Tag Archives: Heaven

Advent Reflection Notes (Week One)

Earlier today I finished doing a novena to Mary Undoer of Knots. It’s a specific way of doing the rosary that really underscore’s Mary’s power as an advocate for us with God. I also started taking an online Advent retreat. These are some notes I took from the videos I watched.

1: Jesus is why I can smile and cry at the same time.
-One of the videos talked about finding happiness, and the speaker talked about how so many people are, or at least seem to be unhappy. Happiness is a weird thing because it doesn’t mean being gleeful all the time. It’s hard to define it, but I think it’s about feeling real or authentic, at least in part. The other day I was praying, and I remember telling God, “This world isn’t satisfying.” That’s not to say I don’t like things in this world, it’s just that I know there’s something way better available.

2: Can I give Jesus an hour every day? What is my best time?
-I’ve been doing the rosary every day for a while, so I know I can pray for at least a solid twenty minutes. I don’t always pray at my best time, and sometimes I pray as a way to procrastinate instead of actually scheduling devoted time for God. I’m not entirely sure this is really the way to go, though. I feel like conversation, which is what prayer should be, should be more spontaneous.

3: When praying, let God speak first.
-I definitely don’t do this. I often pray when I need something or I’m feeling bad about something, so especially when nothing in particular is going on, I need to let him start the conversation.

4: “I’ve been praying for something for twenty years, so I’m beginning to have hope.” St. Padre Pio
-That’s definitely something to think about. I’ve been praying for something really important for several years now, and it hasn’t happened yet, but for one thing, I think the waiting has made me more patient, and maybe more persistent. I’d like to know more what St. Padre Pio meant by this because it’s counter intuitive.

5: God sometimes leads us by rejection. Rejection allows us to be alone with God.
-I’ve actually started to realize this on a personal level recently.

6: I worry about what I think I can’t do.
-Jesus asks of us what we can do, not what we can’t. What I forget is that what I’m capable of often surprises me. More to the point, what God is capable of through me will probably always surprise me.
-“My grace is sufficient for you, for power is made perfect in weakness.” 2 Corinthians 12:9

7: If you assert something enough, does it at least sometimes make it true? Can I start to trust God more simply by telling him that I do?
-This was a question that popped into my head while watching one of the videos. I think the answer is, “no.” Trust is a choice.

Anyway, these are just some musings I had while watching the videos. I’m hoping to post something like this once a week for the remainder of Advent. Hopefully they’re at least interesting, if not particularly insightful. I did write in my last post that I want to give Jesus more room, which I think ultimately means giving him more time. This is certainly one way I’m trying to do that.

Because in my world guinea pigs can fly!

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Not What She Deserved (Spoiler Alert)

My friend Julia and I have been watching a series called Once Upon a Time for a while now. I watched it for the first time with my friend Nick, and it was totally necessary to share. Eventually it becomes evident that the series follows a pretty basic good versus evil scenario, typical of any fantasy series, and rather apt, considering all the characters are, in fact, from fairy tales or Disney movies. Over and over again, the heroes are faced with a villain or several villains, and several problems that have to be solved. What’s great about the series is that it sometimes changes the nature of characters, so, for example, characters that were heroes in the original telling of the story, are villains in the “real world,” and characters that were once villains become heroes.

One might think that a series that follows a basic good versus evil plot like this where the situations simply get more and more difficult to handle might get boring. It doesn’t. Just when you think the heroes have won and it could never possibly be worse, it gets worse. From a writer’s perspective, it’s fantastic to see just how creative these writers are.

There is one part in the series where the heroes actually get sent into the Underworld–where the Greek god Hades lives. The afterlife system in this series is actually pretty interesting. Basically, one goes to the Underworld if one has unfinished business, and one has to stay there until one has taken care of whatever that may be. Once it’s finished, one moves on, either to a better place or a worse place; in other words, Heaven or Hell. There is one character in particular who definitely does not get what she deserves. She plays a significant part in the series, and she is utterly detestable, but because of something she does for her two daughters while she is in the underworld, she moves on to the better place.

I mention this because Julia and I had very different reactions to the scene. I found it rather satisfying, while Julia was thoroughly displeased. I don’t know all of Julia’s reasons for her reactions, but I could likely guess a few. I do know my reasons. To be sure, there is nothing redeemable about this character. However, she has a brief moment when she realizes how awful she is, and she freely and honestly chooses to help her daughters. I like it when people are given the gift of redemption. It doesn’t matter who they are or what they’ve done. This character didn’t have a long, drawn out redemption story. She simply saw reality for what it was, acknowledged that she deserved the worse place, and was given the better place because of it.

In real life that’s called Grace.

My Ending

I’ve been wanting to do this for quite some time, but I haven’t entirely known how to pull it off. I’ve wanted to write the end of the Gospels in story form, in a modern, accessible way that still holds true to what happened. I’ve written it from Peter’s perspective, and I’ve taken bits and pieces from all four Gospels to construct the timeline. I have tried to be as true to the Gospels as possible while still being a bit creative. I’d love feedback. Thanks!

“Peter!” Mary entered the room so suddenly it scared me to death.
“What,” I said. I was not in the mood for any hysterics.
“He’s alive!”
“What?”
“Our teacher! Jesus! He’s alive!”
“Sure he is.” This had to be hysterics.
“Go and look if you don’t believe me!”

I was torn. I wanted to believe her, but at the same time I didn’t want to. It wasn’t possible, though realistically, I’d seen him do plenty of impossible things. I had walked on water because of him, though I wasn’t thinking of that at the moment. Finally I decided to go and see what she was talking about.

I left the house and ran to the place where he had been buried. The stone was gone. Hesitantly, I looked inside. It was empty. Nothing. There was no body. It didn’t make sense. It must be some kind of trick his enemies were playing. What more could they do to us?

“You see!” she said when I got back to the house.
“I don’t get it.”
“Peter, what don’t you get! He’s alive!”
“Mary, did you see him?”
“Yes! Peter, that’s what I’ve been trying to tell you! I talked to him! I didn’t even recognize him at first! He scared me half to death!”
“What did he say to you?”
“He just told me to come and tell you and the others.”

No one else had said a word this whole time. I’m not sure anyone wanted to. Their expressions were difficult to look at, especially his mother’s. We had been moving around over the past few days to avoid being targeted. At the moment we were at John’s place. He’d been going home a lot anyway to check on her. I always saw why Jesus liked him. He was good like that.

Finally some of the other guys started talking, just quietly. Jesus’ mom didn’t know what to do. She just broke down so John and I took her to another room to calm her down. When she was at least mostly back to normal the three of us went back to where everyone else was and I suggested we all pray about this. Mary was credible. Jesus had liked her and trusted her, so I decided I did to. I wanted to believe.

Finally when we were all eating dinner Jesus walked through the door. The shut and locked door. That was fun. Nobody knew what to do. Some of the guys actually hid behind chairs or behind other people.

“That’ll do you a lot of good,” I thought.

Admittedly, I was pretty scared, too, but I had to know what was going on.

“Guys, calm down,” Jesus said with a laugh. He walked over to me; the guy who had just walked through a closed and locked door walked over to me, and said, “Pete, look.” He held out his hand. It was scarred from where the nail had gone through when they… did what they did. “Take my hand,” he said. “Touch it.” I did, hesitantly. It was real. It was a real, human hand. I looked up. He smiled, but I noticed the marks on his forehead. He pat me on the shoulder and let go of my hand. I had wanted to hold on to him. I wanted to make sure I didn’t lose him again. It was a weird feeling.

Next he practically ran over to his mother and John and hugged them both. He went around to everyone and made sure we all knew he wasn’t some kind of hopeful illusion. What had began as a very weird, tense day quickly turned into a celebration… until he informed us that he had to go, to do what he didn’t say. He said he’d be back in a week, though, and we trusted him this time. Still, it wasn’t easy to let him go. It wasn’t until he had gone, though, that we noticed Tom hadn’t been there the whole time Jesus was. When we told him the next day, he didn’t believe us.

About a week later, Tom was with us and Jesus came back at the same time. This time he knocked. I laughed when I saw who was at the door. Tom didn’t get why. Jesus didn’t even say hi to anyone. He just walked straight over to Tom and told him to touch his hands, and he showed him the place in his side where they… did what they did. To this day I don’t like talking about it. What Tom did next was really cool.

He was speechless for a second and then he knelt down, still holding Jesus’ hand and said, “My Lord and my God.” That was powerful.

Jesus stayed with us for a little over a month after that. During that time, a lot of people who didn’t believe in him before started believing, and a lot of people who already did, believed more and grew in faith. One day a bunch of us were hanging around by the lake, one of our favorite spots, and Jesus and I snuck off a little ways. It was his idea. Everyone wanted to be around him all the time. Of course it didn’t bother him, but I could tell something was on his mind.

We just stood there, looking at the water for a minute, and then he said, “Pete,”
“Yeah, Master?”
“Do you love me?”
“Of course I do.”
He must have thought I didn’t understand the question because he asked again. “Peter, do you love me?”
“Lord Jesus, you know I do.”
“Then feed my sheep.”
This time I was a little confused, but I had meant what I said. Even so, he asked me again, which was actually kind of annoying. “Peter, do you love me?”
I said, “You know I love you, you know everything.”
“You know what you have to do then, Peter. Feed my sheep.”

I don’t know why exactly, but this seemed to change something inside of me. I have to say, by that point I was definitely willing to cry around Jesus. We stayed there for a minute, and he let me cry, and then, because I knew the other guys were close by I didn’t let myself cry any longer. It was important to get it out, though. Something had been fixed.

So much happened after that, it’s hard to remember it all, and it was mostly celebration to us. It was such a happy time. Still, we knew it wouldn’t last forever. Finally, when it was near the end of forty days, we could tell something was on Jesus’ mind again, but he didn’t tell us what. It seemed like he was happy and sad at the same time. He really was a very complicated person.

Finally he brought us together for the last time, and, since we had all been wondering the same thing for a while, I asked him, “Lord, are you going to bring your Kingdom now?”

What he said next was totally unexpected. “Guys, listen to me. I can’t tell you God’s plan. It’s not your place to know it. What I can tell you is that you’ll be given power to do great things in my name. You guys have stuck by me, and you’ll be my witnesses, first in Jerusalem, then in all of Judea, and eventually, all over the world. I know I can trust you to do this. Wait for the Holy Spirit, and you’ll know when you’ll be ready.” Then, so suddenly, he was somehow taken up and out of sight in a cloud.

All we knew to do at that moment was to worship him because our friend, who was God, was going home. After that we did what he told us to do. We stayed in Jerusalem and prayed in the Temple and told everyone what we knew to be the most important and only real Truth in the world.

Making Sense Of Things

It took me a very long time to understand how one is supposed to love and fear God, when actually, it’s not all that complicated. There are a lot of passages in the Bible where, in the same sentence, the speaker will say one ought to fear the Lord and, oh by the way, he loves you. On the surface that sounds contradictory, but what I think it means is that God is exceptionally powerful, and his power, understandably, should be feared and respected. There are a lot of verses that instruct the reader not to be afraid of dangers in the world. We are loved by the most powerful being in the universe.

Before I continue, I want to address some objections. The ones I can think of off the top of my head are as follows:

1) If God loves us (all of humanity), then why is there so much suffering in the world? If God is so powerful, why doesn’t he just fix everything?

2) If God truly loves everyone, then why does the Bible, as well as many followers of the Christian faith say that a large portion of the world’s population is going to Hell where they will be tortured for eternity?

These are two questions I encounter a lot, and they are questions that have bothered me for a long time. I don’t think I will ever find answers that will completely satisfy me, let alone anyone else, but I wanted to share the conclusions I have come to over the past several years.

1) God has a plan. It’s a good plan, and God intends to redeem humanity: to make the world a better place where there will be no more suffering. For whatever reason, it’s taking a long time, but that doesn’t mean he doesn’t care. It just means that it has to take this long.

2) The fact of the matter is, I know close to nothing about the afterlife. I am certainly not an authority on the issue. I have come to a couple disjointed conclusions, based on research and personal experience, which are as follows:

I: No one is predestined for Heaven or Hell. I should preface this by saying that my understanding of Heaven is being in the full presence of God, while Hell is complete separation. In God’s presence is love and joy and peace, while outside of it is some sort of emptiness and danger. I believe that, in this life, we are stuck somewhere in the middle. That being said, It’s a choice where we end up.

II: Jesus died and rose from the dead so that all of humanity could be redeemed. God doesn’t want anyone to be left outside. Historical and linguistic evidence suggests that while some might go to Hell, it won’t be forever. When the Kingdom comes, even the worst, most immoral people who rejected God their entire lives will be returned to him. In fact, there is reason to believe that Hell is a place of reformation. This is evidenced by the development of the idea of Purgatory.

III: It isn’t the duty of any Christian to condemn people. It’s our duty to teach love and salvation. For one thing, it’s more effective, and for another, it’s closer to the Truth.

Another objection I can think of is: If salvation is universal, then why bother being Christian?

Salvation isn’t about booking a room in eternity. It’s about making the world a better place. Most of what Jesus told people to do was relevant to here and now. It was about taking care of the poor, making peace among enemies, and respecting people because they are worth a lot to God. It’s a way of life: not strictly an escape from death.

I just wanted to get this out there.

Because in my world guinea pigs can fly!

Free Will, God’s Plan, Faith And Unbelief

I read something interesting for class the other day. A guy named Gerald Sittser said–not a direct quote–that if we seek God’s kingdom first, then our choices become his will for us. I’m not sure how I feel about that. It feels too simple to me. I tend to think that God is really complicated. Maybe complicated isn’t the right way to describe him. In some ways he’s no more complicated than any average person. Maybe it’s more that what he does and controls is complicated. In fact, he’s more one-track-minded than most people. He’s not emotionally volatile for one thing, and he never sways from his plan for the Universe.

People tend to fall off the wagon. A lot of us have no idea what we want to do with our lives or what we’re supposed to be doing. It seems to me that if God has a grand, master plan, and if we’re part of that plan, then wouldn’t it follow that he would want us to do certain things? A lot of people talk about God’s calling; what God calls them to do. How does that relate to free choice? Obviously people can ignore God’s calling, but I think it tends not to end well–at least not as well as it otherwise would. This is coming from personal experience.

Is there a best way to go? Sittser used the analogy of a road trip. He and a friend had a set destination and a date they had to get there. They planned their road trip around these. They decided not to follow any highways if possible, and instead, meandered along seemingly random back roads. Is this like how we choose what to do with our lives? He said that we can see how God had a plan for us in what we chose if we look at it in retrospect. Is this just conjecture, or is this God’s way of showing someone how they’ve progressed towards their destination?

I believe that I was destined to be a Christian and maybe I was destined to be a musician, but for a long time I chose not to be. For a long time when I was younger I decided that while I believed in God, I didn’t believe in Christianity, partly because I didn’t understand it. However, I believe that God made me so that I would need him, emotionally, among other reasons.

I do think that people are a product of their environment, upbringing, etc, but I also believe that God makes people in specific ways, and I think he makes people for other people. I also think that people can choose to be whoever they want to be. This is just an idea I have, but I think God presents us with choices throughout our lives and I think he probably wants us to choose certain things, but he also gives us the option not to. Furthermore, I think there are certain choices we make that God probably doesn’t care much about either way–like if we want chocolate or coffee flavored ice cream.

I was thinking about my friends last night. Many of them don’t believe in God partly because they don’t see any reason to; they haven’t seen any evidence that he even exists. I wonder if they think I’m crazy. I think I always believed in God; at least I’ve always believed that he exists. I’m not sure why. I guess because I was able to imagine it. For a while it didn’t really matter that much. He was just there. I guess it might have something to do with the fact that prayer saved my life when I was a baby… Which is a long story for another time.

The point is, I’ve always felt like he’s just been around. I can’t even understand not having that feeling. I know I choose to believe because I think I have good reason to. Can someone choose to believe without thinking they have good reason to? Isn’t that kind of the point of faith? If someone doesn’t have faith in God, what do they have faith in? Not believing in God sounds as crazy to me as believing probably sounds to my friends.

A large part of the reason I believe in free will is because some people don’t believe in God, but many people change. I don’t think God would intentionally create people who don’t believe in him. I’ll say it here because very few people I actually know read my blog, but I’m closeted universalist. I believe that Jesus died to redeem everyone. My belief is that at the second coming, everyone will be rejoined in the same place and we will all finally be on the same page. I don’t like talking about hell, but I do think that nonbelievers and really terrible people spend different amounts of time there for different reasons. This is why I desperately want my friends to be saved.

Would I give up free will to make this happen? Not a chance. That doesn’t make much sense, does it? I think God gave us free will for that reason, though. I think he wants us choose to believe in him. Are some of us destined to? I don’t know. Maybe. I think actually, some of us are made in such a way that it’s easier for us to believe. God gave me a crazy imagination, which made believing easier.

What about when it comes to music? Was I destined to be a musician? I’ve always loved it. There’s always been music in my life. When I was 14 I came to the realization that my friends were all good at something, and I was okay at writing poetry, but I didn’t think that counted. I told my dad that I wanted to learn to play guitar, but I didn’t think I could because of my disability (I can’t turn my hands over). He told me not to worry about it and took me to guitar center. It turns out I can play guitar upside down. Now I want music to be my career, partly because it’s wicked fun, and partly because I can use it for God’s glory. Was this all part of the plan? When I first started playing guitar I wasn’t Christian, and I intended to play in a punk-rock band. When I became Christian I was conveniently getting good at songwriting.

Something we talked about in one of my classes is that maybe God has an overall plan for humanity but not necessarily for every individual. At first I kind of liked the idea, but now I don’t think I do. I think God definitely had a plan for people like Martin Luther King Jr. or Nelson Mandela. The only way I can see free will and God’s plan working together is that he gives us the option not to operate according to plan. It’s sounds sort of weird to me, but then I think I know what God’s plan is for me, and I like it.

Because in my world guinea pigs can fly!

The Things We Hear And See In Dreams

In the past 3 years or so I have had 3 very important dreams.

The first was in my Freshman year of college. That year I had joined a small group (which has since disbanded), to pray and study the Bible together. One night we read a passage where Jesus says “Don’t be afraid. Follow me.” That very same night after I went to bed I had a dream where I was in the dark and I couldn’t see anything. I wasn’t afraid, but I was lost, and I was trying to find my way out– wherever “out” was. At one point, even though it was pitched black, I saw a faint silhouette appear in front of me. In a man’s voice, the silhouette said, “Don’t be afraid. Follow me, and I’ll lead you out.” I followed him, and eventually we saw a light in the distance. The man then said something along the lines of, “Follow me, and be a bridge for other people to come.”

The second dream happened right around the time my grandfather passed away in November. I’ve already mentioned this in an earlier post, but I’ll go into some more detail here. I should preface this by mentioning that I dream about the same weird city a lot, and something is always going wrong there. I’m always in some sort of peril. Well, this time I was in a suburb of that city. At first I was just playing some sort of game where I had to run around and find things, but then I began to feel feverish and I knew that I was actually looking for something very important, and if I didn’t find it, something very bad would happen. Well, I was running out of time, so I decided to run into the all-night subway station. When I reached the bottom of the stairs that led to the platform, I fell down. A moment later there was a man standing over me. He was young, and very well dressed; in fact, he looked like anyone you might encounter on the street, but I was absolutely terrified of him. He picked me up, and I tried to escape at first, but then realized it was pointless, so I walked along with him up some stairs and into a strange, dingy hallway. Up ahead we saw an open door and heard what sounded like a fight. When we reached the door, we saw that two young men were beating up a girl who looked to be about my age. The young man who was escorting me asked, “Would you like me to spare her life?” I said “Yes, of course.” The young man took a step forward, and suddenly the other two men were gone. He told the other girl to head back to the train station where she would find help. Then I realized something. I looked at my escort right in the face and said, “You’re Death, aren’t you?”
“Yes,” he said.
“And you’re not awful.”
“No, I’m glad you don’t think so.”
“And you’re taking me away.”
“Yes, dear.”
“But… you’re bringing me to God, right?”
“Yes.”
That was when I woke up.

The third dream I had was just a week or two ago. Over winter break I read a book called 90 Minutes in Heaven, which was about a pastor who was in a terrible car accident, and actually died for 90 minutes. The EMT’s said that his heart had stopped. While he was out like that, he saw a piece of heaven and heard wonderful music. Miraculously, another pastor came upon the scene of the crash, climbed into the back of the wrecked car and began praying for him and somehow, his heart started beating again. After I read this book I was jealous. I’ll admit it. I wanted to see a piece of Heaven too. I prayed to God and said, “God, I’d really like to see or at least hear something like that, but if this story is going to be all I get for now, please just help me let that be enough.” A while after that (last week, maybe), I had a dream. Once again I was in complete darkness, except this time I was laying down. I couldn’t see anything, but I could hear the most beautiful music ever, and somehow I knew that I was hearing angels. Then the music changed to earthly worship songs, then it changed again to secular love songs, and as this was happening, it began to get lighter, and then I woke up.

I have vivid dreams just about every night. I don’t always remember what happens in them, but I know I have them. Most of them are just insane and don’t make any sense, but sometimes I get these little gifts while I’m asleep and they make me feel awesome for days, if not years on end. I’ve recently decided that everything is awesome; freaking awesome! Yes, bad things happen, but 1) God doesn’t make bad things happen, and 2) it could always be worse. Furthermore, there is nothing that is broken that can’t be fixed, and if we can’t fix it, God can and he will.

I had a thought at first, that maybe these dreams were just coincidence, since many of my dreams have to do with things I’ve recently seen or read or done, but I’ve decided that I no longer believe in coincidence. everything happens for a reason, even if that reason is simply to start something else. We can take things as random, or we can take them as inspiration. I prefer the latter.

Because in my world guinea pigs can fly!

Everyone Is Up All Night

General populous of the world, I deeply apologize for what I said yesterday; you don’t suck. I did exactly what I didn’t want to do and made a huge over generalization. Middle school and high school got me stuck into the mentality that people are inherently evil. I’m going into my 3rd year of college now, and I do believe that mentality needs to die.

To be honest, I’ve been sort of living with a dual philosophy of the world and people for a while now. It seems like I have a residual negativity trapped inside me while I actually believe that humans are capable of great good and selflessness. We can create beautiful things and inspire others. We want to be together because we were made to be social animals; family animals.

I want to believe that this life is good; I am always looking for a silver lining. The trouble is that the world keeps disappointing me. Natural disasters and disease kill thousands every year. People fight and even kill because of pride and anger. I just know things could be better than this.

One of my professors once talked about how the kingdom of God is both here and coming. In God’s kingdom, everything is okay; actually it’s super awesome. Earth is a mess in a lot of ways, but there are a lot of good people trying to clean it up. That is how God is here now.

I can say that everything is good with me, and it is, but I’m part of the big picture too, and everything is not okay in the big picture. If I want to, I can make my one little pixel or brush stroke a little brighter, though, and so can anyone else. If we try hard enough, we can make the world shine so bright it will keep everyone up all night. The dark can’t fight love, and it certainly can’t fight God.