For more than two decades I believed ardently in God, and that belief colored my life in both good and bad ways. Yet for those two decades I was scared shitless about death and this “life to come” that I’d apparently spend with the God of my deepest faith.
I was not afraid of hell (though many probably assume I should have been and still ought to be). It was heaven that freaked me out. Every image of it I had ever heard was, well, awful. Singing nonstop praise. Clouds. Streets of Gold. Perfection. A gate where some get in and others don’t (and those who don’t seemed like my kind of people.
Who really wants to live here?
It’s one thing to feel out of place on Sunday mornings for an hour or two, it’s a whole nother thing to feel out of place for eternity).
It felt like that movie Pleasantville where heaven was the black and white people and I was determined to live life in color.
While I was in rehab Dr. Rev, my brother, introduced to me a theologian he met and admired named Tom Wright. He sent me the book Simply Christian (probably not in some small part due to him being one of those who worried about me and flames for all time). For the first time I read a mainstream Christian theologian who conceptualized heaven as a place I’d have even a remote interest in going. In fact, he helped me understand that God’s ultimate goal is not some super spiritualized transport to Conservative Christian Disneyland but the gritty transformative work of unleashing heaven right here on Earth. Happily, heaven began to look a little askew, like the beauty of Pisa, or something simple like this:
Perhaps I’d best let Wright explain his own views, here. I readily admit I’ve taken his theology and let my not-so-notable brain take it where I needed it to go, places of theology Wright may no longer wish his name applied. But I’ve since read many of Wright’s books and allowed his notable scholarship to nudge my thinking of heaven into ways that reconstruct my faith while remaining consistent to my otherwise liberal, Catholic, Anabaptist, decidedly unevangelical bent.
Instead of being scared to death of heaven I began to seek it out here on Earth. Instead of worrying about a future I can’t imagine, I began to live a present consistent with how I best understand the plan of God moving forward. I started praying the Lord’s Prayer every day to remind myself of Jesus’ focus then and now: “Thy kingdom come, thy will be done, On Earth as it is in Heaven.”
On Earth as it in Heaven became my mantra, my jam, if you will. It became my job description. Most importantly, it caused the magic tumblers on the combination to my best life that I somehow could never get unlocked to click into place and let me in. I found the me and the point of me I had long sought.
Not coincidently that also became the working title of my latest novel, On Earth as it is in Heaven (more on that next post!)
I think back to a book I read years and years ago about manhood by author Sam Keen called Fire in the Belly. He said we have two questions we must answer: where are we going and who is going with us. The key to being an adult is to never, ever get the order of those questions backward. I spent more than 40 years getting the order not only backward, but ignoring the first question all together. Where am I going? Heaven. Right now. Here on Earth.
It may not seem like much, but it has made all the difference.