Heaven Is a Home

Courtesy Odyssey Networks

Heaven is a home. Courtesy Odyssey Networks

When I was a child, my vision of heaven was riddled with roller coasters and populated by Disney characters. Let me explain.

Growing up in Puerto Rico, the American “mainland” to our north was for me a dreamland of sorts. You could catch a glimpse of it on television show depicting Main Streets lined with impressive trees. And of course, there was Disney World. As a five-year old visiting Florida for the first time, I imagined that the rest of the country was just like that particular corner of Orlando that we tourists saw.

That was heaven on earth for the five-year-old version of me. Heaven was earthly and joyful and fun and sweet. But as we all know Disney is no paradise. I don’t expect long lines, lots of sweat, and expensive but mediocre food in heaven.

When I was five, Disney was my vision of heaven. As I grew up in the church, my vision turned upward. Heaven was an eternal destination deferred until the moment after you die. Heaven was a place of reward and eternity. Heaven was an ethereal experience, something so otherworldly that the best we could do was speak in metaphors and images about it. Heaven, in short, had very little to do with the world as we knew it.

Neither vision gets it quite right.

Cherish Each Moment — Even the Sucky Ones

Elizabeth Palmberg (photo by Heather Wilson)

ELIZABETH PALMBERG—Zab to her friends—says her motto is “Cherish each moment, even the ones that suck.”

Nine years ago, she was diagnosed with Hodgkin’s lymphoma. She has had her ups and downs in her battle against cancer, but many moments in that journey have undeniably sucked.

In 2001, Zab was a college professor in California when she applied to be an intern at Sojourners. We decided her Ph.D. (in Victorian literature) perhaps qualified her to do the data entry and fact-checking work required of our editorial intern, and when her yearlong internship was over we invited her to become a full-time member of the editorial staff.

She’s been gracing us, and our readers, with her brilliant analysis and quirky wit ever since. Her knowledge, passion, and insight informed and often challenged those of us who’ve worked closely with her—and led to outside recognition as well. In 2011, for instance, Zab joined a Witness for Peace delegation to Colombia, visiting communities engaged in the difficult work of peacebuilding and conflict resolution. Her report on the trip—the last feature she wrote for the magazine—was honored by the Associated Church Press as the best news article of the year.

In November 2012, she wrote on her blog, “Just as I was planning a big six-year hey-they-cured-my-cancer party, it turned out I have cancer again.” Months of difficult treatment followed, and she chronicled the good times and the bad with (most of the time) her sense of humor firmly intact. For instance, she wrote that “technically, the exact wrong thing to read [during chemotherapy] is Thomas Hardy’s Jude the Obscure, which also happens to be the wrong thing to read in almost *every* context—that book really puts the “ick” in ‘Victorian.’ My deepest apologies to the one class I forced to read it. I don’t know what I was thinking.”

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Can Grounded Faith Save Us?

CLIMATE CHANGE and its accompanying issues are mammoth topics. David Tracey’s The Earth Manifesto and Michael S. Northcott’s A Political Theology of Climate Change are ambitious and sound theoretical and practical treatments.

With different faith backgrounds, each brings to the task the urgency of the moment. Tracey is a Vancouver urban ecologist, a fiction and nonfiction writer, a writing teacher, and an avid housing co-op dweller with his wife and two school-age children. He has spearheaded several community garden co-ops. Northcott is a priest in the Church of England and a University of Edinburgh social ethicist who has written on understanding space and its sacred sharing, urban ministry and theology, and now this, his third book on climate change.

Tracey’s The Earth Manifesto dives right into the ecological mandates of our time and place. It gently and consistently employs an implicit Buddhist perspective to offer concise chapters—really a set of tools—to name, address, engage, and sustain a meaningful citizens’ involvement. These are expressed in two parts: three big ideas and three big steps. The ideas consist of “Nature Is Here,” “Wilderness Is Within,” and “Cities Are Alive.” Tracey’s three big steps are “groundtruthing”—engaging deeply in a place to shape one’s environmental efforts; political advocacy; and building a community to help spread a campaign for change.

Two concepts stand out vividly. Tracey’s explanation of groundtruthing conveys the need to test a theoretical perspective by getting right on the ground to verify its potential in the concrete. One intuits incarnational theology here. He also affirms the nature of engagement from its French origins to mean “someone passionately committed to a cause”: pledged, dedicated, or devoted. For me this summons the discipline of spirituality in the service of social justice.

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To a Dying Church: Continue to Tell the Sacred Story

by Robert Hafley,

by Robert Hafley,

Dear friend,

The diagnoses are grim. Fervent supporters and ardent critics of religion both point to your decline. An urgency, if not an all-out alarm, fills the air. There are those who hope beyond hope for your renewal and transformation. Others stand steadfastly by your side as they "wait and see." Still others wipe their hands of the whole ugly mess and leave you to your ever-more-inevitable demise.

I'm not sure what to do. But I know I love you.

I know that you have grown weary in a bewildering, fast-paced world less inclined to pause and listen in. I know you have clung to models of leadership, governance, and programming through which you reached prominence, but now seem sluggish in the world today. I know you have tried new methods and "relevant" techniques for attracting new life, but they did not pan out like you dreamed. I know you have been let down by ministerial leadership, and not just in the pulpit: in the boardroom, in the choir lofts, in the denominational office. In this time of shrinking attendance, recycled ideas, and diminishing resolve, I'm not sure what the magic cure is. Or if there ever was one. But I know I love you.

You left groceries on my family's doorstep when my parents could not make ends meet. You carried the weight of my family's grief when my sister drowned. You encouraged me when I felt so alone and afraid. You challenged me to live beyond myself and for those who are so often ignored. You surrounded me with gentleness and love on my wedding day. You gave me time-worn words and melodies to express the joy and lament of my spirit. You pointed to a holy feast big enough to include all of humanity, and you set a place at that table for me.

You introduced me to God.

To a Dying Church: Either Die or Live Like You Mean It

elements from

elements from

Dear Church,

I received some distressing news today. Oh, I know you thought you’d kept it secret, but I answered the phone when the doctor’s office called to change your chemo appointment.

Chemo? Seriously? What, you thought I wouldn’t find out eventually? I know I seem preoccupied sometimes, but I’m not an idiot. I can see the signs.

I knew something was up when I saw you shrinking, little by little over time. Maybe other people couldn’t tell, but I suspected something bad was going on. You can paste on a smile, and listen to your happy music, and buy new stuff. But anyone who really knows you, realizes your body has been slowly betraying you.

Dying happens. I get that. What really makes me mad, though, is that you didn’t trust me enough to tell me. Maybe you didn’t know for awhile. I guess that’s possible. But the doctor had to have told you, right? I mean, at some point you decided to do something about it — if only to keep it a secret. And if you didn’t know, then you’re not who I thought you were.

A Crash Course In Q

Q revels in being different but generally avoids direct confrontations. A standard Q tactic is to pair apparent opposites together and have them talk about something on which they can agree. Two years ago in Washington, Moore’s predecessor, the conservative Richard Land, was seated next to the left leaning Jim Wallis of Sojourners to tag-team immigration reform. The odd couples this year included the state’s Republican Governor Bill Haslam and Nashville’s Democrat Mayor Karl Dean who traded compliments and discussed public education. A Jewish Israeli mother who had lost a son and a Muslim Palestinian father who had lost a daughter shared the emotional stories that brought them together to work for peace. Theologians Matthew Levering and Timothy George summarized the unity achieved through 20 years of work by Evangelicals and Catholics Together, an effort begun by Gabe Lyons’s mentor Chuck Colson and First Things’s own Richard John Neuhaus.

To the Dying Church From a Millennial

Vadim Petrakov/

We are experiencing the death of Christendom. Vadim Petrakov/

Dear church,

Let me start off this letter by expressing my deep love and appreciation for you. I have been an active participant in the community of faith for about 10 years now, and I have been profoundly blessed, cared for, loved, and inspired to be a better human being through you. I have also seen — and even participated in — some of your ugliest and most unfaithful moments in recent history. But through all of these experiences, nothing but utter appreciation and love remains for you. I believe, in the words of Bill Hybels, that the church is the hope of the world. I believe in your great power and potential to renew and reconcile our broken world through the way of Jesus. I believe that you can do it. That we can do it, together.

With that said, there has been a lot of talk recently about your impending death. For a long time, I believed the hype. I saw the numbers of millennials who were walking away from the churches and both mainline and evangelical churches closing their doors. I was convinced that maybe the church had truly seen the end.

But I was recently reminded that what we have been witnessing in the West is not, in fact, the death of the church at all.

Christian Leaders Stand In Solidarity With Imperiled Religious Communities

Signers include National Association of Evangelicals President Leith Anderson, Southern Baptist Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission President Russell D. Moore, Archbishop of Washington Cardinal Donald Wuerl, Sojourners’ Jim Wallis, Episcopal Church Presiding Bishop Katherine Jefferts Schori, Anglican Church in North America Archbishop Robert Duncan, United Methodist Bishops Ken Carter of Florida & Mark Webb of Upper New York, United Theological Seminary President Wendy Deichmann (United Methodist), Southern Baptist Theological Seminary President Al Mohler, Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America Metropolitan Methodios of Boston, Focus on the Family President Jim Daly, Focus on the Family Founder James Dobson, Beeson Divinity School Dean Timothy George, Samaritan’s Purse President Franklin Graham, Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary President Dennis Hollinger, Willow Creek Pastor Bill Hybels, Northland Church Pastor Joel Hunter, National Religious Broadcasters President Jerry Johnson, Family Research Council President Tony Perkins, Prison Fellowship Ministries President Jim Liske and Institute on Religion & Democracy President Mark Tooley.

The Impact Of Cafeteria Religion On Political Engagement

These tensions are also increasingly relevant to the Democratic Party. After decades of playing defense when it comes to faith and politics, Democrats have begun to coalesce around a set of issues important to the faith community. Organizations like Faith in Public Life,NETWORK, Sojourners, PICO and the National Latino Evangelical Coalition (all of whom the authors consulted for the Faith in Equality report), provide external communications and political support to core Democratic issues, including economic fairness and addressing inequality.