Once I occupied the front room of Burdell’s rickety house on Lido Lane, my life changed rapidly. This was his home, his rules, and my mother was more than eager to implement them.
There was no music allowed. Not that I ever lived in a musical home – no piano, no guitar, not even a harmonica much less a kazoo – not even a remote acknowledgment that music was even around.
There was also no TV allowed. We did own a television—a relic from 1984 with two large rabbit-ear antennas in the back – which sat on an antique armoire occupying the corner of the living room. Maybe they put it there for guests, for appearances, so they wouldn’t think we were that weird, but we certainly never turned it on unless there was some very important news happening. Later it would get relegated to my bedroom (aka the garage).
“The Demon Box,” Burdell called it. In other words, Demons from Hell could potentially leap out from something as evil as NBC Nightly News and either oppress or straight possess us. Or the Demons were present in the internal circuitry, in the wires, the electricity, they could even harbor in the TV itself. When Burdell turned it off, he would place both hands on it and pray. Even after watching a program as benign as Davey & Goliath, Burdell would turn off the Demon Box then lay hands on it and pray, casting out any sneaky demons that might be possessing the wiry innards of the old Zenith.
He also referred to all forms of music outside classical as Demon Music. And therefore, Demons could come through the radio.
“You have to remember,” Burdell said, “Before Satan was cast out of Heaven, he was Lucifer. And Lucifer was the most powerful archangel, second only to God Himself. And remember what he was in charge of?”
“That’s right. Music is very powerful stuff.”
Essentially nothing was allowed: no television, no radio, no newspaper, no books (other than approved Christian books), nothing to contradict the new worldview that was becoming my new normal.
What did we care about the contemporary world? The key part being “temporary.” This wasn’t our home. We sincerely considered ourselves heavenly ambassadors to Planet Earth. Aliens, in fact, whose true home was Heaven.
Besides, this nasty ol’ world was coming to an end. Like, pronto.
Burdell and my mother believed they were Prophets. They believed they were destined to have significant roles in the End Times, which we were presently in. The return of Jesus Christ was imminent. So was Armageddon, The Apocalypse, The Tribulation, and the subsequent establishment of Jesus’ new kingdom—a New Heaven and New Earth—where He would rein for 1,000 years and we would all be Dukes and Duchesses in His new realm. It was all going to happen in our lifetimes, in our “generation” as I was told incessantly.
And The Rapture? My God did we pray for The Rapture. We believed it could happen in the blink of an eye and it was, perhaps, our most fervent prayer other than forgiveness for the multitude of sins we committed daily.
I mean we prayed—constantly and passionately—for the END OF THE WORLD and we were always looking for SIGNS OF THE END TIMES. Of course, our most trusted sources were Jack van Impe and Pat Robertson and Jim Bakker and all the other charlatans hosted on the Christian Broadcasting Network. Those were the guys we might watch on the Demon Box.
Once fully inculcated with this worldview, that human existence was going to end at any random moment (but certainly at the stroke of midnight every New Year’s Eve), my mother acquired the sensibility that it was futile to plan for a future.
Because, you understand, there was no future to plan for.
These Evangelical Christians appeared to have a Death Wish so profound they would be literally on their knees, somewhere in America each and every night, praying, pleading for God to bring them death prescribed somewhere in the Bible. Whether that manifested as The Rapture or complete Nuclear Annihilation, didn’t matter. They just wanted an end to their suffering and preferably that would mean escaping a physical death. As if God was some Cosmic Dr. Kevorkian.
After “leaving the fold” and being away from it for some time, it appeared most mainstream American Christians got it completely backwards and believed God to be some Personal Genie who could be coerced through prayer and supplication to randomly grant temporary reprieve from the suffering of life as long as His Chosen said the magic words. It’s a far cry from the truly revolutionary system established by Jesus Christ as stated in John 10:10, “. . . that they may have life and have it more abundantly.” The overwhelming majority of the so-called Christians I knew throughout my life simply seemed obsessed with figuring out when the world would end—in vain attempts to avoid aging and dying.
The futility of their endeavors seemed so comical, I used to think if God saw them, He would laugh at their puny efforts. All the worried little hairless monkeys running around on this blue planet, writhing their hands, furrowing their brows, shaking their fists and screaming from the trees WHY? when they miss the gift that happens every morning at sunrise. They sleep through it just as they sleep through the rest of their lives, barely noticing the heaven that’s around them, being tricked into the nightmare of existential anxiety instead. Your heaven is here, NOW, inside the pearl of every moment, inside you. The Kingdom of Heaven Is within You.
All of these thoughts, spattered with fear, condemnation and guilt, crippling my judgment and actions, my behavior, my rapidly changing body and mind, my entire existence, ricocheting through my adolescent being with such limited experience and context in which to assess what was happening to me and in The World I would be entering all too soon, on my own, other than I’d have to take care of myself, whatever that meant, the only thing I really knew was that at the end of my rope there was nothing but freefall. No safety net. Only California and the vague hope that one day I’d return there. That was my future. It’s all I dreamt about.
My everyday life soon became a regimen of Bible studies and devotionals, church services, youth group functions, classes for singles and couples, outreach nights, potluck nights, and all matter of reasons to spend one’s every grain of personal time away from work and school at Christian Life Ministries. I spent most nights shooting hoops in the gym but over time I started attending a class and another class then another.
In the midst of my life as a newly converted zealot, I started high school.