If you’re going through hell, keep going.

I guess Winston Churchill said that. Someone else once said (and someone else put it on a card) “Everything will be okay in the end. If it’s not okay, it’s not the end.”

These are the two quotes that keep sticking in my head during Holy week, especially on this day, the Saturday before Easter. If you’re going through hell, keep going. I don’t know what Winston Churchill meant by this but it seems to me to say something about death and resurrection.

What the hell? That’s always the question. On Huff post this week there’s an article about what Jesus did in those three days between death and the empty tomb. Some parts of our tradition talk about descending into hell, and there are various thoughts about why, or what he was doing there. I once had a friend ask me, “what the hell did I ever do that was SO BAD that Jesus had to go to hell for three measly days so that I don’t have to spend an eternity there?”

Well, it’s a good question, but one that is a little bit lost on me. I don’t really believe in this physical place of fire and brimstone with a dark overlord best depicted in the South Park movie. But I can tell you this: Even in my own life, I have experienced really dark nights; I have gone through hard things that felt like the end. That felt like Hell. We all have. I imagine genocide feels like hell. I imagine war feels like hell. I imagine devastating earthquakes and tsunamis feel like hell. I imagine it feels like hell when you go through those things and nobody seems to care enough to help.

I also know about the dark voices in my head that keep me (as Martin Luther would say) curved in on myself, unable to offer my best self to the world. And that can feel like the devil. So we have these stories that personify and animate what we experience in life, because it’s the truth. Sometimes life is hell, and sometimes those voices that keep us down feel like evil incarnate.

So maybe when we hear the stories of Jesus being put to death on a cross, and then going to hell we can get it. The cross is hell. And Jesus went there. Maybe we can come to understand not that Jesus went there in your place, but instead that there is nothing you can experience and no place where you can go where Christ isn’t there with you.

And then the resurrection—which we experience as well. We know from our lives that it really is true—that life keeps going, and that in the end it will be okay. If it’s not okay, it’s not the end.

So if you’re going through hell, keep going. It’s not the end.


The Devil we met in San Francisco

The last stop in a long line of bars he came out of nowhere disguised as the asshole we all went to high school with.

He could have come from anywhere, like the bathrooms at the bottom of the stairs blocked by a caged gate the bartender had to open if you dared descend.

He could have come from inside the music playing on the jukebox which always has the potential to do us harm because  of what it recalls…

He could have rolled in off the smoke of the cigarettes outside the front door where the bartender took a break and told inappropriate jokes and everybody laughed, sort of, at the Asian making jokes about Asians.

He could have come right out from of the strangely hypnotic blue bottle featured behind the bar with the light in the bottom.

Anyway, he just walked up with a smile and said he wanted to fight our friend.

At first we laughed nervously, sure we’d heard wrong, and then a flood of different emotions–confusion, irritation anger and finally fear when it didn’t look like it would stop.

He pointed at each person in turn and called up the things we fear being.

The things we are.

The things we hate to be.

“Who do you think you are?” someone asked, but I think I know because words have a way of taking on flesh and dwelling among us, and those thoughts in us became words, took on flesh and there it was, as real as anything.

Katie said, “I need you to step back from me.”  Though smart and strong, I think she should have said “Get behind me.”

Then he was kicked out of the bar, but he was still smiling, promising to be back and I believe his words, and that is all it takes to know he is right–he will be back. Even if we never set foot in that bar again, never see that guy again.