Tuesday, May 31, 2011

A Little Less Than Rapture

It seems that the Rapture--that increasingly well known and ever more gross misunderstanding of Christian scripture--has once again come and gone without appreciable effect on the world as we know it, although this latter is of course because the event did not, as usual, actually occur.

What event?

Well, that same that has been predicted at regular intervals throughout the last couple centuries of our soul-starved times. It is that great beginning of the end, proclaimed on the poster boards of the crackpots of old, in the shrill sermons of the charismatic periphery, and more lately through the buzz of the worldwide web.


There will be troubles and trials, wars and rumours of war. And then the Lord Jesus Himself will pop in briefly to collect his true sheep before the s--t really hit’s the fan in a period of universal tribulation preceding His more ceremonious second coming and the final judgement.

“Listen, I tell you a mystery,“ says the Apostle Paul in the epistle to the Corinthians. “We will not all sleep, but we will all be changed--in a flash, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, the dead will be raised imperishable, and we will be changed.”

In the wildly popular series of “Left Behind” books by authors Tim LeHaye and Jerry Jenkins, this scripture (along with others) is lifted from scripture on the wings of extravagant fancy as we are told that one day soon the truly chosen will suddenly disappear from the face of the earth. Beds will be empty, towns will be deserted (except for Las Vegas); cars, suddenly driver-less, will careen into walls, planes will fall from the sky due to the unlucky subtraction of their Christian pilots (making travel with non-Christian airlines the safest bet in the short-term).

This is The Rapture, in modern lore. Sound fun? Well, in our day of magicians and magic wands, of dark powers and enchanted solutions (Just use the Force, Luke), I guess it does. Swords and sorcery, Jihads and Crusades have always been more interesting, as well as more personally accessible, to the common folk of the world than lives lived with charity, compassion and sacrifice.

But is the term “rapture” actually in the Bible? No, it’s not. Is there a Hebrew, Aramaic or Greek word that can be translated reliably as “rapture?” Well, no.

Rapture itself is of course a real word in English. In fact, I can attest to moments of rapture that I have experienced for myself (as understand the word), but these moments have generally been connected with the intimate proximity of a beautiful woman. So that is obviously something different from the coming of the Lord in blazing clouds of glory. I believe.

I don’t mean to be sacrilegious. God forbid. But I am angry. I am angry at people like Harold Camping, the author of the most recent silliness involving the most recent magic date of May 21st. I’m angry at charismatic pastors who prefer tickling parishioners’ ears to to conveying in real-life terms the precious word of God. I am angry at the insult inflicted on that same holy word, or on any holy body of any holy scripture, by the application of worldly ignorance, superimposed like a blindfold on the truth.

“Listen!” Paul says. Don’t speak, just listen. The word of God is a whisper of love, not a call to arms.

"No one knows about that day or hour, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father.”

So says Jesus in Matthew 24. Did you miss this, Harold? Or do you merely discard what does not fit with fancy?

Monday, May 23, 2011


Here’s something we never get tired of hearing about. The weekly, twice weekly, or thrice weekly “cop stop.” We’ve all been there, right? We bules, I mean. In fact, the activity soon becomes so familiar that we begin to miss the experience if too much time passes between incidents. An essential ingredient seems missing from life in Bali as we know it.

What happened? Where are all my buddies? Gone? Those long lines of crisply uniformed, whistle blowing, machinegun packing officers of the law, custodians of the traffic jam; those princes of petty larceny; those smiling faces; the snappy salute; the unfolding of our wallets for the exchange of money. What sort of bargain can we strike this time? Fifty thousand, or maybe even thirty?

Sure, it’s not the cheapest entertainment in town, but still it is part of the overall ambience of the island. Moreover, we get to meet a lot of new people and exchange niceties. “Where you from? How long you stay? Oh I have a cousin in San Francisco!” And so on. Recently one officer saluted me so many times that I felt like a retired five star general.

Maybe we see an officer we already know. What’s his name again? Chan? Fife? And so we ask the officer who has made the actual stop whether we can receive the fine from our friend instead.

Now don’t get me wrong. I appreciate the gist of what’s being done here. Given the recent renewal of threats from people who just can’t stop playing with matches, the Bali police force has been put on full alert, and the officers have been given the authority to stop any and every car or motorbike without specific cause in order to prevent the aforementioned pyromaniacs from bringing another bomb to our paradise. It’s a good idea, I think. Even if it is a bit bothersome, it is still worth the bother (ostensibly), just the same as security checks and the resulting long lines in American airports is worth the bother, for the alternative to a lack of vigilance is unthinkable.

During one recent stop I mentioned to the officer that I had just been stopped two hours earlier while travelling in the opposite direction. Yes, yes, it’s okay, he said. Nothing wrong for you, but we look for the bomb. Terrorists have declared war on the police.

So they have. And so they have done on whole human race.

But hold on a sec. Something’s wrong here. The aim is not quite level with the barrel. For I see, as I stop my bike, remove my helmet, take my license from my wallet with a certain slight of hand (in order to hide the money therein), that quite a few cars and bikes are slithering through the blockade unfettered. Suspicious looking cars and bikes, if you ask me. Here goes a black pickup with no front bumper. There goes another with no license plates and no rear window. And what about those cyclists who are sneaking along the outer sides of the big trucks like pilot fish?

In fact, as I notice in a politically incorrect albeit factual sort of way, that they are stopping all cars and bikes driven by the unlikeliest appearing terror suspects--white people, bules, wealthy Indonesians in big silver cruisers.

I have to wonder, statistically speaking, how likely it is that potential terrorists are being detained? How likely is it that wealthy people, of any nationality, otherwise busy at enjoying the better things in life, would decide ‘for no particular reason’ (as Forrest Gump might put it) to blow themselves up?

But of course I’m not serious. It’s a question of money, that’s all. It is business as usual, regardless of responsible intentions at the top. On a practical level, the thing is a charade, and not something terrorists need worry too much about.

Friday, May 6, 2011

bin Laden

I suppose that everyone must have something to say about the recent demise of Osama bin Laden. I say must have, for it seems a moral obligation. Here is a man who had an effect on the whole world. Not like Gandhi, mind you. Not like Buddha or Jesus or Mohammed. No, more like Adolph Hitler, more like Joseph Stalin, more like Pontius Pilate and Judas Iscariot. Here is a man who started out by betraying God, anyone’s God, along with all things decent when he conceived and ordered the murder of more than 3000 innocent men, women and children in New York City, and now he has ended up dead, his own victim, nothing more.

Is there a question here? Is there a decent person who, possessing the most fundamental ingredient of moral sense, would object to this self-inflicted death, or call it unfair, or call it (God forbid) unfortunate?

No, there is no pathos here, no martyrdom. There is only one sad little man who went astray from the community of man and the house of God.

Human beings possess an innate sense of right and wrong, just the same as they possess a nose and a navel. If later in life we murder our fellow man in the name of religion or politics or greed or power, we have departed from the moral sense with which we were born.  If we reduce another human being to an idea, to an object, to a target, we insult God Himself, in whose image that human being had been made.

Was Osama bin Laden a Muslim? No. I know Muslims--many of them--and I find them to be much like myself. They are people--fathers, mothers, brothers, sisters--partaking together in the joy and in the struggle that is life on planet earth. We want to love and be loved, to thrive, to eat, to seek friendship and community. We are simply doing our best. We are just trying to get through life. Who then is the man who decides to murder his fellow--that same fellow who is helping to row the same communal ark of this journey through life? How far away has this man had to remove himself from reality to arrive at the point where he can conceive of individual human beings as nothing more than pawns in an ideological and altogether inhuman warfare?

There is no question. Right is right, wrong is wrong. Love breeds understanding. Hate breeds death.

An infected part has been removed for the benefit of the integrity and health of the whole body.

And now some of us are worried about a proper burial for this cancerous tissue. You’re kidding, right?


Once upon a time there was a man named William Calley. He was a lieutenant in the United States army during the Vietnam War. Lieutenant Calley decided one day to massacre scores of innocent men, women and children at a place called My Lai. In his mind he had reduced them to lumps of mud. Without compassion, without pity, without humanity, he ordered the murder of these people. Men, women, brothers, sisters, children, toddlers, teens, infants. They were the enemy.

I ask you now, does anyone care over-much about the procedure that will attend Lieutenant Calley’s burial? Does anyone care about the manner in which Adolph Hitler was buried?

How about the burial of 3000 people in the State of New York? Does anyone care?

If you type in the name William Calley on Google, you will come up with the story of the My Lai massacre. If you type in Hitler, you will come up with the murder of 6 million Jews. If you type in bin Laden, you will come up with the cold blooded murders of 9/11. History tells the story in the end, and the extremist hype of the day cannot hide long from the essential truths that peaceful men and women will always share.

Monday, May 2, 2011

An Elemental Home

I do some writing here off an on for a certain magazine. I guess you would call it a tourism magazine. You know, one of those glossy little packets with slippery pages, slippier prose, and full colour photography featuring white washed villas, green garden paths, verandas and pools and beach front vistas overlooking the azure sea. Jimbaran stuff, right? Nusa Dua destinations.

I make no money in this venture--my services being purely gratis--but it gives me a chance to see some of the island, as well as to meet some of the island’s people, though not many, mind you, as most of the people I meet live in castles that may as well be somewhere else. In fact, for all practical purposes, they are somewhere else.

And so I began to think one day, during a staff meeting concerning what sort of story we could do for a German home appliance supplier that had just bought a full page advertisement, about the sort of real world story we could do instead. One about Bali--the actual place as opposed to the brochure dreamland.

And so, dear reader, I make a bit of a departure below. No Villas here, no Ming Dynasty “vawses,“ no gazebos or gardens or gothic towers--none of the usual glitz and glimmer. Rather, we shall visit the island of Bali, and hope, if only for a moment, to impart a new, more down to earth taste for the palate of our typical reader.

Here then is the classic Balinese homestead. This simple one room dwelling is made completely of stone on the outside. It is also made of stone on the inside. In fact the stone on the inside is the backside of the stone on the outside. It is, in short, the same stone, inside and out.

Within these understated walls we find furniture in the well-loved antique style, cleverly constructed from aged planks of pre-used lumbar found in the pristine field out back (which is where the pre-used nails were found as well). On the armoire, brightly nostalgic in the classic red and yellow hues of 1950’s plastic ware, sits grandma’s unfinished bowl of mie goring, although grandma herself has not been seen for several months’ time, and may, it is thought, have succumbed to Dengue Fever.

From the square eco-friendly front window (for it has no glass or other impediment to the cooling breeze), we turn and take three steps to the far side of the house, careful not to stir the dust along the way. There in the corner sits a tiny crutch, propped just so, waiting for its tiny owner to return. And a chicken. Beside the crutch and the chicken are a few pellets of chicken dung, as well as one dog turd.

Lighting throughout this classic style home is unobtrusive, as indirect as a tongue in cheek comment--none of these glaring overhead globes, which do, after all, require electricity, not to mention money for payment of the electric bill. Therefore, we are inclined to call the interior lighting here a suggestion rather than a shout, a rumor rather than an actual fact.

Mother’s bed is on the eastern wall, nestled beneath several rather artistically imperfect stones that jut from the wall and serve as convenient natural nightstands. Or handholds if need be. Father’s bed is there too. As are the beds of junior and his two brothers.

A short distance further into the interior of the home (and I do mean short), we find we are actually in the backyard. In fact, we find ourselves standing in the bathroom. It is a sharing of space, a dialogue with nature, a marriage of the elements inside and out--air, greenery, light, earth and stone. Again, the accent is on simplicity, on an intimate relationship with the land.

And the evidence of this relationship is all about,