In Which Nothing Really Happens
- The word “bitter” is used
- Every time I bang my head against the book in frustration
- Jenny and Carol behave in a way that is not age appropriate (99% of all SDA authors can not write believable children.)
- The Book goes on and on for pages about Bible Study
- Sybil acts like a Bible Worker/Sabbath School teacher
- Sybil does something creepy
- One of the characters indicates that they are “crazy” for reading the bible/praying/going to church/whatever normal thing lots of mainstream Christians do
- Bill acts like an emotionally abusive husband
- Sybil acts afraid of her husband
- The author decides to insert stuff into the book that never actually happened but should have. (We have always been at war with Eastasia)
We begin the chapter with a group of friends gathered in Meg’s apartment. Joe is telling Meg and Michael that he must tell his Methodist congregation about the Sabbath, even though it will mean he gets fired.
Joe:….time is running out…I can procrastinate no longer. If Jean were with me in this, I wouldn’t hesitate for a moment, but she’s alarmed and bitter (drink!) that my study has led me to this place.
Why? Why would Joe believing Saturday is the Sabbath be alarming and make someone “bitter?” And why would your wife’s reaction cause you to hesitate?
Sunlight: What will happen if you share your convictions on the Sabbath with your congregation?
Joe: I expect I will have preached my last sermon. Do you have any idea what it means to walk away from a group of people you have loved and nurtured for 5 years?
Joe, I walked away from a group I loved and who nurtured me for twenty years. STFU.
Michael informs Joe that if he loses his job, he can take a counseling position. Michael works for the government, and I guess they do employ pastors sometimes? But wouldn’t you need to have an actual degree in counseling in order to work in counseling for a government agency?
Michael and Meg reassure Joe that they are behind him 100% and will attend his Methodist church on Sunday.
Ah, yes, church. Where exactly have Meg, Michael, Sybil, etc, been going? Obviously it hasn’t been an Adventist church yet, but if they’ve been studying and praying, it makes sense for at least Meg and Sybil to have begun the tedius task of church shopping.
Now, with the information about the Sabbath, would be a great time to introduce our main characters to the Seventh Day Adventist church.
Except, that doesn’t happen. This next scene is the only time we see Our Heroes attend a church in the entire book. I think it’s very odd for the author to have left it out.
In any case, here we are, come Sunday, in Joe Westcott’s church. Meg and Michael sit a few pews behind Joe’s family, and we are told that they are wondering if Jean knows what Joe is preaching about.
Jared is an angel. Angels can’t read minds. Angels can’t read minds. ANGELS CAN’T READ MINDS!
Sunlight(Whispering): I’m scared to death for him
Why? Sure he may be a little nervous, and if all doesn’t go well he may lose his job, but Michael already told him he has another one he can give him (he bought it at the store and he put it in a bag!*), and the persecution hasn’t started, won’t start for another 2 years. So there’s no real tension here.
It would be better if the author had really ratcheted up the job situation. Ministers don’t tend to be rich. It’s possible that Joe’s family is already struggling. If he loses his job, his wife and children might go hungry (we all know how the people in this book would feel about food stamps), they might lose the house (do they even own the house, or does it belong to the church?), and how are they going to pay for little Tammie’s appendectomy with no medical insurance?
Then, after Joe gets fired, Michael comes in with good news: he’s just heard that the pastoral counselor for the state of New York died (peacefully, in his sleep, of old age) and would Joe like to submit his resume? Joe later gets the job, and they all agree that it was God’s timing and Joe is happy he trusted the Lord to provide.
I would still find all this snark worthy, and a plot line that has been done to death, but at least it would be interesting. The way it’s written, it just… there’s no tension, Joe is going to have a job no matter what, and no one is trying to kill him(yet.)
In fact, one could argue that Joe is very specifically not trusting in God right now because notice he only agreed to preach this sermon after Michael promised him another job.
In case we readers felt like we were being left out, we get 3 pages or so of Joe’s sermon. I’ll give you the highlights.
I have been searching my Bible as never before. I feel we are right upon the borders of those climactic events that will bring the history of this planet to a close.
Why? Nowhere in this book, so far, does it talk about any of the signs of the end times as per Matthew 24, Daniel, and Revelation.
….At first glance, the Sabbath commandment appears to have no practical purpose.
Why? Show of hands, folks, which off us can’t see the benefit of having at least one day a week where we rest from our work?
I can no longer stand in this pulpit on Sunday mornings believing as I do.
Why not? Will you only preach on Saturdays now?
There is no conversation as the congregation leaves the church. It is a stunned and quiet people who shake hands with their beloved young pastor. Finally only Joe, Michael, Sunlight, Jean, and her children remain.
Why? Ok, everybody is stunned. Do all stunned human beings react with silence No. We should be over hearing congregants talk in low (and not so low) tones about their idiot pastor. We should be seeing people who come to church merely for the social aspect gossipping about Mary’s weight problem, and what it could possibly mean. We would not, however, see a bunch of silent robots parading quietly out of the church.
Joe’s wife, Jean, throws a fit. She can’t believe he’s done this. Everything he’s worked so hard to build for 5 years is gone! He has betrayed these people!1!!11!!1!!1
This seems like an over dramatic reaction to me. Would someone really think like this? I’ve never seen anyone preach a sermon on the Sabbath to a non SDA (or SD Baptist) audience, so, I don’t really know.
Joe argues back that he would’ve betrayed them more by not telling them the Sabbath truth, and introduces her to Meg and Michael. In the middle of what is gearing up to be a colossal fight. Yeah, great time to introduce your friends, Joe.
The only descriptions of the people we get are that Joe’s wife is a fragile blond, his daughter has curly hair, and his son is a sober 12 year old. (Well, I would hope a 12 year old would be sober!)
All this, by the way, is more information than we have about Joe, which is that he is “tall and craggy, and dark haired.”
Descriptions, like consistency and dialog, are clearly not the author’s strengths.
Jason expresses worry about his father’s job, to which his father replies
I have already accepted a position as a counselor in the city’s department of social services.
How? Does the State not require that pastors have actual degrees in anything besides… whatever it is pastors get degrees in? Does Joe have a backup degree in psychology that he hasn’t mentioned?
Not only does this take all the tension and drama out of the story, but it all seems to come out of nowhere and doesn’t make sense.
Joe asks his son what he thought of the sermon.
Jason: It makes sense to me. I know a girl at school who goes to church on Saturday. Once the teacher asked her to explain to the class why she couldn’t go on Saturday outings, and she made it perfectly clear. I’ve half believed it ever since.
The girl made things “perfectly clear” yet Jason only “half believed” it?
And that’s…. that’s it. Nobody says anything more. Jean and Joe don’t get into an argument, no one cares what the daughter thinks, Meg and Michael don’t feel weird for intruding into the family fight. Everybody just packs up and goes home.
Michael asks if Carol minded staying with Sybil, and Sunlight says Bill adores her and spoils her, but that she is concerned about Sybil, who has “changed somehow.”
Michael: Less friendly?
Sunlight: No… no but she’s more withdrawn…she’s more reserved and doesn’t seem to enjoy things like she used to. I asked her if she wanted to go shopping-her favorite thing–and she refused to come out of the apartment, or even open the door. She said Bill wouldn’t like it. I’m worried about her Mike.
Just kidding. That would make sense with what we’ve seen so far, but it doesn’t actually happen.
Sunlight: No, she’s her same dear self, and as beautiful as ever
It’s really important that Sybil is still beautiful.
but I had the feeling she was uncomfortable when I was telling her the things we’ve been studying while she’s been sunning herself on the Mediterranean. The weeks with Bill, I fear, have been so rewarding to her after all the lonely years that she feels need of little else.
Sybil no longer needs religion as a coping mechanism, I guess.
She said she had neglected her Bible badly, and that our studies together seemed like something out of the far past. She and bill are like young lovers. It’s nice to see, yet frightening. Like there’s no room in her life for God anymore. No room for anyone except Bill. When I mentioned that you and I were worshiping in our own way by ourselves on Saturdays, Bill laughed and said, “Meg, aren’t you and Michael off that kick yet?” I don’t think Sybil could take that kind of ridicule from him–she loves him so much. And she would be so afraid of losing him.
We see here that Bill is not only disrespectful of his wife’s religious beliefs, he is disrespectful of his neighbors’ beliefs as well.
Threatening to leave your wife if she starts believing in the Bible, mocking her and her friends for studying the bible… if this is what we know about, imagine what he is putting Sybil through in private. This right here is a form of emotional abuse.
Michael: I want to ask you something, Maggie. And I want your full attention.
Sunlight: You sound almost as serious as Joe did in the pulpit
Michael: I’m at least as scared as he was
Sunlight: you don’t have to be afraid to ask me anything, Michael. You have been so kind to me that I would do anything on Earth to make you happy.
Michael: Like marrying me?
Is… is this supposed to come off as sweet? Because it doesn’t. It sounds painfully awkward and manipulative.
Sunlight(startled): You mustn’t joke, Michael, on a day when Joe has been through such an ordeal.
Joe just preached his last sermon. Losing his job sucks, but it’s not like he fucking died. There’s no need to act as though you just got back from his funeral.
Anyone who expects you not to make jokes on the day they lose their job is an asshole. Fuck, anyone who expects you not to make jokes at their funeral is an asshole.
Michael:(taking her hand in his) I’m not joking, Maggie. I love you.
If you loved her, you could’ve planned this out better. Taken her out to Dinner or something.
Alright lazy cat, get off my book!
Meet “Karma,” the enemy of all book reviews.
What do you mean you need to turn the page? I need my beauty sleep!
Meg gives us a full paragraph about how she never even thought of marrying Michael, but says yes anyway, because all of a sudden, without any kind of courtship or anything, she realizes she loves Michael more than she loved Jim, even.
They’re going to celebrate by eating salads and going home to tell Carol.
What a man, ladies!
Later, people are gathered in Meg’s apartment.
Michael’s parents have given him and Meg their summer home in the Adirondacks as a wedding gift, and they want to have the wedding there in the mountains. The Sabbath before the wedding, Michael and Meg want Joe to baptize them. Everyone is invited.
Sybil: It all sounds like a little bit of heaven, but I don’t know whether Bill would consent to go or not, and you do understand I couldn’t leave him, don’t you?
I’m not allowed to spend a day (or two) away from my husband! This doesn’t raise any red flags whatsoever!
This is also evidence that Bill no longer sees Meg and Michael as friends. He won’t even go to their wedding? I mean, yeah weddings are incredibly boring, especially SDA ones, but still, at last pretend to come up with a good excuse.
Joe tells them all that the elders of his church offically told him to take a hike. Since we all know Joe has another job lined up, this is boring and anti climactic.
Other members of his congregation have told Joe that if he wants to start up a Saturday church, they will join. Because churches like these don’t already exist. Joe wants to introduce these people to Meg and Michael.
Sunlight: Why, Joe, that’s worth all you went through. Of course they may meet with us. There’s a girl at work who’s been studying, and I think she’ll soon be wanting fellowship too.
All Joe went through? Joe didn’t go through anything. He got a new job as quickly as he lost his old one. That’s not persecution, that doesn’t produce tension, and it’s boring to read about.
Meg tells us she is down to 2 cigarettes a day, and wants to quit entirely before baptism.
All of this reads less like friends sitting around talking, and more like testimony time in your local Sabbath school.
Joe tells Meg to turn her smoking problem over the the Lord and forget about it.
Because it’s totally that simple. Ms. Strong does realize Nicotine withdrawal is a thing, right? It’s kind of hard to forget about withdrawal when you’re going through it.
There’s a few more paragraphs about Michael’s struggles with beer (because he’s totally an alcoholic! He drinks beer in the evening, wine with his meals and enjoys coctails on the weekends!) and then Sybil blathers on about how she’s slipping away from God.
Sybil: Bill says religion was just like my needlepoint and volunteer work at the hospital–something to stave off loneliness. He thinks it’s a crutch and that we should stand on our own two feet and face up to problems in our own strength.
Bill isn’t wrong, here. However, even though it is a crutch, there’s no reason she can’t still be serious about her faith. Let’s pretend, like the author, that Sybil has been doing volunteer work at the hospital all this time. Is there a reason she must give it up now that Bill is back in her life? Is there a reason she has to give up her needlepoint? If the answer is yes, then that’s disturbing. If the answer is no, then why must she also give up her faith?
Bill sounds like a controlling, emotionally abusive jerkwad.
Joe: He’s not alone in that thinking… our mental institutions are filled with men and women who needed God but who had been taught to handle life on their own.
I see this attitude sooo much. God can solve all your fucking mental problems. You only have depression/anxiety/mental illness because you don’t trust Jesus enough.
There’s a time jump of two months, and Meg, Michael, and a bunch of other nameless people no one cares about all get baptized in the lake outside Meg and Michael’s summer home.
Michael: It’s a whole new life, Maggie. I feel so great, I have to pinch myself every morning to be sure I’m still on this wretched old planet.
Aside from how stilted this dialog is…. what the hell good is pinching yourself going to do? Are you not allowed to pinch yourself in heaven? If you were in heaven, would it not hurt when you pinched yourself? Or do you think you’re constantly in a dream and that is why you are hurting yourself every morning? To make sure you’re awake?
Sybil, by the way, is absent from this day of dunking.
The day after the day of dunking, Meg and Michael get married.
During the wedding dinner they talk about–what else–the upcoming apocalypse.
Joe: …I must talk to you all before we go back to the practical realities of life. As I study, and of late I have not put my bible aside until the wee hours of the morning many a night, I can only conclude that some very somber events lie ahead of us. Already we see even more trouble brewing in far places, much unrest and scandal in our government here at home, and the nation’s economy in a very perilous state (emphasis mine)
Since When? All this should have been woven into the story before hand. You can’t just decide in the middle of the book to say, “oh, by the way, a lot of stuff has been happening off screen that I didn’t bother writing about.”
I mean, look how easy it was for Joe to get another job. If the economy was that bad, this should have been downright impossible. In fact, you could have included this earlier and created more tension. Joe and Jean have an argument about how terrible the economy is, and how Joe can’t afford to just throw away a perfectly good job when the alternative very well could be starvation and serious medical debt.**
Audience, here’s a writing tip: This is what second (or third, or 4th, or 60th) drafts are for.
Jean: Joe, you sound like a prophet of doom.
Well, he is joining a doomsday cult….
This is a land of religious freedom. You told me yourself that groups have worshiped on Saturday for years.
Then why go start your own church?
Joe: That’s true, but there have been many calamities on earth lately [Mark 13:7,8]
Like what? Go back and edit some in. Or at least bother to invent some right here, right now.
People are uneasy. There is a strong feeling that if man would go back to the kind of reverence this country once knew, maybe God would smile upon us again. The first step is to urge, if not enforce, an old fashioned observance of Sunday as a religious day, rather than the day of recreation it has become.
Why? And who’s “they?” Joe tells us people are uneasy. Who are these people, and why do they feel so strongly about God? I could see Christians believing that we all need to turn to God, but I could also see people, a large group of people, having very strong sentiments in the other direction.
And I’m not just talking about atheists/agnostics. What about Muslims? Are they thinking of trying to enforce laws that force people to worship Allah? What about Hindus? Do they want to enforce laws that would return people to their Gods, in order to stop whatever calamities are supposedly happening? What do Muslims and Hindus think of these resurrected Blair Bills?
Joe is still speaking: ….already there is a strong push in this direction. The State harassed by the church. Always when organized religion begins to pressure government there is trouble.
Atheists and Adventists agree on this. Even a stopped clock…
I think this would be a good place to discuss where some of this Sunday Law stuff comes from.
Ellen White and the early pioneers of the church were absolutely convinced that a Sunday law was coming. why? because, in Ellen White’s time, they were.
Let’s talk about the Blair Bills.*** These were laws that would have enforced Sunday Sacredness. In some places, these laws already existed. Some Adventists were even fined for violating said laws.
Between 1885 and 1887, nearly 20 Sabbath keepers in Arkansas alone had been charged with Sunday desecration and fined up to $500 each.
(The Return of the Latter Rain, Ron Duffield, p. 183)
In early 1888 the well known Cardinal James Gibbons joined forces with many protestants in endorsing a petition to congress on behalf of national Sunday legislation….Senator H.W. Blair introduced a Bill into the US senate to promote observance of “The Lord’s day…as a day of religious worship.” Only a few days later, Blair submitted a proposal to amend the US constitution and Christianize the nation’s public school system. This was the first such legislation to go before congress since the establishment of the Advent movement in the 1840s.
Thankfully, for Seventh Day Adventists, as well as a whole nation, both Blair Bills died with the 51st congress
(Ibid, p.257. See also W.A. Blakely American State Papers Bearing On Sunday Legislation (1911) p. 366
In the late 1880s, a lot of Americans were scared. Ellen White and the early SDAs latched onto this fear and combined it with the 1840s end times panic. Sunday laws meant persecution, which, to them, meant the end of the world.
Adventists are largely in denial about this particular threat being in the past. They are convinced that the end of the world will still happen this way, even though times have changed. Ellen White wrote it, so it must be true. Historical context? What’s that?
In any case, that is why there is a Sunday law being proposed, even though it seems random and makes no sense.
Anyway, back to the wedding. Meg quotes the verse about the wide gate being the way of destruction, and there will be few that find the way to the straight gate.
Jean: Does it really say that, Meg? why didn’t you ever point that out to me, Joe? I always felt you couldn’t be right, when all the world kept Sunday, even though your presentation of the 7th day Sabbath seems clear enough.
Seriously? How does Jean not know this verse? She’s a minister’s wife. I am well aware that there are ministers out there who are poorly educated, but no minister or minister’s wife is that poorly educated. Especially if they’ve got small children in Sunday School, because this verse gets handed to children on memory verse cards a lot.
In any case, Joe points out, rightly, that he didn’t know that was the text that would convince Jean.
I personally think that if that’s Jean’s only argument than she must actually be 2. Because no grown up I’ve ever heard has ever started anything like that.
However, the author decided Jean would think like that because Ms Strong couldn’t imagine that anyone could possibly hear the same evidence she did and come to a different conclusion.
In any case, everyone leaves, and Meg and Michael are alone at last in their new summer house.
Michael: Do you realize, Maggie, that there’s no one within 20 miles of us?
Scary, isn’t it? I could beat you to death and no one would hear you scream.
Just kidding, he doesn’t say that. I personally wouldn’t feel comfortable staying very long in a place where I’d have to hike 20 miles if someone needed help.
Meg asks Michael if he agrees with Joe about the doom and gloom, and he does.
They chat for a while about why Michael monologues bible verses about why he believes this way, and Meg gets frightened. Michael reassures her that God will take care of them, and Meg asks about Sybil.
Sunlight: What are we going to do about Sybil? Her great fear is that Bill will go back to his old life-style, and she will be without him again, so she simply doesn’t cross him in any way, not even to come to our wedding….I have a terrible fear that she will just slip away from God. I don’t forsee losing her friendship, for she and Bill are both too attached to Carol, but it won’t be the same if we can’t share all we learn with her.
Bill is absolutely emotionally abusing her. This should be ringing all kinds of alarm bells. Meg and Michael’s main fear here should be that they need to get Sybil out of her abusive relationship, not that Sybil will reject God in favor of him.
The latter part of this paragraph… I have friends like that. Friends like Meg, I mean. It’s kind of a sore spot, so let’s move on.
Michael: We must do our best to keep her in contact with Christ
Poor Sybil. No one cares about her as a person.
Michael:You know, Meg, I’ve been thinking that the time may come that this place will be a refuge for those of us who were here this weekend. If persecution lies ahead for those of us who believe the Seventh Day Sabbath is significant, we would be safest out of the mainstream civilization.
Right. The authorities will never think to look for you in the home you own… Even if Michael’s name isn’t on the paperwork, his parents’ names would be.
Sunlight: Sybil told me that even Bill feels hard times are ahead. Shes’ afraid, with the economy in such a shaky condition, that there will be looting and rioting in the cities before long. He once felt he had plenty of money….but now says that inflation has reduced his savings and investments alarmingly.
Again, why are we being told rather than shown? Also, why is inflation suddenly a problem? Who is looting and rioting and why? What happened to cause all this? Does the author care as much as I do?
Michael: I think everywhere people are aware that time is running out. You know that widespread famine has brought death to millions in the lesser developed countries. The earthquakes and tornadoes and airplane disasters (mark 13:7,8) don’t even make the front page anymore.
What countries? Why is there famine? What plane crashes? If plane crashes aren’t even making the news anymore, that means planes are no longer being designed well and people should keep their feet on the ground where they belong.
And if the world is such a mess, how the hell were you even able to have a wedding? How are you able to have normal lives?! I’m picturing planes crashing around Meg and Michael and people starving in the streets, and they just casually step over the bodies like, no big deal, wanna go disco dancing?
Also, WHY IS THIS THE FIRST TIME WE’RE HEARING ABOUT THIS OH MY GOD HEADBANG HEADBANG HEADBANG (DRINK!)
Sunlight: Let’s fix this place up so that we could even stay here in the winter if necessary. And we’ll plant a huge garden, and I’ll can a lot.
This is seriously the thought process of half the Adventists I know.
Michael: Which reminds me, I want you to give notice at work that you’re through. Without a family, I’ve been able to put a good amount aside over the years, and I want you home with Carol.
Hang on. Meg just got done telling you Bill’s money is about to become as worthless as the paper it’s printed on. How can you…
Sigh. Nevermind. The lack of consistency is not my major issue with this paragraph. Let us merely note it, and move on.
Holy fuck Michael what a jerk! Jeez.
First off, I want it on record that I am not against stay at home mothers. That is not what real feminism is about. What real feminism is about is choice.
Michael, here, does not ask Meg what she wants to do. Does she want to return to work? Does she want to stay home with Carol? We don’t get to know, because Michael doesn’t ask Meg if she wants to quit work, he tells her to.
Meg, submissive little moppet that she is now that she’s converted, gushes over how awesome Michael is for doing this.
Jared (remember him? Our creepy angel guy? Yeah, he hardly ever pops up anymore. The author isn’t even trying at this point) closes the chapter by blathering on about how end is near, but don’t worry, God will take care of you.
I shall have a very special welcome on that day for Sunlight and her friends
That doesn’t sound ominous and threatening at all. No, not one little bit.
Jared closes on this line:
I shall always be grateful that Earth Friend didn’t pass by Sunlight and Michael, though they appeared most unlikely candidates for this land.
From page 38:
My interest grows in the young man Michael. He exercises great patience…she’s quite right that he would make a fine follower of the Prince.
Consistency? What’s that? Who cares?
Certainly not the author, that’s for damn sure.
*Actual quote from a 4 year old Jenny to her father, who was less than amused.
**there was no emergency surgery, I made that up.