I am not a religious fellow, but for the last three years I have enjoyed watching my mother sing in her local church choir at The First Parish in Bedford, Massachusetts on Christmas Eve, and there I have also been enlightened by the thoughts of The Reverend John E. Gibbons, Senior Minister (along with his associate The Reverend Megan Lynes, Parish Minister). Being part of the Unitarian Universalist Church, his thoughts do not focus on God nor Jesus, nor are they proselytizing. Rev. Gibbons’ approach is of a more progressive and broad-minded nature, encouraging his flock to embrace people of every ethnic, religious, ideological and sexual persuasion and to bring joy and kindness into the world. His sermons (and hers) are witty and sidestep the church clichés one expects from other denominations. This year was no different, except for one thing: he invoked vampires and zombies in his Reflection.
What do the undead have to do with Christmas? What began as an expression of his befuddlement over the popularity of zombies — he mentioned how The Walking Dead television series had been renewed for a second season, and how could it not be? — transformed into a discussion of what the metaphor stood for. He had been told that zombies were the new vampires, but why are they so popular? While it was obvious he is not a fan of zombies (or vampires), Rev. Gibbons understood the concept and why it resonated on a mainstream level.
Earlier in his speech, he had read through a list of twelve things to determine if you are dead (my apologies, I forget the name of the author). They were not meant to be taken literally; they were a litmus test for how you embraced life. There are times when little parts of us can perish — when we feel defeated, neglected, forlorn, unloved. Rev. Gibbons noted that we can die little deaths along the way to the grave that eat away at our soul, and with stressful things like economic and ecological woes and predatory politics gnawing on our psyches, not to mention increasing numbness to violence and war, it can be easy to retreat from the world and disconnect from it. He encouraged us to be hopeful and go forth, engage the world and revel in life. Essentially, not to turn into zombies, not to become dead inside nor live dispassionately.
While his invocation of the undead last night may not have been a ringing endorsement (although AMC might be happy with the plug), it was still refreshing to hear them get a shout-out at a Christmas Eve church concert. And the context in and intelligence with which Rev. Gibbons discussed them made me feel proud to be a horror fan, because he proved that it is not all mindless fare for gorehounds and fear addicts. Following his deep thoughts, the Reverend cheerily commanded us to stand up — “Rise, you zombies, rise!” — to sing the Christmas carol “In The Bleak Midwinter”. And we did it far better than any zombies could.