Wednesday, August 29, 2007

An Ode to the Simple Life (and a fond farewell)

The trees sway in the cool breeze outside my balcony, the moon's pale luminescence casting an uneven glow over the city. I look up, losing myself in the motion of the trees and their oneness with the night. Their rustling taps into a buried memory, and for a minute I'm young again, a child running through the forest with a stick in my hand, ready to slay dragons and find the princess. With a blink, the memory fades, but my smile remains.
It's been four years since I first set foot on the balcony of this apartment, when I first felt the strange peace of artistic freedom within its wooden contours. It isn't something I speak easily of, if only because most people would not understand, but the day I set foot in the apartment, I knew that it was right for me. But now it is time to leave. Garbage and leftover furniture lay strewn around the place like so much waste. Even now, I tap onto a keyboard set in the middle of an empty room. Memories fade, but when we change our lives, their presence is always stronger.
I feel it now.
I remember my first month here, still bleeding from the wounds of my divorce. Any solace from the view and trees surrounding the apartment were lost in the bitterness of a failed life, of failed expectations, and little hope. Back then, this apartment was a haven for my sorrows, a place to hide when the pain of human contact became too great. Back then, I did not have any real friends in Ottawa, even after six years in this city. Back then, this apartment was my hope for the future. In so many ways it represented what I was and what I longed to be.
Those days are over.
I glance up at the moon. The warm light feels as tangible as the sun, and the shadows it casts feel friendly to me. So much has changed for me these past few years. I have lived a whole lifetime in this place, and the leaving brings sorrow. Still, I am astounded at the changes in my own life.
We rarely notice change within ourselves, we are too close to observe things as they really are. But even I can see where my journey has taken me, and where I have taken my journey. I would never have believed someone if they told me that I would be heading back into religious studies. That I would be looking to ministry. Even now, I am not sure exactly how this all happened.
What I do know is this: life is not as complicated as I once thought.
Yes, life has complications and it has its share of pain, but life itself is not complicated. In God's eyes, it is relatively simple. We are to love Him. We are to love those around us. Hard, but not complicated.
That does not mean we become pushovers, that we bend a knee to everyone who crosses our path. That is the sin of 'niceness.' What it means is that we strive, with heart and mind and soul, to love our neighbours, to love the unlovable, to love every human we meet.
There are many who have written popular songs about the power of love, but when I listen to their lyrics, they cheapen the most powerful and subversive force known to humanity. There is nothing greater than love. Unfortunately, saying this conjures images of the ridiculous hippies from the sixties who believed that love meant apathy and drugs... that freedom was to be felt in the mind or in romance.
I stand and stare through the trees to the neon cross shining in the darkness. It isn't love I'm thinking of tonight. Mostly I'm thinking about how God truly does change our lives. We often look to God for plastic surgery. What He wants however, is often just to point us in the right direction. Unfortunately, when the day finally comes, we don't even realize He's been there all along.
In a day, I'll be in a new place, a new life. This apartment will be gone forever. But no matter what happens, I will always remember this home, this balcony, where the trees whispered their secrets and the moon gazed upon me in all of her brightness. I will remember my friends who encouraged me, the ones who read my blogs and gently laid an arm across my shoulders as I pursued my dreams.
To them than, and to all of you, this is my fond farewell from 240 Presland Rd. apartment 303, Ottawa. The next time I write I will be in Toronto. And while my location will be different, the goal, will be exactly the same:
To spread God's love.
Not in the manner of someone handing a joint to the person next to them, nor the manner of the aggravated church goer telling their neighbour that they need to act as they do. Somewhere in the middle lies the balance.
Instead, i go to love and to think and to pursue. There is so much of life I don't understand, but what I know is this: Following Jesus makes no sense outside the kingdom. Being a Christian makes no sense outside the outside the pursuit of working to love those around you. Thinking about my faith in any other way offers only confusion. The only way is the simple way.
"Love them child. Love them as I love you."
Everything else does not make sense, but then, that's part of God's plan too, isn't it.
May God help us this week to understand that while we may not see Him, He is working in all of us, and that even when our lives change, one thing remains forever.

Friday, August 24, 2007

Things are not what they seem

The rain beats slowly against the window, the water beading as it slips slowly down the glass. It's muggy tonight, the rain barely a relief from the heat soaked into the ground that rises like a late summer swamp. The cafe is quiet. The couches and tables around me are empty. Two men walk through the doors, and I watch as they laugh there way to the counter. One is clean-shaven and wearing pleated pants and a collared shirt. The other is wearing jeans and a ripped T-shirt. Tattoos line his arms. His roughly bearded face stands in stark relief with his friend's nicely postured appearance.
It's an odd pairing, if only because of the assumptions I've unconsciously embraced. One man is a professional. The other is not. That, in itself, is probably not idle speculation. What's important however, is how I've so quickly decided which one is a professional and why. As a novelist, it is easy to assume certain 'tells' about people. We paint pictures based on the assumptions people make when they see or talk to someone. Innocent enough, except this quick form of judgment so natural to humanity does not tell the whole story. Just as we would hope that someone would never judge us by the state of our clothing or hair, we hope for the same in those around us. It is a fleeting, utopian wish. Humanity has not changed in thousands of years of recorded history, so why would it change now.
The men have passed out of sight, and I glance at my oddly thick laptop, with its gray exterior marked by tape on the side. I bought the computer for nine dollars. When the CD player would no longer stay closed on its own, I taped it up. It is old, an antique really, but it is sturdy and serves my purposes. When I think about first impressions however, I can only imagine what others must think.
"He's obviously poor. Look at his computer?"
They might say the same about my clothing. I'm not sure because it isn't something I worry about. What concerns me tonight is something deeper.
I watch the rain fall, and with a smile, I grab my coffee and head out into the fading twilight. The cool mist falls on my face, and I smile at its fading gentleness, a gentle kiss as it brushes onto my face and arms. I've always liked the rain. When I was a kid, I would run outside when it started to rain, despite my parents' protests. Some of my friends thought I was weird, but I didn't care. There was always something special about the rain, something about the promises of a new spring, of a new life, that washed over me when I stood beneath the heavens.
I smile at the memory. Despite my thirty-five years, not much has changed. I still love the rain. And every time it rains, I have the same sense that I had as a child.
Everything is not as it seems.
I don't mean that in a simple way, that the man with tattoos could be a millionaire. What I mean is that the method we use to judge and discern is unalterably human. That the way we look at culture and life is not a simple thing, that we are inevitably influenced by the world around us. That we will, without God's help, see everything in a temporal light.
Sometimes the only way to open our eyes is to close them.
I slide over to the evergreen trees and lean my face into the rain. It still falls gently, and it tickles my eyelids as I let it drip slowly down my face. A young couple walks past me, and I can only imagine what they're thinking, but I ignore them as I stare back into the gray skies.
The past few days I have been enraptured by a single thought: the world is not as it seems. That truth is self-evident as I speak with friends and family, as I watch the world absorb itself into an ever-tightening spin of dissolution and distinction, searching and crying for someone or something to break the nooses that seem to settle so easily about our necks. It is neither random nor hidden, but a manifestation of one world atop another. Some nights I imagine the buildings and cars and contrivances of my race to be vanished, to see the faces of people as they look towards one another in confusion, to hear their thoughts dance along the edges of madness at the revelation of what lies beneath them.
Within the heart of every person lies the indistinguishable heartbeat of something else, of this strange sense that the world is not all that it seems, that neither rationalism nor fanaticism can solve this great mystery behind humanity.
Fundamentalism assures us that Jesus awaits, just as atheism assures us that we are simply lost in our imaginations. Is either correct? Do we have all the answers? I have followed Jesus for many years, and while I consider my hero to be the Son of God, he does not answer every question. Nor should he, because faith can not exist without some doubt.
"Why the mystery?" I ask. "Why is there so much I do not know?"
The rain slackens. I slide away from the trees before finally heading back inside. Back at my laptop, Cynthia smiles at me as she wipes down a table. I do not get an answer, but even as I write, I think I am beginning to understand.
The beginning, I think, is to ask. When we have all the answers we no longer ask, we no longer seek. And so long as we have the answers, the world is as it appears, both temporal and dysfunctional. And that will never do.
I still long for the day I understand everything, the day when I can sit down in full knowledge and comprehension. But until that day comes, I am learning to be content in understanding that the world is not as it seems. That much, at least, is obvious...

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Welcome to the LKV!

And so it begins.

There was a time in my life when I looked at religious satire with about the same disdain I reserved for atheism. Most of it just seemed bitter and wrong somehow. I was content within my fundamentalist window, content to live within the separate world of the church. Back then, all of my friends were Christians, as I took seriously the teaching of 'bad company corrupting good character'. What I didn't account for, however, was the primary teaching of Jesus, which is exactly the opposite. Good company is necessary to correct bad character.

He did that with his life.

He hung around prostitues and drunkards and shifty tax collectors. When the religious and moral leaders questioned him, he said that it was the sick who needed a doctor, not the healthy.
And if that's the case, than why do we insist on making the same mistakes the Pharisees did so many years ago, the same Pharisees that Jesus ravaged for their insular and hypocritical lives.
That is the purpose of satire. To enlighten and provoke and question.

That said, my friend Mark Groleau and I have started a company, Little Known Verses, to spread the word about the real Jesus. The Jewish boy, a bastard born in a blue collar town, the one who swore at the leaders and turned over the tables in the temple and cried for his people. The one who celebrated life, and taught, by his life, a whole new way of living.

The LKV is more than just T-shirts (although I guarantee you that you haven't seen any T-shirts like this). For now, our store is on ebay here, but in the coming weeks we'll be adding an Official LKV MySpace website, another website/blog, along with some videos and other fun stuff. My only prayer is that when you see our videos and our posters and T-shirts, you yourself this question: Am I offended? And if so, why? Is there truth there?

We believe that laughter spilled easily from the lips of Jesus, that while he was a man of sorrows, and certainly dealt with loneliness, that his humor is self-evident in Scripture (although it often gets lost in modern Western translation).

For those of you who are curious, Mark and I are both full time Seminary students, and we both believe that the gospel is bigger, deeper and wider than the current trite we find in evangelical pamphlets. As the Son of God, Jesus announced a whole new kingdom, a kingdom that is already here. To that end, we have given Him our lives.

We'd love to have you join us. I'll keep you posted on further developments, including our first sixty second commerical and new website, in the coming weeks.

God Bless


Friday, August 17, 2007

The Evangelical's Dream... And God's Nightmare

“It’s ready, sir.”

I nodded and double-checked my tie in the mirror. It was hard to believe that we’d accomplished the impossible. Harder still to believe that the commission had selected me to fulfill the prophecies of two millennium. I’d been preaching for the past thirty years, blessed enough to see my little church in Norfolk grow to become one of the largest churches in America. My congregation knew where I stood; I’d made it clear enough times from the pulpit. Jesus was about to return. We needed to be ready.

There was a knock on the door, and my wife came in wearing a blue skirt and white top that brought out the color in her eyes. She smiled and kissed me on the forehead. Thirty years and Trish still made my heart pound.

“Jack, are you sure about this?” She looked down at the ground, her voice strangely hesitant. “I mean, do you really think that we should be doing this?”

I found it hard to contain my shock, and disappointment.

“Honey, we’ve talked about this for years! We’re about to usher in the kingdom! For the first time in history, everyone will hear the real message of Jesus. The whole world will hear the words of Scripture! How can…” I stopped, unable to continue, unable to fathom her objection.

“I know.” She said, her voice small. “But, it doesn’t feel…” She stopped again, and this time kissed me on the lips. “I support you.”

She turned quickly and left the dressing room. I rubbed my beard and took a deep breath. Of all the people in the world I expected to hear some form of objection, Trish had to be the last. I knew Satan would object to our mission, I knew that he would throw obstacles in our path. I expected that. But Trish…

I sighed again and looked around the room. Flowers and cards covered the walls from churches all across the world. It was all so very humbling, and I took a moment to thank the Lord for the great honor of ushering in the final kingdom. Honestly, I felt unworthy, but someone had to do it, and God, for whatever reason, had chosen me.

Another knock on the door.

“Pastor, they’re ready for you.”


I said one last quick prayer, adjusted my tie, and put my wife’s strange visit out of my head as I headed out.

The hallway was quiet. Security had tightened the last couple of days, the CNTV headquarters emptied of the usual mill of fans and media swirling around the largest Christian network’s broadcast center. I walked down the hallway, glanced at Nick, the former secret service agent assigned for my security, and followed him to the booth. I’d written my sermon about a hundred times. I went over in my head now, again. The words had to be just right, because I’d probably only get one shot at this. The Bible was clear about the end times. Once every nation and every person had heard the gospel, Jesus would return.

My thoughts strayed as I thought about the rapture, thought about what it would be like to be taken into the skies like Enoch, whisked away in a chariot from heaven. Another deep breath and I was in the studio, a mass of cables and computer equipment. I didn’t understand the technology, and as I’d often joked with my congregation, the fact I’d learned how to check my email was a major accomplishment.

From what I understood, six months ago a young Christian at Bob Jones University had made an important technological breakthrough, something to do with quantum physics and sound waves. He’d found a way to alter the radio signal so that it was no longer dependent on the signal source, but was able to release itself somehow onto connecting particles. In essence, whatever transmitted through the signal separated itself from the source and retransmitted to other sound waves as an independent signal. A signal that would reverberate for the lifespan of the original wave, in this case, for twenty-four hours. I still didn’t understand it, but I understood the consequences. One message over the altered transmitter would broadcast itself to every human being on the planet.

That’s why my message had to be short. The hundreds of translations necessary would fill the entire twenty-four hours. I had sixteen seconds.

Danny greeted me at the booth, a huge smile on his face.

“It’s a good day, Pastor. Finally!”

“It’s God’s day, Danny.”

Danny had been with me for years, since our first church back in Hickory.

“You deserve it, Pastor.”

“God’s glory, my friend. God’s glory.”

He nodded and stepped back as the technician hooked a small speaker into my ear and attached a small microphone to my chest.

“Are you ready, Pastor?”

“I am.”

“You are aware of the time limit?”

“Yup. Where are all the translators? I thought-“

“The computer will translate your message, sir, as soon as you are finished.”

I nodded absently, going over the message in my head. The media had gone into frenzy when the student refused to sell his new technology. One purpose, he’d said. Gospel only. Even if the new technology hadn’t been able to broadcast to every human on the planet, the media frenzy would surely have notified the civilized world. All the networks, even the cable outlets, had cancelled their programming to cover the greatest media event in the history of the universe tonight.

The entire world was about to hear the gospel. The entire world was about to be changed forever. The Bible said that the Word did not come back void, ever.

My broadcast will change the world forever, I thought. I could feel the sweat on my forehead.
Another technician who’d appeared from seemingly nowhere and rechecked my microphone.

“One minute, Pastor.”

I nodded and cleared my throat. I thought about all the blessings of my life, about the people who’d spoken against my ministry, calling me a ‘one trick rapture’ pony. All the people Satan had used to tempt me and scourge me. I had not been beaten. I was pure. I was strong. My church had separated themselves from the impurities of a wicked and heathen society. It occurred to me that I was tired, that heaven would be a nice break from a life of warfare. I was ready to hang up my sword and shield. First, however, I had one final duty.

“Okay, Pastor. Whenever you’re ready.” The technician said.

“Hello, everyone. This is Pastor Jack Haynes. I have a special message tonight for you, citizen of the world. Jesus loves you. If you confess your sins and proclaim him Lord and Savior of your life, you will be forgiven and live to rule and reign with God for eternity. If you reject him, you will be condemned to all eternity to the pits of hell. I urge you to repent and join with us in ushering in the Kingdom of God.”

I stopped and the technician looked at the digital clock on the far wall. Seventeen seconds. Close enough. He smiled and gave me a thumbs up. I slowly removed my microphone and earpiece and walked down the corridor.

It was done. The world had heard the gospel. I didn’t know whether to shout or cry. When I entered the small meeting room, I was met by a large ovation. My wife rushed over to kiss me and held me tight.

When we finally left the building a huge mass of people had gathered outside the broadcast center, and they thundered their approval. I waved and piled into the back of the limousine.

“Well, what now?” My wife asked.

“We wait.” I said. “The world has heard the gospel. There’s nothing left for us but to wait. Are the kids home?”

She nodded and looked away.

“What’s the matter?”

“What if… what if we’re wrong?”

I clenched my cheeks.

“I can’t believe this. You, of all…” I took a breath. “I’m the spiritual leader, you’ve always respected that. I don’t understand. You are supposed to support me.”

She turned away, and I saw the flash of tears in her eyes.

“Look, I’m sorry, Trish. It’s just that we’ve waited for do long for this. Don’t you see? We’re done? It’s all over? No more battles and fights and everything else. We can go home now!”

She sniffed and I pulled her close. It would all be over soon. Come quickly, Lord Jesus, I thought, come quickly.

A month had passed since the broadcast. Nothing had changed. Once the broadcast had aired, Congress had passed a law declaring the new technology a monopoly and that it must be shared, but the student from Bob Jones had refused to give it up, stating that the devil already had the internet. The media had invaded his personal life, the paparazzi hounding him mercilessly. A week ago they’d found him hanging from the basement of his house, an apparent suicide.
Our church had stopped meeting. I’d told my congregation to get their families together, that we’d finally preached the gospel to the world, and that it would be best if they waited quietly at home for Jesus to come. Most of them had quit their jobs, and now they were starting to call. So often, in fact, I’d made sure that our housekeeper stopped answering the phone.

In the fifth week after the broadcast, Trish approached me in the bedroom.

“You have to do something, Jack. You have to tell the people to go back to work.”

“What, I guess you don’t think Jesus is going to come either, now?”

She looked at me for a long moment.

“What if we were wrong? What if the gospel is more than…”

“More than what! They heard about Jesus! Everyone heard! It’s been confirmed that the technology worked!” I ripped my fingers through my hair. “We did our job! We spread the gospel, can’t you see that? Now it’s God’s turn!”

She looked at me for another minute, and I couldn’t read her expression.

“What if the gospel is more than words? What if Jesus meant we were supposed to love and-”

"Stop it! I won't have this! Not from you!"

With that, she walked out of the bedroom, her head high. I tried to calm down, but my thoughts kept running to what Trish had said. What else were we supposed to do? We'd done everything, or had we? What more did God want? Despite my years of ministry, I didn’t have an answer. It was a long time before I finally fell asleep.

-The End


Monday, August 13, 2007

I Believe in Reincarnation

I was standing in the line with the other staff, clapping as the graduates from the high school made their way between us. It was perhaps my favourite Gloucester tradition, and I smiled at some of the students who strutted towards the auditorium, with their hats and gowns and awkward smiles. They all knew, from either their older peers or their parents or their teachers or the media that the end of high school meant the end of many things. University or college or work, wherever they went from here, from now on it would be forever different.

I wiped the sweat from my forehead as the last of the graduates walked into the auditorium. There was little breeze in the school foyer, and the summer had come early this year, bringing with it a damp, clinging heat. For the next two hours I watched as the students, many of whom I’d come to know these past four years, strolled across the front of the stage ready to set out on a new course. Optimism lingered within the ceremony, as tangible for those who had suffered traumatic years as for those who had participated in every school activity. A sense of newness and hope filtered through the speeches and moods of both the graduates and staff.

I spent some time talking to the students as they lingered after the ceremony and finally headed home. Little did I realize that in four weeks I too, would be moving, headed back to school, towards a new life with new dreams and new hopes. For now, it was enough to have shared the day with my students.

As far back as I can remember, I have always loved inspirational movies and books, stories that caused me to dream about the future and all that life could bring. Like most kids, I was a dreamer, and whether it was Rocky or Hoosiers or some other fairy tale, hope of a new life remained at the forefront of my thoughts. When I rededicated my life to God at nineteen, I went through my second graduation, into another life filled with a loving Creator and thoughts of a wife and family and grandkids and home and everything the stories promised. Happily ever after was just around the corner, just as I’d always imagined.

When my life first started to go wrong, I didn’t know what to do. In the stories that I’d held close to my heart, the troubles of life were little more than a plot change to add poignancy. I held onto my belief that life would be better. I dreamed my dreams even as the world I’d drawn in my imagination caved in around me, even as I withdrew into my basement apartment, lonely and hurting and desperate.

It was there I first began to realize that life wasn’t a story. That I would never become the knight in my modern fairy tale. Perhaps it was that realization more than any other of which I could not let go. And so, I cried out to God. Where are you?! What have you done to my life?!
The stories to which I’d once held fast I viewed with an ever-increasing scorn and cynicism. Hope was the tax for the poor, a lottery ticket for the weak. Stories were just that, stories. Life, for all its earlier magic, was just another trick with a little old man and a megaphone behind the curtain. It'd be years before that changed.

I’d been home for a few hours, enjoying the cool of my air-conditioned apartment after the morning heat of the graduation ceremony. I’d been reading more lately, especially on this rising new popularity of reincarnation. It was a fatuous belief, and while I didn’t doubt the statistic, I doubted that people truly understood what they were saying. Most people who posited this belief assured themselves that in their former lives they’d been princes or queens or warriors. The true teaching of reincarnation was more likely to place you as a bug. Still, I found this interesting. It seemed to me as if we were all still looking for another chance, as if we’d accepted the difficulty of life, but were still searching for a better story. Something to give us hope. Something to replace the barren ideology of a rationalistic society, a society that promised technology and education and… what?

I moved onto my balcony, enjoying the cool breeze rustling the trees, and leaned across the wooden deck. I too, believed in reincarnation. I’d seen it so many times in my life. Every day, every year, every decade, we moved from one lifetime to another. Our society made a ritual out of high school graduation, but we were always graduating from one life to another, whether it was the birth of a child or a change in jobs or a move to another city. Sometimes the change was positive, our choice, but often it was tragedy and heartache. And when the change occurred, it was easy to question God, to question our faith, to look into the heavens and scream about the injustice in our life. I know. I spent years doing it.

These days I see the changes differently. Reincarnation occurs nearly every day in our own lifetime. Each day we awake with a new opportunity to decide who we will be, how we will treat others, and who God is to us. Change is not as easy as the stories would have us believe, and sometimes just making it through the day is a product of courage and fortitude, but that too, is important. That strength, when we feel so discouraged, is what truly changes our character. Years down the road, we may not be able to point to a single event, but we can look over all the times we experienced reincarnation, all those days when life was at its toughest, that forged the character and life God has for us.

Every one of us will go through times when life is incomprehensible, when the stress seems more than we can bear. And every one of us will go through times when God seems absent, when we will scream to the heavens to forget it, that we'll get it right in the next life. That next life however, is probably tomorrow. And while it may not seem fair, I believe that God has in store for us all of the hope and promises for which we dream, if only we are willing to be patient, to be humble and to learn what He is trying to teach us.

Rest assured, God has not forgotten you, and even if your next life is not tomorrow, it will come. In the meantime, my prayer is that like the high school graduates we remember to form the lines applauding and encouraging those around us, so that when we do go through all the changes and struggles of life, we will be there to hold one another up.

May God encourage you this week to pursue your dreams, to take hold of your life, and remember that no matter how many lifetimes we have experienced, God’s love will never be far.

Thursday, August 09, 2007

A Trip To Heaven

The boxes lay stacked around my apartment, and I could barely restrain the groan from my lips as I pulled out yet another bin full of binders tucked away in my storage closet. Dutifully, I opened each one and flipped through them to see what I had saved, and if it could be thrown out. As a pack rat, I was determined that this time I would start fresh. Easier said than done. Examining each binder and piece of paper took longer than I expected, until I came upon a small blue book with only a few pieces of lined paper.

Journal entries?

For my first ten years or so after I became a Christian I journalled frequently. Some of those writings now appeared quaint, others silly, and still others, poignant. It had been a while, so I leaned back and read the entry. When I finished, I clearly remembered writing the entry. What I didn’t remember however, was how I’d actually come to believe my experience to be real.

Everyone in the Western culture has some idea of heaven. We’ve all heard of it through our parents or movies or media, whether we were raised in religious homes or not. The idea of some sort of afterlife, usually paradise, exists somewhere in our subconscious. Some people say it's endemic to human nature. The Bible says that eternity is etched into the human soul. For whatever reason most of us sense, somewhere, that we are not here only to be born and than die, despite the strengths of any rational argument that argues otherwise.

Throughout the centuries, Christians have long declared the reality of both heaven and hell, that someone who rejects God endangers themselves to an eternity of torment, but that someone who confesses to their sins an eternity in paradise. At times, the position was used politically, not as a statement of belief but a statement of policy to keep people from seeking better for themselves. It was this political manipulation of a religious ideal that sent Marx into a fury, who declared religion to be the "opiate of the people." Unfortunately, there was great truth in what Marx was saying. Even worse, the greater truth was being overshadowed by those in power who neither loved God nor understood or cared about the damage of their abuse.

I flipped the worn binder to the side. It was a hard entry to read and digest both for the simplicity of its belief and its assuredness of what had happened. I sat for a while, thinking about what I’d written, and finally decided to look at it again.

…the room was surprisingly devoid of color. Green tables and booths set up in a circle like something you’d find at a Ponderosa or Kelsey’s. It wasn’t my five senses that were heightened as much as my emotions. I felt everything. It took me a while to get my bearings, to realize where I was, but once I did, the first emotion that overtook me was dread.

A deep, core-like fear that I had blown it. That I had wasted my life for God and never really served Him as I should have. I started weeping then, tears and sobs when I realized how much I’d disappointed my King. I tried to get control of myself as I walked past people in the booths – one person in each booth – but I wasn’t sure what they were doing there. As I wiped my shirt, I noticed that my arms had each been tattooed with a chart.

“A lot of strengths, a lot of weaknesses.” One of people said as I passed by.

The comment had no effect on me as I'd suddenly become lost in my grief over an ex-girlfriend I'd hoped to marry. I kept walking, wishing it were all a dream, but there seemed no escape. An endless barrage of tables, of people with charts on their arms, of comments and a strange stillness.

Please, God, just let this be another dream where I can wake up and be normal.

Live my life normally. I wanted to live! The Apostle Paul had once said that to die was to gain, but I hadn’t gained anything. I had lost. I needed to live so that I could put down a better deposit for the future. I had no concept that this was selfish, just an emotional craving for another chance.

That night I asked God for a second chance, and I awoke the next morning, ready to do all that He wanted. I’d been to heaven, or had I?

I’d pulled the journal entry from my binder, and now I let it slip through my fingers onto the coffee table. The rest of the entry detailed exactly why I needed to believe what I say I believed. It was hard to read. I was tired of Christians talking about the afterlife, so much so that they ignored the basic commands of Scripture to bring the Kingdom of heaven here. If it was only about the afterlife, if it was only about "getting into heaven", than what we did didn’t matter much. Especially if we were rich.

The more I thought about it however, the more I wondered. Was Heaven real? Would I really have to speak to God about what I’d done? Or was it all just a myth used to scare people into submission?

The truth is that I didn’t think about heaven very much, because most of the people who talked about heaven seemed, well, like wing nuts to me. They were usually SO ‘spiritual’ you couldn’t really relate to them. And Jesus was anything but that. But today I thought about it, I thought about what it meant if I was actually making eternal decisions in my life. I thought about how it softened and corrected this consumerist ideal of collecting as much crap as you can before you die. If heaven really existed, then being kind and developing character made sense. If not, than why wouldn’t we all just be selfish idiots and get what we could?

I put the journal entries back into the binder, closed it up, and packed it into a box. I wasn’t going to throw this one out. I no longer believed I’d been to heaven, but I believed that heaven existed, and even if it was just a journal entry, it reminded me why it was so important to hold on to that belief.

May God help us reflect on the eternal consequence of our lives, and see that wherever we stand, heaven is a possibility worth considering…


Thursday, August 02, 2007

A Purpose Filled Life

A breeze swept across the parking lot and I put my book down and held my arms out to let the wind cool me down. No use. I was sitting under a tree next to my favourite café, but the shade made little difference. The scorching sun and humidity made my body feel like oil in a frying pan. If it hadn’t been so windy it would’ve been intolerable to sit outside. As it was, I wondered if it was time to head back inside to the air conditioned café.

The summer had been an enjoyable one so far, and I spent most of my days writing and reading, a writer’s dream. Lately however, I’d been getting restless. Restless to start my new life in Toronto, restless to be a student again, restless to get all the hassles of moving out of the way. The more I thought about it however, the more I realized that the real part of me that felt so filled with angst was the part of my God given nature that said I was born to do something. Something other than enjoying the weather and writing and reading.

As much as I love to write, as much as I believe that it is an important part of who I am, when I’m not interacting with other people, I get restless. This sense that we can be lone Christian rangers is a fallacy. We were born to be in community, and not only in community, but in community with a purpose.

The shade started to creep back, and I moved my chair back to the patio and headed inside. The blast of cold air made me shiver as I strolled through the entrance. A couple of the baristas yelled at me from across the empty café, and I exchanged some friendly banter with them before finding a table.

I’d never liked Rick Warren a whole lot, but when his second book, a Purpose Filled Life began to set publishing records, I picked up a copy and tried to read it with an open mind. Well, I remember saying to myself when I’d finished it, I’m still not a big fan. However, there were two ideas in his book that were worth the price tag.

1. God has a purpose for your life.

2. It’s not about you.

I don’t like the chatter of many Christians when they tell me God has a plan for my life. Is it a detailed plan? If I deviate from the script, what happens then? Am I still on The Plan? It sounds like something a financial advisor would tell me, and allows for too many wing nuts to deliver monologues about how every little detail of my life (where I park?) is part of God’s PLAN. That said, I do believe God has a purpose for our life, that we were created for a reason. Purpose is more general, and implies that we choose our life. God is perhaps less interested in our daily schedule than the state of our heart wherever we find ourselves. And when we are not living with purpose, we can not be fulfilled.

In tune with that is the important B-side to Rick Warren’s album. It isn’t about me. It’s about the people around me, and so long as my life revolves around me, I won’t be content.

I walked to the counter and ordered my second coffee of the day. I checked my watch. 2:06 pm. Yep. Restless indeed. In two weeks I’d be living somewhere else, and in a month I’d be back in school in a strange city going after my dreams. For now however, my life was starting to fill strangely devoid of purpose. I fixed my coffee and took it back to the table. I pulled out my cell and scrolled through some numbers. It was time to connect, call a few friends, and see if I could encourage someone, because no matter where I was living, people were the real purpose in my life, whether I liked Rick Warren or not.