The past few months have been full of speculation from theology types about heaven and hell. And while I feel a bit like a child with my nose pressed against the glass as the grown ups talk inside about grown up stuff, I have enjoyed following the debate...from a safe distance. Not committing one way or the other, just observing.
This morning it occurred to me when watching my son why it is I'm not fully engaged in the debate. I can't say I much care about the afterlife, conceptually. Maybe that's short-sighted. Or immature. Or maybe it's the freest I've felt since I first got into "God" stuff at the tender age of 10 or 11. Regardless it's a matter of "whatever works." It works for me, here and now.
I watched my nephew get confirmed into my childhood denomination this weekend. Afterwards he and I took my two young children to a local park. As my kids ran and played, he and I hung out on the swings. We talked about confirmation, church, religion. He's a great kid. I'm really proud of how well he's done. He's smart and personable. But more important to me, he's grounded and compassionate. As we talked he expressed how the pastor at his church doesn't get it. He wants him (and the other kids) to spend more and more time at church. He finally said, in an exasperated tone, "as if God lived at the church anyways!" I laughed. And I was reminded what a bright kid he really is. At his age, I was pretty convinced God did live at my church. And He was waiting for me to screw up. And I had better have a good explanation when I did, because it was inevitable. I was, after all, worthless. And I would be burning in hell for all eternity if I didn't get it right. I'm so thankful his experience of God is so different from mine. He gets resurrection more clearly than I did at his age. It really has nothing to do with what goes on in church buildings.
The pastor who confirmed my nephew preached for a time about how this was the time for my nephew and his peers to "stand on their own two feet" as individuals. That they no longer could rely upon the faith of their parents or older family, they had to make a personal decision to be followers of Jesus. I wanted to object to his sermon (being a lawyer never comes in useful at church). Being confirmed and accepted into the body of the church has absolutely nothing to do with "standing on one's own two feet." In fact, that's the whole point. Community is about having hundreds of feet to stand on. We don't have to have all the answers or get it all at once. The community is there to help us remember when we forget the fundamental truth - God still loves us. Even now, after all this time. I don't know if I get to go to heaven, but if I can experience even a glimpse of this overwhelming, all-encompassing love, I'll be ok if there is nothing else after this life. I've already been resurrected to that truth. I have died to the image I had of God as the mean dad and replaced it with the resurrected reality of God as the One who is with us and in us.
Back to watching my son...this morning as I dropped him off at preschool, it was pouring down rain. We ran into the building. We hung up his coat and did our usual kisses and hugs. As I reached the door, he called out. He had forgotten his blanket in the car. I was a little confused, as he has not been especially attached to this blanket for some time. I asked him why he needed this blanket from the car, particularly since it meant I was going to have run back out in the rain. He, through tears, explained that the blanket in the car covered his feet, and the one he currently had at school doesn't. I went out in the rain and retrieved it. I was rewarded with a kiss and another hug. His need to be covered, all of him, while he rested stuck with me for the rest of the day. It seems to me we all hope for this, to be covered.
And the resurrection is about this. I don't know why Jesus had to die. I know all the theories about it. I don't know why all of the kids I work with have to be abused. I understand the theories - the drug abuse of their parents, the cycle of abuse, etc. Still, it doesn't make sense to me. The only Jesus I can understand at all is one that is with us, covering us, standing with us. Otherwise the crucifixion/resurrection story seems pretty tragic with a sort of supernatural ending that I can't reconcile. I need a Jesus that wants to be sure my feet are covered, and one that helps me live in a community where my feet are covered whether with my own blanket or someone else's for a time. A Jesus that thinks there is good in me, even when I can't recognize it, and sends me friends to remind me of this when I forget. I don't know if I'll get to meet that Jesus in the afterlife. I suppose I hope so. But in the meantime, I'm happy knowing Jesus here and now in the context of my communities as we struggle, laugh, love together.