Today, Richard Rohr inspires me to return to one of my favorite subjects – inclusivity. Richard Rohr (a Franciscan priest) is a most prolific writer – numerous books and a fabulous daily devotional are available through the Center for Action and Contemplation. I offer for your consideration three quotes from his book Falling Upward, along with my observations.
If you go to heaven alone, wrapped in your private worthiness, it is by definition not heaven. If your notion of heaven is based on exclusion of anybody else, then it is by definition not heaven. The more you exclude, the more hellish and lonely your existence always is…. If you accept a punitive notion of God, who punishes or even eternally tortures those who do not love him, then you have an absurd universe where most people on this earth end up being more loving than God!… It is interesting to me that the church has never declared a single person to be in hell, not even Judas, Hitler or Stalin. 1
As those of you who know me are aware, I have devoted an inordinate amount of time and effort to contemplation of whether I will meet Judas in heaven. For all my research and time spent talking with God through prayer, I haven’t a clue whether Judas will be there or not. I have amassed enough “evidence” on both sides that I can present a fairly convincing argument for both the negative and the affirmative (reminiscent of my days on the high school debate team).
Yes, to spend eternity in the presence of God is my deepest desire, but the quote above leaves me sad at the prospect I will be with God without a whole range of others whom I excluded, which leads to the second Rohr quote from the book:
Up to now we have been more in love with elitism than with any egalitarianism; we liked being the “one,” but did not know how to include the many in that very One. 2
As Americans, we abhor the elitist, yet at the same time, we are the most elitist of countries. We have so much, while most of the world struggles each day to scratch out a living. Don’t hear me incorrectly here – I am grateful every day (or certainly should be) to live in this lovely country with every creature comfort at my beck and call. I love being the “one,” or said another way being #1. Yet as I age, I become more and more committed to peacemaking and seeking ways to live in unity with those unlike me, rather than trying to prove my way is the best way. As I have often written, God looks at the disunity in our world and weeps.
If Father Rohr has one fundamental message to deliver in this regard it is:
Life is all about practicing for heaven. 3
I recently heard a speaker say, “The only thing you can take to heaven is your friends.” What an odd statement, I thought. After further reflection, it may well be true, maybe you can indeed “take your friends.” My personal mission statement is “To live in the presence of God, here and in the next life, and to hold the door open for as many people as possible.” In this sense, one of my objectives here on earth is to “take as many of my friends (friends being broadly defined) with me.”
I believe we also take the character we have sculpted with us to heaven. Every decision we make, both good and bad, large or small, is a chisel mark on our character. Every step we take to learn about our fellow travelers on this globe impacts our hearts with regard to including or excluding them. This too is practicing for heaven. It is on the foundation of our personally sculpted character we will answer to God.
What better way to practice for the life to come than practicing for heaven in the here and now? Borrowing from Paul’s fruit of the spirit, I challenge you to practice love, peace, gentleness and especially kindness.
I leave you with one more thought which I recently read online: “I would rather be excluded for who I include than excluded for who I include.”
In desperate need of a Savior,
1 Richard Rohr, Falling Upward- A Spirituality for the Two Halves of Life, (San Francisco, CA, Jossey-Bass 2011), 101.
2 Ibid, p. 103.
3 Ibid, p. 101.