7. I believe in the rapture, below the waist

Fall Out Boy—Bang The Doldrums

Wow, thinks Charles, sitting at his keyboard. Wow, wow, wow!

Charles had been stuck for months on a single point in his latest attempt to start his novel: Who is the second witness to the Second Coming? He had relentlessly searched on Google to try to get a clue, from the Bible, from the Book of Mormon, from Mandaean scripture, from a host of other minor religions.

Finally, in an attempt to move beyond this stumbling block, Charles had decided to just start a description of the witness, with no thought of how the sentence would end. Then, pow! Partway through the description, his fingers wrote: “‘I am Jesus, the son of Joseph, the carpenter,’ the man replied simply.”

“Holy shit!” Charles exclaims. Everything just fell into place in a moment of inspiration! Now I know how the chapter will end! It is perfect. My fucking subconscious. It—I— knew all along.

Charles sits in awe of how seamlessly the rest of the fragments that had been whirling in his mind for months had suddenly joined into a coherent narrative. He begins typing like a madman, pouring out a thousand words before he collapses, exhausted, onto his couch.

After another week of writing, Charles is done. He prints the chapter and texts Chip: “You got time to review my latest attempt?” Charles throws Sticky Fingers on his record player, cranks the volume, and skitters across the linoleum of his kitchen like a spider on a hot frying pan, jumping and sliding from one side to the other, pumping his arms over his head, and shouting. He pulls his phone from his pocket a dozen times, looking for Chip’s reply. When it comes, it’s disappointing: “Can’t do it now, my droog. How about dinner?”

Charles doesn’t like to meet with Chip for dinner to discuss his writing. Eating is so distracting. He’d rather the two would meet at his apartment, or Chip’s office or man cave, or at least over a drink. “OK, when and where?” he replies, and the two make plans to have dinner.

Charles is so het up, he grabs his keys and races downstairs to his car, leaving the Stones blaring away. It’s a couple of hours until dinner, but he just has to do something. He decides to go to the beach.

Heading north on Miami Avenue, he passes the Seventh Day Adventist Church. Hmmm. Speaking of taking the Bible literally, Charles thinks. Those guys believe every line in Revelations—all the righteous dead resurrected, and, along with the righteous living, taken straight to Heaven. Maybe I should have worked some of their perspective into the chapter. I wonder how they reconcile the various contradictions of Bible verses? Jesus comes back as lightning from the east that is also seen in the west, and also like a thief in the night.

Already the neighborhood is less shabby as he gets closer to 79th street, the beeline to the beach. He passes an abandoned shell of a six-story condo complex that is waiting for better times to resume construction. He passes a boat storage place festooned with razor wire across from an abandoned strip mall. Crossing over Little River improves the landscape a little. He notices a shiny CVS Pharmacy across from a high-rise, more boat storage, without razor wire. Things are looking up, yet down a few more blocks, there’s an empty lot across from a failed car wash. Charles thinks, how do you fail at washing cars down here in Florida? Just before the causeway, 20 stories of condos, and then he’s out onto the bridge.

It feels like escaping from a third world country, Charles thinks. The water is beautiful, and he rolls down his window to breathe the salt on the hot, humid air. He catches his first glimpse of the high-rises of North Bay Village. The island is bright, clean, and walled. Charles is getting closer and closer to the big money; the high-rises are getting thicker, huge slabs of opulence and privilege. Another causeway and he’s on North Beach. He’s getting impatient now as he gets closer to the sea. He speeds up a little and soon pulls into the parking lot of a Subway, gets out, and almost runs to the beach, ducking through a little pavilion and shucking his socks and shoes to walk out on the scorching sand. He runs down to the waterline to cool off his feet and just stands there, watching the boats passing by in their random pursuit of happiness.

Charles stands there without moving, transfixed, for 15 minutes. This is what feeds my soul, he thinks. The ceaseless waves, the blowing wind, the crying birds, bright sun, clouds. He tries to get to the beach at least once a week, which makes him different from Miami natives, who might spend months without seeing the water.

Certainly, the folks who live in my neighborhood never go to the beach, he thinks. It’s the same everywhere. When I was in California, I met a guy in Long Beach who was 30 years old and had never seen the ocean, eight blocks away. I want to keep this special, but regular.

After another several minutes absorbing the salty breeze, Charles walks up and down the beach for a bit, then climbs back into his car to head to dinner with Chip at a pizza and coffee place not too far away on the mainland, but on the right side of the tracks.

Chip’s not there when Charles shows up. He’s always wary of taking a table until his friend appears since Chip is often late or doesn’t come at all due to some congregation emergency. So, he sits in a straight back chair in the waiting area. It seems like forever, but Chip eventually shows up half an hour late.

“Did your order for us?”

“Chip you know I wouldn’t do that. You might not show.”

“Sorry. A guy just got the news he’s got stage 3 bone marrow cancer, so I got a little involved.”

Charles now feels like a jerk for being pissed. “So sorry to hear that. How longs’ he got?”

“A year or two. Let’s see if we can eat fast. I need to get on over to the Haitian Emanuel Baptist Church to deliver a package to Pastor Dabrezil before 7:30.”

Great, Charles thinks. Another rushed dinner with Chip. He’s not going to be able to focus on my chapter. The two order a pizza and Chip begins reading the chapter. Charles, as usual, is uncomfortable and concentrates on his glass of Cabernet and surreptitiously ogling the two young ladies at the table adjacent to them. After a while, they catch him at it and smile. He reddens, jerking his glance away to a nearby window. Their pizza arrives and still Chip is reading.

Finally, Chip surfaces. “This is more like a short story than a novel. You go through a whole book’s worth of stuff in 30 pages. That said, it’s not bad.”

“Go on. I sense a ‘but’ coming up.”

“But me no butts, buttinsky! There’s no but, kinda like you. You’re a . . . what’s the opposite of bubble butt? Crater butt?”

“So fucking funny!”

Chip continues. “Anyway, I guess my whole problem is the approach to the Second Coming. I really don’t like this whole ‘second coming as disaster’ attitude, in your chapter but also in general. I would deconstruct any apocalyptic system or idea as the ultimate in pessimistic theology. I prefer the optimism of God’s love. I see Jesus as having a focus on the ultimate being, constantly wanting to redeem creation rather than end it. In the Jewish tradition, the apocalypse is not an ending, but a beginning to God’s righteous reign on Earth. You kind of nod to that in some of the Mormonism discussion, but it’s fundamental to a true understanding of Christianity.”

Around a mouthful of pizza, Charles says, “But how can you have judgment without people getting, if not banished to hell, at least hurt? Maybe not burned in global fire, but at the least denied what the righteous have. There’s no mention in the Bible of any rehabilitation or salvation for evil ones. There’s no sense of God’s forgiveness from what I can see. It’s dualism: Heaven for the righteous and Hell for the rest. Humans comprised of body and soul, one corruptible and the other eternal. And morality is largely based on ‘body bad; spirit good.’”

“Well, not all religious thinkers accept dualism, at least as you’re presenting it. For example, there’s a group of Catholic intellectuals called the New Natural Lawyers . . .”

“Great. Lawyers opining on metaphysics.”

Annoyed, Chip says, “No, you dolt. They’re not legal lawyers. This bunch promulgated something called the New Natural Law. Law, Lawyers. Get it?”

“OK, continue, your honor.” Charles wonders if Chip’s in a bad mood because of that guy’s cancer diagnosis.

“So, the New Natural Law has three major components that build upon one another. The first component is practical reason, which describes basic goods necessary for mankind to flourish: life and health; knowledge and aesthetic experience; skilled work and play; friendship; marriage; harmony with God, and harmony among a person’s judgments, choices, feelings, and behavior.”

“Sounds good so far, although you know I’d quibble over the God business.”

“Of course, you worthless heathen. The second component says these ‘goods’ are equally useful and beneficial. One is not better than the other, but each delivers a unique benefit to humans.”

“I’ll bet there’s a ton of Christian conservatives that would argue that point.”

“No doubt. Now shut up while I illuminate you, pesky acolyte.”

Charles rolls his eyes, places his hands together, and does a little bow, saying, “Namaste, you namaste asshole.”

This seems to cheer Chip up a bit, and he grins. “So, anyway, this second component is seen as a support for free will or free choice. The third point follows from the first two: the pursuit of these ‘goods’ is not inherently moral. The intent must be good when making choices to pursue the various ‘goods.’ And good is defined, in part, as always striving to contribute to communal well-being and avoiding detracting from communal fulfillment. So, there you go. A moral code without resorting to dualism.”

“Well, I’ll admit it’s interesting, but I don’t see Natural Lawyer churches—or would they be courtrooms—all over the landscape. Instead, we’ve got tons of bizarre churches, like that Seventh Day church I passed today over on Miami Avenue. But, let’s get back to talking about my chapter. You’d see the Second Coming as a positive event, OK, I get that. But what about the bad guys? Even your Lawyers must admit to the problem of evil. What about Hell and Purgatory?”

“Well, you know United Methodists don’t believe in Purgatory, like you Papists do.”

Again, Charles rolls his eyes, then sticks out his tongue and makes the “Gag me” sign.

“Look,” Chip continues. “I don’t believe in the lake of fire. But United Methodists do believe in the resurrection of the dead—the righteous to life eternal and the wicked to endless condemnation. We believe in free will. A pastor named Rob Bell put it this way: ‘We are free to resist, reject, and rebel against God’s ways for us. We can have all the hell we want.’ That said, the Methodist church doesn’t officially describe Hell, relying on various of Jesus’ statements which, while not terribly specific, generally refer to fire. But we preach about Jesus’ grace and love, and not about Hell. So, I’m not much help for you there.”

Charles is disappointed. Chip criticized his vision of the Apocalypse but can’t or won’t offer advice on improving it. Fuck it, Charles decides. I’m not changing the flavor of the End Times. It will play well with the mainstream reader, anyway.

“OK, what else do you have to say about the chapter?”

“My other problem with this chapter is it needs more color and a sense of humor. I want to laugh at this ridiculous crap that you spew in your hodgepodge of apocalyptic traditions. This shit is hilarious. Don’t you realize that?” Chip jams half a slice of pizza into his mouth and grunts in pain as it burns the roof of his mouth.

Charles is a bit taken aback. Although he had added a few odd comic touches, he meant the chapter to be serious. “No, man, I don’t think it’s that funny. I created a whole new apocalyptic scenario from all these disparate bits, and I meant it to be taken seriously, or more accurately, satirically, rather than comical. Besides, there’s funny stuff in there. You didn’t find the Kraut on the roof funny?”

“Well . . . yeah. Of course, derivative of Springtime for Hitler.”

Charles smiles. He figured his friend, a complete movie nut, would get the reference. “Well, if you’re going to steal, steal from the best, I always say. Anyway, how about John almost getting clocked by the redneck? Funny, right?”

“Yes . . .”

“And the left-behind fundamentalist?”

“Yeah, yeah, yeah, but . . .”

“How about the ukulele of the leader of the Illuminati?”

“Yup. Well, yes. That was a bit incongruous, but you didn’t really do anything with it. It was a bit of that color like what I was looking for, but that business in particular seemed out of place.”

Charles thinks for a moment. “How ‘bout I have the leader plead for one last favor before he gets judged? Like, maybe he asks if he can play ‘It’s the End of the World as We Know it?’” Charles pauses to think. “Now that I think of it, there are some pretty relevant lyrics in that song: ‘That’s great! It starts with an earthquake, birds and snakes, an aeroplane.’ Also, hmmm, just let me bring it up on my phone here, yes. ‘The ladder starts to clatter with fear, fight, down, height.’ That’s John and Ruha going up on the Pulpit. ‘Team by team reporters baffled, trumped, tethered, cropped.’ The scene with the reporter in Vegas. Um, ‘Save yourself, serve yourself,’ kinda what the Illuminati did. ‘Continental drift divide. Mountains sit in a line’ that’s our animated mountains.”

“OK, OK, I get it,” Chip says.

Charles wonders what’s bugging his friend. He’s certainly on edge tonight.

Chip says, “Yes, that would be pretty funny if the old guy plays that song on the ukulele and then gets gobbled by ‘Ur. But not the whole song. Perhaps he confuses the verses so they all hang together and then ‘Ur gets him before he finishes?”

“That could work. But I don’t really want to turn the whole thing into a joke like I did with that first chapter I showed you with the three wise guys.”

“No, I don’t think that’s what I’m looking for. It’s just that the whole thing is relentlessly serious, but the pieces are incongruous. For example, I assume you picked the Nazi guard to show that John and his God can redeem anyone.”

“Right, but I don’t think she’s that evil, at least in her earthly incarnation. She joined to save herself and was just a dormitory guard. She witnessed all the horror.”

“So kinda like, you have to watch but you don’t have to do?”


“Well, for me, being complicit in an evil thing, no matter how tangentially, makes you responsible,” Chip says.

“OK, that’s a good perspective. But remember, she has a dual nature—she doesn’t know at that point that she’s the demiurge of our world. And in Mandaean religion, Ruha is a very conflicted character, at the same time reviled and revered. She’s responsible for evil, and for inspiration, and for nurturing the Earth. Without her, Adam couldn’t stand up and was a vegetable. And she created the flawed world in the first place, under Ptahil’s instructions. And, if you really want to get deep into duality, she brought forth the planets in the solar system by sleeping with her son, ‘Ur. Incest, just like in Genesis. By the way, she’s not at all satisfied with the way the planets turned out, so she sleeps with ‘Ur again and produces the 12 zodiac spirits. Not sure that was an improvement. So ‘conflicted’ doesn’t even begin to describe her. That’s what I was going for when I made her a Nazi guard.”

Chip thinks for a moment as he finishes the last slice of pizza. “OK, how about this: As part of his building of the Third Temple, John creates, like, a theme park ride through Mormonism. You know, hop in a boat on a rail and ride past Joseph Smith digging up the golden plates, Brigham Young leading the move Westward, the whole kit and caboodle. It would be hilarious, especially if it featured an animatronic plural family.”

Charles has to admit this would be pretty funny. “Yeah, I definitely planned on blow­ing out the whole struggle John goes through to convince the Elders, get ordained, and so getting a Brigham Young campus designated Mormon World would be pretty funny. But I don’t want to go all Broadway ‘The Book of Mormon’ here.”

Chip said, “OK, beloved, I need to leave. I gotta get over to Emanuel Baptist in 10 minutes. But speaking of Mormon satire, I have to tell you my favorite Mormon joke.”

“I hope it’s better than your last joke.”

“I’ll let you decide. A Mormon bishop gets on an elevator and a beautiful woman walks in. On the way to the lobby, the gorgeous woman hits the stop button. She turns to the bishop and says: ‘Can you make me feel like a true woman?’ The bishop says: ‘I sure can’ and excitedly takes off all his clothes and throws them in the corner of the elevator. He turns to the woman and points to the clothes and says, ‘Now fold them’.”

Chip starts laughing his head off while Charles just groans. “Worse, way worse than the last one.”

“I live to serve. Be good.” Chip hustles out of the restaurant, leaving Charles to pay the bill.




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