Nothing describes the world of Evangelical Christianity like change. Major denominations have faced down looming threats posed by hair-over-the-ears, pre-recorded music accompaniment and four-part harmony on Sunday morning. Churches in the United States have seen pastors lose their suits and ties in favor of T-shirts and jeans. Hymns sung for over 100 years have been subdivided into age-appropriate Classic services offered at 6am. Church buildings, once constructed as monuments pointing heavenward are planned and build like office buildings with an eye toward eventual resale. In fact, many have forgone church buildings altogether, meeting instead at the beach or in a bar. Even pastors have been replaced by discussion facilitators. In this ever changing climate, yet another wave has come.
Recently, I sat down with a member of this new, emergent church demographic, a zombie. I found that this man is not alone. There are many like him, folks who, feeling out of place in conventional churches, have formed their own brand of Christianity.
Because brain-eating zombies are subject to harsh discrimination, I will call him Mr. Zombie (no relation to Rob, so far that I know). I met Mr. Zombie at an abandoned warehouse so he would feel relaxed for our interview.
Mr. Jones: So, you are a zombie, is that what you call yourself?
Mr. Zombie: Sorry, what was that? I was distracted by the size of your head.
Mr. Jones: Yes, well, um. I asked if 'zombie' is the name you go by?
Mr. Zombie: Actually, we prefer the term Living Dead. Our flesh may be decomposing and yes, we eat people and really like brains, but we're no more 'zombies' than your average church-attender.
Mr. Jones: I see. So, tell me how this all got started.
Mr. Living Dead: Well, we never felt like we fit in with the pink-skinned, groomed 'Living' in church. For me, personally, I found the sermons about resurrecting in a new body strangely bigoted. It felt judgmental. As if the pastor were saying, 'you know who you are.' Then, the sideways glances when the pastor taught about being a new creation, putting off the old flesh. It just got to be too much!
Mr. Jones: So, you and others like you left conventional churches.
Mr. LD: That's right. At first we gave up on church altogether. Who needs the hassle of getting up on Sunday morning and going out in the daylight, being told to stop eating brains...
Mr. Jones: So what changed?
Mr. LD: The Organizer changed everything.
Mr. Jones: The 'Organizer' being the man who started this movement?
Mr. LD: That's right. He started meeting us at night, talking to us.
Mr. Jones: But he's not a zombie--I mean, Living Dead.
Mr. LD: No, he's alive. But he dressed like us and cut his skin and made himself look like a zombie. He even had some gangrene-like stuff on his head! Otherwise we would have just eaten his brains and missed out on everything. Some of us still think he's one of us. Just a few of us know his secret.
Mr. Jones: How did he get you to start this church?
Mr. LD: He told us it was okay to be an undead. He showed us that transforming our lives and changing our ways was just symbolic. There's no need to change anything to be a follower of Christ. He pointed out that very few living Christians change, except on Sunday for a few hours.
Mr. Jones: So, in his words, you just skip the formality.
Mr. LD: That's right.
Mr. Jones: And what if I wanted to join your church?
Mr. LD: We don't discriminate. We welcome everyone.
Mr. Jones: But you eat people.
Mr. LD: You show me a denomination that doesn't hurt a few people. The fact is that we're alive! It's happening! We're not stifled by common considerations of modern society. We have realized there's no limit to what we can do to express our excitement and faith. We have a big tent.
Mr. Jones: I thought you met in a sewer.
Mr. LD: It's a figure of speech.
Mr. Jones: The tent or the sewer?
Mr. LD: Both, really.
Mr. Jones: I'm lost.
Mr. LD: We prefer the term 'un-churched.'
Mr. Jones: Right. Well, I'm sure you've heard that some believe your lifestyle contradicts the Bible and thus you can't truly worship God until you, well, stop being zom-Living Dead … people.
Mr. LD: That's what I'm talking about. See, so many people have it in their heads....
Mr. Jones: Yes?
At this point I had to get Mr. Living Dead's attention as he began drooling and tried to grab me by the hair. Once we sat back down, we resumed the interview.
Mr. Jones: Okay, let's talk about worship style. You meet in sewers at night, is that right?
Mr. LD: Yes. It's a more natural setting. Christians need to face the fact that sitting in pews or just in a building is boring and uncomfortable to many, if not all people, Living Dead or not. And how can anyone really worship God if they're uncomfortable?
Mr. Jones: Well, some may argue that worship is a response to God in reverence and isn't about the worshiper so much as it is about God and his grace.
Mr. LD: It's not about me.
Mr. Jones: Right. So, why the emphasis on comfort?
Mr. LD: It's not about me.
Mr. Jones: I'm not sure I get what you mean. You just said...
Mr. LD: I know. That's the beauty of it.
Mr. Jones: What if I don't like meeting in a sewer?
Mr. LD: It's not about you, either.
Mr. Jones: Then who makes the decision?
Mr. LD: Oh, we have market research that indicates more Living Dead would come if we met in sewers.
Mr. Jones: So, it's not about me or you, it's about the market research?
Mr. LD: Isn't God great?
Mr. Jones: Okay. Tell me about the music you use to worship. I've heard you use trash cans and feet stomping.
Mr. LD: That's right.
Mr. Jones: Can you tell me if you tend to use hymns or contemporary choruses?
Mr. LD: Neither.
Mr. Jones: So, you compose your own praises to the Lord?
Mr. LD: It's more free-form, really.
Mr. Jones: You must put the lyrics up on a Powerpoint.
Mr. LD: We don't have lyrics.
Mr. Jones: Just percussive music, no singing, then?
Mr. LD: Oh, we sing, but we don't use words. Many have eaten their own tongues and so we just moan and howl. Words can't express what we feel.
Mr. Jones: And what do you feel?
Mr. LD: It can't be put in words.
Mr. Jones: Okay, there must be some common ground with mainstream churches. What translation of the Bible do you use in you preaching?
Mr. LD: We speak English here … I'm not sure I get what you mean about using the 'Bible.'
Mr. Jones: Well, most churches read passages from the Old Testament and New Testament.
Mr. LD: …
Mr. Jones: How do you grow in faith? What do you use to teach?
Mr. LD: Our faith grows in our community. We have a thriving Living Dead environment. And when you say teaching, well, teaching is restrictive. We believe that we already have the answers. See, this is what I mean by being free. We don't claim to have the right answer for you or for anyone else. But I know what's best for me. The Bible is just an old book with antiquated rules and stories that no longer apply to people. Like me! I have to kill and eat brains to live. What would your 'God' say about that?
Mr. Jones: Killing is certainly-
Mr. LD: See, I found that being a Christian really isn't about a change of lifestyle. In fact, that's why I got involved. There really are no requirements at all. I can just add the name Christian and use a few key phrases and I'm a better Living Dead for it.
Mr. Jones: How are you better for it?
Mr. LD: For starters, my business has taken off in a big way! I'm earning ten times what I was making before.
Mr. Jones: Just by calling yourself a Christian?
Mr. LD: In part, yes. I put a fish on my business card. But also, I've found that saying certain key words in prayer have a powerful, even magical effect on my life. Without changing a thing! I just say that prayer every day and suddenly I have new customers, more business. Even more brains to eat! It's been a boon, let me tell you.
Mr. Jones: Do you study the teachings of Christ?
Mr. LD: Jesus taught people thousands of years ago. How relevant could that be? But I've found the true meaning of what He was saying. See, there are secret codes to happiness and success. He wants me to be happy and have everything I want. That's a beautiful message and I'm so excited about it!
Mr. Jones: So, this is really all about personal success and self-gratification?
Mr. LD: It's not about me.