TF: Irreconcilable differences

Tribulation Force, pp. 74-79

Like Bruce Barnes, the other members of the Tribulation Force seem to view this early stage of the End of the World as a kind of down time.

They might be getting a head start preparing for the next 6 years and 49 weeks of tumult ahead, but I guess they figure, according to the Tim LaHaye Timeline, that nothing really kicks in until after the Antichrist breaks his peace treaty with Israel, and since he won't even announce that treaty until later this week, they're taking advantage of the apocalyptic lull to chill out, relax and waste the readers' time.

Buck takes this opportunity to try to talk to Chloe. This is a conversation he's been building up and rehashing in his mind, turning it into the kind of conversation that follows someone's saying, "We need to talk." Those conversations never go well:

As the service ended, Buck took Chloe's arm, but she seemed less responsive than he might have hoped. She turned slowly to see what he wanted, and her expression bore no sign of that expectant look she'd had Friday night. Clearly, he had somehow wounded her.

No "expectant look," no heaving bosom, no leaning forward and giggling at his jokes. This isn't going the way Buck planned, so immediately he shrivels into defensive martyr mode.

"I'm sure you're wondering what I was calling about," he began.

"I figured you'd tell me eventually."

"I just wondered if you wanted to see my new place." He told her where it was. "Maybe you could drop over late tomorrow morning and see it, and then we could get some lunch."

I hear Lili Taylor's voice from Say Anthing, "That's not a date, Buck, that's a scam." And it's not even a well-executed scam. He's attempting the time-honored weasel move of asking her out in a way that she can't be sure if he's actually asking her out on an actual date. That way she might agree to this even if she wouldn't have agreed to that. Also, if she tells him no, he won't be sure what, exactly, she was saying no to, and this unspecific rejection might be less painful. But this passive aggressive approach doesn't usually involve requiring the woman to drive to your apartment.

"I don't know," Chloe said. "I don't think I can do lunch, but if I'm over that way maybe I'll stop by."

"OK." Buck was deflated. …

There's plenty more of this Buck/Chloe business throughout Tribulation Force, and all of it is just as cringe-inducing. We could dwell on the ineptitude of Jerry Jenkins' portrayal of his characters' ineptitude, or we could peek under the rock of Buck's notion of himself as a suffering Nice Guy, but here instead I think I'll just cut Jenkins a bit of slack.

Whatever his problems with the execution of this scene, Jenkins' intent here, I think, was to convey a bit of his fondness for his characters while poking fun at their foibles and the foolish way we all sometimes behave when we are smitten. And for once Jenkins allows himself to do that without incorporating a didactic reminder of the proper forms of RTC courtship and of the paramount duty not to have or act upon dirty, dirty, dirty thoughts about kissing and such. Maybe that's because this scene, unlike the unchaperoned airport cookie incident, takes place in the sanctuary of a church, with the young lovers separated by the high back of a church pew and the woman's father standing nearby.

So despite the unpleasantness of being subjected to another round of immature, defensive flirtation, it is nice to see Jenkins express a measure of fondness for his characters without immediately smothering it in self-righteous triumphalism. And it's unexpectedly refreshing to see the authors, for once, acknowledge that our fallibility and finitude as humans often leads us to behave foolishly without them rushing to conclude that this foolishness demands to be punished with wrath, Tribulation and an eternity of pain. However briefly or ineptly, Jenkins here expresses a bemused mercy for humans behaving humanly. It's only the tiniest shard of empathy and generosity, but in a series of books so devoid of those qualities, it stands out.

Chloe makes her escape and it's Rayford's turn to corner someone in an awkward conversation:

A question gnawed at Rayford. He looked at the ceiling and then back at Buck. … "Buck, let me ask you something. Do you ever regret introducing Hattie Durham to Carpathia?"

They spend the next two pages rehashing their feelings of guilt for their respective roles in getting Hattie involved with the Antichrist and discussing, again, how Buck might get a chance to talk to her when he visits New York. This conversation is marked by the same condescension they both showed Hattie before their respective conversions. And by the same hostility. If anything, that hostility — due to her being an attractive woman who inexplicably failed to jump into bed with either of them — seems even sharper here, despite their expressions of spiritual concern.

Buck admits that he regrets not hitting that having introduced Hattie to Nicolae.

"I wondered," Rayford said. "I have a lot of regrets about her. We were friends, you know. Coworkers, but friends, too."

"I gathered," Buck said.

"We never had a relationship or anything like that," Rayford assured him. "But I find myself caring about what happens to her."

"I hear she's taken a 30-day leave of absence from Pan-Con."

"Yeah," Rayford said, "but that's just window dressing. You know Carpathia's going to want to keep her around, and he'll find the money to pay her more than she's making with us."

Decent pay for women is, apparently, another aspect of the Antichrist's nefarious peacemaking scheme.

"She's got to be enamored of the job, not to mention him. And who knows where that relationship might go?"

"Like Bruce says, I don't think he hired her for her brain," Buck said.

Rayford nodded. So they agreed.

By this point the real question gnawing at Rayford is pretty clear. He can't stand the thought that Hattie has abandoned the established rules of their long pseudo-affair. She was, as the first sentence of the first book said, the woman he never touched. But no one else was ever supposed to touch her either.

He's standing in the sanctuary of a church immediately following the Sunday service, so Rayford can't state what he's really asking as bluntly as he'd like, but the subtext of this whole conversation is his cornering Buck to say, "Do you think she's sleeping with him? Omigod, I bet she is. She can't be — what do you think? She is, isn't she? With him and not with …"

"I worry about her," Rayford continued, "and yet because of our friendship I don't feel I'm in a position to warn her. She was one of the first people I tried to tell about Christ. She was not receptive. Before that I had implied more of an interest in her than I had a right to have, and naturally she's not real positive about me just now."

Buck leaned forward. "Maybe I'll get a chance to talk to Hattie sometime soon."

"But what will you say?" Rayford asked. "For all we know they may already be intimate. She'll tell him everything she knows. If she tells him you've become a believer and that you're trying to rescue her, he'll know he had no impact on your mind when he was brainwashing everyone else."

That's a legitimate concern. If Hattie learns of the Tribulation Force's secrets, she might reveal their plans to Nicolae (that is, you know, if they had any plans). But what really seems to be bugging Rayford is that Hattie and Nicolae might be at that very moment lying in bed at the Plaza Hotel, chuckling over her stories about the awkward middle-aged pilot who could never satisfy her the way he did.

"I wonder if she's already moved to New York," Rayford said, "Maybe we'll find a reason for Chloe to call her apartment in Des Plaines."

Because it's not stalking if you get your daughter to do it for you.

Buck escapes and Rayford stands there:

… wondering how much he should encourage the relationship between Chloe and Buck. … The idea that his daughter might date or even fall in love with a man on speaking terms with the Antichrist … it was too much to fathom. He would have to be frank with them both about it, if it appeared the relationship was going anywhere.

Driving home from church, Chloe tries to make sense of the strange conversation she'd just had with Buck. "He's treating me like a sister, and yet he wants me to drop in and see his place tomorrow," she says, obsessing over the details in a way that might have seemed charming if it weren't Buck she were dwelling on and if we hadn't already read three or four variations of this exact scene in the previous chapters.

"I'm mad at myself," she continues. "I come away from a message like that one, and all I can think about is a guy I've somehow let slip away. It's not important. … Old things are passed away and all things have become new. … Worrying about guys should definitely be an old thing."

The bit there that sounds like she's quoting scripture is, in fact, a quote from scripture. It's 2 Corinthians 5:17, "So if anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation: everything old has passed away; see, everything has become new!"

That gloriously hopeful passage is often cited as a description of what it means to be "born again," which is what Chloe seems to mean by it here. But it's still a very strange verse to encounter in this book, which delights in the destructive passing away of so many things, but has little interest in new creation.

It seems impossible to square the verb tenses St. Paul uses in this verse with the future cataclysm portrayed in the Left Behind series. "There's a New World Coming" was the title of a popular precursor to these books written by Hal Lindsay, but that's not what Paul says. He says "there is a new creation." Is, not will be. The not yet is already present in the now.

This verse seems even more out of place here in Tribulation Force if we look at the larger context of the passage. Paul is presenting an extended argument about reconciliation:

… see, everything has become new! All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ, and has given us the ministry of reconciliation; that is, in Christ, God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting the message of reconciliation to us.

The God whom Paul describes cannot be reconciled with the god of Left Behind. The god of these books is a destroyer, not a reconciler. This god counts our trespasses against us and makes us pay for them. In these books, the "ministry of reconciliation" Paul speaks of is, itself, one of the old things that must pass away. Paul's gospel of reconciliation is itself irreconcilable with the death-dealing, Robo-Jesus who will arrive later in these books.

"Reconciliation," after all, is almost a synonym for "peacemaking" and we all know what that means.

As Chloe's spiel about Buck runs out of steam, Rayford chimes in with his idea of fatherly advice. "Suit yourself," he says.

"That's just what I don't want to do," she replies. "If I suited myself I'd see Buck this afternoon and find out where we stand."

So there you have it. The painful immaturity of Buck and Chloe's passive-aggressive miscommunication is actually a function of their newfound faith. This faith somehow forbids or prevents them from honestly expressing or demonstrating their mutual affection. Not only does this faith not include God reconciling all things, but it apparently keeps us from getting together with one another as well.

Buck heads home after church to sulk over Chinese takeout. He obsesses about the Chloe situation for another page or so, but tries to take his mind off of it by thinking about work.

His story was ready to be transmitted to New York, and he would be eager for a reaction from Stanton Bailey. He also looked forward to getting his office machines and files, which should arrive at the Chicago bureau office in the morning. It would be good to pick those up and get organized.

One of the odder things about both Buck and Rayford throughout this book is that they both seem intent on keeping their jobs, right up until Armageddon if possible. Both of them likely have enough savings that they could easily retire at this point — the money only needs to last for seven years max, and odds are for less than that — but neither even seems to imagine the possibility.

It's like the joke where the guy says to his buddy, "If you knew that you only had one week to live, just the next seven days, what would you do?" And his buddy says, "I'd kick myself for having used up all my vacation time."

Here it is, the End of the World, and Buck Williams is looking forward to getting his files organized.

  • http://www.dutchdear.livejournal.com Dutchdear

    “Reading Buck’s commentary on Hattie’s intelligence I mentally shifted to a scene of her and Nicolae in bed where she’s patiently explaining to him the difference between Einstein’s General and Special Theories of Relativity.”
    Oh God, I can see it now.
    “But what really seems to be bugging Rayford is that Hattie and Nicolae might be at that very moment lying in bed at the Plaza Hotel, chuckling over her stories about the awkward middle-aged pilot who could never satisfy her the way he did.”
    I won’t rest until I write a fanfic on this. Rayford is such a heroic asshole.
    Where do you all post your fanfics? Besides Right Behind and Fanfic.com.

  • Tricksterson, Pastor of the Church of St. Henson

    While not agreeing with Dan Savage, one of my friends is a bi man, they do seem to be a lot rarer than bi women. Of course that could just be more of a releuctance to declare themselves or even just the circles i travel in. Still, it seems that men are more either/or sexually while women stretch along a spectrum.

  • redcrow

    Dutchdear:
    Fanfic.com is dead. Did you mean Fanfiction.net?

  • Jason

    Maybe I just don’t get the spirit in which fan fiction was intended, but if it violates the canon of the show or the way characters canonically behave, I never really cared to read it. Also if it varies in tone from the original work I’ve never really cared to read it.
    What I would want is episodes of the show in written form…..and the only time I would really want that is if the show was no longer in production and I wanted something new and the writing quality was actually good. Does any such fanfiction exist?

  • Fraser

    Jason: Yes. Though my experience with fanfic was back when it was still hardcopy, so I don’t know where you’d go to find it now.
    “Reading Buck’s commentary on Hattie’s intelligence I mentally shifted to a scene of her and Nicolae in bed where she’s patiently explaining to him the difference between Einstein’s General and Special Theories of Relativity.”
    Oh God, I can see it now.”
    One of the few good moments in Superman III was when Robert Vaughn’s bimbo mistress is shown studying (and dismissing) some German philosophical text, then quickly hiding it when Vaughn comes in. Unfortuantely, they did absolutely nothing with it otherwise.

  • redcrow

    Jason:
    >>>but if it violates the canon of the show or the way characters canonically behave
    …then it usually considers Out Of Character and mocks mercilessly. (Usually. Unless canon is as bad or worse – in majority’s opinion, at least – as LB.)
    >>>Also if it varies in tone from the original work
    Not always a bad thing. At good writer’s hands, at least.
    Both excessive angst and too “lightweight” approach to story can create backlash. I think it’s normal to want to look at the story from a different angle.
    >>>What I would want is episodes of the show in written form…..
    I take it, you don’t mean show’s transcripts? More like Imaginary Season #Z? Of course it exists. Not sure about “shows no longer in production”, though.

  • Jason

    @redcrow-
    I guess what I’m saying is that I like the show for what it already is. I don’t want a version where suddenly 2 of the straight protagonists are gay lovers or there is a crossover with another TV show, or everyone is fighting zombies….and if they’re still making the show there’s no reason for me to read fanfiction cause I have the real thing.
    However if someone decided “I think show X shouldn’t have been cancelled after season 5, I’m going to write what I think seasons 6, 7, and 8 would have been like.” I might be interested in that if it was a show I was a big fan of.

  • Lori

    …and if they’re still making the show there’s no reason for me to read fanfiction cause I have the real thing.

    @Jason: I don’t read fanfic either. IME the percentage that I enjoy is very small and the percentage that ends up giving me either a headache or a bad case of the icks is quite large so it’s not a good use of my time.
    However, I think there can be good reasons for writing fanfic for an ongoing show. The most common that I’ve seen are fics that look at minor or background charaters in more detail (hello Boba Fett) or those that explore things that happened before the show started (basically prequels) or that fill in gaps where the show skips over time (what does Jack do between those Apocalyptically bad days that we see? What did a “normal” day at CTU look like?).
    A TV show is a world that you see only through the lens of a camera controlled by someone else. For many people it’s interesting and creatively fulfilling to point the camera at other parts of that world. I get that, I just generally don’t enjoy the results of those explorations.

  • redcrow

    >>>I guess what I’m saying is that I like the show for what it already is.
    Fair enough.
    Of course, other people might feel that even if show is already awesome, they’d love it more if there were two (or more) gay protagonists, fights with zombies and mutual crossovers with their other favourite show(s) on holidays of their choise – and since creators don’t give them what they want, they write their own version.

  • Jason

    @Lori-
    I don’t read fanfic either. IME the percentage that I enjoy is very small and the percentage that ends up giving me either a headache or a bad case of the icks is quite large so it’s not a good use of my time.
    Yeah, I think I’ve read maybe 2 fanfics in my entire life and one of them was a Northern Exposure one that ended up with Chris and Joel randomly having sex in the KBHR studio, which I’m still trying to blot out of my mind.
    However, I think there can be good reasons for writing fanfic for an ongoing show. The most common that I’ve seen are fics that look at minor or background charaters in more detail (hello Boba Fett) or those that explore things that happened before the show started (basically prequels) or that fill in gaps where the show skips over time (what does Jack do between those Apocalyptically bad days that we see? What did a “normal” day at CTU look like?).
    I had not thought of those reasons. Those are pretty valid reasons. I think there are some comics and video games that basically do some of that with 24 (prequels, gaps between seasons etc).

  • lonespark

    A TV show is a world that you see only through the lens of a camera controlled by someone else. For many people it’s interesting and creatively fulfilling to point the camera at other parts of that world. I get that, I just generally don’t enjoy the results of those explorations.
    Right. And the same thing applies to other media. I think maybe I need a tattoo that just says, “What Lori said.”

  • Hawker Hurricane

    Fanfic: Just like any other fiction, 90% of it is crap.

  • lonespark

    Did you really end up reading slash by accident, Jason? We normally put pairing tags on stories.

  • lonespark

    I used to feel, regarding Firefly, that I didn’t want anything extra because the canon gave me everything I wanted. Then I realized I really liked the feel of the world, and therefore I like stories about random original characters, as well as prequel stories and stories between crimes and stuff.
    I don’t generally want anything noncanonical in the pairing department, but I think a huge part of that is that the show already gave a us one relationship between awesome central characters, and some other potential/future relationships. Whereas if you love a show but want the awesome central characters to have relationships, and the show never does that, or only does it with girlfriends of the week, then fanfiction is the only way to get everything you want.
    The same goes for if your thing is the details of the military structure or the alien culture from the planet of the week, etc., etc. There’s always stuff that wasn’t shown but has to exist for what is shown to exist in that world. And often what isn’t shown is “people who look like/talk like/think like/love like me.”

  • Lori

    I had not thought of those reasons. Those are pretty valid reasons. I think there are some comics and video games that basically do some of that with 24 (prequels, gaps between seasons etc).

    Well, it can be quite easy to overlook those kinds of fic because in some fandoms a very high percentage are all about romantic or sexual parings that aren’t canon. Those aren’t all bad, but if they’re not your thing they can make it hard to find stuff that you would like.

  • Lori

    Fanfic: Just like any other fiction, 90% of it is crap.

    So true.
    For me the issue with fanfic isn’t just that 90% of it is bad. It’s that I generally don’t enjoy even the 10% that’s good and a high percentage of the bad stuff is bad in a way that makes me wish brain bleach was an actual product.

  • lonespark

    It’s annoying, although understandable, that gen fic is hard to find. But I like big archives that host everything, that helps. Cuz just exploring the world is aweome. If we didn’t love it, we wouldn’t want more of it, but we can love and be critical.
    Personally I love it even more when I get my love story woven in with drama and plot and worldbuilding. And I can get that, and I love it, but sometimes I feel drowned out by the people who are all “more porn and less attention to good grammar and dramatic structure please.”

  • lonespark

    makes me wish brain bleach was an actual product.
    Well, depending on the show, sometimes canon makes me wish that.

  • Lori

    makes me wish brain bleach was an actual product.
    Well, depending on the show, sometimes canon makes me wish that.

    When canon makes me wish for brain bleach I generally take that as a signal that it’s time to walk away from the show.
    For example, Buffy Season Sucks and Season Sucks More. I watched less and less over those 2 years (the FF button on my VCR got a real workout). By the middle of the last season I was at the point where, had I not known that it was the last season I would have just stopped watching. If they had done another season they would have been doing it without me.

  • Jason

    @lonespark-
    Did you really end up reading slash by accident, Jason? We normally put pairing tags on stories.
    Yeah, the tags were there but were like one letter codes that I didn’t know what they meant until it was too late.
    makes me wish brain bleach was an actual product.
    Well, depending on the show, sometimes canon makes me wish that.

    I want to permanently delete the Doctor Who episode Love and Monsters from my mind forever.
    I tend to become attached to fictional characters when I have watched hours and hours and hours of the same characters, they become like old friends and when a series ends especially when it is rather hastily cancelled, I want to know what happens to everyone afterwards.
    I wait for seasons of shows to come out on DVD and then rent them from Netflix rather than watching them as they air. I have really enjoyed Boston Legal and only have 2 episodes left and I am already displeased with where the ending seems to heading.

  • http://jamoche.livejournal.com jamoche

    fanfiction.net is called the “Pit” for a good reason; it’s where Sturgeon’s Law goes into overtime. I usually stick to finding a livejournal community dedicated to recommending fics for whatever show I’m interested in; that tends to filter out most of the 90%.

  • Angie

    in the book it refers to a flying object that speaks.. It is found during the tribulation. What is it called and where is it found?

  • Brightie

    I’m trying to think where awkwardness could’ve become a requirement for relationship in the authors’ minds… very clumsily avoiding falling prey to the sin of lust? Guy is required to initiate as the patriarchal leader in the relationship, and since Buck hasn’t yet, Chloe as a good girl can’t clarify anything? But that last one’s a bit fuzzy, since he’s pretty obviously been attempting to pursue…


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