Wednesday, May 13, 2009
Bottles should be deeper The hourglass should lie Candles let burn longer still Bullets shouldn't fly --RCPM, “Winter in Your Heart” I think I came up with one of my most insightful theological statements when I was in grade school or junior high: “I hope there are video games in Heaven.” Now, this, I’m sure, would be considered heretical. Fortunately my generalized atheism has probably overtaken this particular statement, so perhaps it will fly under the radar a bit longer. As I grew up I occasionally had those moments when the idea of spending time in the chorus eternal really did seem like a good idea. But those moments were few and far between and harder and harder to find. It was almost like a drug. As time went on the memories of the times I’d felt close to god crowded out the new experiences. More importantly, the memories of the people I was around the last often overruled the current experience. I gradually began to realize that the concept of Heaven as eternal reward had little to do with any conception of wanting to praise god forever. It was, instead, the place where the people I’d lost or would lose would always be around. The promise of seeing an old friend in the sweet by and by was far more compelling to me than hanging with Jesus. Moreover, most of the people I knew had their little lists of the people they wanted to talk to in Heaven. Most people wanted to talk to Paul or Peter or some martyred missionary of yesteryear. I’d always wanted to talk to Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain. And I was far more interested in the journeys of the man who overcame a speech impediment to become professor of rhetoric at Bowdoin, Union volunteer officer turned hero of Little Round Top turned Brevet Major General who accepted the surrender at Appomattox, turned Governor of Maine and world traveler than I ever was with Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain the Christian. Heaven, to be perfectly honest, bored me. This seems to be a fairly common theme in religion. We humans are perfectly capable of coming up with a creative and near-infinite list of exquisite tortures for our damnable enemies but we can’t conceive of an interesting paradise. I suppose the Jihadist concept of 72 virgins for the martyr comes close, but I suspect nobody talks to the virgins about that.. By the time I was done with Christianity I saw Heaven as two things: avoidance of Hell and the place where I could make things right. On some level I still wish that there was a place where we could all go in order to make things right. I think of the people I didn’t appreciate fully when they were in my life sometimes. I think of the people who wanted to care about me but I didn’t let in. I think of those people who I just wish I could say, “Goodbye,” to right now. They’d be in my version of Heaven, regardless of their beliefs. If there is a god and that god does have an afterlife prepared for us, I’d fervently hope that this is god’s idea, too. But the logistics of this Heaven boggle my mind even so. How much time would it take to make up for the mistakes I’ve made so far in my 28 years on this planet? How much time would it take if I live to be 100? Would it be another hundred years? Two hundred? What would I do with the rest of eternity? There isn’t enough time to read all the books I want to read. But measured against eternity even my largest library falls short. Does Heaven have a video library? Can I watch the tapes of JFK’s assassination and prove there was no shooter on the grassy knoll? Would it even matter If both JFK and Lee Harvey Oswald were hanging out up in the clouds, too? I think that my biggest problem, ultimately, with Heaven is that there is no future there. With no future the past and present don’t really matter. If you’re just kind of there for eternity there would be nothing to strive for. Oblivion, then, would be a gift. I think this is why when they got to the end of the Left Behind series LaHaye and Jenkins had to lobotomize their protagonists. Even they, with their stunted ideas about humanity and the limited scope of their own existence, couldn’t conceive of a reason why a human in full command of his or her facilities would want to live in their Heaven. It’s like that old Twilight Zone episode where the robber is taken to the afterlife and finds he can rob any bank, win any game of pool, and bed any woman he wants, only to get bored. When he finally asks what kind of Heaven he’s in, his guide replies, “Who said this was Heaven?” Of course, there’s one other problem with my conception of Heaven. Is it still Winter in your heart? Do you refuse another season's start? The birds have all flown from my trees They've gone away with all my yesterdays and used-to-bes Is it still Winter in your heart? Let flood the light Let the curtains part --RCPM, “Winter in Your Heart” What if those people I wish I could see again don’t want to see me? What if those people with whom I want to make things right don’t feel the same way? More than that, what if I spend my afterlife being pestered by former friends and exes I’d rather not talk to at all? No, when it gets right down to it I have very little use for Heaven. I can’t imagine it’s all it’s cracked up to be. No place can be perfect as long as people are in it. And if there are people and it’s perfect, that means that the people are no longer, well, people. I suppose that I could see a version of Heaven with an opt-out clause. Once it gets boring and repetitive and everything that can be done has been done to death, you can just say, “I’m done.” Sweet oblivion, then, arrives. But even this is problematic. Say I’ve spent the last thousand years with a beloved, exploring all there was to explore, finding out all there was to find out, talking to all the people there were to talk to. Then one day I say I’m done. To my beloved isn’t that exactly like I’ve just died? Have I just introduced sorrow and grief in to paradise? So, really, how is my conception of Heaven any different than life here on Earth? About a year ago I started writing my various Loco to Stay Sane entries. At the time I was hurt, lonely, hopeless, and wondering why the girl I loved no longer wanted anything to do with me. It’s, um, it’s been a good year. I’m a different person now than I was then and overall I’d say that’s a good thing. One thing that I realized, though, was that I needed to come up with a new way of looking at life. So I stole a Peacemakers’ lyric and said I’d live my life by the words “turn the hourglass over.” In some ways I’ve done that. In some ways I really, really haven’t. For some reason I’ve been thinking of the idea of Heaven and realized that what I need to do is take stock of Earth. If I’m wasting my days here and only have a limited number what’s to say I wouldn’t do the same or worse with an infinite future? That is a question that I don’t think was ever answered satisfactorily in church. Maybe it’s my problem. Maybe it’s the fact that I can’t resist asking, “And then what?” “We go to be with god in Heaven.” “And then what?” “Umm…” Either way, I’m not turning that hourglass like I thought I should. I still spend too much time in the past wondering about things I can no longer change. I still spend too much time afraid of the future. Remember my obsessions with the Golden-Haired Woman? Remember the not-so-subtle subtext that there exists in my life right now a Golden-Haired Woman? I’ve finally figured out what all the Golden-Haired Women actually represent to me. They represent, for lack of a better word, hope. It’s why I prefer them under glass, several feet away, untouchable. I prefer to look at them, wonder what it would be like if they were in my life. I prefer to be able to say at the end of a bad day, “Well she’s still out there and there’s a chance that tomorrow we’ll be together.” And tomorrow I say exactly the same thing. However, that attitude, that security blanket, actually holds me back. For one thing, there is that possibility that the latest Golden-Haired Woman is thinking (or once thought and has since moved on), “Why doesn’t he just ask me?” There’s also the possibility that in focusing on my Golden-Haired Woman I’m ignoring plenty of others who are as good or better and would actually rather like to spend time with me. Either way, this is where I am. I’ve learned that taking risk is its own reward. Because if it doesn’t pay off, at least it tells me where I can’t go in the future. That way I get to make sure that even if I wasted yesterday, I don’t have to waste tomorrow.