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?

'Fagor Pressure Cooker Lid' photo (c) 2010, Julie Magro - license: http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/

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: http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/

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: http://www.flickr.com/commons/usage/

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: http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/

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?

'Zombie Portrait' photo (c) 2012, Randy Salgado - license: http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/ 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:

Us.

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?

image

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!

'The Good Samaritan' photo (c) 2011, Ted - license: http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0/My wife and I sat down yesterday to study the Bible together. It’s something we don’t do nearly often enough. (Chalk that to busy lives, etc.). In any case, I’ve been reading the Bible for twenty-five years now. Yet, sometimes that’s all I do: just read it (Leviticus, I’m looking at you).

On rare occasions, like yesterday, do I dive in to that wellspring more deeply. But when I do, I’m usually blown away.

Yesterday morning was one of those occasions where Jesus well and truly messed with my head.

What do I mean?

Consider the Parable of the Good Samaritan:

“But he, desiring to justify himself, said to Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?” Jesus replied, “A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, and he fell among robbers, who stripped him and beat him and departed, leaving him half dead.  Now by chance a priest was going down that road, and when he saw him he passed by on the other side.  So likewise a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side.  But a Samaritan, as he journeyed, came to where he was, and when he saw him, he had compassion.  He went to him and bound up his wounds, pouring on oil and wine. Then he set him on his own animal and brought him to an inn and took care of him.  And the next day he took out two denarii and gave them to the innkeeper, saying, ‘Take care of him, and whatever more you spend, I will repay you when I come back.’  Which of these three, do you think, proved to be a neighbor to the man who fell among the robbers?”  He said, “The one who showed him mercy.” And Jesus said to him, “You go, and do likewise.” (Luke 10:29-37 ESV).

What stood out to me, which I’ve honestly never considered before, is what Jesus doesn’t say. Now I know the historical, and cultural context–how there was bad blood between the Jews and Samaritans. Just using a Samaritan as an example would very much have offended the sensibilities of Jesus’ audience.

But what He doesn’t say–what He doesn’t rebuke them for is there belief. Presumably, the lawyer (he who had posed the question), the priest, and the Levite (exemplars of the law all) all believed the right things.

They held right doctrine.

Yet, unless I miss Jesus’ point, this isn’t enough. They believed the right things, but that belief didn’t lead to a corresponding action. So Jesus doesn’t here rebuke their lack of faith; rather it’s their lack of action He excoriates.

Or as James says, “Faith without works is dead.”

Lest I be accused of misunderstanding, or worse misapplying Scripture, let’s consider the Parable of the Sheep and the Goats:

“When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, then he will sit on his glorious throne. Before him will be gathered all the nations, and he will separate people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. And he will place the sheep on his right, but the goats on the left. Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you clothed me, I was sick and you visited me, I was in prison and you came to me.’ Then the righteous will answer him, saying, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you drink? And when did we see you a stranger and welcome you, or naked and clothe you? And when did we see you sick or in prison and visit you?’ And the King will answer them, ‘Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me.’ “Then he will say to those on his left, ‘Depart from me, you cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels. For I was hungry and you gave me no food, I was thirsty and you gave me no drink, I was a stranger and you did not welcome me, naked and you did not clothe me, sick and in prison and you did not visit me.’ Then they also will answer, saying, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison, and did not minister to you?’ Then he will answer them, saying, ‘Truly, I say to you, as you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to me.’ And these will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life.” ( Matthew 25:31-46 ESV).

Here again neither the sheep, nor the goats, are anywhere rebuked for their faith, or lack thereof. Presumably, they all believed the same things. And just as the reward of the sheep seems to come as a surprise so, too, does the punishment of the goats.

All had the same faith, yet only some allowed faith to give birth to action. And it’s not that their works saved them; rather, those works were borne out of a transformative faith. My speculation is that the crux of the matter is humility–humility, and gratitude.

One group did what came naturally because they didn’t believe they were worthy of the gift of salvation. Mercy and grace weren’t just for them.

They other group, for whatever reason, merely believed the right things. But didn’t put it into practice. The mercy and grace they were shown was never shared. Which to me displays an abject lack of gratitude.

And is something, if I’m honest, that I’m all too often guilty of. I get so busy working, dreaming, promoting me, playing on the Internet, that I forget Whose I am.

I want to a sheep, but am all too often a goat. God help me. “Lord, I believe. Help Thou my unbelief.”

How about you? What is your primary motivation? What gets you up in the morning? Are you a sheep or a goat?