25 February 2010

Jesus is Coming

What follows is a recollection from my past:  I do it partially to collect my thoughts on the matter, but I also think other people might be interested to know what certain aspects within a cult-like sect are like to live.


I used to live in terror of the Rapture. The Rapture, for those not raised in any of the particular Christian sects that follow it, is the belief that one day Jesus will summon his followers to heaven.This may happen before a seven-year period in which God terrorizes Earth, or afterwards. The saved souls will float into the sky, perhaps, or simply vanish without a trace.  I never liked the idea of leaving Earth, nor was I sure that I would be called up. I never felt anything at Pentecostal services, so every mention of the Rapture was a reminder to me that I was possibly doomed.  Sure, I might avoid Hellfire if God ever got around to embracing me....but what if he Raptured everyone away before that happened?

We were obsessed about the Rapture. Perhaps the most terrorizing service I ever endured happened in my senior year of high school, when the youth group performed a mid-service skit. The auditorium's lights were shut off, its windows covered in black construction paper. The pastor's daughter, dressed in an angelic robe,  had a light on her face. She played herself as though she was in heaven. For a few minutes she spoke on the glories she could see, and then wondered aloud if her friends were there. One by one, she'd call for us and we'd stand up. "I'm here! I'm here! I made it!" I yelled, pumping my first in the air. Then she called for a girl named Crystal...and all was silent.


More silence -- silence that lasted for agonizing minutes until finally we could hear a soft sobbing. Crystal was hidden in one of the church's back rooms with the lead microphone -- and she was playing the part of the damned and tortured soul who was not Raptured away, but instead consigned to the flames of Hell. She mourned her foolishness in not following the Acts 2:38 instructions. Her voice was one of tortured misery and despair; the entire church fell out of their chairs sobbing. No one wanted to miss the Rapture.

If I endured that now, I would be either amused at the blatancy of it or horrified that people were being manipulated into fear in this fashion. But back then, I was the one being manipulated. I refused to read the Left Behind books back then, the possibility of being Left Behind was not one I wanted to face. I would often dream of missing the Rapture, from childhood on -- a reflection of my inner fears.

In real life, I often had "Rapture Panics". If my parents were not home when they should be and I could not contact them, fear gripped me. I would begin calling people from church that I felt were saved, starting with people who I might actually have a reason to call.  Once I heard the voice of a saved person, relief swept over me. On more than one occassion, though, I was unable to find anyone and was reduced to sobbing that all was lost. Once, I stuck in home movies of my parents and bawled for nearly an hour as I watched. In another instance, I found myself alone in a big city: we were attending a religious conference there, and my parents left me alone while they attended an adults-only service. When they did not return within four hours, I lugged out a massive phonebook and was about to call the conference center to see if anything had happened

The Rapture made me afraid until spring of 2006, at which point religion lost its hold on me completely.  Mentions of the Rapture amused me at that point, and in 2007 I read the entire Left Behind series -- all sixteen books -- just out of morbid amusement. (That isn't much of an accomplishment: for their thickness, the books tend toward the shallow. I could've read all sixteen in a day or two.)

My parents still believe in the Rapture, and further believe that both my sister and I will be left behind, as neither of us are in the Oneness/Holiness Pentecostal fold. They weep when they pray for us, but I do not think they inflict this pain on themselves too often. Given the emotion toll unquestioning beliefs took on me, there is no question of my ever going back.


Baley Petersen said...

We've talked about this before, but I don't think I've ever fully expressed my wonderment at how painful that must have been. To feel that you were damned.

smellincoffee said...

Especially so after I realized I wasn't saved and spent a year realizing I was hell-bound. That was good pain, though: it made me realize that the gospel wasn't all it was cracked up to be.