I was given a tract today at work; some guy just handed it to me as he passed. I guess he thought I looked reprobate or something. Although I hope not, you may have seen this one - it is in the form of a million dollar bill, plenty of zeros and Ronald Reagan's picture on it. Flip it over and the backside has these words around the perimeter: "The million dollar question: Will you go to Heaven? Here's a quick test. Have you ever told a lie, stolen anything, or used God's name in vain? Jesus said, 'Whoever looks at a woman to lust for her has already committed adultery with her in his heart'...Please repent (turn from sin) today and trust Jesus, and God will grant you everlasting life. Then read your Bible daily and obey it.'"
It was funny because after I read the million dollar question and the million dollar answer, I immediately went and devoured two Wisconsin brats baptized in hot mustard, fudged the truth to a co-worker, and had a lustful thought. Or two.
I wonder...is that really the million dollar question? "Will you go to Heaven?" David Whyte has a poem that begins with these lines: "I don't care if there is one god or many gods; I want to know if you belong or if you feel abandoned." ****You could get bogged down in that first phrase about one god or many gods...but I'd lobby hard against that one - you'd miss the forest... The question that follows is priceless; in my opinion, quite possibly worth a million dollars or more: Do you belong or do you feel abandoned? Do you belong? Or do you feel abandoned?
The poet is pushing us to look at a deeper question, one that cannot be printed around the perimeter of a gospel tract, but rather one that hides in the shadows of our hearts: Do you belong or do you feel abandoned? Is there a gut-level sense of belonging to this dark and bloody planet, welcomed by its grace and beauty, or do I live my life as one completely abandoned by all there is, adrift on a sea, always unmoored. Do I live with a feeling of being needed by this world, that somehow I matter to the humus I walk on, that my life counts, or I've a role to play in God's drama? Or am I a stranger to all that is; in Goethe's words, "a troubled guest"? Will I die one day (hopefully headed to heaven) with grief printed around the perimeter of my soul because this world is a place of breathtaking beauty or will I breathe my last lamenting the fact that "I had only visited" (Mary Oliver)?
I don't have a problem with the answers to the man's tract; but I do believe he's asking the wrong questions. And asking the wrong questions in this life will keep you "moving" (GO to heaven), but they won't allow you to stay for awhile, otherwise known as "belonging." Tract-man handed me his answers and "moved on" - I guess someone could say, "John, you were touched by an angel." Then again, I may have been handed a nicely apportioned tract from a well-meaning man who feels abandoned in this world; therefore, he has nothing to look forward to but the next - "brushed by a stranger." I wished he would've stayed awhile, sat down and visited with me, incarnated himself, belonged to the moment. I would've shared my brats and my shortcomings. But he didn't and I believe that kind of living is taking the Lord's name in vain. Maybe someday he'll repent (turn from sin), shed his shoes and realize he's on holy ground. But then again, maybe he'll just keep moving, handing out tracts, repeating the answers...and that'll be a goddamn shame. Do you belong? Or do you feel abandoned?