Heaven is for Real?

I saw the movie Heaven is for Real out at the Dimond Mall today, on a whim. I was going to skip it since I don’t generally think much of religious movies, but since this one dealt with a near-death experience, I decided to give it a chance. I am really glad that I did. The movie was very well done — a thought-provoking tear-jerker that I wouldn’t mind seeing again. It was a powerfully moving, emotional movie. The movie centers around the illness and near-death experience of Todd Burpo’s four year old son, Colton. While in surgery for a ruptured appendix, Colton has a near-death experience and sees Jesus, Heaven, Todd’s grandfather, and an unborn sister (who died in the womb) that he didn’t know he had. The movie also deals with the Burpo family’s coming to accept their son’s experience and coming to accept that heaven is actually for real. Part of what I gathered from the movie is that Todd Burpo, a preacher, really didn’t believe what he was being paid to preach, and that the same goes for his wife. Atheists in church? Perish the thought! 🙂

I have always found near-death experiences fascinating and thought-provoking. What if they really are for real? What if they really point to a continued existence in another place after physical death? I am not religious, and I certainly don’t anticipate ever returning to Christian belief, but I tend to take these experiences seriously, especially since I find the skeptical “hallucination” theory problematical at best. Calling near-death experiences hallucinations and writing them off as such fails to explain anything meaningful about them, including their life-changing scope and power.

I currently consider myself to be an ex-Christian agnostic, with atheist leanings. But near-death experiences (NDEs) really do make me think and consider the possibility that there may be more to life than what meets the physical eye. I would love to believe in a loving God and that a peaceful and heavenly existence awaits us after death, but I have been burned badly once by religion (fundamentalist Christianity) and I am very hesitant to put my trust in another set of beliefs again. But beyond thought-provoking NDE experiences, I don’t know of any real evidence that such a God or such a place actually exists. I think it is a matter of faith, but I’ll grant that such beliefs are certainly positive and life-affirming. In the movie, Colton Burpo encounters Jesus Christ, but I find that encounter hard to accept as real because the research I have done into the subject strongly suggest to me that Jesus — especially the loving Jesus that Christians tend to believe in and promote — is little more than a myth. There just isn’t much evidence that he ever walked the face of this earth, much less than he died on a Roman cross 2000 years ago and rose from the dead. The Gospels, while beautiful in some respects, were anonymously written decades after the supposed death and resurrection of Jesus, so they are not eyewitness accounts, and it is difficult for me to take them seriously as accurate accounts of the life of Jesus, especially since each Gospel portrays Jesus so differently. The most important event in Christian history — the resurrection of Jesus Christ — is not even portrayed accurately in the Gospels. The accounts vary and differ in the important details of the event. The Gospel of Matthew even has a story suggesting that many dead saints arose and visited the city of Jerusalem after Christ’s resurrection. I’m supposed to take a biblical account of a zombie apocalypse seriously?? I don’t think so…

There are some portrayals of Jesus that are beautiful. If you watch the Jesus Film, for example, it’s hard not to fall in love with Jesus and want what the movie strongly suggests that he has to offer — salvation and eternal life! On the other hand, Jesus supposedly commanded the literal hacking off of body parts if they caused offense or sin — not such a pretty picture of a loving Savior… Jesus is also depicted as bringing a sword rather than bringing peace (Matthew 10:34) and the Gospels contain warnings about a place called Hell, which I find diametrically opposed to the concept of a loving God. If Hell exists and human beings go there forever (being punished infinitely for finite sin), then God is a monster, not a loving Supreme Being. And, in fact, the Old Testament does portray God as a monster — a mass murdering monster most definitely not worthy of love or worship…

So… while I truly appreciated and enjoyed Heaven is for Real, and I highly recommend going to see it, I find it impossible at this time to justify a return to Christian faith. I’m sure that many Christians will love the movie, and I’m sure many will find fault with it. Go see it for yourself and let me know what you think…

My Thoughts on Primary Foods

I am currently going to school at the Institute for Integrative Nutrition, studying to be a Health Coach. IIN promotes the concept of Primary Foods — relationships, career, physical activity, and spirituality. As you can see in this graphic, primary foods are just as important as what we eat (secondary food), if not more so. You could eat broccoli all day, but if your primary foods are not in order then you will not be healthy or happy!

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My relationship with my family is great. I get along well with my parents and my sister. I talk to my mother on the phone nearly every day. My sister and I don’t get a lot of time together even to talk on the phone, but we are planning another trip to Europe together in a few years, and I am very excited about that. The last trip we took around Europe was in 1984. It was my high school graduation present and my sister got to come along. We had a great time back then, but it will be fun again in a few years too. Fun, but different. We are a lot older now than we were back in 1984, and the world is a very different place.

Because of my life circumstances, I have never been in a romantic relationship. In fact, I have never even been out on a date, and I am 48 years old. I was unpopular in school because I had behavioral problems due to then undiagnosed bipolar disorder, and we all know how cruel kids can be. I was one of the “weird kid” outcasts in high school, so my romantic options were pretty much nonexistent. But, I was fine with not having that as a part of my life back then. I was a late bloomer anyway, and I was happy being active in the band (I played the tuba) and with being obsessed with Star Trek. I still love the show now, but I don’t go around greeting people with the Vulcan salute, ha ha… I have struggled with mental illness and with being able to financially support myself all of my adult life, so the past 30 years have not lent themselves well to being in a serious relationship. I hope it will happen for me someday, but if I am single for the rest of my life and I never get to experience a romantic relationship, I am okay with that. It’s been the story of my life so far anyway, so I am comfortable with it.

My career path now is working hard to become a successful health coach. But in the past, my employment record has reflected a lifetime spent struggling with mental illness. I have worked many low-paying, dead-end jobs over the years, and the last ten years I have not worked at all. There have only been two times in my life when I was self-sufficient financially. I worked at Dell for a year and four months (1996-1998). That was a great job and I was looking forward to having a career at Dell, but unfortunately bipolar disorder reared its ugly head and I ended up in the hospital and I lost my job. But… it was at that time that I was properly diagnosed at the age of 32. After the job at Dell, I had a job in Amarillo, TX for a few months working as a printer repair technician. But… I hardly had to work at that job! I had to call in every day to see if there was work or not, but most days I was free. Needless to say, that job didn’t last long. I am still surprised when I think about it today that that job lasted six months. I was semi-retired, making $16/hr for doing basically nothing. The company I was working for is no longer in business, but they couldn’t keep that up forever!

I am usually very physically active, but that wasn’t always the case. There was a time in my life a few years ago that I was so overweight and out of shape that I could barely climb the stairs in our house. Back in late 2011, I was introduced to the Beachbody company and their DVD workout programs, and since then my physical health has improved dramatically. I started with Power 90 and then progressed to doing P90X. Since then, I have done Insanity, Body Beast, and Les Mills Combat. But…I have had a few setbacks and I am now about 30 pounds heavier than I was summer of 2012. I’m also totally burned out right now on doing DVD workout programs. I am having a really hard time sticking to any program. Summer is almost here though, and the ice and snow have melted enough that I can get back on my bike. I’m planning to ride it around the neighborhood and around town as much as is reasonably possible to get some good exercise. I will be walking the trails in town frequently too. Biking and walking may not be as intense as the DVD workout programs, but they are fun and I can see myself sticking with them better right now.

Spirituality…wow, that’s a tough one for me! I currently lack any religious or spiritual beliefs, and I am very happy that way. After 15 years of fundamentalist Christianity and a year or so of seriously dabbling in Hindu beliefs and meditation techniques, I am completely and gloriously free of religion! I plan on staying that way too. I went through a lot of emotional trauma and pain after discovering that my strongly held Christian beliefs were not true and after realizing that the Bible is mostly anonymously-written ancient mythology (long stories!), but my deconversion process is complete now and I am very happy now that I am free and I can see the world as it really is! My spiritual practice now is just being the best ME that I can be – being the kindest, loving, and compassionate and understanding ME that I can be. When the subject inevitably comes up with my clients, I plan to work to see them free as well, but of course at a pace that is comfortable for them. If religion is working well for them, there may not be a reason to change that, necessarily. But if limiting religious beliefs or doctrines are holding a client back, then that should probably be addressed, and I know how to do that effectively and with compassion and patience. Being free of religion is wonderful and amazing, and everyone should have that option available to them!

So…that’s my story, my life experience, and my 2 cents…