The Rehumanization of a Christian Zombie

A candid look at faith, fears, loss, and hope through the lens of a zombie religious pilgrim.

Charles touching a mirror image looking away

A mirror hangs in the foyer of my house. Until recently it was the lone adornment on my freshly painted walls; my adult daughters eventually put up some pictures to hide what was, to them, an emotional desert, naked of any image, portrait, or memory. I walk through the house like a dead man among the living. I have become numb, like a zombie, finding that this is the only way to avoid the pain.

She is gone, and our children have grown up and left the house. After 38 years its many rooms stand empty. Old friends take sides, and some ghost me. Acquaintances shy away. My mother died some months ago; my aging body aches more profoundly with each passing day. God does not hear, and I am alone.

When I stand before the mirror I see the zombie reflected back at me. I can hardly recognize the stranger standing there. I ask him questions I would never ask another person, but I can ask the zombie, because the zombie is me. Who am I? Who is God? Why am I alone?

The zombie’s replies are frank, pessimistic, and cruel.

The zombie calls me a fool. He says that it was foolish of me to lean on my faith and accomplishments for healing. My life would be so much better without such trivialities.

The zombie reflection makes a salient point, one I’ve heard before. My Dad disliked my religious sympathies and thought I had misspent my life. Easy street would’ve been within my grasp if only I’d taken his advice instead of this path I chose.

My Dad also said that you should avoid religion in barroom discussions, and, once again, he was right. Experience has shown me that studying religion is a lose-lose situation. Many church communities, especially the ones I am familiar with, react with antagonism against those who study faith with any academic rigor. Potential employers view religious people with great suspicion and, at times, appear repulsed by them, especially those formally trained in this realm. My background closed many doors, sometimes before I could even knock.

Even with such a cascade of evidence, I cannot change. Perhaps it has less to do with religion now, and more to do with maturity and a dose of stubborn pride. No one with any dignity wants to hear someone say “I told you so” after 40 years of pursuing a dream, however fruitless or deluded.

Sensing victory, the zombie cackles with malicious delight. He asks whether it’s right to use my faith and inclinations as a crutch for journeying toward wholeness. Is my motive not corrupt?

Well, even if it is a wrong motivation, it is helping. But the more I consider the question, the more it feels harsh and cold. So, I attempt to ask the zombie a question in return.

“Is it wrong to imagine yourself in a hopeful future while in travail? Even if it means to work towards what some think a silly, irrelevant goal that is dissonant with the present?”

I pause thoughtfully, and proceed to add:

This kind of hope helps humankind to carry on through the most difficult circumstances. History shows how the human spirit, assailed with challenges of suffering, grief, loss, death, injustice, and shame, finds a way to move forward. However, one must be cautious. The person who always dreams lives in never-never land. But the one who stops dreaming is left wandering in the past and lives as a shell in the present.

My zombie reflection refuses to respond. Instead, he proceeds with another question.

He asks, “Don’t you know that religion—even dreaming of religion—is a meaningless exercise that makes no difference for humankind?”

Once again, my antagonist makes a thoughtful argument. When my life is over and I theoretically stand before St. Peter at heaven’s gate, he won’t be clutching a checklist on dogmatics. He is not looking to see whether I followed criteria such as creationism, the Trinity, amillennialism, transubstantiation, or to ask me questions on Greek or Hebrew words.

No, he will ask whether I loved my neighbor. This simple question accurately represents the entire vast Christian faith and, when applied, makes the world a better place. As a modus operandi it presents a difficult challenge, and I have not come any closer than when I first began. But I will continue on this journey.

We all have our dreams and passions. Some have music, others art, hosting, or even preaching, but mine is study. It is my highest form of worship. I love learning how ideas have been passed down and evolved over the centuries. This passion partly shapes my identity.

For many years, I hid the inclination to read, translate, and study the Bible and ancient texts out of shame and fear someone would target me with some form of hostility. When I changed jobs and started studying ancient texts openly as a hobby, wholeness came to my soul.

My mind is often in the clouds about the etymology of a word or concept in Hebrew, Aramaic, Greek, or Latin and how it has evolved to shape our minds today. I may be thinking of the Dead Sea Scrolls, the Talmud, the difficulty of Hebrew poetry, Thomas Aquinas, Origen, Rashi, why Paul is using a Doric rather than an Attic Greek word, or experiencing a flood of thoughts about a Josephus narrative. Who knows what will come from my head at any given moment?

It was fortunate that the internet emerged on the horizon and allowed me to publish my findings. The number of views and people I have connected with through this online adventure is overwhelmingly affirmative.

I also experience gratefulness for steady employment that allows me time to ponder such questions. Only some get this opportunity.

In desperation, the zombie travels down the ideological path my hometown friends followed. He claims that God is a fabricated and outdated source of authority. The very concept of God is a made-up operand developed and evolved over centuries of revision and reversion for social control and cooperation.

“Charles,” the zombie rants, “you have fallen for a system and language that is outdated and no longer relevant.”

Ouch! These remarks have merit, especially given how deeply Capitalism synergizes with North American Christianity and inherits the vestiges of Colonialism. But even if I have “fallen for it,” the supposed make-believe world of Christianity is no better or worse than the existential/hedonist society which elevates Capitalism as its god. That world is made up, too.

When I look at the clouds, the moon, and even a tiny blade of grass, I can’t help but believe there is a God. To me, the Jewish and Christian Scriptures represent His nature and character best. Perhaps I am wrong; there could be many rational counter-arguments. When I die, if my assertions about the Almighty are untrue, I won’t be embarrassed because there is no afterlife. I will simply pass on into nothingness. If I’m right, this is going to be exciting.

If there is no God, and the Bible is a collection of fables, they still encouraged me to love unconditionally and improve as an authentic person, which are uplifting standards to pursue. I can live with a good conscience.

The zombie will only stop his questioning once he’s won. His last gasp touches a deep wound. “You neglected to say that you have abandoned your almost 35-year commitment to mystic Christian communities. You now attend a small existential religious group that has no definition. You are no longer a Christian: a point that your ex-wife affirms, and a factor for why she left.”

Yes, I have left the Charismatic community. It is a place full of beautiful people with childlike zeal, sometimes wacky expressions, and quirky forms of authoritarian leadership. But the conviction that we just need Jesus to solve the world’s social, ethical, political, or environmental problems is not enough. Nor is it necessary to repeat the salvation formula at almost every moment or to look for miracles. I need more depth to survive as a whole person. My wife was heartbroken about this choice.

I feel comfortable enough in my faith to see and appreciate different perspectives. These often challenge my worldview, and it does not bother me.

“I know who I am,” I say to the zombie, to the mirror, to myself.

“I see.” The zombie slowly charts his next words. “So why is it when you pray, God does not answer? The silence shows you are alone and naked in this world.”

To answer this, I have to think long and respond at length.

Yes, my heart desires the overwhelming presence of the Divine, begs for it to seize all my senses, including the intellect. Unfortunately, no matter how hard I pray and meditate, the longed-for emotion is wanting. I could just as soon talk to my son’s dog as to God. He seems infinitely far away, and I am talking to myself.

When my wife left, shame swept over me, and there was no comfort. This circumstance seemed destined to prevent the Maker from hearing my voice ever again. I now had to bear my pain, of the body and spirit, without a companion. No person, thing, or entity gave me consolation when my mom died.”

The zombie feels he has won and rests all his arguments, stepping away satisfied from the dismay he believes he’s sown. But he is put to silence when, without warning, I continue.

The Biblical story of Job came to mind while sorting out my mother’s affairs. Job’s multiple griefs and ultimate restoration tell us that our finite minds cannot understand the complexity of life, death, or whatever lies between them. We must trust the Lord in whatever calamity or goodness comes forth. This revelation was like a pinhole of light into my soul, and healing began its slow journey.

Later, while listening to a Medieval Latin chant called Kyrie: Orbis Factor, and later still a heart-rending lament from a roughly 2,800-year-old poem—Psalm 53 in Aramaic by Archimandrite Serafim—tears flowed from my eyes, and a flood of emotions emerged like a river through a barren waste.

My soul had joined the cacophony of the ancients whose voices echoed hurt, loss, fragility, shame, and grief. In the end, I realized that I am never alone and rest uncomfortably in the sovereign hands of God.

Over the months, there were small and random kindnesses, like that of an old friend who’d gone through a similar journey of pain and loss. In a short message, she wrote, ‘I understand.’ The gently placed words penetrated my heart’s wounds and were an increment out of shame. The summer sun filtered through my window to wake me up every day, and the light sent a silent but comforting message. New friendships blossomed, and a few old ones renewed. My grandson sat on my lap and called me ‘Papa’ distinctly and affectionately. Life goes on, and the beauty of each day is a miracle.

Why did God not hear me? It is the wrong question. Prayer is a place of nakedness in an empty room where you realize who you are, how great and omnipotent the Lord is, and how small your footprint is in everything. This reprioritization gives one strength to engage in suffering. It is socially isolating and embarrassing to live as a hurting Christian rather than to seek acceptance in a world of fantasy and rejection. This spiritual framework gives us the strength to live, grapple, fight, negotiate, doubt, lament, cry, and accept. The way of faith is a long process that will not have closure in a day or even in months. In the end, the reward of such intense struggle is catharsis.

The Biblical Job was rewarded with greater wealth and long-sought children after his sojourn in tragedy, loss, and grief. Mine and the stories of anyone I know in grief have not concluded with such performative success. It is unnecessary. One emerges on the other side with a greater appreciation of life, of time spent with family and friends. These are moments to cherish and are much more valuable than gold or silver.”

Constructing and giving this answer has revived my soul, and the mirror has become a reflection without a distorted image. These realizations have been slow and hard-won in arriving, but they have shown me that my tenure as a zombie is nearing its end.

Sitting around a bonfire, when I hear my friends laugh, I join them. I sit with my children, see their smiles, and listen to their voices—a comfort of beautiful sounds and sights. At work, my banter, puns, one-liners, and heartfelt concern for others spontaneously arise without reservation. My pen’s inkwell, which was dry for almost two years, has new ink. Words are starting to flow from my fingers. My eyes are opening, my mouth can speak again, and my ears hear the voices of others without drowning in my pain.

New pictures are being hung on the walls now. I put the mirror away because it didn’t fit the decor. It is in the basement, but I don’t know where.

3 thoughts on “The Rehumanization of a Christian Zombie”

  1. WOW Charles. What a wonderful heartfelt piece. Thank you for inviting us into your experience which is rich both emotionally and intellectually. Your honesty and vulnerability allows both the sorrow and joy to speak deeply, poetically and authentically. I totally resonated with your line about study:

    “It is my highest form of worship. I love learning how ideas have been passed down and evolved over the centuries. This passion partly shapes my identity.”

    Glad your inkwell is full once again. Looking forward to reading more of your reflections.

  2. I couldn’t have said anything better than Bev Patterson here. I’ve known you, Charles, through our mutual collaboration on an academic project (with personal implications). But I’ve learned over the past few years that your experience goes beyond your extensive linguistic abilities and knowledge of patristic and other historical ecclesiastical resources. More recently still, I’ve seen you emerge from the depths of profound suffering and reflect on your experience with vulnerable honesty but also a sense of humor. Your response to the deck of cards that life has dealt you has been exemplary.

  3. Hi Charles. Linked In reminded me to look you up. This blog was superbly expressed and your learnings were most encouraging. May God continue to lead you and bless you richly.


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