Originally posted to Facebook on:
December 31, 2012:
Most of you might be tempted to skip reading this based on the chunk of text that’s about to follow, but I’m gonna ask that you don’t because what I’m writing is not some frilly dissertation about what I want for lunch, but something that’s really been eating at me (no pun intended) for a long time that this weekend has fueled, and I’m tired of losing sleep over it. I feel it’s important enough to write, so I hope you’ll give it a fair chance. I don’t know how else to get this point across. If by the end you don’t agree with the points I’ve made, then I at least appreciate your taking the time to read it. For those who do agree, I appreciate hearing about why.
This weekend put reality back in my head, with the finding of the journal entries I had written following my dad’s passing 17 years ago, and discovering, on Facebook, that two other people I knew had died in the last couple of days. These discoveries, of course, cap what has been a dark December with the massacre in Sandy Hook taking place, and a really dark year in general with mass shootings at the movie theater in Aurora, another attempted shooting at a theater in San Antonio, mall shootings, hurricane, flooding, and tornado disasters, the war that never ends, and so on, and it’s a continuous somber cycle, and I don’t know how CNN deals with it, and it doesn’t end. Closer to home I’ve read about other news of deaths from you guys – of one of your late-20-early-30-something friends who unexpectedly dropped dead when he was healthy and playing racquetball the day before; of one of your 17-year-old sons who lost a close friend of the same age to something unexpected. Of the two people I know who passed this weekend, one was in his late 70s and was suffering from a long-term illness; the other was in his early 40s and collapsed on his way to pick up some lunch for his family. One was expecting it, as was his family; the other had no idea his time was up. And the one thing that everyone who died this year has in common is that they can no longer get this life right. Their time for fixing things is over.
I’ve been thinking about it longer than usual this week. Sandy Hook actually broke me – I still can’t comprehend that one. Hearing about these deaths closer to home just made it more relevant to me. These are people who were expecting tomorrow to come. Their idea of tomorrow anyway. They had hopes and dreams like the rest of us still do. And yet, they had to give those up because death doesn’t wait for us to get our acts together.
I usually choose not to talk about life, death, and spiritual matters on Facebook because I know some of you share my beliefs already and understand where I’m coming from, and some of you don’t and don’t want to hear it, and the topic is usually too deep for social media anyway. I get it. But in the fight to preserve everyone’s feelings, I would like permission for you all to respect mine and let me share what’s on my mind. If it gets under your skin, I’m sorry. But, believe it or not, I care about you guys, and I care about the decisions you make whether they affect you positively or negatively. Not to dismiss the billions that I’ll never know as unimportant – but wherever I can place a name and a face, that person becomes an identity to me, and it becomes hard to desensitize myself to his or her well-being. Sometimes I wish I could be cold to it because reality brings forth a crapload of heartbreak. But even if I try, the empathy eventually comes back. As a writer it’s my job to get into characters’ heads, and I confess that sometimes I take that job into my friendships because, quite honestly, I don’t know what any of you are thinking, but sometimes I want to know because I really don’t know how else to understand you or empathize effectively.
In talking about this, I do wish to be sensitive to what people think on these matters of life, death, and spirituality. Everyone faces the subject differently, and for some the dealing with it is a hotbed issue. I also know it’s a somber topic for many of you and this is not what you want to think about going into 2013. I understand. But I also want to understand.
When it comes to life, death, and spiritual things, I find it most difficult to understand how you’ve come to your ideologies because you’ve understood life and circumstances differently than I and approached them from angles that I have not. Of course, I can really only understand how I’ve come to mine, and, well, truthfully, there have been so many factors to bring me where I am today that I actually don’t understand how I’ve gotten here, either. I just know that I’m happy with the ideologies I’ve chosen. A choice that started at a young age, but has been fired and purified and tested throughout the years and has had plenty of backup that would take far too many pages to outline for what I hope is a short journal. My feeling is that you’re happy with your choice, too.
But is that enough to go on? Happiness? A feeling? How much weight does a limited perspective hold? Is there room for wisdom in how we come to where we are? How does that affect our thoughts on life?
Here’s the deal: I don’t care what we believe, don’t believe, if we’re Agnostic, Atheist, Christian, Jewish, Mormon, Muslim, Socialist, Capitalist, Democrat, Republican, Hollywood, if we support creationism, Darwinism, abortion rights, gay rights, free speech, Chick-fil-A, gun control, birth control, remote control, or fiscal cliffs, or whatever – we cannot deny that simple fact that our clocks have unspecified timers that will one day finally reach zero, and whatever social matters, economic standings, or most everything else that mattered to us in life will inevitably meet its end. At that point it’s too late to change things for the better.
That’s the one thing that all the above groups can agree on. Right?
When it comes to matters of life cycle, I know some of you believe in life after death, while others of you don’t. Some of you think about that. Some of you don’t. There’s not a night that goes by that I go to bed and wonder if I’ll wake up the next morning. Then I ask the question: am I ready if I don’t wake up? I’ve got so much left to write, a desire to start a family, not to mention my mom’s still alive and there needs to be at least one mother in this family who doesn’t have to watch a son die. Circumstantially speaking, I’m not the least bit ready. But a hundred years from now, who’s really going to care? Spiritually, presently, eternally, I’m already taken care of. A hundred years from now, that’s what will matter to me.
For those of you who don’t believe in life after death, what are you living for today? Help me to understand. I mean, we all have that desire for life, right? What do we have to look forward to if death is the end? Even Darwin, in his 200 years of wisdom, talks about the fight for survival. Why would he care if his efforts to survive didn’t matter in a hundred years? For those of you who do believe in life after death, what are you expecting to happen when that time comes? God, in His eternity of wisdom, fought for our humanity’s survival. Yet, so many want to debate that very issue, even fight wars over it. Maybe we can’t see how He’s helped us survive because we’ve spent so many millennia trying to forget, but if there is life after death, and if God’s the one who created it, then wouldn’t He care what we’re doing a hundred years from now? Wouldn’t He care about the survival of our souls?
All these questions are for perspective, of course. What I really want to know is why settle for death as final? Are we not born? We know that we came from the womb, but we don’t remember anything about it, do we? How can we be sure we were ever born if we’ve got no memory of it? Besides the multitudes of evidence, that is. When we’re in the womb, do we believe in life after womb? Some of us fail to believe that there’s life in the womb, and yet, here we are now, alive, forming beliefs about what happens in and out of the womb, forming beliefs about what happens in and out of this skin. Did we think during those first 40 weeks about the same things we do today? Did we have the right perspective of what life on earth would really be like when we already had so much else to think about, like feeding on the umbilical cord, having that weird disembodied yet pleasant voice singing to us, on whether or not we think this space is getting a little too cramped and how can we get more of it? The evidence that there was more to life than just the womb was always there, but we were too ignorant to care because we were plenty comfortable knowing what we already knew. (I’m assuming this, of course. I don’t remember the womb, either, and I suppose it’s possible that I was anticipating life after womb. I sure did leave mine in a hurry at any rate.) Isn’t it possible, then, that maybe if we know the difference between womb and earth is a flash of light and a quick passage out of one place and into another, and if the transition from earth to death is another flash of light (plenty of people who died and came back testify to something of this nature) and a quick passage out, that maybe we should assume that there’s still yet another phase of life beyond this one? Yes, in womb and on earth we have the same basic chemical makeup, where one is a bunch of cells forming, and the other is a bunch of cells decaying, but we do have multiple things that make us up – body, mind, soul, and spirit (physicality, thoughts, conscience, intuition). We’ve been told that soul and spirit move on to heaven or hell when the body and mind die. Do we have evidence in which that is not true?
Let me bring this back to my viewpoint. We can go back and forth all day about what actually happens if we choose to debate it. But why bother? If I believe Jesus saved me and gave me access to heaven, and if I’m wrong and Act II of life really is the final curtain, then what have I really lost by believing in His salvation? Answer me that. Especially when you consider that in a hundred years, this life will no longer matter to me. I don’t see why believing in someone who gives me eternal hope is a bad thing. Some people, of course – some of you even – don’t agree. And if that’s what you want, then so be it. But honestly, no matter how much I try to see things through your viewpoint, I still can’t figure out why you don’t have the same attitude. If there is an Act III, and if you’ve been making spiritual decisions that are ignorant of that, who do you expect to answer to if it turns out you’re the one who’s wrong? It won’t matter if I’m wrong because in the end I won’t know it. But it would matter a great deal to you if you’re wrong, and you’ll know it plenty well.
And here’s the kicker: It would matter a great deal to me, too, if you’re wrong.
Here’s a thought that haunts me frequently: I think back to two specific moments when two separate friends cried (with real tears) because something either went against them or didn’t go their way. It was hard to see that because I didn’t want to see them so upset, so broken. But we’ve all been there. We’ve all had those moments of breakdown. It hurts. We know how it feels to be so upset over something, so we know how to empathize. Eventually they’ll get over it, and these friends got over it. They were temporal problems that sucked, but they had an end. Now I think about how salvation is not a concern of at least one of those friends (maybe both). Suddenly it’s no longer an issue of sadness. Now I’m terrified. If it takes one sin to lose heaven, and if it takes one Jesus to gain it back, and if this one sin is more important to these friends than this one Jesus (again, I have trouble fathoming the logic – it’s like choosing a penny over a lifetime of freedom, but that’s not my decision to make), then that moment when the clock expires will become an extremely dark day. No amount of tears can quench the pain – mine or theirs. It keeps me awake at night thinking how much worse that eternal cry would be.
Makes me wonder why running straight to God isn’t a given for those who choose instead to do things (often badly) their own way.
To be fair, it isn’t necessarily your beliefs that has me up so late writing this. What you believe is between you and God (I do, however, think that there are many lies and one truth, so I say this carefully). It’s your Act III that has me losing sleep at night. One of two things will happen to me: I’ll either spend eternity in heaven, or I’ll vaporize into nothing. I don’t honestly believe in option #2, and nothing anyone can say will convince me of that end being true. It’s a hopeless viewpoint, life’s hard enough without that yoke around my neck, and I want no part of that, and anyway, I’ve experienced God enough to know that option #2 isn’t valid, so it’s not even a question for me. But it’s deeply important to me that if heaven’s real, that you also get there. I care about you and want to hang out with you a hundred years from now because that is one of the things today that will still matter to me then. So, if you still want to do things your own way, or believe in whatever you feel like believing, then that’s your business. But I hope that if you’re as moved about the frailty of this life as I am now, and if you have even the slightest question about an Act III life, even if it’s casual curiosity, then do the research. Don’t assume God is imaginary because humans don’t know how to properly show His grace and love, or because you’re not able to comprehend His ways in the way that you’d want to understand or because you can’t change Him to fit your ideals. Don’t forget: God is God and you are not. If you ask Him to reveal Himself to you in a way that you’d understand (sincerely, not spitefully), He will. He’s not going to ignore someone who’s trying to seek or connect with Him.
Please don’t pretend this is the journal of a Christian who is marking tallies on his wall. It’s not about that for me, and it’s not about that for anyone who takes life and soul seriously. This is about me ensuring that people I care about understand that life is inevitable and we don’t make our own rules when it comes to death and eternity. God is the author, and it’s His rules we play by. We don’t have to like it – it’s just the way it is. If you have a problem with it, take it up with Him, but He doesn’t make rules based on trends and fads, and He doesn’t change them because a few of us may not like how He does things. I’m sure He’d rather not sacrifice His only Son to pay for our rebellion, but that’s what He had to do to save us from our one to many sins and to give us that better life after this one (and that more fulfilled life during this one). I think we can agree by now that this Act II will reach its end. Why in the world would we disregard the grave importance of Act III when it can spring on us at any moment? Our ignorance and arrogance won’t hold up when that last breath fades and we’re standing before God with our thumbs twiddling by our sides wondering why things are suddenly awkward. Our excuses will no longer support us. We had our chance to fix things in our hearts, our minds, and our spirits while we were here. Instead we focused too much on our bodies and our politics. Sadly, neither body nor politics can add an inch to our Act III journeys, and our presidents and physical therapists can’t save us. The constant rebellion against wisdom just isn’t worth it.
That’s all I’m going to write here. If you want to talk about this personally, let me know. If you don’t, I won’t press the issue. I just want to make sure you each have a fair chance at making the most of this life and avoid blowing the next one, and I’d like to know that you guys will be a permanent part of my future and the futures of other people who care who are making their Act III preparations now. I know this can be an extremely sensitive subject, but I hope it’s been worth your while. Thanks for reading.
This journal is dedicated to my dad, who passed in late December 1995 but has never left my thoughts, my friends’ dad, who now shares my dad’s anniversary, a friend from my teen years, who passed the day before, the teachers and students of Sandy Hook Elementary, who passed in cold blood two weeks ago, the two friends of friends I don’t know but may still get the chance to meet one day, and the countless others who moved on from this life in 2012. You guys won’t have to debate the questions about God or Act III any longer.