Ooh, heaven is a place on earth.
They say in heaven, love comes first;
We’ll make heaven a place on earth;
Ooh, heaven is a place on earth.
Stuck in your head yet? It’s Belinda Carlisle’s signature hit; an eighties classic that topped the charts while I was in utero (since you so wanted to know that). It apparently interpolates a Bach aria. I used to sing it to my college roommate, to terrorize her.
Heaven Is a Place on Earth isn’t a religious song; it’s a bubble-gum-pop love song with a bizarre music video. BUT, I never fail to get the oh-so-catchy chorus stuck in my head when I have conversations about the Kingdom of God/heaven, and its place on earth.
At the diocesan young adult retreat I attended in August, one of our activities involved coming up with our own metaphors for the Kingdom of God (inspired, I believe, by John Dally’s Choosing the Kingdom). We wrote these metaphors on Post-Its and made a collage, with sentiments from the more expected “The Kingdom of God is like a thousand-piece puzzle but without the picture” or “The Kingdom of God is like all our fear replaced with love” to the less expected “The Kingdom of God is like a sassy gay friend” or “The Kingdom of God is like Die Hard.” (Don’t judge.)
One of the take-aways from this was a reminder that the Kingdom of God isn’t some faraway fairytale castle in the sky. It’s right here, right now. We just have to start living like it.
I joined a book group that recently finished reading and discussing Rob Bell’s book, Love Wins. Love Wins raised many hackles in conservative evangelical circles, but I have to admit I found it less than remarkable. I’d expected so much more.
Something I did appreciate, though, was the “here is the new there” concept. Heaven as a dynamic, current thing. While I have my doubts about whether Bell knows enough about string theory to be writing about it, I can certainly say I’ve seen instances of “heaven” and “hell” on earth. In small ways, even in my own life—doesn’t a lot of the Ignatian Examen spring from this?
Another interpretation appears in Nathan Bierma’s Bringing Heaven Down to Earth. I’m partial to Bierma because he’s Dutch. (Interesting note: both he and Bell lived in my hometown when these books were published.) I have yet to read the book in its entirety, but Bierma seems to have a really excellent grasp of a “big gospel” theology, a gospel that really is good news, a “mind-altering message that affects every aspect of life.” It’s a redemption story that Bierma is telling. With lots of Reformed flavor (but then, I go for that stuff).
Bierma taught a class related to the book at my college (a DCM class, for the initiated; for everyone else—nevermind), and according to a course-related blog, took the class on a field trip to an Orthodox church, a trip inspired by this Christian History article discussing Orthodox worship as heaven on earth—worship as the place where the barrier between earth and heaven is broken.
(The students’ responses to this trip are, incidentally, adorably Reformed and probably exactly what I would’ve written as an 18-year-old. They seemed to be especially befuddled by the short sermon, it being the most important part of the service and all. The chanting was cool, but all those icons? A little excessive.)
I wonder how often we think of ourselves as living in the Kingdom of God? When we’re worshiping at church, do we get the sense of a thin place, feel the barrier between earth and heaven shattering over our heads? Annie Dillard said if we knew what sort of power we were invoking on Sunday mornings, we’d all wear crash helmets to church.
What about the rest of the week? Are you living toward the Kingdom of God? Can you feel it? Do you see that glimmer at the far reaches of your peripheral vision? Or in that lonely man you made conversation with, or the tired colleague you encouraged, or the broken alcoholic you offered a helping hand to? Or… Die Hard? How are you changed by the knowledge that you have agency to share this gospel news with the world?
The Kingdom of God is HERE. NOW. God grant us the strength and courage to see it.
When have you experienced the Kingdom of God on earth? How would you finish the sentence “The Kingdom of God is like…”?