Monday, February 13, 2012

Raspberry is for Real

About a month ago, I had the very difficult parental assignment of telling my 3 year old daughter Haley that her best friend, her soul mate since birth, her Golden Retriever dog named Honey, had died. Actually the specifics of the announcement were even more traumatic than that. Only hours before I spoke with Haley, I myself had to take Honey to the vet and have her "put down" because of a recently discovered metastatic version of lung cancer that had overtaken her entire body ("She never even smoked" I mourned to the doctor...). So, to say that I was "not in very good shape" as I sat on Haley's trampoline and looked into her two pellucid blue eyes and told her that her 60 pound wonder had died, would be an understatement. I was a wreck! But I will never forget Haley's reaction. Haley was immediately defiant, angry even. Then she cried a little. And then she said as clearly as if she was delivering a State of the Union Presidential Address, "We are going to go buy a bunny rabbit right now! And we are going to call her Raspberry." Star and I gladly acquiesced. Sure "denial might be a river in Egypt," but it can also be an equally valid form of coping with grief and loss. If a bunny rabbit could fill the Honey shaped hole in Haley's heart, it was for the best.

What struck me then, and has been with me ever since is where she got the name Raspberry for a Bunny Rabbit. Surely Roger Williams himself, who wrote the iconic novel about life and rabbits, "Watership Down" could not himself have come up with a better name for a bunny rabbit than, "Raspberry." So, I asked Haley, where did you come up with the name, "Raspberry?" Haley's answer was equally as clear and delineated, "The angel told me." "What angel?" I asked. "THE ANGEL," said Haley, "Don't ask me any more questions...". And so I didn't ask her any more questions, but ever since, I have asked myself a myriad of them. "Did an angel of God really speak to Haley?" "Did a messenger of God intervene in Haley's life momentarily, during her time of grief, to give her a name for a bunny?" "Does God speak with children more regularly and clearly than God speaks to adults?" "Is Haley gifted with a unique ability to hear God's voice?"

Recently pastor and author Todd Burpo wrote a New York Times Best Selling novella, which has sold over five million copies (according to the cover), called, "Heaven is for Real." The theme of the book centers around a young boy, Burpo's son, named Colton, who made it through emergency appendectomy surgery, and a near death scrape, to live to tell about it. After the surgery, however, Colton revealed that he had not only been under anesthesia during the surgery, but that he had also been to heaven and back. The book recounts Colton's journey and conversations with God, dialogue with angels, observations about heaven, details about who was sitting next to God, and content about what we can expect if we are to go to heaven. I must personally admit that when I first learned about the book I instinctively knew that it must be taken with more than just a small pinch of salt (please pass the salt shaker). And, since the writing of the book questions have abounded from theologians and literary critics alike. "Did Colton really go to heaven, or was it some sort of transcendentic experience?" "If Colton did go to heaven is there the possibility of some sort of bridge being built, some middle world between heaven and earth?" "Can a person actually go to heaven and come back?" And, at least for the agnostic, the question, "Is heaven for real?"

So, my recent experience with Haley receiving the name, "Raspberry" from "an angel", and Todd Burpo's book and son Colton have given me some things to think about theologically. One of the interesting things about Burpo's book is that there is the subliminal assertion that children are somehow closer to God than adults are. That children are somehow more innocent than adults and that they can build a more intimate bridge between God and themselves than we can. This concept is one that I soundly reject. Having been an ordained pastor for more than 11 years now, I firmly believe that all people, no matter the age, are completely "Fallen", and that all people are equally distant and near to God. The only true bridge between God and humans is the one that Jesus built while hanging on the cross, and the one that the Holy Spirit offers through prayer and supplication.

The ultimate question of whether a person could potentially leave this earth in some sort of middle state of half-life and half-death and commune with the creator God, in a special, out of body way, still remains. My answer to this question is more of a; "Sure, why not?" The study of first and second and third century patristics and matristics is rife with examples of out of body experiences and connections to God. The disciple John no doubt had an out of body experience when living on the island of Patmos and hearing the voice of God and then writing the book of Revelations. God often pierces the conscious and subconscious mind of believers and non-believers alike to impart deep theological truths to God's people.

So, for the time being at least, I am willing to say, with a sort of mysterious and uncomfortable confidence that it is possible that an angel did speak to Haley. And that,

Raspberry, at least, is for Real

All for Now,

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