Broken, Happy People [on Hell & Holy Messes]

It’s a funny thing, not believing in Hell, or an afterlife at all, sometimes.

It’s not something I think we can know for sure, this side of death, so I’m in between at the moment. In the midst of The Sorting. Plus, It’s not really something to bring up in polite conversation. Allude to a shift in belief, mention a move away from orthodoxy (in any area, really) and just watch those dominoes fall!

If I was a better person I might be upset about shocking my fellow Christians with such heresies, but there’s a chuckling, sinister side to my personality that finds sly delight in not being what I was ‘supposed’ to be. I’ve always had a cheeky, stubborn streak, it’s in my blood and in my bones. And, I’m at my most content when my inner self can be expressed in the outer world, so honesty about what is going on in me is important (though I have learned to pick my audience a little more wisely these days…) even if that truth is uncomfortable.

“But how can you be a Christian and not believe in Hell? Isn’t that what being a Christian is about… to escape hell?”

Well I don’t know about that. But I am absolutely convinced that the act of questioning is not the evil dilemma we’re told it is (well, at least more than I am convinced about anything else these days – which really isn’t saying a whole lot, ha!) Questioning helped me learn to love the wilderness. Questioning brought be closer to God (maybe because I was finally listening?).

So, some questions, then dear reader:

If hell is real, but I don’t believe in it, does that mean I’m going there?

Is affirmation of particular creeds or doctrines essential to ‘salvation’?

What if Jesus was less interested in some far-off and distant ‘afterlife’, and more interested in how we choose to live THIS day?

What if the question is not ‘is there life after death’, but ‘can there be life before death? Can we truly live, before we die?* Can we truly live and embrace this life, before it is too late to do so? In so doing, can we bring life, and light and salt to the world around us. Can we make a difference with our our bent and broken selves, moving in and about this world in the best way we can? If there is nothing beyond – if we are to die and to return to dust – what parts of ourselves will be left behind in the lives and minds of others?


For so many long years sitting in church Sunday after Sunday I prayed, longed for, looked to the day when I would be whole enough, good enough, worthy enough, noticed enough to be entrusted with some great work. The waiting was heavy-laden, despondent. There were hoops to jump through, impressions to be made, commitments never to be broken. There was perfection to be attained and there were masks to wear. Then all of a sudden… with the dull thud of my arse hitting the dirt in a downward turn of depression… I found myself in the wilderness. The Wild.

seedling in the forest / stephan schultz / flickr
seedling in the forest / stephan schultz / flickr


And I looked up and saw a bunch of broken happy people.

Oh I am not about to write some manifesto on the existence (or not) of heaven and hell and whatever is Out There Beyond. The fact is I just don’t know, I’m not sure I care to know, right now (I’m OK with that, I know all the verses). I’m no theologian or scholar – just a poet-pusher-of-buttons for now.

I don’t have a bee in my bonnet about church or organised religion; one day soon I will find a place to Belong. But in many ways I am still out here in The Wild, in this circle of broken, happy people, searching for truth in the dirt and dancing mad-cap around the fire, holding hands as we watch the flames climb, consuming the old and worn out dogma we carried around for too long.

You needn’t worry that I am meandering down some path from which there is no return. Jesus is out here – hanging with us by the fire, sitting with us in our brokenness, turning our water into wine and having a bloody jolly good time with us. Our eyes are on him, too.

By all means pray for my eternal soul, and I will pray for your present one (and maybe we’ll all muddle through together). I will for your very self in the here and now, that you – and that I – might truly see the blessing of the lives we have each been entrusted with carrying through this world, that we would live to welcome each day, and fully embrace those brought across our paths, in love, acceptance and Christ-like humility.

For now, THAT is my only goal – messed up and broken as I am, but completely and utterly alive.


Awake now,
I stretch

my insides.
That being –
she who is hidden –


with preservation
or decay,

with the ripeness
of now and

the gentle
brush and rustle
of sleep-laden sheets
on tender skin

through the density
of night

now flung
in abandon;

in wilderness healing.

Inhale; expand,
she says.

Open up the
places of restraint
and bleed into yourself;

saturate your earth
in neon honey
and move unhindered
in vivid lubrication.

Embrace this entropy
your holy mess

and unfurl
into your renewal.


* I attribute this paraphrase to Peter Rollins, during an episode of The Liturgists podcast, Episode 29 “Philosophy & Radical Theology”. Well worth a listen if you’re into big thoughts!

Fan of poetry? I’ve been (slowly) plodding through a wonderful e-course designed to make everyday poets out of us! If that sounds like something you’re into, head on over to the Poetry Is e-course at She of the Wild by Beth Morey, click here to view more details! [Affiliate link]

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