Book: Undead by Clay Morgan
Unless you are Amish, you are probably aware that zombies are way in right now. Which is at least slightly weird since zombies aren’t even a little bit sexy. I mean, there’s not much you can do to glamorize the zombie apocalypse.
But Walking Dead is the biggest show on TV. The number of zombie novels might be outpacing teen vampire romance novels. (Also, that those are a thing? Truly horrifying.) Zombies are even getting attention from scholars.
Which begs the question, Why are zombies so “in” right now?
An even better question for Christians is, How do we engage this zombie popularity? Though the normative Evangelical response has been to ignore zombies and other monsters, zombies are, after all, a warped picture of resurrection.
Even if we don’t like the messages inherent in zombie stories, we’d be wise to pay attention to them. Enter, then, Clay Morgan‘s Undead: Revived, Resuscitated, and Reborn. As a history professor and avid zombie fan, Clay puts our fascination with the undead into historical context, and finds some fascinating spiritual insights.
Clay suggests that Zombies represent, among other things, our increasing uneasiness with the contemporary American lifestyle:
Zombies represent the appetite divorced from everything else. They are incapable of judgment, self-awareness, or self-preservation. Though they still move and act, they are not really alive. They hunger and are never filled.
Pushing the metaphor further, Clay explores what it means to be alive by contrasting it with the unlife we find in zombie, vampire and apocalypse stories:
Life isn’t defined by extreme fear or faith but rather a quest to be fully alive during the simple blandness of routine days… we continue to hop on the conveyor belt of existence and check off boxes of things to achieve and acquire in Western culture until one day reality smacks us in the head and forces us to start asking bigger questions about places where smartphones don’t work.
This is the real strength of Undead. The metaphors Jesus uses of spiritual death and abundant life can often seem opaque. Getting a good handle on what death and life look like as concrete, manifest realities can be challenging.
Clay uses the metaphors of vampires and zombies to help us connect the dots, to recognized places in our own lives death is present:
It’s often hard to recognize the face of death in our own lives. We don’t see it so clearly when we are the ones on spiritual life support. Undead monsters make a great metaphor for spiritual death because decaying zombies and eternally damned vampires symbolize the opposite of purity and holiness, which is the essence of God.
What makes the book work is how well Clay weaves together history, monster stories and Scripture. As he helps us to identify the faces and places of death in our lives, he also shows us hope in the person and power of Jesus. He mines the resurrection stories in the Scripture for pictures of how God brings life from death – not just biological life, but spiritual life.
Clay’s tone is always inviting and fun – the book feels much more like a road trip with a friend than a lecture from a pastor or professor. He marvels at the power of the Resurrection in his own life in such a way that we’re invited to marvel alongside him, and ultimately to consider what Resurrection might look like in all those places of death in our own lives.
BOTTOM LINE: Undead is a fun, insightful and quick read. If you like monsters, this book will sate your craving and invite some reflections, too.
YOUR TURN: Why do you think we’re so fascinated with Zombies? What does that say about our souls?
BONUS: If you want to hear more, check out the StoryMen podcast Clay and I do with Matt Mikalatos!