Published Issue 083, November 2020
Of course you can’t be an organ donor. You’ll need them when Jesus comes back.
I was raised under a pretty extreme Evangelical theology, but somehow, I missed this crucial bit of doctrine until I applied for my driver’s license. It turns out learning the rules of the road came second to the care of the soul — and the body in the afterlife. My religious upbringing insisted the Rapture involves a physical resurrection or reassembly of the body, and if I donated my organs, I’d be putting the recipients at risk should Jesus return, because my donated parts would be taken from them to rejoin me in Heaven.
This image of the raptured body as a jigsaw puzzle inspired my latest short story, “The Recall,” set to appear in Kenneth W. Cain’s anthology, One of Us: A Tribute to Frank Michaels Errington. Frank, a respected figure in the horror-literature community, passed away last year. I’ve contributed to a lot of anthologies, but this one has the strongest table of contents I’ve ever seen. My name alongside Stephen King? That’s rapture enough for me.
Informed by the religious indoctrination of my youth, “The Recall” follows the harried life of an office worker in Heaven as his poorly managed department scrambles to prepare for the Rapture. You see, he’s responsible for cataloging all the donated organs from faithful Christians when they are taken from the bodies of unbelievers at the first blast of Gabriel’s horn.
It’s a funny enough concept, but the reality is the story’s inspiration is imbued with childhood trauma I’ve only recently recovered from at the age of 37.
Growing up secluded from most of the world in a small conservative Nebraska town, my young parents relied on my mother’s ultra- religious family to help raise my brother and I. We were spoon-fed a belief system no child should suffer. My life had only just begun, but I was told the end was near. I had to beg Jesus into my heart because He’d be coming back soon, and if I wasn’t ready, I’d be left behind. The Seven Seals would be opened and blood would rise as high as a horse’s bridle. Something so terrible would happen after my family was taken into the clouds that a silence would befall Heaven for half an hour as the saved would bear witness to the unspeakable terrors transpiring on Earth.
Some people got Rumpelstiltskin for their bedside story. I got the Book of Revelation.
All of this was pounded into my head with repetition from as early as I can remember. By the time I was six or seven, I could recite most of the Apocalypse of John. I knew the portents. I knew the signs. These were very important in an Evangelical household. It was our job to share our knowledge with others to save them from impending doom. And the doom was just around the corner.
When I was nine, we moved from our small town to Denver. I’d never seen anything like it before. Skyscrapers, amusement parks and airplanes — all new to me. It was exciting and scary. Were all of these wondrous things evil? I’d been taught that the world was a
sinful place, and since we ventured out of the safety of our sacred little town, these strange sights must be works of the Devil. In Mark 8:18, Jesus says, “Having eyes, see ye not? And having ears, hear ye not?” Well, my eyes had seen, but that was nothing compared to the equally unfamiliar sounds. That first night in my family’s single-wide trailer, after we all went to bed, I felt terror when a loud, thunderous noise rattled the thin walls. I was certain it was God roaring through the skies, rapturing the faithful and leaving me behind to suffer the Tribulation. My mind simply couldn’t process what it really was: a jet.
I never believed I was good enough to be raptured, and even if I was, I didn’t want to be. I just wanted a normal life. Recurring nightmares of being left to die in the Tribulation woke me most nights. Even trips to the local Kmart were frightening. I’d wander the toy aisles to scope out the latest Power Ranger figures. When I was done eyeing toys I couldn’t afford, I’d go looking for my mom or grandma — or whoever I was with. If I couldn’t find them right away, I’d run to the customer service counter for help in tears, certain my family had been called to Heaven. I often prayed, asking God to delay the Rapture long enough to allow me to live a full life and the chance to have a family of my own. I didn’t want to risk losing the people I loved. I couldn’t fathom being alone.
As tenth grade approached, I began questioning those beliefs. I’d sure as hell already started questioning my sexuality. The idea that the Devil was somehow influencing my attraction to the same sex as part of a larger plan to steal my soul never made much sense to me. When I became a sophomore, I shed those beliefs and embraced my identity. Unfortunately, I knew some in my family wouldn’t. The casual anti-gay remarks and open disdain for atheism made it abundantly clear I didn’t need the Rapture to be alone. So, I tried my best to live a life others could accept.
When my sixteenth birthday arrived, all that mattered was getting my driver’s license, but before I could go to the DMV, I was sat down for a talk. It was important that I made sure not to register as an organ donor on my driver’s license. Jesus was coming back soon, really soon (it was 1999, and my grandparents thought flipping the 9s — 666 — meant this was indeed the year of the Rapture), and I couldn’t risk something terrible happening to me in the interim. Didn’t I see what a disservice I’d be doing to someone who might receive my organs only to have them taken away? How much pain I’d cause them?
Horrifying imagery aside, I didn’t take the matter too seriously. What could they do if I wanted to be a donor? Would I have really been punished for registering? Probably not, but my grandparents’ disappointment was enough to ward off any sense of being a responsible citizen. Since they often helped my family financially, their beliefs cast a large authoritarian shadow over my life. There was no room to argue, and no point. I’d learned that lesson before, when they forced me to snap my Metallica CDs in half — in front of them, no less — because they wouldn’t allow the Devil’s music to influence me. There was also the time when they wouldn’t let me watch
Disney’s Aladdin because Jafar takes the form of a snake. “The Recall” was born from this cesspool of despairing absurdism. How silly would it be for God to rapture sanctified body parts to Heaven, and who’d be responsible for identifying and reuniting these wayward organs with their original bodies? The notion still makes me laugh. Nevertheless, I chuckle in the face of a cold reality that there are many others among us who hold these beliefs, and their political influence played a significant role in electing a president who is willing to ignore science in the midst of a pandemic that has killed over 221,000 Americans, scoff at the threat of climate change even as forests and communities burn, and eliminate regulations on trifling matters such as the disposal of deadly biotoxins. They elected him based on his promise to give them control of the judicial system, and with the appointment of over 200 Federal judges and possibly three Supreme Court justices, it appears their Faustian bargain is paying off.
I’ve been bothered for a long time that I was raised in fear. Fear of a ticking clock. Fear that time was running out because the Rapture — the end — was near. Fear that my sexuality destined me to the eternal flames of Hell. Those thoughts traumatized me when I was younger, but I beat them. I’m more troubled by the idea that the dangerous mentality that indoctrinated my childhood will have the legal authority to shape our laws and affect the minds of children for decades to come. And the reality is these sorts of Evangelical politics are bringing about the very end it claims to be warning us against, generating a sort of self-fulfilling prophecy by ignoring science, climate change, and simple social obligations like wearing masks to halt a pandemic. They go on about the end times, but when it actually arrives, it’s a hoax.
Many on the Evangelical right want you to believe they’re concerned about human life, but at every fundamental level, they’re working to destroy it. Women are lesser than men. Racial injustice isn’t real. Gays have no rights. Atheists are evil. Pandemics are conspiracies.
When I think about that time I prayed, asking God to postpone the Rapture so I could live a full life and have a family of my own, the sad realization is that those who adhere to rapturous beliefs are hijacking the courts in hopes of keeping people like me from having a family, and without the aid of supernatural intervention.
As Ruth Bader Ginsburg said, “Fight for the things that you care about, but do it in a way that will lead others to join you.” Writing and storytelling are my means of cultural engagement, and I hope “The Recall” serves as a bit of an antidote to the kind of Evangelicalism I and many others have experienced. But the best way each of us can fight is to register to vote. And while you’re at it, register as an organ donor.