Friday, February 01, 2008


No memory is ever pure, for we all construct narrative in hindsight. I have constructed a strong, bitter narrative around one episode from my childhood such that I have made it a lynch pin of my identity. The memory involves rapture movies. Do you know of these beasts? Have you ever borne witness?

By now you all know that my father died when I was 7. You may even know that he died of a curable disease: Hodgkins--that's the one that sidelined Mario Lemieux for a couple of months back in '93. Even back in the early '70s, Hodgkins was curable if it was detected in time. My dad's was not. Now maybe that was because he was a stubborn, bear-the-pain-in-silence farmer or maybe it was because my small town was serviced by two family doctors who had spent the bulk of their careers as missionaries in Africa and, as such, were not really on top of the diagnostic literature. I don't know the answer for certain but as I mentioned above, I have consciously constructed bitterness from this story.

When my dad died, our doctor felt deep and honest remorse. I'm certain of it. Whether he also felt pangs of guilt, I'll never know. For years following dad's death, the doctor's wife came to visit once each summer carrying a cheque that would send one of us kids to camp. I know this family of devout Christians saw this act as God's work, charitable work. We were dirt poor; going to summer camp was an opportunity we certainly wouldn't have had without their help. The camp, Fair Glen, was a pan-denominational, evangelical Christian organization with a few acres of land about a half-hour from where I grew up. Its sole purpose was make us born again... while teaching us a bit of paddling and bead work on the side.

I remember my first year at camp. I was 12 or 13 years old (but I felt younger) and it was my first time away from home--really away, not just visiting Uncle Lloyd and Aunt Vi or bunking down at Gram's for the night. I was gone a full week without the ability to contact home. On our first night at camp, before we were even able to get to know one another and form strategic social-sanity bonds, we were all herded into the main hall for movie night. We watched A Distant Thunder, a rapture film.

A Distant Thunder begins with a guillotining scene set to a chorus of complacent Christians singing "We shall overcome" dirge-like as they are marched to their death. You see in the prequel to this film, A Thief in the Night, all God's faithful are swept off to heaven in the Rapture. Those left behind are given a choice by Satan's followers: accept the mark of the beast or be executed. The only hope promised to these poor sods is to accept Jesus Christ as their personal Saviour such that their reward will await them on the other side of the blade. Some do. Some do not. All are murdered brutally on-screen.

After the film, we were told that the Rapture could happen at any time, that end-times were at hand. Only those known to Christ would be taken in the Rapture. The rest of us would have to deal with the apocalypse. We then walked back to our cabins, which had no indoor plumbing or electricity, to contemplate our souls and to get a good night's rest. Suffice to say, that night, as I lay on my bunk unable to sleep for fear of being attacked in the night, for fear of simply dissolving, for fear of never seeing my family again and for fear of fear itself, I became born again.

A week later on my return home, CTV carried the "World Television Premiere" of The Omen. I made it as far as the Nanny scene ("Damien, Damien, this I do for you!") before having to leave the room more terrified than I had ever been in my life. I didn't sleep all night, for if I slept on my side I could be attacked from behind. I could easily be smothered if I dozed off on my stomach. Phantom arms were sure to spring up from the bed should I lie on my back. The hands under the bed would no doubt grab my ankles if I made a run for it. Hours passed by and I watched the slow path of headlights crawl around my walls, each light a trumpet blast from one of the horsemen of the apocalypse.

It's not that I was new to Christianity when I walked through the gates of Fair Glen. We were a god-fearing family. When I was little, my mother played the organ at the Anglican church and I helped by putting the hymn numbers up in the hardwood display boards. My Gram was a fire and brimstone Baptist who made sure I attended Pioneer Girls. She was also responsible for the various illustrated editions of the Bible we had kicking around the house. And yet, Christianity was quietly observed in my family, my mother being more a disciple of C.S. Lewis than any kind of organized doctrine.

After my rebirth of duress in Christ, I remained a Christian throughout my teen years though never so earnest and terrified a one as I was that first summer. I returned to camp at least one more time and saw a few more Rapture films before my indoctrination was complete. I eventually joined the United Church and became part of a singing teen ministry. I went to Breakfast Club before Church each Sunday and eventually the social aspects of Christianity won out over all that fear-mongering. At the time, I believed I was a true person of faith but in retrospect I know that my core was hollow on this count.

As I passed into adulthood I began to question so many aspects of Christianity and the Church. I lost my faith entirely and I know deep down that I will never reclaim it. I don't pretend for a second that this loss of faith can all be pegged on a single rapture film, but when you come to God by way of the lion and not the lamb you will always be frightened and unsure. When your experiences are soured by poverty and parental loss such that you can't help but question the motives of even the most sincere do-gooders, you become that proverbial camel on the wrong side of the needle--except that you can't help but wonder to yourself why you would ever want to squeeze yourself back through.

This post was written as part of Julie's Hump Day Hmmmm. I would have had it up on Wed except I got too sleepy to finish it last night. And yes, I have read Gwen's post but not until I had this one more or less written. Oh and I have also seen the Mimi Rogers/David Duchovny Rapture, just in case you're wondering.