Today I thought about heaven again. Most of the time when I dream of heaven I dream of a perfectly temperate place full of perfect flora and fauna perfumed with lilac and the occasional whiff of apple pie. I’ve never imagined inheriting a mansion. A cozy cottage happily situated in a wood is more my speed.
But today as I dreamed of the peace place promised to me, I imagined a banquet table loaded with delights like the world has never seen. Those seated at the table surprised me, and I questioned my thought as one often questions how much grace God can offer sinners who don’t sin exactly like you do. I laughed at my own imagination. Seated around the feast were the warring politicians of today all smiling and peaceful passing potatoes and the like. Right, Lord. Like those two would be at the same place enjoying each other’s company, here, in heaven. Right. Surely they are stopping that guy at the gate.
As I looked around the table I noted how each guest was a scoundrel while on earth; not one pure heart was represented among the lot.
Then I realized that I was sitting right there with them sharing turkey with the villains.
As I focused in on another face, it was someone who had deeply wounded me in the past. I’ve struggled to forgive this person. Forgiveness is work for some of us. Grudges are easy. But there he was, my adversary, enjoying the ambrosial banquet.
My adversary in heaven was stripped of his failures. His mistakes were no longer visible to my eyes. He was there, as was I, in perfect form whittled down to whom the Savior intended us to be, all love, all joy. And I loved him. And I knew God loved him. And I was humbled.
Back here on earth we have our separate corners. We have our own parties, our own people, our colors, our flags, our precious opinions and hills we die upon. But in the great beyond, there are no corners. There is one shared table, one shared Savior. Will we sit down with those who we’ve hated? Will we share dinner rolls with our murderers? I believe that is more our choice today than theirs.
In heaven, a perfectly normal scene could be an abortionist seated with the man who blew up the clinic.
In heaven, a Nazi sits comfortably with a Jew.
In heaven, your party is nothing. Your Savior is everything.
In heaven, the abusers and the abused share in the same divine helping of grace and a heaping dollop of mercy.
In heaven, forgiveness melts what tore us apart. Oh, how I wish we could share in that banquet now, where all is peace and joy and love. And I suppose if we cannot come to terms to eating with the villains and the saints, then we have another choice altogether.
For if you forgive other people when they sin against you, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. Matthew 6:14
All day I’ve been mulling over the contrast between the head and the heart in disputable matters of the church and life in general. It seems the popular and more comfortable choice today is to say that love surpasses all and that the heart should be our sole motivation citing 1 Corinthians 13. Yet, Jeremiah 17:9 says the heart is deceitful above all things. So love must be the solution, but not necessarily the emotional fuzzy squishy comfortable love.
Love stops a toddler from running into a busy street. Love grabs a child’s hand before they touch an iron. Love grounds a teenager from the Xbox. Love in its nature sets boundaries. One could say love employs justice. This tells me that love also uses the head in decision-making.
But a head without a heart would never take a moment to consider the plight of a stranger. A head without the heart would probably rely on past experience or simply the functionality in decision-making. A head may lack hope if the heart is not engaged.
Perhaps, this is why Jesus calls us to love God with everything we’ve got: our heart, our soul, our strength, and our mind. Not making one more important than the other, but expecting each to work together to love completely.
This morning on her way out the door heading for school my daughter said her usual “see you later”. I responded with my daily “Have a good day. Love you”. Then she reminded me, “I won’t be back tonight”. She’ll be gone all night babysitting for friends. But those words stung my ears. I won’t be back.
Both of my older kids’ schools received threats yesterday. They determined that the threats weren’t credible, and I’m sure they came from an adolescent who thinks making a joke out of the death of children will get classes canceled. Yet when my mother heart read two emails stating that both schools had received threats through social media, emails, and calls, it made my work day feel longer. Because those threats that we think might not be credible might, in fact, be real. And today, I guess I won’t know until I’ve thrown myself at the mercy of God when the Twitter starts screaming that my kids’ schools have an active shooter.
I’ve been a part of the Facebook debates. I’ve seen how irate people can get when you suggest that maybe, just maybe, it’s violent video games that have desensitized our children into warfare. I’ve also seen how Christians who profess to worship the God of ‘turn the other cheek’ hide behind their guns and their so-called God-given rights and freedoms to own them.
I’ve heard the arguments. I’ve been embarrassed of my community. I’m embarrassed of myself as I’ve attempted to come up with a quick solution to all this death and hate. Can we search 300 million homes in the next week? Can we take on a billion dollar industry and win? Can we simply just homeschool?
We politicize the death of children.
We politicize hate.
We politicize too much.
And still, we don’t seem to want to actually discuss the reality of how it could be anything and everything that makes our culture what it is today. It’s us. It’s all of us.
If I wanted to raise a school shooter, first, I would let media raise him instead. From early on, I would let him watch the Disney Channel, and he would rarely see my smiles as he’d be plugged into a screen. And when he would look at me, I’d be glued to my own personal screen as well. Then, as he ages, I’d let him watch tween shows where he would quickly learn that the children are always right and that parents are usually useless and disinterested.
Around age 9, his father and I would grow weary of our relationship and either divorce or go on our own adventures to “find ourselves”. But, no worries, because we will train our son to achieve the greatest dream of becoming a professional athlete, the pinnacle of success. He wouldn’t notice our dissolving familial commitment because he would be shuttled from one sport to another. Kids are resilient after all.
At 10, His still undeveloped brain would start to watch Youtubers from around the globe who may or may not have a moral compass, and he’ll start to play video games that train him that death is temporal before his frontal cortex knows otherwise. But the games keep him occupied, quiet, and still. I try my hand at them when he isn’t home and get a kick out it. My son will see his first porn on his phone in his bedroom at 11:30PM. I try to tell him that it’s a normal interest, but he probably shouldn’t look at it.
At 11, I’ll realize that I’ve neglected his spiritual development, so I’ll drag him to church and try to squeeze in youth group events between soccer, football, piano, and baseball practice. I’m surprised that he doesn’t enjoy church and can’t seem to make friends at youth group when he’s there at least once a month. But I simply don’t enjoy church either, and I complain regularly, in ear-shot of my son, about how the music is so antiquated and the preaching is lame. Why can’t the church be about what I want? We try several other churches to keep it interesting.
At 12, my son will bring home a failing grade. He is frustrated and embarrassed and blames the teacher. I do too. So I call the teacher and give her an earful. While I’m at it, I call the coach and tell him my son has been working harder than all the others so he’d better start in the next game. Of course, I won’t be there because I have a date after a late business meeting, but I’m sure to remind my son to practice so he can be better than the other kids. College recruiters are only six years away! Go ice that shoulder, buddy!
At 13, my son will start to notice girls, and I’ll ask if they are pretty, rather than ask if they are smart. I’ll make jokes about women regularly and laugh at the sexist comedy on HBO. He’s probably heard it on the bus anyway. My son decides to add marching band to his packed schedule to be with a cute girl. I’m relieved at more entertainment for him because he stunk at football, and I’m working now more than ever.
When my son turns 14, I’ll be deep into my career and myself. He is so busy with teen life that family time doesn’t exist. We haven’t had a family meal in months. Church didn’t work out for any of us, and the guilt trips are more than we can take every Sunday. Not to mention that God loves and forgives us anyway so why go? Haven’t you heard of grace? Clearly, those people at church haven’t, but we smile and pretend to like them when we run into them at Walmart.
At 15, I’ll take my son out shooting and rage about my rights to believe what I want and own what I want unwilling to discuss any other options. I’m an American. I have rights, obviously, everyone else doesn’t have their head screwed on straight. I watch a news channel that affirms me in this every day. Those idiots can yank my rights out of my cold, dead hands.
At 16, my son stays in his room whenever he is home. And I don’t check in much, both because I’m busy, and he is practically an adult. The fight to get him to clean is too time consuming. I check in on his grades to make sure he can get to college. He struggles in English, and I hammer him for it. I remind him that he’ll never get into college being so lazy. I guess he has friends at school. Who knows? I’m looking forward to two years, when he is out of my hands and I have the place to myself.
We have systematically abandoned childhood. We have busied the children without giving them time to learn the value of failure. We have taught them to follow their hearts while training them that success is measured in popularity, achievement, and money. We don’t model servitude. We model self-actualization with zero accountability. We have become our own gods and have trained teenagers to bow only to themselves. We dehumanize people of whom we disagree, and we are incapable of self-sacrifice for the good of all. Should we be surprised when a child picks up a gun and shoots up a school as they shockingly discover that they cannot achieve the standards set before them, when they’ve been trained that people are only people when they agree with you, and when they realize that their community never looked deeper into their lives than how many medals they received?
I visited a tiny, one room library that was more than one hundred years old today. And while one hundred years isn’t really old compared to libraries in other parts of the world, it struck me while I breathed in musty air and admired the artistry that often embellishes antique books, how many ideas and stories are housed in that tiny place now silenced waiting for the yellowed pages to be carefully turned again. I recognized a few authors, but most I didn’t. I opened several, read a few lines, and tried to connect my limited memory of American History with the copyright dates.
A century is more than enough time for a country to radically change. Within a century families see great, great grandchildren born and with them ideas, theories, doctrines all aptly developed and soon considered old fashioned after what seems just a few moments.
My grandparents were born more than a hundred years ago, and I wish I could sit and understand them more now as I witness how quickly our life pages yellow with age.
Truly, the ideas, dreams, and stories found within mankind don’t really change at all. Sure technology advances and architecture ebbs and flows like fashion, but love is the same, justice is still required, family is still paramount to the health of a community, and the value of a person to those who love them is still immeasurable.
Our lives are merely a vapor, and it is our duty to live them well. Not for our own selfish pleasures, but lived so that when all that remains of us is a yellowed memory on a shelf, the pages of our life still speak in truths understood to the readers hundreds of years later. Did we love? Did we speak for justice? Did we live a story worth reading?
We’ve retreated to our corners, digging our heels into our opinions.
We ready our scripts for a fight
to prove we are right.
We seek approval and justification of our side solely from those who read the very same lines.
These are the golden awards we receive; having the most people who agree with us surrounding us.
We hold pep rallies and rejoice in our common mind.
We rest in the comfort of being surrounded by an army of people who won’t question.
We must be right because that guy with the YouTube channel says so. We share it and feel the ego boost because of that guy.
We dismiss any questions.
We mock any disagreement.
We label any conflict as negative or uneducated.
We ready for battle to squelch discussion.
We shrink with bitter wounds because of what someone interjected.
We slaughter the opposition by plugging our ears and throwing words of mud to label them.
We are weak
because we won’t listen.
We are weakened
because battle-lines shatter community.
And we lose our footing as we fear the challenge of opposing thought. So we conveniently vilify views.
Our arguments cemented- only practiced to slay the opponent- fall flat at our avoidance of the stretching of our minds. Our opinions are meant to be heard not challenged. Our minds are meant to be made up.
Learning is shunned because of our rightness.
Transformation and unity are words of ages gone by. They are the dead religions of the past. Communication is only fruitful when everyone at the table agrees.