An Active Afterlife

An Active Afterlife October 14, 2018

Credit: Kristy Burmeister (a broken grave marker at Pere Cheney, Michigan)

They said I was a morbid kid. Other kids wanted to visit Six Flags. I wanted to visit cemeteries.

I don’t know how my fascination with death began. It might have grown out of all those times I heard my mother and I had almost died when I was born. I’ve always known I almost wasn’t.

It could be because one of my earliest memories involves the death of a family member. Or because there was a family story about my great-grandmother and her sister walking by a cemetery when my great-grandmother stopped in her tracks and told her sister, “One of us is going to be here soon.” She died unexpectedly soon after. It doesn’t even matter if the story is true or not. It lodged in my head either way.

However it started, I can’t remember a time when mortality wasn’t on my mind. While everyone around me avoided the topic, my eight-year-old self was staring it down.

We didn’t regularly attend church when I was little. My mother grew up Catholic. My father grew up Lutheran. I’m pretty sure they were technically members at a Methodist church, but we never went there.

Mom read to us from our children’s Bible, though, and she taught us to pray every night. “If I should die before I wake…” (So, maybe that’s where it started.)

What did it mean to ask the Lord to take your soul? Take it where?

Take it to Heaven, obviously.

I remember drawing a picture of Heaven and Hell when I was about four. I drew a horizontal line to divide the paper in half. The top half of the page had clouds and smiling stick people. The bottoms half had scribbled crayon flames and a car. (I’m not sure why there was a car. I did have a recurring nightmare about driving over a cliff, so maybe I thought cars were evil.)

When you died, you went to Heaven or Hell. Honestly, I was terrified of both places.

What would you even do in Heaven? Float around? That had to get real old, real quick. Heaven sounded like the most boring place ever. It seemed like torture to me. You stop existing on Earth. You can’t do any of the things you love doing anymore. Your loved ones put up a grave marker and they visit it for a while, but eventually your great-great-grandchildren won’t even know your name. Your marker crumbles and nobody knows you were once a person. When everyone forgets you existed, it’s like you never did exist.

Then you have to hang out as an invisible being in the clouds for eternity, knowing that nobody remembers you. How is that paradise? How is that better than ceasing to exist? If there wasn’t an afterlife, at least you wouldn’t be tormented like that.

The thought of fading out and being forgotten horrified me. Part of the reason I got into genealogy when I was younger was because I wanted to preserve some memory of my ancestors, as I hoped some future descendant would do for me.

I didn’t know anything about saints continuing their work after they’d died. I didn’t know about bodily resurrection. Nobody told me about Jesus unveiling Earth 2.0. Honestly, I was pretty shocked when I heard about it. Then I got angry because, you know, someone could have mentioned it to me.

Death is still on my mind. It’s part of who I am at this point. I think about death more than most people do. I still really dig cemeteries. (I don’t literally dig cemeteries. I swear I’m not a grave robber.) I still think about what it’ll mean when I die. Mortality and I will always be curled up together.

I’d rather not die anytime soon, but I’m not terrified of it anymore. I bet I could do some awesome stuff as a dead person. And I’m looking forward to a body that isn’t so dysfunctional in the future.

Christianity appeals to some people because they see faith as a “get into Heaven free” card. That’s never been the main attraction for me. Immortality (well, the boring kind of immortality) was one of the things that worried me the most about being a Christian until I finally figured out the resurrection part.

I’m here for Jesus, and Jesus wouldn’t leave me all bored and miserable and hanging out in clouds with nothing to do. If I’m following him and doing his work as I’m supposed to do, he wouldn’t abandon me to that.

My leap of faith isn’t so much about believing Jesus exists or that he is who he claimed to be. Faith, for me, is about trusting Jesus actually knows me. I won’t be forgotten because Jesus doesn’t forget us. When you’re with Jesus, your work doesn’t end just because your life does, anyway. How could I be bored?

I hope to have a very active afterlife. Someone else can have my cloud.

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