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Greetings from Minnesota, to my dear brother Paul, apostle to the Gentiles, the first of us to encounter the mysterious Spirit of Jesus in the middle of our Suffering Road.


I give thanks for your dedication to all men of your region. Your compassion, love, and commitment to diverse peoples amazes me. Poor Peter, have mercy on him, for he was so entrenched within the walls of his culture that he could not comprehend the Gospel touching the lives of those beyond the walls of Judaism. So thank you truly for your vision and courage to go where no man had ever gone before, a Light in the darkness, sharing Good News.


Dear brother, it’s time for me to get real. I’ve been talking about you behind your back in scorn. Please forgive me. It’s time I finally bring my concerns directly to you.


I cannot pretend to comprehend the thorn in your flesh that you have tried in vain to remove. We all have our defects. Go easy on yourself! Is it that you are attracted to men and feel you must keep it a secret to show your separation from Roman culture? Is this why you write so hatefully of men sleeping with other men, because you hate this part of yourself? Is it that you are a transgender person, fearing the female spirit inside you, and in your confusion the only way you can act out is to tell women to stay in their place and be submissive, because you are secretly trying to subdue the woman within? If it is either of these dear brother, fear no more, because the church (at least parts of it) will now accept you, as God accepts you!


But if it is not this, then we’ve got a bone to pick. I’m pissed. Radical honesty: you’ve been my nemesis for years. You’ve given men the world over a religious and theological excuse to abuse, manipulate, neglect, degrade, confine, and oppress women and LGBTQ folks. I know I can’t speak for all of us, but many, if not most of us, are sick of you! You’ve done your fair share in turning The Way of love, equality, and community (The Way that Jesus taught, that always included women) into the Christianity of hierarchy, exclusion, tyranny, and patriarchy! Thanks a lot!!! Your writing makes me so nauseous and angry that I’ve avoided it altogether for the last eight years! I can’t even bring myself to read the beautiful parts because I feel I’m paying tribute to your bigotry!!


…Ok. I had to slow down and breathe. There is something you wrote that I memorized as a child that I’m so grateful for, because it has comforted me many times.


“For I am convinced that neither death nor life,

Angels nor demons,

Neither present nor future,

Nor any powers,

Neither height nor depth,

Nor Anything else in all of creation

Will be able to separate us from the Love of God that is in Christ Jesus.”

Chelsea Forbrook

Heaven or Heavenly?

 Reflections on Near Death Experiences

and the Afterlife



Let not your hearts be troubled; believe in God, believe also in me. In my Father’s house are many rooms; if it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you? John 14: 1-2


Paul: I know a man in Christ who fourteen years ago was caught up to the third heaven–whether in the body or out of the body I do not know, God knows. And I know this man was caught up into Paradise—whether in the body or out of the body I do not know, God knows–and he heard things that cannot be told, which man may not utter. 2 Cor. 12: 2-4


Jesus withdrew from them about a stone’s throw, and knelt down and prayed…And there appeared to him an angel from heaven, strengthening him. Luke 22:42, 43


For behold I create new heavens and a new earth; and the former things shall not be remembered or come to mind. Is 65:17 RSV Also Rev. 21:1


For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor any thing else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord. Rom 8:38


What about the mysteries of heaven, angels and the afterlife?

These verses above have been mysterious and inspiring verses for me, some since my childhood, before I understood anything about their meaning. Not that I know that much more now, but at least I’ve had a few more years to reflect on them and experience a bit more of life and God.


I’ve wondered and desired and doubted and anguished over heaven, hell and the afterlife on and off and have not had the courage nor the academic training to take this journey more seriously. And there are so many scary and threatening scenarios in the Bible about the afterlife that I’ve shied away from looking at it more closely. Just hearing about the weeping and gnashing of teeth or seeing the painting of hell in the Sistine chapel (where Michelangelo painted his arch rival writhing in hell) are scary enough to make me want to run the other way.


Yet when I read scripture passages like the heavenly angels appearing to comfort Jesus in his agony, I pause. I’ve been there too, where angels attended to me. Yet these passages are all so mystical that we usually skip over them because we are either too modern to take them literally or we see them as just part of that great poetic and visual scene-making that makes scripture so beautiful; the visit of the angel Gabriel to Mary, Jesus promising the man hanging on the cross next to him that he would be with him in paradise that day, the angels soothing the shepherds, scenes about streets paved with gold and places being prepared for us, personal angels negotiating conflict situations with other people’s angels in the book of Daniel.


So let’s ask a few evocative questions…what if there were times that our spirits were actually drawn beyond the veil between earth and heaven to catch a glimpse of the eternal as Paul described in Corinthians? Or what if Jesus had described heavenly things in detail as suggested in John 3:12, “If I have told you earthly things and you do not believe, how can you believe if I tell you heavenly things?” Or what if people do come back from the dead, as Lazarus and several others did? What then? What would we fear? How would we live our lives differently? What would we believe? Who would we believe in?


Do these experiences describe realities of heaven or are they merely heavenly? And what do we do with all this information– what difference might it make in our daily lives?


We are not alone in our pondering of the sacred unknown. Albert Einstein was aware of something way beyond himself, of the mysterious. He states in his credo: “The most beautiful and deepest experience a man can have is the sense of the mysterious…To sense that behind anything that can be experienced there is a something that our mind cannot grasp and whose beauty and simplicity are but a feeble reflection…To me it suffices to wonder at the secrets and to attempt humbly to grasp with my mind a mere image of the lofty structure of all that there is.”



My personal interest in angels, near death experiences and the afterlife

Ever since I decided to take my relationship with God more seriously and personally, and I began having deeper spiritual experiences of God’s presence and love, I’ve gotten more interested in the things of heaven, intimacy with God and the afterlife.


I’m also interested in angels, near death experiences and the afterlife in my role as a spiritual director and healer, or maybe especially in those roles, since whatever you believe about these things makes a big difference in how you live your life, how you view your death, and what kinds of decisions you make. It’s been a gift from God for me to be present to people who are in crisis, making big transitions, hitting the “wall,” or dying, and moving into the afterlife where, I believe, God dwells so richly. To be fully present to my friends and clients who are experiencing these things, it is vital that I have opened my heart and mind to what is happening on a spiritual plane as well as on a physical one. I seek to be present with as little fear as possible but rather with joy and awe. This allows me to stay grounded and be a calm presence to others.



So what about these near death experiences and the afterlife?

I had a chance to soak in the latest research on near death experiences at a class put on by my spiritual mentor and former supervisor, Matt Linn, SJ, a longtime healer, respected Jesuit and author of more than 20 books on healing and the inner life. He travels around the world, teaching and doing healing work, taking absolutely no credit whatsoever for the healing results; it is all God pouring love and light through him to people.


Whenever I hear of someone experiencing the unfathomable I want to learn more. And Matt was offering information from people in the scientific community as well as in the spiritual world. Scientific people, by nature and training, are more skeptical so I figured if they were writing about near death experiences there must be more validation and credibility than I’ve heard before.


And then, as I heard Matt describing near death experiences, I came to realize that the things he was describing were very familiar to me. So I asked him if it was possible to have an emotional near death experience and he confirmed that it was. I believe God was present to me during my experience, transforming my life as a result. Perhaps that’s another reason this research is so important to me.


I only have space here to touch on the highlights of Matt’s talk but I hope this raises enough curiosity, wonder and perhaps even push-back in you to warrant further investigation. His sources of research are listed at the end of this essay.


Let’s start by calming down and praying for wisdom, discernment, guidance—and perhaps a few angels to accompany us on this journey! Let’s ask God for his truth, his ever-deepening call to intimacy with Him. Let’s open our hearts to Jesus’ love. BTW, I’m not claiming to be objective. I’ve had too many personal and client experiences to claim that, but I’m willing to continue being on the journey, especially as a result of my experiences.


What are some common experiences for people who’ve experienced a near death experience (NDE) whether emotional or physical? There are roughly 600 NDEs a day now, according to the research.


*A feeling of peace and quiet; pain is gone

*The awareness of being dead, an out-of-body experience, viewing themselves or the situation from a position outside and above their bodies

*A dark space and being pulled towards a pinpoint of light, described as a tunnel where they are drawn rapidly towards the light. About 15% of people report this as frightening.

*An unearthly environment, dazzling landscape, with beautiful colors, music, gorgeous flowers

*Meeting and communicating with deceased people, mostly relatives

*Seeing brilliant light, or a being of light, complete acceptance, unconditional love, access to deep knowledge and wisdom

*A panoramic life review, seeing their entire life flash before them, and the capacity to talk for days about a life event that lasted for only a few minutes.

*A flash-forward, giving the impression that they are witness to part of life that is yet to come.

*The perception of a border to cross and if they cross it they will never be able to return to their body.

*The conscious return to the body, accompanied by great disappointment at having something so beautiful taken away.


David Sunfellow describes a few other take-aways from an NDE: God is intensely personal, actively involved in our lives. God is overwhelmingly loving, forgiving and compassionate, and also has a wonderful sense of humor. Many perceive oneness with God, as with everything else. We are all eternal. No one is ever lost. Our true nature begins to reveal itself again. The purpose of life is to love, to bring heaven to earth.


He noted a few other truths that people with NDEs experienced: that a kind word, a tender smile, and a gentle touch are important acts of life and that money, fame, power, material goods, and ego are painful wastes of time. We were all born with a specific purpose to accomplish. All aspects of life are good—even the distressing aspects. Everything serves a glorious purpose.



The astounding and transforming experience of the life review

The most astonishing finding for me was the often-cited life review. Details of it were described, that it was very intense, that our entire lives passed before our eyes slowly, and we had to feel everything that happened, to relive it. It was not a judgment, but parts of it were painful. The revelations are true and revealing, some are even glorious. And when it was over, it was over. No punishment beyond feeling those difficult feelings, no retribution, no hell or fear of hell.


Now that is astounding. It’s almost scary to mention it because it goes so much against the grain of what I and most others have been taught—and what, ostensibly, helped keep people in line for two millennia now. Could it actually be true?


I will leave this essay at this point and revisit this life review idea in my next essay called “Hell or Hellish?”


So is it Heaven or just heavenly? You decide.



Janet O. Hagberg, 2015, all rights reserved.

I did not cite the work of Dr. Eben Alexander in this essay but his work on the near death experience he had, is quite compelling. His book is called Proof of Heaven. He was a very skeptical agnostic neurosurgeon who got meningitis and was “gone” for about a week. His experience of the afterlife could not be attributed to any medication or treatment-induced hallucinations which is how some of these experiences are written off by the medical community. He even had an experience of the core of heaven and describes it as well as he can, using ordinary language. I’d recommend reading his book or listening to his CD.



Reflections on this essay:

What do you remember from what you learned as a child about heaven, death and the afterlife?


How does it affect you now? What feelings emerge from those teachings?


How does your current image of God reinforce or challenge those teachings?


What questions do you have now about heaven or heavenly things?




Chris Carter, Science and the Near-Death Experience: How Consciousness Survives Death.2010.

Jeffrey Long, Evidence of the Afterlife: the Science of Near-Death Experiences, 2010.

Raymond Moody, Glimpses of Eternity: Sharing a Loved One’s Passage from ths Life to the Next, 2010.

Anita Moorjani, Dying to Be Me: My Journey from Cancer, to near Death, to True Healing, 2012.

Kenneth Ring, Lessons from the Light: What We Can Learn from the Near-Death Experience, 2006.

Pim van Lommel, Consciousness Beyond Life: The Science of the Near-death Experience, 2010.


Web sites: Dr. Jeffrey and Jody Long’s site, summarizing their research. Included thousands of NDE. Kevin William’s site, summarizing the research on major NDE topics International Association of Near-Death Studies Index to NDE Literature, 1877-2011.



A few well known people in history who had a near death experience and write about it: Julian of Norwich 1373, St. Catherine of Sienna 1370, John Newman, 1833.

The Hem of Jesus’ Garment

An Icon in the “shiver series”


In the Gospel of Mark (chapter 5) the writer tells a powerful story of how Jesus healed a woman who had suffered from a hemorrhage for twelve years. She was too filled with shame to come directly to Jesus but she merely touched the hem of his garment and the bleeding stopped. Immediately Jesus noticed that someone had touched him and the power had gone forth from him. He asked, “Who touched me?” The woman came in fear and trembling, fell down before him and told him the whole truth, how she had been an outcast from the society and lived in shame. No one would even touch her. Jesus said to her, “Daughter, your faith has made you well; go in peace, and be healed of your disease.”


I read this story and then heard about a retreat leader who made hem-like cloths for each person in the group, so they could also touch Jesus’ garment. I felt God asking me to use my sewing gifts to make such hems for people who need any kind of healing; spiritual, emotional, physical, cultural, relationship. I chose fabrics that also speak to the healing process; beautiful, loving, vibrant, soothing, radiant.


This woman wanted her story told so that anyone who felt unworthy of healing or was outcast in any way, would feel the courage that she felt, allowing her to reach out and touch Jesus hem, for healing. She wanted to show that telling Jesus the truth or our lives is the most healing moment. It allows us to go out in peace too.


Feel the love and healing power of God flooding your soul as you reach out and touch this hem of Jesus’ garment.


How have you been put aside in some way but family, church, or society?


When have you felt the courage to reach out to Jesus for help or for healing ?


How has telling your story to Jesus or to another person helped you to heal?

The Big 3 and the Singing Test

by Barry A. Thomas

One of the amazing times in my life was when I transitioned from my engineering career and to a career in full-time ministry. I literally left my engineering job on a Friday in Houston, drove my family to Oklahoma City on Saturday and began my ministry job on staff at a church on Sunday. God’s direction in my life has never been as clear and as pronounced as it was during that time. There is so much I could write about this period, but it is too much to put into blog form.

However, this process of changing careers did not just happen over one weekend. The move was the culmination of a year or so of soul searching. Let me be clear: going into vocational ministry was not part of my career plan. When asked, “Where do you see yourself in five years?” the answer was not “working on staff at a church somewhere.” God worked through a process of introspection and wrestling. I have learned that when I go through these times He is often preparing me for the next phase of my life.

Unfulfilled and Discontent

In my sixth year of working for my company, I began to get the corporate “seven-year itch.” I had moved around in the company and had a worked in different facets of my engineering discipline. I had had some good job assignments and responsibilities in the company and was able to work with a lot of great people. At the time I was working in the corporate headquarters. A big part of the job was making weekly presentations to management getting approval for capital projects. Although I could play the corporate game, it was not my favorite thing to do. I preferred wearing blue jeans and getting out in the field over wearing a tie and sitting behind a computer.

The fact is I was very blessed and I did not lose sight of this. I was not going through a phase of being a disgruntled employee. I was not playing the part of a victim. I simply was becoming uninterested in my job.

And then the wrestling began…

I began to ask myself why I was not fulfilled in what I was doing. Was it my current job responsibilities? Was it the corporate environment of headquarters? Was it the company? Was it the oilfield? Was it engineering as a career? Was it me…was there something wrong with me? These questions rolled around in my head for several months. For the first time in my young life I was open to a career change.

The Big 3

All of these questions led to more specific questions. I call them the Big 3. I believed that the answers to these questions would probably converge on the same thing. They would point in the same direction. In the athletic arena, I knew the sports I enjoyed the most were the sports in which I excelled. And I excelled at the sports I was most passionate about. At least for me, these things were undoubtedly linked. I thought, “If that was true for me in sports, it must be true for me in other areas in my life including my career.” These were the new questions I mulled over for a while. Here are the Big 3:

  • What do I enjoy?
  • What am I good at?
  • What do I have a passion for?

I don’t know about you, but I tend to enjoy the things I am good at and I tend to dislike the things I am not good at. For instance, I hate Do It Yourself home projects. (I know hate is a strong word, but it best fits my sentiment in this case.) I hate them because I am terrible at fixing things around the house. My average project requires four trips to the hardware store. Trip #1: Purchase the materials I think I need for the job. Trip #2: Return an item from the first trip and get the correct item for the job. Trip #3: Purchase a different item to replace the one I broke fixing the original broken item. Trip #4: Purchase more materials because the job was bigger than I first expected. This four trip thing is no exaggeration. This has been a repetitive and definitive pattern in my adult life. I must say, the job eventually gets done and I am proud of the work when it is done, but it was not a process that was effortless and enjoyable.

The Singing Test

When I considered what it is I enjoy doing, a simple pattern caught my attention. I loved to sing (and still do). Often times during any given day I would just start humming or singing a tune. When I would catch myself singing, I began to notice when I would sing. I would ask myself, “Why would I break out in song? What caused me to want to sing?” I realized that I would sing when I experienced joy. That was it! I was singing because I was full of joy. I call it the Singing Test. Now all I had to do is figure out what happened right before I started singing.

The Singing Test worked. When I caught myself singing I would rewind the tape and take note of what just happened before the singing. These were the things that brought joy to my life. Was there a pattern to the things that made me sing? Were these also things that I had a passion for? Were these also the things I was good at? The answer was yes!

For me, the Big 3 converge on one central theme: helping people. I loved to help people and to make a difference in people’s lives. Anytime I felt like I was helping someone with any little thing, I broke out into a song. Sometimes it was mowing someone’s yard; sometimes it was getting someone a cool glass of water; other times it was inviting new friends over for dinner; making a caring phone call; answering someone’s question; sharing a funny story or lending listening ear. Regardless of form or fashion, I loved to help people. As simple as it seems, the Singing Test was a real breakthrough for me. It helped me converge on the answer to the Big 3.

Maybe the Singing Test does not fit for you. But here is my question: What do you do when you experience joy? How do you express it? For you, that is your Singing Test.

Parenthetically, let me just add here: The answers to the Big 3 and the Singing Test do not just apply to your career. I think more importantly, they can point you to your mission and purpose in life. Your job does not necessarily have to line up with your mission and purpose. It is possible to live out of mission no matter what you do from nine to five. (BTW, who really works nine to five these days?) Since that time in my life, I have learned to get fulfillment in life independent of what I do to make a living.

  • What are your answers to the Big 3?
  • Do they converge on anything in particular?
  • How do you express joy?
  • Is there a connection to the answer to these questions and God’s calling on your life?

If you do not have clear answers to these right away, do not fret. These are not easy questions to answer. They are simple, but not easy. I encourage you to wrestle with these questions understanding that answering them is a process that takes time.

In the middle of the night with Dr. King

Last month I received the unexpected news that I had a cancerous brain tumor. A few days later, I had brain surgery, and started radiation and chemo not long after that. A complication from the surgery put me back in the hospital for a week with a tube threaded up my spine.

Between 1 and 2 am on one of those nights in the hospital, I felt like I was floating in some anxiety and sadness, making it hard to sleep. Then I felt like Martin Luther King, Jr. came to hang out with me in my hospital room, reminding me of my favorite speech of his–the one he gave the night before he died. When he gave that speech, he knew that his life was especially in danger. Next to me in the hospital bed, it felt like he delivered the ending of the speech again, as a message for me:

“Like anybody, I would like to live a long life. Longevity has its place. But I’m not concerned about that now. I just want to do God’s will. And He’s allowed me to go up to the mountain. And I’ve looked over. And 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!”

“And so I’m happy, tonight.
I’m not worried about anything.
I’m not fearing any man!
Mine eyes have seen the glory of the coming of the Lord!”

In talking with my primary care doctor, Mt. Nebo has been an important reference point for both of us. This is the place where Moses first saw the Promised Land, which his people eventually made it to. While on the mountain, Moses realized that he was going to die there, but that the rest of his people would make it to Israel without him. My doctor told me recently about a powerful experience he had while visiting Mt. Nebo. In my hospital room, MLK was bringing home the connections between his life, Mt Nebo, and my journey, like the preacher that he is. My imagination and emotions might’ve been partly driven by the hospital stay and meds from a couple days ago, although hanging out with MLK felt as true as almost anything to me.

MLK reminded me that the biggest gift I can personally receive is knowing I did my part in getting us to the new land that is coming, and feeling the satisfaction of knowing how my little part is part of a larger movement towards that land. That feeling of faithfulness takes away fear. It removes the sting of death or failure. Dr. King reminded me that the Promised Land, for him, is not just solving one social issue or campaign. It is living now in the reign of God’s love on Earth. He breathed some of that power into me last night, washing away the pool of anxiety that had been in the hospital bed with me.  It felt like MLK was asking each of us to continue moving towards the beloved community he gave his life for.

MLK has been an important inspiration for me for the past 25 years, but I’ve seen him from an intimidating distance. We’ve never been on close speaking terms before. Last night, though, he seemed to be quite close, frequently calling me “son.” He talked with me about a night after his house was bombed and how he had to get to know God in a new way, instead of just knowing the God secondarily through his father or through others. Dr. King told me that was true for me now, that God was with me in new ways.

The conversation with Dr. King seemed to then shift away from just the two of us, to include all of you that I’m connected with, even though I was still alone in the hospital bed in the middle of the night. Dr. King seemed to be asking all of us questions like:

What is the Promised Land you are committing your lives to get to?

Who are your people, your land?

What would make that land good and real enough that it would be worth contributing your life to the journey, even if you don’t personally make it there?

What will help you let go when your part is done, and stay at your own Mt. Nebo?

I’ve grieved recently for the ways I probably won’t be to make it to all the places I long to go, with my family, with my community, with my nation, with our planet.

I’ve said before that I want to contribute my life in service of broader shifts in society from systems of domination to cultures that sustain life:

From wealth for a few to enough for all
From security based on force to security based on the quality of relationships
From predict and control management to trust and equip self-organizing
From industrial growth to local sustainability

I also long to see my kids graduate from high school, to impatiently hope they have kids of their own that I can fall in love with, to bike across the country with my son, to befriend a dolphin in the ocean with my daughter, grow old with my wife, and much more.

I still want all those things very much. But my conversation with Dr. King last night helped me feel more deeply in my body that what I most want is to be attentive and faithful to the small parts I’m asked to do, while fully breathing in the gifts of mountain top views of where we, together, can go. None of us can go to all of those places,

I feel sobered to realize that I’ve already lived five years longer than MLK. I affirm that his life was not lived in vain, and I left the time with MLK also clearer that my work is not done.

I pray that we may all see the glory of the coming of the promised land, see and trust our parts to play, and live savoring the reality of the reign of love, even as we help it be born.
Michael Bischoff

Here are Dr. King’s own words:

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