Sunday, January 08, 2012

Heaven Is Real(ly Strange)

I may not talk about this much, but I had an out-of-body experience.  In fact, I’ve never referred to the incident as such, but have since realized that’s exactly what it was.

I had my tonsils out some time in the early 1970’s.  I can’t recall the exact year – most likely 1970-72, as I had them out “early” and had the operation the same time as my slightly older sister.  As with most things in my childhood, I’m sure the explanation of why we both went in together was economics: my depression-era parents did everything possible to save a buck, which also made sense with my factory-working father supporting seven people.

The out-of-body experience occurred just after the operation.  I was high as a kite.  I didn’t know this at the time – I would later learn this when I sampled magic mushrooms in college and found the effects to be quite similar (and wonderful).  When I first came out of my slumber, I had the sensation of lying on grass on a sunny day.  The thing was, I was on a gurney in an operating room.  The weirder thing was, I was convinced I was lying vertically, against the wall, relaxed, but somehow suspended vertically on a patch of soft grass … I swear I could even smell the grass.  I leaned my head forward, but didn’t fall off the gurney.

It didn’t end there.  A few second later, I became aware of my body rising, slowly, over the hospital room, so I could see my sister on the gurney next to me, a doctor making notations on a chart, nurses putting away instruments and such on a tray.  It was at this point that I remember feeling very scared – this wasn’t right.  I was afraid I was going to fall.

Coinciding with that “falling” feeling was the realization that the anesthetic was wearing off, and my throat was on fire.  I felt immediately slammed down onto the gurney, no longer vertical, no longer on grass, and my throat felt as though someone had stabbed it with a dagger.  I started crying, hard.  A nurse said, “Look, William, your sister is doing fine.  It doesn’t hurt that much.”  And I looked over, and she was surely at peace, probably as high as I had been, but as noted, whatever good shit they had pumped into my system, man, it was no longer working.

And that’s where it ended.  I’m sure I wailed for a good 15 minutes longer, wore myself out with the weeping, as kids do, then dozed off, awakening a few hours later in our shared hospital room to parents and ice cream.

Do I attribute this to some mystical experience?  No.  I attribute it to drugs.  Really good drugs.  The kind of drugs that alter reality and fill you with a sense of peace.  I wouldn’t have had that experience without the drugs.  Brother M has assured me, as a wayward teenager, he had many out-of-body experiences in less clinical circumstances.  I remember the fall-out of one, him standing in the living room at two in the morning covered in clods of dirt, vines and weeds after running his car into the side of a hill, claiming he had just missed hitting a dog.  We later learned he thought he was driving an airplane through a corn field, and the corn cobs were balls of light.  He had been driving on a non-descript portion of Route 61 and simply drove over the rail into the side of a hill.  Luckily, there was a hill, otherwise he would have been flying for real.

I use all this as preface to a review of a book a friend recommended that I just read over the New Year’s weekend: Heaven Is for Real by Todd Burpo and Lynn Vincent.  Burpo is a pastor from the midwest, and Vincent a professional writer who co-wrote a book with Sara Palin, among other conservative-leaning books.  The book is written from the point of view of Burpo, so I’m guessing he told much of the story to Vincent, and she edited this into an acceptable book format.  At least the book has that feel of colloquial first-person account with an agenda.  Burpo is set up as a working-class everyman with a heart of gold and “hey bud” writing voice, thus we get the impression as readers after about 15 pages that if we disagree with him, there must be something really wrong and bad with us.  (Vincent knows her trade well, emotional manipulation that the unsubtle and converted will not sense.)

The gist is Burpo’s four-year-old son, Colton, visits heaven during a near-death experience he had after his appendix burst, was mis-diagnosed, and he wasn’t operated on until the situation had grown into a life-or-death proposition.  He never flat-lined at any time in the experience, but claimed to have visited heaven nonetheless, where he met God, Jesus, a grandfather he never knew, a fetus his mother miscarried (that he miraculously also knew nothing about) and various other angels.  He even met Satan, apparently, but was too spooked to try to physically describe him.  (I’m wondering if anyone’s shown him a picture of Simon Cowell since?)

It was a bad read, to say the least, cost me $5.00 on Amazon Kindle, but that’s a fiver I won’t be getting back.  Still, mission accomplished.  Colton and Vincent sold another copy, have no doubt sold millions of copies as this is the exact sort of hokum that’s bound to be a hit with a Christian reading audience who, even if they have their doubts, will feel some type of warmth in the story of this humble father, who had already lived through a year of tribulations (nearly going broke due to various health issues of his own, while his garage-door installation business fell by the wayside, during his and his son’s physical problems), and then slowly realized his son had a mystical experience.

How mystical was it?  Put it this way.  If I did my weight in magic mushrooms, with The Wizard of Oz in Blu-Ray on repeat, Dark Side of the Moon blasting from the speakers of my stereo, I couldn’t have come anywhere near this.  Little Colton said he was in heaven for only three minutes, but he packed a lot of shit into those three minutes.  Meeting the man in charge, his Son who died for our sins, family members he never knew, and got to experience the technicolor glory of heaven, where everyone has wings, either stays a child or reverts back to how they looked at 25. 

Let’s start with Colton meeting “Pop” – his paternal great-grandfather who died in a car crash in his early 60s, decades before Colton was born.  The “great-grandfather” – like everyone else in heaven – appeared to be about 25 year old as he was given that body again after his car crash.  Old people … suck, in heaven.  Heaven would be crawling with the elderly if people entered heaven at the age they died.  It would be like a senior citizens home.  Heaven would smell vaguely of piss and clorox.  We can’t have that.  It has to be me more like MTV.  Everybody’s young.  Everybody’s beautiful.  Isn’t that heavenly?

This man Colton met in heaven had many identities to many people.  Why would this man/angel not identify himself by his real name, then simply state that he was the kid’s great grandfather?  In the context of this man’s after life, he’s more than likely in heaven with his own parents, grandparents, great grandparents and possibly some of his children … why would he identify himself to this kid as “Pop” in this context?  He wasn’t “Pop” to Colton.  He would probably only say, “Your father is my grandson.”  Which would probably blow the kid’s mind, as he’s being told this guy who looks younger than his Dad is his Dad’s grandfather … who died decades before he was born. 

Lest we forget “Pop” was now a  25-year-old man in perfect health, with wings … think about that when you try to identify your parents in heaven, assuming you’re all lucky enough to get there.  Your mother and father are going to be 25 years old and in perfect health, just as you shall be.  My Mom was pretty good looking in her time.  What if I don’t know it’s her and hit on her?  According to Colton, I’ll still have a physical body and will apparently have the same urges, and need to shit and eat, too, I guess?  The mother thing alone would freak me out.

And why would we have any physical attributes in heaven when it seems like the most logical explanation of heaven would be our spirits leaving our bodies, which are in the ground rotting (or incinerated) as countless exhumations have proven, which only served to drag down and cloud our judgment in life?  It seems like leaving our bodies, in and of itself, would be a pretty apt description of heaven … why all this dumb, childish shit thrown on top of it to make it seem like a Disney cartoon on acid?  Oh, almost forgot … it’s because we’re talking about a four-year-old boy stoned out of his mind piecing together bits of his sub-conscious the way we all do when we dream or get high.

The book reeks of this sort of “stacking the deck” bullshit.  As if Colton “went to heaven” so he could later prove it only to his father, who was the only one who called his grandfather “Pop.”  I’m not sure if Burpo and Vincent are smart enough to recognize this.  A lot of what went on in heaven seemed to happen only so that little Colton could then relay this information to his father, who would immediately sense the connection to his own life, as if the kid’s recollection in and of itself, even if he had nothing to tell his father that would make any sense to him, wasn’t good enough.  It was only valid when his father deemed it so.  I take it that if Colton had told his father of things he saw that his father could in no way personally verify, Colton would probably still be seeing a therapist year later.

The reason Burpo focused on “Pop” being in heaven was that “Pop” never went to church that much, therefore there was doubt as to whether “Pop” had accepted Jesus as his personal savior.  Little Colton, after his trip to heaven, was adamant that everyone had to accept Christ as his savior, otherwise they wouldn’t get to heaven.  I guess he’s lucky they were in the midwest, because I could only imagine little Colton busting in on a bunch of Jews sitting shiva for a much-loved family matriarch who had just passed on, and slipping into his “must accept Jesus” routine … they’d have drop-kicked the mini-savior straight through to Utah.

Of course, we later find, just days before his crash, by chance, “Pop” had attended a Christian gathering and had asked to be saved.  Christ, does it matter?  The guy’s in heaven, again, no need to stack the deck with this inconsequential tent-revival bullshit story that magically coincides with little Colton’s stipulation on how you get to heaven.  It’s just this sort of bizarre deck-stacking that’s so questionable that anyone with a rational mind can only read something like this, shake his head and think, “How many people reading this book are going to willfully or conveniently not even spend a second thinking of moral questions like this?”  And I mean morality from a writer’s point of view … knowing that you are foisting bullshit of one sort or another on a reading audience.  I’ve done it, and have felt terrible afterwards.  On a scale like this?  I’ve done some pretty screwed-up things in my time, so help me God, but nothing this shameless.

The most horrifying incident of this comes with the miscarried sister Colton never had.  He meets her in heaven.  She’s a little girl now.  I gather meeting a bloody fetus with wings might have been a hard one to pull off, unless Colton had glimpsed a Nirvana album cover when he was three and somehow worked this into his vision.  So let’s make her a little girl.  NOT a 25-year-old girl, like all those millions of elderly people who have died but ka-ching themselves back to their physical prime.  I take it when you die as a child, you stay that same age.  If you die as a fetus, as countless millions have since the advent of legalized abortion, then we’ll spin the magic wheel in heaven and make you an attractive little girl.  Always attractive.  No room in heaven for homely girls.  Every boy and girl who was aborted has to be a vision of loveliness. 

No fat people in heaven either, I’d imagine.  If you were 25 and the size of a house, I suspect the Man Upstairs will place you on that heavenly diet plan that allows you to drop 95 lbs. in a nanosecond.  Fixes your teeth while He’s at it.  Colton also specifically stated no one has glasses in heaven.  Not sure why?  I guess the concept of angels with wings … and glasses … doesn’t work with Jesus.  Or wheelchairs.  Or arm or leg braces.  And I guess if you lived with some physical deformity, poof, magically gone.  We can’t have The Elephant Man greeting people in heaven.  Rita Heyworth and Patrick Swayze, sure.  But not some guy who looked like he had a giant testicle on the side of his head … but probably had a heart a thousand times more pure than most people on earth.

The concept of aborted fetuses – as opposed to miscarried – is not broached.  The assumption being any woman who has an abortion is most likely going to hell, along with guys who kiss each other, and Jews, you know, all those people who have horns on their heads (if you look hard enough … I wont’ get into the sideline of the kid mentioned in the book who saw haloes over some people’s heads, but not others).  Unless she accepts Jesus as her personal savior.  I can only imagine that conversation in heaven, when an aborted fetus, now an 8-year-old girl with wings, approaches the mother, who later found Jesus, and asks her, “Mom, remember me?  You aborted me when I six weeks old in your womb.  How do you like them apples?”  (As the polka song says, in heaven there is no beer, but this woman will surely crave more than few.)

It never gets dark in heaven, according to Colton.  There is no night.  I’m assuming it never rains either.  It’s like a sunny day in southern California, all the time.  So if you love the night, or the smell of a rain shower in the summer, or gently falling snow, forget it, those things never happen in heaven.  It’s always sunny, light breeze, low humidity, 75 degrees.  When the angels aren’t flying around, they’re skateboarding down by the pearly gates.

I’m not even going to get into Jesus.  The picture with this week’s post is a painting by a girl named Akiane called “Prince of Peace” that appeared to her as the face of Jesus in a vision.  (If you go to her website, you’ll find she has a pretty nice enterprise set up for herself, selling prints of her various visions for tidy sums.  And good for her – it is amazing that someone at her age has the artistic talent to do the things she’s done.  May as well get rich off it.)  In the book, a big deal is made of little Colton rejecting every picture of Christ as not being authentic … until he saw Akiane’s painting of Christ on a website.  Funny, how both their visions of Christ subscribe to the cosmic surfer dude portrayal we’ve had fed to us over the course of centuries by Western artists to represent a Jew from the Middle East.  I would expect Christ to look more like Danny DeVito or Groucho Marx, but I guess He really must look like Dennis Wilson, Kenny Loggins, or any number of guys you’d meet at a Yanni concert.  (It can now be told: Jesus is Andrew Gold.)

We also find later in the book that Colton has grown a little too attached to his vision of heaven.  There’s a situation noted in parking lot, with Todd Burpo becoming extremely upset when his son darts out into parking lot near major traffic.  When asked why he keeps doing things like this, even though he could be killed, like the rabbit run over in the middle of the road that Todd points out, the son replies, “Oh, good!  That means I get to go back to heaven!”  Todd says, “You’re missing the point.  This time, I get to heaven first.  I’m the dad; you’re the kid.  Parents go first!”

The chapter ends on that note.  But wouldn’t Colton’s no-nonsense, just-the-truth-as-I-see-it reply have been: “Well, I hope you die real soon, Dad.  I can’t wait to go back to heaven!”

Colton also gets into the apocalypse, which is coming, according to him, in our lifetime, as he sees his thirtysomething father fighting off demons and bad people with a sword, on earth.  I’ll leave this one alone, save to say if you’re at all familiar with Charles Manson’s views on Helter Skelter, his vision of the apocalypse, about the only things little Colton was missing were race wars and hippies in dune buggies, otherwise he and Charlie were on roughly the same page.

I don’t know where to begin or end with this.  I can understand if you’re a Christian, you pick up a book like this, it makes for a great gift, chances are whoever you’re giving it to isn’t going to freak out and throw the book in the trash.  They’ll read it, nod sagely, have their faith reinforced in some small way, and feel all warm inside in that way these small things are supposed to.  That’s a great marketing plan, and as usual, I tip my cap to Todd Burpo and Lynn Vincent for grasping the concept somewhere along the way.  Burpo claims the book was not written for financial gain, and I believe him.  I’ve met more than a few pastors in my time, and this is how they are, basically humble people going about their lives, hardly making any money at day jobs, and tending to their congregation in all their spare time.  It doesn’t bother me that he’ll more than likely use the money to help his church and community.

I’m more interested in Colton, who appears to be a normal boy now, growing up in the midwest, not having any more visions, just going about his life.  I can only hope he goes through a phase.  That Midwest kid phase.  Going to Slipknot concerts.  Becoming a goth for a few months one summer.  Getting into some shit.  Multiple facial piercings.  Having issues with parental authority figures.  Resenting how his visions were turned into a book, that caught fire and became a bestseller, thus making it all seem cheaper than just a pure vision of heaven a small boy had.  I don’t doubt the kid had a mystical experience.  But we all do at times, thanks to drugs, whether taken recreationally or clinically in a life-threatening situation.  Strange shit happens when you’re high.  Books like this happen when you come down.

1 comment:

Propagatrix said...

Funny, I always thought Barry Gibb was Jesus.

Enjoyed the annual Christmas CD very much, but there's a new address for next year's edition. Write me and I'll tell you. --A.E.(Anderson) Kessler