Edge of Apocalypse: pages 252-256 (Chapter Forty-Four)
In keeping with the theme of Polka-based intros, I’d like to introduce you all to the catchy Clarinet Polka by, of course, Walter Ostanek. 😛
In addition, for readers who’ve followed along, you know that I self-identify as a QUILTBAG person, and as such I really was moved by this heartfelt open letter originally linked to by Fred Clark over on Slacktivist: John Shore’s Open Letter to Gay People.
We now turn to the drug counselling session for Darlene Rice, who, we should recall, was last seen at lunch with Abigail, where she admitted she had problems coping with her son’s death and had been taking high doses of Valium as a result.
I’d like to note that I don’t like the Christian-themed drug-counselling in this chapter, because inappropriate coping strategies (i.e. drug use) do not point in a straight line from surrendering to a drug to surrendering to God (to be fair, this is my interpretation of how Abigail’s advice and Darlene’s discussion with the counsellor are being presented). In point of fact I would say that such conversions born from someone wanting a hand up from a desperate situation are probably at the worst time, because the decision to convert may not have been made with the full understanding or honest desire of the person undergoing conversion.
I knew someone who’d converted after nearly hitting bottom from drugs and partying, and the thing I found bothersome was that when I struck up an acquaintance with him, I was mostly just wanting to chat with a fellow university student (and to be honest he was kind of cute 😛 ), while he clearly saw a notch on his evangelical belt in front of him, and it showed in his earnest desire for me to meet his fellow compatriots and develop “a personal relationship with God”.
Granted, this person did clean up his act post-conversion, but it seems likely that a different, non-religious catalyst for change in his life could equally have worked had his life-stream gone a little differently.
Let’s follow the chapter along, as Darlene meets with a counsellor named Margaret at the Living Waters Recovery Center in Tucson, Arizona. In the book, it notes that she’s been at the Center for “a few weeks”.
Margaret looked up from a report, smiled, and began.
“We’ve finished the assessment. During the days you’ve been here we all think you’ve been very cooperative. In the end, you are the one who will be directing your own recovery. It may look like we’re the ones in charge, but not really. A person has to understand they have an addiction, and then they have to want to get better. From our perspective, it looks to us like you do. That’s a really good thing, Darley. We’re very encouraged. You should be too.”
Ok, so far so good. This is fairly boilerplate stuff I’ve heard from various sources regarding addiction treatment, and so on and so forth. Sounds like Parshall did his research.
Some wrinkles have come up, though. Judge Strong Rice didn’t show last visiting day:
Margaret continued, “We’ve got a picture now of your situation. I’d like to talk to you about the next steps. First, I noticed that your husband, Fortis–“
“We all call him Fort.”
“Okay. Fort didn’t come during visiting day yesterday. No big deal. People have busy schedules. But I just wanted to ask some more about him.”
The thing that comes out of the next few paragraphs is that some gender-essentialist thinking seems to have gone into the structuring of how Darlene and Fortis view this counselling business. Without going into a whole load of detail over what gender essentialism means, one aspect of it that’s relevant is the hidebound old “women = emotional, free to talk about emotions, men = rational, do not talk about emotions” dichotomy. To be fair, Fortis is also shown to be holding some relatively ineffective viewpoints about how to recover from addiction, as not all addicts can ‘just help themselves’ (as witness the frequent relapses of smokers who try to quit cold turkey):
Darlene decided it was time to blurt it out, so she said, “Fort hasn’t bought into this whole counseling thing. He’s very traditional. A private man. He’s not convinced I really have an addiction. He doesn’t like the idea of a group program where people tell other people their problems. His attitude is–just stop taking the pills. Plus, there is the other thing…”
The fact that this is a Christian drug rehab center. Oh, my, he really does have a problem with that.” Darlene gave a little chuckle. “Fort says that ‘too many people use God as the front man for all their problems.'”
It’s interesting to note that the essentialist ‘be a man’ concept of “just stop taking the pills” is considered ‘strong’ compared to the ‘wishy-washy’ group therapy idea. It’s probably not entirely coincidental that Fortis’s name translates as “strong” in cod Latin.
It’s also worth noting that the men in this series (as I believe I mentioned before) are the ones generally resistant to Christian teachings while the women are the path-breakers in converting to Christianity (the RTC variety of LaHaye-ism being of course the only acceptable one in LaHaye-sponsored books). Joshua Jordan and Fortis Rice both seem to believe “those are helped who help themselves”.
The next segment where Darlene discusses Abigail sounds vaguely innuendo-y in a couple of places. But what’s interesting is that holding the Christian faith is compared to a kind of power; that’s not an analogy I’ve seen before, at least not one used widely.
“Yes. My good friend Abby Jordan recommended it. I’m so glad she did. Abby is one of those ‘glow-girl Christians.’ That’s what I call it. You know, they have an inner glow. Like the power light on your curling iron that lets you know it’s hot and ready to go. Anyway, she’s got a power inside that other people don’t have. I’d love to have that.”
Darlene and Margaret go on to discuss the usual “transformative power of Jesus Christ” (Margaret says she was also an addict once, but converted and this helped her to end it) that I’ve seen in other literature – this concept is all about the idea that humans can’t help themselves unless they are willing to accept Jesus Christ into their lives and let Him aid them in whatever changes they want to make.
They go on to discuss the “all people are sinners” doctrine; Darlene concurs that she believes she is a sinner, and Margaret applies (indirectly) the “wages of sin is death for which Jesus substituted Himself” doctrine as she talks about the “washing away of all sins”.
Fred Clark discussed conversion scenes like this, calling them “intrusively intimate“, and I tend to agree (see also his “LB: Explicit Content” writeup). It’s the same when Parshall tries out his version of it in this book:
“Yes. I believe all that,” Darlene said. “I remember what Abby used to tell me. She used to ask me whether I was willing to invite Jesus Christ into my heart, to forgive my sins, and to change my life forever. I’d change the subject. I wasn’t ready. But now I am. I want Jesus to be my Savior. I mean…personally. Not just some religious figure on a cross or in a picture. But to be real…I want to meet Him in my heart. I don’t want to put this off any longer.”
They both bowed their heads.
Just then, Darlene had the instinct to get down on her knees. So she did. Margaret followed her to the floor, sitting next to her, both of them resting their arms and hands on the couch.
The “instinct to get down on her knees” for prayer seems like Darlene has never heard of or seen prayer stances before. That’s patently unrealistic, and caters to the feelings of RTC readers that they’re “in on” what Parshall’s trying to say. In reality almost any television show in the 1950s to the 1970s likely had scenes of a child praying before bed, usually kneeling at bedside. Therefore the “instinct” of getting on her knees to be closer to the floor is likely to be simply a learned response to the “I’m praying” thought, and it’s hardly as mysterious as Parshall makes it out to be.
And then she Prays The Prayer. To Parshall’s credit, I think this is less formulaic than the ones Jenkins has his characters recite when they convert to RTCs. He’s also set the stage for a more realistic way in which these newly converted RTCs will adopt the dialog and mannerisms of people like Abigail, since the Rapture hasn’t happened yet and she can help her friend Darlene along the path, as it were.
“I am a sinner, God,” Darlene said, with her eyes closed tight, her voice trembling. “No surprise there, right? You always knew that. And I know that. I believe your Son, Jesus, died on the cross for my sins. Then He walked out of the grave because, well, He had to, because He’s the Son of God. Not a problem for God’s Son to get that done. So, God, I want Jesus Christ to come into my heart. Please have Him come, God. I need Him to save me. Clean me up. Not just the pills. But everything…”
Her words were wavering and caught in her throat as she continued, “I want Jesus to be totally in charge. A changed life. Transformation. Please, God, I need this so badly…”
This version, however, is also uncomfortably intimate as are the stories and prayers Jenkins has his characters tell in the Left Behind series. I used to skip those, actually, because having the characters recite their backslid old lives seemed kind of redundant; as Fred Clark pointed out the scenes are actually for the RTC audience to vicariously witness sin and be free to denounce it.
Just as Jerry Jenkins had his characters bubbling over with excitement about praying the prayer and wanting to announce it, so Parshall does with Darlene:
She got Abigail Jordan’s voicemail and said, “Guess what, Abby dear! I prayed a prayer today. And anyway…I guess I’ve become a glow girl!”
Is it just me or does “glow girl” sound kind of California-esque? (Or maybe WWE-esque?)
The chapter ends on a more tense note, as she wonders what she’s going to tell her husband. Given that she confesses that things have been ‘interesting at home’ when we last saw Darlene, and that she’s worried, not excited, about telling her husband, I have to wonder at the unfortunate (and hopefully unintentional) subtext that LaHaye and Parshall have introduced to the Fortis-Darlene relationship. I would like it if he was not an abusive husband, but then why emphasize “interesting” and have this uncertain thought?
Re: Christian counselling.
To the credit of the Center as portrayed here, Margaret has been relatively un-pushy about her own faith, and while she and Darlene seem to have discussed it prior to what we’re shown here, I think she did wait for Darlene to take the initiative in discussing matters of Christian faith.
That said, it still strikes me as a bit inappropriate to have an avowedly religious-themed program of addiction treatment. As I noted previously, it is possible that the converter to a new faith has not been properly and fully informed about what demands his or her new faith shall make, and also possible that a conversion to religious faith is used as a “short cut” method of treatment, intentionally or not.
I expect we will see more of Darlene later on, but for now the chapter ends. We’ll meet back with Josh and Abby as they continue to break the law, in palatial digs of course. See you next time.