My Book Club is talking about Heaven, and I just realized I didn’t buy a ticket.
They’re describing acres to run, perfect gardens, and even talking animals. I feel particularly jealous about the talking animals. I’ve been coaxing my littlest dog, Puddle, to talk to me every morning for years. I get into her face first thing and say “What is this? What is this cuting for? Tell me! Tell me right now! What is all this cuting for?!” There’s part of me that thinks if I just ask her one more time, that will be enough that she will finally have the answer to my question that only she has the answer to. But she just wags her tail and does this hoppity thing with her front paws that I interpret as “I love you so much” but is more likely “It’s time for breakfast.”
What I’m saying is, don’t think I wouldn’t swear allegiance on any damn book so that I could have talking animals.
Instead, I read through the text chain and feel a little smarted in my heart’s mailbox. They aren’t being exclusive. In fact, the invitation is in there– it’s always there. The problem isn’t the dress code, either. I can play the part, I can rent the tux. I did it for years. The company is sweet, and I love them each specially, and they love me specially.
But even for all of the talking animals, I can’t seem to enjoy a great party in Heaven while just under my feet, a majority of the world burns in Hell.
I’ve been connecting the dots these last couple weeks. Which is how I found out that my complacency in social justice– and my awakening– has been hinged on my ticket to Heaven as long as I’ve known. While my kind, compassionate, empathetic Book Club friends have found a way to live with the cognitive dissonance and love without bounds, it seems that I can’t ride the train to Glory and also love my neighbor.
For as long as it has taken me to see my white privilege, it should not be shocking that it took me years to find my salvation without examination. It appeals to a pretty base level of entitlement: I did the right thing. I followed the rules, or– more loosely– I invited Jesus Christ into my heart to live eternally forever. Or, I was born into the “right” religion. Pretty standard equations for getting in.
As it turns out, renting my heart’s room out to the Right Guy left little space for me to worry about who else was getting into the party. The party was at my house, after all. I’m already here. Sure, others were destined for the worst damned eternity of their lives, and I totally feel bad about that, but, really, it’s their choice, right? If they wanted to do something about it, they would.
It’s not for me to decide for them.
Let God sort ’em out.
There’s only so much I can do.
If I can do it, so can they!
They should work harder.
Do the crime, pay the time.
Even if these weren’t at the forefront of my mind, they were the pillow of peace I made myself each night to be able to sleep while being part of a system– real or imaginary– that benefit me. A system that looks strikingly familiar to a United States that often refers to itself as a Christian Nation.
That doesn’t seem coincidental.
There’s one big reason that I can’t get on board with the system of Heaven and Hell. That reason is dinner.
Of the two of us, I am far better at ordering the perfect dinner from the menu. Early on, my Someone would order haphazardly and safely, leaving him a little unhappy about his plate. Inevitably, when the meals arrived, I would say “We should just split it.” His visible transformation from disappointment to delight was better than fancy food all to myself, anyway.
When I occasionally have ordered wrong, the pattern continues. Food is emotional for me. Picking wrong feels like there is something wrong with me. My Someone knows this, and because my delight is his delight, we split it. It’s a good system.
If my Someone and I can figure out in our limited judgement and emotional baggage how to defeat a system of haves-and-have-nots, I find it impossibly short sighted and negligent that a Great Loving God can’t go splitsies if someone orders “wrong” from the Celestial menu. I can’t imagine Her golden peas and holy wine would be slurped down in good conscience while someone across the table from Her stares despondently at a turd on their plate when they thought– hoped– they’d ordered the Special.
I mean, this is basic human level stuff.
What if it goes like this:
There is a Heaven, and it’s true that only people who have rented space in their hearts to Jesus Christ get in, and the rest of us who either didn’t have space or evicted the guy for being too sloppy are sent to Hell.
They’re all there with talking animals and fruit trees with not a one of them forbidden, and its the Golden Age of Christianity. Assuming that not everyone gets their brains wiped completely clean when they get in and have to deal with the grief of also losing themselves for forever– one guy at dinner is like,
“Hey, has anyone seen Mallory around here?”
And there’s a murmur and people look down at their golden peas and lots of people take sips of holy wine to try and ease the discomfort, because we all known that she didn’t take the ticket on account of feeling morally conflicted for agreeing to a religion as Fire Insurance.
What if then, the guy is like “We should really think about bringing some of those Hell people up. I mean, what’s a good party without party people?”
And while no one says anything right away, there’s unrest. And soon, all of the Heaven people are thinking about the fiery prison bars of Hell and all of the people there who ordered wrong, and then realize that while there are acres to run, they are also in their own prison bars of their conscience– of their privilege.
There are protests.
And why wouldn’t there be? This was supposed to be a space where everyone could come and be free.
Here is what I know to be true: when I believed I was going to Heaven in contrast to those who were going to Hell, I created distance. I didn’t want to get too close to those who are inevitably going to run in different eternal circles. Especially the obstinate kind who seemed to be happy. God, those people were the worst. Laugh all the way to Hell, why don’t you!
Here is something else I knew to be true: when I consented to the system– Celestial or Earthly– as being “the way it is,” I did not have the imagination to believe it could be anything else. Because anything else, and all of my hard work at winning the system would be wasted. What a shame.
Here is something else I know to be true: as I have let go of my ticket to Heaven, I have more deeply connected to people here on Earth. I have also had a startling and rather rude awakening to my social inertia. It was painful, but I have not felt this alive since… before I was “saved.”
I hope it’s all true– the part about on Earth as it is in Heaven. While it may be a smidge uncomfortable for Christians to share the space they worked so hard for, I can’t imagine wanting to be at a party of only Christians. Partly, because what else would they have to talk about? I can’t imagine the lack of love, color, and perspective without those other religions, the Wiccans, the atheists, the mysteriously in-betweens like me.
So, I’m not reserving my ticket for Heaven. I’m not using salvation as a free pass on social justice. The mindset is inhibiting, complacent. After all, I may need the practice. We may need to burn down Heaven, too, to make it right.
Or, I hope to God or Lucifer that there’s at least one Buddhist dog I can talk to in Hell.