AfterWords is a series of community-contributed reflections intended to further the conversations that begin during Parish sermons.
A 3-Minute Read
by Laura Boggs
When I was a kid, with an imagination informed by Saturday morning cartoons and Sunday School-learned bits and bobs, I regarded heaven as somewhere between Dullsville and Boringtown.
Floating around on a cloud. Singing hymns day and night. Wearing a white shapeless sack, with nary a polka dot or daisies print in sight. (I was a child of the seventies, with a wardrobe informed by The Brady Bunch and The Partridge Family.)
The answer, of course, was to avoid sudden death by quicksand, rabid dog, or the edges of tall cliffs. (Tarzan, Old Yeller, the Road Runner.)
The creepiest part of my notion of heaven was the idea that we’d need some amount of brainwashing to abide all the clouds and hymns and white shapeless sacks. Our minds would be blank slates. Tears would be no more because memories would be no more.
This was, frankly, terrifying.
No one knows exactly what heaven will be like—if they tell you they do, run. I could be wrong—I’m often wrong—but I’ve come to imagine heaven as a place with feasting and working and learning. One can hope for colors—vivid and bright—and waistlines, maybe even a polka dot or two. We’ll get there and say, Oh, of course! It will feel strangely familiar, homey even—after all, we were made for it. Perhaps heaven will be like a kitchen table laid with tea things, with dear friends passing cakes and topping off steaming cups with cream.
No doubt, heaven will be a place where everything sad will come untrue.
“Gandalf! I thought you were dead! But then I thought I was dead myself. Is everything sad going to come untrue?”
—Sam in J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings
Come untrue as they may, that doesn’t mean the sad things will be undone or erased. They’ll be reframed. Redeemed, somehow. If nothing is wasted—and I believe in God’s economy nothing is wasted—why would pain, or the past, go poof?
Everything sad is going to come untrue, and it will somehow be greater for having once been broken and lost.
Jordan spoke on Sunday about how, through the work of Christ, something wholly new has broken into the word—already. Here and now, this fresh force has entered the cosmos, with “the injection of life and flourishing invited back into the world.”
Yes, please. Yes to that in this fractured old place. Yes to that in today’s contentious, chaotic culture.
So if anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation: everything old has passed away; see, everything has become new!
—2 Corinthians 5:17 (NRSVA)
What would it look to stop over-focusing on the fallen and instead dare to believe that God’s ministry of reconciliation is well underway?
What if we accepted the invitation to participate in that reconciliation? The world—and the divided church—needs us to participate in that reconciliation.
Yet we’re having a difficult time seeing one another as humans, with biology and backstories, much less as fashioned by God’s handiwork.
… for Christ plays in ten thousand places,
Lovely in limbs, and lovely in eyes not his
To the Father through the features of men’s faces.
—Gerard Manley Hopkins
(Pinch me that I attend a church where GMH’s words appear on a screen! It’s like cakes and tea every week…)
St. Patrick wrote, “Christ in mouth of friend and stranger.” If only we’d listen!
What if I remembered that the next time someone spouted an unpalatable political viewpoint? What if I remembered that folks are more, much more, than a collection of their theories du jour?
Sometimes it’s hard being a human living among the other humans. It’s a pain in the neck, and it’s painful. There’s no escaping that. As for pain, Jordan challenged us to think about how we steward it.
We’re more than our wounds; they don’t define us. And yet the scars remain. Still, we can allow the new force, the force of reconciliation, to usher in healing and health—so that we, whole, can show up for others.
The False Self
The rival kingdom—the force that shatters the teacups to smithereens—is very much with us, too. Our sins and our false selves have their way with us.
Jordan said our false selves, untamed, are self-reliant and self-protective. The false self is ever fearful of being exposed or rejected.
For me, this fear tends to mask itself as humility. I wear this mask often.
I am the person driving around alone in my car in this mask.
It goes something like this: Someone pays me a compliment or randomly does me a kindness. They ask me to write something, or they hire me for a job, or they invite me to join a club. And I go: Who, me? And I think: I must have them fooled. Inside, I’m a mess. Inside, I’m twelve years old.
I no longer fear quicksand, rabid dogs, or the edges of cliffs. Self-protection is the danger, and she’s lurking around every dang corner.
Imposter syndrome is real. And it’s… ridiculous.
Fundamentally, the false self is untrue. She’s a liar.
Why is it, at times, easier to believe Christ plays in ten thousand other places (and faces)? (Those faces likely hide behind false selves, too.) Why would Jesus uninvite me to the party of grace? Anyway, I didn’t charm or achieve or outsmart my way in. Christ sees me coming and throws open the doors; he lays a table with tea and sweets.
The thing to do is to take one’s place at the table. Give thanks, eat the cake, and sip the tea.
I believe like a child that suffering will be healed and made up for, that all the humiliating absurdity of human contradictions will vanish like a pitiful mirage… that in the world’s finale, at the moment of eternal harmony, something so precious will come to pass that it will suffice for all hearts, for the comforting of all resentments, for the atonement of all the crimes of humanity, of all the blood they’ve shed; that it will make it not only possible to forgive but to justify all that has happened.
—Fyodor Dostoevsky, The Brothers Karamazov