Ahhh, heaven! A cozy den of warm, burnished oak, filled with all the books I never had time to read on earth. Outside it's snowing, but I'm all toasty sitting next to the fire in my Masterpiece Theatre setting, minus the pipe. Oh, go ahead and add the pipe to the picture. Can't do any harm, because this is heaven. Besides, I'm expecting C.S. in a bit, and Mr. Lewis does like a good pipe now and then.
After our visit, perhaps I'll retire to my high-tech language lab, where I'll focus on my current course of study, Icelandic, having reached the I's in my alphabetized foreign language curriculum. No snow tomorrow --- whatever "tomorrow" means here, but we do get to know the weather in advance --- so I'll take the path over the mountain and through the woods to the village, where I'll join several of my dearest friends at an outdoor café and sip a steaming cup of Folgers as we discuss the deeper issues of life. I mean, the afterlife.
Not your idea of heaven? No problem. Anthony DeStefano assures me, and you, too, that we'll have something of a customized eternity. Meaning, I get Masterpiece Theatre and you get Tahiti or wherever your mind goes when the word heaven pops into it. And for that, DeStefano has taken his share of heat. But then, some people just don't know how to have fun.
The point here is that people generally have a view of heaven that's somewhat lacking. Some imagine an ethereal, wispy place --- you know, with angelic choirs and harpists in the clouds and all that. Others imagine an existence in which the language will be biblical and the people will be religious, meaning, of course, boring. Still others take their view of heaven from the book of Revelation, where the description is --- come on, admit it --- pretty weird, from a human perspective. In short, DeStefano thinks all those images leave few people actually wanting to go there.
He remedies that by giving folks in the here and now a guided tour of the by and by. And while his basic take on heaven as a place conforms to fairly orthodox Christian teaching, he lets loose and lets his imagination run wild. Which, of course, also has gotten him into trouble with people who have somehow managed to confuse an imaginary romp through the afterlife with a doctrinal treatise on the same.
Look, the bottom line here is that this book is not for everyone, and DeStefano is quite cool with that. People who admit no creative thinking to their theological propositions should clearly stay away, as should people who might mistake A TRAVEL GUIDE TO HEAVEN for the Gospel According to Anthony DeStefano. His breezy, casual writing style, punctuated by a truckload of exclamation points and question marks, won't appeal to everyone, either. But if you're still carrying around the image of a mind-numbing, stodgy, endless existence --- if you have absolutely no excitement about what's to come when this life is over for you --- well, you just might want to take a quick peek and see if you're up for taking the full tour.
Reviewed by Marcia Ford on September 16, 2003