Tag Archives: frank peretti

The Visitation: Considering the Target Audience

While writing yesterday’s post, I noticed something else about this week’s passage from Peretti’s book, “The Visitation.”  As I didn’t feel it really fit in with the rest of my post, I decided to save it for a short blog post today.  Because the passage in question involves Pentecostal characters, it included certain tell-tale signs that one would expect when reading about Pentecostal characters, such as one of them praying in tongues.  What I found noteworthy about this is how Peretti describes it:

She was standing still, clutching her Bible to her bosom and looking heavenward, her lips moving rapidly as she whispered in another language.

A few paragraphs later, he phrases it similarly:

Now all three women  were pointing and looking while Dee kept singing in and out of English.

If Peretti had been writing with a strictly Pentecostal audience in mind, he might have used terms like “praying in tongues” and “singing in the spirit.”  Instead, he uses phrases that describe these concepts in an attempt to better explain things to non-Pentecostal readers.

Having read other books by Peretti, the fact that he’s expecting non-Pentecostal readers, let alone thinking about making his idea accessible to him, is worthy of some note.  Earlier books like “This Present Darkness” were rife with “insider language” of not only Pentecostals, but those involved with spiritual warfare.  To my mind, those books were clearly intended to target those audiences.  This new, more accessible language to a larger audience is a relatively new development.

I’m a bit curious how successful a move it is.  This book is still about supernatural events that are theoretically supposed to happen in the real world.  I can’t imagine your average Episcopalian or Methodist taking an interest in this book.  Plus there’s the fact that he’s not entirely successful.  There are still a few points in which falls back into thinking like a Pentecostal and shutting out any other potential readers he might snag.  However, I give him credit for trying.

TV pp.11-13: Meet the Pentecostals

Note about page numbers:  I’m using an iBook copy of this book.  With iBook (and I believe most electronic books work this way), the book repaginates based on your font settings.  As such, I’m not sure how useful it will be to give page numbers.  For anyone who wants to know, I’m reading my iPad in portrait mode using the smallest font size, with a font setting of Palatino.  That’s how I come by the page numbers I list in the post titles.

After spending last week following Arnold the Catholic around his church, we find ourselves meeting Pentecostal characters this week.  These are the characters that Peretti are most familiar with, as he he belongs to that same community.  Three church ladies,[1] Dee, Adrian,  Blanche, are leaving Antioch Pentecostal Mission after a Sunday morning service.  They begin to discuss the possibly supernatural experiences that Sally and Arnold have experienced as any good church lady would do to keep her part of the grapevine well-managed.

One of the interesting things about their conversation is the hesitant credulity with which they approach Sally’s and Arnold’s respective experiences.  Navigating the supernatural experiences that others claim to have is an ever-present aspect of Pentecostal culture.  On the one hand, to immediately dismiss the experiences of others invites others to be equally skeptical of one’s own claims.  On the other, being too willing to blindly accept the claims of others leaves one open to being led astray by the dark and demonic powers.  This is demonstrated in the book when Blanche questions the weeping crucifix, suggesting that it sounds “awfully Catholic,” as Pentecostals are particularly suspicious of Catholicism.[2]  Indeed, there has been much advice and even a good number of formulas on how Pentecostals might seek to determine if an experience truly a miraculous encounter with God.

Of course, as the women talk, Dee gasps and begins to pray in tongues, for she sees Jesus in the clouds.  She points out the figure to the other women who begin to see it.  Soon, a crowd grows around the women as more people begin to see Jesus in the clouds, and more details are added, such as Adrian who sees him holding a hand.

It’s interesting to note that not everyone in the crowd can see Jesus, and some who do see him also see other animals.  Peretti writes this passage pretty masterfully in that we are left wondering whether particular experience is a true spiritual experience or the imagination of one woman that spreads among others, eager to share in that same experience.  One is left to wonder what really happened.

I find this interesting, considering this easily explained-away experience is happening to the very group who would — at least on an intellectual level — be likely to accept and even expect a more direct miracle such as Arnold’s crying crucifix or Sally’s disappearing messenger.  I imagine that Peretti is intentionally trying to keep a situation in which even the Pentecostal’s can remain skeptical of of whether or not anything legitimately supernatural is occurring.

The question is, if something supernatural really is going on, why would the source of these events want to keep anyone skeptical?

[1]  Is this the concept of church ladies something that needs to be explained to some readers?  Or is this a fairly universal concept among most Christian groups?

[2]  I should note that not all Pentecostals actually think that Catholics aren’t “real Christians,” at least not in the sense of being saved.  They believe that some Catholics might be true believers in the sense of being saved, but find much of Catholic doctrine (as they understand it) to be in error.

TV pp.10-11: But he’s Catholic

Note about page numbers:  I’m using an iBook copy of this book.  With iBook (and I believe most electronic books work this way), the book repaginates based on your font settings.  As such, I’m not sure how useful it will be to give page numbers.  For anyone who wants to know, I’m reading my iPad in portrait mode using the smallest font size, with a font setting of Palatino.  That’s how I come by the page numbers I list in the post titles.

As I prepared to discuss the next passage in Frank Peretti’s book, “The Visitation,” I was struck with how Peretti misunderstands his own characters.  The introduction of Arnold Kowalski, the custodian of Antioch’s Catholic church, makes that abundantly clear.  Arnold is a likable fellow, and I believe that Peretti takes care to present him as such, unlike the way L&J tend to present their non-RTC characters in the left behind series.  Arnold is depicted as an elderly, devout Catholic who takes great pleasure in serving his parishioners and someone for whom we are encouraged to feel compassion for as he goes about his job in pain from his worsening arthritis.

However, I’m not convinced that the internal monologue is in line with the character being presented.  Certainly, it is understandable for an old man in near-constant pain to wonder why God would leave him in pain.  If Arnold didn’t wonder that, I would wonder about his basic humanity.  Instead, what I take issue with is Arnold’s impulse to wonder how he can bargain with God:

Maybe I’m not serving God enough, he thought.  Maybe I need to work longer.  Maybe if I didn’t take any money for what I do here…

Among evangelical Christians — especially of the pentecostal stripe that makes up most of Peretti’s own environment — this line of thinking is quite common.  The idea that serving God brings on blessings and that the sign of trouble might be a sign of not being sufficiently faithful to God are common among such people.  If Arnold were the custodian of the local Assemblies of God church or even a nondenominational mega-church, the above line of thinking would make perfect sense.

But the Arnold presented in this story is a devout Catholic, and my personal — albeit anecdotal — experience suggests that this line of reasoning is not common among Catholics.  In my experience, Catholics are not particularly susceptible to bargaining with God or expecting HIm to take away their suffering.  Indeed, Catholics might be more apt to identify with their suffering and identify with Jesus.  After all, they consider the suffering of the Crucifixion to be far more central to their faith than most Protestants — especially of the pentecostal and nondenominational variety — are, hence their love of crucifixes.

Speaking of crucifixes, Arnold notices that the huge crucifix in the church appears to be shedding tears, so he seeks to investigate.  He checks out the tiny rivulet of water that is running down the crucified Christ’s cheek, verifying that it is not being sourced from a leaky roof or a fault in nearby plumbing before reaching out to touch the apparent tear, expressing some anxiety and fear:

He reached, then hesitated from the very first tinge of fear.  Just what was he about to touch?  Dear God, don’t hurt me.  He reached again, shakily extending his hand until his fingertips brushed across the wet trail of the tears.

Again, this strikes me as a case of Peretti not truly understanding who he established his character to be.  Why would Arnold fear a bit of water — even unexplained as it was — on the crucifix?  Does Peretti think that Arnold — and Catholics in general — are afraid to touch their crucifixes?  This would not surprise me, given most Protestant’s misunderstanding of how Catholics view such thing.  To many Protestants, Catholic crucifixes are seen as idols, and they make the mistake of thinking that Catholics see such idols as inherently holy or in some way magical.  So the thought of touching a crucifix — especially one that appears to be crying — would be some fearsome thing.

In my experience, Catholics are much more practical-minded than that.  While they certainly view their crucifixes as important reminders of the Holy suffering of their Savior and why that suffering is worthy of respect, honor and praise, the crucifix itself deserves no such honor.  Catholics do not genuflect before the crucifix to give honor to a wooden figure, but to give honor and respect for what is represented by it.  It’s a distinction I think that Peretti is failing to understand here.

The other possibility is that Peretti is portraying Arnold as a man who, having determined there is no “natural” explanation for the tears, now thinks it’s from a supernatural source (be it demonic or divine).  As such, his fear is regards to what will happen to hem when he comes into direct contact with this supernatural phenomenon.

This explanation doesn’t ring true to me either.  We have just learned that Arnold is in near-constant pain which has been increasing over the years.  Given his circumstances and his reluctant resignation to his lot in life, I find it strange that he’d be ready to expect the supernatural already.  I think it far more reasonable that touching the tears would simply be the next step in Arnold’s so-far methodical and common sense investigation of what he’s seeing.  At this point, he should be touching the “tears” to see if they’re actually there or a trick of the light on the grain of the wood.

It turns out, however, that the tears are indeed supernatural and they cause Arnold’s arthritis to instantly go away.  I suspect that this is the real reason for Arnold’s trepidation, written in by an author who wanted to a build a little suspense while leading up to this miraculous occurrence.  Those motives are understandable, but doing it at the expense of understanding how Arnold as described might act is problematic, all the same.

TV pp.9-10: “Poor Sally”

Note about page numbers:  I’m using an iBook copy of this book.  With iBook (and I believe most electronic books work this way), the book repaginates based on your font settings.  As such, I’m not sure how useful it will be to give page numbers.  For anyone who wants to know, I’m reading my iPad in portrait mode using the smallest font size, with a font setting of Palatino.  That’s how I come by the page numbers I list in the post titles.

Having met our mysterious crucifixion survivor and watching his discovering of some unknown power last week, we turn the first chapter of Peretti’s “The Visitation” this week to meet nineteen year old Sally Fordyce as she leaves her home in Antioch Washington[1] to go for a walk.  We learn that Sally is nineteen and has returned to Antioch to live with her parents after a short-lived relationship with a trucker named Joey.  Peretti describes that relationship from Sally’s point of view:

She had believed everything Joey, the trucker, told her about love, and how she was that girl silhouetted on his mud flaps.  The marriage — if it happened at all — lasted three months.  When he found another woman more “intellectually stimulating,” Sally was bumped from the truck’s sleeper and found herself coming full circle, right back to bring Charlie and Meg’s daughter living at home again.

This is the perfect evangelical cautionary tale against “fast relationships,” especially those involving premarital sex.  Sally is that “poor girl” who trusted the promises of the “wrong boy,” fell head over heels, got used, and had her heart broken and dumped back home, ruined.

As anyone who has ever dated can tell you, there’s a lot of truth to this story.  I suspect most of us could tell that story of that person who promised us the world and eternal love, believed them, and ended up getting hurt.  I don’t take issue with any particular detail of this story, as it’s quite plausible.

And yet, the way in which this tale is told and meant to be perceived in evangelical circles is troubling to me.  This is not a tale of a young woman who had her heart broken when love didn’t work out, but the tale of the foolish girl who made a lot of bad choices and got the heartbreak coming to her.  Let me break down some of the hidden (or maybe not-so-hidden) elements of this message.

First, we have Joey comparing Sally to silhouettes (presumably of a sexy woman in some pose that’s meant to be provocative) on the mud flaps of his truck.  In evangelical culture, this is a hint that Joey is a sex-obsessed boy who would seek to sexually objectify any woman he meets.  In the evangelical mindset, this is probably seen as a sure sign that Joey watches porn too, and that if Sally had been smarter, she would’ve realized that Joey was bad news and only interested in one thing where she was concerned.

Add to this the phrase “if it happened at all” in regard to the marriage, which suggests that maybe Joey and Sally didn’t officially tie the knot, but instead were simply cohabitating in Joey’s truck as the traveled around for his work.  Again, this is a clear warning sign in evangelical circles, as any guy who will shack up with a girl without “making her an honest woman” is bound to dump her at some point.  Again, to the evangelical mind, this is something that Sally should have seen as a sign that Joey was trouble and avoided him.

The thing is, this is how some evangelicals tend to envision all relationships that meet their expectations of “doing marriage right” look.  There are no well-meaning couples who decide to live together and do their best to make things work, only to fail.  If such a relationship fails, it’s because the couple “did it wrong.”  Even if the couple does everything “right” according to the culture, if the relationship fails, it’s a sign they “didn’t really do it right after all.”  And while they might be sympathetic with Sally, there’s that part that sees this as consequences she brought on herself.

This is further shown as Peretti tells us that Sally saw her relationship with Joey as her chance for freedom.  Of course, Sally’s understanding of freedom is painted as immature.  Now that she’s back home, she has to cook, clean, and help with other household chores, things that she apparently didn’t have to do while living with Joey.

Of course, to Sally, freedom also meant escape from the small town of Antioch.  To her, Joey was her one chance to escape.  I find this interesting because Peretti is playing on a cliche here that I don’t buy into.  Contrary to popular belief, not everyone who grows up in small towns wants to escape them.  Even some of those who are not “wheat farmers” decide they like their cozy little hometown and stick around.  After all, there’s a lot to be said for living in a small community where everyone has known almost everyone else since they were born.  It can be quite comfortable.

Yes, some of us[2] decide we’d prefer more excitement.  Or we decide that our chosen careers require us to move.  Or we decide we’d have better dating options in a larger, more diverse community.  But we don’t necessarily just leave our small towns for the sake of escaping our small towns.

This is, I suppose, where I find Sally a bit poorly written.  There is nothing driving her desire to get out of Antioch.  There is nothing pushing her away from her hometown, nor is there anything pulling her to some new location.

Of course, that’s why Sally never found an escape other than Joey.  She has no ambition of her own.  She has no goals or self-determined destination.  And that’s why she is still (or at least back) in Antioch.  So she latches onto a man — a trucker who tells her that she’s sexy and beautiful, no less — to provide her with her escape.

Elephant in the room time:  Don’t a lot of evangelicals hold this up as a woman’s perfect — and only — duty?  Isn’t being a wife beholden to a particular man part and parcel of many evangelical descriptions of the ideal woman.  So here we have Sally, who seems to be latching onto that idea herself.  She turned to a man to be her ticket to the good life.  And yet, because (1) she didn’t “do it right” and (2) she “failed,” she’s a “poor girl” to be pitied/tsk-tsked by the same people who probably contributed to her thinking that this was the perfect life for her.

After all this set up, Sally meets a random stranger that has a message for her:

“I’m here to bring you a message.  Your prayers have been answered, Sally.  Your answer is on his way.  Be looking for him.”

Sally’s answer to her prayers — her prayers to get out of this small town — is on his way.  You heard that, the alleged answers to her prayers is another man.

You can almost hear the evangelical readers sardonically thinking, “Here we go again.”

[1]  Google maps knows of no Antioch in Washington, though there apparently is a “Highway 9” that runs through that state.  I suspect that this is another attempt by Peretti to create a plausible sounding small town, as Yamikuronue concludes about Ashtion in “This Present Darkness.”

[2]  I grew up in the rural town of Tioga, Pennsylvania, so I’m a “small town boy” myself.

TV p. 8: Power vs. Power

Note about page numbers:  I’m using an iBook copy of this book.  With iBook (and I believe most electronic books work this way), the book repaginates based on your font settings.  As such, I’m not sure how useful it will be to give page numbers.  For anyone who wants to know, I’m reading my iPad in portrait mode using the smallest font size, with a font setting of Palatino.  That’s how I come by the page numbers I list in the post titles.

Peretti starts “The Visitation” with a very short prologue.[1]  This prologue starts out describing what one might first think of as the crucifixion of Jesus himself.  Peretti describes the ringing of hammer against nail and the crunching of bone beneath said nail.  He then describes the young man as he hangs there beneath the scorching sun.

He cried out, but God did not listen.  It could have been God who drove the nails, then put his hammer down and turned away, smiling in victory.  It could have been God who left him to bake and bleed in the sun, unable to stand, unable to fall, as the sun marked the passing hours across the cloudless sky.

We can glean from this passage that the young man is likely from a religious background.  Contrary to what the “non-Christians hate Jesus crowd” might thing, the nonreligious – especially those who were nonreligious from the day they were born – do not face adversity and think that God has abandoned them, let alone that God is the likely cause of their adversity.

No, a young man has to believe in God – or at least be brought up to believe in God – to believe that it was God Himself who crucified him.

This is confirmed as the young man reflects on the accusations of his tormentors:

“You’re a child of the devil,” they said.  A child of the devil who needed to be contained.

So the people who crucified this young man are devoutly religious and believe they are authorized – presumably by God Himself – to determine who is God’s own chosen and who is a child of the devil.  Not only that, they feel duly authorized to do what must be done to “contain” those who fall into the latter category, even if it means crucifying that person and leaving zir for dead in the scorching heat.

When I volunteered at a summer day camp for Child Evangelism Fellowship, the leaders always cautioned us to choose our words carefully when disciplining the children in our care.  They warned us that we should refrain from telling a child that zie is “bad.”  The leaders explained that this often created a self-reinforcing message to the child, which would just as likely result in more bad behavior than encouraging good behavior.  We were encouraged to point out that the child was precious and valuable, and even good, but was engaging in bad behavior.  Bad behavior by good children was correctable after all.  What’s more, it made it worth correcting the good behavior.

If I had ever told a child that they were the spawn of Satan himself, I suspect that the CEF leadership would have asked me to leave and never come back.  Had I ever told a child such a thing while driving nails into their wrist so they could hang their in agony while dying, I should hope they would have called the police on me.

What has happened to this young man is monstrous beyond measure.  Not only has he been involved in a religious group that feels justified in declaring him irredeemably evil, but they have placed final judgment on him on God’s behalf, leaving him to die in misery.  This young man, whoever he is deserves our sympathy.  He deserves our compassion.  He deserves mercy and relief from his torment.

I find that interesting that as the prologue continues, the young man finds relief from his torment, but without any mention of mercy:

He cried out once again, and this time, a voice, a mind, answered and a power coursed through him.  Suddenly, he could bear the pain and make it fuel for his will.  With burning will, he determined he would live.

Power.  He does not find mercy, but power.  Power to survive according to his own will.  Power provided by some unknown source.

Of course, he has already had one brush with power.  Those who hung him by nails that tore through his flesh and bone and left him to die had power to.  They used their power to abuse and hurt him.  To them, power was something to torment and “contain” those they deemed unfit for life.

So one might wonder, how one who has been abused by the powerful might react when he finds not saving mercy from others, but power to save himself.  Power that he now can wield.  One might wonder what he might do with that power, power that still knows nothing of mercy.

Whether this young man becomes a just protagonist or a monster modeled after his own tormentors and the brutal lessons they taught him, this moment makes him a rather sympathetic character in my eyes.

[1]  Actually, there is an introduction before the prologue.  However, given that the introduction is a brief discussion of his own thoughts, I chose to skip over them and move right into the fictional narrative.

Considering Peretti books for analysis

After some thought, I’ve decided that I’m going to do a deconstruction — if you can still call it a deconstruction if you find more about the book that you like than you dislike — of another book by Frank Peretti.

I’ve read a total of five Peretti books.  Each one of them is slightly different in some way.  This Present Darkness is about the war between angels and demons as it plays out in a small town.  Piercing the Darkness, its sequel, is also about angels battling demons, but this time the main focus is the battle over a particular soul (though it did have a swipe at the public education system, which was a popular topic at the time I was reading it due tot he emergence of outcomes based education).

The third book that I read was Prophet, which was not about angels and demons but about a journalist who found himself living a “prophetic” (in the terms of warning others of the consequences of their misdeeds) vocation.  The book mostly focused on the evils of the (liberal, of course) media and abortion.

The fourth book that I read was The Oath.  It was a strange book in that it was far more a Horror book than the others.  While it got preachy about the nature of sin, there was also no clear connections to actual spiritual movements (at least not that I’m aware of) like the first three were.  I often joked that The Oath seemed more like Peretti contracted Stephen King to write a book for him in comparison to the others I had read.

I should note that I read these four books when I was in high school, when I still considered myself a fundamentalist Christian.  As such, I read them as a member of Peretti’s target audience.

I didn’t read my fifth book, The Visitation until I was in my late twenties or early thirties, long after I became a witch and devotee of Freyja.  In many ways, I suppose that’s why i liked the book.  In this book, Peretti turned his critical eye away from “outsiders” and turned it upon his own religious subculture.  As a former member of that same subculture, I appreciated his look.

I’ve decided that I want to do an in-depth analysis of The Visitation.  As I said, I’m not sure I can call it a deconstruction, as many of the parts that I will be exploring are places where I actually identify and agree with Peretti’s thoughts.  However, given the nature of the main plot, which I wasn’t as impressed with, I don’t expect my comments to be entirely glowing, either.

I’m also hoping that it might be interesting to compare this book with This Present Darkness.  Who knows, maybe it’ll even spark up some sort of discussion between Yamikuronue and myself as we compare our experiences of our respective Peretti books.