Ready, Aim, Fire

A few years ago in downtown Phoenix, the old-building-saving artsy crowd treated the local yokels to a spectacle, the like of which few had ever seen. While music played, our attention was drawn to several cannons. These were of the sort that used to fire very small, helmeted people into the air at circuses and carnivals. At an appropriately-dramatic interval, and to the gaping astonishment of all, department-store mannequins were fired out of the cannons and, through multi-colored spotlights, into the air. Nobody – save the artsy sort responsible for the show – had any clear notion what big statement was being made, even though it was all quite exciting.

Of course the yokelry were not supposed to understand the artsy statement. As always, that would have spoiled the fun. The philistines who weren’t in on the whole idea made merciless fun of the bohemians who’d put on the show, while the bohemians got to feel superior and deride the philistines for their cluelessness about What It All Meant. Everybody got to make fun of everybody else, and a good time was had by all.

We never really get our fill of making fun of each other. Kindergarten ends, and then we’ve got first grade. When we get to high school, we’re told we’d better enjoy all our juvenile hijinks while we can, because they will soon come to an end. But they never do. High school gives way to college, then college to what is so naively called “real life.”

The first-graders have the Fat Kid and the Class Clown; the “grownups” have Ann Coulter and Michael Moore. And I am by no means exempt from such charming foibles.

I stayed up past my bedtime to watch a recent Tavis Smiley program. His guest was one of my favorite Christian authors, Anne Lamott. Being the big-hearted soul that she is, Lamott suggested that pretty much everybody will make it into Heaven. Smiley, however, expressed skepticism. “Do you mean to say,” he challenged, “that Hitler and Saddam Hussein are going to be there, too?”

Maybe we’re asking the wrong question. It doesn’t seem very nice of God to exclude anybody from Heaven. But perhaps it isn’t up to God to decide who makes through the pearly gates and who does not. It very well could be that this decision is left entirely up to us.

Will everybody be allowed into Heaven? And will it truly be Heaven if just anybody can get in?

I personally don’t believe God forces anybody to stay out of Heaven. We are all invited, but our presence is entirely voluntary. God doesn’t make anybody go to Heaven, either. Those who do not make it have refused to be there. Precisely because God allows in all sorts of smelly riffraff of whom they disapprove, they choose to boycott the place.

Will Hitler, then, be in Heaven? I suppose so – at long as Hitler’s willing to be cool about sharing Heaven with all the Jews, gypsies, homosexuals and communists with whom he refused to share life on earth. Will Fred Phelps be in Heaven? Why, of course – as long as he understands that at the Lord’s great, big banquet table, he’ll have the seat right between Mel White and Rosie O’Donnell.

Heaven means getting along with – and loving – other people, even those we are not easily inclined to love. Which means that the only people who will end up left out are those who hate others so much that they can’t stand the idea of sharing Heaven with them.

Unlike those dummies shot out of the cannons, we aim ourselves in the direction toward which we will go in our lives. I believe in our afterlife will be a continuation of the same trajectory upon which we have aimed ourselves in this life. I, for one, refuse to let my funny little foibles keep me from salvation. I’m perfectly willing to share Heaven with even the most hard-core, homophobic, sexist, warmongering-chickenhawk Right-Winger. Unless they are unwilling to share Heaven with me – in which case they will be the ones who lose out.

God loves everybody. If we want to share eternity with God, we must be able (or at the very least willing) to love all of those whom God loves. Because that is exactly what Heaven is. No one will be excluded from Heaven because they love people of the same sex. They will be excluded from Heaven only if they refuse to love others and insist upon excluding them – for whatever reason they cook up in their feverish little minds.

People in the church need to begin asking some very different, serious questions about what sort of people they want to be in church with. What sort of a congregation do they really want to have? If their main concern is having a congregation where everybody looks like them, and from which people are excluded because they love or wish to include the “wrong” people, then they will have an entire congregation on a trajectory toward Hell. Those who let themselves be pushed around by the bullies – the people who go on witch-hunts to purge themselves of the “wrong” people, and throw temper-tantrums demanding that “those people” be thrown out or kept out – are going to end up with an entire congregation full of bullies. As smugly sure as that sort may be that they’ll be the only ones in Heaven, they will one day wake up on the other side of life and realize that, instead, they are in Hell.

I, for one, don’t want to be part of a congregation bound for Hell. So if they don’t want me, I don’t want them either. For that reason – and that reason alone. I’ll simply stand aside and let ’em shoot themselves in any old direction they decide to go. If God is willing to respect their free will, then who am I to argue?

There’s a website out there at which the smug-and-comfy “good people” have placed some of us at Whosoever on their prayer-list. We are being prayed for, evidently, because we are so wayward and horrible that they feel they need to save us from Hell. My first reaction to this, I must admit, was to get pretty hopping mad – especially since I was one of the bedraggled unfortunates especially named. Then I realized a couple of things: first of all, that it never hurts to have as many folks as possible praying for us, and secondly, that at least they are praying for us instead of trying to get us fired from our jobs, thrown out of our homes or murdered.

Jesus told us to pray for our enemies not necessarily because it will help them but because it will help us. Prayer transforms those who pray, often far more than it does those for whom they are praying. It forces us to care about those we would otherwise hold in contempt and perhaps wish ill. Perhaps these super-Christians who are praying for us at Whosoever will actually find themselves transformed from those who hate and fear gays into those who love and understand them.

They can do little to bring us closer to Heaven. But God can use prayers – even the most ill-conceived and misguided ones – in ways we never could have imagined. It would probably make them hopping mad, but I pray for all homophobes – including those who so super-piously pray for me.

And up in Heaven, God smiles. We’re all down here having a grand old time and praying up a storm for each other. (Again, certainly a better choice than some of the other things we could be doing.) But if we fire our cannons upward in a trajectory of love, we all just may end up, after all, in Heaven together.