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Sunday, December 30, 2012

Post #100: Something Special

It's my 100th postiversary!

I would like to post something special.
I would like to give everyone something to chew on.
I would like to say an unforgettable prayer, sing a beautiful song.
I would like to make you laugh, cry, ponder deeply, or otherwise be transformed.
I would like to present some earth-shattering truth in a way you've never heard it before.
I would like to offer you a piece of phenomenal advice, the kind you'll take with you forever.

But I'm not. There is but one thing I post, give, say and sing, present, offer. And here it is.

Jesus is coming back, and I can't wait.

Now that I think about it, that's pretty special after all.

Tuesday, December 25, 2012

Cannibal Christians: Zombies and Communion

I just finished a grad course on early church history, and I rather enjoyed it. I also took a similar course in my undergrad, but the two differed significantly. The grad course focused mostly on events and people, whereas the undergrad class was like walking through an evolution of Christian doctrine in the first few centuries A.D. One of my favorite studies has consistently been the first- and second-century church: its malleability, influence, diversity, and process intrigue me so. The separation of Christianity from Judaism and the various local persecutions are interesting as well. But one of the most memorable aspects to me about the infant church is the misconceptions others had about her, of which I will highlight three.

First, Christians were thought to be into incest and orgies. Creepy, right? That one caught me off guard a little when I first heard it. Why crazy sex parties? The idea is that when Christians gathered together, they shared in ἀγάπη (agapē), which is usually translated as "love," but may also designate what was called a "love feast." This love feast is what we might call Communion, the Lord's Supper, or the Eucharist (or thanksgiving). Originally, it was actually a feast, an entire meal, where people came and were filled, not just spiritually, but physically as well. The sharing of the Christian love was thought to be incestuous, because men were calling their wives "sisters," and other such issues arose.

Second, Christians were thought to be atheists. This misconception confused me even more than the last one. How could Christians, many of which were also Jews, be called atheistic? In Roman culture, every public, community activity was a worship to the gods, usually the Caesar. The emperor was often deified, a lot like the Pharaohs, or King Xerxes in 300. For those who refuse to attend the theatre, the coliseum, or other such public spectacles, this was a slap in the face of the emperor. And if they do not worship the gods as the other people do, then they must be believers of nothing.

Third, Christians were thought to be cannibals. Cannibalism actually makes the most sense to me. When the Christians gathered for their love feast, what did they eat? The body and blood of some man called Christ (one person called him Chrestus, which is not too far from the Greek Christos) were consumed by these people, and they even ate children—so the rumors went.

Last week I wrote on the theological connection(s) between the zombies of The Walking Dead and Christians. It was . . . not positive. We seem to be inherently destructive, selfish, and unsatisfiable. But let's consider, just for a moment, how walkers fit into the picture, the portait of ourselves, when we come to the Table of Jesus. We come, many of us, week after week to take part in this part of church. And for many of us, it's nothing particularly special; it's just a piece of the package. We slog through the doors, do what we do every week: sing the songs, pray the prayers, shake the right hands, hug the right people (if you're into that, that is). We listen to the sermon, take the bread and wine, finish our business, and get outta there. Like zombies and walkers, we simply do what we feel we have to do. We may even do it simply because we feel there is just no way not to do it.

On the other hand, however, there may be a different kind of resurrected creature in the crowds. This creature, like its fellows, is driven by hunger, it thirsts for blood. It cannot help being drawn in to that which feeds it. It seeks flesh and blood, but not that of its fellows, or even the body and blood of men. It comes to the Table and finds itself filled by the body and blood found on the table. Its hunger and thirst are so great that it cannot be repelled. It does not come out of obligation, but necessity. As it hungers for the body and thirsts for the blood, so too does it hunger and thirst for righteousness. It finds sustenance in nothing else, but it needs for nothing else. It is satisfied by what it finds at the Table, but it ever longs for more. What it finds is good, and it does not run out. It is given life by that body and blood, and the blood never runs dry, and the body is abundant.

In some way or another, we're all zombies. The question is this: What do you seek to fill you? Do you feed on obligation, or necessity? Are you still hungry and thirsty?

Friday, December 21, 2012

The Walking Resurrected: The Intersection of Zombies and Theology

I recently discovered on Netflix the show The Walking Dead. So far, only two seasons are available, and the third is ongoing. The characters find themselves in a world overrun by walkers, infected humans whose brain stems reactivate postmortem with the most basic of animal instincts. Fueled only by a desire to feed, the walkers pursue sounds, light, and any chance of meat, preferably live meat. They do not restrict themselves to eating humans, and only on one occasion has there been an incident when they partially consumed one of their own. Most of the usual means of death do not affect walkers; only by directly attacking the brain may one be completely stopped. They do not bleed out; they cannot suffer organ failure, nor do they appear to feel pain. They only feed and seek ways to fulfill this end.

As a general literalist and realist (though not without a certain flair for the absurd), I find myself questioning things in TV shows and movies, wondering how things can exist the way they do within the portrayed reality. Sometimes it’s just bad writing. I’ve also been watching the first generation of Power Rangers, and have found plenty of examples there. For instance, a young boy goes missing, and obviously Rita Repulsa is behind it. There is apparently no possibility that a human kidnapped the boy (though this may come to my mind because I do so enjoy Law and Order: SVU), or that something else may be the case. Sometimes the little things in a show or movie reveal tiny absurdities, like when Peter Parker (an incredibly talented and intelligent character) uses Bing in The Amazing Spider-Man. It is generally accepted that no self-proclaimed computer nerd would use Bing.

Within The Walking Dead, a different set of questions arises. While the science behind the scenario remains mysterious (a visit to a disease control center reveals that no one knows whether the infection is bacterial, viral, parasitic, etc.), some curiosities caught my attention. If a walker may be shot multiple times in the torso and still live, what keeps it “alive”? If they do not need to breathe (they can be hanged and still keep going), how can they continue making the grotesque, guttural sounds for which they are known? And if their organs do not matter, why then do they continue to need to feed themselves? While this is not the place for in-depth speculation on a fictional story (for there are certainly those who find it necessary to produce theories about non-existent scenarios), I cannot help but wonder anyway.

Near the end of Season 2 (no spoilers, I promise!), a character who believes in God has apparently lost all hope. Another character says, “You’re a man of God. Have some faith!” The first replies, “I can’t profess to understand God’s plan, but Christ promised the resurrection of the dead. I just thought he had something a little different in mind.” It was at this point I continued pondering what zombies, flesh-eating undead can teach us.

Earlier in the fall this year I attended a youth group weekend retreat. The theme was “How to Survive a Zombie Apocalypse,” and with it the concept that Satan, as a thief, has come only to steal, kill, and destroy. Contrasted heavily with this was the Jesus who claims to bring life, an abundant life to be lived to its fullest extent. We came up with a list of zombie characteristics, most of which I don’t remember. However, I do remember that a great number of those items listed resembled our usual portrayal of Satan.

Even if a walker’s organs don’t function the way they are intended to (or at all, for that matter), it is their most basic instinct to feed. One instinct that does not carry over, though, is self-preservation: they do not feed to survive, but are so driven by their hunger that they give no thought to their well-being. This is not to say they are selfless; indeed, they are selfish in the extreme. They do not sacrifice themselves for the sake of the herd, but each one only follows his or her own stomach. They seek only destruction. Nothing truly satisfies, as nothing ever does.

Making the comparison to a Satan figure is almost too easy. He’s a lion, seeking to devour, etc. etc. But it’s almost as easy, and infinitely more disturbing, to compare walkers to ourselves. How often do we fail to make sacrifices so that we may save ourselves? How thoroughly do we seek to feed ourselves at the expense of others? And how frequent do these realities reveal themselves, particularly in the context of what we believe to be religion?

There are times when the similarities between walkers and those who “walk by faith” are quite scary. I have witnessed time and again Christians whose greatest enemies are other Christians. It is not without reason that it is said, “The army of God is the only one who frequently kills its own.” How is injustice to be battled against when left in the hands of man, even when some of them are Christian?

Here’s the good news, perhaps even the Good News: we are not alone. We do not stand with a Mediator to the Almighty; we are not without weapons, for we are armed with prayer, compassion, and the very Spirit of God; and ultimately it is not our work we seek to perform. Left to ourselves, we are chaotic, destructive. But the resurrection of the dead is at hand, even those dead who are still moving and breathing. May the Lord return soon.