for a month while I was off partying and entering myself into “hot body” contests (none of which I would win) is so ridiculous as to be unimaginable. It’s offensive to me as a parent, a Christian, and a human being.

But just because Casey Anthony might be one of the all-time skeeziest parents and human beings (both of which terms I use loosely) doesn’t mean that she deserves all the rage that’s been lobbed at her. It deserves to be shared with the sleazy defense team, the overconfident prosecutors, the jury, and the national obsession with cases like this that build our collective rage to impossible-to-satisfy heights and inevitably leave us screaming for justice to be done.

Oh – and lastly, the rage should come our way too. We, the viewing public.

I’m not gonna get up on a moral high horse and tell you how awful you are for following the trial and being upset by the verdict, mainly because I found myself raging over OJ sixteen years ago. I understand the rage, and I know that it needs an outlet. But the fact that such rage exists within us as a collective people is profoundly disturbing, and what elevates the issue for me is the number of Christian people who took to the keyboards to vent their displeasure at it all.

I can understand how people who don’t believe in an omnipotent, omniscient God could be PO’d that Casey got away seemingly scot-free. In their world, the only justice is what we as human beings make, and when we miscarry justice, there’s only ourselves to blame. There’s no corrective and that leads to anger, not just at the fact we failed but also at the fact that there’s nothing we can do to make this situation right. It’s a helplessness that raises troubling questions about existence and humanity, which only leads to further anger and rage at the futility of it all.

But as Christians, we shouldn’t be prey to this line of thinking. For us, we believe that there is a God who not only knows all, but sees all, and will one day make things right. We believe that this cosmic address of grievances will include the punishment of those who have done wrong in Hell. So there should be no rage at this verdict, no anger that fallen human beings did what fallen human beings do: make mistakes. We should look at this situation differently than others do, and we should be turning off the rage, or at the very least putting it within its proper context – God will judge.

Now, I can hear some of you already, “Jason, that’s exactly what I put on Facebook last night. God will judge. And this heifer will get what she deserves.”

Yes, but God will judge means that God alone will judge. It will be up to Him to decide on Casey Anthony’s life against His standard. What many of our brothers and sisters were doing last night is deciding on Casey Anthony’s life against their own standard, and that’s not what we’re supposed t0 do. If God is truly great, and truly will judge, then why should we be pushing our judgment onto Him? Shouldn’t we sit back, shake our heads, and say, “Lord, have mercy”?

Instead, many of us want our judgment to be given divine approval – we want the lightning to strike quick and hot and without any hint of mercy, and in so doing we forget the very reason we even have these strange convictions as a Christian: that, once upon a time, this same God we so anxiously want to judge Casey as guilty, judged us as righteous because of the grace of His Son. Because we’ve been pardoned by Christ and made square with God, we now sit back and declare others as unworthy?

I think Jesus had a few words about that. So did the Apostle Paul.

Look, I’m not saying we shouldn’t be troubled by the verdict. I’m not saying we shouldn’t be disappointed that our justice system seems to fail at all the wrong times. What I am saying is that there seems to be a malicious anger within the American church that overrides the grace of God with the rage of the redeemed. And it’s polluting the message we’re supposed to be sharing. Namely, that we all deserve to be punished for who we are and what we’ve done – you, me, and Casey Anthony alike. But God is forgiving and gracious and kind, and He has made a way for us to be counted as righteous through the death, burial, and resurrection of His Only Son, Jesus Christ.

To spend our time telling the world anything else is something we’ll have to answer for ourselves – when we stand before God to give an account for how we lived beneath His grace.

Because, after all – God will judge everyone. Not just the ones we want Him to.

Questions For God (Since It’s The End Of The World)

A man in California says the world will end tonight at 6:00 PM.

As a card-carrying member of Generation X, the official generation of skepticism, snark, and relentless doubt, I feel compelled to say:


I know I’ve written about this the last couple of days, but it’s the predominant topic on everyone’s mind. Personally, I say no. One wingnut with a Bible radio network and a need for attention does not a prophet make. Historically, the kind of people God called to the role of prophet were a little more humble and a lot more credible. (Harold Camping, as we know, is 0-for-1 on the doomsday predictions. He also had Duke in his NCAA brackets, so there you go.) But thanks to massive billboards, Twitter, and the general Christian illiteracy in this nation, what should be a molehill has been backbuilt into a mountain. People, it seems, are in a bit of a panic.

In my own community, I’ve noticed “End of the World” inspired garage sales, an inordinate number of them to be honest. And driving by I’m thinking a couple of things:

1. If you’re a Christian having a yard sale, what’s the point? Where you gonna spend that cash – at the arcade in Heaven?

2. If you’re not a Christian, why would you shop at an end-of-the-world yard sale? If you’re patient, the same crap will be free tomorrow.

Suffice it to say, these questions have prompted more questions, questions that – if we do go meet Jesus in the air tonight – I’d like to ask God when I get a minute. And yes, I think there will be questions in Heaven; if there weren’t, it’d get awfully boring. The good thing will be that there will also be answers.

So, 30 questions that I’d like to ask God if I go to Heaven tonight:

1. Southern Baptists: were we even close to being right?

2. Who shot JFK?

3. The Middle East: what the heck was the problem there?

4. How did my Thermos know to keep hot things hot and cold things cold? Was it witchcraft?

5. Given the self-assurance of most people when making decisions for their life, did you, as the Supreme Omnipotent Being, spend most of the time laughing your butt off at our stupidity?

6. Why just the one World Series title for the Braves? Was it because of Rocker?

7. Please settle this ages-old dilemma: tastes great or less filling?

8. Why did I have to go through high school looking like a stick figure?

9. What would my kids have grown up to be like?

10. Did Pluto cry when it was downgraded from planet to orb?

11. On a scale from 1 to 10, how stupid was the battle between science and faith?

12. David Lee Roth or Sammy Hagar?

13. How did Jesus manage to live 33 years without sinning? Even with his divine nature, the temptation to smoke a couple of turkeys had to be strong.

14. Just how much did The Fall screw everything up? Can we blame it for earthquakes and hurricanes? What about genocide? The Jersey Shore cast?

15. Other than the Bible, what was the best book ever written? Best song? Best movie?

16. Since we never got to see, who was the mother on “How I Met Your Mother”?

17. Who was the funniest of Jesus’ 12 disciples?

18. Did Judas Iscariot go to Heaven or Hell? This was a big issue when I was in seminary.

19. Favorite superhero of all time?

20. Since it’s Heaven, this really doesn’t matter, but just for me: which was cooler – Star Wars or Star Trek?

21. Which team has the fewest fans here: the Yankees, Lakers, or Raiders?

22. My daughter Ruthanne got here way before me; will she know who I am?

23. Is there fishing in Heaven? Cause, if so, I know where to find about half of my relatives.

24. Which book of the Bible was the most misinterpreted? I’m guessing the Revelation of John.

25. Christianity as a faith lasted over 2,000 years; were there any doctrines that got fundamentally changed over the years? In the latter decades, what things did we over-emphasize or under-emphasize?

26. I’ve been assuming that there is a Heaven and Hell; but for argument’s sake, did all paths really lead here? If so, I’m guessing some folks will have a duck when they see Osama, Hitler and Pol Pot playing croquet.

27. Was it ever possible for human beings to NOT turn your instructions into a strictly enforced code?

28. Which Pope was your favorite? How about which preacher?

29. How delusional were we to think that America was your favorite nation of all time?

30. I’m glad to be here, but just out of curiosity: of all people in the world, why did Harold Camping have to be right?

Guest Post: A Marine On The Death Of Osama Bin Laden

Lt. Col. Karl "KJ" Johnson, Marine Corps. Semper Fi indeed.

I mentioned yesterday that I offered the blog up to two people for guest posts. One of them took me up on the offer, and I am unbelievably excited that he did. Lieutenant Colonel Karl “KJ” Johnson is a helicopter pilot in the Marine Corp and a veteran of the War on Terror. KJ has been just about everywhere the War has taken our troops, and has seen everything there is to see. If anyone can lend some perspective to the death of the World’s Most Notorious Terrorist, KJ certainly can.

I first met KJ through my work with Ravi Zacharias International Ministries. I was working a public forum at Arizona State University and KJ, who lived in California at the time, drove all they way to Scottsdale just to help work at our book table. I ended up sitting next to him at the payment table, and we struck up a conversation that lasted pretty much all night. His stories fascinating, but his insight into life – insight brought about in part by his service to our country, but mostly by his God-given gift of intelligence – made you stop and really think about issues you’d long considered resolved in your mind. He does exactly that with today’s post. Please, read it, think about it, and then pass it on to someone else.

The Death of OBL

As a Marine officer of nearly 19 years of continuous active duty service and, more importantly, a disciple of Jesus Christ I am very interested in the recent turn of events involving Osama bin Laden (OBL).  In fact, I have been keenly interested since that fateful day in Sept. 2011.  Believe it or not, one of my first thoughts that day was “I wonder if anyone is praying for OBL.”  I mean, aren’t we supposed to love our enemies?  As an American citizen I have no more dangerous an enemy than OBL and those who are associated with him.  Aren’t we supposed to forego the weapons of the world, as counterintuitive as that may seem?  At that time I was getting ready to deploy, so the likelihood of going into combat was very real (remember, this was before we went into either Afghanistan or Iraq) and most of my peers were using the events of 9/11 to motivate them for (or cope with) our six-month deployment.  In fact, many of my peers were eager to engage the enemy in order to exact some revenge/justice…all in the name of patriotism.  So why was I thinking about praying for OBL?

Now, I’m not judging my fellow Marines.  A large part of me agrees with them and I certainly subscribe to the Just War Theory; I would never have accepted a commission as an officer in the Corps otherwise.  And this would certainly be a Just War.  But somehow God would not let me feel the hatred for OBL that many of my peers felt.  Oh, I was very affected by the events of 9/11.  In fact, I was very surprised by just how emotional I got seeing my beloved homeland attacked and violated.  I had friends in the Pentagon that day.  And, since I’m a pilot, I played the events of the courageous passengers in my mind over and over and wondered many times what I would have done had I been on one of those flights, or if I had been one of the pilots.  I was enraged to see what had happened.  But I did not harbor a hatred for OBL or any single person.  Perhaps it’s because my worldview accounted for the existence of evil and I recognized the dangers posed by the radical Islamic agenda.  I don’t know for sure, but I do know that God called me to pray that day.  And I prayed that God would somehow win over OBL, that somehow God would reach into his black heart and redeem it just like he had redeemed mine.

OBL deserves death and hell.  But so do the rest of us.  If God is the standard, we are all in trouble.  We all need grace.  We tend to grade one another, to compare ourselves to others.  This works for us and against us.  “Oh, I may not be perfect but at least I’m not as bad as so-and-so.”  Or how about, “man, look at so-and-so, I’ll never be as good a Christian as he/she is.”  No, there’s only one comparison to be made, the comparison to Christ.  And we all fail that test.  OBL was decieved.  VERY deceived.  But are we any better off?  Do we play games with ourselves and convince ourselves that we’re good enough or better than others?  Remember the Pharisee in Luke 18:9-14?  He prayed “God, I thank you that I am not like other men, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even like this tax collector.”  Or even this terrorist.  Really?  We are just like the Israelites.  We never learn, and we keep repeating the same sins.

Think maybe OBL was beyond God’s reach?  What about Paul?  Oh, but he was an apostle, a one-of-a-kind instance.  Really?  Check out the story of Thomas Tarrants, a terrorist himself, former president of the C.S. Lewis Institute (now their Director of Ministry) and good friend (I did not meet him until years after all of this).  You want a good story?  Google the CS Lewis Institute, write them a letter and they will send you a FREE copy of Tom’s testimony.  You will not regret it, and it will change how you think of others.  You will never again believe that anyone is unreachable.

So, how do I feel about the death of OBL.  Well, it certainly provides a certain amount of closure.  I was a little bit emotional because it represents bringing a tyrant to justice and the closing of a chapter of frustration; OBL had eluded us for so long and I did not want him to get away with his crimes (in this world).  And on the strategic level of warfare this represents a victory.  It will send a message to terrorists all over the globe and serve as a beacon of hope to those who live in fear of men like OBL.  Another part of me recognizes that on the tactical and operational levels of warfare this does not change a lot.  The Taliban and al-Qa’ida are still a threat and the brave American men and women in Afghanistan still face the same dangers they did on April 30.  And they are likely to see those threats increase as the Taliban steps up their efforts to avenge OBL’s demise.  But those same men and women will also find encouragement and a lift in morale to see this victory.  Additionally, those of us in uniform are not naïve enough to think that this going to topple the opposition.  This is not like taking out Hitler during WWII.  No, it’s a whole new kind of warfare.  One in which there are no front lines, no rear area, no obvious enemy.  I guess in the end, I’m a bit ambivalent.  I do not rejoice in the death of anyone, even OBL.  Instead, I am haunted by C.S. Lewis’ words: “There are no ordinary people. You have never talked to a mere mortal. Nations, cultures, arts, civilization—these are mortal, and their life is to ours as the life of a gnat. But it is immortals whom we joke with, work with, marry, snub, and exploit—immortal horrors or everlasting splendours.”  I know which one I want to be.

What Hell Is Rob Bell Talking About?

I blogged about this before (see here) but I finally went out out and bought Rob Bell’s latest book, Love Wins: A Book About Heaven, Hell, And The Fate of Every Person Who Ever Lived. I spent the last day reading it.

I must say, I’m not impressed. Neither am I outraged.

My good friend Andy Bannister put it this way on one of my Facebook status updates (and he’s riffing on a quote from Bell’s book):

‎We need a loaded, dramatic, adequately expressive, suitable weighty word (which will, of course, and with sufficient caveats from the more Platonically inclined Patristic fathers) describe the very real, in both an objective and subjectiv…e sense, feelings (both emotional and intellectual) that wading through the text of “Love Wins” engenders. We need a word that refers to what happens when a publisher gets overly excited by the possible sales, financial rewards, best-seller list placements and the such like that a book may achieve through controversy alone, no matter that it is full, like a pomegranite is full of pips with meaningless metaphors, nor laden to the gunwales with extraneous verbiage and a tendency for its sentences, like an infinite number of monkeys typing in oven mitts, to run on and on with no apparent end in sight. That word is, I suggest, “meh”.

As I read this book, a thought kept coming to me: he’s ripping off C.S. Lewis’ book, The Great Divorce, a profoundly imaginative (if unorthodox) work about a vision of heaven and hell. In Lewis’ book, hell is a separate, dim, sad city of greys and browns that consists largely of miserable people content to live miserably. The narrator of the book begins in this city, but soon enough gets onto a bus and, dramatically, rises up over the city until the bus is suddenly immersed in a radiant light more intense than any the sun could ever hope to produce. The narrator goes on to describe this place as more real than reality, where the grass, the wind, everything has sharp edges of definition that injure the unaccustomed. It’s a brilliant literary device and Lewis does wonders with it.

Bell rips it off. And his biggest change is say that hell isn’t separate from heaven. They are the same place, a perfected version of this current reality where God’s love reigns and those who don’t want to live like that are just miserable party poopers.

A truly thorough review of the book would cite specifics, but as this is a lazy blog post, I’ll just do what Bell so often does himself – tell you what I think and let you do with it what you will. To wit, some points of interest:

  • Bell is adamant that hell as many Christians currently conceive of it is wrong. In fact, borrowing a page from Brian McLaren’s handbook, he goes so far as to suggest (without bluntly saying) that most Christians don’t really know what Jesus taught. Of course, Bell does, and he spends a great deal of the print in the book on condescending to the benighted. The funny thing is, most of those people won’t ever read his book, so Bell is preaching to his choir, and he does so pitch-perfectly.
  • Despite being so strong in his belief of what hell isn’t, Bell offers next to nothing on what hell actually is. He shrewdly (my assumption, anyway) avoids putting down any vision or doctrine of hell that isn’t a vague notion. One quote, from page 173: “We create hell whenever we fail to trust God’s retelling of our story.” Pardon the pun, but what the hell does that actually mean? He’s using the parable of the Prodigal Son to advance his notion that hell is relational, but he never actually spells out what that entails. On some pages, it sounds like he believes those who reject God will be separated from Him; on others, he suggests that heaven and hell are both lived in the presence of God. Bell puts next to no edges on his ideas, making the book maddeningly weak, and undermining of its own conceit.
  • Bell’s definition of hell might best be described as the love-child of Jean-Paul Satre and Walt Kelly: “We have seen hell, and hell is us.” Bell suggests that hell is a mindset that denies God’s glory, creating a separation from God that causes pain and torment. It’s not physical, but mental/emotive. Of course, Bell also suggests that God is so beautiful and wonderful that no one can resist Him or His love, but that particular concept comes early in the book and gets quickly shunted to the side. He vacillates from Irresistible Grace (though he never uses that term) and Free Will (never uses that term either) without ever offering what is reality.
  • In his chapter titled, “The Good News Is Better Than That”, Bell asks a provocative question, but like an inexperienced lawyer in court, he hasn’t considered the full answer to it. Writing about the portrayal of God as vindictive, schizophrenic (my word, not his), and vengeful, Bell paints a picture of people living a tired, powerless life because they believe wrongly about God. And he asks this question: “This is the problem with some Gods – you don’t know if they’re good, so why tell others a story that isn’t working for you?” Think for a moment about that question – why tell others a story that isn’t working for you? Bell’s answer is clear: if the story doesn’t work, it must be wrong. Change it. And so he has with his book. But the unanswered question still remains: why wasn’t the story working for you? So the story doesn’t work for you; it doesn’t mean the story isn’t true. Bell seems more than willing to sacrifice truth on the altar of pragmatism and comfort. While expounding the immensity of God, he shrinks Him down to a Beatles song, “All You Need Is Love.” He doesn’t address the hard questions about hell – he offers soft answers to some and completely dismisses others.

And that may be the biggest disappointment. Bell’s assertion that many people have a hard time with the doctrine of hell and the complexities of God’s love and judgment is spot on. I know many folks who cannot get past the question, “How can a loving God send people to hell?” Bell seems firmly in that camp, and has done his best to craft a story that does away with the discomfort of hell. Like the embarrassing drunk uncle, or the aunt who spouts racist epithets at family gatherings, the answer is to just remove hell from the story, to make it into something more palatable for those who can’t get past it. And it works. A world without hell seems much easier to explain and much more desirable to live in.

The problem, it seems, is that such a story isn’t true. And I’d rather build my life on an uncomfortable truth than a nicely-fitted lie, no matter how well-intentioned it may be.

As a post-script, let me say that there was one consistent theme in Bell’s book that struck me powerfully, and that was the need for Christians to embrace a wide stream of belief without belittling those who disagree with us. As a Southern Baptist, I heartily amen this. The irony is that Bell disavows his own admonition within the same pages he’s written it. I think there is plenty of room for difference within Christianity, plenty of room for a variety of expression and ritual. But what Bell is asking for is room for divergent and incongruous versions of Christianity to be counted as Orthodoxy, and that simply cannot be.

Believing that there is only One Truth upon which the universe is built is not intolerant or hateful – it’s logical. It’s consistent with the Bible. It’s practical, even.

It’s just not sexy. And in the end, Bell seems to have a problem with that.