Zombies and Saints

Biblical Test: Matt 5:3
Full Draft of Sermon

Zombies are real, I see them every day. In fact I am often one myself. Until I can put down those appetites and rest. Blessed are the poor in spirit, those who recognize their inability to fulfill their appetites…theirs is the the Kingdom of Heaven. Want to get the full story, read or listen to the sermon.

The Walking Dead

Enough philosophy, hurts my head being all serious, my favorite theological TV show came back on this Sunday. And it looks to be back in form: More zombies, more horror, less talk.

As I’ve said before, zombies can bring up all kinds of theological questions. We have zombie congregations around here. We are St. Mark’s Lutheran in West Henrietta, but there are three congregations with that same name roughly local. The Lutheran congregation in Mendon, NY is St. Mark’s, and there was a St. Mark’s in Rochester, NY proper that closed its doors some 15 years ago. It (somewhat) merged with another local congregation. I received a phone call yesterday. Someone appeared to be dying. The social worker was calling looking for a pastor to come pray with the man. The man had claimed he was a member of St. Mark’s Lutheran. I’ll get a call something like that about once a month. The sadness in those calls is that my first reaction is to dig out old directories and see if the name existed here. Zombie members. (One of the reasons I give little credence to membership. You show me your membership without attendance and I’ll show you my church on Sunday some of whom might not technically be members.) I’ve been here just over 4 years, but there are still people who I will not recognize the name, who the congregation has not seen in years stretching to decades, who will answer on their death bed to being members of St. Mark’s. If I don’t find the name in one of our old directories, the second reaction is to attempt to call the other two congregations to see if that name is in one of theirs. At that point it is more about notification because if someone is truly on their deathbed I run out even if it is with some angst at what I will probably see.

In this particular case the man was a member of St. Mark’s in Rochester proper. The sister arrived about 30 mins after I did which is slightly different. In these cases I rarely get to find out what spurred the statement of St. Mark’s. Most often the person is alone in the world. Here the sister and her husband entered and the first question was “who are you”? I introduced myself, and the husband excused himself almost immediately. After exchanging pleasantries I inquired about what St. Mark’s he might have meant? Should I follow-up with one of the other congregations? “No need.” The man had never moved his membership to the merged congregation. He was a member of the congregation that had closed its doors over 15 years ago – a zombie congregation. It is in some ways a double zombie membership. He’s a member of a congregation that doesn’t exist, yet that congregation has a zombie like existence in the merged entity. From what I understand it continues to meet somewhat separately there and occasionally gets called by the old name.

I understand why the social worker would call and try to find a pastor. But the truth is that churches and pastors are not in the zombie business. There is no magic I can bring to the deathbed. All a pastor brings is the same thing he brings every Sunday – the Word: words of absolution, words of promise, words of grace. If at the absolution you are mumbling “its too late, I’ve done too much”, all I can do is say “no, now is the time”. But if you’ve absented yourself for decades, if it wasn’t meaningful or important earlier, why would you believe me now? It is still true, but why would you believe that proclamation? Take it from me, deathbed conversions are a rare grace. The patterns of life are the patterns of death. To the one who has, more will be given. To the one who lacks, even what he has will be taken away. (Mark 4:25)

The season opening of The Walking Dead had one scene that strikes me as a metaphor for church work in 21st century America. Herschel, the old veterinarian from the farm, gets bitten trying to secure a new home. That would typically lead to death and becoming a zombie. We will see what happens, but Rick, the main character, grabs a hatchet and immediately cuts off the limb. If your foot causes you to become a zombie, cut it off, it’s better to live footless, than stumble around zombified with both. Jesus once said let the dead bury their dead. (Luke 9:60) In our culture of The Walking Dead, the church is about proclaiming life, even if it requires a hatchet.

More on the Zombie menace…

Let me indulge this macabre thread again. Here is a NYT magazine essay that I found funny comparing Vampires and Zombies in the culture (i.e. Steve Jobs = Vampire, Bill Gates = Zombie).

The vampires are the narcissists, the artists, the experts, the loners: moody bartenders, surgeons, songwriters, lonely sculptors, entrepreneurial workaholics, neurotic novelists, aspiring filmmakers, stock traders, philosophy professors. The zombies are the collaborators, the leaders, the fanatics and obsessives: I.T. guys, policy wonks, comic-book collectors, historians, committee heads, lawyers, teachers, politicians, Frisbee-golf enthusiasts.

But given that its the NY Times there is no mention of religion anywhere, unless a hipster political awareness counts as a religion.

Taking their definition it might be interesting to think about the vampires and zombies of the church.

Luther is definitely a Vampire who thought he was a zombie. Or maybe really what you have is a Vampire Zombie team Luther (Vampire) & Melanchthon (Zombie). [The article has a list that includes Jordan (Vampire) & Pippen (Zombie)].

Calvin’s a pure Zombie. Wesley’s more like Luther. Desert Fathers and Mothers, pure vampires. Scholastics pure zombies (even though the list puts philosophy profs as vampires). Protestant Mega-Church = Vampire. Protestant Mainline = Zombie (maybe in more ways than one).

What do you think? Do you have your favorite Vampire or Zombie? Someone confused about their role in the undead?

Zombie Sightings

I saw this on one of those quirky Lutheran blogs

Wife and daughter were canning about a month ago. I got sucked in with the pealing and slicing of a bunch of pears from Dr. Warriner’s personal orchard. The Walking Dead is coming back soon and I’ve professed my love for the Zombie genre. I couldn’t stopping smirking at it. Just one of those things.

The Zombies of the Age

This will be one of those quirky posts. If you don’t like horror movies or TV just skip it.

I’ve had a whole bunch of fun watching AMC’s The Walking Dead. Let’s just say of all the things that go bump in the night -zombies are the most fun. Vampires – snooze. This culture has drained the last drop of sexual heat out of everything. Werewolves – not relevant. We are a cool culture and werewolves are hot. Stephanie Meyer of Twilight fame got that right. The heroine of the age would take the un-sexed vampire over the werewolf. But zombies, zombies are cool and removed from sexuality. Zombies force us to look at ourselves and how we live instead of our distractions.

The last episode of the this season gave us a little of the worldview of the writers and it shouldn’t be surprising if it was a little dull. They had the CDC (Center for Disease Control) doctor say the line as the time clock ticks down, “the whole place runs of fossil fuels for God’s sake.” At least for that character and the writers, the zombies were just the placeholder for our stumbling toward death by environmental catastrophe. Zombies are a blank slate to draw parallels. The zombie apocalypse is a physical representation of something going on in the culture. George Romero’s zombies were even then a representation of the hollow commercialism of this culture. His zombies when reanimated returned to the mall. With I Am Legend, the fast zombies are an updating of Frankenstein, the dangers of technology moving faster than wisdom.

Having that CDC doctor give that line was perfect for this culture. The “man returned from the dead”, the main character southern sheriff’s deputy, natural leader, doesn’t have the authority. The typical guy who would, the old guy character, has the wisdom, but they had revealed him earlier as a fuddy-duddy true believer. He quoted Shakespeare (I think, it could have been another poet) and that some things were worth preserving (or something like that). His character has the fatal flaw of believing in something. But the highly credential CDC doctor – doesn’t believe in anything. His wife believed. She made him promise to keep working. He kept the promise in law but not in spirit. But in this age, the CDC credentialed doctor is the one that could pronounce judgment. I hope the writers just leave it there – a false read of the truth, words without the spirit.

Ultimately, why I love zombies, is that the question they pose is one of hope or death, or better hope amidst death. (That is what the main character was pondering in the show when he took them to the CDC.) Do you believe that life is worth something? That something separates you from the walking dead, or are you just a different type of walking dead? Are the zombies the resurrection (the word used by the CDC doctor), or just a fun-house mirror view of that word? Matthew 8:22 and Luke 9:60 both have a zombie-like saying of Jesus. “Let the dead bury their own dead. You go proclaim the reign of God.” Zombies are highly theological. They put before you life and death. Choose life, even one carrying a cross.