Invite a Vampire to Church This Weekend

Vampire from Nosferatu to Dracula to Twilight and zombies in Walking DeadI checked out yet another vampire book from the library this weekend. It’s by Scott Westerfeld, one of my favorite YA authors. I haven’t started reading it yet, since I’m working on a book deadline of my own—but it’s sitting on my TBR shelf, a juicy little reward for the faithful writer.

Coincidentally (or not… ) my editor asked me to write a little about vampires for you—challenging me to challenge you to “invite a vampire to church this weekend.”

This should be fun.

Vampires seem to be waning from popular culture at the moment—too much exposure to bright light does that to them I guess—but they’ll never go away. There’s something about the undead such as vampires—and the slower moving but increasingly popular zombies—that has always drawn our imagination.

Over the past five decades supernatural creatures in popular culture have evolved from purely evil destroyers of good—defeated only by faith and holy water, to conflicted creatures trying to retain the last vestiges of humanity in a battle against whatever virus or poison that is turning them. It reflects a change in cultural thinking from one of absolutes to one of degrees, and dovetails neatly with the declining influence of the organized Christian church in Western society.

As if deep down we all know without being told that there might be something to this living forever thing.

Because, of course, there is.

The fact that our fascination with vampires and other undead creatures continues is telling for at least two reasons:

First, we are hungry for the spiritual. In the past 20 or 30 years, even as science advances in leaps and bounds, movies and books featuring the unexplained and supernatural have flourished. The History Channel, for example—a source you might think to count on for presenting the most factual of events—spends weeks at a time on ghosts, prophecies, and access to the gates of hell.

Second, a nagging suspicion that there must be more than this life. For a few years you couldn’t go to the movies without seeing a title that included witches. Then it was all about the vampires—sparkly or otherwise. Now whether cute and recovering or terrifying mindless hordes, it’s all about the zombies. Each of these genres, at its root, has one question—what happens next? And, is it better to live forever, even if it’s in a non-human form?

See, without a faith to instruct us otherwise, we risk walking around in a state of perpetual grief. Unsure if we’ll ever see our loved ones again, and unsettled with the idea that when it ends it ends forever. Theologian George Macdonald addressed grief—trying to define the line between healthy grieving and obsessive grief—more than a hundred years ago. The following quote is often misattributed to C. S. Lewis. It seems appropriate here.

“Never tell a child: ‘You have a soul’,” said George Macdonald. “Teach him: ‘You are a soul; you have a body.’ As we learn to think of things always in this order, that the body is but the temporary clothing of the soul, our views of death and the unbefittingness of customary mourning will approximate to those of Friends of earlier generations.”

When observed through this lens, most vampires appear to be afraid of death, and most zombies completely unaware of their souls. I don’t think there is any better reason to invite them to church than to show a vampire there is nothing to fear, and show a zombie that they do, indeed, have hope.

Emancipation from slavery, sin and vampires

History prefers legends to men. It prefers nobility to brutality, soaring speeches to quiet deeds. History remembers the battle and forgets the blood.

How ever history remembers me, if it does at all, it shall only remember a fraction of the truth.

This quote from the highly entertaining movie Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter comes startlingly close to the truth.

The movie starts when Lincoln as a child witnesses a confusing scene, his father’s former boss, his face grossly distorted, leaning over Lincoln’s mother as she slept. Within days his mother suffers a horrible, painful death. The boy is convinced the man is a murdering monster and vows when he is old enough to avenge his mother. When we see him again he is a young man trying to fortify his resolve with liquid courage. When the shot fired into his enemy’s head fails to kill, Abraham is rescued by the intervention of a stranger he’d met at the bar. The stranger, Henry, turns out to be a vampire himself who needs a human’s assistance to avenge the death of his loved one many years earlier. Vampires, it seems, are physically unable to kill each other. (This does not prevent them from inflicting incredible damage to their surroundings when they fight, though.) Apparently only the living can kill the dead.

So, Lincoln begins his study, eventually becoming a formidable vampire slayer and finally avenging his mother’s death. It is in this process, though, that Abraham Lincoln learns the truth of the slave trade, that vampires are the backbone of the slave trade. Slavery is their way to insure an uninterrupted and unquestioned flow of fresh blood. Tired of fighting the huge problem one vampire at a time, Lincoln sees politics as a more effective way to bring the issue to a head.

Many years later, during the war, when Lincoln’s son dies the same way his mother did, he picks up his ax once again.

Of course, the real Lincoln never hunted down vampires in his cause to liberate slaves from being consumed. We have no evidence that vampires composed the Rebel army at Gettysburg. And it’s highly unlikely that Mary Todd Lincoln put a silver bullet in the skull of the vampire assassin out to kill her.

But – it’s a lot of fun to imagine that maybe… just maybe…

Vampire hunting skills aside, what history has overlooked is Abraham Lincoln’s spiritual growth over the same period in his life.

I wrote before about Clay Morgan‘s book, Undead. In the final chapter “The Dead Live”, Morgan, a historian by trade, researched a letter he’d heard about where Lincoln explains his spiritual beliefs. Clay writes:

Well into the civil war a pastor from Lincoln’s hometown of Springfield, Illinois wanted to know what the president thought of Jesus; if he loved him… the president said he didn’t consider himself a Christian when he arrived at the White House or when his 11-year-old son Willie died. But, Lincoln wrote, he comitted his life to Christ after arriving at Gettysburg in 1863 and seeing the graves of thousands upon thousands of soldiers.

If that letter is accurate, then Gettysburg doesn’t just commemorate the death of thousands; it also marks the spot where at least one man found ultimate life.

There is emancipation from slavery, which Lincoln supported even as he mourned the death of all those men. And then there is emancipation from sin, which Lincoln was able to enjoy from that day on.