On Faith, Writing, and a Specific Apocalypse

Humans dream again, repurpose a barn, carry light in their pockets. Maybe the god they waited for isn’t coming, but at least they are happy.

Jennifer MacBain-Stephens

The above quote is the last paragraph from a review of my chapbook Incident Reports. The review is thoughtful and very detail oriented. Jennifer MacBain-Stephens (who I do not know) manages to follow the narrative of Incident Reports closely and with much insight. The quoted paragraph is particularly apt, and captures something that I want readers to take away from the book as a whole.

I am a person of faith. To be more specific, I am a Christian. Which means that some might find it strange that I wrote an intentionally non-biblical apocalypse. The vanishings in my poems are not the rapture. Long after the world has been permanently changed there is no God returning. But I do not think that this contradicts my faith at all, or is at odds with it in any way.

When I was younger, the Left Behind series was extremely popular. I remember once, at 16, while hanging out on a porch with a few friends who were younger than I, one brought up the fact that we had not heard from our parents down by the dock for hours. He was in the midst of reading the Left Behind series, and he wondered if they had been taken, if the rapture had happened, and we were still there. He then asked me if I was capable of driving their car. Considering we were all on a small car free island that did not seem particularly relevant at the time. I certainly did not know how to drive the boat.

I remember his fear being particularly striking to me. I had not read the series past the first few pages because I did not like the writing style. But for him this was something real that was going to happen. The book was in someway prophetic. I could not understand that feeling.

When I was about 10 I used to ask my mother a lot of questions about Revelations particularly about when Jesus was going to return to earth. After listening to all her answers it was very clear to me that guessing when wouldn’t help, and thinking that it would happen at a specific time, predicting its occurrence, was actually contradicting statements made in the bible. No one will know.

It is interesting how long the end of the world has been predicted, how many people have thought they are living in the last generation, how their reasons for this belief are varied and different. That is what intrigues me. That we can never know, and as people of faith who are told we cannot know, yet people keep claiming this knowledge.

The original Greek meaning of the word apocalypse is not necessarily even about the end.  It focuses instead on the revelation of truth, the ripping of the veil, in other words a seemingly irreversible change. The world has had many of those. From the spreading of literacy to the invention of the car. Sometimes these changes are global, like the popularization of the internet. Sometimes they are more local. For the natives of North America the arrival of Europeans was certainly an apocalypse. So many people have survived an apocalypse (positive or negative) over the years, without an end of the world or a return of Christ occurring.

The multiple narrators that exist in my chapbook survived an apocalypse, it was just not the biblical one. Because the changes they experience, like any other major changes, they inform who they are and how they live, and different individuals handle them in different ways.

However as with all my narrative poems in this manuscript, each is told from the point of view of a different, imagined person. So even if a poem explicitly about an individuals faith was included it would probably not reflect my beliefs.

For me the best writing on faith is not literal, it does not take the bible and re-tell it, instead it takes risks with biblical ideas. I am thinking now specifically of the Great Divorce, one of my favorite C.S. Lewis books. One that deals with all sorts of theological issues if you get down to it, from purgatory to judgement day.

But C.S. Lewis does not preach to you. He is not trying to sell you that version of heaven. That is not the point, it is an exploration of ideas by an artist, by one man. Some people who read The Great Divorce take issue with it theologically.  So even when I write more explicitly about faith, as I do in some of my rare personal poems, I feel nervous.

I want to have the freedom to explore ideas about sin, about the intimacy of faith, etc, without fearing the picking apart of it. Whenever I write I am not telling the truth as I know it internally, as much as I try, I can’t. It is just a facsimile, an attempt. But still it is something I am trying to do more of.



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