"Of course we would all be naked", Shepp stated, so anybody who might wonder if he hadn't thought his idea through would know otherwise.

He went on to qualify his premise; that a naked soul is not like a naked human body-thank God for that!

"Besides," he further explained, "when an immortal soul climbs aboard the Heaven Express bus, the other riders have more important things on their soul-minds; they would be in a state of reflection preparing for their Big Ride."

An important element to the story Shepp's told, that morning at Millie's Mill Grill, was that every soul must have a ticket when they got on the bus. "You must make sure to give the driver your ticket, or else how would he know where to drop you off?"

Sure, it makes sense if you understand Shepp's kind of logic.

Sheppard Knott is not a preacher in any academic sense, although he has probably given more informal sermons in his lifetime than all of Parrot County preachers combined.

As you might imagine, Pastor Irvin and Shepp don't see eye to eye on many spiritual details, although they do agree on the bigger picture about Heaven, Hell and Everlasting stuff.

Obviously Pastor Irvin thinks more from the realm of his spiritual intellect; derived from reading thousands of books on a variety of religious themes; acquaintance with commentaries of the world's most brilliant biblical scholars, not to mention learned ecclesiastical disciplines obtained from many years of seminary training.

Shepp accounts most of his ideas from, well, Shepp.

By trade Sheppard builds bridges and supervises all the road construction here in Parrot County. For a relatively small geography and loosely populated place, Parrot County sure has a lot of creeks to ford and roads to construct or repair-especially after a long winter or an overabundance of spring rains.

So who better to explain how to get to Heaven than someone who builds roads for a living?

When he begins such narratives no one interrupts. If he gets into a flow it must play out. It's like knocking a tap off a beer keg; if you try to stop its flow it makes a real mess-better to let it empty in its own natural course and just try to fill up your mug as best you can.

This day his particular story was about how folks get to Heaven. And more importantly, what they need to do when they get there.

Shepp thinks of God as an overall loving and caring God; not competitive or vengeful. When his God watches a football game, he always wants both sides to win.

He thinks God wants most everyone to finally get to Heaven, no matter how lost they might have been in their earthly lives, and He has designed many options in the afterlife to achieve such.

In Shepp's point of view you would have to be a pretty awful human being not to have a tinker's chance to arrive at your final heavenly destination. He would, however, be more than happy to express his opinion about people who have no chance in hell of ever getting to Heaven!

Eventually, in Shepp's Heaven, borderline folks in question can make it if they can solve their unique, cosmic, ironic riddle to achieve spiritual enlightenment. This all just means that it may take a meandering soul a bit longer to check into that final spot than it does a naturally righteous soul.

I can't tell the story like Shepp does, but it goes something like this:

God doesn't have hard and fast written rules whether a soul passes or fails the Big Exam; not like some kind of scholastic achievement test. God doesn't have a literal checklist where the more checkmarks you have the more successful your final evaluation will be. Eventually I guess it does require a pass/fail grade to get in, but in Shepp's Heaven there are many opportunities for make-up tests and extra credit assignments.

Some folks say God is in the details. Shepp thinks God is in vagueness and irony. Not because He likes to keep us rambling, but because He knows we are all just too stupid to understand.

As I remember, according to Shepp's model, it was not exactly clear the criteria God uses. But there is some kind of relationship between earthly goodness translated into how long you get to ride the Big Bus; the better you fared in life the closer the Heavenly Express bus takes you to your final destination.

When you get on The Bus you give the driver your ticket and take a seat. The ride begins with a pretty long drive down some heavenly expressway. Eventually the bus exits, taking off down many twisting turns down steep winding roads.

There you are, driving along this beautiful country road, lined with tall, lush shade trees, to the side a crystal clear brook cascading softly over diamond-like stones. All along the banks are scatterings of tall, brightly colored wildflowers waving to you in the wind. From time to time you can see misty, blue mountains off long into the distance. Anyone easily knows Heaven must be close.

Suddenly the bus comes to a soft stop. A passenger's name is called to debus. The driver hands them back their ticket and gives them some final instructions; something like, 'You need to first cross this creek here; then walk through the woods a fair piece; you'll come to another river-you'll have to swim across that one; then you'll have to climb three very high mountains; then another stream; some more woods and once you see a golden-pebble, curvy road, just follow that-it will lead you to Your Heaven.'

Shepp explains that a lawyer, politician or financial-type might have problems getting oriented. You can't think' your way to find the final destination, you have to feel it. If you try your earthly logic, it just confuses things.

Then The Bus drives a bit further, stops again as another passenger gets off. The directions seem simpler and shorter as the bus drives further.

Finally with only a few folks left on the bus the driver gets on the speaker and announces that the rest will be dropped off each right to their final Heaven-no additional venturing required.

Everyone who gets on The Bus has a chance to reach their final destination.

Someone breaks into Shepp's little story, "Is the final destination a place like the Emerald city in the land of Oz; like where you come up to these tall doors and you can to go though after you give some kind of password?" Willey Mobley interrupts with genuine curiosity.

"Naw, it's not like any kind of those crowded places." Shepp clarifies. "Each person has their own individual site. To some it might look like a place in the city, others a house in the suburb, while others it may be a farm in the country."

"So how does a soul know when he finally arrives to his/her station?"

Shepp doesn't miss a beat, "you will hear the barking first, barking of Angels of course."

"Barking?" the others ask.

"Sure, you will round a corner of this road and in the distance you will begin to hear the barking of the dogs, you know, all the dogs you ever shared your life with. They will have sniffed your scent and they all come out to meet you. For me, probably old Creek will head the pack. Heck, I haven't heard his bark for more than thirty years. But the rest won't be far behind. Boy, will they all be glad to see me and man, I'll be glad to see them too.

Those dogs will lead you further down the road to a clearing where all your family will be just hanging around. First you'll see your mom and pop, then grandparents, aunts and uncles, then everybody- friends too! Finally you get to meet kin you never did know. I can see my ma introducing me to her great Aunt Marella who raised her. She talked about her my whole life; I finally get a chance to meet her."

I remember when Shepp first told me about his idea of Heaven. It took awhile to compare his images with the more formal, institutional notions built in my brain over the years.

I don't know, I have heard many explanations of what Heaven might like. Shepp's Heaven sure sounds like a nice place too.

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