Bourbon Cowboy

The adventures of an urbane bar-hopping transplant to New York.

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Location: New York, New York, United States

I'm a storyteller in the New York area who is a regular on NPR's "This American Life" and at shows around the city. Moved to New York in 2006 and am working on selling a memoir of my years as a greeting card writer, and (as a personal, noncommercial obsession) a nonfiction book called "How to Love God Without Being a Jerk." My agent is Adam Chromy at Artists and Artisans. If you came here after hearing about my book on "This American Life" and Googling my name, the "How to Love God" book itself isn't in print yet, and may not even see print in its current form (I'm focusing on humorous memoir), but here's a sample I've posted in case you're curious anyway: Sample How To Love God Introduction, Pt. 1 of 3. Or just look through the archives for September 18, 2007.) The book you should be expecting is the greeting card book, about which more information is pending. Keep checking back!

Monday, February 11, 2008

Fear of the Rapture: Testimonials

I just submitted a pitch to This American Life about the evangelical belief in the Rapture, specifically (for a theme tentatively called "Disappeared") an aspect of growing up believing in the Rapture that hasn't been explored:

As a child, three or four times when I came home from school and found an empty house, I had a moment of panic where I thought, “Oh my god! Everyone’s been raptured!” I think most normal kids in this situation simply think, “Huh. Mom and dad must be out somewhere. I’ll just watch TV till they return.” Only evangelicals—about 28% of the U.S. population—tend to think, “Oh, no! The Lord has taken all the Christians, I’ve been found wanting and left behind, and soon the Antichrist will declare war on Christians and I’ll starve to death because I can’t buy food unless I accept the Mark of the Beast!” And then mom comes home and everything makes sense again. It’s a very strange emotional roller coaster to be on.

Since The Rapture is pretty much the same thing as evangelicalism (I don't know of anyone outside of evangelicalism who believes in it, and never met an evangelical who doubted it would happen), and since evangelicals make up around 28% of the U.S., this must be an extremely common experience (though admittedly I was on the nervous end of the scale), it’s obviously very interesting, and yet no one ever talks about it!

At any rate, precisely because I suspected no one would believe me that this was a common experience, I did some digging (and got some emails) and here's what I came up with. I reprint them here for general interest:

From a friend of mine back in Tallahassee:
hey dude, I mentioned your story about the Rapture to my new girlfriend (...coming home and findings your parents gone and wondering if you had been 'left behind' .....She knew EXACTLY what you meant. She went to a small fundamentalist church in Monticello, FL [rednecksville] all her life as well as a very small Christian school. She has all your issues when it comes to religion and then some...

From a colleague on an ex-fundy Yahoo! group:
My story is very similar to yours. Became frightened but when someone showed up I was relieved. This went on into much of my adult life. The rapture mindset was so ingrained into me from such a young age that even as an adult, I’d get those moments of uncomfortable feelings when someone was missing…I don't quite have the story you wanted, but the other day, I had an interesting experience. I met an atheist friend at a health food/coffee shop for some conversation. We ordered our coffee and while theywere fixing it, I ran off to the bathroom. When I returned, she was nowhere in sight….My very first thought was, “I wonder where she ran off to?” My second thought was, “In the past, I would have assumed that the rapture had taken place.” So I took the coffees to a table and sat down and waited….I think this shows how far I have come. I have gotten past a lot of the religious brainwashing that I grew up with. Sure, it will always be a part of me, but I’m so happy that I don’t’ have to live in fear of being left behind.

From the introduction to The Rapture Exposed by Barbara Rossing:

TEN-YEAR-OLD "JOSH" CAME HOME from school to an empty house. His mother, normally at home to greet him, was nowhere to be found. She might have been at the store or at a neighbor's, but Josh was terrified. His immediate response was a terrible fear that all his family had been "Raptured" without him. Josh was sure he had been left behind.Now a grown-up in my seminary class on the book of Revelation, Josh told this story of his boyhood experience. Others consistently echo his story of childhood fear of the Rapture. These born-again Christian children were exhorted to be good so that they would be sure to be snatched up to heaven with Jesus when he returned. Raised on a daily diet of fear, their view of God resembled the song about Santa Claus coming to town: "You'd better watch out, you'd better not cry." Only it was Jesus, not Santa, who was "coming to town" at an unexpected hour: "He knows when you've been sleeping. He knows when you're awake. He knows if you've been bad or good, so be good for goodness sake."Christian camp songs taught children to count down to the Rapture like a space launch:Ten and nine, eight and seven, six and five and four;/Call upon the Savior while you may./ Three and two, coming through the clouds in bright array./The countdown's getting closer every day.The Presbyterian pastor who shared this song with me experienced an unexpected and disturbing flashback to his childhood fears even as he sang the words. Visibly shaken after one of my talks on the Rapture, he was experiencing real panic: "I thought I was over the Rapture trauma, but I guess I'm not."…All this fervor and fear over the Rapture--a principle invented only 170 years ago--for a word that cannot even be found in the Bible.


This relates to another anxiety I shared with many of my fundamentalist friends. We sometimes feared that the rapture would occur before something really good happened in our lives. So if my family was planning a big trip to Disney World, I might fear that Christ would decide to split the Eastern sky before my big day with Mickey Mouse. Oh the horror that time would end before I got ride Space Mountain.Of course rapture fears penetrated more than just vacations. On more than one occasion, my folks came to pick me up late from school, and I was certain that Christ had raptured his church, the tribulation was now underway, and I was most definitely “left behind.” With an overactive imagination, I could easily envision multiple terrors unfolding before my very eyes.

…and here, finally, are two other odd rapture-related pop culture objects. The first is a prevalent urban myth about pilots and the rapture, and the second is an entire website dedicated to figuring out when the Rapture will happen, by tracking world events on a “Rapture Index.” We’re at 165 right now—hang on to your seatbelts!



Anonymous Francis said...

My grandmother on my mother's side is a devout Catholic and my grandfather on my father's side is a born-again Protestant. I went to church services with both of them, but it was much more at the forefront with my grandfather, since religion pretty much took over his entire life after his conversion. I'm not really in touch with him anymore (largely because of my retroactive discomfort about having had his religion forced on me as a child), but at the time I saw him fairly regularly and, as kids do, I pretty much believed the things he and his churchmates told me, which included the Rapture.

So I too had moments of coming home to an unexpectedly empty house and thinking exactly as you did: oh, crap, everyone's been raptured, and I got left behind because of those Playboys I snuck out of my stepfather's dad's room and hid under my mattress.

But that wasn't my only childhood Rapture experience. Quick backstory: my stepfather drove an 18-wheeler for many years, and for a few summers, my mother and I would join him on the road. (My mother also learned to drive the tractor-trailer and traded off shifts with him.)

So, one day we were driving (I was probably...10?), most likely in the midwest somewhere, and I was sitting in the passenger seat looking out the window and saw a long, thin, straight cloud that was densely white, and that was pointing downward. And it looked to me like the cloud was slowly descending to the earth, though it's obvious in retrospect that it was an optical illusion. Anyway, I got it into my head that this was the cloud that Christ was descending to earth on, and that I was watching the last few moments before the Rapture. What I can't remember is if this freaked me out or not. At some point I couldn't see the cloud anymore, and eventually enough time passed that I figured, well, I guess the Rapture would've started by now if it was going to start, and I moved on to daydreaming about something else.

2/11/2008 10:03 PM  
Blogger Cowboy Dave Dickerson said...

Wow! Thanks! What a great story!

There's a Mormon church in either Kansas or Missouri (it's near Kansas City but I forgot which direction we drove) that's supposed to be built on the VERY SPOT where Jesus will return. The weird thing is, the church, which has the kind of alien ugliness of all LDS churches, has an additional feature: a spire with a SLIDE AROUND IT that reaches to the heavens, circles around and around in an ever widening gyre, then comes to an end in front of the church. It's clearly designed to be a sort of heavenly walkway for the returning Jesus, but it looks like a really long waterslide, and I think it's shameful that it will probably never be used.

2/11/2008 11:01 PM  
Anonymous Patricia said...


The Seventh Trumpet (1 Thess.4:16-17, which many refer to as "the Rapture") will occur at the CONCLUSION of the “tribulation”.

Based on the Scriptures below, I believe that the church (1 Cor.10:32 below - saints of the most High, Dan.7:25 below) will face the tribulation under the beasts of Revelation chapter 13.

The "tribulation" will occur between the Sixth SEAL (Re.6:12-17) and the Seventh TRUMPET (1 Thess.4:16-17)..

1 Cor.10:32 Give none offence, neither to the Jews, nor to the Gentiles, nor to the church of God:

Matt.24:9 Then shall they deliver you up to be afflicted, and shall kill you: and ye shall be hated of all nations for my name's sake.

Dan. 7:21 I beheld, and the same (little) horn (king) MADE WAR WITH THE SAINTS, and prevailed against them (Dan.7:25 below);

Dan.7:25 And he (the little horn/king - Dan.7:8, Dan.7:24) shall speak great words against the most High, and shall wear out the saints of the most High (Re.15:3), and think to change times and laws (Re.13:15, Dan.11:31): and they (the saints) shall be given into his hand until A TIME and TIMES and THE DIVIDING OF TIME (3 ½ years/1260 days)

Dan.8:24 And his (the king's - Dan.8:23, little horn's - Dan.8:9, Dan.7:24) power shall be mighty, but not by his own power (but Satan’s - Re.13:11-12): and he shall destroy wonderfully (Re.13:15), and shall prosper, and practice, and SHALL DESTROY THE MIGHTY AND THE HOLY PEOPLE (Dan.12:7 below, Col.1:22, Eph.1:4).

Re.12:17 And the DRAGON (Re.12:9, Re.20:2) was wroth with the woman (the church of God - 1 Cor.10:32, Col.1:22, Col.1:24), and WENT TO MAKE WAR WITH THE REMNANT (the rest) OF HER SEED, which keep the commandments of God, and have the testimony of Jesus Christ.

Re.13:7 And it was given unto him (the beast of Re. 13:1) TO MAKE WAR WITH THE SAINTS, AND TO OVERCOME THEM: and (Satanic) power was given him (Re.13:2) over ALL kindreds, and tongues, and nations (Dan.7:23, Re.17:15).

Re.13:15 And he (another beast coming up out of the earth - Re.13:11) had power to give life unto the image of the beast, that the image of the beast should both speak, and cause that as many as WOULD NOT WORSHIP the IMAGE of the beast SHOULD BE KILLED .

Re.16:6 For they (those who had the mark of the beast and those who worshipped his image) have shed the blood of SAINTS and PROPHETS, and thou hast given them blood to drink (Re.16:4); for they are worthy. (of this punishment)

Re.17:6 And I saw the woman (that great city Babylon - Re.17:5) drunken with the blood of the SAINTS (Dan.7:21, Re.13:7, Re.13:15, Re.11:7), and with the blood of the martyrs of Jesus (Re.18:24): and when I saw her, I wondered with great admiration.

Dan.12:6-7 And one said to the man clothed in linen, which was upon the waters of the river, How long shall it be to the END of these wonders?

And I heard the man clothed in linen, which was upon the waters of the river, when he held up his right hand and his left hand unto heaven, and sware by him that liveth for ever that it shall be for A TIME, TIMES, AND AN HALF (3 ½ years or 1260 days); and when he shall have accomplished to scatter the power of the holy people (Dan.8:24, Re.11:3, Re.11:7), all these things shall be FINISHED (Re.10:7).

Patricia (ndbpsa ©) - Bible Prophecy on the Web

2/11/2008 11:31 PM  
Blogger Stan Makowski said...

If no one was home I just thought, cool, now I can eat that can of frosting I saw and watch MTV.

2/12/2008 10:30 AM  
Blogger Karen said...

Oh man, and right here's another one of those weird rapture things! The ongoing, and often vile, disagreement between pre-Trib, mid-Trib and post-Tribbers!

Unbelievable that my friends and I actually used to spend hours and hours listening to sermons and debating amongst ourselves about this fantasy minutiae. We were as bad as the guys who debated about Star Trek or comic book superheros.

Wait, we were worse. We actually thought this stuff was true!

2/12/2008 4:49 PM  
Blogger Chad E Burns said...

Dave--GREAT post!! I used to have a mental liost of numbers to call (another testament to the underlying "judgementalness" of evangelical/fundy's). the list was in order from "safest"--(most likely to go in the Rapture--to "not safe". I would immediately begin calling these numbers (and hanging up if someone answered that I recognized. One day I made it all the way to #8 (the BAPTIST church--I was pentecostal (#2) before I got an answer--then I spent the rest of the time fretting if Baptist's would make it in the rapture, so I called 2 other Pentecostal churches in the neighboring city--just to be safe. CRAZY the way religion affects you when you are a child.

BTW--My grandmother was from Montecello, FL (your friend's description was right.)

2/13/2008 10:11 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

How can parents do this to their children? I have had this same experience a multitude of times, and I am angry. Children should not be thinking about dispensational theology or theology at all. It soured me against religion altogether.

Whenever I try to google this topic about children, fear, and the rapture, what topics do I find these goons discussing: the worries of PARENTS that their young children may not be raptured. And that this could not be so because the rapture is meant to be a message of comfort. No one ever considers the feelings of children.
I know there are many, many, many people who have had this experience. Teaching children
this should be viewed as would deliberately telling them a frightening story before bed-time.

2/26/2009 11:12 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...


For 18 centuries all organized churches and all official Christian theology embraced the "Tribulation Index" (that is, the essence of it without using the label). In recent years a Nebraska "rustler" has been changing it into the "Rapture Index." For more info Google "The Rapture Index (Mad Theology)" and "Open Letter to Todd Strandberg." For some background on "rapture rustling" read "Pretrib Rapture Dishonesty" on the "Powered by Christ Ministries" site. But, pardner, you'd better take some tranquilizers before you lasso any of the above items!

6/07/2009 9:50 PM  

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