Face it, we all make up what we want heaven to be like.

We all know that if we dig too much into the theological precepts underpinning the Catholic view of the hereafter, the discussions can get a bit deep.

Pope John Paul II described heaven as “a living, personal relationship with the Holy Trinity. It is our meeting with the Father which takes place in the risen Christ through the communion of the Holy Spirit.”

While spiritually satisfying, I think that at least a few of us secretly enhance this definition, hoping that this ‘meeting’ with the Father takes place in a setting that has a worldly context with which most pre-Kingdom dwellers can identify.

So we make up our own views of what we hope heaven will be like, if for no other reason, to give our mind’s eye a sketch of what we expect in the hereafter. Our literature, media, and imagination takes free reign in painting different heavenly settings – most of which involve some ground-level mist and soft music. All these projections help to make heaven seem to be a more attainable, friendly, and rewarding place that makes a lifetime investment of good behavior with a planet full of non-angels worth the grief.

In that spirit, I think that for some, heaven should be a bar.

(For those who may be offended by musings of Jesus as a bartender, turn away now. It’s going to get ugly).


I recently spent a long weekend up at my dad’s place near Buffalo.

He is approaching 91, and we have started the difficult process of ‘winding’ down certain responsibilities that can’t be met with the realities of age – namely, we sold his car and surrendered the ubiquitous symbol of independence that he had held since the 1940’s.

The trip was difficult for other reasons.

My dad (who lives independently in a senior housing complex), seems to be more depressed. I’m worried about his eating well, and his short-term memory is starting to take a beating.

On top of it all, I (the only child) live some 500 miles away.

We are trying to do the right things with relatively frequent trips home, doctors’ appointments, proper stocking of the fridge, and the development of a long distance support network. But the distance and the realities of an aging parent still loom before me as something that leaves me choices of only poor options.

But we made the best of the weekend, and over dinner, I had asked dad if we wanted to go to his VFW post. At first he declined. But after remembering (his memory failings seem to be selective) there was live music that evening, he accepted the invite.

We strolled/shuffled into the post, sauntered up to the bar, ordered a couple of light beers, and turned on the barstools to (literally) face the music.

As the singer eased his voice into the traditional set of classics from the 40’s and the 50’s, I looked at my dad’s face.

It wasn’t Lazarus. But it was close.

His eyes once again sparkled and the genuine smile that I had come to cherish returned to his face as he swayed to the music, tapping his foot while whistling the melody of “Elmer’s Tune.” He turned back to his buddies along the bar as they took up conversations about their families, friends, and relatives as they recounted experiences long gone and memories restored. It’s as though the folks in the place were resuming a chat that had just briefly paused until the weekend’s music returned to breathe life back into the dialog.

I then looked at the dance floor – crowded with folks in their 70’s and 80’s and 90’s– still dancing and smiling as they let the music carry their footseps (albeit a bit slowly) around the room.

I thought about all the things these people – mostly families of WW2 and Korean War veterans – have seen. Some have been through the Great Depression, personally witnessed global warfare on an unimaginable scale. They’ve  dealt with economic booms and busts while watching their country ache with growing pains. They have seen their places of work thrive and then collapse as a new type of ‘global economy’ added to their repertoire. And of course, they now deal with the inevitability of a life that for some, promises not years, but months – maybe weeks.

And still they dance.

Around me, people hugged each other and laughed at the same things that have always evoked giggles – stories of cooking mistakes, run-ins with doctors, messed up golf handicaps and all the other critical issues of the day.

There were hugs, smooches, and handshakes – and plenty of them – gestures of physical contact that fulfilled a human need that could never be matched by a ‘tweet’ or a ‘like’.

This place, this bar, is special for these people. It has nothing to do with the Molson’s Canadian Ale (but that was a nice added touch) or the other drinks. This is a place where people set aside hurts and celebrate common experiences and the accomplishment of waking up to celebrate another day. Mostly, they share genuine interest and caring for each other – everyone may not truly ‘love’ everyone else here, but no one goes without a handshake, a respectful smile, or a helping hand when needed.

This sounds like the kind of setting where that ‘meeting’ the Pope mentioned would take place. This place feels like what I hope my dad’s heaven will be like for him.

Which, of course, leads to the question, ‘if this is heaven, where’s Jesus?’.

The easiest answer is that he’d be one of the servers – always there to deliver what was needed by the customers. Scripture is full of references to Jesus as the perfect servant – so I think He would be the first to approach my table, saying ‘what can I get for you tonight?’.

Of course, He could also be the bartender, again offering to serve. He certainly would make certain the shelves were well stocked (He had practice at a wedding a few years ago). But He also would be good at listening to the stories, hopes, and dreams of those who briefly let down the guard of their day-to-day personalities to verbalize things rarely spoken elsewhere. The good bartender (and He would be a great one), rarely answers the hard questions directly, but asks questions that prompt reflection and a re-thinking of issues, more often than not directing the patron to answers he already knew.

But most likely, Jesus would want us to dance with each other.

Jesus would be the guy at the keyboard.

Dancing doesn’t come easy to most people (especially guys). Once you get past the high school and college years of raging hormones, dance becomes strictly a spectator sport.

Dancing calls us to open up to the embarrassment of possible mis-steps. It reminds most of us of what we don’t do well. The thought of dancing makes us want to seek out the nearest restroom room sign as a tactic that allows us to pretend we simply aren’t there when asked to dance.

But dancing also transforms us. It turns us from bystanders at the table to partners who trust each other to work to turn the sounds of the music into movements that bring us close to each other.

I can see Jesus playing the music that calls us to leave distant tables and to gather together, to surrender to the sounds that pull at our heart-strings, and take the chance we will always find someone to help us move close to each other if we only discard the loneliness of mistrust.

Yes, Jesus would be the guy trying to get us to dance.


As my dad and I drove home, I smiled at the thought of a heaven as the bar at a VFW Post – an unlikely, though altogether appropriate settings for our meeting with the Father as we transition to something better.

Or maybe, just maybe, this is our heaven. And maybe God sent my dad to tell me that.

While most popular interpretations of heaven involve an afterlife of eternal happiness, there are other schools of thought.

A recent article by Fr. Roger Karban pointed out that Salvation is rarely mentioned in the Bible as being associated with an afterlife. He makes the case based on eschatology (where do these guys get these terms?) that our Salvation is available to us in the here and now –

“Biblical salvation isn’t written in stone. It’s carved in the loving hearts of those determined to share in Yahweh and Jesus’ concern for everyone.

We don’t just receive salvation, but participate in bringing it about.”

Maybe I should be less concerned with earning salvation, and more concerned with understanding that the Kingdom is already staring me in the face. Is it possible that when I see people sharing, loving, and celebrating – that I am already looking into the pearly gates? Is it possible that our calling has less to do with earning rewards  and more to do with bringing God’s music to those whose lives are languishing at the darkened tables of our world?

Personally, maybe I need to stop worrying about my dad as he gets older, and think of him, his friends, and their ‘never stop dancing’ attitude as teachers who show me what I’m supposed to be building here – communities that take time to listen, to help each other out, and to cherish the gift of another day.

It is easiest to think that we  behave well to earn an eternally pleasant place somewhere. But  ‘easy’ has never been a prominent part of the Christian vocabulary. Dealing with the problems of the here and now is the hard part – trying to make heaven happen here, maybe that’s our real job.

So, just to be on the safe side, I am going to focus my spiritual sights not only on a conventional view of heavenly rewards (old habits die hard), but also on the possibility that God’s directive is to do all in our power to bring people together, to share the gift of life, and to help each other through the darker times we all eventually face.

I don’t know if heaven is like a bar – I just know it probably doesn’t  have a closing time. And I do believe that if heaven were like a bar, the owner would frown if we were to spend our time there sitting alone at a table, ignoring the music that fills the room.

No matter how many left feet we have, God’s music calls us to the dance floor.


References:

http://www.ewtn.com/library/papaldoc/jp2heavn.htm

http://www.growingchristians.org/dfgc/servant.htm

http://ncronline.org/blogs/spiritual-reflections/here-and-now

Advertisements