Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Overheard in Hallowed Halls - Halloween Edition

This afternoon we as staff went out to eat with Father. Father, who is also a fellow zombie-enthusiast, posed a few questions for discussion. Here's one of them:

Father:  Does a zombie say a prayer before he eats?

Me:  No, because he has to bite fast or get brained by whoever he's trying to eat. So he says a prayer after his meal.

Father:   *laughing*

And everyone wonders what Catholics talk about at work in a parish.

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Character Development and Morality in the Zombie Apocalypse

When my brother first introduced me to The Walking Dead, it was in the beginning of the second season. He gave me a brief synopsis of the season premier so that I would know what was going on, and went on to say, "You see, life is so precious now that they'll do everything they can to save that life."

Indeed, in the series, there is a distinct absence of animals as the insatiable zombies aren't just cannibals, but free-range carnivores.

Now that I've finally seen the first two seasons, in order and in proper context, the character development taking place has caught my interest. Commentary on the show (Talking Dead) speaks of characters "devolving" or some other sometimes incoherent descriptions, underscored with their own take on morality. They call some characters "good" when said character has actually, through my Catholic eyes, done some pretty atrocious things.

It's a very intelligently-written show, as the actions being taken by the various characters, the questions being asked...I could see all of those things taking place. One thing they haven't discussed on the show, Talking Dead, is an observation I make based on personal experience:

The situation intensifies and illuminates personal flaws and strengths.

Think about it. A bunch of people who wouldn't necessarily get along in "real life" if that still existed, are somehow thrown together and immediately must depend on each other for survival. People who held prejudices will overcome them to save a life, because that becomes the right thing to do, unless they hadn't the strength of character to begin with to overcome a petty hatred.

In college, like many, I studied abroad. One of the things the previous year's group told ours was that it didn't matter if we "get along" or not stateside. Because, "over there" we were going to be all we had; we would "get along" out of necessity.

As it turned out, in all of that getting or not-getting along, our own personal failings were definitely brought to light, and new strengths revealed. If we had disagreements, we were forced to work through them instead of walking away. Decisions were made for the good of the group when it was necessary to do so. Why? Because we couldn't afford to be divided; we needed each other.

In Religious Life, (Brother, Sister, Monk, Nun) one of the things I learned (not as a religious, but what Religious men and women have told me), the same kind of situation exists. A Sister may enter a convent and whether she and the other Sisters like each other or not, they must get along. In that case, it's part of growing in holiness, but of course, some may be shocked that sin is not left outside the door. No one is immune from sin and imperfection. So it is that since they spend so much time in such close quarters, praying, working, living together, any personal flaws are quickly revealed. Those discerning that community may be able to work with that, or they won't or can't.

It's just a fact of human nature; and it's a fact revealed in "The Walking Dead" as well.  In going back to re-watch the beginning of the series, I saw immediately some of the character flaws which seemed very small at the beginning, but quickly got out of hand as the crisis of trying to survive under constant stress continued.

Who could fight zombies day and and day out and not be affected?

This is why it would be important to prepare one's soul in the event such a catastrophe occurred. This may sound surprising, but a "Zombie Apocalypse" is actually quite possible. Perhaps not exactly in the way portrayed, but biological warfare is a reality and it has been said that with the right combination, a virus could be created that would turn people in to raving murderers.

In that event, of course survivors would band together, and in all likelihood, those survivors wouldn't be automatic Saints. In fact, those who think they are "the most moral" of character may find out they have a great great weakness that could either corrupt them entirely or damage others in some way, whether spiritually or physically (as in the event of a zombie attack). Something for any self-identifying Christian to consider. Who are you really? Know your flaws and your strengths, and look at them honestly.

All of life is about growing in holiness, and hopefully we won't need a crisis situation creating small cobbled-together groups of survivors in order for that to happen.

But in case it ready. One never knows when the zombies will come...

For more information on Zombie Science check out:

Zombie Research Society

Zombie Hub

Topics up next:  Examining the Zombie Apocalypse with St. Thomas Aquinas and other great non-infected minds.  Morality in the time of Zombies.

Saturday, October 27, 2012

Zombies and Walkers

I have a confession to make. Like so many others, I, too, have been caught up in zombie-madness. No, no, I don't mean I'm going to lurch around moaning and trying to eat people. Yuck. (I'd be more than up for that as an extra in a movie or show, though!).

I'm talking about the AMC series, "The Walking Dead."  And the movie "Zombieland", and the old Romero horrors and some that are comedic like "Return of the Night of the Living Dead".

I used to hate the zombie horror genre. But now, I find it fascinating, and in fact, pardon the near-pun, but also as food for thought.

Like it or not, we are living in a toxic times. Death is everywhere and it's not just physical (as in the multi-billion dollar abortion industry), but is also spiritual. Sin abounds, and yet our culture is increasingly anti-Christian, anti-the idea of sin, increasingly hedonistic and increasingly hostile. Perhaps this hostility against Christianity is spread more quickly by the internet and the ability to spew anonymous flaming trails of verbal diarrhea, but I do believe it's something more.

When I was younger, I think maybe the zombie genre was just a simple horror idea for entertainment purposes, if a bit awful. But now, I find it amazing that it's mainstream, and the popularity is, in a very weird way, almost unifying. No matter where we lie on the political or religious spectrum, it has transcended among the fans. I have found myself becoming friends with people I may not otherwise simply in our shared enthusiasm for all things "zombie".

Maybe I'm speaking too soon, but I have to wonder if perhaps this is  something that's actually going to characterize our generation in its popularity. And, because of the movies that are being produced and are actually popular among so many types of people, questions of morality that are being suppressed in our real lives are now taking place in relation to a fictional world that perhaps really isn't so different than our own.

As I've been watching "The Walking Dead" (don't give any spoilers away, I haven't finished season 2 yet!), I've been paying close attention to the character development on screen and as discussed in the related talk show, "Talking Dead". As a theologian, I can't help but make some observations about what I know to be true of humanity and how it is portrayed in the script.

Death is Violent

To wax a bit theological, I have to make this point:  death is violent. It has always been violent, and it was brought into the world through sin. God did not intend our bodies to be separated from our souls, and yet, this was what man chose. Death, even if "peaceful", remains the violent ripping of soul from body, and the resultant decomposition of the flesh. Even as the soul goes on in accordance with God's grace, the body remains below to return to dust.

This is not a denial of our belief in the Resurrection of the Dead; in this context I am only pairing the  theological truth as to who we are and the scientific reality of how we are, at the molecular level, affected by sin. We die, we decompose. It's not pretty, nor should it be. Consequences of sin are never pretty.

Take then a look at the zombie world:  the decomposing dead are walking around attacking the living and tearing them apart. The living are doing their best to survive in small bands with little support.

That's kind of how I'm starting to feel as a Catholic these days. We're watching our world, our culture, disintegrate. While I won't go so far as to directly compare a nasty zombie with someone who opposes my beliefs (for that simply wouldn't be true), the toxicity of the culture of death and those who have given themselves to it isn't so far off in comparison.  I honestly believe we are witnessing the death of our country and our civilization; not just here, but throughout the world.

We are now suffering very real spiritual violence, and it is my belief that some of the reason for the overwhelming popularity of zombies is a very human reaction to what is happening, spiritually, all around us.

Resurrection of the Dead

Jesus is not a zombie. Nor was Lazarus. Let's be clear on that point.

We as Christians believe in the Resurrection of the Dead; that is, at some point our souls in heaven will again have bodies, but glorified bodies. It does not contradict the fact that some people are consumed by fire or have already fully returned to dust.

Zombies are soul-less beings who no longer are who they were when living flesh, animated by the soul. These are terrible, terrible creatures lusting to eat living flesh; not to actually truly live themselves. They don't go after each other, but notice; they destroy what is good and beautiful They seek, mindlessly, to turn what is living to mindless, conscienceless devouring monsters like themselves.

The Resurrection of the Dead restores body and soul for eternity, fully living, fully beautiful (we'll leave those in Hell out of this conversation for now - maybe a topic to be visited later with St. Thomas Aquinas), fully resting in God's glory. Jesus is not a zombie as he did not come back to create an army of the undead, but to restore humanity to dignity and open the gates of Heaven to be eternally unified with God.

That's a huge difference.

Zombie Apocalypse

When I watch the current Zombie/Walker faire, even recognizing it fully as fiction, it is clearly an allegory for our times, and one to be pondered. For now, I'll bring this post to a close as there is one huge observation that must be made that transcends every zombie movie or show I've seen thus far:

The Zombie Apocalypse is a world devoid of God. 


Up next in the Zombie series:  Character and Moral development in the Walking Dead and the morality of zombie killing.  

Thursday, October 18, 2012

Overheard in Hallowed Halls

I am blessed to work for a Pastor with a great sense of humor, so I love being able to freely joke around with him and other co-workers.

Today he happened to be in our office speaking with my supervisor (not about me!) when I reviewed and printed out documents from an email from the Archdiocesan Office of Worship. This is the office that expresses the legitimate preferences of our Archbishop on all things liturgical and all things canonical in relation to our worship.

Because I coordinate the Confirmation program for my parish, the email was sent to me as a request for help. Apparently in September the person who runs that office sent out a mailing to all parishes, directed to the Pastor, asking them to designate someone from their parish to serve as contact for all things (excluding Confirmation) relating to the Liturgy. Not all parishes responded and ours apparently was one of them.

I dutifully printed the forms and brought them to my Pastor, explaining that I was "asked to give this to you" and that I was being "obedient."

My Pastor reviewed the letters and forms immediately and, glancing from me (pointedly) to my boss, and back to me again (pointedly), asked which of us wanted to be that contact. Neither of us volunteered.

I said that I believe it was directed at the parish Liturgist, but we didn't have one. Father (rightly!) pointed out that HE himself was the Liturgist.  Right he was!

So my superior suggested perhaps HE should be the contact.

He laughed, and once again, looked pointedly at me.

"I'm not a liturgist."  I said, squirming a little, seeing where this was going.

"But you know liturgy."

"Yes I do! I love liturgy!"

He didn't even have to say anything. He just kept looking at me sideways. A lot like my dog does, and when she does, that it means we completely understand each other and know the game afoot.  (Not that I'm calling my Pastor a dog).

Father, pointedly, "So will you be the contact?"

Me:  *sigh*  "OK"  pause  "Does this mean I get a raise?"

Father:  "Your reward will be great in Heaven."

*pause*  (I'm never good with on the spot stuff which is why I don't do apologetics).

Me:  "I could REALLY use a reward NOW, because I need new brakes for my car..."

Father:  *laughing*

Yeah, so I'm the contact for my parish for the Office of Worship. I've been had...or have I?


Something to ponder...

Sunday, October 14, 2012

The Radical, Counter-Cultural Role of Serious Catholics in the Public Square

Tonight I had to give a class on Catholic Social Teaching to a mixed group of High School students and adults. Although I always take time to prepare well in advance of the class, when it comes down to it, I talk about the major principles of CST and tailor what I cover in accordance with the issues that must be brought up at that time. Clearly, the emphasis changes a little with each class.

Given that the election is less than a month away, tonight I spent a little time emphasizing the role of Catholics in society, and our obligation to live our faith and bring our faith to every aspect of society, especially in politics and law.

I directly pointed out tonight that we often hear political candidates or Catholics approaching the voting booth that they "believe this" but refuse to vote in accordance with our Faith. Why? Well, they say, "I don't feel I should impose my belief on all of society."

Naturally, I have a few things to say about that ridiculous philosophy! 

First of all, tonight when I spoke about this (without naming any names), I pointed out that according to Catholic Social Teaching, it is our right and obligation - yes, obligation - to bring our Catholic beliefs into the public sphere, and YES, to "impose it on society."  We're talking about the common good here!

When I made this very direct proclamation, I saw a few raised eyebrows and surprised, maybe confused expressions in the crowd. Being a Catholic is radical business, y'all, and quite counter-cultural. Never is this so revealed than during election season. At no other time, in the eyes of society, are the sheep so obviously separated from the goats, and the wheat from the chaff.

Tonight, I asked the class about what happens if we stand down and remain silent, keeping our beliefs to ourselves. Is anyone ELSE doing that? NO! They're not! They're imposing THEIR views upon us, and making laws that actively oppress our free practice of our religion, so why are we supposed to stand down? The HHS Mandate is one of the points in question in that matter. Our religious freedoms are being whittled away because Catholics are taking the very un-Catholic perspective that we can't or shouldn't "impose our beliefs upon others."

For the love of God, we aren't imposing our core teachings and trying to force people to be Catholic! We are imposing the very beautiful teachings of our faith that uphold the sanctity of life, bring justice to the impoverished, respect to the worker, support participation of the marginalized stewardship for creation, reminding people of their rights and duties as citizens of this society, recognize the role and limits of government and empower the people.

This is a very simple concept: we cannot be silent!

We cannot take the cop-out view that we for some reason aren't allowed to impose our beliefs. All that would mean is that the beliefs of others will be imposed upon us instead. That has already happened, and unless we find our tongues and a bit of spine, it's only going to get worse.

In comboxes, in news articles, in Facebook Memes, I continually see people trying to "shout down" Catholics and our other Christian brothers and sisters when they gently bring up their faith in relation to societal issues. I continually see people demand that we Christians "keep our religion to ourselves."

I did not bring this up in the class tonight, but in the recent Vice Presidential debate, Vice President Biden said, "My faith is my life", then went on to cancel that out by saying he simply doesn't believe he should "impose it on the rest of society."

VP Biden does not understand his Faith, he does not understand Catholic Social Teaching, and revealed that he really does not have faith. If you do not publicly live your faith, and if in a position to do so, speak it clearly, then it is not "your life."  It is rendered a bauble to be taken out when it is convenient, but otherwise placed away like a dirty secret unacceptable in mixed company.

That is a completely unacceptable attitude in a Republic founded upon, in part, the freedom of religion.

If we are not free to vote in accordance with our Faith, if we are not free to speak our religious beliefs in the public square, if we are not free to use our religious and faithful values and morals to shape society, then we are not free at all. 

Think about it.