Thursday, December 08, 2005

Imagine no John Lennon

As what seems to me to be an interesting bit of coincidence, I was thinking about the subject of John Lennon's death this morning, having no clue that today was the 25th anniversary of his murder. The song "Imagine" was stuck in my head, and I don't think I had heard it on the radio or anything, and it got me to thinking about that song that which I usually do. Namely, that John Lennon's funeral seems like just about the only funeral at which playing the song would be appropriate.

About 15 years ago, my family got together for a memorial service for my grandmother who had passed away about a month previously, and the first thing we did at the actual service was have my sister and cousin sing "Imagine". Even being a non-Christian at the time, I thought there was something vaguely tacky about it; after all, the opening line of the song is, "Imagine there's no heaven," which hardly seems like a sentiment one wants to imagine in the context of a beloved friend of family member passing from this life. Don't we really, at such times at least, want to imagine that there is a Heaven (assuming we don't already believe there to be one), and that our departed loved one is surely there at this moment, perhaps floating on a cloud playing a harp, lounging on soft cushions with their personal cadre of seventy houris, or perhaps looking down lovingly upon us, bathing us in the radiant warmth of their unleashed spirit?

Maybe Lennon's right though. After all, if we "imagine there's no heaven," then we can also imagine "no hell below us". Once we start coalescing on the idea of an afterlife, it's hard for many of us to imagine an eternal paradise without the flipside to that coin. Imagine that there's a Heaven after all; how can we know that my grandmother is there, or John Lennon?

Not that I have anything against John Lennon. First and foremost, he was a wonderful musician who had a profound effect on pop music ever since the Quarrymen changed their names to The Beatles. Also he was, as far as I know, a great humanitarian, activist for peace, and loving father. It's a mystery to me why any sane person would want to kill him, but apparently the person who did kill him wasn't. But does any of that matter in the final tally?

Lennon would also like people to imagine "no countries" and "no religion, too". It's funny, but I suspect many conservative Christians would tend to think of these ideas as subversive and anti-Christian, but it seems to me that this is the state of affairs described at the end of the Book of Revelation in the Bible, perhaps particularly chapter 21. Heaven passes away, there is an end to governments, and even an end to religion in the usual sense at least. Sure, the words of the song are a bit subversive, but in the end, aren't the words of our own scriptures? Still, I do have to say that it does seem unlikely that the message of John the Apostle was the same one as John the Beatle, although there are some parallels, no doubt. The book of 1John says, "Beloved, let us love one another: for love is of God; and every one that loveth is born of God, and knoweth God," while Lennon put it simply, "All you need is love."

My grandmother was definitely a loving person, although I don't know of her writing anything profound on the subject. She was very passionate about political activism, the environment, and her family. One thing that I have no idea whether or not she had any passion for, and thus I would feel fairly safe to assume against, was religion and God.

The maternal side of my family are Unitarian universalists, and have been for generations. I have no way of knowing if anyone reading this knows anything about this sort-of-Christian sect, but they're largely known for believing in erasing the borders between belief systems. Want to be a Hindu, but also be a Unitarian? Why not? Don't believe in God, but still like to go to church? Sure, if it floats your boat... I don't know if they invented the concept that what you believe doesn't matter so long as you're sincere, but they went a long way towards perfecting it.

Still, at the memorial service, the song was sung, and while there may have been no intentional drive to choose a song with meaningful lyrics in a spiritual sense, it's that first line that sticks with me after all these years. I'm comforted by the thought of no countries; I've often said that maps are made up of two kinds of lines: connecting lines and dividing lines, and we need more of the former and less of the latter. I like the idea of no possessions; an idealized anarcho-communistic state in which all possessions were shared to the point where the concept of "possessions" ceased to have meaning sounds delicious. But no Heaven? Universalists believe everyone goes to Heaven, so why would we like to believe it's not there?

Maybe because despite the fact that so many of these ideals presented to us in Lennon's little lyrical daydream seem so nice, they simply aren't realistic. Nations will continue to exist, and so long as they do, men will continue to fight and even kill over who will control them, and the possessions found therein. Maybe because Heaven is one thing that we do have to imagine, since it's not here on earth with us, it's easier to imagine it gone, than to imagine it existing without its supposed polar opposite. If Heaven's there, there's probably a Hell, too. And if there's a Hell, it's probably got people in it. Maybe even John Lennon. Can we do something about it, or is it easier just to imagine it away?

Imagine there is a Heaven, and that the things we do on this earth can make a difference in making people a little closer to Heaven every day. Or better yet, believe in it, like I do.

I'm not the only one.

1 comment:

Steve Wells said...

No, you're not the only one, Brucker. But fortunately there are fewer every day.

Fewer who are willing to believe that a beloved grandmother is being tortured forever in Hell by God because she had a few religiously incorrect ideas. I don't believe there's a sicker idea than that. And yet you are proud of it.

Luckily for your grandmother, and for us all, John Lennon was right. There's no Hell below us, above us only sky.