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The Quest for Meaning Through Film & Literature

Yesterday, I wrote Quiet Tragedy: Through a Child’s Eyes, telling my tale of being a child of divorce. As these things often do, it couldn’t have come at a worse time in my life. The fact is, what he was in my childhood–neglectful, distant, closed off–my dad only became more of in my adolescence.

Now he was not only emotionally unavailable, but physically as well. He was not, and has not been, a presence in my life. In the absence of his influence (my mom had to sometimes work two, and three, jobs to keep our home), was a vacuum.

What did my life mean? Who was going to tell me, give me the tools to carve meaning out of the swirling chaos? With dad gone, and my mom overwhelmed, there was porn. (Which I have written of before, and have no desire to rehash now. Search the archives). It was a (poor) substitute for real relationship, and though I looked, it gave me no significance.

Another avenue was reading–perhaps there I could find some meaning? I did–in spades. I was particularly drawn to the horror, and fantasy, genres. Both very different from one another, and yet somehow the same. Though I could not have articulated it at the time, both allowed stark explorations of good and evil in stunning bas relief. Everything was heightened, intensified. Where they diverged was in my unarticulated longing, and approach:

From fantasy, I desired an escape from a life which did not make sense. Horror, however, forced me to find meaning in the chaos. It is, in the words of director Scott Derrickson, the “genre of non-denial.” It does not let one off the hook; as such, it makes us very uncomfortable.

Because we must confront not only the evil we see in the world around, but that which lurks hidden in out own hearts.

Both genres, however disparate birthed in me a love of tales of epic conflicts between the forces of good and evil. From both I learned that evil is a force which must be reckoned with.

And it was up to me–conflicted,  tortured as I may be–to choose carefully my path. Would I be, through choices large, or small, through incidents of seeming insignificance, the hero, or the villain?

It is a choice which is laid everyday before us all.

Which is why I still enjoy a tale well-told–whether it be horror, or fantasy. The best of both both reflect, and illuminate, our condition without being preachy. Which is why I so thoroughly enjoyed this year’s The Conjuring. It was a scary tale well-told. It had something to say about the pervasiveness of evil, and how it must be resisted. It did so without glorifying that evil.

It just presented it as it is.

I have no problems with, or qualms about seeing, movies such as this. No matter the setting or subject matter. Some may disagree with me on this–and that’s okay. I understand. We all have differing convictions and comfort levels. (Which we seem to be quite inconsistent in applying. I know of Christians who will happily read George R.R. Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire, but won’t go anywhere near Harry Potter).

Problems often arise when we try to foist our convictions upon one another, because how could you not see it that way? What’s wrong with you? Are you in sin, or something? (I once had some dear people I love and respect stage a quasi-intervention because they knew I read, and enjoyed, the Harry Potter series).

You get the point.

If these stories help me to confront the darkness both within, and without, then who are you to say? Let me enjoy what I enjoy without getting in my way. I promise to extend to you the same courtesy and grace.

We need to be Bereans about these things and think critically. Watching (or reading) depctions of evil (as long as it is portrayed as evil) is not the same as participating in evil. Watching (or again reading) depictions of magic is not the same as participating in magic. Magic is a long-used literary device. And while a well-meaning faction of us may decry Harry, where is the outcry against:

C.S. Lewis
J.R.R. Tolkien
Charles Williams
George MacDonald

All were Christians; all depicted magic and/or the supernatural in their works. Yet the get a pass.

Why is that?

Which brings me to another point about fantasy and horror books and films:

The veil is torn, the curtain thin between the seen and the unseen. The supernatural is taken for granted. Isn’t it interesting that, in only the most fantastical of works, is reality presented as it is? That there is a whole unseen world out there that must be reckoned with? And why do so often shun such works?

I’ll leave that for you to ponder.

Do you enjoy fantasy, or horror, films (or books)? What are some of your favorites?

Quiet Tragedy: Through a Child’s Eyes

'Fagor Pressure Cooker Lid' photo (c) 2010, Julie Magro - license:

Not all family tragedies erupt with sudden explosions of violence. Some tragedies are far quieter, silently simmering for years like a pressure cooker. The children never hear a cross word exchanged between their parents, but even if they lack the ability to articulate just what it is, they know. Children are notoriously perceptive creatures, and even if they lack the words, they feel the tension.

And then one day something is different. The pressure, the tension, has unexpectedly been relieved. The valve has been turned, the lid is off the cooker, and the steam evaporated into the air.

'@ Steam' photo (c) 2009, Pete Birkinshaw - license:

Likewise has their family dissipated into the ether like steam. It has ended not with a bang, but a hissing whisper. Quietly swept away like gossamer on the wind…

Not all tragedies are loud things. Instead of an explosion of emotion, there is an implosion of the soul. “Why did this happen,” the child asks (perhaps not in so many words)? “Am I to blame?” There are no words, no navigator, to traverse this inner landscape. One parent is gone, and the other working desperately to hold on, provide a semblance of stability.

'Atomic Bomb Test' photo (c) 2012, SDASM Archives - license:

Too late.

The bomb has quietly gone off. Where before the child was whole, he is now a fractured soul. Unsteady, unstuck, unanchored, he is a ship in the long, dark night headed, like Titanic, for a berg. Collision is inevitable when one has no concrete sense of place, no place that feels like home. Untethered, the child wanders rootless, without purpose.

'Tom Riddle's Diary' photo (c) 2012, Sarah_Ackerman - license:

Life becomes something merely to be survived. Like Voldemort split amongst his horcruxes, it is a fragmented existence–a half life. Like Harry, the child will spend the better part of his life trying to find the pieces; unlike, he is not trying to destroy them, but piece them back together into a meaningful whole. Yet so often this is akin to placing square pegs into round holes: things may indeed be forced into place, but they are not a good fit.

And they slip, or cannot be dislodged–except by force.

This child? He is a child of divorce.

I am the child, and this is my story.

What is yours?

The Gospel For Zombies

'Zombie Portrait' photo (c) 2012, Randy Salgado - license: The Gospel? From decaying zombie flesh? Bear with me. The zombie craze began, arguably, with George Romero’s Night of the Living Dead in 1968. That movie almost singlehandedly gave birth to the zombie genre as we know it today.

All along, the films have been full of sly social commentary, or crackling with stinging satire. At its (undead) heart, the genre is essentially a polemic against rampant consumerism. It’s a critique on the quintessentially American way of life. By confronting us with the brutality of (un)death, it shows us a number of uncomfortable things about how we live now.

Zombies are flesh and blood(less) metaphors for:


They are shambling mirrors of our souls, for as they are we could be. And each one of them used to be as we are: alive, with hopes, dreams, families. They are the still-walking reminders that death comes for us all. Much as we try, we cannot avoid it. Much like death itself, zombies cannot be bargained with, cannot be bought, cannot be be dissuaded from a single-minded purpose:

The destruction and consumption of all that is living.

The singularly uncomfortable truth is:

I am going to die. You are going to die. We are all going to die. And we have to reckon with that. As Malcolm McDowell (as Dr. Sorrin) said in Star Trek: Generations, “Time is the fire in which we burn.”

Of the horror genre, zombie fiction (film, comics, books, etc.) is especially well-suited to confront us with this grim reality, and in so confronting help us deal with it. But we have to be willing to face our fears.

This often means looking at the dark heart which beats within each of us. Because, though we are alive, we are dead. We are the living dead. And it is into this land of the dead that Jesus burst onto the scene. He, redolent with the smell of life, came to confront us in our decay.

He came, telling the truth:

You are dead.

We didn’t like His message. It made us uncomfortable. Surely, we were just fine? We were upright–walking, talking, observing the Law.

Didn’t matter.

We. Were. The. Zombies.

And the only way out, paradoxically, is death:

We must die to self, putting to death our members, and daily receive with meekness the engrafted Word which is able to save our souls. Even so, our bodies will one day die. Our flesh will see decay. To us, the dead-alive, Jesus says:

“I am the resurrection and the life, he that believeth in Me though he were dead yet shall he live. He that liveth and believeth in Me shall never die. Believest thou this?”

Do you?

It’s Time: Don’t Veil Your Glory


I wrote the above to myself in response to a challenge. If you’re like me, you’re afraid to launch into that next thing. It’s good that you’re afraid, because it tells you something: you’re onto something. If it weren’t important, there would be no fear–nothing to be afraid of.

But there are no gains without risks. That next thing you do might well fall flat. Yet you can’t know that.

It might well soar!

The only thing you have to do is try. And failure isn’t failure if you’ve learned something from it.

I’ll leave you today with a paraphrase of something I heard John Eldredge say:

Don’t veil your glory anymore. Let people feel the full weight of who you are, and let them deal with it.

Now, go! Blaze that trail!

Time, Wounds, & Healing

'India - Chennai - Inspirational wall slogans 06' photo (c) 2009, McKay Savage - license:

There is an adage which states “time heals all wounds.” Problem is, it’s simply not true. The mere passage of time itself does nothing to heal hurts. Cuts and scrapes scab over, crust, and fade into scars.

But time did nothing to heal. Time is simply the yardstick by which we measure the progress of the healing abilities built by God into our magnificent bodies. Our bodies, once wounded, did what they are supposed to do: heal.

Would that it were the same for wounds of the soul. For the hurts that are mental, emotional, and spiritual in nature. Unfortunately, these wounds do nothing to heal themselves. Like the body, when it is too injured to heal itself, something more is required. For a wound which is too deep or penetrating for the natural healing abilities to go  work on, this may mean surgery.

A wound made for the express purpose of healing another hurt.

In the case of hurts not physical in nature, this means emotional, mental, or spiritual surgery under the guidance of God through skilled practitioner of those fields. What it takes is courage. Courage, and vulnerability, to plunge into those wounded placed in our souls.
We often don’t want to go there, back into those wounded places, those tender spots. Yet we wonder why the healing we desperately crave isn’t forthcoming. It’s because, through sheer avoidance, we hold onto those hurts, nursing them.

Using them as walls around our hearts.

Thing is, if we are His, He will find ways to take us back to those places. Because God is faithful parent, He loves is enough to not leave us as we are. We just have to willing, and vulnerable, enough to do the work.

It isn’t time, though it may possibly bring the perspective of distance, that heals. In fact, wounds left untreated often fester. And it is these wounds which we hide, hold onto, or otherwise deny that do fester. Not into boils, sores, or pustules, but rather the gangrene of the soul: bitterness, unforgiveness, and other toxic maladies… leaving us with a kind of Leprosy of of the heart: callous, unfeeling, rotten, and cold.

It is time+work+willingness to confront the unpleasantness which lies within which=healing. Like our bodies sometimes need surgery, even more often do our souls.

What do you think? Share in the comments below.

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