Exercise 3: 5 things (Birkenstock sandals, an uprooted oleander, author of self-help books, ice skating scandal, oil pipeline)
God was late. It had been a late start to the day – God had gotten into the habit of late nights, and started enjoying a daily lie in, instead of keeping it reserved for Sunday as per tradition.
Unfortunately this meant that things were starting to get a bit rushed and the odd chore forgotten. “Make a list,” Jesus had been saying. “It's easier to structure your day with a list – and you get to feel like you've achieved something when you can cross it all off.”
God sighed. Jesus could be a sanctimonious little prick. It seemed the more behind God was in the tasks at hand, the more annoying Jesus became; the more stressed God was feeling, the more energy went into showing Jesus up.
Sue's life wasn't turning out the way she'd hoped. In her early twenties, she had been a promising ice-skater. She had dreams of representing her country, but it all went wrong at a big tournament when her coach was caught on camera pissing in her rival's skates. For the next few months, Sue's name had been associated with cheating in sports and urinating in public. She quit skating, and the humiliation followed her around. Even after everyone else forgot, she would still remember. Eventually she ended up as a gardener for a rich american.
Yesterday, she had pulled up several small shrubs, and now had a day of chipping and mulching ahead of her. This was not how she had wanted to spend her life.
Jesus was having a good day. After centuries of being depicted as a sandal-wearing, long-haired and bearded white man, Jesus had succumbed to appearing that way all the time. And since hippies had made that style popular, he'd had access to more comfortable accessories. Birkenstocks and beautiful kaftans. God accused him of playing up to it. But people really seemed to pay attention to him when he looked like that. “In heaven as on earth,” he said.
He was addressing a crowd of heaven's newcomers. Someone had to greet them and explain how the afterlife works. He'd talk them through the ways of the different communities, the rules, etc. He liked to throw in some very enigmatic pearls of wisdom. He'd found that the more obscure he made an analogy, the more people nodded and were less likely to question it.
Today he had them eating out of his hand like lambs.
Until God showed up.
Jesus was making a particularly elegant hand-gesture. As everyone watched, a fat joint appeared between his fingers and started heckling him. No-one could miss it. He was testing out a complicated parable he'd been working on, comparing heaven to a small family-owned business complete with dog on the porch and cat by the fire. There was a fruit tree and garden out the back, and free customer parking out front. They'd started a mail order catalogue and had a good web-presence. The kids ran the customer service department, and they had a returns policy where you could exchange an item you didn't like for another of equal or lesser value. He was really enjoying this one. And then God appeared as a joint and claimed it didn't mean anything.
“Does anyone know what this guy is talking about?” god had called to the crowd. “What has free customer parking got to do with the kingdom of heaven?”
“Haven't you got anything better to do?” Jesus said to the joint.
People laughed. He looked ridiculous.
God's work was done.
Jesus did have a point though. God had plenty to do. The big thing was the environmental disaster that heaven would never hear the end of if the proposed arctic oil pipeline were built. But there were a million other tasks that needed to be performed. God's list of chores would be impossible to achieve before the day was out. It would take a miracle. God often resorted to miracles when desperate. Miracles, though, have unpredictable consequences, and God was especially pushed for time.
God intended to visit the senator fighting against the pipeline, and reveal to him some scandalous information about the sexual proclivities of the key people fighting for the pipeline. God had sent a lackey to check the place out first, and had decided to appear to the senator as a burning bush while he was taking his daily constitutional.
Of course you can't trust help, and God hadn't had time to check the details. It turned out that this senator was Sue's employer, and the bush God was planning to appear in was one of those dug up by her the previous day. At the moment God chose to appear, Sue was in the middle of feeding it into the chipper. The flames did not burn her, nor consume the bush.
God was preoccupied, chuckling about Jesus' humiliation, and imparted the information to Sue, without even noticing that she looked nothing like the middle-aged male senator, nor that the shrub was becoming increasingly truncated by the chipper.
If Sue had come across this information under less celestial circumstances, it is unlikely that she would have known what to do. Especially as she actually couldn't care less about the environment – she was much more concerned with paying her bills. Filled as she was with a dose of divine wisdom, an inevitable side-effect of such a visitation, she knew exactly what to do.
Sue fed the scandalous information to her employer over a long enough period that he couldn't help but fall for her. Meanwhile, she wrote down as much of the wisdom as she could hold onto. Shortly after she and the senator married, her first book was launched. A reporter recognised her name, and wrote a feature length profile on her “rollercoaster life” in a women's magazine. Oprah asked to interview her in a where-are-they-now type show, also featuring Tiffany, Vanilla Ice and Eddie the Eagle. People were charmed by her story of shame and redemption, and bought her books in droves.