Inchworms & Moving Boxes

inchworms

I ran into a (former) seminary classmate yesterday. He was walking into our campus apartment building with his arms full of cardboard boxes; he and his wife were getting ready to move south, onto their next chapter. I held the door for him.

“You all packed up?”

“Almost,” he said, and smiled the way a captain of ship might as it passes another in the night.

I continued on my way but then had a thought and called after him. “Hey- if I don’t see you again, well…then…” Actually, I wasn’t sure what to say.

He looked back at me, still smiling. “God bless you,” he said. And he turned with a nod as I did too.

They left sometime last night. I wasn’t around to see them off.

I keep returning from my runs with inchworms all over my shirt. How they ended up on my person was a mystery to me. So I slowed to a walk during one jog a couple days ago. And I observed an inchworm dangling in the middle of the trail, just below my eye level, attached by an invisible thread to some tree branch up above, waiting for someone, something, to come by.

I had a nightmare the other night in which my wife died. I woke up and reached for her in the dark. She was there, but was she breathing? I sat up and leaned over, my hand reaching to check her pulse.

“Wha- what…babe? What are you doing?” Ah. There’s that pulse.

“Uh, nothing…go back to sleep.”

She gave me a look, like I was up to no good, like I was ten years old and she was my brother and myself and Stephen Banich were sneaking into his room in the middle of the night to paint his fingernails bright pink before the morning of his first football practice. But her eyelids were heavy and she was soon back asleep.

Which was convenient. Because how on earth could I possibly explain? I thought I’d lost you; my heart was about to explode inside my chest?

We were on a walk this evening, and I couldn’t help but notice that the parking lot outside our apartment looks somewhat ominous: there’s moving trucks parked where minivans used to be, storage containers occupying our neighbor’s parking spot.

And I felt a little bit like an inchworm.

All day and all night these little creatures dangle and flail about, waiting for something to come by, waiting for the wind to blow, waiting to find something solid, something steady, something secure to which they can hang on. And when they (finally) find something, when they think the world has stopped spinning madly beneath their feet, they find it pulled from under them again.

It makes me feel a little heartless at how quickly I just flick them off, onto the concrete or pavement. But they had a good go of it, I tell myself. This is the way of things.

And then I pass someone in the hallway. And I think about the classes we had together, the time we were in the same group for a project, and the couple of movies and dinners shared in his apartment. We weren’t incredibly close- but a small corner of my world is attached to his. And he’s getting ready to pack it into boxes.

We shed as we pick up, Tom Stoppard once said, like travelers who must carry everything in their arms. Perhaps I should have offered to help carry a box.

What a world it is that God has made. A world that spins, evolves, moves from season to season, arrives and departs, from dust to dust. Life is a short and fevered rehearsal, A.W. Tozer once said, for a concert we cannot stay to give.

As we walked into our building I took my wife’s hand. This world may scare. But there’s something to be said for the hope that, wherever we land, whatever we latch onto for however long a period of time, it’s just a shadow of where we’ll one day stand.

Which should be of comfort, I suppose. Comfort as we cling to shadows that then slip away, into the night of today. Because the sunrise is coming, and it will shine like a million candles in the darkness. And every shadow we’ve held, every love we’ve lost, every corner of our world we’d seen packed into boxes and whisked away, it’ll be there, waiting again for us to hug, cherish, admire, have and hold.

It sounds like a distant dream. But the inchworms, panicked love, and move-out dates of the world fan the flames of its desire.

It may be all we have. But there’s much to be said of it, I’m sure.

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Superman & Faceless Creatures

asupermand

Can I be honest with you? I’m not a good person. A decent person, maybe. I don’t indulge in any illicit substance, I’ve not committed a hate crime and the only thing I’ve ever stolen was Bobby Reynolds Superman action-figure; I took out of his sandbox, one pubescent summer day after he refused to share his fruit rollup with me (which is to say that the twit had it coming). So I’m a decent person, maybe- but certainly not a good one.

For example, this past week we travelled across the country to visit some family before Christmas. My wife, ever the economical guru, managed to find us the cheapest flight possible- meaning it left at zero dark thirty.

Now a good person, a good husband, would’ve been thankful for her financial prudence. Heck, a good person might even be allowed a few grumbles at first, but certainly wouldn’t have complained the entire trip to the airport and certainly wouldn’t have used manipulative guilt (“I sure hope sleep deprivation doesn’t spark migraines… and did you hear scientists have linked it to pneumonia?”) to make her buy him a donut at the terminal. No, a good man wouldn’t even consider these things.

At times I look in the mirror. Have you- and excuse me for asking so bluntly- ever really looked at yourself in a mirror? Have you taken in your eyes, the color of the line where your iris meets the pupil, the depth of the whites around them, the twitch and twitter of countless muscles pulling them to and fro? I’ll wager you haven’t- few of us do. And the thing is when I look at my eyes, I mean really look into them, I couldn’t tell you what I see. I want to call it a face- for that is the only name I know. But what I see is beyond faceness: in a way it’s the absence of a face- it’s an intangible form but an existent one nonetheless. It’s indescribable, really. Try it, you’ll see.

I think about the afterlife a lotdon’t you? It seems logical that some day I’ll be required to give account, not for my decency, but for all the not-good I have committed: words spoken in anger, teenage-backseat rendezvous, my potty mouth, that one night with that one(ish) handle of whiskey and, of course, stealing that twit Bobby’s stupid Superman. In this regard, I have much fear and trembling. For I am not good, as we have established. And should my faith in the justice of paradise’s gatekeeper turn out to be even remotely accurate, then I’ve earned my way to an eternity of early morning flights.

It was CS Lewis who once proposed that heaven will be realness beyond our capacity, more than we can bear. And that makes sense- doesn’t it? I mean if you think about eternity- truly contemplate neverendingness, time without a clock-well it’s rather terrifying isn’t it? I’d rather think about anything: tragedy, pain, heartbreak… the notion of having to catch a flight at the butt crack of dawn- I’d rather muse over all these things than think about eternity. I just can’t bear it. Because when I look into my eyes I see no face capable of smiling upon the suns endless rays. And with no face- what hope do I really have? How can we meet the gods face to face, Lewis will later ask, until we have faces?

I suppose it brings us to faith, hope for grace and mercy. Because I have no face- I am not good enough to know one nor am I powerful enough to make it.

And If I make it to the pearly gates, if I’m there when the clouds come down and veil of beauty around us is lifted, I suppose I shall break down weeping- weeping in the simultaneous sadness and joy known only a father on his daughter’s wedding day, or a mother as her child backs down the driveway, car packed to the brim for college- a feeling known to truly loving another, perhaps for the first time. I shall weep and I will beg for a face, a face to smile, a face to laugh, a face to praise and a face to behold the beauty stretching before me into everlasting. I’ll ask for a face not because I’m good; more than ever I shall know I am hardly decent. But I’ll ask because I’m before the Good, and if I can only behold it, have the face with which to see it, then nothing shall be lacking in me. And, if He is as wonderful as I believe, then maybe, just maybe, I’ll get a face. And I shall go my way, into forever.

But not before asking that He makes sure to also give one to Bobby Reynolds. That twit.

If Dogs Don’t Go To Heaven, It Won’t Be Heaven

VATICAN-RELIGION-POPE

I’m a Protestant, I should say that to start. And there are times when I’m infinitely thankful for the fact that my theological views keep me from setting sail for Rome (basically every time I read a Matt Walsh blog post). But then there are times that I really, truly, kinda-sorta wanna be Catholic. In the past few years, most of those instances have evolved around a statement from Pope Francis. Because Super Pope has a wonderful tendency of making statements that have caused at least one Fox News anchor’s brain to short circuit while making me all:

And this week, he’s done it again.

In a recent public appearance, Pope Francis had a conversation with a young boy who’s dog had recently died. In comforting the child, Francis told him:

“One day, we will see our animals again in the eternity of Christ. Paradise is open to all of God’s creatures.”

Naturally, this created a little bit of conversation. The topic of an animal’s existence into eternity is by no means a new one, and Catholic Popes have been somewhat divided over the issue for most of recent church history. And while Francis’ statement was conversational (and, it’s worth noting, a good example of pastoral care) as opposed to an official proclamation, this seems consistent with many of Francis’ other views- let alone the fact that his namesake is Francis of Assisi, the patron saint of animals.

Furthermore, I hope this draws us all into the important question of what exactly the afterlife entails-not because we can ever truly know– but because what we believe about heaven has implications for how we live now.

The status quo, among Protestants and Catholics alike, tends to answer the question whether or not animals will in heaven by pointing out that animals don’t have souls and, therefore, couldn’t be in the afterlife. Heaven will be, after all, a place where following the destruction of this world and casting of all who don’t choose Christ into hell, the souls of the chosen dwell for eternity, .

The problem with this notion is that it isn’t Christian, at least not from a Biblical viewpoint.

Beyond a disturbingly callous relationship to the rest of the created order, the notion of heaven being a dwelling of human’s souls is also problematic. In fact, the idea of our soul’s departing to the afterlife does not originate from the Bible but from Plato. It was Greek philosophical thought that propagated the belief that we live in a material world, one in which our souls are held captive. Thanks to an intensely Greek influence on the culture and philosophical quandaries of the early church, this thought was often times merged with a Christian understanding of salvation. In fact, there was one early sect of Christians known as Gnostics. Their name evolved from the Greek word γνωστικός (gnostikos) which meant ‘learned’ or ‘knowledge’ because their teachings emphasized the elevation of a human’s soul through intellectual piety. The material world, Gnostics believed, was evil- only the spiritual aspects of human could be pure. Gnostics believed that heaven would be a state where our souls are rid of our bodies and can finally live in perfection. Gnosticism had numerous variations, almost all of which were declared to be heretical by the early church. 

But despite the early rejection of this notion Platonic/Pseudo-Gnostic thought has perpetuated many strings of modern Christian thinking. Hence, many Evangelicals might describe their belief in the after life by saying that ‘when we die our souls will go to heaven.’

The Biblical text creates a different picture. Ancient Jews believed, like Greeks, that upon death the spirits descended into Hades or Sheoul, a dark and cold underworld. The notion of resurrection doesn’t appear on the Biblical scene until Jesus; no such notion had even been conceived. The Sadduccees famously refuted the notion of a resurrection, but even this denial had nothing to do with a physical raising from the dead- such nonsense wasn’t even up for debate. Sadducees simply believed that when you died, your soul died with you, whereas mainstream Jews though, like Plato, that the soul would live on, elsewhere.

All this goes to say that the notion of bodily resurrection was so foreign and so contextually bizarre in the time of Christ that his disciples weren’t expecting him to be raised from the dead. At best, they figured his spirit dwelt elsewhere, but no one was hanging around his tomb waiting for him to pop out. This explains why the risen Christ went to great lengths to assure those he appeared to that he was not a ghost, not just a spirit, but was in fact risen in the flesh (John 20:27, Luke 24:42-43). We see Paul emphasize the idea of bodily resurrection in Romans 8:11: “…he who raised the Messiah Jesus from the dead will give life to your mortal bodies also through his Spirit who lives in you.”

Thus if there is a resurrection of the dead (which we believe there is) then it will be a bodily resurrection, which my no means excludes ‘soul-less’ creatures.

But even beyond this fact, the reality is that Christian theology teaches a perspective that paints the earth, the animal kingdom, and everything within it as more than just stage on which the salvation narrative of mankind is being played. Material things matter; the entire world suffered as a result of the fall (Romans 8:19,22) and Christ promises that he will make all things new, not just the redeemed fraction of the human race (Revelation 21:5). Furthermore, there’s a reason that the prophet Isaiah describes the end result of Christ’s redemptive work using the image of wolves, leopards and lambs cohabiting peacefully (Isaiah 11). It’s symbolic, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t also true; if all of creation was caught up in the fall, it stands to reason that it will also be included in the redemption.

Look, it’d be easy to discard these notions as some ridiculous bi-product of my sentimentality. Rest assured, it’s not- the last pet I lived with was a cat that would frequently awaken me by clawing at my skull; frankly, I could care less if I don’t encounter that thing anytime between now and all eternity.

But the reality is that Christ rose from the grave; this is the hinge on which the rest of Christian theology swings. And in rising from the dead, in his bodily resurrection, he foreshadowed the final resurrection when we will be raised in a like manner. And that resurrection won’t include just our souls, but our bodies as well. And it won’t be limited just to humanity but will include the redemption of the entire cosmos, the restoration of all the created order for the glory of it’s creator. Perhaps this is difficult to believe because animals don’t have the capability of earning the merit required to make it past the pearly gates. But the moment we start considering such a notion we ought to be reminded: neither do we. And God’s grace can get me a green light, I’m sure it could do the same for my golden retriever, who’s worst offense in life was piddling on Mom’s tulip garden.

Now I don’t know whether my beloved golden retriever will be awaiting me when I die, wagging his tale as I step into the new creation. No one does. But I do know that my hope is founded in Christ’s promise that he is powerful enough, he is loving enough, he is creative and miraculous enough to redeem more than just me or my soul- but everything within the cosmos. My hope is founded in the Biblical testimony of a God who’s grace extends to every corner of the earth; who’s promise tells me that heaven is coming, and I will see it soon. In telling me such, the biblical proclamation warns us not to be deceived by false proclamations and bargain-shelf truths. For if the resurrection isn’t grand enough to include some form of animal kingdom, then it’s not the resurrection at all.

Thus, dogs, cats, animals- all of them- must be present, somehow, in the resurrected world, otherwise it’s not the resurrected world. If our hope is hinged on some floaty, ghost-like version of our “inner-self” living forever in some sort of spirit world, then that’s not terribly hopeful. Nor, in fact, is it heaven.