Sometimes a dream that you have; if you move Heaven to make it happen; turns out to be not like the dream started out st all in the first place.
You go forward with the dream to see how it will come out, regardless of the outcome. Good or bad, you have to follow it to the end…
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Zacchaeus is a vampire. He is a tax collector, an extortionist, a traitor against the good life of his Jewish people. Zacchaeus is a creature of darkness, drinking the blood of his people by threat and force of state violence. He waits up in the tree, from the safe predator’s distance, to watch the Son of God walk past, in the midst of the good, weak crowd.
But Jesus speaks Zacchaeus’ name. Jesus says, “Zacchaeus, today I must stay at your house.” Zacchaeus receives Jesus, and ceases to be a creature of the darkness. His vampirism is washed away as he begins to participate in the divine life that is freely given and so freely gives. He says, “I will give half of all I have to the poor! I will repay everything I have stolen, fourfold—the blood that I have taken as a predator will be multiplied and flow back into my people for life.” Jesus says, “Today, salvation has come to this house.”
Sometimes Christians regard the vampires storming the keep of our culture as, well, a barbarian force, an external evil coming to pillage; a harbinger of doom, or at least of the spiritual void made or exploited by secularism. Without disputing that there is truth in this description, it is also helpful for Christians to notice how much a peculiarly Christian thing a vampire is. The vampire is Christian by being anti-Christian within the symbolic world arrayed before our minds by the gospel. Consider just five examples:
(1) Vampires drink blood. Unlike the Eucharist, by which Christians drink Jesus’ blood freely given, vampires drink blood as a predator, as a thief and destroyer of human flourishing. More, vampires are insatiable when it comes to blood. As sinners we drink the life out of each other.
(2) Vampires keep to darkness and fear the sunlight, which destroys them. The vampire is the opposite of the Christian, who has been called by St. Paul a child of light.
(3) Vampires feed through violence, and so corrupt others to become like them. Just as sin spreads through its own violent propagation (an eye for an eye leaves the whole world blind), so the dark unlife of the vampire spreads through the violence of the vampire’s predatory feeding.
(4) As undead, vampires have life that is not full life, and a living death of unrest—the very condition of humanity under the sway of sin.
(5) Vampires fear the crucifix. This one needs no comment.
The point being, the cultural imagination that has shaped what a vampire classically is is deeply Christian. The vampire is particularly unholy only as Christ is holy. Because of this, the vampire might well be regarded as a Christian parable about our fallen humanity: the above traits are how we all metaphorically behave under the power of sin. The answer to all of these perversions of human flourishing is the Eucharist, in which we drink the blood of the risen Lord which is given in a love-gift of unsurpassed abundance. It turns vampires into saints. It lets us share in the life that is truly life.
Peter Steele was singer and songwriter of the Gothic-Metal band Type O Negative. He was a man who embraced both an angry atheism and pervasive decadence of Christian symbolism in vampirized (or sometimes werewolf-ized) form, with equal abundance of passion—along with, in his worst lyrical moments, unbridled misogyny. He was also a struggling addict. In his final years, Peter Steele returned resolutely to the Catholicism of his youth. He went to church often, and called on God for help as he alternately pulled away from, and lapsed back into, substance abuse. He witnessed about Jesus in interviews. The lyrics of his final album are, for all the world, apocalyptically, Gothically, Catholic: a razor raw script of Halloween’s redemption. To see him play the old songs alongside the new in concert before his death, in a way, fit precisely: the blood drinking symbolism of his vampire persona and the Cathedral cemetery-laden beauty of his Catholic faith are scant inches apart, even as a great chasm separates the two. The light shines in the darkness, but the darkness does not overcome it.
Now it’s All Hallow’s Eve—
-Type O Negative
In my short life of 30 years, the first 30 of my short life of I do not know how many years, I have seen a noticeable increase in the, dare I say, devout observance of Halloween. Home decorations for Halloween are up earlier, they are more elaborate, and more macabre, than in my childhood. Halloween, unlike Christmas, is safe in a secular society: Halloween is an opportunity to dress up and have fun and fiesta, with no worry about oppressing our neighbors with the peculiarities of our faith, and (relatively) little fear that the divine, or rather dark, powers evoked and imitated might be real. You can embrace the demons precisely because you are smart and do not believe in them. Or, alternately, you believe in them about as much as most modern day neo-pagans believe in their gods—a good deal less than everyone believes in their money—and yet you follow them.
In light of all of this stupidity, Christians, why not reclaim All Hallows Eve, the evening before All Saints? All that is missing is the nerve to do so. To pray and celebrate the holy, to perhaps even dress up as a saint, would be far more unusual in America today than any bizarre excess or mediocre dullness observed in devotion to Halloween. My favorite saints, official and unofficial, to ask for prayers of intercession are:
The Blessed Virgin Mary (of course)
St. Francis of Assisi
St. Catherine of Siena
St. Thomas Aquinas
G. K. Chesterton
Bd. John Henry Newman
Johann Georg Hamann
Dorothy Day and Peter Maurin
Therese of Lisieux
And, of course, the very saintly and driven founder of the Methodist societies, John Wesley.
Ora pro nobis!
Clifton Stringer is the pastor of Lakehills United Methodist Church in Lakehills, TX.