Came back from a month in the USA. My mother died July 6 on the day before I was due to fly back to the UK. She was ready to go and ready to make that transition to the place she saw as ‘heaven’. I’m not so sure I believe in heaven anymore, especially not the kind that she did. But I’m glad she looked forward to going somewhere that she felt at home.
She, and all of my family, have faith that the Christian heaven described by evangelicalism is real and that when believers get there they will be ‘rewarded’ for good service. Their faith is much like working at a job your entire life and earning retirement, and isn’t that just the American way? The industrious Puritanism of Americans has persisted since the first Pilgrims sailed over and set up shop in Plymouth Massachusetts. ‘He who doesn’t work, doesn’t eat’ was their motto (paraphrased 2 Thessalonians 3:10). I used to believe this adamantly, but it is a bit of a ruthless way to live isn’t it? No one takes into account those unable to find jobs, the disabled, the homeless. All of this philosophy was predicated on the visions of one man who changed a simple faith in Jesus’ message about God’s Kingdom into a world religion that so little resembles what Jesus actually taught in the few snippets of gospels that we can claim to be authentic.
I felt like a bit of an outsider, sitting with my mother, my sister, her husband, and the traveling elder; who was there to lead the prayers and the singing hymns. It was comforting for her to hear what she had grown up hearing in church and that’s why I did not protest the weird doctrines of Rapture and End Time Apocalypse that they so much look forward to. Like those who don’t work, their faith leaves the world to the activity of God at the end of it all. They welcome the conflicts between nations and it leaves believers free to not worry too much about climate change or toxic water or military industrialization. They believe that their God, who is so devoted to Free Will that he compels no one to believe, will come to the end of Life and Time here on earth and will move men and armies about like children’s toys. Their God will take the free will out of countries and people to fulfil some obscure end known only to Him (sic) and a chosen few who’ve studied their bibles correctly.
And it is comforting to think that all of the chaos in today’s world is out of our hands and not ours to change. It’s too big a task to ask us to change the minds and hearts of the murderous ISIL leader or the mad Korean dictator or even the mild-mannered Prime Minister who wants to defund benefits so that the rich may prosper even more. What can I as a single person do against the wealth and corruption of the United States Congress or the United Nations or Parliament?
Perhaps what I can do, as I did with my mother, is provide a calm centre, wipe a brow, give a sip of water, and hold a hand during the worst moments of those around me and at meeting for worship. I can’t hold the world’s hand, but I can hold a single hand of someone in pain at my local meeting. I can’t give the world water, but perhaps I can help make water available locally by campaigning with my Quaker friends against toxic waste in our waterways. I look at the entire world and I am overwhelmed. I need to keep my sights on what’s immediately before me and perhaps believe, or have faith, that God will indeed take care of the rest.
9 There remains therefore a rest for the people of God. 10 For he who has entered His rest has himself also ceased from his works as God did from His. Hebrews 4:9