Magazine article Appalachian Heritage

Second Coming

Magazine article Appalachian Heritage

Second Coming

Article excerpt

I had known all my life the world would end with the new millennium, that Jesus would return and save the faithful and leave the wicked, and that girls who didn't want to be left behind had better behave.

I knew this because my father told me, me and the rest of the congregation at the Little Martha Church of the Word. As a preacher he knew how to read the signs. The Bible was clear, Daddy said, and the world was clearer. The wicked were ascendant, you had only to look around you at society and the kinds of sin people were getting up to these days to see it. Why, the President of the United States had committed adultery. Even the news people on TV warned that doom would strike on New Year's Eve, that every bit of technology that propped up our world would come crashing down.

The TV people called it the Y2K but Daddy called it the Tribulation. Chaos would sweep in, he said, the lights wouldn't work and the gas pumps wouldn't work and the computers would go haywire and the banks would shut down and we had just better hope that Jesus would rescue us from these turbulent waters.

"I never trusted that old Internet" sniffed my mother, who had never used it. In school we had a computer lab and we had been taught how to make simple little codes, programs that would solve easy math problems. Our teacher mentioned getting electronic messages that passed invisibly through the air.

But there was no computer in our house, no invisible messages from the air except from God, handed down to my father at night as he read his Bible and delivered by him Sunday mornings and Wednesday nights in the little wood-paneled sanctuary, sometimes thumping his hand down on the pulpit, sometimes pacing the faded red carpet at the front of the room.

"Y'all had better look to your lives" Daddy said, "and get right with God, because that Second Coming that's been foretold is near. It's knocking at the door. The signs don't lie! Will you be ready to open that door?" He would point to different people in the church, emphasizing his point.

"Amen" we said back, "praise Jesus" If, in our deepest hearts, we weren't sure if we were ready to open the door, we didn't speak it.

Daddy spoke of the coming End Times more and more regularly as summer of 1999 turned toward fall. If we were all going to Heaven at the end of December then I didn't see a whole lot of point to school work, but my teachers did not share my view. Mr. Rice, the math teacher, looked at me oddly when I said God would crash the computers and sweep up the saved and that therefore I would not need to learn algebra. Then he smiled tightly and said it wouldn't hurt me to learn it anyway.

"Who do you think gave us math, Ruthie, but God?" Mr. Rice asked. "It is far too logical to come from chance and chaos. I'm sure Noah found mathematics to be helpful. So you might need it after you've been ... swept up."

I was not entirely clear on how the actual Rapture was supposed to work. Daddy's sermons were big on the Signs but short on the logistics. Would we levitate, like the girl who was possessed by the Devil in a movie I watched at my friend Birdie's house even though I wasn't supposed to see R-rated movies? If we levitated, how far would it be, and would we run out of oxygen? I had learned in science class that the earth's atmosphere thinned. Would we just disappear here and reappear in Heaven? That seemed more efficient, but if we did, would we be in our regular clothes or were the robes issued on the way? Should I learn to play a harp now, or would there be lessons?

Birdie said I was being an idiot. If you needed to learn to play the harp before you got to Heaven, she said, there would be harp teachers all over the place.

Birdie's people were Methodists and the church she went to was neat red brick, with stained glass windows that her mother helped wash and what Birdie bragged was new carpeting. It dominated a whole block in town. …

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