The literary and moral turning point of Mark Twain’s iconic Huckleberry Finn makes me tear up every time.
Juvenile delinquent, Huck, and runaway slave, Jim, team up on a raft on the Mississippi River, sharing adventures, sharing life. Pretty soon, Huck realizes they have become friends – an epiphany that creates an existential crisis.
Huck’s conscience indicts him: it is wrong to steal someone else’s property. It is wrong to lie. It is wrong for a black man to go outside his proper place. And it is wrong for Huck to help him.
Clear, obvious and universal wrongs.
So the entire story turns on Huck’s decision – not only to sin against fundamental rules of his society, but also (as he had been taught) – to sin against foundational laws of God.
“All right then. I’ll go to hell.”
Growing up as a Southern Conservative Christian Woman, I know something about Huck’s world.
- The racial prejudices of our society were baptized as God’s will.
- The hierarchical, patriarchal order we created was presumed to be God’s universal and preordained plan for the world.
- Time bound, culture bound social attitudes and practices were sanctioned and sanctified by the God we created in our own image.
Much like Huck, my own existential crisis snuck up on me.
First came the questions; suspicions that my Hierarchical World was built on some very shaky foundations.
Then came movement; removing myself from the echo chambers of my youth and intentionally engaging in (often uncomfortable) conversations with multiple voices.
Then these multiple voices became friends. It was the friendships that created my own existential crisis.
“Anthropology trumps theology,” my husband says.
When new and different opinions came from the mouths of trusted companions, somehow I was able to listen differently; to hear whispers of truth about the Human and Divine that had been muted by all the clamorous “No’s” of my previous world.
I began to hear truth about the Human Condition and Divine Grace that had never been able to reach my heart before: all of us are fully included in God’s unconditional love.
Once I experienced full inclusion for myself, then I realized I dare not withhold full inclusion for any of God’s other children. This epiphany prompted a new formula for living:
I would rather face God’s judgment for including everyone than to be judged for excluding any one of God’s children.
If I am to be judged, then judge me for my grace.
- Grace for my queer as well as my homophobic family
- Grace for the Jims as well as the Huckleberry Finns.
- Grace for the lovers and grace for the haters.
Grace like Huck’s that will do whatever it takes to subvert the systemic powers that diminish, limit and exclude.
I hope Huck finally realized he was not going to hell because he loved Jim.
And I pray this discovery for my countless conservative sisters and brothers whose skewed theology keeps them trapped in their small, sad world of “No’s.”
I hope some day these otherwise good-hearted people will finally understand that hell is not some place we go; hell is what we create when we limit love and grace.