TF: Sock it to me

Tribulation Force, pp. 417-422

Rayford was not sure just when his respect and admiration for Amanda White had developed into love.

That word “respect” is unexpected there. It is, I think, the first instance or suggestion so far in this series that a male character might respect a female character.

The context that follows in the rest of this chapter undermines the sentence above, but if you take that sentence and separate it from the larger context here, reading it at face value, it’s a surprisingly healthy image of romantic love between two adults. Respect develops into admiration which in turn develops into love. Not bad.

The pages that follow, unfortunately, make it difficult to respect Rayford’s respect for Amanda. Once again what readers are told by Jerry Jenkins is hard to reconcile with what he shows us.

Next up, I’m afraid, are more “kissing parts.”

She actually started kissing Rayford before he kissed her. Twice when he returned to Chicago after several days away, Amanda greeted him with a hug and a peck on the cheek. He had liked it, but had also been embarrassed.

Rayford takes this “peck on the cheek” as an awkwardly aggressive gesture. Amanda seems to be falling for him. Either that or she’s just Italian.

He decided that if she tried to kiss him on the cheek [next] time, he would turn and take it on the lips. …

… And then he would ask her to the prom.

He had brought her a gift from Paris, an expensive necklace. When she did not try to kiss him, he just held her embrace longer and said, “Come here a minute.”

As passengers and crew passed them in the corridor, Rayford had Amanda sit next to him in the waiting area. …

At this point I’m worried he’s having her sit next to him so that he can pull the old yawn-and-stretch trick to get his arm around her shoulders.

It was awkward with an armrest between them. Both were bundled up, Amanda in a fur coat and Rayford with his uniform coat over his arm. He pulled the jewelry box from the sack in his flight bag. “This is for you.”

Amanda, knowing where he had been, made a big deal over the bag, the name of the store, and the box. Finally, she opened it and appeared to stop breathing. It was a magnificent piece, gold with diamonds.

Between the fur coat and the breathless reaction to the diamonds, I find I’m liking Amanda White less and less. I’m also beginning to suspect that Jenkins subcontracted the writing of this scene to the marketing department from De Beers.

“Rayford!” she said. “I don’t know what to say.”

“Don’t say anything,” he said. And he took her in his arms, the package in her hands nearly crushed between them, and kissed her.

“I still don’t know what to say,” she said with a twinkle in her eye, and he kissed her again.

I usually find scenes like this one ridiculous due to the mercenary equation of love with expensive jewelry from Paris and the hackneyed picture of romance as something unchanged since Gentlemen Prefer Blondes first came out (although it was antiquated even in 1953).

But here, in the midst of the Great Tribulation, with relentless unprecedented calamity on the doorstep, such hackneyed, prefeminist, materialist drivel is even more ridiculous. In the context of what is about to come and of all that these characters should be — but inexplicably are not — preparing to face, extravagant baubles like this are just laughably inappropriate.

When exactly is Amanda expecting to have a chance to wear this “magnificent” necklace? During her commute through the once-again-forgotten record-breaking crime wave? Or maybe she and Rayford plan to face the coming plagues in formal dress, like the Astors aboard the Titanic, in top hats and tails as the ship went down. In a few months, I suppose, Amanda may find use for this necklace as a bribe for the Antichrist’s secret police, or maybe as barter to buy a can of beans on the black market. I appreciate that romantic gestures don’t need to be practical, but if Rayford was trying to give Amanda something as an expression of his love for her on the eve of apocalypse, then I’m thinking a good Swiss army knife might’ve shown a deeper concern.

More and more, the hapless members of the Tribulation Force are reminding me of those doomed polar explorers Annie Dillard wrote about — the ones who wound up trapped in pack ice in the Arctic Circle, freezing to death slowly while sipping fine wine from the finest crystal stemware.

Having secured Amanda’s affection with diamonds (she’s not cheap, she’s expensive), all that’s left is for Rayford to propose and to reveal to her his plans for their wedding ceremony.

I shouldn’t say “his plans” for the wedding because it would be weird for Rayford to plan out the ceremony all by himself. Of course he didn’t do that. A wedding ceremony ought to be planned in partnership, with two equals working together to decide all the details. And that is what Rayford does — with Buck.

Now, two weeks before his move to New Babylon, Rayford had been on the phone with Buck more often than Chloe had. While she was warming up the car, he sneaked in one last call.

“Everything set?” he asked Buck.

“Everything. I’ll be there.”

The boys have planned a dual wedding ceremony. First, of course, they’ll have to propose to their brides-to-be, and so the boys have also planned a dual proposal in adjoining rooms. Rayford has arranged to have Chloe drive him to Amanda’s office, where Buck will also be waiting.

In the car he asked Chloe, “What’s the status on your apartment?”

“They promised it’ll be ready,” she said. “But I’m getting a little skittish because they keep stalling me on the paperwork.”

Apparently Rayford and Buck have been conspiring with Chloe’s would-be landlords to ensure that she doesn’t rent the apartment because that would interfere with the surprise they have planned for her, in which she’ll be marrying Buck and moving with him to New York.

“What’s Buck saying?”

“I haven’t been able to reach him today. He must be on assignment somewhere. I know he wanted to see Fitzhugh in D.C. soon.”

“Yeah, maybe that’s where he is.”

Planning a surprise for someone always involves a degree of deception. The authors apparently don’t regard such fibbing as ethically or morally troubling. That’s odd, considering that in the first book in this series they indicated that they regard it as morally forbidden to lie to the Antichrist in order to protect the lives of everyone in your church. Lying to the Antichrist to save lives is always a sin. Lying to your daughter in order to set her up for an ambush-proposal is just a lark.

Chloe stopped at Amanda’s clothing store in Des Plaines and waited in the car as Rayford hurried in to say good-bye.

“Is he here?” he asked her secretary.

“He is, and she is,” the secretary said. “She’s in her office, and he’s in that one.” She pointed to a smaller office next to Amanda’s.

“As soon as I’m in there, would you run out to the car and tell my daughter she has a call she can take in there?”

The scene is set. Jenkins plays it out by switching back and forth between the two protagonists’ perspectives five times over the next two pages. So first it’s Rayford with Amanda in her office:

“How do you like your new job?”

“I hate it. I’d leave in a New York minute if the right guy came along.”

“The right guy just came along,” Rayford said, slipping a small box from his side pocket and pressing it into Amanda’s back.

She pulled away. “What is that?”

“What? This? I don’t know. Why don’t you tell me?”

[Insert your own "or are you just happy to see me?" joke here.]

Meanwhile, in the room next door:

Buck had heard Rayford outside the door and knew Chloe wouldn’t be far behind. He turned the light off and felt his way back to the chair behind the desk. In a few minutes … the door opened slowly, and Chloe turned on the light. She jumped when she saw Buck behind the desk, then squealed and ran to him. As soon as he stood, she leaped into his arms and he held her, twirling her around.

Buck explains that he flew to Chicago just to surprise her. And then, being Buck, he explains his plans for returning to the airport and his travel itinerary from there (“a red-eye tonight for Washington”).

“I told you a long time ago to never doubt my love for you.”

“I know.”

He turned and lowered her into the chair he had been sitting in, then knelt before her and pulled a ring box from his pocket.

So now both questions have been popped, and the reader is in terrible suspense — will they say “Yes“? Back to Rayford:

“Oh, Ray!” Amanda said, gazing at the ring on her finger. “I love you. And for the few years we have left, I will love being yours.”

“There’s one more thing,” he said.

“What?”

“Buck and I have been talking. He’s proposing in the next room right now, and we were wondering if you two might be open to a double ceremony with Bruce officiating.”

Amanda loves the idea, provided Chloe agrees. Her only question about the wedding that the boys have planned is “When?”

“The day before we close on the house. You give two weeks’ notice here and move with me to New Babylon.”

And back to Buck’s point of view:

“A double ceremony?” Chloe swiped at her tears. “I’d love it. But do you think Amanda would stand for it?”

I think what we see in this chapter is Tim LaHaye’s concept of gender roles coming off the rails.

LaHaye is what is sometimes called a “complementarian” — a euphemism for the belief that men and women have distinct, “complementary” roles to play in families and in society. This isn’t a “separate but equal” doctrine — separate, yes, but not equal. It’s a traditionalist, anti-feminist outlook that says men are in charge, responsible for leadership as the “head” of the household exercising what they call “headship” over their wives. (This has nothing to do with the sort of headship men are hoping to exercise when purchasing gold and diamond necklaces from fancy stores in Paris.) Women, both in families and in society as a whole, are expected to be submissive to the men.

This misogynistic view has contributed to the happiness of Tim LaHaye’s own long marriage because it is enthusiastically shared by his wife. Beverly LaHaye fervently believes that women should eschew any career of their own to support and serve their husbands. She is so deeply committed to this principle, in fact, that she founded an organization to promote this belief and to oppose women’s equality. While her husband Tim pursues his pastoral and political work in California, Beverly LaHaye spends much of her time 3,000 miles away, in Washington, D.C., serving as the CEO of Concerned Women for America, where she has developed a long professional record as an outspoken foe of women working outside the home.*

Underlying the LaHayes’ framework for gender roles is the idea that what all women really want is a man to take charge for them, establishing his clear authority over her. I think that’s inhuman nonsense and a recipe for mutual misery. I don’t believe that any adult truly desires to have someone else in charge of them, exercising authority and “headship” over them — not even the most thoroughly indoctrinated prairie muffin, quiverful or “sister wife.”

But even those who fully agree with the LaHayes when it comes to gender roles may see that Rayford and Buck are taking this idea too far. They orchestrated their twin engagements and then informed their wives-to-be that the wedding itself is all planned out.

I can’t imagine that going over well at all — especially not with the sort of women who have been taught to agree with the idea of “complementarian” gender roles. Those who believe in such separate and inequal roles for men and women tend also to regard the planning of wedding ceremonies as strictly women’s business. They may believe that the man is the authoritative “head” of the marriage, but when it comes to the wedding itself, they regard the bride as an absolute sovereign.

Tribulation Force is a fantasy novel written by men, so here in these pages both Amanda and Chloe are happily content to learn that their men have already planned out all the details of their dual wedding ceremony. Neither woman objects in the slightest to the plans laid out by Rayford and Buck or to the idea that she wasn’t asked or permitted to play any role in that planning. Neither woman expresses any preferences of her own for the kind of ceremony she would like to have, or suggests that there was anyone else she had hoped to have present.

Amanda, who has spent the past year and a half building important friendships within the larger community of New Hope Village Church, sees no reason to include any of those friends from that community in her wedding. She’s pleased to have the tiny, exclusive “inner circle” that makes up Rayford’s entire world become her entire world too. She’s happy just for the chance to submit to such a take-charge kind of guy.

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* Except for poor women, of course. CWA has always said that freeloading single moms on welfare should just get a job. If you’re a middle-class woman with a job, CWA says, then you’re a source of all of society’s ills, because you ought to be staying at home as a full-time mother focused on raising your children. And if you’re a poor mother staying at home full-time to raise your children, then you’re also the source of all of society’s ills because you should be out there working to ensure that your family can get by without any kind of public assistance. According to CWA, the only women not to blame for all of society’s ills are the wives of wealthy executives whose single incomes are more than enough for the welfare of their families.


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