The Undead are more popular than ever! On October 14, AMC’s hit series The Walking Dead returns to television for its third season. On November 16, millions will flock to the debut of the Twilight movie series’ Breaking Dawn Part 2. As the fall term begins on college campuses, the elaborate HvZ (Humans vs. Zombies) game—a long-running form of “tag”—will revive again on more than 600 college campuses across the U.S. Never heard of HvZ until today? Serious gamers and college-age adults know about it. In fact, only seven years after its creation, HvZ is graduating to other venues across the U.S. For example, a version of the game will be played at the Escapist Expo, a mecca for gamers in Durham, North Carolina, in September.
Good news for congregations:
This isn’t a taboo topic.
This is home turf for Christians!
In fact, the resuscitation of the dead runs throughout the Bible—most famously Jesus’ own resurrection, of course, but there are many other gripping tales of the dead/undead in the pages of scripture. Historian, college lecturer, author and Christian educator Clay Morgan’s debut book, UNDEAD: Revived, Resuscitated, and Reborn, couldn’t have arrived at a more timely moment in American culture. That’s Clay Morgan’s mantra: Connecting spiritual themes with popular culture to inspire a new appreciation of our religious traditions. That’s also in line with ReadTheSpirit’s own slogan: Spirited Inspiration for a Connected World.
Our recommendation today: Visit Amazon and order your copy of UNDEAD today. Consider organizing a small group to discuss the book. You’ll have lots of fun. We certainly are at ReadTheSpirit!
WHAT’S IN CLAY MORGAN’S STRANGE NEW BOOK: ‘UNDEAD’?
COMICS: The first details you’ll notice when picking up this book are a series of 1-page comics sprinkled among the chapters. These mini tales, drawn in black and white, are perfect for enticing fans of comics (and there are many these days) toward a small-group discussion on Undead. The comics are deliberately left open to spirited debate about their meaning. At right, we’re showing you just half of a 1-page story about a Zombie plague hitting Clay Morgan’s own hometown of Pittsburgh. And, yes, that’s Clay himself looking terrified in the middle of the tale!
From popular culture genres like comic books, Clay Morgan makes dozens of other connections between the Christian faith and pop culture appearances of Undead, Zombies, Vampires and related ghoulish creatures. CLICK HERE to read our second story, today, about some of those pop culture tales.
UNDEAD: ELISHA AND THE DEAD BOY
One of the most dramatic stories from ancient Hebrew scriptures features a grief-stricken mother calling on the prophet Eilsha for help after her child dies. The story in 2 Kings Chapter 4 is as dramatic a scene as anything we might see on Grey’s Anatomy today. The boy dies, the Bible says, but Elisha stretches himself out and touches mouth to mouth. The boy becomes warmer, then coughs and sneezes back to life. Sure sounds like CPR today doesn’t it? To this day, thousands of years later, we still are talking about what happened with Elisha in that bedroom in the Shunammite Woman’s home. Gripping! And that’s just the first Bible story retold in Clay’s book.
UNDEAD: Elijah Shows the Way
Clay Morgan starts with Elisha’s story—before he relates an earlier account involving Elijah—partly because there are more details in the Elisha scene. While the Elijah scene may not be quite as vivid in the 17th Chapter of 1 Kings, Elijah clearly seems to have provided the model of resuscitation that Elisha later would follow. In fact, in the way the Shunammite Woman calls Elisha, we are seeing evidence that Elijah’s pattern was quite well known. People assumed that prophets of God knew how to bring back the dead—and the first step was laying the corpse out on the bed, then calling the prophet as soon as possible.
UNDEAD: JESUS CLAIMS THE MANTLE AND THE FAME
Understanding the close association between God’s anointed messengers and their power to grapple with the forces of death—we see more clearly how Jesus’s miracle working quickly claimed the prophetic mantle. Most people today recognize the name Lazarus. We barely remember the other two very lucky people who Jesus reportedly raised from the dead. (Do you recall them? They’re in Clay’s book along with the other stories.)
Why do we recall Lazarus so vividly? Clay points out that Jesus’s revival of Lazarus must have appeared like something out of a Cecil B. DeMille blockbuster. Lazarus’s story in the 11th Chapter of John makes it clear that his body had been wrapped up and left in a tomb for four days! Not only that, John also emphasizes that people were complaining about the stench—even though Lazarus’s wrapped body was inside a cave sealed with a rock. If that weren’t enough high drama, Lazarus’s miraculous return to life came with him stumbling out of the tomb still wrapped like a mummy. John describes it this way: “The dead man came out, his hands and feet bound with strips of cloth, and his face wrapped in a cloth.” People witnessing the scene were so awestruck that Jesus had to remind them to get moving again and cut away the stinking strips of cloth.
UNDEAD: JESUS’S FOLLOWERS DO IT, TOO
“Tabitha get up!” Does that line from the book of Acts ring bells? Peter, the supposed rock on which Jesus established the Christian church, finds himself called in the same kind of tragedy that was a noted specialty in the careers of Elijah, Elisha and Jesus. Clay Morgan’s careful overview of the Tabitha story is an eye opener, indicating that Peter probably was sweating bullets on this occasion. Was his faith strong enough to accomplish this challenge? As it turns out, the Bible says, Peter’s faith brought the dead woman successfully back to life. Most Christians won’t even recall the story of Tabitha, also known as Dorcas. Whether you know the story or not, you’ll see it from new perspectives in Morgan’s book.
And Paul? Of course, Paul also was equal to the challenge of grappling with the dead. Who did Paul bring back from the dead? Here’s a hint: The incident involves a man who did the equivalent of falling asleep in church. Unfortunately, in that jammed Christian gathering 2,000 years ago, he was sitting in a third-story window at the time he nodded off.
No, Clay Morgan isn’t arguing that churches should hang out shingles offering to do the same today. But, these are powerfully enticing mysteries from thousands of years ago. He writes, “What I’m trying to say is that miraculous events of this magnitude probably weren’t much easier to explain in the 1st Century than they are now.” The central lesson Morgan underlines is: There’s nothing taboo in the pop culture fascination with death, the undead and people who somehow inhabit mysterious, miraculous boundaries of life and death. That is bedrock Judeo-Christian culture.
We can bring the whole discussion of the ultimate meaning of life and death right into our congregations, today. And, while we’re at it, questions will arise about other forms of death we all face—like spiritual death and zombie-like depression in times of global anxiety. Clay Morgan is arguing that churches have a whole lot to say about revival and rebirth.
Care for more about Clay Morgan’s Undead?
READ OUR SECOND STORY TODAY: We’ve headlined it simply “Inspiring Zombies and Vampires and Ghouls (oh my!)” In the first story (above) we’ve shown you some examples Clay Morgan highlights from the Bible. In the second story, we look at some of the many pop culture references Morgan explores.
ENJOY OUR AUTHOR INTERVIEW: Meet Clay Morgan in our weekly author interview.
ORDER THE BOOK: Visit Amazon and order your copy of UNDEAD today.
Care for more about Vampires and Bible study?
ReadTheSpirit publishes Glitter in the Sun: A Bible Study Searching for Truth in the Twilight Saga. You can read more about that Bible study in our earlier ReadTheSpirit story about Twilight. In that story, we explained: There are many connections to make as you enjoy this Bible-study series! According to author Jane Wells, the single biggest connection is: Love. For all of its supernatural trappings, the series has sold well over 100 million copies worldwide because of the compelling quality of the immortal love story at its heart. At the heart of Christian conversion is the search for God’s eternal love, Jane writes.
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Originally published at readthespirit.com, an online magazine covering religion and cultural diversity.