The picture on the left is my mom and me (it's actually probably 1973, but that's as close as I could come). My mom, one of the first college graduates in her family and an elementary school librarian, was a very observant Christian. She was always interested in learning more about the Bible. One of the topics that interested her was apocalyptic prophecy, so Hal Lindsey's books were part of our home library. Although my mother didn't embrace millenarian thinking entirely, conversations about eschatology were familiar in our home and within our family. In particular, my grandfather, a Russian immigrant, believed that the tribulation had begun in Stalinist Russian.
Like so many kids growing up in the 1970's and 1980's in an evangelical context, I was exposed to apocalyptic rhetoric in various settings, including camp meetings, church youth group, Bible study, etc. I remember attending a beach retreat when I was in grade school (probably about 5th grade) with my youth group and screening "A Thief in the Night" after a full day of fun at the beach. What a way to end a day of fun . . . with a good dose of apocalyptic horror. (Here's a link to a great article about the 40th anniversary of the move.)
I was a very earnest kid. In fact, probably too earnest, too serious. And, beginning in the 4th or 5th grade I began having uncontrollable panic attacks, occasions in which I would experience a range of different symptoms, including rapid heart-beat and breathing, a sense of dread, sweats, nervousness, shaking, lowered blood pressure, nausea, faintness, blurred vision, ringing in my ears. These panic attacks often would lead to fainting. While I wouldn't link these panic attacks and the depression that accompanied them to the apocalyptic rhetoric that surrounded me, the fear of being "left behind" and not being "right with God" surely did not help my situation. (Watching films was a trigger for my panic attacks and for a number of years I was excused from watching movies at school for fear that I would faint.)
In 1988, I was very involved with my church, working as a camp counselor for various congregations in our denomination. During this time, a number of people around me began to circulate the little booklet "88 Reasons Why the Rapture Could Be in 1988." While I had some doubts about the book, a part of me believed that it could be true. I was worried and anxious and . . . I was about to start my first year in college.
This is a picture of me standing by the car that I would take with me to college. My first week of school corresponded to the week that was supposed to be the end. I remember be nervous about being away from home, away from my family. I was confused about why God might choose this particular time in history. Fact is, I wanted to go to college. I wanted to experience being away from home.
FYI, the rapture didn't happen in 1988.
I wasn't disappointed.
But, I did have to rethink my tradition and my understanding of the Bible.
Eventually, when I started a graduate program in New Testament studies, I was not interested in studying Revelation. I didn't want to touch the book with a 10 foot pole. I was actually concerned that it might give me panic attacks. However, after taking a seminar on the text, a seminar which allowed me to think about the text in its historical context, I became fascinated with its imagery. I became passionate about exploring how a text from the first-century, ostensibly written as a critique of the Roman Empire, could continue to capture the imaginations of readers throughout history. Why is Revelation so compelling? How has this poorly written Greek text managed to capture the imaginations of readers throughout history?
My answer begins here: It's the imagery, and the text's ability to conjure the audience's visual imagination. Among other things of course . . .