Chapter 23 Johan: Challenges and Learning
Night was different on the New Earth. Colours still slowly evolved in the sky, but they were darker tones of purple and blue. The air was still, and Johan was glad that the temperature always remained moderate. Far off, unknown lights twinkled, and Johan felt completely alone.
He wasn’t scared, as he knew the New Earth was safe, instead he felt bleakly isolated. Chester’s words echoed through his mind as he walked the landscape. Johan felt shame and confusion over what he had learned from the Canadian and couldn’t imagine why Jesus would allow several people who were at war with one another in the Previous Age to be in the same community.
Johan periodically picked grass and peeled off the grainy head before throwing them down. He strode over rocks and heather and in the half-light, he could make out lone trees against the luminous oil-painting sky.
However far Johan walked he could not get away from the images in his head. Huge scarlet flags hung from every house, a black swastika within a white circle adorned each one. As a boy he thought the swastika looked like a spider that had been crushed. It struck him as oddly fitting that in the end the whole Nazi fantasy had been stamped on by the boots of the Allies. He remembered his uncle Werner, who was a fanatical Nazi, and how he had encouraged Johan to look up to the Fuhrer and when he was old enough, to go and fight for the Reich.
He recalled many nights spent in trenches, foxholes and uncomfortable billets. Johan would lie awake listening to the sound of the other men talking, thinking about Uncle Werner and hoping he was proud.
Often his mind would return to his own father, a very different man - one of quiet thought who only spoke when he had something to say. Johan’s father had fought in the Great War twenty years earlier and had seen action on the Western Front. Johan adored his Papa very much and loved to sit on his lap and look at the strange pink scars on his dad’s arm, a permanent reminder of the conflict he saw and the shrapnel that tore his flesh.
Johan longed for his dad to find him now. Suddenly he felt more alone and more lost than ever. Looking out from a hilltop over the landscape, Johan felt as if he was the only person alive.
Johan was deep in thought but was jolted when he heard the rustle of the scrub behind him. Standing there, just visible through the low light, stood a man. He had long white hair and a long white beard and wore a long white cassock that went down to the ground. The man held up both hands as if in surrender and stared at Johan with piercing eyes.
Johan’s heart was pounding at being disturbed, yet he felt a feeling of warmth and safety radiating from the man’s face. The man stood there, his hands now out in-front of him, as if he was offering something.
“Hello?” said Johan quietly, wondering if that was the right thing to do.
“Johan,” called the man.
Johan turned fully to face him, even more surprised and confused.
“Do I know you?” said Johan, trying to sound polite through his shock.
“You do, and… you don’t…”
“Ok?” said Johan, hoping the man would continue.
“I am here to assure you that you are never alone. You miss your dad, and you mourn your life prior to coming here. In fact, you are ashamed of what took place.”
Johan nodded but was perplexed by this stranger’s knowledge.
“I am here to tell you that you are not to blame, and to remember that you are loved and cherished.”
“Cherished?” said Johan, bemused. “You have to be with the ones who love you to be cherished.”
“You are with ones who love you. Good people who see the goodness within you.”
Johan thought of Yan, Yvonne, and the friends he’d made like Ebo, Jemila and Eric.
“And you will see your parents again. You will see your army comrades and your uncle. Everything in its right time.”
Johan felt a bubbling up of love toward this kind old man who had come to him with these words.
“How did you find me? Who are you?”
“I am a friend. I’ve known you for some time.”
“But you are not Jesus?”
The old man smiled a toothy grin through the darkness.
“I lived on earth many years before Jesus was born. You can call me Mel.”
“Mel? Is that short for something?”
“Melchizadek, but Mel will do fine.”
“What do you do, follow people who have gone astray?”
“I meet people where they are, I guess,” said Mel. “I love to wander the highways and byways of the New Earth, encouraging people I find.”
“How did you know all those details about me?” asked Johan.
“Ruach tells me anything I need to know,” replied Mel.
“Ruach? Oh, the Holy Ghost? I can’t see her?”
“She is with us all by the great oneness of the spirit. If you ask her, she will speak to you, too.”
“Even though she isn’t here in person?”
“Yes, that’s right. She exists everywhere through spirit. It’s like we all carry an invisible element of her within us, we just have to learn how to use the gifts she gives.”
“You make it sound easy,” said Johan with a slight chuckle.
“Well, it starts with ‘Hello’, and you’ve proved you’re good at that!”
Johan laughed at the sheer unlikelihood of this encounter, but he was thrilled to have been found by someone with so much wisdom.
Yan never rushed. Time has a very different quality when there is always another day. Remembering the worry of being caught by the secret police in the Previous Age, he compared his state of mind – then to now. He had been constantly anxious, afraid of giving away information that would endanger his friends. Now he moved with confidence and intent. Johan was out there, and Yan’s focus was to locate him and reassure him.
As the light changed and night wore on, Yan felt an increasing peace with ending his search. He felt sure that Ruach was leading him to entrust Johan to her purposes. Instead, Yan decided on using this opportunity to walk in the night air and draw near to Ruach in meditation.
A familiar warmth began to grow as he turned his full attention to the divine flame within him. Ruach was the essence of God that Yan related to the most. He had great reverence and affection for Jesus, but it was Ruach who had come to Yan as he was tortured for his beliefs in the Previous Age.
During many dark nights in prison cells, her flame burned, and he felt heavenly ecstasy as she poured love into him. Sometimes he wondered if he could take any more of her glorious presence, and could be known to break out into dancing, singing and shouting for joy, even in the dirt and stench of prison.
The next morning found Johan feeling inwardly strengthened. He felt sure of his mission to continue to follow the leading of Agape Love. Though he wasn’t looking forward to seeing Chester, he knew eventually he would. He knew that his friends were with him.
“Oh, you’re back are you, Nazi?” sneered Chester.
Johan sat carving some wood on a table with Yvonne.
“Chester, I’d like to talk with you. Would you sit with me?”
“Fuck you, fascist asshole,” came the response, and raised two middle fingers.
Johan looked back at Yvonne helplessly. She didn’t need to say anything, returning an empathetic smile.
Some minutes went by and then Johan spoke up.
“But I didn’t harm his friends! I didn’t start the war! I was killed in the war! It stole my youth away from me, and my life! I am a victim of it more than he is!”
Johan was animated and angry. He threw down his tools and went storming off.
Seeing Chester coiling some rope in the distance, Johan strode toward him, still seething. The closer he got, the more the injustice of the whole situation boiled inside him.
Chester turned around, surprised. Johan stood there awkwardly for a second before deciding to attack.
“Don’t you see? I am a victim of that war. More so than you! You have no idea…”
Chester dropped the rope and stepped toward Johan.
“No, you Nazi bastard, you have no idea. Six million people killed in your death camps?”
The weight of his argument was staggering, and Johan felt winded.
“I didn’t know!” he protested.
“That doesn’t excuse you. You disgust me.”
“What do you want from me? To hear me say that I’m sorry? Well, I am sorry! I am sorry for the whole lot of it! I am also sorry that I died, and that I was caught up on the wrong side. Don’t you think you’re just lucky? I mean, who is to say you couldn’t have been born where I was, and I might have been born where you were?”
Chester threw out his arms.
“Look at all this? Don’t you believe in God now? Don’t you think it’s clear that God made us and put us on the Earth?”
Johan pushed back.
“Yes, but I don’t think God made me to be caught up in the Third Reich! I don’t think God determined that I should die in a war! What kind of God would make that happen?”
“A sovereign one,” retorted Chester.
“So sovereign that all kinds of evil happens all the time?” said Johan, getting emotional.
“If that be God’s will.”
“And yet here we are, you believe your way and I don’t – but we are both in the same place now!”
Chester hesitated. “Yeah, but I am here because of my sin. And so must you.”
“So, your sin is equal to me being a Nazi?”
Chester was flummoxed.
“What did you just say?”
“Well, by your logic, I am an evil Nazi and guilty of genocide, and somehow you’re better than me. Yet we are both here in the same place. So, what did you do that was as evil as being a Nazi?”
Chester was defeated and he knew it.
“Come on, Chester. Let’s at least talk this through together?” Johan knew he was now able to bargain.
“Not interested,” said Chester, clearly still processing Johan’s argument. He picked up his rope and started coiling it again.
Johan’s hands fell to his sides in exasperation, he turned and walked away.
A few days later Johan thumbed through the first few pages of the thick tome in front of him. His forehead was furrowed as he skim-read the text.
Yan stood leaning on a chair on the other side of the table.
Johan looked up.
“Who wrote this?”
“Angelic observers. They have written accounts of human history since the beginning. This one details the rise of the Nazi party and the second world war in Europe.”
“Why? Didn’t God see what was happening?”
“It’s not for God. It’s for humans to learn about the Previous Age. It’s for moments like this one with you, Johan. You can learn from an objective view what happened, and it’s not biased to any ‘side’. It just reports what happened.”
Johan closed the book and sat back, taking a deep breath.
Yan came around the table.
“I know it can be hard to read, but just remember every life lost is being raised into an abundant future. No one is lost forever.”
“But that doesn’t take away the immense suffering that happened, does it?” said Johan.
“No, but we have the Ages ahead of us to heal all the wounds that were sustained in those days. The infinite life ahead of us means that eventually the years spent in the Previous Age will be swallowed up. It’s like this, a tennis ball might feel large in your hand, but next to a planet, it doesn’t seem so big, does it? Then next to the universe it’s virtually a mote of dust. Eternity is the same, it will make everything that appeared to be so big seem much smaller.”
“I guess my task is to try and understand and move forward into the Ages ahead?”
“As you progress and immerse yourself in new experiences, the more you will be able to see the past in a new light. It takes time to trust the vantage point from which we now can view the Previous Age. Don’t worry, trust the process.”
Johan nodded and re-opened the book.
Months turned into years. As Johan studied, he became an expert on 20th Century history. His awareness and knowledge gave him tools to better understand his own story, and the experience and attitudes of others who lived through the incredibly tumultuous decades across the world during that period.
For a long time, Chester resisted the invitations Johan would give him to come and discuss these matters. However, one windy day on the grassy plains, Johan looked up from another book to see Chester’s face looking at him through a window.
Johan smiled and gestured for Chester to enter his home. Chester opened the door and stood at the threshold.
“Ok, Johan. We have to talk.”
“Come on in?” said Johan, motioning toward a seat next to him.
Chester moved gingerly across the room to the chair.
“Are you ok?” asked Johan, noting his reticence.
“I’m ok, I think,” said Chester. “I just have to talk to you, as only you will understand what I have to say.”
Johan was intrigued. This was a new side to Chester he’d never seen before. Chester seemed like he was in physical pain, his face was showing clear signs of discomfort.
Chester sat but didn’t recline into the chair.
“So, tell me? What’s going on?” invited Johan.
“Recently I asked an angel to supply me with one of their observation books.”
“I see,” said Johan.
“Yes, so I obtained a book on the history of Canada.”
Johan nodded and waited.
“Well… it seems… it was not what I was expecting. It seems there were several massacres of indigenous peoples by… by… my Canadian ancestors. I’m not even talking countless, faceless generations ago, either. I am talking about my Great Grandparents. Johan, they killed children!”
Johan closed the book before him. The two began to talk. Over the next few hours, Chester talked and Johan listened, emphathetically. Tears were shed and Chester was delighted when Johan invited him to stay at his dwelling that night. Somehow Chester felt held by Johan’s empathy and compassion. He felt totally understood, humbled and welcomed. The two men slept more soundly that night than they ever had before.
Life in the Second Jubilee for Johan could often remind him of being in the army. In some ways it felt safe, familiar and predictable, which Johan liked. There were chores to do. There were lots of men to spend time with. There were egos jostling for position. Boasting, jeering and practical jokes were everyday experiences. However, there were many moments of connection and with that came a sort of camaraderie that Johan thrived on.
Chester and Johan had now experienced a bonding. Common ground was found in the shared grieving over their respective homelands. The sense of identity loss was harder on Chester, who was now deeply angry. No longer was he angry with Johan, but he was angry that anyone should want to celebrate the national identities of the Previous Age.
“It doesn’t fucking matter that you were from France,” he yelled, scattering a whole tray full of fresh croissants over the ground.
“Your previous country doesn’t mean shit! We are all just humans. Nations were just useful devices manipulated by rich men!”
“Hey, what the hell?” yelled Claude as he came out of his dwelling.
“You heard me!” said Chester. Claude rushed forward and rugby-tackled Chester to the ground.
“Keep away from us and our food!” yelled Claude. “I don’t stop you from enjoying your maple syrup and pancakes, do I?”
Chester looked up at him, squinting and covered in dusty dirt.
“That’s because I never touch the stuff!” he yelled, bitterly.
“Well, maybe you should! You are taking your pain out on us, and it’s not fair.”
“No, nothing is fair,” retorted Chester.
Yan had come around the corner to see what the commotion was.
“Get him off me!” yelled Chester to Yan. “This frog-eater just attacked me! Hey, why couldn’t you show that kind of aggression against Hitler, you surrender-monkey? Hey?”
Claude rained a balled-up fist down onto Chester’s nose, which promptly exploded in a bloody mess.
Yan stood nearby but did not intervene.
Claude got to his feet and walked away, muttering obscenities in French. Some of his friends clapped a little and slapped his back as he washed his hands before sitting back down and resumed mixing pastry.
“Why didn’t you stop him?” yelled Chester at Yan.
“It’s not my job to stop fights. You guys must work this stuff out between you.”
Chester was mopping blood from his top lip with his sleeve as Johan came up to him.
“You’re hurt. Come with me,” he beckoned, leading Chester to his dwelling.
Johan wetted a cloth and gave it to Chester to wipe up the blood.
“Why do they still think we are French, or American, or whatever? Why can’t we all just move on?” Chester was scowling as he complained to Johan.
“Because for so many, it is a huge part of their self-perception,” said Johan. “For me, I was ready to forget I was German the second that Jesus raised me, but if I had been born a hundred years earlier, I would’ve been very proud to be German. These are still early days in being raised, y’know?”
“Hmmm,” frowned Chester.
“You were a proud Canadian until you read that book and learnt more about your county’s history?” continued Johan.
“Yeah, but now I know the truth!” Chester said loudly.
“You know part of the truth, but you’re also still grieving what you have lost. That’s why it is making you angry to see anyone celebrate something of their own nationality. You want to tear the whole thing down. But it can’t be done with force. Nationality can be held lightly and part of what makes us different from each other, but eventually it won’t cause any divisions.”
“Hmmmm,” murmured Chester again as he tried to listen to his friend.
“I can celebrate the good things and condemn the bad things about Germany now,” said Johan. “Because my identity is much bigger than being German. I am human and I know I belong here, where we aren’t defined by our nationality.”
“Yeah, and I am at that point too?” protested Chester.
“You’re on your way there, yes. But you are trying to kick at anyone who isn’t where you think they should be. You want everyone to feel the same way you feel. You don’t want anyone to celebrate what is good and unique about a certain culture.”
Chester knew Johan was right. Of all the men in the camp, Chester knew that Johan had suffered the most in wrestling with national identity.
“But there are no countries here,” said Chester. “There’s just the human race on the New Earth. We should all just embrace that?”
“I think we are supposed to acknowledge when and where we existed in the Previous Age,” said Johan thoughtfully. “But I think we are meant to see the good, the bad and the ugly about what that means for how we were moulded.”
“You’re smart,” said Chester, breaking the tension of the conversation.
“Well, I guess my experience made me sensitive to how these things play out here.”
“There was a time when I didn’t understand, but I am starting to see more clearly now,” Chester said solemnly.
“And the same applies to everyone,” added Johan. “Whether they are understanding of this, or they aren’t yet – and I personally want to afford people the benefit of the doubt.”
“I get that,” said Chester, “but isn’t there a risk that people will never change? What about passionate believers – and I don’t just mean in national identity, I mean in anything? A political ideology, a football team… the list is endless; and that’s always going to cause division.”
“I think it will only cause division if we let it. None of these things are inherently good or bad. The question is; is there something bigger than those elements in our lives? Is there an ethic that controls our passions?”
Chester thought for a few seconds with furrowed brow. He looked up and smiled faintly as if he’d had an idea.
“When I was proud to be a Canadian, it was because I believed that my country was a force for good in the world. We stood against what we believed to be bad: fascism, prejudice, hatred, greed. I guess the guiding ethic there was ultimately love?”
“Yes, and you were very disappointed when you discovered racism, prejudice and violence in your own country’s foundation. See, to me, that tells me that your guiding principle was always love, and not blind nationalism. The problem with Germany was that many came to believe that nationalism was more important than prejudice, racism and violence. Love for a screwed-up idea of what it meant to be German was placed higher than the ethic of justice for all. Whenever that happens, the problems come thick and fast!”
“This is making sense,” said Chester, with noticeably less angst in his voice. “My primary identity is as a human, and I do believe in equality among us. That is why I am so upset about the killings that happened in my country’s past.”
“And you’re a better Canadian for it!” smiled Johan.
“And you’re a better German for disavowing Naziism and all that came with it,” smiled Chester.
“Foremostly, we are humans who are invited to love, and we are here to learn how to do this. But it comes down to real-life ethics, doesn’t it?”
“I see that now,” agreed Chester. “It’s so good to be able to see a little more clearly as we learn.”
“I think that’s why Jesus put us into these different communities. We were very likely to have fallen out to start with,” added Johan. “But if we allow time to take its course and keep our hearts open, even just a little at first, we can find common ground and build from there.”
“You are really helping me, Johan” beamed Chester. “I am still so fond of my homeland. The mountains, the forests, the redwood trees, the herds of moose!”
“It sounds so wonderful, I would have loved the chance to see it,” Johan said slightly wistfully.