Friday, August 31, 2012

what my heaven contains

In Matthew 20 the mother of two of Jesus' disciples says to Jesus, "Grant that one of these two sons of mine may sit at your right and [the] other at your left in your kingdom."  She doesn't want bigger mansions or larger piles of gold for them, because static images of wealth and prosperity were not what filled people's heads when they thought of heaven in her day.  She understood heaven to be about partnering with God to make a new and better world, one with increasingly complex and expansive expressions and dimensions of shalom, creativity, beauty and design.
So when people ask, "What will we do in heaven?" one possible answer is to simply ask:  "What do you love to do now that will go on in the world to come?"
What is it that when you do it, you lose track of time because you get lost in it?  What do you do that makes you think, "I could do this forever"?  What is it that makes you think, "I was made for this"?
If you ask these kinds of questions long enough you will find some impulse related to creation.  Some way to be, something to do.  Heaven is both the peace, stillness, serenity, and calm that come from having everything in its right place--that state in which nothing is required, needed, or missing--and the endless joy that comes from participating in the ongoing creation of the world.

--from Love Wins:  A Book about Heaven, Hell, and the Fate of Every Person Who Ever Lived by Rob Bell

I've been reading Bell's book in preparation for a sermon I'm writing.  It's not a hard or lengthy read:  I finished it in less than a day.  Bell writes in a style probably like he writes his sermons, a breezy, companionable, almost singsong style, sometimes looking like a prose poem with flights of verse.  None of this means what he says isn't important or profound.  Much of the Bible is written in the same way.

Bell is pretty controversial in evangelical circles and I understand why.  The reason I'm reading his book now is because the sermon I'm writing is on Universalism, the so-called "poorer cousin" of the merger with Unitarianism, and reading Love Wins and reading about the reaction to it is probably similar to reading a Universalist text a century ago and its response.  Bell's message is similar:  God is too just to damn someone eternally for sins he or she committed during a finite part of an infinite existence.  Such a message is damaging to a theology for which the only thing holding people back from committing all manner of atrocities is the promise of eternal punishment for having done it.  Of course, as we've seen, the threat of contemporary punishment has never kept many people from committing all manner of atrocities anyway.

All of which puts me in mind of a great Twilight Zone episode in which a farmer and his dog find themselves dead and when the farmer finds himself at what he thinks are the gates of heaven he opts not to enter since neither his dog nor hunting is allowed there.  And Bell makes me want to answer what actions make me lose track of time, make me think "I could do this forever" and "I was born for this," what actions bring me shalom?

Gardening, specifically pulling weeds; teaching; driving long distances when I have no timetable and the radio is on; long family walks; packing with my dogs in the upstairs window in the afternoon sun; meals with friends; picking up hitchhikers and taking them where they want to go, maybe especially crazy hitchhikers; visiting other people's churches; listening to other people talk about what they believe; doing hard crosswords; playing scrabble with my wife; meals with friends and strangers; writing sermons, delivering sermons, listening to people's reactions to my sermons (although not, I confess, listening to many other people's sermons); cycling; fly fishing; tai chi; walking home in the bonechilling cold after a good class to a warm house and good conversation and a beer.  These are all things my heaven would contain.

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