Tag Archives: heaven

Morning has broken and great things are ahead

I’m a morning person. I wake up and almost inevitably the first words out of my mouth are “thank you, God.” I start the day pretty on top of the world (and try to fend off slipping into the bog of life’s struggles the rest of the day).

I’m kind of surprised how few people I know share this basic head-start I feel to each day. Even people who say they are most effective in the morning often tell me they aren’t “Morning people.” I’m not sure I understand.

I think one of the first steps of genuine wholeness, the hoof-to-head balance and wellness that makes life better starts in the first moments of every day. It’s like the clothes we put on. It sets the tone. If we opt for joy, joy stands a better chance of meeting us throughout the day. If we consider how much we have to celebrate on this side of heaven, our most creative sides are freed to expand and grow.

An artist created us and sustains us. We are the result of Her craft and She called us “good.” When we let our artistic expression loose, we become more divine.

Or as Tony the Tiger the said, “Theeyy’rree great!” (He may have been talking about Frosted Flakes, but I like to think it was life in general that got that big cat going. He’s a morning feline for sure).

But the point here is not to coerce, but to enthuse. I’ve written before that my favorite word is ardor. My wish for you is you wake up today with ardor for the day ahead. May your energy be infused with the joy of life.

Here are some little helpers I’m offering that may help you get off to a great start today:

First, grab your coffee or tea or water with lemon, sit in a good spot and stare at something pretty while you press play to this:

It’s hard to not to feel cheer when you listen to Cat Stevens.

Next, give yourself a minute of nothing but quiet. Sit and do less. Ahhhh. Breathe. Slide the corners of your mouth into a half-smile, just a little uplift. Pet the dog. Then breathe once more and say, “Thank you, _____.” (God, divine, self, sun, spirit, universe, etc.).

I’d get up and move around a little bit. Maybe a few sun salutations if you do yoga or simply stretching to the heavens. Make a loudish noise like AHHHHHHHH or WEEEEEEE! You can’t help but snicker a bit.

Think ahead to your day and try to nail down one thing you’re really looking forward to. Maybe it’s dessert or a phone call to a friend, or doing something you love, or someone you love, or whatever. But if you don’t have one thing, figure out something and cram it into the schedule. Make it happen. No matter what else goes awry today, you’ll have that to look forward to.

And now before you dive into your routine, I leave you with the wisdom of the Rabbi Zechariah the few months before the birth of Jesus who sang,

“Because of God’s tender mercy
the morning light from heaven is about to break upon us
to give light to those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death
and to guide us to the path of peace.”

May the morning light of heaven greet you today.

Feel free to share this within a CHEERY GOOD MORNING to any “not a morning person” in your life. And return often just to feel the sun of positivity on your morning skin. Peace.

Glimpse: On Earth as it is in Heaven

This is really one of those “to be continued” posts. To get the full flavor, click back one post here, before you read this.  But if you’d rather not, here’s the “what you missed” part like you see in sitcoms:

Heaven used to scare my silly. As a result I ran amok more often than not. Then I read books by this guy, and realized heaven is not “out there,” but “right here.” This now colors most of what I do including…. (big finish!) a novel I’m writing called, On Earth as it is in Heaven. 

There. you’re all caught up.

I think I love writing fiction more than most anything else I can do it day. I love sitting outside with friends drinking coffee and wasting time. I love sex. I love eating great food (with chocolate at the end). I love snowboarding (and wakeboarding and biking and hiking and other stuff of its ilk). I love when an ocean wave hits me smack in the face. I love writing novels. I think that’s the top five (err… six?).  When I started to realize that I could likely do some form of all of this in heaven, my view of life and the life to come, and really the whole freaking purpose of this thing called me, made a lot more sense.  Ponder that. Does your view of the life to come mean you can do the things you love? I suspect it should. When I think of streets of gold, I see the Embarcadero colored in dusk lights and San Francisco Giants fever (see photo above). That’s heaven.

One of the characters in my novel I have came to love is an old Italian priest named Joe (Uncle to the story’s flawed heroine Annabel). In a portion of the book over drinks in a fun San Francisco restaurant in the heart of SoMa, Joe explains this notion of heaven on earth to an agnostic scientist named Sam (she’s a she… despite the masculine name). I think he does a nice job of it, so I’ll let him speak.

Enjoy:

Annabel nodded. They all drank. Formalities and titles dispersed, they were seated and orders placed. The grip of social tension released its grasp on her shoulders. Despite herself Annabel soon grew immersed in the spirited debate. Sam maintained an aggressive, friendly offensive on Uncle Joe’s unshakable faith. Uncle Joe, in his self-effacing style, refused to cede ground, staunchly defending his assurance that God remained alive and well.

“So we just wallow around here amid all the depravity until we croak and if we’re lucky we get zapped up to live in streets of gold and play harps of praise for eternity,” Sam chided.

“Evangelical sentimentality,” Joe groused with a dismissive waive of his thick, hairy hand. “Americans have created an entire mythology around heaven that would shock the likes of St. Augustine. It looks nothing, absolutely nothing like heaven as the desert fathers and mothers envisioned.”

“So what’s your heaven like?” Sam said.

“I’m just arrogant enough to believe it is not what my heaven looks like but very much the real thing,” Joe said. “The short answer is very much like this. La buana vita.”

Joe spread his hands and looked around the restaurant.

“The good life,” Annabel translated.

Sam smirked. “I understood that one.”

“My Uncle Joe takes very seriously the Lord’s prayer,” Annabel said. “From the time I was little he taught me that Jesus of all people knew what he was doing in prayer, so when he said ‘when ye pray, pray like this,’ he meant it.”

“Absolutely!” Joe chimed in. “And he prayed, ‘Thy kingdom come, thy will be done. On Earth…’” Joe emphasized, pointing around the room, “as it is in heaven. Heaven is not up there in the stars for goodness sakes. We’ve been up there. All the way to the edge of the Solar System. Nobody’s run into the angel with the flaming sword protecting the Garden of Eden yet. Heaven is right here… Sulla Terra come in Cielo!

“On Earth as it is in heaven,” Annabel again translated. “He speaks Italian when gets excited. His parishoners love it, but only a few can understand him anymore.”

“Sadly,” Joe said.

Sam laughed and flipped her hair behind her ears.

“Joe, I’ve studied your Augustine and read through your Catholic history.” Sam said. “I don’t know too many Catholics talking this way. I dare say your own church might have torched your ass at the stake for saying these things once upon a time.”

Joe gave a hearty laugh.

“It’s not so heretical,” he said. “Nor is two thousand years of Catholic thought so linear. It’s a wide river of theology and faith; these views, as I say, aren’t my own, but flow from a deep, ancient stream of orthodoxy long before the Evangelicals began to claim inerrancy the last few decades. Besides, I’d argue these views are not too different than Augustine’s City of God.”

A large smile spread across Annabel’s deep red lips. She loved her uncle most of times like these, his reserve loosened by the company and the wine and his passion and intelligent faith unleashed from behind the constraint of his clerical collar.

“So if heaven’s on Earth.” Sam said. “Where are all the saints? Where’s God? Where’s your Garden of Eden?”

“Oops,” Annabel said happily. “You’ve been caught in his trap.”

Sam looked at Annabel and then back to Joe and back again.

“I knew you two were scheming with all the Italian when I came in!”

“Oh no,” Annabel said. “This was all you’re doing. You’re asked the questions. You took his bait.”

“Annabel you imply chicanery. I have merely helped escort Sam beyond the dogma of today to find a more authentic picture.” Joe said, feigning injury.

Now Annabel waved him off. He continued.

“Heaven is all around us, interwoven in the fabric of God’s creation, not built separately, at all.”

He held his thick fingers near, as if clasping, but not touching.

“Reread these miracles of Jesus and see what he was doing. He wasn’t performing magic. He was aligning heaven and earth exactly as it was originally created. Five thousand spiritual sojourners are hungry. ‘Why feed them,’ Jesus insists, as if it makes all the sense in the world. The loaves and fish are bountiful and prove plentiful by the simple faith of a prayer: that they would be fed, on Earth just as they would be in heaven. Thus, they are fed, and abundant leftovers remain. This looks like heaven to me.

“Same thing for the transformation. He and his inner circle of disciples trudge up a mountain for a heavenly meeting with Elijah and Moses, likely bringing further instruction or assurance to Jesus for the mission that lay ahead. Peter is so stunned he merely wants to build tents. Why? To stay, of course. Egli è in cielo! He’s in heaven, right there on Earth. It’s the most natural reaction in the world. If we stumbled into heaven, wouldn’t we want to pitch a tent and hang around?”

Joe reconnected his fingers, shifting them together, clasped.

“When by faith we breakthrough, it is like the tumblers align, the curtain between us–how we are, and us how it’s supposed to be… in fact how it will be — is removed. We see Jesus’ prayer answered. That is heaven.”

Joe took a quick breath and scanned his audience. Pleased at the rapt attention, he ventured further, telling a story about the angel with fiery sword at the ready gaurding Eden for Millenia. His hand moved around excitedly, imagining the angel on guard. Sam and Annabel shared a pleasant glance, smiles across their faces.

“But see, God put him there because he had faith in us. He thought someday we’d have the faith to get back there. So he kept it guarded.”

“And the Garden of Eden?” Annabel asked, knowing full well the answer.

“It’s right there! Likely. I feel pity for that angel assigned to guard the gate. No one that we know ever challenged him. But it is right there where God put it, right here on Earth. And so far we’ve been collectively too daft to figure it out.”

Sam stared at Joe, eyes wide, engrossed in the image. Annabel had seen these reactions before. She had felt it herself many times, this Ah-ha feeling that comes when something just clicks and suddenly seems obvious.

“So,” Sam said. “What do we do when we go through the wormhole to the other side?”

“This!” Joe said happily. “We eat, we talk, we love. We create! Can you imagine what Mozart has dreamed up over the last several hundred years?! What Da Vinci has painted? I can’t. But I know I can’t wait to see it.”

“So I’ll still be trying to figure out telomeres in heaven?” Sam said. “But people will already be immortal.”

“True, but your gift is investigation and experimentation. Your mind! Consider the things God will want you to solve? Amazing!”

Sam shook her head.

“Heaven where I still get to be a scientist…Now that is news to me. I can’t believe I’ve never heard this before. Joe, you really are a heretic…But I love it.”

“You may be right. Jesus was executed as a heretic after all. That tells you all you need to know about orthodoxy,” he said with a smile.

Heaven doesn’t have to wait

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?

heaven

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:

heaven2

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.

The curse of naked and ashamed

I try to remember nudity was the original intent. Shame only came later, when the plan went woefully — but not hopelessly — awry. But like most things spiritual, the point of this whole thing is not anywhere near skin deep.

I needed to remind myself of all this as I read the story of the woman caught in adultery from John 8 this morning. I couldn’t shake the imagery. Nor could I nudge the subtle thought that God has been trying to teach us something that can only be learned from being truly naked at that one moment when every instinct in our body seeks nothing but to hide behind clothes.  Only something as powerful as our stripped down selves can grasp it.

But back to John 8: The religious leaders of the day — a very pretentious, uptight, angry group of folks not to unlike religious leader of seemingly every era — crafted a plan to catch a woman in the act of adultery. Obviously she needed a partner in crime, but the man is never mentioned. It’s safe to assume he may have been in on it in the first place because it isn’t so easy to catch people “in the act.” It gives new definition to the term “ugly male.”

The woman is dragged to church without even having time to grab a robe. She is tossed onto the dirt floor in front of Jesus who is teaching there. He ignores her and begins to scrawl in the dirt. The indignant mob asks Jesus if he thinks they should follow Jewish law and stone the woman.

It’s a trap, I tell you! This mob really isn’t so angry at the woman. She is so beneath them in stature they likely don’t think of her in human terms as much as see her as a pawn for their plans, be they plans to use her sexually themselves or in this case to topple this homeless preacher who had turned their lives into a living hell with his radical preaching of love, forgiveness and social justice.  The religious leaders of the day were scared shit-less that such ideas would become fashionable and cut into their monopoly on the market of God. One thing we know for sure: God is good business. Always has been. So there has been no shortage of angry people who exploit it.

The nakedness is purely theatrical. To ramp up the stakes on Jesus. To heighten the moral degradation. To heap the shame on this pawn of woman, because we all know that since the beginning of time shame quickly follows nakedness. Remember Eden: They ate the apple and quickly realized they were naked. Shame and the desperate grab to clothe, to hide, to run from God followed. It’s a powerful myth, one I return to time and time again.

Jesus knows its a trap. He is nonplussed. He merely stoops over and scribbles in the dirt, turning all the mob mentality and theatrics into more awkwardness than a Michael Scott speech in an episode of The Office.

Seeking to regain their momentum, the leaders repeat their demands of Jesus in a “what say you!” type of way. Jesus rises, dusts off his hands and shrugs.

“Sure, stone her,” he says. “So long as you haven’t sinned… go for it.”

The original language in this text is more specific. It suggests that Jesus is saying let the one that hasn’t committed this particular sin throw the fastballs of death.

I once heard a preacher wonder about what Jesus was doodling in the dirt during this encounter.

“I like to think it was the names of they girlfriends,” he said.

Now that’s awkward.

The mob started dropping their rocks, one at a time “starting with the oldest,” the scripture records, until there was no one left but the naked woman the man who called himself the Son of God.

“Neither do I condemn you,” he says. “Go and sin no more.”

It’s a great story. It’s grace in simplest form. Jesus shatters the shame of her nakedness and simply says, live better… for your own sake.

We shy away too often from sin. It’s an abused word, a favorite of the angry mob types who twist it into a weapon of religious zeal. But read through the scriptures and you see God using it often in a much different way.

“The wages of sin are death,” the Apostle Paul wrote. We read this and get all freaked out thinking of it only the heaven and hell terms that the religious dogma of our day insists is fact. But look around. We see what he meant all around us. Hell bent on destruction, we call it.

Sin is living our lives far away from the potential and possibility and zeal that God created us to experience. Too often we live a less-than-glorious life because of our sin… our destructiveness, our selfishness, our lack of control, our immaturity, our woundedness and our fear. God wants us to live, not die. Let’s not make it all about some hereafter. If Jesus taught us anything it centers on the fact that this life, right here and now, is damn important, important enough for him to come in the form of a human being to share it with us and show us a better way to, simply put, set us free from sin.

It’s the same words we have all heard so often. We’ve heard them so often in so many hurtful, dogmatic ways we can hardly shift our brains to hear them ourselves without all the religious trappings and consider what exactly God was speaking about and modeled for us in his own life. If anything God is consistent, so these apparent contradictions say far more about us and our interpretations of things like sin and death than it does about God. If Jesus modeled compassion, grace, forgiveness and anything but shame, then we can rest assured it was the point from the very beginning.

This added bonus of shame explains why we so often both repulsed and compelled by our nakedness? Something internally tells us that we are completely Effed up. We know it. We live it. We are sick of it. But we fail to change it. “Go and sin no more,” Jesus tells us with something far removed from shame.

He calls us to embrace our intent. That is our nakedness. Our purest self. That part of us that is “fearfully and wonderfully made.” We can’t get it back by adorning ourselves with more “clothes,” more of the trappings of wealth, stature, power, success and influence. We get it back by being stripped bare, face to face with our true selves and all its Effed up glory and realizing that God absolutely loves us just the way we are.

A final note: Most Bible’s now point out that this passage of the woman caught in adultery can’t be found in the earliest manuscripts of scripture. Some would say this might discredit them. But perhaps its the exact opposite. Perhaps the power of the story was so important that it not only wasn’t forgotten, but someone insisted on adding it in later precisely because he or she knew that at one time or another we’d all be caught ashamed in our failures and need to hear again about the God of love who calls us back to our intended state of transparent, honest, flawed and yet still glorious life… naked, yet wonderfully unashamed.