Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Night of the Living Dead Christian - Day 2

What is a Christian? Really?
I started off with a sure-fire winner. "A Christian is anyone who claims to follow Jesus."

Luther steepled his fingers and looked at us carefully..."You realize, also, that according to your definition, people like Adolph Hitler would be Christian."

"WHAT?! Hitler was an atheist."

"On the contrary, Hitler was firmly opposed to atheism. He claimed to be a Christian."  (p60)
So, what is a Christian? Really?

That question and others are tackled in Matt Mikalatos' funny and thought-provoking new novel, Night of the Living Dead Christian, in which Matt's fictional self embarks on a quest to help his lycanthropic neighbor, Luther, become transformed and leave behind his wolfish nature.

Problem is, there are too many zombies.

They infest neighborhoods, fill churches -- they're everywhere. They often carry big Bibles, they have a neatly-packaged answer for every problem you might face, and they want you to be just like they are. What's so wrong with that? 

Side note: When one is in pain and a little drugged-up, as I have been for a couple days due to an impromptu but urgent dental matter, one's delayed and "ugh-ugh-ugh" laughter may sound a bit too zombie-like for comfort.

Anyhoo. Back to the zombies.

Matt and Luther go to church one Sunday, are chased by zombies, jump -- or, in Matt's case, fall -- out a window, drive through the ravening crowd of undead, sort of rescue a not-quite-zombified victim, and escape to the safety of Luther's backyard, where the almost-zombie is stowed in a shed while the cohorts discuss the possibility of Matt's own zombification.
"...This breed of zombies doesn't reproduce through biting." [Culbetron] poked my leg wound with his finger, and I yowled at him. "There are plenty of different ways a zombie plague can start...magic, of course, or through a virus, usually spread through bodily fluids, which is why the zombie bite can be so dangerous. I've heard of zombie plagues that can be spread through hearing other zombies or even by seeing their acts of violence. This particular breeds appears to infect through philosophy."

"Don't be ridiculous," Luther said.

"It's true," Culbetron said. "You heard about their church. The zombies insist that their victims read certain books, listen to certain podcasts. The main question of a zombie race like this is, 'Do you agree with me?' You may recall that when they captured me the other day, they tried to hold me down and force me to listen to a podcast. They can't rest until you've become like them...and then you'll want others to become like you. And so it spreads."

I shuddered. "It's frightening. I was getting into a little during the musical number."

"Your kind tends to have a soft spot for musicals, especially if you're offered a solo."

"My kind? That's the second time someone has implied that I'm a monster."

My friends -- the werewolf, the mad scientist, and the robot -- exchanged glances and then smiled at me. "We're just kidding you," Hibbs said, and they all broke into hilarious laughter.  (pp98,99)
Ever realized that maybe you don't know yourself as well as you think you do? That maybe the way you see yourself isn't necessarily the truth? That's a sobering day.

In case you're interested, there's a handy field guide to monsters at the back of the book. Technically, it's a self-diagnostic tool -- I'm pretty much aligned with the sasquatch -- and you might be surprised to find yourself described somewhere in its pages (261-267).

Back to the guys standing in the backyard and talking among themselves, as well as addressing the zombie in the shed, the same zombie who had been trying himself to escape from the horde of undead in the church parking lot:
 "...(I)t was Luther Martin's car that hit you, not mine. Just in case you're thinking of, for instance, suing someone." Luther scowled at me.

"Sue you? No way. I want to thank you. I've been trying to get up the guts to leave that place for months."

Culbetron cackled with inappropriate laughter. We stared at him, and he chortled, "The zombie just said that he was trying to get up the guts to leave. Get it? Guts?"

Luther sighed. "You are like a paperweight on our souls, Doctor." (p100)
 Another side note: The zombie in the shed reminds me of the end of Shaun of the Dead, which film also addresses -- in a secular, more violent fashion -- the idea of what it means to be truly alive.

Just like Rob the zombie, I tend to stick to things -- jobs and dentists and churches -- that I should have abandoned long ago:
1) Jobs, because they ensure an income, and I'm not comfortable with total reliance on God to meet my needs -- and yet He keeps placing me in just that situation, and I'm learning to put less and less faith in my checkbook;
2) Dentists, because I dislike the process of x-rays and exams required for the new guy -- but the last dentist messed up the mouth so badly that the new dentist must do even more to repair it (fear and avoidance are not my friends); and
3) Churches, because I was raised to attend every Sunday, Wednesday, special meeting, revival service, evangelistic crusade, youth event, community outreach, you name it -- and "real Christians" don't skip out or church-hop. But when my life broke into pieces, all anyone gave were canned answers, pop theology, tidy Scripture verses, smiling promises to pray for me. I was a mess, in desperate need of help, but my messiness was uncomfortable for others, who told me that I needed to stop wallowing and just "overcome".

So, like Luther the werewolf and Rob the zombie, I left, and for several years, I only attended services on rare occasions. I never left God, I never abandoned fellow believers -- I just left church. And that's when my real relationship with Him began.

Which brings me to yet another quote from Night of the Living Dead Christian, this time a passage from Luther's point of view:
If belief gets us into Heaven regardless of behavior, or even despite our actions, then Satan will be in Heaven alongside pastors and theologians and missionaries and saints. For Satan's theology must surely be as informed as the most learned Christian scholars, for he knows God very well indeed. And the signposts Christ gave for recognizing his "true followers' seemed to have very little -- in fact, next to nothing -- to do with people's beliefs. He seemed strongly concerned about people's actions. Christians say, "A true disciple of Jesus believes that he is God and that he died for our sins." But the Christ they claim to follow said that his true disciples take up their crosses and follow him, that they obey his teachings, that they "bear much fruit," that they love one another, that they give up everything, even family, to follow him in the way he demands.

It seems that Jesus' own definition is alien to most Christians, who are satisfied that by signing their name on some creed they are somehow mystically associated with Christ. It is why I can say with Mahatma Gandhi, " I like your Christ. I do not like your Christians."

Perhaps if they were more like Christ I would like them too. (pp95,96)
While reading the discussion that opens today's blog post, I was strongly reminded of another novel  -- The Visitation by Frank Peretti -- in which the main character, a former pastor and now determined non-churchgoer, tells the story of his journey from salvation to conformity to non-faith. Not so much a lack of faith in God as much as a struggle with Him. Definitely a lack of faith in church and packaged answers. That character's journey reflects my own, and made my initial reading of The Visitation difficult and intriguing at the same time.

Ditto for much of Luther's story in Night of the Living Dead Christian. This time, however, many years after beginning my journey with Christ outside the traditional church boundaries, I can enjoy the humor of the novel while appreciating its pointed questions. Those of us who claim to follow Christ need not check either our sense of humor nor our intelligence at the door.

(sudden chorus coming from First Regular Christian Church of Vancouver: "Brains, brains, we want your brains!")

Please disregard the rambling nature of this post. It was composed while the author was on painkillers. (Recall the aforementioned dentist?)

And do please check out these other stops along the monster tour: