Monthly Archives: May 2011

j-town

although the so-called rapture didn’t happen over the weekend, as predicted by harold camping, maybe something of a preview of the rapture did occur sunday night. around 6 pm sunday evening, a significant portion of joplin, missouri, the town i lived in for most of 2000 and 2001, was decimated by an f4 (or possibly higher) tornado, forever changing the landscape of this bustling little city.

j-town, as i affectionately call it, was not the place for me ultimately, but it was the place where i grew up, so it will always be a special place to me. i don’t mean grew up in the literal sense, being that i spent all of my life in sedalia until i went away to college at mizzou at the age of 17. no, my growing up at this point was more about actually becoming a grown up, at the age of 35. it was here in j-town that i was drawn away from the fundamentalist christianity i’d been steeped in for the better part of a decade, and began to see that there was life outside of the christian ghetto. it was here that i was first introduced to the ‘radical’ idea that neither christianity nor the other two abrahamic religions were the only game in town when it came to experiencing god. it was also here that i mourned my mother’s long drawn out death, which had finally occurred on christmas day 1999, a couple of months before my move south. it was here that a tumultuous love affair innocently began, even from the beginning knowing that it would end in the way most love affairs do, especially if there are other people involved : very badly (although happily, the two of us are now good friends).

somewhat humorously, calling it j-town seemed quite appropriate, because it seemed like every male i met had a first name that began with the letter j. in particular, i met way too many guys named john. i attributed that to joplin ‘being on the buckle of the bible belt’: ‘what do you think we ought to name the baby?’ ‘well i don’t know; john is in the bible and if it’s good enough for the bible, it’s good enough for our son!’   at one point i had assigned them numbers, but soon found that to be just plain stupid, so i just referred to anyone named john by his first and last name when speaking of him (whichever one he might be). also, there was my relationship with jesus, because even as i got further away from mainstream christianity, i learned more about the human side of jesus. at this point i wasn’t ready to say he was not a historical figure, but i was learning that the bible didn’t tell nearly enough of his story.

so, even though i was there a short time, joplin was a huge milestone in my life, perhaps even a turning point. i knew i couldn’t live there forever though, because, well, i’m not being politically correct here, but it is a redneck cracker-ish town. i used to count the number of people of color i’d see on a daily basis and most days i never got past 5 (although there was the one day i got up to 17, but i had to have counted some twice). there are two kinds of people (generally) who live there, jesus freaks and meth heads (respect to both groups, and to anyone in between). i loved being ‘the library lady’, recognized many places i went in town from working the front desk at jpl, but that’s all i was going to be had i stayed there. so i left, taking experience and friendships and memories with me into the next phase of my life. and that’s what i’m mourning here this evening, those experiences and friendships and memories. oh those things aren’t going anywhere. i’ll always have those things, but what i’m sad about now is that the place where those things, those changes, occurred has itself changed, in a most sudden and devastating way. however, even in the midst of this devastation, as j-town begins to rebuild, i believe what has happened will make joplin a better place in the long term. the pain and heartbreak my fellow joplinites are currently going through – well it hurts me terribly and i’ve been away for going on ten years, so i can only imagine what lifelong joplinites are going through. but all i can do is pray and send a little money to the red cross, and pray some more. going there to help is not an option for me at this time.

i love you, j-town. i know you’ll make it through to the other side.

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a primer on the rapture vs. the end of the world

i have lots of pet peeves. one of them is using terms interchangeably that should not be used interchangeably. all week long, it was broadcast in the media that today was forecast to be the end of the world by religious broadcaster and nutjob harold camping, but that simply isn’t true, whatever you may or may not believe about the rapture ever happening. i don’t mean to rain on anyone’s parade, but theologically, the rapture and the end of the world are two separate and distinct events. camping’s prediction was that the rapture was to happen today, with the end of the world several months down the line, the end basically being the result of god beating up on those of us who were left behind. what follows is a little bit of what i was previously taught regarding the timetable of the end times. not that anyone from the media will read this, but it’ll make me feel a little better…

the end of the world has been part of the doctrine in most religions for millennia, but the idea of a ‘rapture of believers’ wasn’t a part of christian theology until after 1830. in 1830 a young girl had a vision about the return of jesus and the taking up of believers. this was gradually adopted by various fundamentalist denominations, who have interpreted bible verses in 2 thessalonians to mean that this is the event spoken of. as i was taught, this event was to take place at the beginning of the great tribulation, a time in which the anti-christ has taken control over the entire planet, and all sorts of disasters, natural and man-made, take place. however, the verses (as i was taught and understood them while a resident of the christian ghetto) refer to the second coming of jesus, which is to supposed to occur at the end of the great tribulation.

…and i’m about to digress here, because a lot depends upon whether you believe in a pre-trib, mid-trib, or post-trib rapture.  i do know people who believe we are currently in the great tribulation and have been since september 2005, which could give some credence to camping’s prediction for mid-trib believers (if you choose to believe such a thing, which i don’t, by the way). pre-trib simply means that the rapture occurs before the 7 year tribulation, mid-trib, during the tribulation, and post-trib… well you get the idea. apparently camping’s group were late mid-trib adherents.

the thing is that, at the end of the tribulation the 1000-year reign of jesus is supposed to begin. jesus himself will be the ruler over the entire planet (assisted by believers taken up in the rapture, who return to earth with new bodies), according to a literal reading of revelation 20 as i was taught. at the end of the 1000 year reign is the great white throne judgment, which will, for all intents and purposes, be the end of the world, as the book of life will then reveal who spends eternity in heaven and who ends up in the lake of fire, and off we go to our permanent destinations.  so if this all is true (and i’m not saying it is or isn’t; it’s just what i was taught as a born-again believer), may 21, 2011 could hardly be called the end of the world, if it had actually happened today. *if* the rapture had occurred, it would not have been the end. at worst, it would have been the beginning of a new level of chaos (or perhaps your death if you had been a passenger in a vehicle being driven by someone who was taken up). but, since, according to camping, the rapture was supposed to have occurred at 6 pm local time in each time zone, you would have had time to get prepared (unless you were in new zealand). if you had heard about believers in new zealand disappearing out of the blue around that time, you would have been able to either ask jesus into your heart so you weren’t left behind when the rapture came to your time zone, or you could have hung out in front of the houses of people you know are christians so that when they were called away, you had first dibs on their possessions. i, of course, had plans to do the latter. 😉

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living for god

you may (or may not) remember when a couple of months back, a young woman boarded the bus i take daily to work, and proceeded to give her testimony about her relationship with jesus christ. at the time, i thought it was touching, especially because at the end of her spiel, she prayed for the bus passengers. even though i no longer believe as she does, i appreciated her sincerity, and as we got off at the same stop, i thanked her for her prayer.

fast forward to this morning’s bus ride. after the bus pulled up to the stop she was at, this same young woman handed out religious tracts to each person getting off. (the stop happened to be at a church ministry that provides free breakfasts every morning, and there are a number of regular riders who get off here daily for that reason). i thought, ‘uh oh, here we go again…,’ and yes, after she paid her fare, she passed out tracts to those of us remaining on the bus… except to me, but only because i politely refused. and then she proceeded to deliver a little sermonette about living for god.

i only caught bits and pieces of what she was saying, because i was trying to listen to a podcast on gnosticism (would this be called irony?). however, the gist of it was the usual ‘if you’re not living for god, you’re going to hell’. and, on one level, i can appreciate what she was saying, because i’ve been in that place. i’ve been where i earnestly believed that anyone who had not accepted jesus christ as their personal lord and savior was going to hell. therefore, i believed that people like gandhi and mother teresa were in hell because they were not born-again christians, but someone like jeffrey dahmer was in heaven, even after the horrible things he did, because reportedly he had accepted christ into his heart before being murdered in prison. forgive me, y’all, but this is rather fucked up theology. a person such as gandhi, whose life was dedicated to the betterment of humanity, is currently being tormented by demons for all eternity because he chose not to believe that the jewish version of a myth was a series of historical events? seriously? and you do realize that christianity really is little more than the jewish adaptation of myths revolving around various sun gods (and related goddesses, who are strangely missing in the christianized version) dating centuries before the time jesus was said to have walked the earth. the major difference between the christianized version and earlier versions is that, due to various power plays between political factions at that time, people were convinced (basically by the sword) that this jesus character was real. (and i mean no disrespect when i say ‘jesus character’.)

if there is anyone reading this who has known me for many years, but not had any real interaction with me, you are probably rather shocked at this point. a number of you know that i spent (or as i like to say, wasted) many years believing and living this. jesus was my life. i lived in what you might call a christian ghetto: i worked full-time in a christian bookstore, was deeply involved in a church (or two), all my social interaction was with other born-again christians, and i was afraid (i didn’t realize it at the time, but it all boiled down to fear) to scarcely listen to anything that wasn’t ccm (contemporary christian music) or even drink something as innocent as a watered down wine cooler.

what gradually but ultimately changed things for me first was developing close friendships with people who didn’t have such a narrow view of what it meant to love god, people who helped me to see that what i was really doing was ‘churchianity’. also, after moving away from columbia in 2000, i read a book that removed the foundation from under my feet, ‘why christianity must change or die’ by bishop john shelby spong. actually the first time i tried to read it, it made me so angry, i couldn’t finish it. i couldn’t believe this so-called bishop was saying all these ‘untrue’ things about what i had staked my life on. for some reason though, a few months later i tried it again, and got angry again, but for a different reason. this time i was pissed because i realized that i had been lied to for pretty much all my life. however, the unanswerable question was, whom should i be pissed at? i couldn’t be mad at the people who taught me this stuff, because they were only teaching me what they had been taught, and what their teachers had been taught. and it seemed pretty pointless to get mad at an institution. i remember right after finishing the book, i said to god, aloud, ‘all i want to know is the truth.’ and i swear, i heard a voice in my head say, ‘now we can begin.’ and my life has not been the same.

i’ve been through a lot spiritually, and religion-wise, between then and now. (spirituality and religion are not the same thing; trust me.) i’ve studied various world religions, some more deeply than others to be sure, but i’ve noticed they’re all basically pointing at the same thing. the problem with most religion is that people get hung up on the thing doing the pointing instead of paying attention to the ‘object’ (for lack of a better word) being pointed at. (not gonna use the finger pointing at the moon quote here, not gonna do it…) a couple of people who have met me in the last few years have accused me of being an atheist, just so i can ‘get away with’ doing whatever i want. nobody gets away with anything, but that’s a whole ‘nuther piece of writing. i’m not an atheist because i don’t believe the bible literally anymore. (actually i’m not an atheist, period.) my belief about the bible, and, by extension, about jesus, is that although the bible is true, it is far from being factual. it, along with other religious texts, is a collection of stories about the human condition, about how to (and how not to) treat others, and about ways to find deeper meaning in life. and that deeper meaning does not consist of literally believing that a man born of a virgin was sent from heaven to die for your sins so you don’t have to. that’s what my problem is with the young woman on the bus this morning. i know where her head is at, because i’ve been there. but she’s got to get outside her own head somehow, and see the bigger picture. she, and all of us, can embrace the experiences that brought her to this point in her life, but she needs to know that there’s more to this life than keeping people out of a literal hell.

maybe this life here on earth would be a little bit less hell-ish if we stopped to realize that there are as many ways to live for god as there are people on this planet.

(this post is an adaptation of a note i posted on facebook earlier today.)