Roberta Green Ahmanson
Dreams Become Reality
My personal no to that question comes from sad experience. Growing up in a small railroad and farming town in Iowa, in the center of the United States, I attended a separatist Baptist church. No movies, no dances, not even square dancing. I was tall and smart. None of this was a recipe for an active social life. Add to that my own fears because of mental illness in our family, and you get a potent brew. Lonely? Longing? You bet. But the town's old hotel had a lovely, romantic marquee out front. I dreamed of fixing it up one day. Well, more than 30 years after I graduated from high school, I talked my beloved husband, Howard, into buying not only that hotel but also the town's 1904 Carnegie Library. We renovated the hotel—no two rooms alike, no expense spared—to reflect the stories of the people who built the town: ethnic groups, craftspeople, famous people who came from the town, like the creator of Alley Oop, or famous people who came to visit, like Louis Armstrong. We renovated the library to make a centerpiece for a museum called Hometown Perry, Iowa, to tell the story of the unique contribution of small towns to American life. I was creating the town I wished I had grown up in. I was creating my own alternate reality. My own three-dimensional video game. My own heaven.
Finally, it became clear that the financial cost was using up all of the savings my husband had accumulated outside the trusts that are the source of our income. My personal "vision" had depleted our family resources. Howard wanted money for his own projects. Our lawyer worried that, should Howard die, I would have nothing to live on. I was also going through menopause, and my body was doing things it had never done before. I was diagnosed as bi-polar II, the less dramatic but still active kind. When I told my doctor I knew when I was depressed but I didn't see when I was manic, he simply said, "Roberta, I've been to the hotel!" At last, our pastor sat me down. I said it seemed like I had been committing adultery with a town. He looked at me and said, "No, not adultery. Idolatry." Wood and stone. Indeed.
From there I could only repent, close the Iowa projects, and face the constraints of a serious budget. I had to reclaim God's restraints. We hired a business manager, a retired accountant who had worked for us for years. I had to switch from my idolatrous vision to the reality channel, God's prophetic vision for my life. Only then was the town able to reclaim its own heritage and move on as it has done.
So, what is that heavenly vision? What difference does it make in real time? Isaiah pictures a heavenly home where there is no violence, no destruction, no darkness, no slavery, no prisons, no faint hearts, no tears, no death. Scripture makes it clear that we have dual citizenship: here on earth and in our heavenly home. For example, in Hebrews 11 we are told Abraham was looking for a city whose architect and builder is God. Hebrews 13 says, "For here we do not have an enduring city, but we are looking for the city to come."
Then John, in Revelation 21, confirms what Isaiah prophesied and what Abraham knew. He sees the city we are longing for, the city we are made for: "Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth … . And I saw the holy city, the New Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband."
Growing up in a Baptist church, I had heard those verses many times, usually in sermons about the Rapture and the Last Days. But, it wasn't until much later that I began to see they had real consequences for life right here on earth. This New Jerusalem was to be my concrete eternal home.
Over the years I have read many books and explored many churches, hoping to discover what Christians before me thought, understood, and did. Before the year 1000, churches often depicted the New Jerusalem on the arch over the altar in glittering mosaic, as can be seen today in the 9th-century Santa Prassede in Rome. In others, the Last Judgment and Christ in eternal glory were above the door as you walked out, as you see here in Santa Maria Assunta on Torcello in Venice. This image, too, comes from Revelation 21: "And the city has no need of sun or moon to shine upon it, for the glory of God is its light, and its lamp is the Lamb. By its light shall the nations walk;" and the kings of the earth shall bring their glory into it.