A 20th century phenomenon more curious than the absolute certainty of the Rapture before year 2000 has been the curious uniform squeezing of body types into the three generic categories ofectomorph (skinny), mesomorph (medium), and endomorph (fat).
What is more curious, however, is the American fundamentalist and evangelical elimination of the one (mesomorph) and the increasing presence of the two (ectomorph and endomorph). What is most fascinating is how the unnerving imminence of Apocalypse has literally "shaped" the body types of people within American church culture.
I was introduced to the concept of an Apocalypse early on in life, my father being military, and my family being stationed overseas. That is to say, I understood the imminent threat of Communism and nuclear war probably more keenly than most children my age.
However, I was introduced to the concept of "Rapture" at the age of eight, having a general understanding of it by age ten. From ten to fourteen I suffered nightmares, panic attacks, and a serious lack of motivation, all directly related to the imminent Return of Jesus (which everyone pretended to be excited about). I learned that these symptoms were called "conviction," even though as a grown man I can say for certain that it was "terror."
I cannot recount how many "revival" services I attended where as a child I was introduced to imagery and terminology that could be considered, I don't know, Rated R. And I had no context for it. I learned the word "damned", "whore", and "Hell." I learned that the "nations" committed adultery (which I learned meant "had sex with") the "Great Whore of Babylon" which my creative mind was too underdeveloped to conjure an image (though I thought "Great" was a compliment because the "Great Whore" was the best at what she did). I also learned that she drank blood.
I learned about the different modes of death people would suffer in the Great Tribulation like boils right down to the description of how pus would ooze from the sores and they would "writhe in agony".
I was subject to visual timelines that were as terrifying and absurdist as the images lining the jackets of many Heavy Metal records out there we were also told by the same revival speakers to avoid (I remember one revival speaker being asked not to return when his visual timeline did not agree with the executive pastor's. It had to do with one little timeframe difference).
Most imprinted on my mind is how the sermons were punctuated with excited "Amens", "Preach it, brothers", and "Hallelujahs!" I never could ascertain the nexus of the excitement around which these macabre talks were given.
I prefer to call the "Rapture" Apocalypse. I find the word "rapture" an oxymoronic word choice. I see nothing "rapturous" about being interrupted midstream in any variety of activities, leaving your clothes behind (Especially dirty underwear. Those left behind might never get saved if they saw our dirty underwear.), false teeth behind, fillings behind, stitches and jewelry behind in a small pile of blood, urine, feces, and undigested food while floating at hyper-speed through the stratosphere with millions of naked strangers (or according to some fundamentalists, anywhere between a conservative 25 and a liberal 1,000) to the sound of a trumpet (of all instruments), meeting Jesus "halfway" (wherever that was) and then disappearing somewhere for a seven-year long "feast." (The following picture of the Rapture is not the depiction I was given as a child. First of all, attractive people are being raptured. Second of all, they are wearing their modest but worldly clothes).
I don't mean to belittle this scenario for those who hold to it. The Rapture in this way just goes against all I had been taught in church as a child about decency, cleanliness, and purity. I also didn't understand the "feasting" for seven years part which seemed rather gluttonous (Oh, I forgot, we have "glorified", aka, bionic bodies that can do queer things like that. One pastor told us that we would be able to jump as high and long as we wanted. I never understood why you would want to do this in heaven. One of the men who purported this idea insulted me at the age of thirteen when he found out I aspired to be a gymnast. He asked me "How can you get people saved by jumping around on a mat like a monkey"?).
Looking back, I am not surprised to find that the "honorable" hierarchy of Christians in this rapture culture were of two extremes. There were those who worked themselves to the bone until their bodies were ruined by an ascetic lifestyle of "full-time" Christian ministry (or something close to it). These were the ones so "out-of-tune" with themselves and their bodies that they honestly transcended personal desires or interests. They were the ones who were always tired, who always were suffering some "persecution", who always pretended "joy" in a signature, glum way, who always made you feel inferior if you were ever having fun not directly related to a somber, "end-times" fashion. These people limited themselves, rarely or never being emotionally filled, never getting quite enough rest. Never laughing enough. No doctor's visits. No time for themselves.
Then there were those on the other end of the spectrum who were so intent to "get others saved" that they did whatever was necessary to achieve that end so that their bodies were marked by this same kind of lawlessness and indulgence. They were hedonists who always had a Scripture passage for a monetary, material, or nutritional indulgence. They made jokes about their weight (before others did). They belittled serious forms of exercise (unless the doctor told them they were dying). They were wily and suspiciously contemptible of a variety of authorities from acceptable Scriptural authorities to governmental authorities to the practice of putting limitations upon the plumbline of their every whim. These were typically people in some stage of being overweight. But they had "great" personalities, were inspiring, a little crazy, and brazen. They knew what they wanted (be it a new car, a raise in salary, or a church building). And they seemed to be immune from the "health" standards or any standard, quite honestly, the rest of us were expected to uphold.
There was virtually no middle ground in that leadership hierarchy. Either you were "hot" or "cold." Overweight or underweight. Not quite attractive or overly attractive. Overconfident ("in the Lord") or underconfident ("in the Lord"). If you were somewhere in between, Middle-earthy, that meant that you were spending too much time investing in the "things of this world" instead of in the things of heaven. That meant that you had little or no "treasure" in heaven. That meant that you were a spiritual pauper and overall loser. The following are examples of spiritual paupers and losers.
Healthy people, beautiful people, or people who try to live with some earthy integrity have no real place in these kinds of congregational leaderships because they are believed to drive leadership and congregants to envy or to lust, specifically because of what their image communicates. Most importantly, these sorts of people do not encourage the laity at large to live in an "otherworldy" mode or state of mind.
Poor Baptist, Jessica Simpson couldn't break into Christian music because she was considered to be too sexy. Which Jessica Simpson photo below would you consider more virtuous?
Whitney Houston was raised Christian. Which Whitney Houston photo below would you consider to be more virtuous?
Avril Levine was raised Pentecostal. Which Avril Levine photo below do you consider to be more virtuous?
Britney Spears was raised Baptist. Which of the following photos of Britney Spears do you consider to be more virtuous?
Brad Pitt was raised Baptist. Which photo of Brad Pitt do you consider has a chance at being categorized "godly"?
Denzel Washington was raised Christian. Which photo of Denzel Washington would you say is more becoming a Christian?
Tom Hanks became an ardent, fundamentalist Christian in his teens. Which photo of Hanks looks more becoming a Christian?
It is safe to say that one of these photos probably looks more virtuous than the other in the relationship of the one to the other. But do not be tricked into thinking that the person represented in the "more" virtuous picture would find an easy time in your average church congregation without having to modify some aspect of his or her alleged vanity. I have known men and women in church congregations all my life who had to go the "extra" mile to make other people in the church not feel inferior because they were especially talented, or handsome, or pretty, or strong, or smart. Or in order to make a show of being "more" sold out to the Lord or "more" committed than the average Christian (this included racial and ethnic minorities, too). This metamorphosis would happen in the brain first before it was exhibited in the body. But it does exhibit itself in the body. The body does follow.
If the especially gifted person stays within this type of congregation, he will tend to illustrate his commitment to the Second Coming first by giving up that which distinguishes him. So the high-paying CEO will give up his six-figure job to become a missionary in some part of the world he cannot pronounce. Or the aspiring musician will give up her music contract and televised exposure in order to take a local job near the church where she can be there every time the doors are opened. Or the beauty queen will give up her dreams of traveling the world in order to marry some dumpy, upstart preacher boy who enjoys living in abject poverty, gives her five children, does not work but preaches (whenever and wherever "the Lord allows him"), lives off the occasional "love offering", and makes her twice as stressed and dumpy as he is.
Fundamentalistic absolutism and evangelical sensationalism have both lost a lot of steam since we hit the 21st century eleven years, four months, and twenty-one days ago. Both broad, denominational groups are more reticent to project an actual date for the Second Coming. Extreme, fundamentalist congregations, while waning, are simultaneously infused with a remnant-ardor that provides them more impetus to make asses of themselves by projecting actual dates and timeframes. Popular fundamentalism has morphed into mainstream evangelicalism, congregants putting more of an emphasis upon the healing of a myriad of emotional wounds suffered under the last forty years of that strange, ego-centric, American dispensationalism, frantically trying to build up their meager, financial portfolios that lay unattended out of deference to the Second Coming of Christ, and trying to buy back twenty years of poor health by extreme efforts to exercise which ends up injuring or killing them in droves.
My greatest concern and confusion with these sorts of people has been the truncated mindset at the impulse-level an Apocalyptic mindset puts you in. Not only do you filter everything through your Apocalyptic interpretation, but you do not think normally. Everything becomes imminent. Simply put, a hyper-sensationalized perspective of the End Times does not motivate you to invest in your body for the long haul or in anything for the long haul.
While I am not saying that everyone should be built like Arnold or as attractive as Jessica, I am saying that it is strange for people to live with the "breaks on" when they have marriages, and jobs, and children, and property, and breath and are a part of a culture that is "going somewhere." They see themselves as going no where (but "up").
Exposed to the fundamentalist tradition as a young boy, I was surprised that my pastors or visiting ministers were always fat. And they always made jokes about their weight. They would talk about being free from the law and go on to describe their gluttonous appetites, followed by an "Amen?" Bacon, shrimp, barbecue. I never heard these pastors talking about ever eating a delicious tomato or describing a killer salad. Ever. It was always how we were "free" from the Old Testament and could pretty much do whatever we want except what the church said not to do (which was pretty much anything that was fun). It also surprised me how many "fellowships" we had. The point of these fellowships was to bring the unhealthiest of foods and the frequency of these fellowships (if you include all off the other activities at these churches which were laced with desserts) was, well, very frequent. I wonder how many of these hedonistic get-togethers contributed to clogged arteries, cancers, acid reflux, and a myriad of other diseases of its members while they were "fellowshipping." Oh, the oxymorons go on.
At 38 I can still tumble, pommel horse, p-bar, high bar, vault, trampoline, wrestle, and spin on my head. I don't think that a huge accomplishment and I don't lord it over anybody. However, I am tired of being around people who count such behavior as "extreme" or ancillary to the "greater" concerns of Apocalypse.
I often get conflicted when I hear of people succumbing to physical diseases of their own design (not that everyone who succumbs to disease did it on purpose). When you look at all of the fear-mongering, discomfort, terror, control, and absurdity that dictates the menial life decisions of those in church congregations who propose a very specific "imminent" interpretation of the Last Days, it is no wonder why all the strong, pretty, sexy people have left. You can often go from ugly and out of shape to hot and fit just by cutting yourself off from such negativity. Oh, give us variety once more.