N.T. Wright has said something much like this before:
“Love is the language they speak in God’s world, and we are summoned to learn it against the day when God’s world and ours will be brought together forever. It is the music they make in God’s courts, and we are invited to learn it and practice it in advance. Love is not a duty, even our highest duty, it is our destiny.” – N.T. Wright, After You Believe, pg. 188
This is a great video featuring N.T. (Tom) Wright commenting on the centrality of love in the Christian life. Thanks to Scot McKnight for posting this on Jesus Creed.
“We are exiles in the far end of solitude, living as listeners,
With hearts attending to the skies we cannot understand:
Waiting upon the first far drums of Christ the Conqueror,
Planted like sentinels upon the world’s frontier.” – Thomas Merton
Thomas Merton’s poem illustrates the joy and anticipation of life in God’s Kingdom. We live in an already but not yet world where the Kingdom is manifest here and yet to be manifested there. It is seen in the smallest of events and the largest but remains unrecognized most often when it is right under our nose.
” … love is not our duty; it is our destiny. It is the language Jesus spoke, and we are called to speak it so that we can converse with him. It is the food they eat in God’s new world, and we must acquire the taste for it here and now. It is the music God has written for all his creatures to sing, and we are called to learn it and practice it now so as to be ready when the conductor brings down his baton. It is the resurrection life, and the resurrected Jesus calls us to begin living it with him and for him right now. Love is at the very heart of the surprise of hope: people who truly hope as the resurrection encourages us to hope will be people enabled to love in a new way. Conversely, people who are living by this rule of love will be people who are learning more deeply how to hope.” ~ N.T. Wright, Surprised by Hope, pg. 288
The Walking Dead is one of the best series to appear on television. This series about a zombie apocalypse is gruesome. (Should I have used “the” instead of “a”? Can there be more than one zombie apocalypse?) Zombies stumble out of cities and into the countryside like broken mannequins. They prove to be as ruthless and gross as any zombie movie. The “walkers” move in herds without communication or conscience and focus solely upon their prey, the living.
If you are a zombie fan you probably love this program. Some episodes are pretty light on the zombie fighting. It is a series, however, so wait one episode and you’ll find enough violence to meet your quota. Unlike other zombie movies the human characters remain important. What they think, in addition to how they feel, matters. One would be hard pressed to find a zombie film that is as thoughtful as The Walking Dead.
What makes The Walking Dead so good is that it is not about zombies. Zombies are a pretext for deep human drama. Being a series allows for this kind of development. It is a drama about life and death; love and attachment. I would go further. The zombie apocalypse, as portrayed in The Walking Dead, is an excellent pretext for raising theological questions specific to the 21st Century. I know I’m seeing things most viewers will say aren’t really there but I beg you to pay attention and consider the questions that are unwittingly raised in The Walking Dead.
Here is a non-exhaustive sampling:
- Theodicy: “Why does a good God allow such horrific suffering?” “Where is God in such a situation?”(One character, an older gentleman named Hershel, asks these questions directly. His answers change as the series progresses.)
- Incarnation: How does God relate to creation? Is creation essentially good, as the Bible teaches, or is it so thoroughly corrupted it that it is beyond redemption? How should the church incarnate Christ in such an environment? Can it?
- Euthanasia: It is a recurrent theme related both to the humans and the “walkers”. Debate ensues on whether the walkers are living or dead. Can they be cured? Should they be put down like wounded, rabid animals? The closely related topic of Suicide, the euthanasia of oneself, emerges too. As human survivors hide within the CDC I was reminded of the Jews at Masada. The options for each group are eerily similar.
- Personhood: This is one of the first and most important theological questions. Just what is a person? When does one begin to be a person? When does one stop? Has anyone else asked about the relationship between zombies and Alzheimers? Hershel does.
- Violence permeates the film. The question is raised: When is violence permissible? Just war theory and pacifism are apparently not options in the zombie apocalypse. Should one kill preemptively? An entire episode is committed to this question as Dale, the conscience of the group, fights for what he believes is right. He’s actually fighting for the groups soul and hoping that they prevent themselves from becoming zombies before they are dead.
- Resurrection, of a perverted kind, takes place throughout the series. Again, our friend Hershel makes this point when he says, “God promised a resurrection but I believed he had something different in mind. Now I begin to wonder.”
Religious and metaphysical themes dot our cinematic landscape. Many of these films use the supernatural or religious to express themes that are anything but. The Walking Dead is not a religious film but it raises these questions in spades.
In the 1970′s the famous evangelical apologist, Francis Schaeffer, asked this question of Christians he believed were coming under the treacherous influence of postmodernism: How Shall We Then Live? Not long ago I was asked what I thought was a very odd question by a young man in our youth group: “Which do you think you could survive? A zombie apocalypse or an alien invasion?”
I think The Walking Dead asks, over and over again, the question that Schaeffer posed.
Shall we combine Schaeffer’s question with that of my youth group member? How Shall We Then Live in the zombie apocalypse? I’m not worried about zombies but I am concerned about the church. Theology is too far removed from everyday life and is replaced by pop psychology and market economics. Even Christians rarely examine their lives through the lens of theology. We keep big questions abstract.
Can it be that herds of the undead marching through Georgia will help us put these big questions back into our everyday lives?
“The practice of resurrection is not an attack on the world of death; it is a nonviolent embrace of life in the country of death. It is an open invitation to live eternity in time.” – Eugene Peterson, Practice Resurrection, pg. 13
There are some Christian congregations who don’t celebrate Easter. In a conversation with a member of one of these groups I was encouraged by the response he gave when I asked when they celebrate the resurrection of Christ. He said, “Every Sunday.”
While I believe celebrating a specific day of Easter is a vital part of our Christian formation I can’t help but be challenged by my friend’s response. The resurrection must be at the center of our worship, week in and week out.
Black Graves shares some thoughts on the resurrection worth our attention: Trusting the Sunday Story
Eugene Peterson is so good that it is hard for me to imagine what the world would be like if he hadn’t walked across it and wrote some words down. This is a bit on the church that comes from his latest book, Practice Resurrection.
“…if the church is intended to be God’s advertisement to the world, a utopian community put on display so that people will flock to it clamoring to get in, it has obviously become a piece of failed strategy. And if the church is intended to be a Continue reading
“What happens in the Eucharist is that through the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, this future dimension is brought sharply into play. We break this bread to share in the body of Christ; we do it in remembrance of him; we become for a moment the disciples sitting around the table at the Last Supper. Yet if we stop there we’ve only said the half of it. To make any headway in understanding the Eucharist, we must see it as the arrival of God’s future in the present, not just the extension of God’s past (or of Jesus’s past) into our present. We do not simply remember a long-since dead Jesus; we celebrate the presence of the living Lord. And he lives, through the resurrection, precisely as the one who has gone on ahead into the new creation, the transformed new world, as the one who is himself its prototype. The Jesus who gives himself to us as food and drink is himself the beginning of God’s new world. At communion we are like the children of Israel in the wilderness, tasting fruit plucked from the promised land. It is the future coming to meet us in the present.” – N.T. Wright, Surprised by Hope
From N.T. Wright’s book Surprised by Hope. “Christ is risen. Now what?”, is not such a bad question. Take a look at the question from this angle:
Jesus is risen, therefore God’s new world has begun. Jesus is risen, therefore Israel and the world have been redeemed. Jesus is risen, therefore his followers have a new job to do.
And what is that new job? To bring the life of heaven to birth in actual, physical, earthly reality. … The bodily resurrection of Jesus is more than a proof that God performs miracles or that the Bible is true. It is more than the Christians’ knowing of Jesus in our own experience (that is the truth of Pentecost, not of Easter). It is much, much more than the assurance of heaven after death (Paul speaks of “going away and being with Christ,” but his main emphasis is on coming back again in a risen body, to live in God’s newborn creation). Jesus’s resurrection is the beginning of God’s new project not to snatch people away from earth to heaven but to colonize earth with the life of heaven. That after all, is what the Lord’s Prayer is about.
Some good thoughts on Easter by Rowan Williams, the Archbishop of Canterbury. Easter does indeed make demands upon us.