Thursday, February 23, 2012

Heaven Is For Realz, Yo!

Judging a Book...

I can't wait for the movie!I first saw the Todd Burpo book Heaven Is for Real: A Little Boy's Astounding Story of His Trip to Heaven and Back on display several months ago at my favorite rink-a-dink bookstore. I thought the manager was just promoting some dumb little book he liked, so I picked it up, looked at the goofy kid on the cover, read the description on the back, snorted, and put it away.

If the book had just been what I initially thought it was -- some cutesy religious family story that no one was reading -- I would have left it alone. It wasn't written for me. I could (contrary to popular wisdom) tell everything I needed to know about it from the book cover and other trappings. Nearly every blurb is from some pastor or friend. The picture of the little boy who made the "trip to Heaven and back" is of a little buzz-cutted four-year-old, one whom you can easily imagine growing up to be a preacher who bases his ministry on this one event, an event he'd eventually have to be reminded about, since it all happened before he could retain much of his memory. (Mentally replace his sweater vest with a preacher suit and stick a Bible in his hand.) The abstract on the back of the book gives you all the relevant "evidence" that they're basing this trip to Heaven on, and it concludes with the sentence "Heaven Is for Real will forever change the way you think of eternity, offering the chance to see, and believe, like a child." Yeah, no it won't.

Within days of my seeing the book for the first time, I started seeing it everywhere. As it turns out, it had shot up to the top of the New York Times nonfiction bestsellers list pretty quickly after its publication, and it's still there at number one as I write this. So apparently people are reading this thing, and apparently it's a big deal. There's even a children's version of the book now.

I usually enjoy attacking stupid things that gain popularity and make tons of money, but I still felt a reluctance to attack this book. For one, it would mean I would have to read it. But even after I overcame that hurdle, there remained a reluctance to attack. It felt like attacking innocence itself. Then I realized that this was the problem: the innocence of a four-year-old boy had trickled up, not only to his father and family, but also to these hundreds of thousands of readers who were buying -- and "buying" -- this silly little book. (I borrowed my copy from the library, just so you know.) Innocence is charming in a child, but ignorance in an adult is less so, and widespread ignorance is intolerable. Besides, anyone publishing is opening themselves to argument, so -- finally -- I felt justified in doing my small part: throwing my tiny pebble at this Goliath of a book.

Thursday, February 16, 2012

The Parable of the Magic Kingdom

Once there was a father who took his son to the Magic Kingdom. The father was very excited to take him there, and he anticipated that the son's face would light up at the sight of it. But, upon viewing Cinderella's Castle at the entrance, the son seemed unimpressed. "What's wrong? Don't you like the castle?" the father asked. The son replied, "It's okay, but I can't wait to see the real castle."

While riding the Dumbo Ride, the son was similarly not thrilled. "What's wrong? Don't you like flying around like this?" the father asked. The son replied, "It's okay, but I can't wait to soar on a real flying elephant."

Throughout the day, the son couldn't said that he couldn't wait to really be shot into space while riding Space Mountain, couldn't wait to really travel the world and sing with children of every nation during "it's a small world," couldn't wait to meet a real group of ghosts while touring The Haunted Mansion, and couldn't wait for an actual Mad Tea Party.

"But these are the real things," his father finally said. "Why don't you enjoy them while we're here?" The son replied, "If I thought like you, I'd be truly miserable. Fortunately, I have hope that I will see the real Magic Kingdom one day."

At the end of the night, during the spectacular fireworks display, the son was scarcely paying attention. But at one point -- late in the show -- the dazzling colors in the sky, the emotional music, the smells of the park, the taste of the turkey leg from dinner still on his tongue, and the sweat cooling on his skin finally filled him with wonder and awe. He looked up at his father with tears in his eyes and said, "Forgive me, Father. I almost missed it entirely."