End Times

It's the end of the world as we know it, and I feel fine

I was walking out of Trader Joe's last week when an extra-smiley man in a tie-dyed dashiki stepped in front of me. "Would you like to invite Jesus into your life to be your Savior and Lord?" he asked, beaming maniacally.

"Actually, no," I replied. "I would like to go to Linens 'n' Things and return some tab-top panels I bought there yesterday. They look really ugly in my bathroom window."

"'Here I am!'" the smiling man exclaimed. "'I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in and eat with him, and he with me.' That's a quote from Jesus, from Revelations."

I thought for a moment. "'Pour a little sugar on me, honey! Pour a little sugar on me, baby!'" I bawled. "That's a quote from the Archies, from their second album."

He stepped aside to let me pass, still smiling. "You must save yourself, because End Times are coming!" he hollered as I lowered myself into my tiny car.

"Wacko," I muttered under my breath as I waved merrily to Smiley Guy.

But lately I've found myself thinking about that parking lot conversation. End Times. Even though I don't believe that there's a big, invisible man who lives in the sky and is controlling our every move, I have been wondering these past few months about the wave of natural disasters that seem to be overtaking our planet. They're coming faster and bigger and closer together, and it's got me to thinking that maybe there is a big, vengeful God up there who's pissed off at us for putting a chimpanzee in charge of our country. For taking prayer out of our schools. For making Ryan Seacrest into a star.

I tried talking to some church people -- a Catholic priest; a nut job from the Watchtower Society; a theology professor -- but they mostly just quoted Scripture and clucked their tongues at my atheism. So I called Bonnie Paul.

For nearly three decades, Bonnie Paul -- a grown man with a small girl's name -- and I were inseparable. We met in the fourth grade and spent what seemed like every moment of our lives together from then on. That is, until a few years ago, when Bonnie Paul got God, gave up homosexuality, and faded from my life. He, I knew, would tell me whether there was any connection between Hurricane Katrina and that wealthy senator who won a million bucks in the lottery last week. Bonnie Paul would tell me if we were hurtling toward the last few weeks of life as we knew it. And interviewing Bonnie Paul -- to whom I'd never gotten to say "goodbye" -- about the end of the world seemed like the perfect way to present this, the final installment of this column.

New Times: Okay. You know I don't believe in anything -- there is no God; there is no heaven; there is no preordination.

Bonnie Paul: I know you believe that. Ever since we were kids.

NT: But lately I've been thinking about all the horrible crap that's been happening. I mean, what's with the natural disasters? Hurricane Katrina. The earthquake in Pakistan. Taunton Dam. Hurricane Wilma. Geena Davis has her own TV show! What the hell is going on here?

Paul: Natural disasters. Some of them are acts of God. He has ultimate control, whether you believe it or not. But I don't think He's sending a message that the end of the world is getting near. It's not a sign.

NT: It just seems like everything's going straight to hell since 9/11. I mean, the guy who won that lottery is already wealthy! And he's a politician!

Paul: I know. I don't think God was in on that one. As far as the frightening frequency of these natural disasters, I don't know. But I do know I was given a prophetic dream about 9/11.

NT: Oh, no.

Paul: It was a very vivid dream, and I was so alarmed in my heart that I wrote it all down and dated it. It was November of 1996.

NT: Why didn't you tell someone?

Paul: God has his plan. Also, some of the details of my dream were unclear. Like I knew that the buildings that the planes hit were going to be popular buildings, but I didn't know which ones they were. I remember thinking, "Is it the Honda Corporation buildings?" Anyway, God could have foiled the terrorists' plans.

NT: Great. So why didn't He?

Paul: It's because there's such a push in America to get God out of everything. For years now, certain ones in our society have been pushing God out of our culture. No more mention of His name in the Pledge of Allegiance. Prayer not permitted in schools or classrooms or before court sessions. The removal of the Ten Commandments from the rotunda of the Federal Court Building in Montgomery, Alabama, because it offended the conscience of two lawyers. So, with things like September 11, God is saying, "Okay. Why should I rush in to protect you if you want me out of society?" And indeed. Why should He protect us?

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