Come the rapture, would someone please inform the prodigal Messiah that I am holding his mail?
There is a special shelf in my home reserved for the mail to Jesus. I felt that there should be. Not like a shrine or anything, just some dried roses, a few ceramic nuns playing baseball, an invitation to Church (although in this case “Church” is a N.Y.C. fetish party) and a growing number of envelopes addressed to the Son of God at my home.
I have been saving these mailings and designing this divine postal stop as more than an artistic or political statement. Though lacking patience or respect for both his absent father and blindly zealous followers, I greatly admire and strive to emulate the life and teachings of Jesus Christ. Were it not for the Sermon on the Mount preached by the manger-borne carpenter Son of God, I might lose all hope. I am saving his mail in case he ever stops by. I want him to see what they have done to his name.
Shortly after our purchasing and moving into this house a few years ago, an envelope arrived in the mail promising “Good News,” “Financial Blessings,” and even a visit from the Holy Spirit! With the intended recipient being the recently deceased former owner “or current resident,” I noticed the return address for a church in
Oklahoma and opened the package to find a colorful paper “prayer rug” along with instructions for use.
In font imitating handwritten personal transcript and peppered with scriptural reference, two pages accompanying the prayer rug advised to write my most pressing issues, needs and concerns along with my name in the blank center of the printed border. I should then lay it face up on the floor in front of a Bible opened to a specified verse. After kneeling on it while repeating the prayer included on the second page, I was directed to refold the sheet of supplication and return it in the postage paid envelope provided. Along, of course, with the most generous donation I felt appropriate. Suggestions ranged from twenty to five hundred dollars, each with parenthetical space awaiting checkmark heralding the enclosed contribution. There was even one marked “$__other,” apparently in case one was only able to send less than twenty dollars, or more than five hundred.
A vision of Anne, this home’s former owner, passed through my mind. Our brief meeting more than a year earlier left enough of an impression on me to remember her as the archetypical ethnic matriarch that is sadly disappearing from this region of our planet, as her generation ages and passes. White-haired grandmothers wrapped in shawls are shuffling in hand-knit slippers off this mortal coil to find their just reward. They leave behind a society and culture sorely at loss, for lack of their direction and example. Steeped in familial love fueling sincere concern for the health, well-being and prosperous future of her descendants, while fervently clinging to a faith imbued by religious upbringing, struggling to bend and pray on arthritic knees, this vanishing breed would sacrifice body, soul, and all worldly possession to ensure the sustainability and good fortune of her offspring.
Apparently just what the church was hoping for.
Scrubbing away evidence and residue of the cigarette smoke that hastened her demise, I chose to keep the cross suspended above the kitchen doorway proclaiming “Peace To All Who Enter Here” as honor and tribute to Anne’s life and faith. Though sharing neither her nicotine nor religious addiction, I heartily agree with a wish for peace to all who pass through this home. Besides, it’s not a crucifix.
Refraining to kneel and pray, I could not so easily resist the temptation of a postage-paid return envelope. After jotting down a few relevant Bible verses condemning deceivers, blasphemers, and moneychangers in the temple, I signed the name Jesus Christ in red ink to symbolize blood, then sealed the envelope, believing through faith in the postal service that my message would be received.
Within a few weeks another envelope from the church arrived in my mail promising, “GOD HAS A NEW PLAN FOR BLESSINGS IN YOUR LIFE.”
Ironically, this was the first message addressed to Jesus Christ.
Others have followed.
Having endured a strict fundamentalist Christian upbringing, I witnessed firsthand the awesome power of faith. My parent’s decision to leave the Catholic Church while I was the impressionable age of four marks me as the first in this namesake’s lineage to have never suffered confirmation, first holy communion, or confession. Instead, I was barraged with an even more mind-numbing indoctrination into the select circle of chosen believers who would be raptured away at the long-promised second-coming of the Christ.
Hoping to shield me from the evil influence of public education during grade school years -the old red-brick schoolhouse in walking distance from my home apparently served as slippery slope to the fiery pits of hell- I was bussed nearly thirty minutes to become one of the first students of the newly founded Chapel Christian School. With classes taught by appointed deacons in either the basement of the church or a large industrial trailer in the parking lot, this educational institution included no legitimate science or history instruction, requiring instead classes like “Bible”. Looking back, it all seems eerily similar to the “satanic cult programming” the church warned was sweeping the nation at the time.
This was the 1970s, following the drug-laden, hippie, free-love era of the sixties. Mainstream tolerance passing for acceptance of homosexuality in addition to the sexual liberation and promiscuity enabled by widespread use of the birth control pill, a lessening of moral standards exemplified by the popularity of television shows like Laugh-In, as well as political turmoil around the globe marked these as the prophesied “end days”. The Shah of Iran and Ayatollah Khomeini serving as this generations Anti-Christ, I remember being taught that all signs pointed to fulfillment of biblical foretelling. Church ordained “teachers” comforted me that I need not look forward to nor concern myself with plans for a future career or family. They assured that Jesus would be returning soon to snatch away all believers “in the twinkling of an eye.” Based on world events this would doubtlessly be happening before I even graduated high school. I just needed to be certain my faith and heart were right with the lord.
Days were spent sitting wide-eyed in a church basement classroom through lectures on the turmoil that non-believers would suffer when the forces of good and evil collide for that final battle of Armageddon. On more than one occasion the preacher, also serving as principal, would rush into the room to pray over and anoint us younger students with oil as we listened fearfully to profanity and foreign tongues spewing from an older student upstairs who was flailing on the floor while demons were cast out of them. The holy oil protected from possession by the evil spirits fleeing the tortured soul above. I found it odd these instances seemed only to occur in the upper grades and even then only among the most rebellious, individualistic, or emotionally troubled students. It would be years before I learned these exorcisms I witnessed are textbook examples of hysteria.
Rejoining the world of secular education in seventh grade, I graduated public high school in nineteen-eighty three and recently spoke to one of the first graduates of Chapel Christian School. She is a self-admitted pill-popping, alcoholic still terrified of Christ’s return, fearing with every thunderclap to have been left behind, unworthy of rapture. I have witnessed firsthand the awesome power of faith.
Along with local hardware store ads and a “Have You Seen Me?” missing person flyer, yesterday’s mail brought another thick white delivery from that church in Oklahoma. This one addressed simply to “Resident-A Friend”. The front of the envelope assures “Gods Holy Spirit instructed us to loan you this to start turning things around for you. Use it and be blessed.” A prayer on the back of the envelope reads “Dear God, With our Bibles opened to St Matthew 18:19, we humbly and sincerely pray on bended knees for you to anoint this letter with Your precious and holy power to meet the most pressing need that someone is facing as they open this church letter of prayer.”
The prayer continues inside that the one who needs this “divine help” would write their “most pressing problem” on the “blessed, biblical, (Acts 19:11, 12,) Handkerchief” serving as page two of the letter. One should then place the handkerchief and “sealed Bible prophecy”- also part of the mailing- on a Bible opened to Acts 19:11. Instructed to “leave these items under your side of the bed for TONIGHT ONLY!” the reader is comfortably reassured “If you can’t,” due perhaps to an un-believing spouse or lack of a Bible, “don’t worry, God will see your situation.”
In the morning, after taking the faith handkerchief out of the bible and placing it in the self addressed return envelope (“..the church will pay the postage for you-this is so important,”) believers in faith are assured the church will “pray a special prayer for a special miracle blessing”. The very next line asks believers to “pray right now about sowing a biblical seed offering unto the Lord”, citing Luke 6:38 that if you give God your best seed, his best blessing will be returned. “Only break open this sealed prophecy after sunset tomorrow” after completing the prescribed ritual, admonishes the letter, further warning “If you are not going to return this Bible handkerchief, then this sealed prophecy must be destroyed, unopened and unread, because this is of a spiritual nature.”
My first thoughts related to the fact that if the God I was taught to love and fear in my church basement classroom actually existed, people and churches of this sort would surely be struck down by lightning, hellfire and brimstone, or one of the many plagues at his disposal. Old Testament tales of Jehovah’s holy wrath for blasphemers and defilers of his word belie such tolerant indifference. For once, instead of searching vainly for proof of his mercy and compassion, I would love to witness evidence of his anger and judgment. Who more deserving of such than this supposed church or the one that warped my youth? I can’t help but suspect that a supreme being would disapprove of words credited to him causing a fifth grader to fear being the prophesied anti-christ for questioning someone’s translation of those words. For that matter, where was this god’s oversight when the preacher/principal of my “christian” school was caught in a hotel room cheating on his wife and children with the church organist who was also married with children?
On further consideration, I will be returning the prayer hankie, without a seed offering donation of course. I again signed Jesus Christ in red ink to symbolize blood. As for most pressing problem or need, I wrote “I feel so ashamed for what they do in my name.”
I hope and pray they get the message.
Author’s biographical notes:
“Brother Strawberry is the name Kurt Vonnegut addressed me with the first time he wrote to me. He was referencing the time a few months earlier when as we were leaving the front door of his manhattan brownstone he introduced me to a woman who was just arriving as “my long lost brother.”
If you know his work you will understand.
If not, I am sad for you.
When I thanked Kurt for helping to free and heal me from the fundamentalist dogma of my upbringing, the then greatest living American writer who penned The Books of Bokonon- a religion based entirely on harmless untruths, the man who created the disorganized religions of The Church of The Kidnapped Christ, God-the utterly indifferent and the unholy order of Our Lady of Perpetual Consternation laughed and puffed on an unfiltered Pall-Mall cigarette before insisting “I’ve never been one to try and talk someone out of religion.”
I am eternally grateful for the work of free-thinking atheist and humanist Kurt Vonnegut being more influential in my character development and outlook on life than the fundamentalist upbringing I endured.
If you know anything about a fundamentalist upbringing you will understand.
If not, I am happy for you.