"Whose cell phone is that? Turn your cell phone off, Ma'am. TURN YOUR CELL PHONE OFF! NOW."
It's a rotund African-American security guard, yelling at us all, all of us waiting in the uniform blue seats in the square room, with the signs on the walls of do's and don'ts ---- a non-descript government building. Take a number (You are a number.) Take a seat (Behave.) Go to the appropriate window when your number is called. (Red Hall, Blue Hall, A, B, C, D).
"Sir, please turn your phone off."
"It is off. I'm just reading emails." And the weather. And the stock report. Texting home. Updating my status. I have a lot to do. I'm important. And who does this guy think he is, I want to know.
"The sign says 'no electronic devices.' Sometimes I can be a little lenient, you know, but if someone cops an attitude, if they're gonna be a hard ___ (Did he really say that?) I'll show 'em the door. You know what I'm saying? You know?"
"No problem. I know what you mean." (Not really.) That'd be just great. The white man in a suit (the only person in a suit) gets kicked out of the Social Security Administration office. I put it away. Now what? No book, no email, no blog reading, no backgammon games. I look up for the first time and look around me. Where do these people come from? None of them look like people I work with, or even people I shop with or eat in restaurants with. All ages, Oriental, African-American, Latino, poorly dressed, half-dressed, several obese women and men, some obviously handicapped, some lethargic (perhaps out of work?).
I hate to say it, but I have a realization that I've got an attitude. I don't want to wait. I particularly don't want to wait with these people. They're not like me, or they? A creeping snobbery threatens me. I begin to generalize. (Probably don't need benefits. Feeding at the federal trough.) I'm uncomfortable.
Then it dawns on me that these are the very people I will share heaven with. I am going to heaven by God's grace, not my goodness (which there is precious little of), not as one of the beautiful all together well-dressed intelligent articulate well-mannered slightly but not too obnoxiously hip people, but as one reconstructed by Him, reformed by Him, redressed by Him. And some of these people will be there too.
And. . . some. . . of. . .these. . . people. . . will. . . be. . . there. . . too. They will.
Everyone should have to go to the Social Security Administration office and wait.
Everyone has to go to DMV for their license renewal.
Everyone should sit in a state district courtroom and watch the people who parade through.
Everyone has to serve on a jury.
And everyone should go to Wal-Mart on a weeknight after midnight and watch the clientele. They may not be like you and me. And yet they are like you and me.
These experiences are great levelers. They remind us that as different as we are, we are all human, all needy, all sometimes stumbling through life by God's grace, and all saints or devils behind whatever human face or facade we have.
Those people in Heaven? They're going to look like these people here, only we'll be so warmed by their souls that we'll not see any external blemish. It doesn't say anywhere in the Bible that we'll look the same, that some won't be weightier than others, some shorter, some taller, that some won't talk a lot, more than us, or have annoying habits. None of that will matter.
So I try for a minute, right here, to imagine the loud lady across from me in Heaven with me.
I think I need a better imagination.
"Number 22, Window 14, Red Hall."
That's me. Goodbye immortals. Goodbye saints. Goodbye devils. See some of you in Heaven. Maybe even you, lady.