Every good monster-movie enthusiast knows that the Christian life is anathema to the undead, at least traditionally. Okay, at least for vampires. In the wake of his stellar breakout book, Imaginary Jesus,Matt Mikalatos
decides to take the presence of the undead among us at face value. Christians claim to be the resurrected dead, but what if we’ve been raised only to a half-life? That sort of Christianity may be exactly what James described:
“What good is it, my brothers and sisters, if you say you have faith but do not have works? Can faith save you? …Faith by itself, if it has no works, is dead.” (2:14, 17, NRS)
Those who follow Jesus want a living, vibrant, exciting faith. So why does Christianity seem to foster so many undead, half-living monsters?
Night of the Living Dead Christian takes the metaphor at face value and dives in head-first: bring on the Zombies! Well, not just zombies. In Night of the Living Dead Christian, Matt teams up with a mad scientist, an android, a vampire and a whole Church-full of zombies to help his neighbor, Luther Ann Martin, find a cure for his lycanthropy (which for you laypersons means that Luther is a werewolf). As in Imaginary Jesus, Matt’s non sequitur, real-life-meets-the-fantastic humor keeps you laughing and rolling your eyes.
And Matt handles the metaphor so deftly his point is always clear just below the surface, ready to engage you in some serious self-reflection.
Luther the Werewolf is any of those people who feel that they have a beast living inside them that they can’t quite control. Those of us who can relate to Luther’s self-description:
There are many nights when I crave that sudden infusion of air, that falling away of the higher functions and the sharpness that comes with listening to my instincts, with doing what my body tells me to do.
Luther’s wrestling with his base nature is truly the core of the book. His voice frequently interrupts the narrative with deep, theological musings on the nature of fallen humans crying for rescue and redemption. What reader can’t hear their own struggles in Luther’s? Which of us cannot hear the Werewolf?
That doesn’t mean there aren’t plenty of other monsters. The Zombies are those of us who find it easier to follow an intelligent, charismatic leader, to let his spirituality be ours. Those of us who have found it easier to surrender our brains than to engage our own faith.
The Vampires? The selfish, those who take and take and take from others, who can’t stand a moment of self-reflection, who never give back.
As Matt’s team works to help Luther escape the beast within, Matt comes face to face with his own monstrous nature: he’s a mad scientist. As the vampire tells him,
You think you’re smarter than other people. You have your little knot of henchmen. You’re trying to fix the world around you whatever the cost, never thinking of the damage you’re doing.
We can’t help but wonder which monster(s) we are as we meet them. We can’t help but see ourselves in them. Monsters have always been a safe way for humanity to explore our inner demons. In Night of the Living Dead Christian, Matt uses them as a mirror for our Christianity and asks how we can be truly, fully transformed.
The old stories really are true: the Christian life – the full, true life lived in the freedom Jesus offers – is still anathema to the undead in all of us.
A simple concept, but not easy. The how of transformation refuses all formulas and systems. As fun and witty as NotLDC is, it’s not a book of neat and tidy answers. Matt allows the messiness of reality to ruin his story, so the resolution is at once less than we want and more honest. The honesty is our source of hope: NotLDC refuses to offer us cop outs. The deus ex machina at the end of the story truly is the only ending we can honestly hope for. So while Matt doesn’t give us easy answers – the kind that only work in books and never in real life – he does point the way towards true, transformed life.
Matt’s books are love-letters to the Evangelical community in all our broken mess. New believers or those exploring Christianity may not pick up on a lot of the subtle jokes and gags, but the story is sufficiently rich that anyone will enjoy and be challenged by what they find. Those who do pick up on the jabs will be pleased to note that Matt takes shots at everyone, including an honest look at himself. It’s a great book to read on your own, but it’d work even better as a discussion starter.