So we workshopped… it was a fascinating morning. I know less now than I did before.
It confirmed for me that the way we work with hope – the language we use to invoke it, and the role we believe we play in offering it – is absolutely central to our understanding of faith. And how we understand hope isn’t determined by our alignment with a particular religion. The gift for me this morning was finding so much in common, in the struggle with these questions, with the Muslim and Buddhist chaplains. Not that our answers are the same – actually, perhaps it was the realisation that we had a lack of answers in common; that we liked each others’ determination to keep asking the questions.
But the blank faces from those who are in a different place – who are confused and bewildered by the fact that we haven’t worked this out yet, like they have, or sorted through the doubt – makes for a pretty exhausting time. I think they would say that doubt is good, but really only the kind of doubt that has faith at its core. I think I’m talking about something different. I have absolutely no concept of the being of God at all. None. But I’m absolutely, completely committed to the things that have always been attributed to God – the event of God, as John Caputo would say. Does make me faithful, or doubting? Who knows [and it was a rhetorical question anyway].
But I had a moment of insight at the end as to why talking about hell was so confronting for many of the women. One of the Muslim chaplains said ‘you’d think that if you were a Christian, being told that Jesus has broken the chains of hell would be something you’d like to hear’… and I realised that part of it is that the women don’t want all that is Good to be sullied by all that is Bad – that God will be made dirty by descending into our hell, and they need God to be pure; the place to escape to beyond our hell. Greg, one of the christian chaplains at the juvie said that he can’t play Nirvana in worship – the lads only want Hillsongs. Not because they believe Hillsongs theology, but because it’s so removed from their reality.
Not everyone has that reaction, of course. For every 10 people you get in prison, you’ll get 35 different theologies… which is about the same number as you do outside prison. And, in the end, when i wonder what the hell we were thinking trying this, I’m reminded of the woman who sat down next to me on Holy Saturday and started a conversation by saying ‘If God’s in my hell, then I guess it’s ok for me to tell you this…’