You Are Not Up There, God

Non-believing readers won't like this column. It will be far too spiritual for them. There is no political red meat, but some of them would like the Darrell Hammond book that prompted the column. His book is a ribald, smutty, foul mouthed and often-hilarious look inside the troubled life and mind of this Saturday Night Live star.

The title of Hammond's book is scandalously irreverent, "God If You're Not Up There, I'm F*cked." Hammond wants to shock and he does. Hammond readily admits that he was deeply troubled. His childhood was filled with his mother's physical and emotional abuse, his subsequent life filled with alcoholism, self-mutilation, psychiatric hospitals and misdiagnoses, but he rose to fame as the longest tenured cast member of Saturday Night Live. His hilarious impressions of Bill Clinton, Dick Cheney, Donald Trump and other celebrities brought him stardom. In his book Hammond examines the darkest corners of his life with brutal honesty and salacious comic wit : both behind and facing the TV cameras.

One celebrity, however, that Hammond was uncomfortable impersonating was Senator John McCain. He admired McCain's suffering under torture and did not want in any way to make light of it. Although he did McCain a few times, he was always uncomfortable in the role. For McCain also reminded him of his Vietnam veteran father whom he deeply respected.

On the back jacket of his book, Darrel Hammond thanks the Saturday Night Live crew, which he admits had great difficulty working with him. He mentions his copious medications, his alcoholism, his cutting himself before going on camera. Repeatedly, he was carted off to rehab or a psychiatric unit and once taken out of his office in a straitjacket, "But somehow," he says, "I was able to soldier on and perform. That is, until I wasn't."

Part of Hammond's rehabilitation was Alcoholics Anonymous and finding God. But I have news for Darrell Hammond. He really is screwed. Why? Because God is not "up there." Theologians would make two important observations about God being "up there." First, there is no there there. The Divine, the Numinous, the Holy is spiritual not spatial. The Ultimate Mystery is everywhere and nowhere. The Mystery is not up or down; It just is.

The second thing theologians tell us is that the Divine is both immanent and transcendent. The Mystery is above and beyond the material, but deeply rooted in our life and world. The Mystery is in Hammond's friends, lovers and family. He/She is in his fellow AA members and the therapists who helped him -- belatedly. She's in all those who loved him and all those he loved and hurt.

Some years ago I wrote a column, "Is Your God Too Small?" The answer to that question for most of us is an earsplitting "yes." Most theists and atheists make the same mistake: we think God is like us. We think of a god with human characteristics and limitations. A god who plays favorites, a god who, in conflict, is on our side. Such a god is comforting, but atheists compellingly deny this Chicken-Soup-for-the-Soul-god. That tamed version of the deity is very different from the striking insight of the Lutheran theologian Rudolph Otto, who described God as the "enchanting and frightening Mystery."

Among other metaphors the Bible depicts God as a rock, a light, a mother, a lover. These metaphors, of course, overlap. We're talking poetry here. None of the images come close to the Mystery, but like a radar screen, they mirror shadowy glimpses of what Meister Eckart, that 13th Century Christian mystic, called "the Godhead beyond god." The blunder is to see the blip on the screen and confuse it with the plane in the sky.

There are, of course, non-Biblical images of God. Mary Daly, a feminist theologian, wrote, "God is a verb, not a noun." The Buddhist monk Thich Nhat Hanh calls the Holy Spirit the "Energy of God," an energy that touches and sustains all being. Theologian Paul Tillich tells us that God is the "Ground of Being," that which undergirds all. Blase Pascal said God is both personal and impersonal. Is that statement beyond logic? Of course it is, but so is the Mystery.

But back to Darrell Hammond. For those who can stomach his indescribable torments, his salacious wit and smutty prose his book is a good read. Not only is it a fascinating insider's peak into Saturday Night Live and its many celebrities, it has a much more profound meaning. For not only did Hammond find God through AA, ultimately in a mystical dream he found forgiveness for his horribly abusive mother.

God might not be "up there," but Darrell Hammond is not screwed. A God, who is in his life, his relationships and in his heart, loves him : as She loves us all.

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