THERE’S THAT PHASE kids go through around three or four, their favorite word is “Why?” You know the one. We offer a crescendo of answers (as if there is an answer that will pacify them).

Because one ice cream sandwich is enough… You’ll spoil your supper… You’ve had too much sugar already… You don’t want all your teeth to rot and fall out do you?

Then finally, you thrown down your coup de grâce: “Because I said so!”

AS WE AGE, the questions change; the routine, not so much. Can I get a new (fill in the blank)? Are we almost there? Can I have the car tonight? And my go to answer: “Ask your mother.”

I remember about half-way through adolescence I began to long for adulthood, when I thought I would either have all the answers, or I could at least answer my own questions. But here I am staring at 69 and I still have questions, and many times the answers I find are unfulfilling: “That’s just the way the electoral college works.” “Yes, tattoos sort of hurt.”

Just the other day, a close friend asked me a question. He put it this way: “Hey, I want to ask you a question and I want an honest answer.”

“Sid’s in El Reno!” I quickly answered, hoping he was going to ask me my favorite burger joint.

“What is your concept of heaven?” He asked.

When it comes to burgers, Sid’s is about as close as you get. But, he wasn’t talking about burgers.

Was this a trick question? Does he know something I don’t? Is it a test?

Certainly, there are ideas and imagary, in my head of heaven which come from my upbringing in church. As I page through those mental pictures now, I see that much of it comes from the old hymns I grew up hearing:

  • “I’ll Fly Away”

  • “We’re Marching to Zion”

  • “When We All Get To Heaven”

  • Or this from the old hymn, “Sweet Beulah Land”:
    I'm kind of homesick for a country
    To which I've never been before.
    No sad goodbyes will there be spoken
    For time won't matter anymore.

I told my friend that at this point in my life, to say that I have a concept of heaven would seem pretty arrogant. Who am I to even guess what it may be like? Or, to quote the latest and greatest opus on heavenly speculation: “I Can Only Imagine”.

Part of my mental heavenly tableau comes from memories I have of traveling evangelists. I always thought of them as arrogant, pompous, flashy, hucksters. These guys would stand in the pulpit telling of a place with mansions, streets of gold, painless eternal youthfulness. One guy went as far as to say he believed everyone would be 33 years old. Rationale: “Because that’s how old Jesus was when he died.”

I remember thinking, surely heaven won’t be an eternity of hearing this blowhard and his ilk rant and rave and wag his finger and King James version of the Bible in the air.

And then, as if he were reading my mind, he would seem to insinuate that anyone who didn’t see things as he sees things wouldn’t make it past the pearly gate (or is it gates?).

Before anyone begins to wonder if I’ve abandoned the faith of my youth; I do believe there is a heaven, I just don’t think any human has the capacity to conceptualize it. Our imagination is too limited. Our vocabulary lacks the words. Our faith is too constrained. Our belief is too conditional. Our understanding of God is too small.

TAKE PEACE FOR EXAMPLE—the kind of peace the Bible talks about, the kind of peace that passes understanding (Philippians 4:7). Occasionally you get a sense of this peace (or, I hope you do), and when you do it is wonderful, but you can’t explain it or even understand it. There is a mystique about it.

For me, spiritual stuff is like that; and I like it that way. I don’t want a predictable, understandable, knowable religion. I want the mystery, the wonder. I’m okay with NOT knowing what it will all be like.

About that peace that passes understanding; we can get a sense of it from time to time. Here’s an example: not long ago, standing next to my dad as he died; at first, I couldn’t believe he had breathed his last breath. I even slapped his hand a few times to try to rouse him. But then———Peace. I don’t know how else to explain it. Because it is unexplainable. It passes understanding. Please don’t patronize me by pretending you understand it. Don’t try to preacher-splain it to me. Don’t try to dismiss it with some contrived rationalization or spiritualization. Please don’t assume a lack of faith. Can’t we just rest in the mystery of it?

I believe, as with this un-understandable peace, we also get an occasional glimpse of heaven—not a grasp, but a glimpse. For me, I see it in the sublime. The sublime defined in the Oxford Dictionary as: “of such excellence, grandeur, or beauty as to inspire great admiration or awe.”

TAKE NATURE FOR EXAMPLE—some people see heaven as a mountain-top experience, thinking the valley is full of shadows of death. But I’m more of a valley guy (not the 80s dudes of southern California, counterpart to the Valley Girls) when it comes to the vast splendor of the mountains. Sure the mountaintop offers majestic views, but of what?

“We’ve got some difficult days ahead, but it really doesn’t matter with me now, because I’ve been to the mountaintop … I’ve seen the Promised Land. I may not get there with you. But I want you to know tonight, that we, as a people, will get to the Promised Land.” A few hours after this speech, Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated by James Earl Ray.

That’s a powerful glimpse! A perspective from the mountaintop seems to belong to true visionaries.

For me, I prefer to be knee deep in the mountain stream, the deepest point of the valley, where there is life. Here are a few of my favorite lines from literature, from one of my favorite books, “A River Runs Through It”, by Norman Maclean:

“Like many fly fishermen in western Montana where the summer days are almost Arctic in length, I often do not start fishing until the cool of the evening. Then in the Arctic half-light of the canyon, all existence fades to a being with my soul and memories and the sounds of the Big Blackfoot River and a four-count rhythm and the hope that a fish will rise.

“Eventually, all things merge into one, and a river runs through it. The river was cut by the world's great flood and runs over rocks from the basement of time. On some of those rocks are timeless raindrops. Under the rocks are the words, and some of the words are theirs.

“I am haunted by waters.”

TAKE ART FOR EXAMPLE: I see the sublime and get a glimpse of heaven in art.

“If a work of art is rich and vital and complete, those who have artistic instincts will see its beauty, and those to whom ethics appeal more strongly than aesthetics will see its moral lesson. It will fill the cowardly with terror, and the unclean will see in it their own shame.” — Oscar Wilde

Experiencing art is sensory: full-on, right? Whether it’s a walk through The Met, or The Philbrook, or sitting at a beautifully decorated table to an artful meal surrounded by good people and good conversation with good music playing in the background. Full-0n sensory. And even that sometimes passes understanding for me. There are times I get the inkling that I may have another sense beyond the five. I can’t explain it. But, what if, maybe one of these days as heaven-dwellers, we discover that we now have seven or maybe more senses? Because maybe it will take that many.

I’ll never forget the first time, my first Grand-Girl, the one who made me Pops, played her first piano recital. I was transported: how or where, I don’t know. It’s un-understandable to me. But, it gives me a glimpse.


So, what is my concept of heaven? Maybe it will be many, many firsts—new and fresh every day. Like this:

Because of the Lord’s great love we are not consumed,

for his compassions never fail.

They are new every morning;

great is your faithfulness.

I say to myself, “The Lord is my portion;

therefore I will wait for him.”

— Lamentations 3:22-24

Road Questions

ONE OF THE THINGS ABOUT TRAVELING IN AN AIRSTREAM—people want to ask you about traveling in an Airstream. For people like My Amazing-Missus this is all fine and dandy. She genuinely enjoys visiting with others and they with her. Me too; on a case-by-case basis.

airstreaming in red rock canyon state park, hinton, oklahoma

airstreaming in red rock canyon state park, hinton, oklahoma

Recently we were camped in a beautiful park on a beautiful day. I looked outside and no one was around. So, I decided to lubricate the gaskets around the Airstream’s windows. A car pulled up and a gentleman got out. I’m guessing he was a bit older than me. He started with the most oft-asked questions of the Airstream-curious:

1.) Are they still making these?
2.) How long is this? (Remind me to tell you that joke I made up in the category of “does size matter?”)
3.) How much does something like this cost (if you don’t mind me asking)?

He looked familiar. Turns out we were acquaintances years ago. I had heard that his lovely wife had been diagnosed with dementia and is now in a nursing home.

He told me that years ago the two of them had dreamed of having an Airstream and seeing the country. That’s why he had stopped to take a look at ours—just to reminisce a bit.

He asked if we were traveling full-time. I told him not yet, that I was still working. He said, “Go to work Monday and tell them you’re retiring. Don’t delay. You never know what tomorrow holds.”

Is this a sign, I wondered. Is he a prophet of some kind?

It’s not like we’re just sitting around. We’re out there. Seeing the sights. Seeking adventure. I’ve taken the sage wisdom of Ferris Bueller to heart:

Life moves pretty fast. If you don't stop and look around once in a while, you could miss it. (from Ferris Bueller’s Day Off)

Remember that girl, the one from the Beatle’s song: “She was a day tripper, a Sunday driver yeah…”

For now we’re day trippers; long weekend trippers at best. But we’re moving, we’re going, so we can stop. and look around.

Remember that guy, the one from the Beatle’s song, the one they called the “nowhere man”? Funny thing. I used to see him as a sad, aimless, clueless, hopeless shell of a person. But now I feel like I sort of get him.

He's a real nowhere man
Sitting in his nowhere land
Making all his nowhere plans for nobody
Doesn't have a point of view
Knows not where he's going to
Isn't he a bit like you and me?
Nowhere man please listen
You don't know what you're missing
Nowhere man, The world is at your command
He's as blind as he can be
Just sees what he wants to see
Nowhere man, can you see me at all?

Maybe he is a bit like you and me.

Oh yeah, my joke. An old guy and his Amazing-Missus walk in to an Airstream dealer.
Walt (the rv sales guy): How can I be of assistance to you folks today?
Me: We’re thinking of buying an Airstream.
Walt: Great plan! How long do you want it?
Me: A long time. We’re planning on traveling across the country and back again.

Question Like A Kid

CURIOUS GEORGE is nearly 80 years old. How has this storyline endured? I’m curious.

It’s like that grocery store tabloid, National Enquirer says, “Enquiring minds want to know.”

Why “enquire” instead of “inquire”? Curious, huh?

Do you think inquiry is frowned upon? Maybe life would have been less complicated if I had heeded the warning that “curiousity killed the cat”. Maybe the authorities that said, “Don’t question authority,” were wise. Maybe I should have been one of those who accepts rules, regulations, conventional wisdom, dogma as matters of fact; without questioning.

I love that the first sentence a child learns is “Why?!”



Could it be that there’s a better answer than, “Because I said so. That’s WHY.”

Friday night, we were at Cracker Barrel® with our Grand-Girls. It was our first time there since Nora, the youngest, at 16 months began running at a pace best described as a blur, with hands just as fast. Karlee, the oldest at 6, grabbed my hand as we were walking in, and asked in a voice so her parents couldn’t hear, “Pops, could we maybe do a little shopping after we eat?” Of course we can. That’s Cracker Barrel’s business model!

During the meal, as Karlee was slathering apple butter on her biscut, she said, “Pops turn around and look at all the stuff on that wall.” If you never been to Cracker Barrel, they have excellent apple butter and a LOT of stuff on their walls. “See that NO SMOKIN’ sign,” she asked. (She’s reading really well these days.) I confirmed that I did see it. Then she asked a question that could be important for Cracker Barrel designers, “Do you think they’re serious about that, or is it just part of the decoration?”

Why did she ask that? It’s not like she was thinking about lighting up. I’m no psycologist, but it seems like maybe, it could be, that for kids, there’s a beautiful curiousity for the sake of understanding, for knowledge, and maybe for curiousity in itself.

For many, many years, I sought to have a part in the spiritual development of some teenagers. To the casual observer it may have looked like I was just playing volleyball, snow skiing, and eating enough pizza to bring on coronary disease. I listened for hours to the woes of early adolescent drama, and had more fun than anyone deserved to have.

What I hope I did NOT do was squelch their inquisitiveness about spiritual things, just giving pat answers. I hope I never gave them the impression that to have questions means you don’t have faith. In fact, I hope I helped them understand that as your faith grows, so does the importance of asking more questions, deeper questions.

I’m going to say this outloud, here in virtual ink. I’ve said it before and gotten in trouble for it, probably because I don’t explain it well, or whomever I’m trying to explain it to doesn’t have ears to hear. When it comes to faith, to a spiritual quest, don’t ever stop asking questions. But, know this: sometimes you won’t find an answer. It’s not necessarily because there isn’t an answer, it’s just that us humans don’t have the ability to fully understand.

Take PEACE for example. It is worthy to inquire about what peace is and how we find it, and while we can experience a degree of it, and sometimes in sufficient quantity, we will never know it fully, because this we know for sure, the peace of God, transcends all understanding. (Philippians 4:7)

I’m not saying there is not absolute Truth. I am saying we can not know it fully; here. We get glimpses of it, and there is always more to learn. When we reduce it all to black and white, inquiry stops. And, when we want to ask questions, we’re told to “accept by faith.” It seems to me that nothing suffocates the journey of faith quite like that attitude: “Don’t question, accept by faith.”

I have a dear friend who is on a quest. She is asking very hard questions which has led me to ask questions, which has awakened something in me, and I am grateful. Perhaps I can tell you more about this in another post.

All human beings by nature desire to know.
— Aristotle


I'VE BEEN THROUGH INTERROGATION BEFORE. It was seventh-grade. Unwittingly, I had been swept up in an organized crime ring. (That was my story then, and I’m sticking to it.)

We lived on the south edge of Tulsa, but in the Jenks school district. Jenks was then a thriving small town. Most of the stores along Main Street were open for business (before Wal Mart), except for the movie theatre which had long been shuttered.

One afternoon after school, I was invited to climb the fire escape on the back of the theatre building, to the roof where there was a hatch door into what was the projection booth. Word was, there was free soda pop there. What I didn’t know at the time was that the pop had been stolen off a Pepsi® delivery truck sitting at Parker’s Grocery at lunch time.

The fun lasted for several days until one day; boy by boy, summons were issued from the principal’s office, and the interrogation began: who, what, where, when, WHY. Claims of innocence fell on deaf ears. And Mr. Burchett’s paddle fell on my backside. Despite his prophecies, I have never served hard time.

Last week, (maybe in payment for past sins, ha) our two oldest Grand-Girls (six and three) came to visit while their parents took a well-deserved vacation. We had a great time, but by the time we watched the taillights of their mini-van disappear in the distance, I was feeling the weariness of interrogatives:

  • Why can’t I have an ice cream sandwich for breakfast?
  • When will it be my turn? Why?
  • What are you doing? Why?
  • Why can’t I have some of your special, old grape juice? (Just kidding)
  • Why can’t we swim when it’s lightening?
  • What’s a crispy critter?
  • Once, I rolled out the old tried and true: “Because I said so. That’s why?” To which the six-year-old replied, “Oh Pops, you’re silly.”

My last resort answer to the unanswerable “Why” was: “Maybe someday you’ll understand.”

[graphic by Molly Hennesy]

[graphic by Molly Hennesy]

Saturday, we attended a memorial service for little twin boys, the children of some very, very special people. This memorial service was on what would have been the one-year birthday of their brother, had he lived. I am not making this up. Even as I type this, it doesn’t seem right in any sense of that word. This amazing young couple I’m sure, has been haunted by the question that they undoubtedly hear regularly from their beautiful three-year-old daughter, “Why?!”

I know they are people of deep faith, but I don’t presume to know what they are going through. There is no way I can begin to understand.

I do know this: for me, sometimes, faith doesn’t answer the Why question. It just says, “Maybe someday you’ll understand.”

God. I hope so.

Here are the lyrics to one of my favorite songs. It’s by a band called, Jars Of Clay. I encourage you to give it a listen.


Take, take ’til there’s nothing
Nothing to turn to
Nothing when you get through

Won’t you break?
Scatter pieces of all I’ve been
Bowing to all I’ve been running to
Where are you?

Where are you?

Did you leave me unbreakable?
Did you leave me frozen?
I’ve never felt so cold

I thought you were silent
And I thought you left me
For the wreckage and the waste
On an empty beach of faith, was it true?

Yes I, I got a question
I got a question, where are you?

Scream, deeper I wanna scream
I want you to hear me
I want you to find me

Yes I, I want to believe
But all I pray is wrong
And all I claim is gone

And I, I got a question
I got a question, where are you?

And well I, I got a question
I got a question, where are you?

Where are you?