First Posted 21-Sep-2014
This is a favorite of many Sunday School teachers. It’s the class they do where they talk about gratitude. A typical exercise is to list 50 things to be grateful for. I’m good for a list of a dozen or so. 50 is hard. It’s not that I am ungrateful. I have a hard time being put on display like that. I am grateful. I didn’t get here alone. There is a large crowd of people who contributed to this point in time in my life. I am blessed and that crowd had a lot to do with it.
“I live in heaven”. If you have known me for a bit you’ll hear me say that. I’m not being foolish. I’m not dead or some special angel sent here from heaven. I haven’t been insulated from strife. If you doubt me, scroll through my Facebook page. I’m just a guy. But, I do say that. I do say I live in heaven.
I have that list also. The one the Sunday School teacher doesn’t want on the Sunday when they teach gratitude. Things which might cause me to lay prostrate before the altar at church and ask him, “Why?!” Some include being divorced from my wife of seven years, watching my son grow from age eight to eighteen from afar, being an ex-offender, been to jail, been homeless, penniless, unable to own a car, pretty much the whole bucket list of horrors promised to me by my Dad if I didn’t get it together. Were I of a mood to cry, I have plenty I could cry about. For a time, I did cry, blaming my father for my troubles, also blaming Uncle Sam, various friends, and God.
This could be that post, the one where I keep going for 500 words or so about the reasons why I should be pissed, sad, depressed, or worse than I am. The claim that I live in heaven is a bit incredible. In addition to my personal, dark bucket list of unwanted hard times, there is all that is messed up about the world. The fact that Satan is in charge and he takes great delight in making as big a mess of things as he can. The starving children in Africa and elsewhere, the current evil, idiot violence of radical Muslims seeking to restore the Ottoman Empire (good luck with that), our now forgotten outrage over the death of Michael Brown, our current outrage over the domestic abuse being committed by athletes in the NFL . . . I could fill a year’s worth of posts just detailing all that Satan has underway to cause us strife.
I have friends who have been captured by the allure of this. They are Christian, decidedly so, but the life in Satan’s bar is seductive. Great food, great people, amazing music, best well drinks anywhere, all of whatever makes you feel good you is there for the taking. It comes at a price, of course, but it’s there and you can have as much as you like. Pastor’s and ministers who spend years sermonizing about the boogey-men alive in the world, its dangers and pitfalls, pleasures to be warned against and necessity of sticking to the laws of Cheeeezus.
These friends make me sad. I’m not blind. I see it too. I see the ugly in God’s creation. But God made an infinite world where there is light and salt as well. There is standing on top of Grizzly Peak in Berkeley, CA on a night when the fog was low over the San Francisco Bay and glowed orange from the city lights. There is dim-sum in Oakland’s Chinatown with Julie Lucchesi for about a year while I talked her into being my girlfriend. My two vacations to Taiwan, which were life-changing and still something I talk about. My son, Tim, who was the world’s best kid and is now becoming a man I admire and happily count as a friend. Watching young women walk down Bancroft Avenue alongside the UC Berkeley Campus each spring, like orchids newly bloomed. Ten thousand things that God made as part of His light which bring me to say I live in heaven.
I don’t want to preach this time. Do you. Do whatever. I’m not the one who will cajole you with promises to get things done or fulfill your every whim so that you’ll come to Jesus. I came to Jesus because each time I ran away he was still there with hot soup in a smoldering hearth and just let me talk. Often, the beginnings of it are not heaven. I have to fight the urge to whimper that it’s never been good, it’s always been horrible, I have no friends, nobody loves me, nobody knows the trouble I’ve seen and this is the worst thing I’ve ever done. He’s always there whittling by the hearth. He knows I’ll come around in time.
I still found heaven in the croissants and coffee at Au Coquelet in Berkeley, CA. I still lived in heaven even in the depths of my worst times. If there is any message in these words, it is that you can probably find heavenly beauty in your own life, right now, as you are, with all the good and mess in it, no altar call or preaching needed. Ok, a little preaching. It is better with Christ. It really is.