Running late, or left behind
10 and 9, 8 and 7, 6 and 5 and 4,
Call upon the savior while you may,
3 and 2, coming through the clouds in bright array,
The countdown’s getting lower every day.
~ The Blast-Off Song (The Rapture Song)
Last year I attended a party for several graduate students of San Francisco State University’s MA program in history. Towards the end of the evening a man in his early 30′s told me how as a child he had gotten lost in the grocery store. Unable to find his mother after some time he began to panic. He wondered if the Rapture had happened. He wondered if he had been left behind while his mother had been spirited away. I almost dropped my beer bottle. This was an experience that I knew well, but one I hadn’t thought about in years. The memory of a similar event washed over me like a wave and I found myself shaking uncontrollably for several minutes. It was the result of shear recognition; an enormous rush of adrenaline courtesy of meeting a long lost friend on a dark road at night.
That long lost friend was prepubescent me, looking at my watch when my mother was 15 minutes late from picking me up at the barber shop. I was certain Christ had returned and I had not really been one of the elect. My heart raced as the internal, mental Rolodex spun frantically, possessed by gale force winds. Who could I call? Who could I run to with the Seven Year Tribulation about to commence? Then I had it: my great aunt Gerry, grandma’s agnostic, divorced sister, never without a cigarette. Her house had an entire room of wall-to-wall books, none of them Christian. What was more, she lived only six or seven blocks from the barber shop. I knew if the Rapture had happened, Aunt Gerry would definitely have been left behind. I recalled her rolling her eyes when I mentioned Adam and Eve and in that sardonic smoker’s cackle of hers offering up a pithy “Well, that’s ONE theory.” Aunt Gerry would be my refuge!
Although I had not vanished along with my godly mother into the clouds I had most certainly disappeared into my own head. It took a moment to realize my mother was standing in front of me, a little out of breath “Jason. Jason, I’m sorry I’m late.” Years later my graduate student friend, seeing a similar glazed look in my eyes put his hand on my shoulder: “You look like you need another beer.”
Expectation, or I know all there is to know about the waiting game
Oft expectation fails, and most oft where most it promises;
And oft it hits where hope is coldest; and despair most sits.
~ William Shakespeare – “As You Like It”, Act I, Scene 2
The Rapture is an immanent event for millions of American Evangelicals. Christians have always believed in the Second Coming of Jesus Christ, however, the idea of a pre-coming (as it were), when Christ’s follower will be taken up before his actual reign over the earth as Messiah Triumphant, is part of a belief system scarcely two centuries old. It is called premillenial dispensationalism. Few American Christians know this, although it is the source of their view of time and eternity. The didactic visuals of this belief-world are a rich topic unto themselves. For a glimpse take a look at the apocalyptic time-maps of Clarence Larkin, first introduced to me by my great-grandmother who was a devout student of dispensational lore.
My father began to do the work of a grown man when he was a small child. Along with his siblings, he was essentially a work horse, helping to run a small dairy for an unhappy father who would rather have been hunting in the woods or racing his hound dogs. Although a devout Christian later in life, my father’s father was for the most part incapable of showing Christian charity to his only son. This little boy grew up to be a man who had two modes of being-in-the-world: work and drink. Despite this, he was (and is) a devout Evangelical Christian.