NRA: Your young men shall receive phone calls

Nicolae: The Rise of Antichrist; pp. 183-189

Pay no attention to the rebuilt Temple in Jerusalem, Buck Williams is trying to find his friend.

Buck has returned to the Western Wall in Jerusalem to convince the Two Witnesses — invulnerable, fire-breathing street preachers who are actually Moses and Elijah, returned to the living as dispensationalist evangelical Christians — to tell him specifically where he can find former-Rabbi Tsion Ben-Judah. This is tricky, since the duo only speaks in biblical fragments — snippets of verses from a collection of texts composed and compiled long after they lived and died.

What we have here, in other words, is another four pages or so in which it seems like Buck Williams is using Strong’s Exhaustive Concordance like a Magic Eight Ball. First, though, Jerry Jenkins sets the scene:

Buck did not at first see the two witnesses. A small group of sailors strolled past the wrought-iron fence at the end of the Wall where the witnesses usually stood and preached. The sailors chatted in English and one pointed. “I think that’s them, right over there,” he said.

Buck knows they’re sailors, I guess, because they’re probably wearing World War II-era white service uniforms from the U.S. Navy, just like the extras strolling past in sailor-suits in old movies from the 1940s.

“Jeru – Salem, it’s a heckuva town. The Temple’s up and the Kidron is down …”

These couldn’t be U.S. Navy sailors, of course, because in this book the U.S. Navy has been abolished, along with the U.S. itself, which was absorbed into the Antichrist’s one-world government Global Community. The Global Community Navy probably adopted those classic white service uniforms, though, just as the Global Community has apparently adopted American English as its official one-world language.

Jerusalem is an odd place for sailors to be strolling about. This far inland, acting like tourists, they’re apparently on shore leave. Or, given the geography of this book that we’ll look at next week, perhaps they’re from a Global Community air craft carrier stationed on the Wadi Qelt.

Enlisting in the GC Navy was a good move, since it seems that World War III (which, ohbytheway, is still currently raging, not that one would notice from any scene not directly about that war) is being fought exclusively by the GC Air Force. I suppose, though, that the Navy will seem less attractive if we ever get to the trumpets of divine wrath, and the bit where “something like a great mountain, burning with fire, was thrown into the sea. A third of the sea became blood, a third of the living creatures in the sea died, and a third of the ships were destroyed.”

Gabey, Chip and Ozzie linger for a bit to gawk at the Two Witnesses, but it’s late and Moses and Elijah are taking a breather from declaring, “Thus saith the Lord, harken unto the words that the Lord sayeth and heed them, verily, for they are the Lord’s words spoken unto you by the Lord.” So the sailors wander off, alas, before Ann Miller and Betty Garrett show up and they start singing some old Green/Comden tunes.

As soon as the young men were out of the area, Eli and Moishe raised their heads and looked directly at Buck. He walked directly to the fence. The witnesses rose and stood about 20 feet from Buck. “I need clarification,” Buck whispered. “Can I know more about my friend’s location?”

“He who has ears –”

“I know that,” Buck said, “but I –”

“You would dare interrupt the servants of the Most High God?” Eli said.

“Forgive me,” Buck said. He wanted to explain himself but decided to remain silent.

And here the whole cryptic, Bible-code-speak business falls apart. Buck doesn’t realized he’s just stumbled onto something important: If you interrupt the Two Witnesses, they’ll speak like humans, addressing you directly instead of just repeating random fragments of scripture like malfunctioning animatronics in Disney’s Hall of Prophets.

Moishe spoke. “You must first communicate with one who loves you.”

See? That’s not a Bible verse either. Interrupt these guys and they’ll almost start sounding like they’d pass the Turing Test. Almost.

Buck waited for more. The witnesses stood there, silent. He held out both hands in puzzlement.

That’s a bit of a stretch. Here is Buck Williams in one of the rare moments when he’s not on the phone, “puzzled” at how to communicate with those who are far away.

He felt a vibration in his shoulder bag and realized his cell phone was buzzing. Now what was he supposed to do? If he wasn’t to interrupt the servants of the Most High God, did he dare take a call while conversing with them? He felt a fool. He moved away from the fence and grabbed the phone, clicked it open, and said, “This is Buck.”

“Buck! It’s Chloe!”

We’ll skip over the lines here where Buck tries to tell her he can’t talk just now, dimly failing to realize that this phone call is what Moishe was talking about. That bit is as belabored as all the other passages in these books where Jenkins attempts to make readers feel smart by making his characters act dumb. The important part is this bit:

“Buck, just tell me you’re not at the King David. … I just have this feeling that you should not be in that hotel tonight. In fact, I just have a premonition that you shouldn’t be in Jerusalem overnight. I don’t know about tomorrow, and I don’t know about premonitions and all that, but the feeling is so strong …”

This is why I’d have written that Buck was staying at the American Colony. Making a plot point out of a warning phone call about staying in the King David Hotel seems a bit insensitive.

Buck didn’t know what he thought about this new level of what Bruce had referred to as “walking in the spirit.” … How had they known he had to talk to Chloe first? He had been around the two witnesses enough to know that they were never too far from the miraculous. He just wished they didn’t have to be so cryptic.

That seems like a valid complaint. At the end of the last chapter, Buck had a dream in which he was Joseph having a dream (Mary’s husband, not the Joseph from Genesis, although both of them were far better at interpreting dreams than Buck is). That was cryptic warning No. 1 that Buck should flee his hotel. Cryptic warning No. 2 was “the strong urge” that Buck himself felt, and heeded, to get out of his hotel. And now the Two Witnesses, who speak directly for God, refuse to speak directly to Buck until after he checks in with Chloe for the now-redundant cryptic warning No. 3.

Chloe’s premonition urging Buck not to go back to his hotel is presented here as a message from God. You’d think that God ought to know that Buck already left the hotel and isn’t going back.

Why does all of this “have to be so cryptic”? Instead of saying, “He who has ears to hear, reply hazy try again,” why couldn’t Eli have just given Buck a straightforward message? “Tsion is in Galilee. Michael will take you to him. Don’t go back to your hotel.”

Yet instead of that we get a dream, two “premonitions,” a phone call, and a dozen pages of winking eisegesis. The only direct message in this whole business is when Moishe tells Buck to answer his phone, but that’s just so that Buck can hear a second-hand account of the third iteration of an indirect message. Again, two of the characters in this scene are Moses and Elijah — two guys who shouldn’t be reluctant about delivering clear direct messages from God.

But this is how God communicates with Buck in this chapter because this is how the authors imagine God communicates with all Christians. This is what they imagine it means to “walk in the spirit.” It requires us to break the code and to solve the puzzle based on nothing more than strong feelings and random snippets of Bible verses that can be taken to have applications they never had in context.

This idea of “walking in the spirit” is, I think, the consequence of imagining that God has an intensely specific plan for every detail of your life, your vocation, your marriage, your daily schedule. The Bible doesn’t address such specifics. If one is asking, “What does the Lord require of you?” then the Bible provides an answer: “To do justice, to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God.” But if one is asking, “What should I major in?” or “Should I date this person?” then it’s not going to offer anything as concrete and specific as Micah 6:8, and one is left with nothing to go on but gut-feelings and the creative interpretation of dubiously selected passages.

This idea of God’s intensely specific individual plan for every detail of your life is a feature of American evangelical piety that we’d be better off without. It’s almost always a source of misery and almost never any help. It burdens Christians with anxiety over decisions that don’t need to be so fraught with moral implication. Choosing a major is hard enough without adding the notion that choosing “wrong” is tantamount to disobeying God.

Obsessing over God’s ISIPFEDOYL also tends to function as a way of distracting ourselves from “the weightier matters of the law: justice and mercy and faith.” If you’re worried about following God’s will, remember that it boils down to this: Love God and love your neighbor. That’s “God’s will for your life.” Take care of that and don’t worry about God’s ISIPFEDOYL.

Back in our story, poor Buck still hasn’t gotten a straight answer about where he can find Tsion Ben-Judah. He tries again with the Two Witnesses and this time:

Eli and Moishe traded off quoting verses Buck recognized from Acts and Bruce’s teaching.

They shouted: “And it shall come to pass in the last days, says God, that I will pour out My Spirit on all flesh; your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, your young men shall see visions, your old men shall dream dreams.”

They go on like this for another page, quoting the rest of the passage from Joel 2 that Peter recited at Pentecost in the book of Acts. Good stuff, Joel, but not terribly pertinent to Buck’s actual finding-Tsion problem.

“Why couldn’t the witnesses just tell him?” Buck wonders yet again, and by this point every reader is surely nodding in agreement.

This new burst of preaching draws a crowd, so Buck tiptoes closer to the Two Witnesses and whispers his question again:

“By ‘Galilee’ I can only assume you mean Lake Tiberius,” he said. How was one supposed to tell people who seemed to have come back from Bible times that their geography was out of date?

The lake is called Tiberias, actually, after the city on its shores which was, in turn, named after the Roman Emperor Tiberius. But the Witnesses’ geography isn’t really out of date. It’s the same lake, it just picked up a new name during Roman rule. And even though both Moses and Elijah lived and died a long time before anyone ever heard of Rome, we know they’re already up-to-date on who the Romans were because they keep quoting from the New Testament, in English. They seem to have been imparted total knowledge of everything that happened after their original deaths.

“Will I find my friend in Galilee, or on the Sea of Galilee, or where?”

“He who has ears to hear …”

Buck knew better than to interrupt and show his frustration. “How do I get there?” he asked.

Eli spoke softly. “It will go well with you if you return to the multitude,” he said.

Return to the multitude? Buck thought. He backed up and rejoined the crowd.

“Return to the multitude” isn’t a Bible verse either, even though “multitude” sounds kind of Bible-y. More to the point, though, it also isn’t an answer to Buck’s question.

The Two Witnesses go back to their recitation of the concordance entry for “Galilee,” this time repeating the story of the calling of Peter and Andrew.

Buck wasn’t sure what to make of all that, but he sensed he had gotten all he was going to get from the witnesses that night. Though they continued to preach, and more people gathered seemingly from nowhere to listen, Buck drifted away. He lugged his bag to a short taxi line and climbed into the back of a small cab.

And that’s it. Twenty-five pages ago, all Buck had to go on was that Tsion was in or near “Galilee.” And now, after all that preaching and warning — plus two premonitions, a dream and a phone call — Buck hasn’t learned any more than that.

If only “that great cell phone” he’s carrying had GPS.

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  • I heard a less creepy variation of that story from a girl I knew. She was telling the story of how she got engaged, and she said, “At first I didn’t want to marry him, but God changed my mind.” Even though I was a Christian at the time, I remember thinking what a weird thing to say. Why attribute that to God? Why not just say that your feelings changed?

    But she was only a junior in college when she got married. In retrospect I wonder whether that was her way of justifying a decision that she didn’t feel ready to make.

  • Jesus

    Fuck you too, you self-absorbed dickhead.

  • BaseDeltaZero

    The IDF navy does indeed wear white, apparently…

    No idea why they’d be speaking English, though…

  • Lori

    What is wrong with you that “Fuck you all” is the only way you choose express disagreement, including when you are only speaking to one person?

  • Magic_Cracker

    Yup. He’s a Christepillar.

  • Mark Z.

    When I got to the part in Fred’s post where the Witnesses switch from Bible quotes to vaguely Bible-ish original statements, I instantly thought of the Book of Mormon.

    Because the Book of Mormon is totally incompatible with the Bible’s history, narrative form, themes, languages, and pretty much all the rest of its content, but very carefully imitates the way the Bible sounds when read out loud.

    It’s as if someone had very strong sense-memories of being a child dragged to revival meetings where a succession of old men would very soberly read ponderous selections from Chronicles or Deuteronomy, and not understanding any of it, but knowing that it’s long and repetitive and trying to tell some kind of story and has funny words like “thou art” and “Obadiah”, and that afterward everyone would be refreshed and encouraged by hearing the Word of the Lord. And then this someone grew up and tried to write a book like that.

  • banancat

    It is quite creepy. I follow a message board to snark on and criticize the Quiverfull movement and the Patriarchy movement in general. And there are courtship or engagement announcements pretty frequently on the various blogs that we follow, understandably with so many kids in each family. Some of the board members act like every engagement is just so wonderful and the couple looks happy and in love and it’s just so gosh darn great to see young love like that. But I never see it that way, especially when for the barely adult bride-to-be. The way courtship works, boy gets a message from God, talks to his dad, his dad talks to her dad, and then finally if everyone involved approves, the dad asks the girl. And while she technically has veto power, it barely feels consensual to me. I mean, if you’ve been raised all your life that God himself speaks through your dad and you must obey him always, and then the head of your family plus two other men insist that God wants you to marry this boy, what are the odds that the girl will go against everyone and refuse? It’s highly coercive at best, and in my view is little more than a glorified arranged marriage. Once you bring God into it, how can a girl or woman possibly say no without implying that the man is either lying or wrong about God?

  • Jamoche

    Yeah, and they intentionally chose the same release date as one of the Marvel movies because they think women won’t be going to see that.

  • Jamoche

    Or Sith Lords.

  • Jamoche

    More flashfics are always welcome.

  • esmerelda_ogg

    Ah, but that’s a long time ago, not to mention in a galaxy far, far away.

  • Lorehead

    There are a lot of Anglophones in Israel, and particularly the officer corps of the IDF. (I once heard a joke in Israel with the punchline, put in the mouth of an insular elitist, “This is important, and you’re speaking Hebrew?”) Or one of the two might’ve learned Hebrew as a third language and be better in English; it’s not impossible that their first languages might be Russian and Arabic and their parents considered English more useful. Or maybe it’s because American English is apparently the One World Language now, when the authors haven’t forgotten there is one.

  • Lorehead

    No, that was Fred’s joke, I think.

  • Lorehead

    No, wait, I finally got it. They’re deserters hiding out in Israel from WWIII because it’s the only independent country left, and more importantly, immune to nukes.

  • Jamoche

    English was the same – that’s why it’s all over the King James Version. But we dropped the familiar so long ago that the only remnant left is in the KJV, and so the average reader lacks the context.

    Oddly, there’s a big overlap between the people who insist that 400 year old English is the only “right” English for the Bible and the ones who go on about how Catholics kept using a particular translation long after it stopped being commonly understood.

  • Lorehead

    I’ll just say, about that, that accepting that the Book of Mormon is a forgery does not mean that what the Latter-Day Saints went through was meaningless, that they were stupid, or that the LDS today have to give up their culture or stop caring about each other. Any more than my accepting that the Torah, written and oral, was not really dictated by God to Moses on Mount Sinai means that I have to stop being Jewish, remembering the Holocaust, or even fasting on Yom Kippur.

  • But he’s made a small-screen name in Sons of Anarchy, so there’ll be a lot of HBO fans who’ll go to 50 Shades just to see him.

  • Lorehead

    There’s also the very strange notion that the King James Version is “The Bible,” particularly considering that King James authorized it as head of the Church of England and the Pilgrims, whom the same people try to claim as culture-heroes, rejected it in favor of the Geneva Bible. They also outlawed Christmas.

  • dpolicar

    Would you rather EH go back to writing longer comments?

  • Lorehead

    There might be some fading memory left of the Quaker thee, which originally was supposed to remind everyone that they were equals. But the KJV usually-but-not-always translates the name of God as Lord (in small caps, to denote that it’s a substitution and not a literal translation, but this distinction is as lost on most readers as the fact that the italicized words in the Amplified Bible are editorial insertions, and is totally inaudible when reading aloud) and only rarely as Jehovah (which is not how it would have been pronounced). Therefore, the incongruity of addressing a “Lord” in the familiar occurs quite often in English translations of the Bible.

    Tolkien, who knew the history of English backward and forward, had his hobbits and Rohirrim use the T-V distinction with each other properly, pseudo-translating it with the obsolete pronouns and sticking in a note about why they were suddenly talking that way.

  • Bluck has not been around the block. Chloe with an e, now just Chlo, was hist first. This is also why Buck isn’t in Galilee already getting his next clue.

  • Susan Paxton

    No, definitely not. I suspect the vast majority of LDS are sincere Christians with an epic founding story behind them. The hierarchy, I’m not so sure of.

  • Lori

    I would rather EH just go.

  • Lori

    Yes, yes. I know you said that would be your only comment going forward. That doesn’t example why you have to comment at all and it most definitely doesn’t explain why you keep randomly linking to pointless shit. The question I’m asking is, what the hell is wrong with you? Why are you unable to just stick the flounce? Is this the only place that anyone will pay attention to you? Are you that desperate?

  • Lori

    SoA is on FX and I really don’t think it has much audience overlap with 50 Shades. On one hand you have more or less the plot of Hamlet set in a violent motorcycle club. On the other hand you have badly written fan fic of a badly written “romance”. Those things don’t generally appeal to the same folks.

  • Hawker40

    He’s very “talented”… making the armed services change out uniforms every 3-5 years, at 3 uniforms a service member at $50-$150 a uniform…

  • Oops. you’re right…. FX. I just think there’s an overlap of CH worshippers who’d watch whatever he’s in. Not a substantial overlap, perhaps.

    And were you the one who said 50 Shades’d need alcohol and the MST3K treatment? Sign me up.

  • Lori

    No, I said alcohol & MST3k would be required for the new Left Behind movie. 50 Shades would require much stronger drugs. Much. Stronger.

  • Jamoche

    Yeah, exactly the kind of talent that warrants a visit from the Leverage team :)

  • Vaughn Lowe

    That’s pretty much how I read the books. Flip flip flip… phone calls, driving around yada yada yada… Oh here’s some giant wasp thingies, might be kind of interesting…

  • Vaughn Lowe

    I suppose I can write some more…

  • Albanaeon

    I don’t know. Most of the ridiculousness I had to put up with came from officers of middling talent trying to find ways to get promoted. No one wants to give them anything important, but they’ve got enough friends to get wide reaching things. These officers then proceed with all the over-confidence of those that really don’t know any better, to make a true FUBAR of their mission. Eventually, enough work is put into the officer’s idea that something workable emerges.

    At which point the officer gets their promotion, and a new one takes charge, looking for something not broken to fix, and it all starts again.

    Which had an uncanny resemblance to the Uniform Wars…

  • auroramere

    Eowyn uses “thou” to Aragorn; he uses “you” in every reply to keep things formal. When she and Faramir get together, Aragorn can finally call Eowyn “thee” without fear of encouraging her crush/hero worship.

  • Rakka

    Camo makes anyone look like a walking salad. Not cool, in my opinion. And pink and blue camos are just ridiculous on top of ugly…

  • Rakka

    Ah, thank you. It was time for me to reread LotR anyway, thanks for the prompt to reread it in English.

  • Rakka

    Not a red flag, a fleet of tall ships flying red flags and red sails.

  • Lori

    For anyone who’s interested—the well-informed rumor is that Charlie Hunnam finally agreed to do 50 Shades because they wanted him badly enough to pay him a lot of money* and to green light a couple other projects that he wants to do. That 2nd thing was probably what tipped the balance.

    No definite info on why they were so determined to have him for the role, but willingness to do nudity was apparently a factor.

    *Quote: “They must have backed up the truck.”

  • Eyal

    Moses would have likely hit him with a stick.
    It strikes me that the Witnesses are being rather passive, compared to their biblical portrayal. Instead of challenging rulers or being leaders, they’re standing around and shouting at bystanders.

  • VMink

    Now I’m going to hear Brock Sampson’s voice every time I ready any of Rayford’s mono/dialogue. That actually might make it bearable. Thank you!

  • VMink

    In the 70’s, the Coast Guard was more or less using the same uniform as the Navy, and our cutters were all the same ‘battleship grey’ as Navy ships. A consultant was, er, consulted, and a big plan to change the Guard’s image was undertaken. That’s when we got the white and black hulls and the big orange stripe on the bow.

    It’s also when they decided to make our uniforms look like something other than the Navy. That’s the story of how the Coast Guard came to look like the Air Force.

  • VMink

    It was A Short Victorious Rapture.

  • VMink

    “That Kaiju baby… is the Kaiju baby Jesus… Kaiju savior to the Kaiju people… and I mean… TO TAKE HIM!”

    Ronnie Jaegerdova vs. the Two (Thousand) Ton Chum-Chum.

    … too obscure, I know. Sorry.

  • VMink

    I thought the PLA had ‘Naval Infantry’ units, not marines, per se?

  • Lorehead

    I admit I don’t get it; but for some reason it reminds me of a group of underground Japanese Christians during the Shogunate whose books all got found and burned, so they had to tell each other the stories about Jesus from memory. In their version of the Nativity, when the innkeeper found out he’d made Mary give birth in a stable, he was so mortified that he let her recuperate in his hot spring for free.

  • mattepntr

    I love that E.L. James wanted Pattinson for the role of Christian. Because 50 SHADES HAS NOTHING TO DO WITH TWILIGHT. NOTHING.

  • mattepntr

    If anyone’s interested, I’ve been reading a hilarious takedown of 50 Shades, exactly what Fred’s been doing with Left Behind-

  • mattepntr

    My very favorite thing about Mormonism is the ban on seeing R-rated films. Because apparently the MPAA is a theological authority.

  • OK, returning for a second bite at the apple after a long weekend…

    There was a game we used to play in writing workshops where you would try to come up with as many different ways of looking at something as possible. How many different ways could you have Buck begin his search for Tsion? I’ve already mentioned a few of these, but let’s count the ways, shall we?

    1.) Buck prays for guidance on how to find Tsion, and has a dream where he walks out into the desert, following a bird/animal/star/feeling.

    2.) Buck prays for how to find Tsion and discovers he has made a map through automatic writing. If we need to pad the page count out a bit, then the writing on the map is in Hebrew. Or Aramaic.

    3.) Buck approaches the Witnesses for directions, and one (or both of them) guide him through the desert!

    4.) Buck, being ret-conned as a budding spy, checks his dead drops in Jerusalem, which he told Tsion about after their last meeting, and finds clues. The dead-drops could be around significant locations, or used to advance the plot or flesh out the setting. (such as being near the rebuilt temple, or being in an abandoned temple of a religion abolished by Babylon Enigma)

    5.) Buck, being ret-conned as a competent journalist, has connections in Jerusalem’s budding evangelical scene that has grown from Tsion’s preaching. He must attend secret meetings of persecuted Christians to find Tsion.

    6.) Buck, being ret-conned as a double agent working with a secret resistance, volunteers to lead the Global Community strike-force that’s hunting for Tsion. Working alongside Chaim, he acts the part of a Global Community/Enigma Babylon zealot, and observes things that foreshadow Chaim’s own double-cross.

    7.) Tsion, being well-versed in the Bible, leaves a series of clues in the form of references to specific lines of scripture that will lead the faithful to gather in a safe place where he is or will be. Only those who know how to read the Scofield Bible will be able to read the clues in the correct order, while others will be misled. Alternatively, Tsion has left behind Bible verses as “guides”, but Buck realizes they work (perhaps after some mathematical translation) as GPS co-ordinates.

    8.) Buck arrives in Jerusalem looking for Tsion. A message is delivered to him at the hotel, but the clerk calls back to tell him it was sent to the wrong room; it’s half of a faxed page. He checks in with the Global Community news desk, and as he’s picking up print-outs from the copier, he notices a page left behind by someone else, part of a photocopied map perhaps? On his way back to the hotel, he gets a call with Chloe’s caller ID on it, but when he picks up, it’s a business calling with a wrong number; the wires must have been crossed for Buck to get a call from a restaurant in [location X]. Buck prays, and realizes these fragments are signs, clues from God.

  • Hawker40

    Well, given that the entire Chinese miliatry is “People’s Liberation Army”, it’s really hard to tell. They’re probably regular army units assigned to work with the navy. (There are three types of “Marines”: Sailors trained to be infantry, Army units trained to work with the Navy, and a truly iindependent Marines.)