All this time, despite my misgivings about the very un-Christlike people in my church’s leadership and in my own little family, I spent a lot of time at the church, as one might expect. My mother’d been downright alarmed when she’d realized I was spending five out of every seven nights at church when I was still living at home in high school, but there was just so much to do even in that small place! The Southern Baptists might have had a bowling alley at the megachurch (which they did by now), but I felt like I was immersing myself in the Word by attending church twice a week (well, three times; twice Sundays, and once on Thursdays), plus choir practice and a host of other activities. I had an ancient Cutlass by now that I dutifully drove through the crowded highways of Houston to get to the little church in the bad neighborhood, and it felt like home to walk into it and smell the clean air in there. I was still taking a full courseload at college, as was Biff, but when something is important to you, you make time for it, I figured, and this was the most important thing in my entire world. Whatever happened on this little ball of rock was immaterial compared to eternity.
One late afternoon I was there quite early for something–probably a ladies’ group as it was all young women my age, all newlyweds like me. Most of them were already expecting babies. I wasn’t, which put me in a really strange category that my church didn’t have the faintest idea how to handle–was I still a “young person” despite being married? That sure couldn’t be. But I sure wasn’t a “family class” candidate either as I had no babies and was outspoken about not having any anytime soon, and not a “mature Christian” like the other greybeards and old ladies whose Bible studies were so placid and serious compared to the rollicking times we had in youth group. At least I did qualify as a “lady,” as I was married, and I enjoyed spending time with the women in my group.
We heard the front glass doors open and close with a slam, like someone had passed through them in a major hurry. We heard it all the way down the hall in the little Sunday School classroom in which we all sat preparing to do whatever it was we were doing that day. I heard an anguished call from a familiar voice out there: “Is anybody here?”
I realized that Angela–my best friend from high school, now engaged to the handsomest, most dedicated Christian age-appropriate man in our church, a match as inevitable as that of Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie and for the exact same reasons–was out there and something was horribly wrong. She wasn’t yet married, so she wasn’t officially part of the group, and since that was the only thing going on in the church right then, it was strange that she was there at all. We all shot each other suddenly fearful looks and I went to the doorway, stepping out to see her rushing toward offices and peeking into windows. She looked downright frantic.
She saw me and all but fell into my arms in a hug. “You’re here! Where is everyone?”
I patted her back, completely uncertain as to what to do. Other young women streamed out of the classroom. Angela was all but crying now; her voice shook as she said, “I couldn’t get ahold of you. I tried Jennifer, and Ashley, and Chelsea…” She trailed off, the picture of misery, and began to cry in earnest.
“We’re right here–what’s wrong?” I asked. “Are you all right?”
She looked up at me with those earnest dark brown eyes. “I thought the Rapture’d come. I couldn’t get ahold of anybody on the phone. I thought you’d all been taken and I was left alone.”
I stared down at her, completely unable to speak for a long while. Of course she hadn’t been left alone; we were all here. (This was a long, long time before cell phones, and the office phone was in the office, which was locked up right then, and we wouldn’t have heard the public phones from where we were.) The other young women chuckled nervously and reassured her, but I wonder now if they were thinking what I was thinking:Angela was the most dedicated, sincere, earnest, dutiful, faithful Christian I knew. When you, reader, think of the perfect Christian, you’d think of Angela no matter what denomination you might have been or are in. There was no world in which I could imagine her not going to heaven. She was ethereal in goodness, without a single evil bone in her body. I probably knew her better than anybody else there, and I wasn’t sure she even had the capacity to sin. The idea that she might miss the Rapture was so absolutely unthinkable that until that moment I had not realized that she had no idea if she was going or not. Sure, I might be scared to death of missing it, but I knew I wasn’t a perfect Christian. Still, I’d always rested easy in knowing that people like Angela were shoo-ins. Yet here I could see plainly that she was just as scared as I was.
Now that Calvinist thinking is fashionable among evangelicals, the idea of “once saved, always saved” has taken hold in many Christians’ minds. I’ve been chided as recently as a month ago by Christians for being so scared of missing the Rapture, like of course I was going to be chosen if I just stayed as faithful as I could, and my fears are dismissed and hand-waved as just evidence that I was obviously doing Christianity wrong or mixing with the wrong Christians or something. For that matter, Rapture itself is a hotly-contested concept. To this I can only say that there are upwards of 40,000 denominations in Christianity, all with ferociously divergent interpretations of Scripture–and every one of them is absolutely convinced that they have the right interpretation and everybody else’s is wrong.
But back then, I hadn’t thought of the sheer impossibility and immorality of the Rapture as a concept or about what an obvious huckster’s wet dream it is. Calvinism was a complete unknown, for that matter. The Rapture was presented and sold as something you had to pursue in terror of being left behind. It consumed my mind; I thought about it all the time. My husband, Biff, was way into Endtimes theology (the “Endtimes” were, as you might guess, the end of the world–the Rapture, Tribulation, Armageddon, etc.). He had a whole box of books and tapes about it and studied these more than he did the actual Bible, and I don’t think he was the only person I knew who was like that.
The strongest Christian I knew was terrified of missing the Rapture. What did that mean for me? What did that mean for any of us?
Eventually my terror of the Rapture faded through sheer exhaustion. Eventually, given enough overwhelming fear, any terrified being goes glazed-eyed and just waits, breathing quickly and shallowly, eyes wide and staring and blank, for the end to take its life and just have done with things already. And once my fear died, I began to see my religion and “savior” as if I were already dead and floating above my own body, like I’d totally dissociated from my own corporeal form. I began to realize what a bait-and-switch Christianity was by promising love and an easy yoke but producing in actual practice Christians who were terrorized by Hell, but even then I was not ready to simply renounce it. I had failed another roll. At this point I just thought I was involved with the wrong Christians, and surely if I kept looking and seeking and earnestly praying, I’d run into the right ones and all this craziness would turn into rightness.
Oh, how wrong I was. I was going to run into some way different Christians soon, and get another chance at the dice.