When I was a youth director in North Carolina, I was often asked by students, “What is heaven like?”
Nowadays, you can read supposed firsthand accounts of the afterlife, but back then, I just had the Bible.
So I would often describe the vision in the Book of Revelation, which imagined angels and archangels and saints surrounding the throne of God, singing praises unto the One on the throne, the Lamb and the King. Sound good to you?
Well, one precocious student replied, “That sounds kind of like going to church.”
“Yes,” I replied.
“Oh man, how boring!”
Now that I have a son, I especially appreciate such reminders that it is our tendency to reduce the irreducible into blanket absolutes that is truly boring to the open and imaginative mind.
And speaking such imagination, as part of a class on world religions, I’ve been reading the Bhagavad Gita, which seems to sanction violence as a means of restoring social control. At least, that is how the text was interpreted for thousands of years.
But then, a skinny, little, dark-skinned Indian man – who, by his own admission, spent at least ten minutes preening and primping in front of a mirror every morning as a youngster trying to look white – read the same text in an imaginative way, so that he launched a campaign of nonviolence that eventually freed his native land from imperial control . . . that same culture that he once tried so hard to emulate.
Gandhi’s reading of the Gita: “Strength does not come from physical capacity, it comes from an indomitable will.”
This week, I am hoping and praying that our leaders will find similar moral resolve that they, too, might imagine a nonviolent response to the tragedy in Syria.
And who knows? That might just give us a glimpse of heaven.