David Dark: Liking People in Heaven as on Earth

David Dark photo
David Dark

Sometimes in reading we find good anecdotes worth sharing. I hope you agree that the following by culture critic David Dark from his book The Sacredness of Questioning Everything is thought-provoking. His story pokes fun at our ideas of who we expect to hang out with in heaven. These celestial hopes are a far cry from the imperfect people we deal with on earth.

David Dark: “My story occurred at a family reunion. I once had an aged relative who wouldn’t suffer anyone he took to be a fool, and his least favorite ship of fools was crewed by his family. With persuasion, he managed to appear at the gathering. But as soon as he could, he made his way into a spare room and took a very long nap. He came. He saw. He slept. And got away with it. At least no one could say he hadn’t shown up.

Man sleeping in an armchair by fireplace
Is he sleeping to avoid someone?

After his nap, his sister spotted him and said, “Where have you been?”

“I was asleep,” he replied with the ease of a wit who knew he need fear no attempt at reprimand. But he wasn’t done with her. “And you know what?”

“What?”

“One of these days I’m just gonna keep on sleeping.”

The macabre note of this remark might require some explanation. This relative was extremely well-versed in the biblical witness and all manner of religious controversy. Both were intertwined within this family’s culture in such a way that conversation in this direction was highly unpleasant (hence the bad energy of reunions). “I won’t have to deal with you and you won’t have to deal with me,” he seems to say…. “Anyone care to dispute it?” He’d thrown down the gauntlet, and as his sister excused herself, I decided to pick it up.

“And you know what you’re gonna find when you wake up?”

“What?”

“More people.”

And he laughed until he coughed. He knew I was taking a shot at his meanness by way of an appeal to a coming redemption, a more long-term reunion than this business with families, we might say. And it won’t play to our tastes. It’s a larger hospitality than most of us feel we can afford most of the time. It’s the common decent that is the only eternal life worth talking about. If hell is other people, as Jean-Paul Sartre observed, it is probably also the case, as C.S. Lewis’s The Great Divorce proposed, that heaven is too. We’d better get used to it. There’s no getting away from each other, God help us. And if we aren’t up for finding one another interesting and valuable now (relatives, coworkers, enemies, immigrants), why do we suppose we’ll want the human community then? Relationships are what we’ve got, the currency, we might say, of the kingdom that is here and coming. Were we hoping to get away from everyone?”

Copyright © 2009 The Zondervan Corporation

Valentine Volcanoes for Lent

I do not know when events on the church calendar became more important to me than other holidays. Perhaps the change occurred when I started using hair dye on grey strands. The Wind and Fire day of Pentecost happens near my birthdays, and the Holy Spirit’s story is a lot more exciting than the torch of candles on birthday cakes. Two calendar occasions observed currently are: Ash Wednesday/Lent and Valentine’s Day. These holidays trigger thoughts of volcanoes. “Volcanoes?” you ask. Let’s just say God has been placing volcanoes in my life like blinking billboards.

Active Volcano Arenal, Costa Rica, (photo by CAB)
Active Volcano Arenal, Costa Rica (photo by CAB)

Last month I traipsed around several Costa Rican volcanoes–extinct, dormant and much alive. A volcano’s capacity to destroy is balanced by the beauty that occurs in its explosive aftermath. Volcanic soil produces the richest vegetation.

Lake Botos, the southern lake fills an inactive crater in Costa Rica
Lake Botos, the southern lake fills an inactive crater in Costa Rica (photo by CAB).
Uku loses hope of ever finding love in the middle of Lava Love by Pixar Animation Studios.
Uku loses hope of ever finding love in the middle of “Lava Love” by Pixar Animation Studios.

Meanwhile, back in the U.S., a two-year-old convinces me to play Pixar’s “Lava Love” video over and over again. Uku, the male volcano, passes his years smoking and singing his song of wishful love. We smile as dolphins and turtles play nearby. Time passes, and Uku sinks into the ocean with his hopes snuffed out. During this part of the cartoon, the two-year-old catches her breath, her eyes widen, and the frown moves to sadness.

“Sometimes,” I whisper, “our stories are sad in the middle too.” Soon, however, she breaks out into a big smile as female volcano Lele starts singing Uku’s song.

Uku and his love Lele together at last in Pixar Animation Studios' Lava Love.
Uku and Lele together at last in Pixar Animation Studios’ “Lava Love.”

Their love explodes and results in both volcanoes living together side by side. Hopeful longing bears the fruit of joyful love.

During Lent’s 40 days (plus the Sundays before Easter), followers of Jesus live with hopeful longing. The journey begins with “Ash” Wednesday, when believers submit to an ash cross smeared across their foreheads. Ashes represent

Black and white art by Pat Marrin
Art by Pat Marrin, celebrationpublications.org

our mortality—our inability to save ourselves from eternal death. It’s not a pretty truth, that our meanness, apathy, selfishness, pride, etc., are the reasons Jesus died. None of this gunk deserves to be taken into eternity, and we each are filled with it. This past Wednesday, with many others, I tearfully declared, “I am the one,” (whose sins Jesus bore), and the person marking me with a cross responded, “As am I. Praise God for His redeeming love.”

If you don’t observe Lent, that’s okay. Lent is simply a big Valentine: Jesus gave; we receive. This 40-day pocket of time, however, offers an opportunity. A few days ago I listened to an audio interview with David Steindl-Rast, a wise, old Benedictine monk who uses exploding volcanoes as a metaphor for spiritual vitality.

Who doesn’t want to be vital?

Lent could be our season of patient attentiveness, listening, reflecting, confessing to the One who never leaves us. On the outside, life seems normal, routine. But on the inside, in your prayer time, there is activity– moving lava, building pressure, waiting for the moment of resurrection when the top blows off and nothing is the same. Sometimes, we need a radical shift in the geography. Maybe your Lenten season and Easter will be like a living volcano.

Eyjafjallajökull volcano erupting, Fimmvörðuháls area, Iceland, 7th of April 2010
“Eyjafjallajökull” volcano erupting, in Iceland, in 2010.

It is your job to figure out how that plays out. I’m working through it too. But during the process I keep thinking of Jesus’ words, “Truly I tell you, if anyone says to this mountain, ‘Go, throw yourself into the sea,’ and does not doubt in their heart but believes that what they say will happen, it will be done for them” (Mark 11:23 NIV).

Pandas, Sparrows, and Us

During a three-day winter storm, I hibernated in a warm home, pondering pandas and sparrows. If you have seen a panda, you are indeed privileged. By one count, there are only some 2000 in the world. But here’s a thought: if you have spotted a ubiquitous sparrow, you are privileged too. Track with me on this idea.

My panda curiosity began after seeing Kung Fu Panda 3. If you like animation and humor, this movie is a winner.

A large Panda poses on a pedestal above a crowd of Pandas.
From Dreamworks.com’s promotional material

It is filled with lovable pandas rolling about, gobbling dumplings, and supporting each other’s uniqueness. The movie offers two themes: “each of us has special gifts,” and “we must combine our ‘chi’ to conquer evil”—kind of like “May the Force be with you.”

I don’t know why it surprised me to discover that real pandas aren’t anything like movie pandas. Here are some facts.

Pandas are not sociable, but territorial. They need to protect their limited food supply.

Panda photo courtesy of Pixabay.
Look out! I’m docile but territorial. Photo courtesy of pix-a-bay.com.

Most of the time they are only friendly to each other during mating season and when the female, as a single parent, raises her baby. Half the time a female has twins, but often chooses only the strongest one and rejects the other.

Pandas don’t hibernate because their low-fat diet won’t sustain lengthy sleeping. They each daily eat between 20 to 40 pounds of bamboo in over 15 varieties. They munch up to 14 hours a day and poop up to 40 times a day. In captivity, they are given a diet of bamboo, supplemented with sugar cane, rice gruel, a special high-fiber biscuit, carrots, apples, and sweet potatoes. Fruity popsicles are tasty too.

A Panda chews on bamboo.
I have to eat a lot of these to keep up my figure. Photo courtesy of pix-a-bay.com.

Pandas’ natural habitat is a small slice of China’s central mountains. As people encroach on the land there is less panda food and, therefore, this bear’s population cannot grow in the wild unless it has more protected lands.

Panda Photo courtesy of the San Diego Zoo and used with permission.
Photo courtesy of the San Diego Zoo Global and used with permission.

Through China’s cooperation with other countries, there are small populations of pandas in zoos worldwide. Currently, you can find a few pandas at the National Zoo in Washington, D.C.; Zoo Atlanta in Georgia; the San Diego Zoo in California; and the Memphis Zoo in Tennessee.

Panda photo courtesy of Pixabay
Yes, I’m adorable. Photo courtesy of pix-a-bay.com.

One other curious panda fact is that Chinese ancient art is panda-less. Other kinds of bears are carved into jade, and there are lots of paintings of bamboo and mountains where the pandas live, but no pandas.

After doing this research, I really wanted to see a live panda. I wondered how many zoo visitors realize the specialness of what they behold when viewing the black and white bears.

Photo of sparrow courtesy of images.all-free-download.com
Photo courtesy of images.all-free-download.com

Also, all this panda reading led me to ask which creatures are seen by more people worldwide than any others? I do not know the official answer, but surely the lowly sparrow is in the running.

Jesus spoke of the sparrow:

“Two sparrows sell for a farthing, don’t they? Yet not a single sparrow falls to the ground without your Father’s knowledge. The very hairs of your head are all numbered. Never be afraid, then—you are far more valuable than sparrows” (Matthew 10:29-31, J. B. Phillips New Testament).

Here is my conclusion on “Pandas, Sparrows, and Us.”

A panda is special because it is on the verge of extinction and because it is just so darn cute.

A sparrow is special because Jesus said not one falls to the ground without the Father knowing.

And, we are special, because we are each more valuable than sparrows.

Pandas are rare and attractive; sparrows are many and humble-looking. And us? Although we together total seven billion people, we are individually highly treasured by the One who declares he cares and is mindful of the smallest creatures. It’s mind-blowing, but then we are not the Creator of pandas, sparrows and humans.

Back side of a panda photographed through some greenery as the bear looks at a pond.
Photo courtesy of pix-a-bay.com.