Fearing Apocalypse or That Time I Pondered the Christian Focus on the Afterlife

I’m a Christian.

Are you afraid yet? If you believe (or, even without belief, if you’ve heard) the teachings of the Church in the last century, you’re probably expecting some sort of follow-up threat. After all, someone at some point had the great idea of ending our Bible with Revelation, which, in Greek, comes from the same root as apocalypse. The Greek definition is an unveiling, an uncovering… a revelation.

I always thought it meant we were leading up to a Buffy season finale.

Anyways, Revelation, as you’ve probably heard, but likely not read all the way through, is a book of startling imagery, violent metaphor, and disturbing “prophecy” of the end times to come. Despite it being the source of controversial debate within the current Christian community, its origins are much like the origins of Judaism and Christianity: it all started with a visit from God.

Back in the day, when nomads wandered the earth and camels had yet to be domesticated (and possibly when dinosaurs roamed the earth, depending on who you believe), Abraham spoke with God who made certain promises that the Jewish people hold on to to this day. Some of those promises have come to pass. Whether those vows are renewed for the end times remains to be seen, but heck, they’ve outlasted the Persian, Greek, and Roman Empires. They’ve survived countless wars, exiles, occupations, and holocausts. And still they persist. Whose to say God hasn’t had a hand in it?

Many, many years later, Paul received a visit on the famous road to Damascus, not to be confused with the also famous “Party To Damascus” by Wyclef Jean and Missy Elliot.  After his sojourn with the risen Jesus (something I need to look into more given that Jesus was allegedly taken back to Heaven; does that mean He didn’t ascend as reported, that He actually ascended later than we thought, that He can come and go as He pleases, or that Paul mistakenly recorded a Sacred experience with the Holy Spirit as a visit from Jesus? I personally believe the latter as I believe the Holy Spirit is the current embodiment of God that mingles with the human crowd. But, as with everything, this stems from my own personal experiences and it really doesn’t matter in the scheme of things.)

(I should probably note at this point, after that last sentence, that I really don’t care if I’m wrong about most of what I believe when it comes to religion and Christianity. If someone holds a different belief in something so trivial, let them feel free. It’s like taking the main road or the country road. Both lead to the same place. I’ll have to delve into that soon.)

Back to Paul’s visit… Christianity came next.

So we have a visit for Abraham and a visit for Paul (okay, Saul, but soon to be Paul). And then comes Jesus again, this time to a John. I’m not sure which one. Most scholars aren’t either no matter what they proclaim. A shrinking view is that it was the same John who wrote the gospel of John and the letters found in the New Testament.  Some might actually argue that, in this case, it does matter. John and Jesus were close (based on John’s own opinion of himself if it is believed that he wrote his own gospel) so maybe He pulled John aside and foretold him the end times. Bros confide like that.

Irregardless of the author, John was visited by Jesus (or, as I would argue, the Holy Spirit) who said, “This is important, write this down, but wait until you see the shit storm that follows.” Or something like that.

So we have a vision and we have the end times written as metaphor. All of the stuff that goes along with that belongs in another post.

I turn back to the purpose of this one: Fear Itself. Never one to miss an opportunity, the Church latched onto Revelation as a central theme to converting sinners into saints. Because, let’s be honest, eternal damnation does NOT sound like fun. I’m reminded of the fire and brimstone preachers that I learned about at Local Christian School (LCS) in my English courses and the epitome of early American literature. Seriously, that’s all I remember about early American Literature. Fiery sermons and Emily Dickinson. Thanks LCS.

Those Puritans. So conniving.

But it really kind of sucks though when you think about it because the central theme of the teachings of Jesus were lost, distorted. Instead of focusing on the here and now, the central ideas and purpose of being a Christian shifted to the afterlife. Heaven or hell? Eternal salvation or eternal damnation? Angels with halos or devils with horns (and, per popular media, tridents, which leads one to wonder if King Trident of the merpeople was really a metaphor for Satan. I mean, he did rule a kingdom under the earth. Under the sea. Same thing.)

Jesus’s message is not one of death or destruction. Or at least, it isn’t now that I know what to look for.  This certainly isn’t something I was taught at LCS or in any of the church events I attended. Instead, the lessons I learned, usually through the use of some sort of felt board and figurines, was purely about the wages of sin. Which, by the way, is death.  When something is drilled into you from the moment you pop our of your mother’s womb, it’s difficult to change that way of thinking.

I refused to change it for a very long time despite my mind being unable to truly agree with or join the “celebration” of eternal life in Jesus. Instead, I avoided religion. I didn’t think about it. I decided that it didn’t make any sense in the context of the life experiences I was having (at the tender age of 18) and therefore, I decided to be done with it. Christianity and religion hovered in the peripheral of my life as my world expanded in college and law school,  and I think I always knew I would have to come back to it at some point to reconcile the things I had experienced with the things I had learned in my childhood. (I’m glad I came back to it before it was too late! And, keeping in the context of this post, I’m glad because I can now live the best life possible, not glad because I’m guaranteed a spot in Heaven.)

Jesus didn’t teach fear. He didn’t teach by making threats. He stated facts. He made assertions. He spoke of natural consequences from certain acts. He told parables to illustrate the ideas of love, acceptance, DIVERSITY, and faith in each other, humanity, and God. He focused on living a good life HERE AND NOW and the effects on this world.

I don’t hate all churches. Church provides essential nutrients to the Christian “soldier” and is even a necessity for some. Much like alcoholics, we are always sinners. Much like alcoholics go to AA, church provides the reminder to rise above those temptations and live a better life. But it also breeds contempt. When I say “I am a Christian” others begin to immediately feel judged. One particular friend even blurted out, “I’m a Christian too I just don’t believe in some of that stuff or go to church” before I could even tell her what I believed. When I would go to a church as a youth, I would feel the same way. Judged. Because that’s what a lot of church goers are doing. Living a visible life of good so that they can hold it over others.

Question: Is it really living a good life if you behave in that manner to act higher and mightier than those around you?

I think of those who pray out loud. I’m not talking about the prayer done before a church congregation or a team sport. I’m not talking about that teen who cries “Thank Jesus” when she finds a five dollar bill in her pocket when she needs to get some gas or the father who says “Thank God” when he finds out his son wasn’t involved in that nasty accident on the freeway when his schedule would have put him right there.

I’m talking about the phone call from the friend who starts the conversation with “Pray for Bob. His wife is leaving him,” as a means to fill me in on the latest gossip.  Or the politician who prays in public for the obvious reasons, not to heal but to gain votes.

I don’t think Jesus would like this very much.

I think of the offering plate that is passed around in church from person to person, where the nosy neighbor knows:

1. He put/didn’t put something in the plate today.
2. His check was only for that much?

Then I think of Jesus overthrowing the tables of the moneymongers in the temple on that fateful day in Jerusalem. Tithing should be between you and God. I don’t think Jesus would like this very much. (Again, my belief. I could be wrong. I would be okay with that.)

I think of Paul and his letter to the Corinthians in which he admonishes the rich for eating the Lord’s supper only amongst those of similar wealth. They miss the point. It’s supposed to be a time of communion between brothers and sisters in Christ, no matter what their social circumstances.

There is no such thing as a good Christian. We all mess up. We do wrong things because we are all sinners. We are NOT sinners because we do wrong things. In this case, there is no chicken and egg. Being a sinner comes first.

Just as with those wealthy early Christians, I think modern day Christians miss the point.

Jesus wasn’t giving a list of rules to follow in order to go to Heaven. He’s not Leviticus. He’s Jesus.

Jesus was telling us how to live a great life on Earth, here and now. As the debates over Revelation indicate to us, we don’t know how the world will end. It is not ours to know the time and place. So what are we supposed to do in the meantime?

We’re supposed to recognize the sacrifice made by God in giving up his Son to be crucified. We all died that day with Jesus. God then put the ball in our court and said “Okay, you died. Now, do you want to live again, but better? Here’s a blueprint.” Then he handed us the Gospels and says “live like My Boy.”

So here we are. The end of this pondering. What I have a learned from my writing, as is the point in this endeavor of mine?

1. Focus on the here and now. We can control our own actions, our own reactions, the way we treat others. We have the tools to make our own lives spectacular in that no matter what comes, we can be content in the love of God and Jesus because between the two of them and the Spirit, God is with us in all things.

2. If it makes you afraid, it probably isn’t from God. Similarly, don’t use fear when trying to convince someone Jesus is the way, the truth, and the light. To be clear, I’m not saying if you are threatened with an impending tornado, Satan made it. I’m saying that if you try to tell someone they should believe in God because it’s the only way to avoid Hell, you aren’t telling them the whole story which means you aren’t telling them the truth. And, as just stated, Jesus is the way, the TRUTH, and the light. Therefore, you are not telling them about Jesus.

In conclusion, the afterlife shouldn’t be the end goal. No one is certain what it will look like and, to be honest, I don’t think we have a way of capturing that in human language.

HOWEVER, there’s nothing wrong with thinking eternal salvation would be awesome collateral from living a good life through Jesus.

Trollpocalypse or My First Experience With Taking a Ridiculous Stand Against Paganism

The other day I tried to remember the first experience I had with someone taking a pointless stand. Today, social media regularly makes mountains out of mole hills, usually resulting in someone having to make a public apology for an act that, fifteen years ago, no one would have known about. I’m looking directly at that man who knocked over those rocks in that National Park. Seriously, had he not felt the compulsion to facestagram action shots so as to hear the masculine grunts of approval from his former high school football buddies who mostly now carry babies under their arms instead of the ole pigskin, his judgment would only have come at the hand of God on that fateful Day.

I recall (with boredom) the episode of Saved By The Bell, the 8th grade year, where Nikki protested dissecting the frog and eventually the school was able to provide a computer program instead as a solution. (Now that I’m typing this, I wonder if I confused it with another tv show because I don’t think SBTB:8thGY had such tech, but then, Zack basically invented the cellphone, so….) Honestly, I got more out of playing hide and seek with the vole skeleton wrapped up in owl poop than I did out of the dismemberment of an amphibian. But I don’t think I ever saw myself as the type to step out and speak against some act of inhumanity.

In my own life, I at first though of the public school student I worked alongside at the bagel shop who tried to ban the station playing the Christian “rock” song Flood by Jars of Clay. (I had to google “Flood Christian Rock Song” to remember that, btw. Embarrassing.) Her “stand” against Christian music on a secular station was mostly ranting about it to anyone who would listen in the back part of the restaurant (probably the stoner baker who insisted her dreads were clean and any remnant hairs would actually be good for the digestive track of the lucky customer, and whichever manager happened to be on duty, where “on duty” means “smoking cigarettes out the back door” or “sitting in the office reading a book.”) Meanwhile, I and my peers were down one man on the front line, wishing the song would just end so she would go back to her register and help with the backlog of paying guests.

Her name was Casey. In addition to taking a stand against middle of the road borderline adult contemporary rock, she also enjoyed stripping down to a sports bra after the doors were locked, smoking cigarettes in her old-body purple mustang on her lunch breaks, and teaching me and my friend David about “thensome.” (It’s when It’s long enough to have both hands wrapped around it, one above the other… and thensome.) She wasn’t, however, the type to go door to door with a petition. Everyone has a talent. Leading an opposition was not hers.

Thinking of Christian music, my mind drifted to growing up in a Christian environment. I remembered that my school had once taken a stand on Harry Potter. (That being that he is evil.) This was, of course, after I was graduated and gone. But that thought led me to a previous banishment that had occurred during my tenure at Local Christian School, heretofore known as “LCS”, I believe during my fifth or sixth grade year.

If you know when the Troll Doll Zeitgeist was at its peak, then you know when this particular stand occurred. Looking back on it now, I know not much of the details. Of what I do remember, even ten or eleven year old me would attest to the ridiculousness of the banishment of the Troll Dolls from the halls of LCS. You see, they started appearing slowly on the desk of my female peers. The girls loved them, especially the ones with the jewels on their bellies, the inspiration for countless future piercings, I’m sure. I think one girl had the extra large doll, but most opted for the small ones that would fit on the corner of the desk while still allowing the ability to write within the three ring binder with ease.

And then there were the tiny ones that came in packs of six or so.

And just as suddenly as they arrived, they were gone, amidst a fit of whispers about new rules imposed from above. The whispers were those of the upperclassmen and they were actually talking at regular voice levels out at the line to be picked up at the end of the day where we all intermingled. At first, the teachers were silent, only to let us know that the dolls were a disruption and no longer permitted in classrooms. I thought it was weird. They really did just sit there and stare ahead with there empty, soulless, dead eyes. They were more creepy than disrupting really.

I heard through the churning rumor mill (aka one of the Jessicas in the class, either Jessica H. or Jessica K.  Probably Jessica K, as she was more in line with my fifth grade social status) that parents had complained about the troll dolls. They didn’t want them in classrooms, on school property, OR IN THE WORLD! Presumably, I mean. I didn’t actually hear anyone pronounce such trollicide but it’s a slippery slope.

So (likely) Jessica K. was spreading the rumor and it picked up enough steam that the administration finally felt the need to address the masses at the only appropriate place: Chapel, our weekly all school gathering for worship, praise, and announcements about toy banishments. Chapel was every Monday morning at the time, so the troll thing probably festered for an entire weekend. But as I remember it, I didn’t usually think about anything related to school on the weekends, so I had likely forgotten what (likely) Jessica K. told me anyways.

The one thing someone taking a stand (in this case, the LCS administration) does not count on is the collateral of educating the ignorant. And most of my class was pretty ignorant on the lecture about New Age and Mysticism rituals we received that Monday morning. Typically, Chapel was reserved for the mention of one God only, unless we were speaking backhandedly about the God of the Catholics or the God of the Jews.

For the first time ever, the religion discussed was not of Abraham.

Instead, I got a heaping helping of knowledge about the Far East. The Orientals as Grandma B. is wont to call them.  Also, about Muslims and their connection to Voodoo.

Seriously, this jumbled up mess of pieces of culture and knowledge are the things that I took away from that lecture. Because I was ten. And they were dolls. No one was, as the adults feared, rubbing the jewel encrusted navels and getting caught up in a demonic land of wishes and dreams. Life isn’t a Disney Movie. Hell, we WISH this was what those dolls were all about. You can sure bet we all wanted those precious little totems to the devil after that lecture was over, once the truth about their abilities was revealed.

The thing I remember most of that lecture, the thing I took away other than the evils of Xi Bin Laden, were the powers the members of this New Age cult could hold. These jokers could rub jewels and have wishes come true? No wonder the administration feared the trolls. If any of the students stumbled upon one of the REAL troll dolls, ones cursed with the gifts of the Mystics,  well…insert plot from the first Gremlins.

I wasn’t old enough to care about the source of these ideas and rituals. Having a troll doll on the desk of the girl next to me wasn’t seducing me to a pagan cult, demonic encounter, or Catholicism, no matter what the Principal of LCS warned. The thought that inviting a child’s toy into a school equates to sending a save-the-date for destruction and turmoil to Satan is ludicrous. It’s a toy mass manufactured for the pure, wonderful purpose of generating revenue! It’s Mattel’s Ouija Board!

Well, it wasn’t ridiculous to a ten year old once I heard it out of the Mouth of Adults. I probably stepped in to warn some of my friends after my mind was expanded. You know, those friends who still dabbled in the dark arts within the privacy of their homes, whose parents were going through some sort of witchcraft reformation and didn’t feel the need to burn their own troll dolls.

I was quick to spout that Troll Dolls were a representation of New Age, this new religion that I knew nothing about but that threatened everything Christians hold dear. When I saw troll dolls at the home of my unenlightened public school friend, I did not “take a stand” like the bold frontiersman of LCS, but instead, I held my head a little higher because I was just a bit better than these heathens before me. Even if they didn’t know it.

I need to ask my mom what she thought of that troll banishment, mostly because I recall her being a known participant in the craze. I think she probably tried to bring my sister into the folds of the cult with troll oriented Christmas gifts.

So, the point of this musing? It’s a setup really to the larger themes I’m exploring right now, the sometimes ludicrous results of Christian education and how it manifested in my life. It’s a shame it took my rational mind so long to pick apart the muck so that I could see the truth at it’s core. Of course, another way to look at it is to rejoice that I’ve made this discovery so young, when I’m still able to revisit the things I learned in my youth through a new lens, one that re-explores those things taken for granted as fact because it came out of the Mouth of Adults.

You see, the rational ten year old me knew the troll doll exile was absurd at its core. I knew it to my center of my being prior to the Chapel.  But I trusted those who “knew better” that they actually knew better.

I guess I take three things from this:

1. To take a stand means to take action. Casey had to listen to Flood every time it played in the rotation on the station preset at The Bagel Shop. The one exception? When she went in to the back and turned it off herself.  Important to note: she waited until after we were closed. Is is still a stand if only I and Stoner Baker knew about it?

2. Know what you’re taking a stand against. There should be a clear message going out to coincide with the stand you take, no matter how ridiculous. If you want to ban troll dolls, ban those little mother effers. But tell the world why with solid supporting evidence. And I think, when you are a school administration, “because some parents said so” doesn’t give you the necessary fortitude.

3. Know your audience. The school took a stand in Chapel to a bunch of kids who didn’t know what the heck they were talking about. Otherwise, the stand was visible to the parents who instigated the banishment, the parents who agreed after they heard the powerful persuasive arguments of those who knew the dangers of troll worship, and the parents who didn’t give a shit. Did this accomplish the goals intended?

Interestingly enough, I think LCS got the last one right. They were preaching to the choir. It’s a theme I have encountered time and time again in dealing with Christians, co-workers, friends, anyone really. Misery loves company. Even more so when they know the company is in complete agreement.