As the pandemic stretches on and getting things in stores—or even from Amazon—isn’t assured, my thoughts go back to Larry Norman.Specifically to his song “I Wish We’d All Been Ready.”Made famous for many by its use in the 1972 rapture film A Thief in the Night, the song recounts the state of those “left behind” when a piece of bread could be exchanged for a bag of gold.The lyrics are haunting in their sincerity.Here in Pennsylvania, as in neighboring New York, non-essential businesses have closed, per order of the governors.Periodic forays to the grocery store show the empty shelves of panic buying.Norman’s song rings in my ears.Only this isn’t a biblical plague.We’re just acting like it.
No doubt technology has been of great use in keeping us aware.I do wonder, however, at how panics seem to come more quickly now.Slowing down manufacturing will have a knock-on effect for things down the road, of course.Right now we’re all wondering how we’re going to get through yet another day just sitting in the house.Meanwhile the lawn is beginning to grow and I’m going to have to get out there with the push mower soon.I’d been planning on shopping for a better one this year, but plans seem to have suddenly pooled at my feet.What is essential travel anyway?Does it count a trip to the big box hardware store to buy a reel mower?Should I even bother about the lawn when there’s no toilet paper within a fifty-mile radius?I wish we’d all been ready.
The funny thing about all this is how it makes us focus on the here and now.While we’re waiting for things to “get back to normal” we’re being told nobody knows how long this might last and we should plan to hunker down for some time.The International Meeting of the Society of Biblical Literature (being held in Australia this year) was cancelled.Many of us in the discipline have had our lives revolving around the Annual Meeting in November for all of our adulthood.If that meeting’s cancelled how will we even know when Thanksgiving comes?Can it even come without the crowds at the Macy’s parade?Best not to look too far ahead, I guess.The rapture is a fictional construct, but the effects of a pandemic are eerily similar.I do wish all of us had been ready.
It’s hard to keep a good apocalypse down. Ever since Jesus of Nazareth did his best Arnold Schwarzenegger impression of “I’ll be back” some of his followers have obsessed when just when that will be. Sorry for the late notice, but the current prediction is for tomorrow. If you’ve got any weekend plans, you might want to rethink them. I know traffic in Jersey is already bad enough without white horses breaking through the clouds. An article my wife promptly sent me from NPR, “Is The Apocalypse Coming? No, It Isn’t!” by Marcelo Gleiser, addresses the documentary The Sign. No doubt about it, there’s some impressive astronomical gyrations here, but planets moving through constellations do not an apocalypse make. As Gleiser points out, the real question is why people believe such predictions so passionately.
Larry Norman’s song “I Wish We’d All Been Ready” captures the mood nicely. Growing up in a tradition that believed, as only literalists can, that this world is the center of the cosmos, Norman’s song haunted my teenage years. These were the heady days of Hal Lindsey and a very hot Cold War. I had to register for the draft. There was unrest in the Middle East. Sonny and Cher had split up. The signs were aligned, it seemed. As they had been nearly every year since about 30 CE. Paul of Tarsus was waiting. And John of Patmos. And Timothy LaHaye. True believers all. Conviction begets conviction. Seeing another fully convinced is a powerful incentive.
Even now, if I’m honest, I shudder a little when I hear such predictions. What if, by some odd chance, they are right? Raised in that tradition, it’s nearly impossible to jettison that private fear. Rationally I know that clever people can make all kinds of connections that have nothing to do with the Bible. I know that John’s Revelation isn’t about the end of the world. I know that the views of Paul were bound by the developments of his age. I know the Rapture was invented in the nineteenth century (CE). Still, the chill slithers through me when I consider how it felt as an uncertain teen on the brink of Armageddon. I could envision it clearly. Some who were utterly sure swayed me. Specific dates and times weren’t biblical, but the wait for any moment now was even more terrifying. Tomorrow will begin and end just as any other day on planet earth. And another apocalypse will enter the planning stages, coming soon to a universe near you.