L.B.: Dear Captain

L.B.: Dear Captain May 23, 2008

Left Behind, pp. 438-440

New Hope Village Church’s Sunday service is drawing SRO crowds.

Rayford and Chloe watched for Buck until the last minute the next morning, but they could no longer save a seat for him when the sanctuary and the balcony filled. When Bruce began his message, Chloe nudged her father and pointed out the window, down onto the walk before the front door. There, in a small crowd listening to an external speaker, was Buck. Rayford raised a celebratory fist and whispered to Chloe, “Wonder what you’re going to pray for this morning?”

(Out of sympathy for Chloe’s embarrassment, we’ll just ignore Rayford here and pretend that whole fist-pumping bit didn’t happen.)

Post-Event I would think every house of worship would be jammed with overflow crowds like this one. This is one of the things we humans do in the wake of tragedy — we gather together, often in churches. One baby trapped in a well will fill every pew in town for a week. The Event is a much bigger deal — imagine every baby and young child on the planet lost down that well.

A mere 13 days after The Event, the world would still be reeling from the trauma and the impulse to gather together and hold vigils would be overwhelming. People wouldn’t be able to hold vigils at the scene of The Event because it happened everywhere and nowhere. Churches would thus be the most likely place for such vigiling to occur — they’re easy to find, open to the public, and they’ve already got candles and experience conducting this sort of thing. Schools might be another gathering place* — somewhere people could leave notes at impromptu shrines piled high with flowers, candles and stuffed animals. But those empty schools might also be a bit too much, too overwhelming. All those stuffed animals mouldering in the rain — the last of the pre-Event plush manufactured before the stuffed-animal companies closed their doors on a world without children.

So even though most Americans don’t go to church on most Sundays, most would likely do so on the Sundays following The Event. Out of civil custom, if not religious conviction, they would have swarmed their local churches and thus, rather quickly, people would have begun to notice a pattern — an undeniable, unmistakable clustering of missing adults at many of these churches. Each of those churches would have their own versions of Bruce or Loretta, people who could tell them what had happened.

Every local paper would’ve soon been reporting this story, some reporting it as theory, but more than a few likely reporting it as fact, supported by the evidence that only certain adults of a particular kind seemed to be among the vanished. That evidence would make this explanation far more convincing than Nicolae’s official story about electromagnetic something or other.

The Rapture theory would thus have been old news long before Buck even started on his Global Weekly story. While Bruce was conducting secret meetings with his inner-core core-groups, Loretta would be appearing on Larry King Live, playing the in-case-of-rapture video for the entire country.**

None of that happens here in Left Behind, of course. All those other towns are filled with Other People and the authors don’t really care or wonder about Other People all that much. They imagine that New Hope Village Church is an exception — perhaps the only church drawing such crowds. But even the Other People filling New Hope’s sanctuary barely register in this story:

Bruce played the former pastor’s videotape, told his own story again, talked briefly about prophecy, invited people to receive Christ, and then opened the microphone for personal accounts. As had happened the previous two weeks, people streamed forward and stood in line until well after one in the afternoon, eager to tell how they had now, finally, trusted Christ.

Chloe told her father she had wanted to be first, as he had been, but by the time she made her way down front the last row of the balcony, she was one of the last.

That’s verbatim: “… she made her way down front the last row of the balcony.” And so is “the previous two weeks,” even though The Event happened 13 days ago, on a Monday night, and I’m pretty sure you can’t fit three Sundays into 13 days.

Perhaps this would be a good time to mention again that Jerry Jenkins runs a writing school, with a starting tuition of only $1,365. Their critique service is also available to non-students. For just $30, “a team of writing professionals” will “evaluate your work on the basis of five core issues: Proper language usage, Pacing, Presentation, Purpose and Persuasiveness of the content.” (In Jenkins’ defense, “Continuity” isn’t one of their five core issues.)

Chloe “told her story, including the sign she believed God had given her in the form of a friend who sat beside her on the flight home.”

These folks really know how to bury the lede. Chloe’s “sign” from God isn’t really all that compelling when compared to what everyone in the room witnessed firsthand 13 days ago. Worse than that is the way Bruce never seems to move beyond a basic I-told-you-so message about the Rapture. He told Buck this is the same theme he plans to preach every Sunday. If I were one of those Other People gathered at New Hope I wouldn’t be nearly as interested in this endless rehashing of prophecies fulfilled as I would be in prophecies yet to come. What happens next? Bruce knows, but he’s not telling. And the congregation knows he knows, but they’re not asking. This is deeply weird — particularly since part of what Bruce knows is that everyone in that room will be dead within six years, 11 months and 19 days, and most sooner than that.

When the meeting was over, Rayford and Chloe went outside to find Buck, but he was gone. They went for lunch with Bruce, and when they got home, Chloe found a note from Buck on the front door.

Closer inspection would also likely have revealed footprints and cigarette butts in the shrubbery outside of Chloe’s bedroom window. I’m joking. There’s nothing creepy at all about the idea of him avoiding contact with them at the church, then looking up their home address and driving to their house to leave a note while they’re not there. Nothing creepy at all about that.

It isn’t that I didn’t want to say good-bye. But I don’t. …

That’s how the note begins. The odd lack of a salutation there has the same presumed familiarity as starting a phone conversation, “Hi, it’s me.” I wouldn’t recommend using “Hi, it’s me” after only one date.

That lack of salutation also means there was a 50/50 chance that Rayford, rather than Chloe, would’ve found this note first. The fact that the entire note is included in this Rayford-POV section implies, at least, that he must’ve read it after his daughter did. The end of this section is much more entertaining, though, if we imagine that Capt. Steele found the note first, believing it was addressed to him:

… I’ll be back for bureau business and maybe just to see you, if you’ll allow it. …

“Hmm,” Rayford thinks. “Perhaps my passionate sincerity has begun to persuade him and he wants to hear more about my new-found faith. …”

… I’ve got a lot to think about right now, as you know, and frankly, I don’t want my attraction to you to get in the way of that thinking. And it would. …

“Oh, my,” Rayford thinks, remembering that Buck did look strangely sweaty the other night at the restaurant. …

You are a lovely person, Chloe …

Oh, phew. “Honey, I think this is for you.”

You are a lovely person, Chloe, and I was moved to tears by your story. You had told me before, but to hear it in that place and in that circumstance this morning was beautiful. Would you do something I have never asked anyone to do for me ever before? …

“Oh, my,” Chloe thinks, remembering that Buck did look strangely sweaty the other night at the restaurant. …

… Would you pray for me?

Oh, phew.

I will call you or see you soon. I promise. Buck.

I will see you soon. I promise. And now I know where you live.

– – – – – – – – – – – –

* The Event took place at night here in the States, but I’d imagine a very different atmosphere at school buildings in those countries where it took place during school hours. There school buildings would be cordoned off with police tape as moon-suited government investigators armed with geiger-counters and EMF-readers scoured the kindergarten desks for some clue as to What Happened. And what of the teachers, left bewildered in their suddenly empty classrooms? Some would have gone mad. Others would have been arrested and interrogated, and still others scapegoated and slaughtered by angry mobs. …

** LaHaye’s End Times check list does not allow for this kind of mass-conversion and religious revival, but I don’t see any way for it not to happen given the scenario the authors present. And just ask Hezekiah or Jonah what that would mean — what it always means when the threat of judgment produces repentance and revival. The shadow would move back ten steps and God would relent from sending calamity. Nicolae would be swept away like Sennacherib and poor old Tim LaHaye would be left muttering that he’s angry enough to die.

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