The poetic, playful and prophetic musings of quintessential voices trying to keep up with life

Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Zombie/Story: What The Walking Dead Continues to Teach Me About God

CAUTION: This article may contain spoilers.

Imagine waking up in a deserted hospital with bodies scattered throughout the halls and the streets outside. Imagine no communication, little resources and the animated shell of those you used to know.

Except that animated shell wants to bite your face off.

This is the reality Rick Grimes awoke to face in the first season of The Walking Dead, one of the hottest shows on TV right now. If you aren't familiar with the AMC series or the graphic novel from which the plot line came, you should be. Get acquainted with it. Because it's awesome.

I remember hearing about this show before it aired a couple years ago and feeling pretty ambivalent to it at the time. I wasn't really into the whole zombie scene... It only took me watching the first episode to get hooked.

Season 1 takes viewers through the beginning of the zombie apocalypse, set just outside of Atlanta. Rick, the main character, is trying to piece together what happened while he was in a coma after a gun shot wound in the line of duty (he's a cop). Unbeknownst to him, the zombies storm the hospital, but his fellow officer and friend, Shane, barricades the door to his room and Rick is spared from the onslaught of walkers. Rick eventually stumbles out of the hospital to see the horror and destruction of the zombie take-over and frantically tries to locate his wife Lori and son Carl. Rick eventually makes it to Atlanta where he runs into a horde of walkers and teams up with a bunch of essential characters to fight for survival...oh, and Rick finds his wife and kid. Happy day.

The first season really packed a punch, as it was only 6 episodes. We learn so much about the reality of the world in the wake of "Z-Day," but also not a whole lot about how the outbreak occurred and managed to travel so quickly. What we do know is that the virus spreads like meningitis and shuts down the body internally. The only physical signs, other than a bite from a zombie, are a fever and delirium (as we see with Joe, a member of the group who gets bit).

Oh, and apparently everyone is infected and will re-animate when they die unless you sever the brainstem.


So what does all this have to do with God?

Well, a lot.

Skipping ahead to Season 2 a bit, the group meets up with a conservative Christian man, Hershel, and his family on their farm. He is skeptical of Rick and his group, but over time begins to trust them (except for crazy Shane). Hershel and his family have been relatively isolated from the zombie attacks being out in the country and all, and have managed to be pretty self-sufficient. They have a well, crops, livestock. They're doing alright. Except for that part where they have walkers locked up in a barn.

Early on, Hershel believes the zombies can and will be cured...that the zombie-ness is just an infection, and it would be wrong to shoot them because they're still somehow human. It takes hundreds of zombies storming his farm after hearing a gun shot (they're drawn to noise) for Hershel to realize there is no curing these things. They are the walking dead.

...of course Carl is the one whose gun shot draws the walkers to the farm.
After leaving the farm, Hershel, having lost 1 of his 3 daughter in fleeing, talks with Rick about his faith in the midst of all the chaos. He says he was so certain God would eventually deliver them from this situation, but now, he's not so sure. "Christ promised the resurrection of the dead," he tells Rick. "I just thought he had something a little different in mind." His understanding of God's sovereignty is very particular in this situation, and it takes losing his farm and part of his family for him to realize that.

This is the moment the show took on a whole new significance for me.

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Christianity and Romance - A Pre-V-Day Read

Tomorrow is Valentine’s Day. Whether you’re planning a romantic evening with your significant other or intend to protest the Hallmarked-out holiday I think we should talk about romance.  Particularly from a Christian point of view. I find it a bit strange that, in a culture of cliché love songs, romantic comedies, and a multi-million dollar wedding industry, when it comes to the Church we have lost all understanding of romantic love for others.  Sure, Christianity, and Jesus’ ministry in particular, is centered on love—we are to love the poor, the less fortunate, and our enemies. We are to love and honor our parents and we are to remain in community with the entire Church. And yet, when it comes to marriage, sexuality, and sexual relations, there is very little mention of romantic love or the importance of having a true emotional and mutual connection with another. Spending a lot of time with Christians and seminarians (many married/in committed relationships) I don’t hear a lot of conversation surrounding romantic love. We do talk about love – we converse about the Greek word Agape – a true and unconditional love for and by God. But, where the hell is Eros? Eros, another Greek word, most closely identified as a passionate, sensual, and intimate love is not present in the Bible and rarely comes up in a Christian context. 

Now, to be fair, I’m not a romantic person. I’m quite cynical actually, but I’m still concerned that a lack of romantic love within the Christian tradition is problematic. Romantic love is about intimacy and becoming close to another, not just emotionally but physically as well. Romantic love is the attraction one has for another, it is an excitement and an enthusiasm, and it is a desire and longing to understand another in a physical, spiritual, and emotional manner. This romantic love, of infatuation and complete vulnerability to another, is often passed by when the Church and theologians talk about marriage or sexual relationships.  

As Christians we are seeking out a relationship with Christ and want to truly know him. However, how can we go about coming to know Christ in an intimate way, if we cannot even come to know another man or woman in an intimate way? Romantic love, in all of its dreamy idealism and enthusiasm, illustrates intimacy in a positive and outward way. Romantic love brings desire to the forefront, a feeling which at its very nature is religious, not sexual. Desire is a longing for closeness and intimacy, a yearning, a wanting of more also desire to know God better, both in God’s humanity and divinity. Integrating romantic love into the Church and allowing for emotion and vulnerability to take over a part of our lives makes us more readily available to Jesus Christ. 

I want romance, people. Hot, steamy, passion-filled, erotic romance. And, I think romantic love is possible to incorporate in the Church and will only help us lead more faithful Christian lives.

This isn’t all that new. Let’s look at the genre of erotic and courtly love literature of early Christian mystics. My girl Mechthild of Magdeburg was a rock star at incorporating this language of eroticism and romantic passion. Here’s just a brief excerpt: 

                                I cannot dance Lord, unless you lead me.
                                If you want me to leap with abandon,
                                You must intone the song.
                                Then I shall leap into love,
                                From love into knowledge,
                                From knowledge into enjoyment,
                                And from enjoyment beyond all human sensations.
                                There I want to remain, yet also want to circle higher still.
                                (Flowing Light of the Godhead)

In closing an eye to the use of the word ‘Lord’ as a title within the reading, the verse could easily be talking about a human lover, who has filled her with a sense of love and a desire for more. Just as we desire to be closer to God and come to know God more fully, we long to be one with our romantic partners. Ideally, a romantic relationship with another culminates when you reveal your deepest secrets, thoughts, and desires to your partner. Mechthild has bared her soul; her love with Christ is evolving, and although she remains in a state of perfection and harmony, she still seeks more. In that same way, if directed toward a romantic partner, human beings are seeking to share their journey with someone and to bare their whole self to another. Mechthild illustrates the same kind of love that many contemporary sources are illustrating in the modern entertainment industry (an entertainment industry that seems to thrive off of romantic love). For example, let’s take a look at my other girl T-Swift for a sec:
                                ‘Cause I don't know how it gets better than this.
                                You take my hand and drag me head first, Fearless.
                                And I don't know why, but with you I'd dance in a storm
                                In my best dress, Fearless.
                                (Fearless, Taylor Swift)

In the same fashion that Mechthild talks about submitting to God (I cannot dance Lord, unless you lead me), Swift sings of submitting to a romantic lover (You take my hand and drag me head first…). Both verses imply a sense of chasing after, of gratitude for, and of being in union with another, for the good of both parties. Both songs also bring about a sense of fulfillment and absolutely gratification. As Mechthild says, “and from the enjoyment beyond all human sensations, there I want to remain,” she really means “cause I don’t know how it gets better than this,” both in reference to a loving, intimate, and romantic relationship that has provided the writer with a sense of complete emotional gratification. 

Just as Swift’s music is an expression of romantic love in her life which allows listeners to imagine, formulate, and desire an all-encompassing love like she describes in her song, a mystic’s use of erotic language does the same—pushes readers beyond their own limitations toward a relationship with God.  

Romantic love exists, and its existence allows for individuals to go farther than traditional concepts of love and enter into new, more intimate engagements with others.It is not the intention of romantic or sexual love to replace the religious love we feel for God, but it is to include romantic love as a way to better understand Jesus, ourselves, and our relationships with others. The fact that this romantic and passionate love has existed within the tradition of mysticism, and exists today within our romance-obsessed, Valentine’s Day driven, and candlelit dinner inspired fantasies, is an indication of the necessity of romantic love in our relationship with God and with others. 

Romantic love encompasses both the emotional and the physical sides of desire, passion, and attraction. Romantically loving someone  means caring for them, trusting them, wanting the best for them, and seeking to join with them in thought and in action. This love flourishes when one allows oneself to become as vulnerable as possible with another—in others words completely revealing one’s heart and soul and feelings to another human being. 

Love is everywhere. Listen to the radio, turn on the television, flip through the Bible. Love is present in the world. The problem is not that love does not exist or that love is not practiced, but that romantic love is not held to as high of a standard as other types of love within the Christian tradition. Inserting romantic and passionate love into the Church’s teachings ables human beings to harness the often unpredictable and idealistic romantic love found throughout the media and in fairytales, in a healthy way. Understanding romantic love as a much deeper and meaningful expression enhances our relationships with the Divine. 

So, tomorrow is Valentine’s Day. Whether you’re single or taken, take a minute or two to understand romance in your life and how romance might complement your faith rather than be distinct from it. 

Also, write some erotic love poetry. Because, it’s good for you.  

Wednesday, February 6, 2013

Flirting with Men: The Lesbian Loophole

When I was younger, I dated a lot of guys. In high school I tended toward a "3 month rule," ending most relationships before they had time to get remotely serious. In college I had longer, more fulfilling relationships with guys, but they, like the others, all eventually dissolved.

I came out at the end of college and stopped dating men. I do, however, still tend to flirt with them.

Why does this still happen?

Is it my naturally flirtatious personality? My love of attention? My enjoyment of all very personal, intensely private, and intimate details of other people's lives? An urge to fit into a heternormative lifestyle? Repression of my full lesbian identity?

I honestly don't know. It's likely a combination of all of these, or at least most of them. (Flirting is also a multifaceted term that I'll dissect a little bit later.)

More interesting are the reasons why I haven't given this habit up.

I have this theory that most (and I repeat, most. I'm making generalizations here, people) heterosexual men don't learn how to converse about feelings and emotions until they date their first serious girlfriend. I don't think our society encourages men to express most of their feelings, especially not with each other.

What I get the opportunity to do then, is talk about feelings and emotions with men on a platonic level. Being a lesbian removes me from having an agenda. I have no intention of dating the guy, I'm not looking for a one night stand, in fact, I've completely taken both romance and sex off the table. I'm not threatening to other women and I don't have ulterior motives.

In fact, I would argue that my relationships with men have gotten immensely better since I came out. Gone is that question of if there's something bigger going on between us. Gone are the awkward "are we on the same page" questions. I drop the "I have a girlfriend" line in the first five minutes of our conversation and all of a sudden I have simplified the equation. (This isn't to say that every guy I talk to is into me and that playing the Lesbian Card lets them down easy. This also eliminates their concern that I'm into them when they aren't into me.)

Awhile back, Madie wrote a blog about a court case in Iowa. In short, a man fired a woman for being too attractive, which for him equated to being too seductive. In order, he said, to continue being faithful to his wife, he had to end his professional relationship as a boss to an attractive woman, even though she maintains that she had no interest in him romantically. In essence, he didn't believe he could keep it in his pants with her around, despite her disinterest.

This case demonstrates a deep seeded belief in America that women and men can't be friends, especially if there's any attraction between them. There's too much chemistry, too much seduction, too many SEX THOUGHTS, the theory goes, for men and women to be in platonic relationship with one another.

This is such a detrimental line of thinking. I'm not trying to argue that all women and all men have to be friends, in fact I think there are some decent reasons some men and women are not always friends. But folks: we have so much to learn from each other. Listen, I might be a lesbian, but I have no idea what it's like to be a man. I don't even date them!

When I titled this blog, I used the word "flirting." I've always used the term to label my behavior when I'm asking men about their lives. A more fitting description? Confidently asking personal questions and sticking around to hear the answers. But I've always called it flirting because it seems so ingrained in our culture that men and women can't or wouldn't have a serious conversation about their personal lives without sexual chemistry.

Being a lesbian is a strange but real loophole in the old women-and-men-can't-be-friends way of thinking. Because I don't date men there is a removal of the possibility, the removal of an agenda. So I've managed to avoid the problem myself, but most men and women continue to face this challenge.

I don't get it - because when women (ok, women in my life anyway) hang out, most of what they do is talk about their feelings, their relationships, their ideas about life, etc. I do this with other women constantly, straight and queer alike, without having awkward confusion about if we're into each other. Why wouldn't women and men be able to converse together about these same things without these problems?

All of us, straight or queer, even those of us in relationships, interact often with people we find attractive. That's right, I said it: we - single and committed - are all wandering around the earth feeling attracted to people who aren't our significant others. And you know what those of us who are in monogamous relationships do about it? Well, hopefully, ABSOLUTELY NOTHING.

I know we all like to think that once we fall in love we stop being attracted to everyone else on the planet, but in my experience that's just not true. What's also not true is that if we are attracted to people we must follow our urges. In short, we can be attracted to people we choose not to be with.

There's a problem if we have to fire our employee simply because we're attracted to her or him. There's a problem if men and women can't be friends because they can't handle themselves to have a platonic relationship with someone to whom they may or may not be attracted.

As stated previously, I've mostly avoided this problem, what with my woman-loving and all. But my argument is that rather than denying and ignoring and even avoiding people to whom we feel attracted and possibly missing out on some fantastic friendships, we should learn how to manage sexual attraction in a way that allows us to be both a great friend and faithful to our partner. Self-control, rather than missing out on great friendships, is the key.

I'd love to hear your thoughts.

Love Always,


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