I arrived at my private Christian high school a little too late that morning, not uncommon for the Bazzoli family. It’s in our bones to time commutes around ideal conditions and serendipitous traffic lights.
I waddled into the building, hunched under the weight of the half dozen or so bags I carted with me throughout high school, a casualty of picking tote bags on their perceived “artsiness” over capacity for textbooks and gym uniforms.
At all times there was at least a main book bag, a lunch bag, a purse, and a plastic gap bag swinging from my wrist holding the closest thing I owned to “athletic wear,” and tap shoes, if it was musical season.
Instead of stepping into a school day already in motion, the building was entirely empty, as it might be during summer holiday or on a snow day. As I walked toward my locker nearer the center of the school, I tried to justify the full parking lots and deserted hallways (we’re talking tumbleweed worthy), but at this point, my chest already tightened with anxiety knowing somewhere beneath my rib cage that this was a moment for panic.
My pace picked up, as I noticed that the classrooms, although missing the students, were filled with their backpacks and coats, propped up like a fire still burning in an abandoned house. I peeked my head into each room: backpacks and coats, backpacks and coats, backpacks and coats and school papers left with pencils laid across the top, pencils likely still warm from human touch.
There are several logical explanations for the empty hallways, but as an evangelical raised in the era of Jerry B. Jenkins’ Left Behind series, there seemed only one possible reason for an empty Christian school building littered with backpacks and coats…
God had called all his souls to himself and whatever was in store way beyond the blue, backpacks and outerwear were not required. I had been… left behind (echo echo echo).
Along with being the host of the second immaculate conception, getting left behind in the case of rapture was something I fretted as a young evangelical. While me and my peers were sealing off our chastity with fourteen dollar rings from the Christian bookstore, Jerry B. Jenkins and Tim Lahaye were publishing their novelized take on the end times as described in the book of Revelation, which is about as clear as mud.
My older sister and I first found the books on the new arrivals shelf at our local library. Carolyn prefered post apocalyptic books and nonfiction accounts of doomsday cults, so the thick book entitled “Soul Harvest” and emblazoned with a bright orange “Christian horror” sticker on the spine was too intriguing to leave behind, so to speak.
As Carolyn devoured the first four books of the series, I cracked open the first book, goaded on by Carolyn’s rave reviews. Christian horror indeed. These books terrified me, filled with beheadings, underground bunkers, and eluding the forces of the anti-christ, a charming european man named Nicolae Carpathia (this is how I knew Obama was not the antichrist).
My current reading log filled with Jane Austen novels and YA favorites like Harry Potter and the Princess Diaries, I had to wade through a lot of accounts of the tribulation to get updated on the romance of Chloe and Buck, two members the band of believers converted after the big vacuum in the sky sucked up the rest of the global church (lots of traffic jams ensued).
I went around the school looking for any signs of Christian life, and with each corner I turned, all I saw were more backpacks and coats. Jansports leaned against desks, Vera Bradley totes spilling flowery day planners and flair pens, and North Face bags clipped to frosty Nalgene water bottles.
“God, I thought I was a Christian, you know, I thought we were tight.” The silent but frantic prayers played in my head. I squeezed my eyes shut tight hoping that God would do one more pass through allowing a few more of us to walk the streets of gold. “I do believe in you. I do believe.”
I thought of all the others that had made the cut, the boys who secretly went to the local strip club, the ones who put chewed up eggplant in my coat freshman year, the few openly atheist students that said the right things in their entrance interviews. What was it about me that merited my left-behind-ness?
Throughout my childhood and adolescence,I had a sneaking suspicion that I hadn’t properly done the Christianity thing.
Even now, I am deeply terrified that I do not love God enough or in the right way; I picture my heavy doubts tipping the scale of salvation towards “not christian enough.”
These same fears consumed me at altar calls during summer camp, where I questioned whether asking Jesus into my heart had stuck or whether I should raise my hand for re-dedication every year.
All eyes in the room were to be closed but those of the preacher administering the call, and even if I didn’t raise my hand or look up and make eye contact to show I had made a commitment, I said the sinner’s prayer, just in case, throwing it like salt over my shoulder.
Even then, I envied those crying at the front of the room, their salvation easy to spot, clearly Jesus had entered their hearts and inhabited their tears, but I was unsure whether he ever lived in mine. Focusing on my sinfulness and the love of Christ, I tried to will my eyes to well up with the proof of salvation, but it left me looking red and constipated instead of transformed and repentant.
It’s not that I was raised in a particularly Dugger-esque, fear-mongering faith tradition, but I still disagree with the fear tactics embedded in the evangelical church. We talk about what Christ gets us out of, but not what he invites us into. We accept his grace and then go back to combing the bible for the real way to salvation.
Beyond “turn or burn” messages and “Hell is real” billboards, there are parts of scripture that pastors presented as catch-twenty-twos in God’s plan for grace. God died for our sins on the cross, but not for blaspheming the spirit, being unforgiving to your brother, or living as a lukewarm believer, than you might literally get spit out of God’s mouth, or get put with the goats, or told that God never knew you.
So with these possibilities in mind, I headed toward the chapel, where I assumed the others left behind would gather. Maybe the school chaplain, Chip Huber, had made a time capsule for those who didn’t make the rapture team. I burst through the chapel doors, moved to tears by my status as an orphan of the rapture, turning the heads of the jam packed chapel. The head of school thanked the student body for gathering for the emergency chapel to discuss a tragic loss in the student body.
Breathing shallow breaths, I took my assigned seat next to my friends, scooting down in the auditorium chair, and balancing my feet on the armrest in front of me. I sighed with relief, glad to have another day to repent and be saved.
Anyone else ever think they got left behind?