L.B.: Sunday afternoons

L.B.: Sunday afternoons October 13, 2006

Left Behind, pp. 221-225

So how do you spend the first lazy Sunday of the end of the world?

Rayford Steele, we're told, went to church. Afterwards, the Rev. Bruce Barnes invites him to lunch.

"I'd want to call my daughter first, but sure," Steele says, doing his part to maintain the phone-calls/pages ratio for the book. Considering that a third of the planet's population disappeared without a trace just a few days earlier, you'd expect people to be a bit more obsessive about calling loved ones when they're going to be late, but that's not the main reason Rayford is calling. He's checking in to see if she has converted yet. She hasn't.

Rayford let Chloe know where he'd be. She didn't ask about the church meeting, except to say, "It went long, huh? Lot of people there?" And he simply told her yes on both counts.

Chloe didn't talk long on the phone because she had to get back to … what exactly? She doesn't have a job, or classes to study for, and she doesn't leave the house. I'm not suggesting we need a detailed itinerary for every off-screen character, but some suggestion of how Chloe is passing the time would've been nice. Since she got home, all we know is that she hasn't yet watched the In-Case-of-Rapture video. She doesn't seem to doing anything.

That would be odd enough on a normal Sunday, but again this isn't a normal Sunday, it's the first Sunday of the end of the world. Generally speaking, there are two main responses to massive, world-altering calamity. You can try to take it in, to comprehend — numbly watching hours and hours of cable news, devouring newspapers and surfing the Web. Or you can try to Do Something — donate blood, collect canned goods, organize a vigil, drive to New Orleans or Manhattan, fly to Banda Aceh. Chloe doesn't do any of that — nobody in Left Behind does. She gets home and sits around for three days not-watching a videotape.

Bruce and Rayford grab lunch at "a small restaurant in Arlington Heights," where the main course is two more pages of Bruce's extravagant humility and self-flagellation.

Here yet again it's the dog that doesn't bark that's most interesting. Here was the scene five days ago:


But now the roads are clear and Noodles & Company is open for business and it's just like any other Sunday.

Restaurants probably took a bit of a hit from the Rapture — what with there now being 2 billion or so fewer potential customers. Chuck E. Cheese and other such places catering to children would, of course, be out of business for good. (It probably also would be best, post-Rapture, for restaurants to remove the kids' pages from their menus, as the uncontrolled sobbing they would likely provoke could be distracting to the other diners.)

But on the other hand, evangelical Christians are notoriously lousy tippers, so the news isn't all bad for the hospitality industry.

Anyway, in between bites and lashes, Bruce invites Rayford to join the New Hope church's leadership team, a "little core group" of leaders who would lead the new congregation as the leading piece of what Bruce calls his "leadership model." Rayford accepts.

"I'm willing …" Rayford said. "As long as I'm not expected to take any leadership role."

Rayford returns home, where Chloe immediately informs him that she still hasn't yet watched the video tape. But actively not watching it is hard work, and after three straight days of this she's getting tired, so she promises to watch it before riding along on the flight to Atlanta with him the next day.

Rayford had been home about 20 minutes and had changed into his pajamas and robe to relax for the rest of the evening when Chloe called out to him. "Dad, I almost forgot. A Hattie Durham called for you several times. She sounded pretty agitated. Said she works with you."

Rayford explains that Hattie is a flight attendant he's been trying to avoid. "I ducked her," he tells his daughter, and then ducks her questions about why he did that.

Rayford was reaching for the phone when it rang. It was Bruce. "I forgot to confirm," he said. "If you've agreed to be part of the core team, the first responsibility is tonight's meeting with the disenchanted and the skeptics."

"You are going to be a tough taskmaster, aren't you?"

"I'll understand if you weren't planning on it."

"Bruce," Rayford said, "except for heaven, there's no place I'd rather be. I wouldn't miss it. I might even be able to get Chloe to come to this one."

There's no place he'd rather be, which is why he was sitting home in his pajamas planning to "relax for the rest of the evening."

I'm glad he's going, though, and glad to see the additional build-up to what is sure to be one of the most interesting and important scenes in the book so far. Bruce's dialogue with the skeptics at this Sunday evening meeting provides a perfect platform for LaHaye and Jenkins to engage with and respond to their critics and the tough questions about their vindictive eschatology. Chloe will be there as a sympathetic stand-in for these critics, and she's already raised one of the most crucial and toughest questions: How can their theology be reconciled with the idea of a loving God? The scene is set and it's rife with dramatic potential, the perfect opportunity for the authors to expound on their views without interrupting the dramatic and narrative flow. As I said earlier, I'm very much looking forward to this upcoming scene.

Rayford calls Hattie:

"I just got some disconcerting news," she said. "You remember that writer from Global Weekly who was on our flight, the one who had his computer hooked up to the in-flight phone?"


"His name was Cameron Williams, and I talked to him by phone a couple of times since the flight. I tried calling him from the airport in New York last night but couldn't get through."


"I just heard on the news that he was killed in England in a car bombing."

"You're kidding!"

This seems intended to produce a frisson of recognition for the reader — a thrilling hint that these parallel stories might soon intersect. We're supposed to think, "Why, they're talking about Buck!" and to delight in the way these stories begin to overlap. It's just like Crash, or Magnolia, or Thirteen Conversations About One Thing, or The Decalog. Except not. Those stories (or collections of stories or however you want to classify them) hint at connections and interconnections to underscore our common humanity — to show that we all are, in fact, connected, interacting with and interdependent on each other. This interconnectedness shows up as a motif even in less ambitious pieces of storytelling, such as disaster movies, where a diverse collection of characters are shown coping with calamity as stand-ins for the rest of us, for everyone.

But here in Left Behind the select few characters are not stand-ins for everyone, they are stand-ins only for the elect, for the chosen few. Rayford's and Buck's storylines are bound to intersect not because we are all interconnected, but because they are among the only handful of people, among the billions on earth, who really matter to the authors. The author's affection is as they imagine God's to be: exclusive and highly selective. Everyone else be damned. Everyone else can go to Hell.

Rayford, hoping to avoid any awkwardness with Hattie, still manages to duck having her assigned to his flight to Atlanta. Instead he invites her to come to his house for dinner with him and Chloe. What could be awkward about that?

"Could we get together sometime soon?" he asks. And she replies, "I'd like that, Rayford, I really would." They have rather different agendas for this meeting, of course, and the confusion is likely to persist even after Rayford explains that he wants her to watch this special video tape with him.

This can't end well. Flirt to convert never does.

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