Monday, November 30, 2015


 “When you close your eyes at night and think about Heaven, what’s it like?”

The sidewalk preacher smiled at my question. I was resting on my bike on the quadrangle of the University of Oregon. The sunny fall day was aflutter with fresh-eyed students rushing about their business. A perfect ambush for the Jesus hustlers. I had been eavesdropping on one for long minutes as he explained to a passing coed all the perks of his particular persuasion.

I learned his name was John, which seemed to fit, as I could see him – curly graying hair, lean build, intense gaze – all bedecked in desert garb and preaching in the Holy Land.

“How do you see yourself getting to Heaven?” had been John’s opening line, and he and the coed yammered back and forth for, like I mentioned, long minutes. I waited because I just had to ask him my question.

 “Excuse me,” I said, when the coed finally walked away and he turned my direction. “May I ask you a question?” I thought about adding “John” but concluded that would be too familiar.


That’s when I asked John to describe his picture of Heaven.

He paused for a moment. I think he was quickly deciding whether to be real with me or stick with the company line. He chose the latter. “Well,” he started, “the Scripture tells us that God is surrounded by angels, all singing endless praise to Him.” He added a few of the streets-of-gold-type touches to his description.

“And you’re looking forward to that?” I asked.

“Oh, yes. No more pain. No more death. What could be better?”

“And you don’t think that would be incredibly boring?”

But John would reveal no more of his personal Elysian Fields fantasy and turned the question back on me. “How do you picture Heaven?”

I smiled and told John, with unintended double meaning, “I’m not going there.”

He smiled back and handed me a million-dollar bill with Barack Obama’s face printed on the front. On the back, in tiny-little letters, was a lengthy treatise on the wages of sin: “It will hopelessly condemn you on Judgment Day.”

“Have a nice ride,” John added.
I didn’t get far. Atop a low wall was another fired-up preacher – imagine a young George Costanza in cargo shorts, t-shirt, and little back cap – loudly preaching his path to the Promised Land. He seemed quite proud to be offering free stuff to people – brochures with secrets of the Universe, I suppose – but attracted few takers.

Next, under a little awning, sat a sorry collection of anti-abortion fanatics, blathering endlessly at passers-by, to the backdrop of that fiery preacher on the wall.

But it was the anti-gay guy that caught my eye. Though obviously an immense homophobe, most of his seated bulk was hidden behind an equally large homophobic sign. It cautioned: “Remember God judged Sodom and Gomorrah!”

A doughy, ugly man peered at me from behind the sign, scowling over the top of oversized sunglasses, his balding pate a thinning field of pube-like curls. I was taken aback when he put down his sign. A balloon-like belly completely encircled his body, straining against a green UO t-shirt. It was like he was wearing under it an inner tube – for a tractor tire, maybe.

Most of his sign was taken up with red circles with slashes over a very queer assemblage of anti-gay icons. An icon for two men. For two women. An icon for one man and one child. One man and one dog. One man and one car. One man and one question mark. And lastly, an icon for three women, which seemed hastily drawn, perhaps an afterthought.

As I was leaving the campus square, I spotted a young guy walking down the street in my direction. He was wearing a sandwich board that read, “Zionists Are Coming.”

Oh, for the love of God, I thought. Now what?

But as he got closer, I saw that his sign actually read, “Zombies Are Coming.”

Thank you Jesus!

Onward to the prize before us!
Soon His beauty we’ll behold;
Soon the pearly gates will open;
We shall tread the streets of gold.

When we all get to heaven,
What a day of rejoicing that will be!
When we all see Jesus,
We’ll sing and shout the victory!
          -Eliza E. Hewitt

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