Saturday, July 23, 2022

The Keys to the Kingdom

In the summer of 1984 I spent time in Belfast, Northern Ireland. There I learned a great deal that my rather sheltered upbringing in Minnesota had not taught me. I learned about political hate turned violent. I saw it, felt it, was endangered by it, began to understand it, and, most importantly, began to see a way through it.

I have several stories I could tell. I will pick one for its intensity and poignancy.

He went by "Packy." He became a soldier in the Ulster Volunteer Force when he was a  teenager, because he thought at the time it was "a cause worth dying for." No one in Belfast was untouched by the politically motivated violence at the time. His father narrowly escaped death from an IRA-planted bomb when Packy was a child. Hate for Catholics and Republican Nationalists was the air he breathed.

Such attacks were still common when I was there in 1984. Where I lived there was a police raid on the house three doors down, an IRA meeting house, and a young woman was shot and killed. A bus was hijacked and set on fire at the end of our street. A man was knee-capped (shot through the back of the knee) on our street for disobeying an order by the paramilitary that claimed authority in the area. The streets were regularly patrolled by squads of police in full military gear. I learned quickly and dramatically that words like "nationalism" and "loyalism" were not mere political differences. They ran to the core of peoples' identity; in their blood and bones. It was conflated with religion--Protestant vs. Catholic. It was rooted in centuries of complex and troubling history, in family, in loss, death and hope. 

Packy saw himself as a fighter in a just cause. Others saw him as a terrorist.

Eventually, Packy was arrested and sent to prison for bank robbery. Something strange happened there. He he met a Catholic. Not just a Catholic, but IRA. An enemy combatant. To that point Packy had never gotten to know a Catholic. Then he did. 

When Packy was released from prison, he and this former IRA member began to speak together in schools throughout N. Ireland, to bear witness to the possibility of reconciliation, even between formerly sworn enemies. For this, Packy received death threats from the ranks of his former comrades in the UVF. He continued to speak out publicly for reconciliation, but he slept with a gun under his pillow.

Despite this, Packy still could not accept or understand that a Catholic could be properly called "Christian." 

He told me a great deal of his story, especially the harrowing bits, as he gave me a tour of the famous Falls and Shankill roads one Saturday. He pointed out lookout posts, meeting places, targets and places where terrible things occurred. 

And then it happened. Walking down the Shankill Road toward the YMCA where he worked, we were greeted by a Catholic Priest. We stopped. I could sense the tension in Packy's body. The Priest was genial and detected my American accent immediately. He asked the purpose of my visit. I told him that Packy and I were working with the YMCA in Belfast seeking relationship building and reconciliation among Protestant and Catholic youth. 

It did not need to be said that Packy was former UVF. It was tatooed all over his massive arms. Packy was silent and uneasy under the Priest's inquiring eye. Then the Priest reached into his pocket and produced a twenty pound note (about $50 at the time). He handed it to Packy, not me, and said "God bless you, and your beautiful work." Then he strolled away.

I turned to look at Packy. Trembling, the tears were streaming down his cheeks as he held that note. Something released. Something way deep. Something at the core. Something perhaps he wasn't even aware of. Something he practically inherited and had become part of his identity. Something only a Catholic Priest could address. Because a priest was its symbol--everything he was NOT--that which he hated, demonized, swore oaths against, and risked his life to destroy. That one held the key to this deep chamber, and opened it with a blessing. 

In that hiccuppy voice that comes through sobs, I heard Packy say, "I never dreamed... A Catholic Priest... would bless me..."

I shall never forget that moment. I saw grace. I felt a rebirth. 

It lent new meaning to Jesus' words to Peter, "I give you the keys to the kingdom. Whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven."

I have seen and lived in a far more violent and apparently hopeless political climate than our current one in the U.S, or in other parts of the world. Like the Priest, we have the "keys to the kingdom." It is not complicated, though it is hard. It is why I do not despair, and why I believe hate is the "temptation" we ask to be rescued from in the Lord's Prayer. "Only love has the power to overcome hate." said Martin Luther King, "Hate cannot overcome hate." I don't just believe it. I have seen it.  


Thursday, September 23, 2021

What is Terror?


What is terror?

If we are old enough, we all remember just where we were and what we were doing on September 11th, 2001 when we got the news. The images are seared into our memories. These acts of mass murder were meant to terrorize us, and they did. We were changed. So was the world.

Twenty years later, we still grieve for the dead, the injured, and the bereaved; victims of the attacks. But we also have had time to reflect. A great deal of reflecting has been done around this 20th anniversary year, both about the attacks themselves and about the U.S. response: the massive "War on Terror."

We have not, as far as I know, done much reflecting on terror itself. One might think we would, given the way in which it has become such a central word in our domestic and foreign policies, and to our very consciousness. Talk of terror, terrorism, and terrorists is everywhere.

But what is it? What is terror?

A close friend of mine commented post-911, as we watched the unfolding of the invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq, "The reason terrorism works is because we are terrified." Acts of terror are essentially acts of fear, whether they do them or we do them; whether that fear is desperation (9-11), or revenge (Shock and Awe). This gets to the root of things. Terror is the inner condition that breeds acts of terror. The acts do not create terror. They express and enflame it; spreading to more terroristic acts in response.

Think about that. The reason we are not because of terrorism, terrorists, or armed attacks. These could not terrorize us if we simply were not terrified.  They are effective because they provoke the terror that is already in us. It would not work without that. 

None of us likes all of what happens. No one lives with no fears at all. Fear, when it arises, is an invitation to something beyond fear: eternal life.

This is not acquiescence. It is rather to loose our grip on outcomes. It is to realize that our lives do not depend on any particular outcome or set of circumstances, however good and desirable they may be; or however horrible they may be. When Jesus says, "Are not your lives more than food or clothing? Why do you then worry?" he is not just talking about food and clothing, he is talking about worry itself. Worry ruins us. It disconnects us from our true selves, the present moment, and from others. 

It is possible to live, love, struggle, resist, hope, pursue, fight and die--all without worry; without terror. But this only is possible when we loose our soul's attachment to "necessary" outcomes, and likewise our attachment to avoiding "unthinkable" outcomes. Though these attachments may seem quite reasonable to most people, they are the source and cause of suffering for ourselves and others. Another way is possible. I say another way is possible, not because I am a master (I am a learner). I say it because I have seen it.

I saw it in Martin Luther King Jr. In his "I Have a Dream" speech, King admitted that he would prefer to live a long life, but that he did not expect to do so. It is safe to say he had fears, but he was not terrified. Not afraid enough to waver from his message of equality and love of enemy. Not afraid enough to stop standing in truth. 

I see it in the stories of Jesus. He had fears, no doubt, but he was not terrified to face his own untimely death, which became inevitable as long as he kept speaking the truth that was threatening to those in power. 

We saw it in NYC fire fighters who climbed the stairways to what they knew would likely be their own death.

What is there to lose? It is deep and profound and real question. What do you fear to lose? And what do you lose when you cling to your fear of loss? "What does it profit a person to gain the whole cosmos (the Greek word for world) and to lose one's own soul?" "Whoever seeks to save one's life will lose it. But whoever loses (please read here: "looses") one's life will keep it for eternal life."  (Mark 8)

Eternal life is not what happens after we die. Eternal life is eternal. No beginning and no end. Eternal life is life, period. It is the life that is truly life. It is the life to which Jesus came to bear witness; not a later life, but a now life. Here and now. A quality of life, not an after-life. What robs us of abundant life, is a mistaken case of identity. We think of ourselves in terms of many things: successes, achievements, relations, possessions, failures, mess-ups, status, reputation, and so on. 

Our lives are not these things. These things pass away along with our bodies and the memories of us. Poof. So why do we cling so anxiously to what we cannot keep? There's an invitation to the spiritual life here. To learn to let go in our hearts of the things, even the really good things, that we will most certainly lose. So that we--ironically--can learn to enjoy them for what they are: gifts. It is an initiation to a life beyond the grip of fear and terror, to unassailable joy and love. No strings attached. No terror to fear.

We say, "God is Love." I wonder whether and how we believe it? Do we feel it? Is that what is really real? Perhaps this is eternal life? 

Friday, October 2, 2020

We Who Are Homeless

Dan came to our (Zion Lutheran Church's) food give-away and free meal program last year. He taught me the term, "homeless survivor." Amazing how a small change in language can catch your attention and shift your thinking. At once I knew it was a better way to speak of people I have come to know. "Homeless" is a condition, not an identity. "Survivor" lends the dignity of personhood and achievement to those who are in that condition, AND to those who have been in it and survived. It also speaks to the long-term effects of surviving without the shelter of a stable home. Dan was kind enough to share some of his story as a homeless survivor.

Most unforgettable was that Dan looked me in the eye: "It could happen to you." I could feel that with every bit of power he had, he wanted me to understand this.

Dan is a few years older than me, in his sixties, well educated, well spoken, sober, and traumatized. He came for food.

A few years previously, Dan had what would seem to just about anyone a fine life. He had a wife and two grown children. He worked for a large corporation in I.T. and made a six-figure income. They owned a nice house and lived in a small town just outside the Twin Cities.


                                                        from Dan's LinkedIn page

He'd had stable employment his whole adult life, most recently over a decade with US Bank. A dispute with H.R. over a proposed change to the terms of his employment led to a three month severance package.

Dan was disappointed but not especially worried. He'd find something else and things would be ok. He pulled his resume together and began a professional job search.

Dan gradually discovered he was not marketable as a professional anymore. He was in his middle fifties. He had a computer programming degree from the 1970's. There was a question mark over his most recent employment.

In time his marriage unraveled. Dan decided his wife should have the house, and in a perhaps overly generous gesture, he used his money to pay off bills and the mortgage. 

Yet he was still confident he could find some kind of job to make ends meet for himself. But he could not. He was too old and too old-school for the employment he was used to, and over-qualified for lesser roles. The odd jobs he took could not cover rent, car and living expenses. He had moved in with a friend. He felt increasingly uneasy about receiving his friend's hospitality. He left to live in his car; still working for small wages, still putting his resume out there.

The car was not a good home. And then it too was gone. It took a while for Dan to realize admit that he, in fact, was homeless.

Dan eventually (years later) found his way into a program through Catholic Charities where he is afforded a small apartment. It's a single room in the same complex as the "Wet House," a shelter that does not require sobriety. He does not like being there. There is no kitchen, just a dorm-room size fridge, hot plate and microwave. 

He wants very much to be self-sufficient again. He tells me he's lost everything: career, family, house, home, health, and...most of all, his dignity. A market rate one bedroom apartment is beyond his reach. He refuses to become a permanent client of public housing. His eyes well up as he speaks.

"It could happen to you."

Dan taught me to look differently, and more closely. To identify, rather than dis-identify. To ask and begin to learn from the several other homeless survivors that grace our food give-away and free meal on Thursdays. To think of the growing "problem" of homelessness among us evidenced by "tents everywhere," not as an "issue," but as human beings. Being homeless is a condition. A condition belonging to all of us. Nearly half all those in MN currently surviving homelessness are children and youth 17 and under. 35% accompanied by an adult, and 16% on their own. Ask a teacher in our poorest schools. 

It really could happen to anyone. To any of us. This, I believe, is where to start. 

Disclaimer: Homeless survivors tend to be extraordinarily private people. The extent to which I share their stories, I am careful to not reveal their identities. In Dan's case I use his real name because he has already told his story publicly in a documentary called "Guttered," filmed by his friend (and mine, through Dan) Jerry Sedgwick. 

I highly recommend watching "Guttered." Available on YouTube.

Monday, June 15, 2020

Nobody Wants Racism Thrust In Their Face

Least of all, those at whom it is directed.
I don't share too many sermons, and I am well aware that many do not want to be sermoned-to. But in this one, I am trying to personally relate, from my own experience, what it feels like to feel racism. It's personal, hopefully not judgmental. The Gospel is only good news if it is for people. Not just for "souls" to the neglect of  bodies. The Gospel, if good news, is for life; physical, practical, this-worldly life. We are in this together. Together.
The Rev. Dr. GarbageMan

Monday, March 30, 2020

Neighbors in the Time of Cholera

It is the season of Lent, after all. A time traditionally acknowledging the reality of inevitable social distancing, separation, and death--especially our own. A time of simplifying. A time of retreat. The whole point of which is to find a deeper joy, a source of life that does not depend on the impermanence of toilet paper, or money, or a job, or status, or even food.

I do not trivialize. These are all important. But "life is more than what we will eat and what we will wear. So be anxious for nothing." (Matthew 6). These, I think, are the most ignored words of Jesus in Christian history.

I went on a walk yesterday. It was a fine and pleasant walk. Strange too. No traffic on W. 7th. Families out walking--together!

I came down Michigan Street toward Cooper's SuperValu, I was met by the gorgeous tones of a lone saxophone.


I was not in any hurry, so I approached and listened. Filled with appreciation, I opened my wallet and had nothing but a $10 in there, with which I happily parted. He paused and we introduced ourselves from a distance. 

Bob Neighbors told me his main instrument is harmonica, but today he felt like people needed saxophone. "Nothing connects people like music," he said, "especially when we make it together; but also when we just listen." His momma down South where he grew up used to tell him, "Don't hide your gift under a bushel basket." Share it with the world. The world needs your God-given gift. "My gift is not great," he said. "Like I said, I'm a harmonica player. I just play sax well enough not to get tomatoes thrown at me. Furthermore, I'm an introvert. It's my inclination to hold back. But today, at this time, people need connection! So I showed up. Here I am. Putting a vibration out that comes from love. It's a spiritual thing. Music can change the world. I believe that. Every musical vibration is eternal, so we gotta make it our best."

I listened. I felt what he was telling me, and the power of his simple music. I thought about how true it is that music perfectly captures both our connection and our distance from each other. It's vibration. I thought about how whatever vibration we put out into the world, for better or for worse, has infinite repercussions. I am convinced, however, that in the end all is swallowed up in love, and that what we put out in love is eternal life.

Just then, a neighbor I already knew came out of the grocery store. I introduced Jim to Bob, and we chatted a bit. Jim had a problem, though. While in the store, he decided to buy more than fewer groceries so that he would not have to go back for more for a while during the pandemic. He had four heavy bags and about 1/2 mile to walk. He asked for help to carry them, and I was more than glad to do so. We bid goodbye to Bob and set out.

During the walk, Jim Sazevich, an amazing freelance local historian, began to muse on the cholera outbreak of 1854 in St. Paul. You know, like historians do. Inspired obviously by the present Covid-19 outbreak, his mind went to 1854 and a subject close to home for him.

You see, his home, a little brick house on Smith Ave. built in 1854, was never finished by the original builder, one Mr. Adams, who had just moved to St. Paul in that year with his new bride. Young Mr. Adams was a shirt-tail relative of John Quincy Adams, former President of the US. 

The small brick structure was finished in 1854, though not the intended wooden additions. That year cholera invaded St. Paul, and it killed an unrecorded number of people, "but certainly dozens," Jim told me. One life claimed happened to be Minnesota Territory's most famous citizen, Mr. Charles Fillmore; brother of then-President Millard Fillmore. Fillmore's house was in Irvine Park, just next door to Alexander Ramsey's house. It was mere blocks from The Adam's house. And Mrs. Adams was pregnant.

Death must have seemed everywhere in that little settlement. The funeral for Fillmore processed by horse-drawn hearse down Fort Street, now W. 7th St., toward the new Oakland Cemetery, St. Paul's first cemetery. 

But as black crows gathered and cawed in the trees lining the street (I embellish, sorry Jim), the hearse caught a rut in the dirt road. The coffin slid off the back of the hearse-wagon and crashed on the ground, spilling the body of Minnesota's most famous citizen out onto the dirt.

We don't know, but it is hard to imagine the pregnant Mrs. Adams and her husband were not present for this spectacle that occurred only a block or two from their residence. 

Thereafter, the Adams family walked away from their house and St. Paul. They just walked away--70 miles they walked, she pregnant--to Steele County MN, where their son was born: the first white child born in that county. 

And now Jim lives in their house. He has learned their story, and even has a wedding photo of Mr. and Mrs. Adams in his (their) house. He is in touch with their descendants. "We need to preserve the artifacts," Jim tells me with genuine passion. "They are gone, but the artifacts remain, and keep them with us, keep us with them. And they still have much to tell us."

I am moved by the people who put good vibrations out into the world, who follow the calling of Love. This was quite a day. Thank you Bob and Jim, for being great neighbors, and doing good and healing work, during this contemporary "Time of Cholera."

Monday, January 13, 2020

"I Feel Safer on the Street"

It took me a minute to realize that the ringing church bell I was hearing was ours. Strange, because it was not Sunday. It was Thursday and we were in the middle of our weekly Thursday activities at 11 a.m.

I am pastor at Zion Lutheran Church in the urban Midway Neighborhood of St. Paul, MN. Every Thursday our doors are open to any who can use a home made meal, a bag of groceries, a warm place to spend the day, and/or a little safe, welcoming human contact.

There are surprises often enough on Thursdays at Zion. But this was a new one. Someone had made their way into the sanctuary and up to the balcony and, finding the rope for the bell, began ringing it like mad.

I excused myself from a small group discussion, muttering something that rhymes with "What the bell?", I made my way to the sanctuary and asked the silhouette of a man I could see in the dim light to please stop. And he did.

I climbed the stairs to the balcony and found him sitting on a church pew in the dark. He was young, barely more than 20, in a jacket and sweatpants, thick black hair, strong build, and agitated--though not in a threatening way, just incredibly fidgety.

I thanked him for listening to me about the bell. I asked his name:
"Are you ok?"
"No, not really."
"You seem really nervous."
"Yeah, I feel real anxious."
"Are you on any drugs right now?"
"Yes, amphetamines, I need them to feel normal."

At this point I invited him down to my office to talk if he'd like to. He agreed, gathering up his bags. He was unsteady on his feet and his sweatpants kept slipping down.

In my office he couldn't sit still. He paced as we talked. He rearranged some books, turned on the stereo to some music he likes, and then sat at my desk and took notes on my note pad during our talk.

He grew up in Hastings, always suffered anxiety, and was hard on his family. He left home early and has bounced around in shelters and under bridges. Said he wants to get clean and heard Teen Challenge was a good place. I called and spoke to Stephanie, a counselor. She was amazing and spoke with Ben directly. No, he could not come there without a rule 25 chemical dependency evaluation, and their next appointment was next week.

Stephanie told him she had been where he is. She recommended going to St. Joseph's Hospital, as she had done. He could detox in safety, with attendant drug therapy. It was his best option. We thanked Stephanie. Then Ben used my phone to call his sister for advice. She agreed with Stephanie. "St. Jo's is your best option. Please go," she said.

But he could not. I offered to drive him. Appealed to the good advice he just received. "They will put me in the Psych Ward. I can't go there again. It's too confining. I feel safer on the street."

With that, Ben grabbed a doughnut and a coffee, and hit the street.
"Left the building."
Yet he definitely had rung our bell.

Friday, July 26, 2019

Homily for Gary Michel, Mayor of the Midway

Some have asked me for a copy of the homily I gave for Gary. Here it is:

Homily for Gary Michel Memorial
Zion Lutheran Church
John Marboe, Pastor

Gospel Lesson: John 3. 1-8

Now there was a Pharisee named Nicodemus, a leader of the Jews. He came to Jesus by night and said to him, ‘Rabbi, we know that you are a teacher who has come from God; for no one can do these signs that you do apart from the presence of God.’ Jesus answered him, ‘Very truly, I tell you, no one can see the kingdom of God without being born from above.’Nicodemus said to him, ‘How can anyone be born after having grown old? Can one enter a second time into the mother’s womb and be born?’ Jesus answered, ‘Very truly, I tell you, no one can enter the kingdom of God without being born of water and Spirit. What is born of the flesh is flesh, and what is born of the Spirit is spirit. Do not be astonished that I said to you, “You must be born from above.” The wind blows where it chooses, and you hear the sound of it, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes. So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit.’

I never spoke with Gary about what his wishes for his own funeral might be. But if I had, I am quite sure that Gary would have said something like: “Keep it short. And no BS!”

I will attempt to honor that!

A minute ago, Gary’s brother Tom shared how he tried to help his kids understand their Uncle Gary: “Your uncle is kinda like the wind.” He said. “He shows up when you don’t expect, and goes when and where he wants.”

In the Gospel story, this is how Jesus describes people who are “born of the Spirit.” But this passage is about more than unpredictability.  It is about letting go of those things the world tells us give life, but do not. And it is about the life that comes from living in Christ’s Spirit (by the way, in biblical Greek “wind” and “spirit” are the same word). It is descriptive of people “born from above,” or “born again.”

And Gary was born again into a life of the Spirit/Wind.

For many Christians, to be “born again” is something like a badge of membership that distinguishes those who “belong to Jesus” from the rest of humanity…forever. For them it is an entry ticket to heaven, and without it you go to hell. I spoke to Gary plenty about these matters, and we agreed that this idea is baloney and bad for the world.

It is just this kind of judgement, of othering others, of religious distinction, and of self-righteousness that Jesus protests in the Gospels. Rather, to be “born again” is to let all that stuff go, and to begin life anew with a new sense of humanity; one that is on the side of life—abundant life, of compassion, and of healing. For all people.

Gary was, in this sense, born again. He was awake to what really mattered in life—and what did not. As was said earlier, he would help anyone. Anyone. Okay, he might grumble and be critical while doing it. But there he was.

He rejected the path of accumulation, of reputation, or of recognition. These simply did not matter to him.

What he cared about was quite simple. To pursue knowledge, to care for others, and to show up each and every Thursday here at Zion to serve food to persons in need…AND to yell at us that we weren’t doing things right. Which we all experienced. Me included. Yep he yelled at me too.

Which brings me to another image Jesus used, besides wind.

In Matthew’s Gospel, in the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus turns to his disciples and says: “You are the salt of the earth. But if salt loses its saltiness, it is no longer good for anything but to be thrown out and trodden under foot. So have salt, and be salty!”

Gary was salty.

He was salty in that Irish way of speaking: “Aye, he’s the salt o th’ arth!”
Which means: He swore like a sailor. He had no airs. He drank (until he didn’t anymore). He could be rough around the edges. He told it like he saw it. But he had a heart of gold.

I love this image because it is so earthy. I love this image because it is not churchy.
I love it because it expresses something of how we are to be here in the world.
Gary. Was. Here.
He was fully present. He was fully himself. For better and for worse. He showed up!

Now that was not always, nor by everyone, exactly appreciated.
But Jesus never called anyone to be “nice.” Not once.

But salt. Salt is an essential element for life. Without it we die. To be sure, too much of it is not good either! But it is embedded in the life of the world, essentially.

We all know that salt was a preservative in the ancient world. It made food last and helped people survive the seasons of life.

What we may not know is that salt was essential to healing. I used to think that “to rub salt in a wound” was a phrase that meant to be cruel to someone who was already down. But salt was the most basic and universally available antibiotic. Soldiers rubbed salt in their wounded comrades to prevent infection, so that they might heal. Yes, it stung like mad, but it was applied for healing.

It is striking that Gary’s two main senses of vocation were: to heal and to feed people. He trained during Vietnam to be a medic, and later became an RN. After that he went to culinary school to become a chef. Eventually he came to help in our kitchen at Zion. Gary was a healer. Gary fed the hungry. Encountering Gary could sting, but he was salt; on the side of life and of healing.

Gary was and is like wind and salt. But we are here not only to ponder Gary’s life. We are here in this liminal space, this in-between space, between life and death, to ponder our own lives…in light of Gary’s life. It is from this perspective, from the perspective of the end of life, that life can be viewed with greatest clarity. And if you are anything like me, you realize from this point of view how much energy, time, money, fear, and worry we spend on things that, from this perspective, don’t really matter much at all.

What really matters? It becomes quite simple. For what really matters boils down to one thing:

What matters is getting ice cream cones with your brother’s kids and carrying them home, ice cream melting down your shirt.

It’s just one thing: Showing up as Santa for the kids every Christmas.

Just one thing: Feeding the hungry while being an ornery cuss.

Just one thing: Caring for people with huntington’s disease as a nurse.

Just one thing: Love.

Gary was moved by love. Imperfectly, but real-ly. Wholly. Saltily. Windily.

And this is eternal life. Eternal life is not a very long time after you die. Eternal life has nothing to do with time. It is outside of time. That is what “eternal” means. No time.

Eternal life is not a quantity of life. It is a quality of life. It is the life of love And that life is available and present both now and forever. It is available to all of us. All the time. No matter how much or little time we have. No matter how strong or weak we feel. The one thing that truly matters, that lasts forever, and that is the very life of heaven, is available to all of us. To love.

Gary is with God. No one can understand quite, nor describe adequately what that means. We are too limited in our imaginations, too narrow in our experience and thinking. However:

The best description I ever heard was from a three year old girl. Who is my daughter. She is no longer three, but when she was, we visited the graveside of our cat Harvey who had died shortly after she was born. We stood around the grave, under the maple tree in our back yard. My wife Andrea asked our daughter, Charlie, “Where do you think Harvey went?”

Without hesitation, Charlie proclaimed, “Into the world, Mommy!”
(long pause)

It is the best description of heaven I have ever heard. Not: Up to heaven. Not: Into the ground. But: Into the world.

We tend to think of heaven as some other place, absent from here. But where is God?
If God is anywhere, is not God everywhere?
Gary is with God. Therefore Gary is present—forever with you, as salt and as wind. His love the very reflection of God’s love that makes and redeems the world.

Love is eternal life. Is a gift. Is grace for everyone, no exceptions.

I hope that was not too long, nor BS.