Monday, June 24, 2013

Zombies - A Social Metaphor?

Just a note of caution but i'm about to get weird up in this piece...

Lately, like most who pay attention to such things, i have been drawn into the genre of movies, TV shows, and books that use "zombies" as a main plot device. To my wife's dismay, i tend to consume most of what the entertainment industry produces in this regard. i've recently begun to wonder exactly what the deep draw is to this somewhat overdone fictional plot-line. 

Zombies themselves certainly aren't very attractive or appealing in the sense of fictional monsters. They don't offer a lot in terms of drawing the audience in, causing us to hate them like the more memorable nasty bad-guys like vampires, aliens, or murderous mutant cannibals. Their intimidation more rooted in their sheer numbers than anything individual. They simply lumber (or run - depending on if the storyteller really wants to paint a bleak picture) around and attack mindlessly, bent only on one thing void of reason or logic. They are not psychotic killers. They are more like animals. We probably would see them as we would a bear or wolf; very dangerous but avoidable. It seems that presently what is so frightening about them is how we identify with them. We're led to believe that they were once regular people with families, jobs, dreams, fears, etc; just like all the rest of us but now they are something else entirely; debased and simply driven by one thing - the satisfaction of their hunger. They act solely on impulse and instinct derived from the one thing they want. The object of their hunger has been many things - brains, the advancement of their virus, something more sinister - but it is sure that they are willing to pursue this hunger at all costs, even to their own detriment. 

This is where i think the most terrifying part of the story is found. We realize, if we are truly honest with ourselves, that this sort of mindset exists in us all. In recent history, society has fostered a destructive psychology of self focus. We are taught that the most important entity is one's self. One's happiness is the ultimate goal. Shakespeare famously penned the phrase "to thine own self be true" many generations ago and our society has broadly personified this philosophy. In the first part of last century, an infamous cult leader, Aleister Crowley, preached his message of "Do as thou wilt". He spread his message of self-gratification at any cost, even human life, as long as one's own appetites were satisfied. This doctrine has gradually infiltrated the common psyche over the years reaching the masses through music and entertainment. Most people can recognize the shrinking shift in the common worldview over the past century. Though we are connected globally and generally more educated about other ways of life than ever before, we are also more confined and isolated in our own little spheres, all the while sharpening our sense of self. Technology, though a blessing in many ways, has also caused us to be self-absorbed; worrying mostly about our own interests and dismissing anyone else's. This is the world we live in. You can go anywhere and see thousands of people not looking at anyone else but simply hypnotized in their own world, ministering to their own desires, staring at the window into their own soul - their phones. What is the end-game for this type of society? If art imitates life, how would art draw a picture of the apex of this collective existence, given free reign over the souls and minds of men?

i believe it's in the zombie genre that we see the expression of subconscious discomfort with the idea of exalting self above all others. What are zombies if not first selfish? They are the culmination of the unbridled self - willing to kill to get what they want. These movies and books are metaphor for the imagined future state of man's existence if allowed to let self reign unharnessed. We already see glimpses of this in parts of the world where order and justice are deteriorating. When people see that there is no repercussion for pursuing self-gratification they "throw off restraint" and steal, rape, and\or murder to get what they want. The allegory of a world lost to wandering corrupted souls searching for self-pleasure alone should not be overlooked. 

Now, the spiritual connotations of all of this:
The story usually originates with a disease or sickness that infect people causing them to "turn". In many of the stories that disease is inherent, meaning it doesn't need to be transmitted it simply is lying dormant until activated. i feel this is where we all are. We all have the sickness of self. We have elevated our own ambition and pleasure above our fellow man and ultimately above God. Some of us are more acutely aware of this weakness and attempt to overcome it by suppressing self which creates a house of cards waiting to collapse into the next pride induced failure. We need an out. We need something bigger than ourselves to rescue us from this ever-deepening cycle. We can never be free of self. Our own ego and selfishness are ever present. We can have a paradigm shift in our perspective. We can be given a greater view. A view where we see others as greater. A vision where we are awakened to the beauty of love and sacrifice. We can only be awakened from this trance of self-sufficiency by looking at the face of selflessness; at the face of Jesus. There is no greater love than to lay down one's own life. Sin is the disease and self is the sickness but the love for God and for others is the cure. You also see this redemption theme play out in these stories. It is peculiar that in our broken expression of soul - art - we understand where the world has gone wrong and we also understand how to overcome it.

Though most of these movies and books are garbage that i wouldn't recommend to anyone there is a picture being painted with a meaningful purpose. The culmination of pride is complete corruption where all people are consumed with their own self-gratification. The lesson to be learned is that without sacrifice for other derived from the love of God and others there is no fulfillment, only destruction.

Thursday, February 14, 2013

The Doubt Predicament

Whoever doubts is like the surf of the sea, tossed and turned by the wind.People like that should never imagine that they will receive anything from the Lord. They are double-minded, unstable in all their ways. -- James 1:6-8

confession time - i have doubts. i struggle daily with finding the balance between the idyllic biblical worldview that i am expected to adhere to and the widely-accepted "common sense" explanations of science and reason. the bible is full of absolute statements written at a time when, it can't be denied, there weren't many rational certainties in our world. back in those days, before dinosaurs were unearthed it was probably much easier to accept without wavering that creation went down just as it is described in Genesis. It also must have certainly been easier to consider oneself part of God's chosen people before anything was known just outside of cultural borders, much less the rest of the world.

i do want to be clear - because i can almost see your head shaking (or nodding) - i'm not saying that i don't believe. the subject of doubt is taboo at best in our modern church because of the heavy emphasis on the ideal immovable faith. Jesus spoke clearly about the necessity of faith. it isn't optional. i understand that. i take issue, though, with the idea that faith has to look like certainty. i do have faith but my faith more closely resembles hope and belief. hope that my revelations, insights, and experiences are pointing to truth. having to apply the same level of belief, to the point of absolute infallibility, while looking through the filter of unprecedented knowledge isn't as simple as James has stated. it seems that the metrics of faith are either sinful doubt or righteous certitude; the popular consensus is one cannot live in or between both states or you are certainly deceived.

my awkward dance with my faith has never been pretty. i have doubted pretty much all things that are taught as doctrinal pillars in this western evangelical culture i find myself tightly sewn into. i have talked myself out of believing on many occasions. i have also been drawn back by an indescribable and irrational force. i think that is the beautiful part. i have stumbled and fallen my way through this life; reasoning and reckoning my way along a clumsy path from brokenness to redemption and back again. yet here i am - waltzing my way along this tangent line. i don't always look at my invisible and whispering partner who holds my hands while i focus on the ugliness of my steps. but when i do, i do not consider the instability of my reason and thought. none of that matters in those moments. i do not regard the arguments and philosophies of men, even my own, as they confuse and arouse anger and frustration. what i know is of no more importance than what i doubt. that moment is spiritual. it is separate from the mind. it exists in a higher plane of reality, outside of my perception or understanding. that is the experience that carries me through doubt. that is my sacred sanctuary that transcends my own thoughts and shifts my gaze to the holy, those moments of sweet intimacy with the Father God and His beauty.

maybe that's not necessarily an explanation of my faith. it isn't sensory or corporeal. i cannot prove God through describing the experience. i sometimes think that maybe i am fooling myself with some rudimentary instinctual need for there to be a god and that my experience is nothing more than a collection of hallucinations meant as a mental defense mechanism against monumental disappointment. but i am just man; weak and strong, wholly broken and this is one of my struggles. ultimately, i subscribe to the idea that in order for faith to endure it must walk the coals of doubt. we cannot tangibly interact with God in such a way that stimulates our physical sense so experiencing Him must take place outside of understanding. the nature of that sentiment is such that we can never know or operate under a certainty unless we simply ignore the world around us as it testifies to the inconsistencies of our system.

consider the words of a father who desperately sought help for his ailing young son. he heard of a miracle worker who had healed sick and dying people all over his country. he found this Man one day and begged for mercy for his beloved child. this Man simply said "if you believe, all things are possible". in the presence of God himself, after seeing with his own eyes miracles performed, the father cried out "i believe... but help my unbelief". we might do well to learn from this father's broken words. in being honest with ourselves that we are prone to both doubt and believe, facing the truth that only in crying out this confession will our hearts be freed.

Monday, December 24, 2012

The Forgotten Verse

when i was young and my family would go to church we would attend a small southern baptist congregation. almost all services would end with an elderly man leading the small group of parishioners in the 1st and 4th verse of an old hymn - "just as i am". i remember wondering why we only sang those verses. why did we skip over the 2nd and 3rd? i assumed the old man liked those better than the others. i  don't recall any of the words. it had to do with coming to Jesus without trying to fix ourselves, just as i am and nothing more... or something to that effect. the song itself didn't have any particular effect on me but the fact that we were purposely omitting part of the author's message or intention was a bit bothersome. sometimes, i would quietly sing the 2nd and 3rd verses just to give them voice every now and again.

i encountered the forgotten verse again some years later. i would hear the song "how he loves" by john mark mcmillan during a worship service for the  first time. this song did make a heavy impression on me. at first chance, i bought this album. i was sure the other songs were good too but i skipped straight to "how he loves". as the song was coming to an end and i was preparing to hit the repeat button john started into another verse, one i had never before heard; one previously ignored or forgotten or deemed unnecessary. the emotion was so thick. john was weeping as he sang  from a deep place uncommon in "christian music". i was frozen as i considered the gravity of this verse which seemed to be the context in which the rest of the song's message could be discovered. i felt as if a secret was shared with me. in these hidden lines there was a voice that changed my whole understanding of His love.

like the majority of those whose hearts have been laid bare by the more widely accepted verses (with or without the 'sloppy wet kiss') of that song, singing of God's great love for his people struck the deepest chord of my soul. the imagery and transparency of the lyrics seemed to give breath to a deep emotion that i had longed to exhale. i began to not only believe, but to realize that His love is beautiful. His love is beyond words. i started to see that His love can only be experienced in raw vulnerability and, after i had heard, most deeply from a place of pain... the verse --

I thought about you
The day Stephen died
And you met me between my breaking
I know that I still love you God
Despite the agony
See people they want to tell me your cruel
But if Stephen could sing
He'd say its not true
Cause your good

i was caught off guard. i wept in that moment. these words were cutting. they were not easy. they were born in a moment where the easy choice for the author would have been to mentally negate the idea of a loving and caring God.  had i been in his place... i don't know that i would have written such words. my small understanding of God's love was being confronted in those few moments. he had buried a close friend. he had endured the pain of knowing the presence of a precious loved one would never be felt again. and yet, his response was to consider God's love rather than his own suffering.

last Friday i was reminded of that awakening. children, as close as humanity can be to innocence, murdered. i couldn't understand the why or the how of any of it as i sat at work trying to hide my tears. i suppose i tried to make sense of it by telling myself that this physical earth is broken; that nothing should come as a surprise when considering that humanity is inherently capable of horrible cruelty. that wasn't enough to curb the anger and the sadness... or the fear of being wrong about everything which that day brought. my mind wanted to blame God or somehow detach any sense of justice i had identified with Him. my mind wanted to ask, why the children? why are we stricken with such constant heartache? my conclusion was that He must not care. if He could do something why wouldn't He? He must be cruel. as my confusion and heartbreak began to take root, something reminded me of that forgotten verse, how in that moment years ago i had almost felt john mark mcmillan's pain of loss but also been given hope. that if those we lost could sing they would tell us that God is not unkind. in a moment i imagined children's voices singing "He's good... He loves us". i was broken. i wept. i was swayed from despair toward hope. though the loss cannot be understood, there is comfort in the love of God. He reached through the grief-influenced lyrics of that forgotten verse and met me in my breaking and gently whispered His love to me again.

i believe every heart has a forgotten verse. there is a dream that we have buried because we think it is unworthy or unnecessary or inferior. just as the words of that song that have been ignored for so long give it the life that it was meant to have so too will breathing out our heart's song bring our true selves, the self that God formed, to the light and pour hope to unseen others.

Uncover your forgotten verse...