“We’re living in the last days,” Cash said.
“America is the Whore of Babylon and she’s headed for destruction. This great nation is in the toilet, and has been for a long time,” he continued. “The only way that America can save herself is to repent of her evil ways and get on her knees before God! This was once a great country, blessed by God, Ordained by God! But it has fallen away,” Cash looked like Jeremiah out there on Rodeo road: a prophet of Doom calling the people to repentance.
The clouds began to darken as he declared the coming Day of Destruction.
“I try to share the Gospel with as many people as I can,” he said. Cars passed by, I wondered if anyone heard him talking. Part of me was a little embarrassed. I know that’s kind of a jerky thing to say, but it’s true. I’ve heard this kind of stuff for a long time. Everyone has. Whether it’s someone on the far Left or the far Right, both sides have their end of the world scenarios. The end is ushered in through the carelessness of the other. The Left blames the Right’s greed and rampant pollution, and the Right blames the Left’s moral bankruptcy. What Cash was talking about was biblical prophecy, though, and that’s a whole other matter.
Growing up in church (mostly Baptist, but also Non-denominational, Methodist and a smattering of Assembly of God with a dash of Nazarene) I heard a good deal about the End Times. It always came in waves, and would be a hot topic for a while and then most people would just forget about it.
Of course, every church has someone who reads extensively about the Last Days. Book after book outlining the rapture, the identity of the Whore of Babylon, the final battle of Armageddon, and Christ’s triumphant return as the conquering king. After college, I worked in a refinery in southeast Texas. For several months, I worked with a guy who was at least fifteen years older than me. We were part of a small paint crew. At one point there were five of us in total, and our job was to paint the pipes and valves that were above and below the spheres. If you’ve driven past enough refineries, you’ll recognize these tanks. They sit on large concrete spheres and hover above the ground. As the paint crew, we fanaticized about one day painting the spheres like pool balls. Stripes and solids. But, what we did was strictly utilitarian. Our job had nothing to do with cosmetics. We were trying to prevent rust. It was a never-ending battle, but necessary. You certainly didn’t want any of those pipes to rust through, and the more layers of protection, the better.
Anyway, I worked with this guy, Ernie. Half the time, we were at each other’s throats. The smallest thing that the other did was usually the beginning of an argument. We worked together, just me and him, while the other guys would tackle different projects. It was like a bad relationship that neither party could get out of. One of the main things we argued about was religion. Not just religion, or God, though. Prophecy. We fought bitterly about prophecy.
It seemed like every other day Ernie would come in and present some new piece of evidence to me, proving that the world would end in the next few years. I’m sure he had just read somewhere and he could see the pattern that only a privileged few could see. One of the most consistent topics was Ernie’s paranoid vision of a corrupt police state. He was always talking about the Government and the surveillance of its citizens.
“They’re watching you. They know what your doing every minute of the day. They know what everyone’s doing. You can’t hide,” Ernie would say as he leaned over to me confidentially as we ate lunch in the shack.
“Seriously? Are there that many people working for the government?” I replied.
“What do you mean?”
“I mean that it would take as many employees as there are citizens to watch you. Who’s gonna process all that information?” My voice rose a little.
“They can do it, Chuck, I’m telling you. You better be careful. They can track your movements. Just like they do with your credit card. My wife and I use cash as much as possible,” he said. Ernie was now talking to me like I was a petulant child who refused to believe that the sky was blue.
“My point is, who cares? Why would they bug you, why assign someone to watch you. Or anyone?! I mean, most people have boring lives! They go to their jobs and do whatever, and nobody cares! Why would the government spend all that time and money following regular people? The government is just a big, unwieldy bureaucracy. I know they watch people, but they watch people whose lives matter or are some kind of perceived threat. Most of our lives don’t matter, so why bother watching us?!” Now I was pissed off.
“He who doesn’t stand for anything, will fall for everything,” he responded. This little chestnut was his big closer. It’s not biblical; it’s the title of a country song. By this point, Ernie was talking at me and not to me anymore. I was a petulant, unbelieving child who needed discipline, and he was the disappointed parent. Years later in Santa Fe, I would have the same type of conversations with my friends on the far left. The Government was a police state. America was watching you, and recorded your every move, Bush is the Anti-Christ, etc., etc., etc.
You just refuse to see, man. You refuse to see the truth, they would tell me.
Now, I was having another conversation like this on Rodeo road with a guy I just met, and it was bothering me. Every generation has thought this, by the way, and none of them have been right. I just finished reading a book about Martin Luther, and he was convinced that he was living in the last days, absolutely certain. No one is immune I suppose. Not even Cash.
Cash seemed sincere. I mean, he spoke like he had actually considered these things and wasn’t merely echoing someone else’s thoughts. I don’t know, hearing this stuff still made me uncomfortable and I wished we could move on to another topic, but I needed to listen. I couldn’t judge this man. That was a tough one, especially since what he was saying annoyed the hell out of me.
But, I was supposed to be there listening to Cash and all of his crazy talk about the coming Apocalypse. I know that. I was supposed to have my boundaries tested. It wasn’t the first time, and it won’t be the last.
The people I meet are flesh and blood. They have stories to tell. No one said I had to like, or even sympathize, with what they’re saying.
I just have to listen.