Wineskins Archive

December 11, 2013

Big “S” Heaven (Feb 2012)

Filed under: — @ 10:35 pm and

By Carmen Beaubeaux

Editor’s Note: I publish this not so much because I necessarily agree that heaven will be as Carmen paints it with these beautiful and challenging strokes, but mostly because I think there are a lot of people who have this picture of heaven — and see Christians today and wonder why the church doesn’t look more like this.

Church is great.

I love the architecture, the altars, the vestments, the candles; the slant of morning light through colored glass. I even love the clumsy and awkward accoutrement: the parking lot; the sign that says too much in too little space; the over-the-top nice lady passing out bulletins laced with jaunty cartoon illustrations; the donuts, the coffee, the red punch; the slideshows; the nurseries full of hour-orphans as parents turn holy hands to other deities.

And, I love the people: The Young Singles engaged in at least three simultaneous life-changing, cornea-spelunking conversations – Behind them, the widows in sensible shoes nod politely to one another and punt demure sideways glances across the aisle – sniffing distance from the Aqua Velva’d widowers who met up at McDonalds for Sunday breakfast.

Even the annoying things are worth the two-inch toast of artificially colored grape drink: Here’s to the choir music that makes me actually rejoice the onset of severe hearing loss. Here’s to the high-formula golden-voiced pray-ers who drop “thee” and “thou” cluster bombs (Oh, Lord God, thou art the Alpha and Omega and we worship thee with humility …) to terrorize their lowly opponents, the guerilla pray-ers, who fire out rapid successions of the word “just” (Lord-Daddy-Jesus, we just come before you in just such humility and with just so much love …) Ya gotta love your prayer warriors.

Don’t put down your metaphorically raised between heaven and earth tee-nine-see glass of non-alcoholic Jesus Juice yet: Here’s to all the awful sermons by those professional spiritual masters who burden the congregants with the emotional weight of their ongoing self-analysis. How about the preacher who – to illustrate how God must sometimes do unpleasant things – specifically, the stoning deaths of infants – disclosed his depression-era childhood experience of sneaking into the work shed to catch his father in the act of drowning a litter of unwanted puppies in a bucket of water. Preaching-therapy … There’s nothing like it to fill up the roster for nursery duty.

No one should be expected to observe any religion – especially one’s own – as perfect. One naturally recognizes and embraces the sacred and ridicules everything else on the ride home after worship. I’m an actor and the pulpit is a stage. In my line of work everything that happens on a stage is open to interpretation, reflection and criticism. If there is a code of conduct that one must quietly suffer every sentiment, philosophy or dogma a brother or sister expresses in worship without comment, then I’m utterly doomed. I take the attitude that submission is reserved for God and all else is merely subjugation – something Shadrack, Meshak, Abednego and Jesus were clearly against.

Anyway – as you can see – I’m the sort who generates a blowback effect when told what not to do. Fifty years of sermons against the excesses of “Cafeteria Religion” have only encouraged my enthustiastic pursuit of Cafeteria Religion. When I’m having one of those Catholic moments, I grab Thomas Merton or Chardin, a bottle of wine and a loaf of bread and head to the park. When I feel the need for that old-time religion I pack my Torah in a handbag and go to D.Z. Akins for a bowl of matzo ball soup and a pumpernickel bagel. And, yes, for those pesky Islam moments, I loves me some afternoon-delight Rumi along with kebab and lentils at the Indo-European Market – I’ve always thought protestant food could take a bit more spice – In Jerusalem, the wrong people from the wrong religions are commonly entertained on special feast days ¬– they put on the wrong clothes and cross the wrong boundaries into the wrong neighborhoods, following the aroma of the festival food they crave. Mama’s right. Food heals. For a feasting and religion combo get yourself to a Portuguese festa (pronounced fesh-ta)! When, at last, I reach The Great Beyond I plan to spend as much time as possible in Portuguese Heaven where I have reserved a big ol’ bowl of sopas in the sky with linguiça.

Okay. It’s not all about the food – if it were, I’d have had bypass surgery before now – It’s the stories … I love the oral traditions that shore up the foundations of faith movements. Even the Mormon stories get to me. I want to hear about everyone’s expulsions so I can understand that no one holds the corner on ridicule, rejection, banishment and death; And the rituals! I want to know about all the rituals so I can understand what makes God bend down and weave this way and that through the space-time continuum just to breathe across the surface of my heart’s deep and pitiful longing. I want to do all the rituals (that dont hurt), mostly the water ablutions (as long as the CIA isn’t involved) because the water stuff predates even Judaism. Jesus must have had his reasons for not chucking baptism out with the Pharisaic priesthood; And, it’s the music. I want to lift my broken down church lady soprano to sing with others about hope. No matter the religious brand, the songs are always about a place far away where no one gets sick and dies and babies don’t get burnt up in meth lab accidents. Ancient religious music hits a universal nerve. Heaven. You know it’s there. I know it’s there. My friend who died and was revived by the cardio team really, really knows it’s there. C’mon if we were honest with each other we’d say, “Let’s do heaven, okay?” because in this economy it’s more a sure thing than lunch.

Jesus said a few things. For me, the wisest thing Jesus ever said was “S” in Matthew 16:19. He said to Peter, “I will give you the keyS of the kingdom of heaven, and whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.” So, if there’s more than one key to heaven there must be multiple doors. Whether Jesus meant there’s one door to heaven and many keyholes? or many doors to heaven, each with its own key? or if heaven is like a condominium resort in Hawaii (please-oh-please-oh-please-oh-please!) any way you figure it, we’ll all be neighbors. Maybe a Buddhist monk will sashay next door to borrow a cup of sugar from a festa queen with linguiça on her breath? Or maybe a Muslim extremist will be greeted to his reward by seventy-two Handmaids of The Sacred Heart of Jesus waiting to tutor him in the art of self-sacrifice? Or maybe Jerry Falwell is sharing a corner south-east facing condo with a Quranic Sufi?

What if Jesus is right? What if Heaven – like Earth – is what you make of it? … “whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.” … Jesus also said, “the gate is narrow and the way is hard that leads to Life and those who find it are few.” What’s hard about embracing the same denomination of the same religion you were raised in and never venturing out to see what else is there? Jesus crossed the boundaries and conventions of his religion and seems to be an expert about the afterlife. So, by all means do whatever you think is right, but I’m following Jesus’ S to Heaven and I hope to meet you along the way.

The universal longing for heaven is common ground for people of all faiths. If our own spiritual community is the closest thing here on earth to that Sweet By ‘N By, then the rule applies to all – so, might as well start practicing. Attend a Passover or a festa. Celebrate Eid. Visit an African American church or a Mormon Temple. Schlep your canary over to The Feast of Saint Frances for The Blessing Of The Animals. What could happen? When I was a kid we were vilified for sending Christmas cards with religious symbols on them, and now it’s almost common for Churches of Christ to throw pageants. This isn’t about working out your angst for an over-protected fundamentalist upbringing. It’s about following Jesus as he progresses to the cross leaving behind him a street littered with the remnants of the social and institutional impediments to personal growth and the template for a spirituality that can be described as anything but “polite.”

No pressure, though. Take it slow. Think about it. If the motives are unselfish, the work will be genuine. That’s the key.

And, no kidding. Let’s do heaven, okay?


  1.   R.J. — February 22, 2014 @ 8:56 pm    Reply

    Dear Matt Dabbs,

    I sincerely do not believe this article contributes anything to this series of fellowship as it espouses a pluralism and implies a denial of Christ’s singular mediatorship. I mean no disrespect to Carmen Beaubeaux, but I seriously think she took Matt. 16:19 out of context. I sincerely hope that she changes her views.

    I myself am what is considered a progressive in our faith tribe just like you. One reason this magazine became established was to help us progress from the confines of traditionalism-but never the truth.

    However, “Big S Heaven” seems to be promoting a form of Universalism(i.e. all roads lead to Heaven). Which both contradicts the Sacred Writings and the vision of this e-zine.

    Yours truly, R.J.

    •   Matt Dabbs — February 23, 2014 @ 1:04 am    Reply


      Thank you for voicing your concern in the comments on this article. I haven’t read this article yet as I have been working on so many things to get the 1600 articles that were published in Wineskins prior to 2014 up, archived and easily accessible for posterity. When I get a few extra moments I will read this article and reflect on your comments. Thank you for stopping by and thank you for voicing your concern.

      •   R.J. — April 25, 2014 @ 2:27 pm    Reply

        no problemo

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