TF: Fast-forward

TF: Fast-forward July 12, 2010

Tribulation Force, pp. 251-257

Buck is of course on the telephone, talking to Marge Potter. Nominally, Marge Potter is Stanton Bailey's secretary, but her duties apparently also include tracking down leads and setting up interviews for Buck Williams. From what we read here, it seems like Marge deserves either a joint byline or at least a "contributed to" credit for everything Buck has ever written.

She tells Buck she's got his interviews lined up with "your one-world religion guys" and "your temple guys" and "this Cardinal Mathews" and "your rabbi," but she says she's having a bit of trouble arranging an interview with Moses and Elijah.

"We'll try to get in touch with those two kooks you want at the Wailing Wall, but the smart money here says not to count on it."

"I'll take my chances."

"And where would you like us to send your remains."

That's a sharp line, and along with this from a page later —

"You're the best, Marge."

"Flattery will get you, Buck."

"Get me what?"

"It'll just get you."

— almost makes you think Eve Arden really could have played this part. But in the context of the rest of their conversation, those zingers don't really make sense. Marge is otherwise portrayed as someone utterly lacking in news judgment, curiosity and general knowledge and altogether too dim to recognize how flagrantly Buck is taking advantage of her here (she does the work, he gets the credit). It's Jerry Jenkins' usual tactic of making other characters look like morons so that his heroes seem smarter by contrast. That can't be done at the same time you're trying to have the two characters exchanging witty banter (I'm guessing that's what's being attempted here).

As for that rabbi, Marge tells us:

"CNN is giving him an hour of uninterrupted time on their international satellite. Jews will be able to see it all over the world at the same time. …This rabbi thinks he's so all-fired important that the treaty signing will be upstaged by the reading of his research paper. …"

"Aw, c'mon, Marge. He's going to tell you how to spot the Messiah."

"I'm not even Jewish."

"Neither am I, but I'd sure want to be able to recognize the Messiah. Wouldn't you?"

Buck is just being coy, of course. He has already learned in his Tribulation Force Bible studies, how to recognize the Messiah. It's very simple, as Bruce explained: The Antichrist is the False Messiah, so the real Messiah will be just exactly like the Antichrist, except even bigger and more powerful.

But Bruce also warned Buck and the others that the false Messiah Antichrist would deceive the world, tricking them into following a man who slaughters tens of millions instead of holding out for the return of Jesus — who will then slaughter hundreds of millions.

Buck is chilled to learn that his friend Marge Potter is among those deceived by the Antichrist:

"You want me to get serious and tell you the truth one time here, Buck? I think I've seen the Messiah. I think I recognize him. If there's really supposed to be somebody sent from God to save the world, I think he's the new secretary-general of the United Nations."

Buck shivered.

Buck felt alive again.

There's actually a two-page Rayford interlude between those last two sentences, but in terms of what we read about Buck, that's exactly how the transition goes. "Buck shivered. Buck felt alive again." His friend's deception and damnation gives him the shivers, but not so much that he bothers to say anything to her about it, or even to continue thinking about her once he hangs up the phone.

The Rayford interlude is another phone call, in which Chloe tells him that she just got "something more from my secret admirer … candy this time."

"Candy!" Rayford said, spooked by the fears Leonard Gustafson had planted. "You didn't eat any of it, did you?"

This is their conversation — candies and flowers. And they jump right into it. She doesn't ask, "How was your meeting at the White House?" and he doesn't mention it either. Who has time to discuss trivialities like a meeting at the White House when the Flower Situation has been upgraded to a Candy Emergency.

It turns out the candies are Chloe's favorites, the same ones Rayford would always bring home after trips to New York City where he made a point of stopping by the one department store there that sells them.

This was the height of insult. How many times had Rayford mentioned to Hattie that he had to get those mints from that store during layovers in New York. She had even accompanied him more than once. So Hattie wasn't even trying to hide that she was sending the mysterious gifts.

So much for the threat-of-the-imaginary-stalker theory. Now the whole anonymous flowers conspiracy just makes no sense at all.

But you know what's really the "height of insult"? Dragging your pseudo-mistress along on all of your candy-for-my-daughter shopping trips. That was one seriously creepy and messed up almost-affair he had going. Layovers in New York must have been emotional torment for Hattie. (Do you think Rayford made Hattie go with him when he went to buy gifts for Irene? I'm betting he did.) Does the newly re-born and sanctified Rayford realize this? Of course not. He thinks of those mints and he feels offended. A twisted, twisted man.

Buck, meanwhile, is feeling alive again.

His life had been in such turmoil since the disappearances, he had wondered if it would ever settle back into the hectic norm he so enjoyed. His spiritual journey had been one thing, his demotion and relocation another. But now he seemed back in the good graces of the brass at Global Weekly, and he had used his instincts to trade for what he considered the top-breaking stories in the world.

He sat in his new makeshift home office, faxing, e-mailing, phoning, working with Marge and with reporters at Weekly, and making contacts for himself as well. …

Yes, during the weeks he spent writing a massive story on the biggest historic event of all time, Buck had been pining for a return to the adrenaline of covering big stories.

He desperately wanted to convince his own family of the truth. His father and brother would hear none of it, however, and if he had not been busy with challenging, exciting work, that fact alone would have driven him crazy.

It's too bad he wasn't thinking of his father and his brother when he wrote that big cover story on the cause of the disappearances — the one where he buried the lede and veiled the truth about the cause of the disappearances. But I guess he wasn't so desperate to convince them of the truth that he felt he should write a convincing article.

It seemed his whole life was on fast-forward now, trying to cram as much into seven years as he could. He didn't know what heaven on earth would be like, though Bruce was trying to teach him and Rayford and Chloe. He longed for the Glorious Appearing and the thousand-year reign of Christ on the earth. But in his mind, until he learned and knew more, anything normal he wanted to accomplish — like investigative reporting and writing, falling in love, getting married, maybe having a child — all had to be done soon.

There's a great deal about that paragraph that's j
ust odd, but at least one of our Trib-Forcers is finally grappling wit
h the seven-year deadline they're all up against.

Well, not so much "grappling with" as "fleetingly acknowledging." Buck's idea of life "on fast-forward" is shrugged aside and forgotten almost as suddenly as it arose. That's a shame, because it seems like an idea that could use a bit more exploring. It seems, in fact, like an idea that ought to be terribly important to Buck and the rest of the Trib Force.

And to readers, too. We readers have more than seven years — maybe — before our deadlines arrive, but probably not much more than seven decades. The urgency of limits facing these characters could have served as a nifty metaphor for helping readers to think about the urgency of limits facing us all and what that means for our use of that limited time.

But of course LaHaye and Jenkins don't really do metaphor. And especially not that one. That one threatens their whole scheme. Once you open the door to that idea, the whole foundation of End Times "prophecies" and of Rapture mania begins to crumble. Allow readers to think, "Maybe I'm not facing the End of the Universe, but someday I will be facing the End of the Universe as far as I'm concerned …" and they might begin re-reading all those supposed "prophecies" with that idea in mind. And then they might begin to realize that there's only one prophecy that really matters and that it will surely come true within, at most, a generation.

LaHaye's Rapture-obsessed "prophecy" scheme exists primarily to prevent readers from entertaining such thoughts. His whole framework is concocted from Bible passages about that very thing remixed and re-edited into a denial of it — escapism in the most literal sense. "Live watchfully," the Bible says, again and again, "for no one knows the day or the hour."

That relentless, ever-present refrain of memento mori is twisted by LaHaye and his premillennial dispensationalist cohorts into something else, into, in Irene Steele's words, the expectation of "Jesus coming back to get us before we die."

That is the essence of Rapture belief: "Ye shall not surely die." (And that's in the Bible too. You could look it up.)

Buck pines for Chloe for another page or so, then we read this:

Buck looked at his watch. He had time for one more call, then he would reach Chloe.

Reach her by phone, no doubt.

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