Sunday, November 12, 2023

#316 / Imagine Heaven


"Imagine" is one of my "go to" words. To the degree that we can orient our lives by utilizing "key words" for guidance (and I think that this can be a pretty good strategy), I would have to identify "Imagine" as a key word in my life's vocabulary. 

Really, my father's continuing admonitions were central to forging my delight in the word, "Imagine." As I have reported before, my father always told me, "Don't be afraid to dream, for if you don't have a dream, Gary, you can't have a dream come true." 

After some significant struggles against this advice, I ended up adopting my father's formula. "Dreaming" and "Imagining" are related words. They are key words for me. 

Way back in March 2011, in fact, in one of my very earliest blog postings, I was writing about the word, "Imagine," and the Douglas McClellan silkscreen I mentioned in that long-ago blog posting is still in my office at UCSC: 

I have also mentioned, more than once, John Lennon's wonderful song:


Recently, one of my family members gave me a book to read, Imagine Heaven. That title, of course, was immediately attrractive to me, but the book, and its title, advises doing the very opposite of what Lennon's song recommends. Lennon's song begins, you'll probably recall, with the following admonition: 
Imagine there's no Heaven; It's easy if you try.
Frankly, I don't think too many people have to "try" to imagine there's "no Heaven." Imagining that there is a Heaven is the more substantial challenge today. To address that challenge, to try to get people to "Imagine" that there might be a Heaven, is to attempt an argument in persuasion that is the very opposite of "easy." 

As far as I remember, John Burke, the author of the book I was given, does not allude to John Lennon's suggestion that it's "easy" to imagine no Heaven. Imagining that there is "no heaven" is all too easy, I am betting John Burke would say. He is trying to motivate his readers to do something that most will find quite difficult:

I did read Burke's book, and despite the title, the book is actually something of an effort to get readers to go beyond "imagining" Heaven. It aims, it seems to me, at providing what might be called some substantial "evidence," or even "proof," that there is, in fact, a "life after death," and to describe that life. 

Various near-death experiences are presented in the book, all based on documented descriptions from real people who really did "die," at least temporarily. The accounts provided have many similarities, although the resports come from very different people, with very different beliefs. Some accounts come from Bible-reading Christians, and some come from various catagories of non-religious persons, and some come from those with non-Christian religious backgrounds, including at least one account from a Buddhist. Some accounts are from people in the United States; other accounts are related by persons from  other places in the world. 

Again, Imagine Heaven includes very similar accounts from all these very different people, with their very different backgrounds and beliefs. The author, who was the founding pastor of Gateway Church in Austin, Texas, marshalls Biblical sources to verify that the reports coming from these various near-death experiences are consistent with what the Bible says. The book, in other words, is not really a call to "Imagine" Heaven so much as it is an attempt to convince the reader that there is, in fact, such a place as "Heaven," and that we are going to get a chance to experience it as we enter into a "life after death." In all fairness, it does help us to "Imagine" something when we believe that it actually exists, so Burke's title is not completely off base.

What do I think about the basic question, though - the question Burke's book addresses? Is there a Heaven, or not? Is there "life after death"? Naturally, as I get older, I have been thinking about that question! Maybe a lot of us do, at least once in a while. Getting older is a definite stimulus in that direction.

As I have mentioned before, in other blog postings, there is another song I like, by Iris DeMent, who addresses the exact subject that Burke is writing about. DeMent's song is trying to avoid dogmatic statements on either side of the divide. You can imagine there's "no Heaven," with Lennon, or you can go with Burke, and do the exact opposite. DeMent isn't picking sides in the debate. Her lyrics are telling us to "Let The Mystery Be."

With respect to trying to tell other people what "is" the case, I think I'm sticking with DeMent. If you haven't heard her song, or don't remember it, there's a chance to hear her sing it, below. But there is another way to consider the question - beyond Heaven "Yes," or Heaven "No." Instead of advancing assertions about the profound and genuine "mystery" of what's going on here, and pronouncements about the nature of the reality we ultimately inhabit, since such assertions and pronouncements will inevitably go beyond what we can ever, actually, "know," we can try to "Imagine" that our lives and our existence might be more than what we can most immediately know for sure. 

There is definitely a "mystery" about all that, and I am inclined to try to "imagine" what it might mean for me, and for my life, if there is, indeed, some dimension and reality beyond this world we most immediately inhabit. I am making no pronouncements, but I am happy to have been prompted by the book I was lent. I am making no assertions. But I am "imagining" some place, some time, beyond what I know now.

Let's call it "Heaven," and with that said, I'll leave you with DeMent: 

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