“Heaven has extreme vetting”

I saw this church marquis sign today that said, “Heaven had extreme vetting.”

My first thought was, so does that mean no one gets in? Or maybe that if you’re white and male you get an automatic front-of-the-line pass and everyone else has to stand in line and recite Hail Marys and Our Fathers as long as their skin isn’t too dark or they call God, God and not Allah, or Universe, or Ground of Being?

Let’s just say, if heaven is a real place, somewhere else, far away, I would certainly hope that the god running the place wasn’t as absurd as we are sometimes when it comes to choosing people to build community with. Further, isn’t that kind of god awfully small, especially if one claims that that same God was the match that lit creation into being?

I prefer a different view, one that doesn’t separate me from this beautifully evolving and expanding created universe. I have come to enjoy life much more when I take time to consider the connections I have with my fellow humans as well as the environment that I depend on for life. It seems like an utter waste of time to segregate ourselves into us-and-them camp, pointing fingers and constantly blaming someone else for the shit in the world. 

As so many ancient mystics suggest, suffering is a part of this world. And no, we can’t escape it by way or heaven, nor can we build walls or institute bans to avoid suffering. That’s just part of the deal. And my view is that my task is to figure out real, measurable, tangible ways to LOVE people out of their suffering, which means I have to engage in it, not ignore it. That also means I must be okay with my own suffering, working through my own turmoil and baggage and being honest with myself about who I am, my limitations, gifts and desires. 

I cannot function out of fear. It causes me to point fingers, take sides and erect walls around my physical and emotional life. I have to actually do the hard work of Jesus and figure out what I means to LIVE a life of love, not just talk about it. 

So no, I don’t believe there is extreme vetting in heaven. Heaven is now, and as my (I wish he actually was) pal Rob Bell says, we can choose to build a heavenly realm here, as Jesus prayed, or we can choose to continue to live in our own prisons, hell, and insist that others be as miserable in this life as we are. I prefer the former, so that’s what I will do. 

Parenting 102

So I have to write this down because there is a certain level of brilliance that I don’t want to forget. 

As part of an ongoing my wife and I are having based around Rob Bell’s (and I’m sure others’) notion of an expanding universe, creativity, spiritual life, etc., my wife, in a moment of pure clarity and self realization, massively busted our own parenting chops. 

Here’s the story:

Our boys are probably some of the most creative kids I know, of course I am a little biased because they are my boys, I see a lot more of them than other kids. Not two days ago I was expressing to my wife how frustrated I sometimes get with our oldest son and his seemingly continual “upgrading” of his creations. He makes things all the time, costumes, lego stuff (rubber band shooters, Star Wars ships, candy dispensers, etc.), hand puppets, you name it, he’s probably made it out of something. Which is awesome, right?

Absolutely! But my frustration, pretty ridiculous now in hindsight, is that he never plays with the stuff he makes. He just makes it, then makes it better, then changes it, then starts over…

So fast forward to yesterday morning where my wife spends nearly two hours making a dinosaur train costume for our youngest son. Of course wants to add to it, because that’s what our boys do. He’s great until yesterday evening, when he wants to make another dinosaur train costume, to which my wife replies, rather sternly to both boys, something along the lines of, “I’m sick and tired of you boys making stuff, and remaking it, and changing it, and…” Then curiously, she stopped and said, “fine.” To which my boneheaded self completely missed the reason she stopped, so I stepped in to continue the sermon. I probably droned on for at least 5 minutes, until dinner was ready.

The fast forward again to last night as we are laying in bed, decompressing the day, as we typically do. My wife looks over at me and says, “you know what? We’ve spent a lot of time talking about an expanding universe, how creation is itself expanding, growing, getting better, improving upon itself. You know what else? We just railed on our boys tonight for being too creative, for doing the exact thing they have evolved to do: create, make things better. That’s what this whole thing is doing, right?”

To which I replied, “Shit! Are you serious? We just spent the evening telling our boys to limit themselves. Don’t do what you’re created to do… Wow, we can be real dumbasses.” We spent the next 15 minutes or so laughing at our own ineptitude and yet again, struggling through what it means to be a parent, a parent who gives a damn about what kind of kids they raise. 

I think my wife spent a good part of the morning talking to the boys about how mommy and daddy screwed up last night and that at the core of our being, we do not ever want to limit who or what they can be. I think honesty and some authentic self evaluation can go a long way. 

That said, I’m not sure that second dinosaur train costume is going to get made…

Where to now?

Yesterday was a pretty big day. The 20th of this month seems to have came and gone without much fanfare, but the 21st, the #Womensmarch, garnered quite a bit more attention. By the latest estimates, somewhere close to the tune of 4 million people marching all across the country.

Pretty big deal it seems. My wife was able to go to the Denver march and was, for lack of a better phrase, completely overwhelmed not just by the sheer scale of the crowd, but the fact that so many people were gathered with the same purpose. ¬†All that to say, we probably should have joined her. There were families with kids, dads, mothers, a little of everyone there. Hopefully soon we’ll be able to kick this fear that seems to be wrapped up in our white privilege. “What if our kids get hurt?” “Is this something we should expose our family to?”

The truth is, we live in a bubble. There are people who have been struggling for years and years. A man on the bus with my wife and her friends yesterday took the time to ask about the sign she was holding and what it was for. He thanked her for participating. Without skipping a beat, my wife immediately responded, “Sir, I am not worthy of thanks. You have been blazing this trail long before I was even born. You’ve shown us how its done. So, thank you!” As they sat on the bus, this black man teared up and simply responded, “Thank you.”

I have a sense things are shifting. I hope that people beginning to see the necessity of shedding this tribal language, us and them, right and wrong. Things are a bit more nuanced than that. We need each other, that I’m sure of. The other bits, I’m not sure. Are we two easily distracted? Flashy, glitzy magazine articles telling us what will make us happy, LED screens constantly alerting us of things someone else thinks are important, I’m right and you’re wrong…

Ancient wisdom teachers, mystics and peace advocates of today all seem to tell us there is something more, something better. The universe is unfolding, growing, increasing in its depth, complexity and unity (thanks Rob Bell – Everything is Spiritual), though I couldn’t hope to understand it, I certainly want to join in the process.

I am hopeful of the places we are going. I am ready to be a person of true authenticity, living life with all humanity. We need strong men, as one sign I saw from yesterday said, “to grow a vagina.” I am privileged, being white and male, and I need to use that privilege not for my own gain, but to speak honestly, compassionately and forcefully for those groups who have been silenced over the centuries. We all need to stand for the greater good, because it’s right.

The world is a better place when we are all on the same team.

Hmmm…

So, there’s this guy, Rob Bell, a spiritual leader of sorts. For one reason or another, his method for communicating has kept him as a lamppost in my psyche throughout some pretty major transitions. 

Growing up a certain faith, becoming a leader/pastor in that largely conservative denomination, discovering Rob, falling out of faith (more agnostic than atheist), still catching whispers of Rob’s work, slowly turning the corner back to some semblance of faith (though that’s still debatable in my own head) and now really gaining a great deal of clarity on some things because of, yes, you guessed it, Rob Bell. 

Check this out, from a recent podcast:

“If you don’t name your pain, you’ll store it.”

Yikes! There no telling how much pain I’ve been storing away. Nothing physically or horribly traumatic, but we all seem to carry some pain with us. The question is, does that do anything for you? Does it help me to hold onto and inadvertently store it in my physical body? Am I doing myself any favors to repress my (mostly mild) anger about spending a god-awful amount of money for a degree that in my mind now, is complete rubbish? 

Now, as a follow up to that last point, Rob then asks:

“Who is your social self and who is your real self?”

Great question! Until recently, I’ve never even spent time wondering, much less trying to articulate an answer. Lately, I think I’m much more interested in joining those two parts of myself, but I still harbor a great deal of fear about what that might look like in a social, familial and professional context. That’s not a part of my ordered, comfortable existence. 

Which leads to the final (for this entry) question Rob asks:

“What are the things that keep you alive, what feeds your soul, keeps your heart alive?”

Hell, if had of thought about that 15 years ago, I certainly would not have spent $60,000 on a theology degree with a focus on youth and family ministry. That’s what I thought I was supposed to do, but most assuredly not what I wanted to do. That was not something that fed my soul, in fact, as many pastors know, it tends to work in the opposite fashion; it completely drained both my self and my family, which I am not okay with. 

What does this mean? Well, I’m not sure yet. One thing I do know is that I will be setting my intentions in the future for good, wholesome, life giving activities. My wife and I plan to find ways to be in relationship with people the likes of Rob Bell, Richard Rohr and others. This life is not to be wasted. I’ve already used up 35 years just coasting. I’m not down with that way of functioning anymore. I will be present, I will be intentional and I will be authentic in my journey. 

Check back later.