Monday Morning Raptureback

Say what you will about his failed Doomsday predictions, Harold Camping makes for fascinating theatre. As I wrote in my column just before Judgment Day (http://www.stratfordstar.com/opinion/my-voice/walshs-wonderings/69116-sign-of-the-end-times.html), Harold has a very healthy belief in himself—track record be damned. He’s even managed to kick it up a notch since emerging from his hobbit hole, declaring that he was right all along—lack of Rapture be damned. Turns out we’re still on for the End of Times on October 21, 2011—especially the damned.

Asked for a comment by the International Business Times on May 21 after (surprise) he was still eartbound, Camping opened his door in a Members Only jacket (he has to be the sole surviving member at this point) and asked “Just give me a day. This is a big deal, and I gotta live with… I gotta think it out.”

Addressing the media from his studios on May 23, Camping said, “If people want me to apologize I can apologize (Author’s Note: that’s not an apology). Yes, I did not have all of that worked out as accurately as I should have, or wished I could have, but that doesn’t bother me at all because I’m not a genius.”

Not a genius? Hush your mouth! You just managed to fake an apology while deploying the “I’m only human” defense for taking on the superhuman task of being God’s public relations rep. Even better, he went on to say that he really wasn’t wrong at all. He said the Rapture was to be understood spiritually, not physically. “The sense of it is still the same, that Judgment has come, that we are now under judgment where it was not prior to May 21st. Spiritually there’s a big difference in the world that we can’t detect with our eyes.”

In other words, the election results aren’t in, but all the precincts are closed. We’re just waiting for the final tally. Want proof? Well, you can’t see it with your eyes, silly, so… no. No proof for you. Instead, his Family Radio empire touts his new slogan, “We are almost there.” It reminds me of my dad as he packed my family in the station wagon for a 12-hour trek to Ohio. We’d whine, “Are we almost there, yet?” and he’d answer, “Yes.” Then we’d be in the car another four hours.

We’re in for a long ride, folks, and Harold is just ramping up. On May 3, 2009, Harold addressed a packed gym of about, oh, 24 people about Judgment Day. He spoke of carcasses being thrown into the streets and desecrated because they are under the wrath of God—who knew how excited folks would be to finally get to desecrate bodies?

Some of you might be wondering, “Why us? Why now?” First of all, quit your whining—we’re almost there. Secondly, we are being punished more than the folks from the previous 13,000 years because we were in the wrong place at the wrong time. Sorry.

These are the drawbacks of being a one-man show: lone rangers have a higher probability of failure. In fact, Family Radio employee Matt Tuter told the Christian Post that Camping has actually predicted the world’s end at least ten times. Most of those predictions weren’t made public, and Tuter has pushed some would-be donors not to contribute.

Don’t worry, though, because it looks like everything is back to normal. The Family Radio website that had hosted a giant countdown to the Rapture (along with several “proofs” of our impending judgment) has been restored to its former glory. In other words, the donation button is in working order. That’s important, because Family Radio spent $100,000,000 on the billboard campaign for May 21 alone. There’s not a lot of time left to rebuild that war chest for the final ads in October. God doesn’t want us wasting our money on the needy at this juncture, and I don’t think it would “count” anyway. The polls are already closed, remember?

Now Harold can move on to the business at hand: scaring the crap out of people based on numbers he’s derived through a fantasy reading of Scripture and a pair of old Yahtzee dice. He still needs to figure out what time zone God uses, for instance. Oh, and he needs a better motel to hide in with his wife next time come October 22nd.

Regardless, all of this just further proves my long-held theory: never trust an old man with long fingernails.

 

Sign of The (End) Times

"Because I know what God would say if He only could."

(Originally posted in the Stratford Star newspaper on May 19, 2011, in “Walsh’s Wonderings”)

It was a cold January morning when I drove past the Barnum Avenue billboard in Bridgeport, but its message warmed my very soul: “He is coming again! May 21, 2011.” I pulled my car to the side of the road and wept tears of joy. The message couldn’t have been any clearer: Justin Bieber must be scheduled to perform in the Arena at Harbor Yard!

My wife was the first to break the news. “It’s not Justin. They’re talking about Jesus.”

My sense of disappointment was deeper than missing out on a Bieber Experience: while meeting Jesus was something I’ve always had on my Bucket List, I was hoping it would be the last item left in the bucket. Luckily, the 21st is a Saturday—this won’t be the traffic nightmare it could have been.

Because I am a geek in addition to being somewhat dim, I looked into the organization that so crushed my heart. Turns out the man behind the sign is Harold Camping, the crusty biblical scholar that runs Family Stations, Inc., a Christian broadcast ministry based in Oakland, California. He’s the barnacle on channel 66 WFME, an impossibly frail figure whose seated biblical lectures are broadcast around the clock. This isn’t his first Armageddon rodeo. In 1992, Camping published a book titled 1994? in which he established Sept. 6, 1994, as the return date for Christ.

Oops.

He later admitted that his math might have been incorrect. This time, his logic is clearer: he has devined that the number 5 equals “atonement.” Ten is “completeness.” Seventeen means “heaven.” In an interview with Justin Berton of the San Francisco Chronicle in 2010, Camping explained how he reached his conclusion that the world will end on May 21, 2011. He determined that Christ was put on the cross on April 1, 33 A.D. It’s been 1,978 years since that day. Camping then multiplied 1,978 by 365.2422 days—the number of days in each solar year, not to be confused with a calendar year. Next, Camping noted that April 1 to May 21 encompasses 51 days. Add 51 to the sum of previous multiplication total, and it equals 722,500. Camping realized that (5 x 10 x 17) x (5 x 10 x 17) = 722,500. Or put into words: (Atonement x Completeness x Heaven), squared

“I tell ya, I just about fell off my chair when I realized that,” Camping said.

Me, too! It’s so simple I’m surprised we missed it. In his appropriately named follow-up book We Are Almost There! he presents additional Biblical evidence which points to May 21, 2011, as the date for the Rapture and October 21, 2011, as the date for the end of the world. Followers of Camping claim that around 200 million people (approximately 3% of the world’s population) will be “raptured,” or bodily pulled into the air to meet Christ upon His return. The rest of us will mope around until we realize we can finally get Giants season tickets. Alas, we’ll only get halfway through the season before Earth closes shop forever in October. Also, October 21 is a Friday, though, so expect delays on I-95.

In the meantime, we’ll have plenty of time to read the billboards as rush hour traffic slows us to a crawl. Don’t worry—traffic should clear up next week.

A Gift We Give Ourselves

(Originally posted in the Stratford Star newspaper on May 5, 2011, in “Walsh’s Wonderings”)

I was nine when I first “discovered” the public library. I’d been in it many times for book reports or the occasional Indian Guides meeting, but it took a rainy day and Norton Juster to make it magic. I was banned from watching TV due to bad grades and forced to tag along with mom on errands, including her frequent trips to the library. One day an elderly librarian took pity and slipped me a copy of Juster’s Phantom Tollbooth, a book about a boy my age fighting terminal boredom. As a result, this woman opened up the world of reading to me, transporting me to new worlds. When I returned the book the next week, the librarian suggested another, then another. I left with a shiny new library card, a stack of eight books, and a love of reading that would last the rest of my life.

I couldn’t tell you her salary or the percentage of my parents’ tax dollars that paid it. If you’d asked my parents, they’d have called it priceless.

In middle school, the library permitted me to bring home all the music I couldn’t otherwise afford; by high school, they added VHS movies. In college, I was given free access to online journals and eventually media for my mobile computing. However, the evolution of the library included not only the manner in which the library allowed us to access information, but also the manner in which it was consumed. Typing rooms became mobile offices with free internet; children’s areas were expanded to encourage ReadAlongs and extensive programming; study booths added computer stations and stacks were reorganized to accommodate lounge areas. Librarians evolved into media specialists in order to wrangle all the assorted resources into a cohesive system that improved access. Once merely the gatekeepers of the written word, media specialists now guided and educated visitors on ways to better understand the wealth of information available in all its forms.

I couldn’t tell you how much it cost to train them or the time this training required. If you’d asked the students or job seekers who got the help they desperately needed, they’d have thought it worthwhile.

Today, the role of the media specialist is even more important as the amount and variety of information explodes. Instead of being provided neatly on bookshelves, information accessed digitally is often disorganized. In addition to offering a level of quality control with regard to the validity of resources, media specialists can cull the overwhelming number of those resources in order to maximize results and save time. Rather than a decline in attendance, the evolution of the modern library has created a need to service a larger number of patrons representing a wider segment of our population.

In difficult economic times, it’s important to remember that equal access has always been the cornerstone of the American library system. Those who cannot afford books, videos, computers, or internet connections are afforded the opportunity without cost; those without the means to attend institutions of higher learning are provided the materials and training necessary to compete. There’s still no suitable substitute to the library and its mountains of content, and no other resource offers the time and expertise of the modern media specialist free of charge to the end user.

One need look no further than Stratford’s own media specialists to understand their importance to our community. The Stratford Library Association’s website (www.stratford.lib.ct.us) outlines the value we get for our money that goes far beyond what we should expect: for adults, free notary service, career services and training opportunities, and regular groups such as “Books Over Coffee,” “Script Talk,” and “Sunday Afternoon Talks.” Whether it was renowned author Bob Smith discussing Shakespeare’s plays or Caitlin Augusta leading the “Aspiring Authors” program for kids, the library has always celebrated the written word. Current offerings for Stratford youth include the “Rising Stars” program, the Anime Club, and “HomeworkHelp@SLA” (after-hours, one-on-one help for students by Stratford high school teachers). Based on the State of Connecticut’s 2010 Public Library Annual Statistical Report and Application for State Aid, Stratford library’s program attendance is more than twice the state average. Based on circulation per service hour, our library is much more than twice as busy as the state average! Attendance at Children’s programs (ages 6-11) is also more than twice the state average, and Young Adult program attendance is three times the state average. Stratford library’s collection turnover (circulation divided by collection size) is more than five times the state average.

Yet even before the recent budget cuts we’re slightly less than the state average for total full-time equivalent library employees based on town population. Over the years, the library has become a community hub because of the tireless efforts of this staff. We shouldn’t reward their hard work by handcuffing them with the current budget restrictions. It only took one library employee to turn this reluctant reader into an English teacher and published author. I have often shared with my students her promise to me that day: “Reading is a gift you give yourself, a ‘Get Out of Boredom Free’ card for every airport and doctor’s office in the world.”

In the same way, funding for our library is a gift we give our children and ourselves. Many residents were eloquent in defending the library from these cuts in recent public hearings—I defer to them for the more practical, fiscal arguments against the implementation. Instead, I fear for the next boy when that media specialist is not there to unlock new worlds for his generation.

I couldn’t tell you who came up with these cuts, nor the best way to say they’re dangerously short-sighted. If you’d asked me about maintaining the hours of our media specialists, I’d have said that some gifts we have to earn.