Advent, Week Two: Peace

Comfort, comfort my people!
    says your God.
Speak compassionately to Jerusalem,
        and proclaim to her that her compulsory service has ended,
    that her penalty has been paid,
    that she has received from the Lord’s hand double for all her sins!

A voice is crying out:
“Clear the Lord’s way in the desert!
    Make a level highway in the wilderness for our God!
Every valley will be raised up,
    and every mountain and hill will be flattened.
    Uneven ground will become level,
    and rough terrain a valley plain.
The Lord’s glory will appear,
    and all humanity will see it together;
    the Lord’s mouth has commanded it.”

A voice was saying:
    “Call out!”
And another said,
    “What should I call out?”
All flesh is grass;
    all its loyalty is like the flowers of the field.
The grass dries up
    and the flower withers
    when the Lord’s breath blows on it.
    Surely the people are grass.
The grass dries up;
    the flower withers,
    but our God’s word will exist forever.

Go up on a high mountain,
    messenger Zion!
Raise your voice and shout,
    messenger Jerusalem!
Raise it; don’t be afraid;
    say to the cities of Judah,
    “Here is your God!”
Here is the Lord God,
    coming with strength,
    with a triumphant arm,
    bringing his reward with him
    and his payment before him.
Like a shepherd, God will tend the flock;
    he will gather lambs in his arms
    and lift them onto his lap.
    He will gently guide the nursing ewes.  (Isaiah 40:1-11, CEB) 

No justice, no peace!” we have heard many times this year.  “Peace” has come to mean “silence,” “acceptance,” “docility.”  “Peace” has come to mean not the absence of strife but the ignorance of it, the half-closed eyes that cannot or will not see it. The women of the Church do not want that kind of peace.

“Peace” is that which is often “passed” in church services, a synonym for greeting the others seeking peace in that hour.  Yet how often do we bring peace into a service, no matter our gender, in the heartache of a broken world?  How often do we have it to give?  If we are not at peace, if we are not still within our souls, how shall we pass anything but turmoil to our neighbors?  Shall we simply sit silent while greetings flow around us?  For women, the silence is both no option and the only option.  “Peace” is what many say as a way of saying, “stop talking.”  The chafing bonds of Paul’s injunctions spoken in a different time of specific context close women’s mouths in many denominations and they are told to be at peace, to have faith in this God-blessed structure.  “Peace” has become shorthand for a false tranquility that many women are told to feel so as not to be overly emotional, so as not to be disruptive, so as not to overturn the idea that women are somehow inherently gentler, more peaceful.

The Church must stop conflating peace with submission.  The Church, here in the expectant waiting of Advent with breaths caught in hope of all that the coming birth might do, must comfort its people, must “speak compassionately to Jerusalem” and to every city, to every nation, to every woman that “her compulsory service is ended.”  The Church must recognize that all are invited to see the glory of God, that there is neither male nor female in Christ, that the vision of the heavens is to see the valleys and the downtrodden raised up.

Peace is not silence.  Peace is not acquiescence.  Peace is not the status quo remaining unexamined or unchanged.  Peace is the active inclusion of the full body of Christ, peace is the ability to live without fear, peace is the solid truth that equity is part of God’s vision for God’s creation.  Eden was at peace when woman was included and valued; the false hierarchy of the Fall has no place in God’s heaven.  Peace comes when voices are raised to challenge the culture in which the Church exists, taking on the songs of the season like “Baby, It’s Cold Outside” because people of faith will not be complicit in the denigration of women’s choices.  Peace comes when male leaders, both lay and ordained, empower women within their congregations to speak God’s word as pastors, liturgists, teachers, and board members. Peace comes when we challenge the sacred texts speaking of sin and “she” in one sentence; peace comes when we teach and learn that women are not inherently more sinful than men no matter how many times female pronouns are attached to wicked cities or abstract ideas.  Peace is something that we make happen; it does not come on its own but requires our midwifery as the people of God actively birthing peace.

Peace cannot be a command from another who does not acknowledge the anger, the sorrow, the pain, the distance held within; peace must be a choice to be calm in our very souls because we actively decide to rest.  Peace comes as shalom, a wholeness of our very selves.  To the women of the Church, to the women of the world who wait in strife this second week of Advent says “peace” not as a directive but as a gift as yet undelivered.  “Peace,” it offers, knowing that peace has not come just yet, that action is still required though weary hearts are worn by the howling winds of all that is not peaceful.

May you find peace because you have chosen, in the full power of your own agency and value, to receive it as the gift of a God fully aware of all that is not at peace yet.  May peace, like hope, be your armor and strength.

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Advent, Week Four/Christmas, Day One: Hark, the Herald Angels Sing

Merry Christmas, Reader!  It’s technically Christmas even though I haven’t slept yet, and I’m super excited and running off of the energy of how awesome my church is at Christmas and incredibly much I love Christmas and yes, you can throw all of the Elf references at me you want (although my excitement skews in a much different direction).

So what better hymn to bridge Advent and Christmas?  Why, Hark, the Herald Angels Sing, of course!  It has the added bonus of lyrics by Charles Wesley, one of the founding brothers of my denomination (United Methodist) and author of literally over 6,000 hymns.  Of course, he originally wanted it slow and stately, which isn’t my cup of tea for this song.  It’s a whole song of joy that Christ is finally born—get your party on, y’all.

In case I haven’t mentioned it before, Christmas is my favorite holiday.  It always has been, actually, though for different reasons throughout my life.  But nowadays, I love Christmas to pieces because it is overflowing with joy and hope and starlight.  This song has it:  these angels are singing that “God and sinners [are] reconciled.”  Reconciled!  We are no longer set apart from God!

Not super into atonement theory?  Okay; how about “Veiled in flesh the Godhead see / Hail the incarnate Deity”?  I love that one of the things people found super weird about Christianity in the early days was that a god would be stupid enough to trap himself in a human body—especially when he then got killed for it.  That’s not to say that there aren’t sacrifice narratives in other early religions (there’re a lot of them, actually), but it is to say that God became human, from the squalling infant who couldn’t even focus on images in the cradle to the bleeding Man who refused to step outside of the mortal process until He broke it in half.

Still not seeing the joy?  Then try this on:  “Light and life to all He brings / Ris’n with healing in His wings.”

Reader, you can’t possibly tell me with a straight face that you aren’t excited about the possibility of light, life, and healing.

Now, please don’t misunderstand me; this isn’t my attempting to convert you to Christianity (although if you want to have that conversation, please know that I AM SO TOTALLY DOWN FOR IT and would welcome your questions and conversation most heartily).  It is, however, my attempting to show you why I danced my way across the chancel (stage) at one service tonight in front of God and everybody, and why I went to two services after having worked a full day, and why I’m still not in bed even though it’s half-past one in the morning and I have to get up in a few hours to drive to a family Christmas, and why I want you to see that joy can include happiness even if happiness is not the same as joy.

BECAUSE HOLY CROW CHRIST IS BORN.  Hail the heav’n-born Prince of Peace!  Hail the hope of an end to strife!  Hail the One Who was born a king even though His cradle was a manger!  Hark—listen!  Hwæt!  (That one’s Old English, because I may as well get all my nerdery on.)  The angels are singing, challenging the nations to rise joyful in triumph that God broke His own differentiations to chase after Her confused and beloved children.  God tucked all of God’s Self into the form of a human baby boy; hell, God suffered puberty on our behalf.  That’s some love, right there.

God came to earth and understands fully what it is to live as we live—not to drive cars as we drive or to to fear gun violence as we fear or to eat McDonald’s as we eat McDonald’s, but to love as we love and cry as we cry and hurt as we hurt and laugh as we laugh.  He came to tell us that She was willing to do whatever it took to get our attention and return us to the relationship He had wanted from the very beginning when She breathed life into us and called us, called us good.

Hark, the herald (messenger) angels are singing!  Do not be afraid, for they bring you tidings of great, deep, and abiding joy.  Merry, merry Christmas.

 

And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God, and saying, “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men.”  (Luke 2:13-14, KJV)

 

The Art of Losing the Dead

I left work early yesterday because I got sick.  I went out to lunch and something disagreed with me—out out out, said my body, vehemently pushing against this unknown intruder.  Sleep, sleep, it said then, muscles frayed from the stress of fighting itself.  But I had rehearsal for a show this weekend, so I slept a few hours and then went and moved sets around.

I came to work this morning and everyone asked how I was, whether I was better, how good it was that I was alive.  We joked about my being dead for a few hours, but I got better.  And then a colleague came into my office and said that a mutual friend was quite dead.  She was not getting better.

But what was that to me?  I had to present at a department meeting.  I had to figure out out how to balance a payroll deficit.  I had to work.

It’s such an odd thing, how the death of another can only wait so long.  Like my body that refused to be held in check until that magical five o’clock end time, it was while sitting at my desk that my soul said out out out, vehemently pushing at this concept of grief for a woman who was, as they always are, far too young.  She was not yet 30, set to be married later this year, a former classmate of mine who was adventuring states away.

I don’t know how to deal with death.  I never have, really, and I doubt that anybody actually does.  Part of my trouble with it is all the language that surrounds it:  “I’m sorry for your loss,” “S/he was such a great person,” “If you need anything…”  I understand completely that these sorts of platitudes often come from a genuine desire to help the people at the center of the grief, but they simply don’t make sense to me.  I’m sorry that this happened now, yes, but I know that everyone dies, and I don’t know how to be sorry that that will happen.  As to someone’s loss, I feel like that’s so flat—the person isn’t lost, literally or metaphorically.  The body was not misplaced, nor has the person been; s/he shines the brighter in the memories of those left behind, such that s/he is never lost, will never be lost, because we will cling the tighter to the possibilities that could have been.  And of course the dead person was a great person, but s/he was also petty, and selfish, and bitter, and unkind, because s/he was human and had days when absolutely nothing worked and people were jerks.  I don’t want to talk about the idea that s/he was nice because that means nothing, it means only that I don’t want to blemish your memory or mine, and that’s not real.  I want to talk about an instance when she was nice, and then I want to talk about one in which she made me want to pull out my hair because then she is real, she is alive, she is still here.

She is not lost.

“If you need anything” is one of my least favorite things for anyone to say in any context, and I hate when it’s the only thing I have to say because I don’t know what else to say (which, I suspect, is often the case for people).  Of course the person needs something.  S/he needs his/her loved one back.  S/he needs not to feel this aching space inside when that person’s laugh no longer resounds in the house.  S/he needs to have people stop saying that the person was lovely when the last thing that happened was a fight that the dead person started because s/he was angry, or needs to have people stop hugging him/her because the only arms s/he wants belong to somebody whose arms will never move again, or needs to say to God this isn’t fair and it’s absolutely no better when people say it’s all right, s/he’s in heaven, a better place.

Here is a better place.  The grieving person needs the chance to make it better, to go around again, to say good-bye.

I don’t say any of this, Reader, to suggest that all people who say these sorts of things are silly or heartless—far from it—and I don’t say it to say that no one should ever say these things.  I only say this to say that I don’t like to say them.  I don’t like to hear them.  And I don’t know how to tell my friend whose fiancée is now dead that I react to her death with him, grieve with him from several states away, and wish I remembered more about her.  I don’t know how to say that I don’t want to say anything because there is nothing to say; I want to listen, to hear his stories of her and watch the way he smiles just so because she was his light.  I want to celebrate how weird she was, and how it took me forever to remember her name, and that I wish I had gone to her moving-away party.

And I want to say that she is not lost.  Wherever her fierce soul may be, who she was to us will only be lost in the sense that anything is lost in the knick knack shelf of our minds, the memories worn from the oils of our hands as we thumb through them again and again, the dust that starts to gather years down the line as we continue to live settling comfortably amongst the other stories that share the shelf, making us someone who will die, and whose life will be told, and who will not be lost.

 

When Job’s three friends, Eliphaz the Temanite, Bildad the Shuhite and Zophar the Naamathite, heard about all the troubles that had come upon him, they set out from their homes and met together by agreement to go and sympathize with him and comfort him.  When they saw him from a distance, they could hardly recognize him; they began to weep aloud, and they tore their robes and sprinkled dust on their heads.  Then they sat on the ground with him for seven days and seven nights. No one said a word to him, because they saw how great his suffering was.  (Job 2:11-13, NIV)

Advent, Week Four: O, Holy Night

Merry Christmas Eve, Reader!  It’s actually been a bit busy here at work today, which is a marked change from last year.  I like it, though; it’s fun to pretend to be Bob Cratchit for a while, especially since I have no Scrooge here in the office with me.

It doesn’t feel real that it’s Christmas Eve; it’s raining here in the Land of Pilgrims, raining rather than snowing.  I am, as is increasingly the case for this holiday, not at all ready.  My gifts aren’t done, I’m not completely sure about the readings I’m doing for the services at church tonight, I owe Watchful a pair of poems that are still crunched up in my head and won’t allow me to untangle them yet, my personal life is kind of a mess at the moment, I don’t know what to do for a friend whose sister just died yesterday.  I’m not ready for Christmas.

But it never seems to listen; the remembrance of that Child’s birth comes ’round every year whether I will or no, and every year it quiets me as it whispers “just be here.”  Chirstmas, for me, is not tomorow—sure, the gift-giving and the holiday meal and the family time is fine and good and festive, but Christmas for me is tonight.  Christmas is awkwardly being part of someone else’s family for dinner because they welcome me; it is realizing that my reading and my singing don’t have to be perfect because God will use whatever I can give; it is the moment at the end of the service when we lift our candles to the heavens and sing together; it is walking out after the last service and standing in the chill after the heat of so many people and realizing it’s really Christmas because it’s after midnight.

It is holy.

That’s not to say that tomorrow isn’t, but it is to say that when we sing of a holy night, I’m thinking of this one.  So I sit here at my computer and listen to this song over and over in so many different versions and then—oh, Reader, then I see the lyrics.

Whoa.

Moving past the “sin and error pining” bit for a second, although that’s a pretty weighty theological statement of its own, I get stuck on the fourth line:  “‘Til He appeared and the soul felt its worth.”

Perhaps it is just me that gets caught in the places of feeling less than, especially in this season that demands you have more Stuff/Family/Love/Peace/Joy/Hope/Money/Whatever, but I doubt it.  I love this season, I do; Advent is my favorite part of the year, and Christmas is far and away my favorite holiday.  But especially this year, I have been carrying a lot of, well, shit, to put it bluntly, and bending under the weight of it.  It has resulted in a lot of not feeling like I’m worth much, which I know Magister and Watchful and Hopeful and even Interpreter himself, if he read this, would tell me is bollocks.  But only you know yourself, and sometimes what you know makes you shudder.

Except it’s not only you who knows you.  God knows you—knows me, knows everything that I am and will be and have been—and still He came to break chains and teach love and be, simply be in all the crazy difficulty that is living as a human.  In Him I have worth, regardless of what I am so sure that I know.

We don’t much do kneeling in our modern age; we’re old, our joints ache, it’s embarrassing, what if the carpet messes up our trousers.  But I have known, Reader, the moments where the space between Heaven and Earth is so thin that you simply can’t remain standing.  You actually do fall to your knees (which hurts, I won’t lie) under the breath-taking “thrill of hope.”  Some of the moments of holiness I’ve experienced have left me gasping for the thicker air on the level where I usually dwell, the very cords of my muscles thrumming to a song I could not hear with my ears even were they whole.  It’s an exhausting thing, being in the presence of holiness.  I don’t recommend doing it often—but I do recommend letting it happen at least once.

“He knows our need; to our weakness is no stranger,” the song continues.  This is a baby we welcome tonight and tomorrow—babies know nothing, not even how to see.  Their worlds are nothing but weakness; they don’t yet know that there is anything else.  But this Baby?  This Child?  It is God in flesh, not trapped but intensified, vivifying His own creation by engaging it fully.  Through having lived that life He not only knows our need, He knows it, understands it, has felt it.  The concept of a physically connected God is kind of mind-blowing, really.  So when we gather tonight and sing of and to this Child, we kneel—maybe not physically, but in our hearts, because this is a holy night.  This is a holy event.  This is a holy memory.

How divine.

Merry Christmas, Reader.  I’ll see you in the new year.

 

[Joseph] went there to register with Mary, who was pledged to be married to him and was expecting a child.  While they were there, the time came for the baby to be born, and she gave birth to her firstborn, a son.  (Luke 2:5-6a, NIV)

All Hallows’ Eve

I must admit that Halloween is not in the upper levels of my favorite holidays, not least because I’m a coward.  I have no patience for being scared, and no tolerance for things that are scary.  I don’t even do well with the trailers for horror films—the films themselves?  Forget it.  I have a mind that holds onto images FOREVER which is a terrible, terrible thing for a day built around images designed to creep you out.  I still remember a scary email from 12 or 13 years ago that freaked me out in the middle of the day.  No threshold for that sort of thing.  So Halloween?  Hell.

Most Halloweens I relish being able to stay inside and watch Ghostbusters (the limit of scariness for me, really) and It’s the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown, waiting for the world to return to some semblance of sanity on All Saints’ Day.

I do like jack-0-lanterns, though.

(Unless they’re meant to be scary.)

So sitting here at my desk on this blustery, witching-cold Halloween (or Hallowe’en, to recognize the contraction of “even[ing]”) and listening to the soundtrack for Nightmare Before Christmas and Bach’s Toccata & Fugue in D Minor and getting feminist-ly upset about how utterly sexist and stupid adult costumes are these days, I’m trying to think back to the point of the holiday.  It was a day meant to appease the dead, who may or may not have had unfinished business with the living.  Scary things are scary because they are unknown, right?  And what is more unknown than Death?  It would be pretty awesome if he were actually as snarky as Terry Pratchett’s version, but somehow I doubt it.  And people of faith get kind of stuck, because we’re not supposed to be afraid of death—I mean, God’s got it covered, right?

Right?

Not to be overly morbid on a Friday afternoon, but it’s still super overwhelming to me to consider how much we skirt the line here in the 21st century between this world and the next.  We don’t have nearly the comfort with the idea that people did when Halloween was still All Hallows’ Eve—or better still, Samhain—no matter how much we talk about how much more “civilized” or “evolved” we are than those weird Dark Age medievals.  In modern Western culture, we don’t do death with any real engagement—and so it gets pretty scary.

The idea of the unsatisfied dead is a hard one, especially for modern Christians, again because we have everybody classified.  There is no waiting room of the afterlife—there’s Heaven, there’s Hell, and if you’re an old-school Catholic there’s Purgatory, which was one of the original terrible sequels.  People don’t wander the earth seeking comfort or vengeance or forgiveness because God the Judge gets that all ironed out.

And yet.

How often do we reach for a person who is no longer there?  How often do we wonder if they miss us as much as we miss them?  How often do we hope that someone who was miserable in life found happiness in death?  A person dying doesn’t mean s/he ceases to be a person, especially to those of us who knew that person well.  The idea that they linger—and that that might not be a good thing—is powerful.

This is not to say that I do or do not believe in ghosts, because honestly I’m not sure how I feel about that, but it is to say that we as a culture (and we as a people of faith) kind of suck at handling the death thing.  We honor the fallen but not our connection to them; we honor the idea of grief but not the seemingly infinite nature of it; we remember our dead but generalize The Dead into TV shows and sexy costumes.  We take what frightens us and mock it, these days, which is really great in theory and kind of sucks in practice as “what frightens us” dwindles from the Great Big Ideas into things like rabid bears and zombies.

Not that I’m trying to rain on the Halloween parade (although I would like you to note, Reader, that’s it’s snowing in earnest now here in the Land of Pilgrims, which is the first snow of the year and makes me unreasonably and perhaps unhealthily happy), because I understand that it’s a night of daring and adventure for many and can spawn hilarious jokes and other curiosities.  It’s just that it’s interesting to me as someone about to ignore a world of frightening things for an evening and then go to church on Sunday and hear about those who have died in the last year.  There does indeed need to be room for both the remembrance and the uncertainty, because things change and things go bump in the night and it’s not always clear where God actually is in all of that.

That’s really rambling, for which I’m sorry.  I can only plead the fact that I’m distracted by snow, and that I started the morning with an hour-and-a-half long meeting of frustrating-ness.  But I find myself implicated by my own refusal to face the Great Big Ideas that frighten me, the relationships left unfinished for one reason or another, the ghouls and skeletons in my own closet.  And that’s tough, because Halloween is meant to be a day of fun and candy and things that aren’t real—not moments of realization that are very real indeed.

 

Lord Jehovah, my light and my salvation, of whom shall I be afraid? Lord Jehovah is the strength of my life; by whom am I shaken?  (Psalm 27:1, ABPE)

The Thickest of Thin Places

So here’s the scoop, Reader—for one week, I was in Scotland.

In my heart of hearts, I’m British (which, I know, is a contentious thing to say at the moment when speaking of Scotland).  This is my third trip to the Isles, and it just feels like home to me in a way that my home country…doesn’t, quite.  So I was (amidst all the crazy of projects and deadlines and such) really looking forward to going back to the U.K. and also tapping into some of the “thin places”—I was deliberately set to visit a lot of churchy type settings.  Like I said a couple of weeks ago, I was ready for some mountain time.

Loch Lomond fault line hill

Yeah, I climbed that.

Man plans, God laughs, is that the saying?  I did get a lot of mountain time, in that I was literally around mountains and climbed some smallish ones.  (Man, am I out of shape.)  And I was just flattened by how desperately beautiful Scotland is, especially the highlands; it’s fierce up there, and is a much different kind of landscape than most of the ones I’ve seen.  But I didn’t find the thin places—at least, not in the places I expected them.  You see, what I found instead was God saying no, you don’t get to set up appointments with Me.  I have nothing to say to you right now.

I mentioned this to a friend of mine when I was back home and he laughed and said, “Funny how you’re still finding out that you’re not the one in control.”

And it’s true.  A huge part of it was that a lot of the “thin places” I visited are squarely in my academic wheelhouse; sure thing, as a medievalist going to an 8th century abbey or a 12th century cathedral, it’s not terribly surprising that I found myself in head space rather than heart space.  And they were awesome, don’t get me wrong; I am so very glad I went, and the medievalist in me was delighted to delve into these places, but they were not the place of the Spirit for me.

That was in a restaurant with some of the best damn duck I’ve ever eaten.  It was walking down Merchant Street in Glasgow and noticing that I don’t know how to act around Scottish beggars any more than I do American ones.  It was walking around the twilight-touched crags of a tiny island against the looming Atlantic Ocean and realizing my God is so big, I mean so big and yet still knows my name.  It was in successfully navigating no fewer than six different types of transportation mostly on my own, which is a very big deal for somebody as uncomfortable around people and the unknown as I am.  It was in a tiny Episcopalian chapel for compline services with a kindly, rotund priest who greeted me and heard that my thin places were showing up in the “wrong” places and told me a story about a pilgrim to Rome who was disappointed in the emperor he found and was told that the emperor he was actually seeking was the one he’d brought with him in his pocket (on a coin).

Iona Scottish Episcopal Church“Go home,” the priest said.  “The King you’re looking for is in America, too.”

What a curious notion!  Again, I’m glad I went on the trip, and I found out a lot of things that it is good to know about myself, and also did I mention it was beautiful?  But it was necessary to be reminded that God isn’t only in the church sanctuaries or the windblown stone abbeys standing watch over the sea.  God is wherever I am, and also in plenty of places I am not.  He is not bound to the houses we build for Him, the genie lamps that we construct so we can rub the metal and be uplifted.  He is far more wild than that, and it was good to be reminded of it, if only so that I remember which of us is actually the Creator and which the created.

I miss Scotland, for sure.  I miss the rhythm there, where you can get where you’re getting when you get there as opposed to the hustle of American life that demands you get where you’re getting five minutes ago.  I miss the weather (I am not a summer fan).  I miss the accent (we all know Americans are suckers for accents other than our own.)  I miss the tea, and the scones, and the haggis (yes, even that).  I miss the vastness of it, which is a funny thing to say considering I live in one of the geographically largest countries on the planet.

But I do not miss God.  He came back with me on the plane.  He went with me on the plane.  He went to choir with me last night, and came to work with me this morning, and will go with me tomorrow to get my hair cut.  And most of those outings will be normal and mundane, and perhaps even unfortunate.  But some will be thin places, where the Spirit breaks through not because the distance to heaven is shortened by the elevation of a mountain but because I take the moment to say I am here with You, deliberately and fully.  The air is different here.

Breathe deeply.

 

Where can I go from your Spirit?
    Where can I flee from your presence?
 If I go up to the heavens, you are there;
    if I make my bed in the depths, you are there.
 If I rise on the wings of the dawn,
    if I settle on the far side of the sea,
 even there your hand will guide me,
    your right hand will hold me fast.  (Psalm 139:7-10, GNT)

Because Heaven Has Jesus

It’s been amazing to watch the rolling waves of reactions to the death of Robin Williams earlier this week and the conversations beginning about what it is to understand those battling with depression and addiction.  I don’t know if it holds true for other parts of the world, but this country is awful at discussing things like that—we are the country that loves those who pull themselves up by their bootstraps, we are the country of the lone cowboy riding off into the sunset, and we are the country that does not readily tolerate the idea that some things are not in our control.

I come from a family with many and varied addictions and understand the debilitating blackness that is depression.  Neither are favored subjects of mine, and one of the many reasons I loved Robin Williams so was that he was not afraid or ashamed to say this exists, this is a problem for me, and I am working to be more than that.  It is a special kind of bravery not only to name that which holds you tightly but also to understand and proclaim that there is more to you than this, there must be more and it deserves being seen.

My mother called me earlier this week, heartbroken at this news (of course, she still believes Princess Diana is not, in fact, dead but on an island somewhere having faked the thing because she tired of the paparazzi; my mother loves her celebrities deeply and does not deal with loss well).  She had recently seen Heaven Is for Real and wanted me to reassure her that Robin Williams was in heaven and that this film about heaven made it true, that it would be a place God would love to invite Williams.  (No, I’m not okay with being her go-to for all things religious, and honestly I would appreciate your prayes as I figure out what God is wanting me to do with that aspect of this relationship.)

I’ve not seen “Heaven Is for Real,” so I don’t know how believable or anything it is.  Here’s a summary, in case you haven’t heard of it.  What Mom wanted from me was an answer on whether I believed this boy and whether God loves those who commit suicide, which are two different conversations but point back to an uncertainty about this looming death, this awfully big adventure.  The best thing I’ve found to answer the idea of how the Church (in this case, the Catholic branch) views suicide is here.  As to the idea of whether or not I believe the original story of the kid who went to heaven, I realized I don’t much care.

I mean, if the kid went to heaven (since it’s based on a true story), cool.  Far be it from me to say that God stopped being able to transport living people like that (*cough Elijah cough*).  But if not, that’s fine too, because I think sometimes people need the idea of heaven being lovely when earth is less so.

The thing of it is, though, that we get really caught up in what heaven looks like and who all is there.  We want to map heaven, which is kind of silly if you think about it, especially considering how much difficulty maps here have introduced.  Does heaven have clouds?  Golden streets?  Kids with wings?  (I hope not that, I’m really not a fan of kids—and flying kids would just be awful.)  Sure, why not.  I doubt one person’s heaven looks exactly like anyone else’s heaven, partially because physical won’t mean the same thing and partially because I don’t think a loving God would make me spend eternity in your Pepto-Bismol pink cotton ball.  I realized I don’t really have much of a concrete belief in heaven beyond “yup, there is one.”  I have a few more ideas on hell because I read up on it, but even that I don’t think about it in a visual sense.  (Odd, considering how spatially oriented I am.)

But the other piece of it is that the kid in the film and my mother were both really concerned about who was in heaven and who wasn’t.  Is Robin Williams in heaven?  I’d be delighted if that were the case, and I do very much hope so, but that’s kind of not my area.  God called Peter to stand at the gates, not me.  (At least, that’s what all the jokes say.)  And the bigger thing for me is this—if we keep our stories and our hopes of heaven about the people we miss, we’re missing the point.  Yes, it will be super awesome to see lost friends, and I can tell you there are a lot of historical figures I demand to head to the heavenly Starbucks with me for very long conversations.  But, with apologies to Sartre, I don’t think heaven is about other people.

Heaven is about God.

Think about it:  in heaven, you get to hang out with the Deity Who created you forever.  There is no more second guessing, no meetings that interrupt either of you, no miscommunication because God had a nebulous Facebook status that ticked you off, no phone calls He has to take, no worries about whether the way you phrase something will upset Him.  You and God are totally present with each other.

How freaking cool is that?!?!

Cartoon by David HaywardI am not heaven’s bouncer (thank goodness), and I have no doubt I’ll be utterly surprised by the people I meet there.  But for right now, I have been given the commission to create a bit of heaven right here, in the Kingdom that Christ built (with the rat that ate the malt) by being present with us, His beloved creations.  I have not been asked to decide what happens after people’s deaths—I have been tasked with going to them while they live and saying hey, I’ve noticed you, do you need anything?

Reader, do you need anything?

 

 

Some of the Pharisees asked Jesus, “When will the kingdom of God come?”  Jesus answered, “God’s kingdom is coming, but not in a way that you will be able to see with your eyes.  People will not say, ‘Look, here it is!’ or, ‘There it is!’ because God’s kingdom is within you.”  (Luke 17:20-21, NCV)