The Walking Dead and the Gospel

As I sat in the salon getting my hair clipper-cut, Kay and I talked randomly about the kind of things one normally talks about while getting their hair cut-the weather, the cost of living, children and family drama, and music.  Our meaningless conversation, however, took a turn toward the gospel when my phone rang-why?  Because my ring tone is the theme song from the greatest television show since television was invented-The Walking Dead!  As the song played, Kay exclaimed, “Is that the Walking Dead!?!?”  Proudly I responded, “Why yes!  Yes it is!”  Like two giddy school kids we popcorned back and forth about our favorite scenes, storylines, and moments from this hit AMC zombie show that has swept the world.  I have always been drawn to the mystique of zombie lore and have been a student of this subgenre but the Walking Dead has mainstreamed zombies and has captivated a generation around themes and concepts very close to the gospel and the great story of God.  This creates for us what I like to call ‘gospel opportunities.’

If you don’t know the storyline of the Walking Dead, in a nut shell, here it is.  The world has ended thanks to some yet to be determined ‘rage virus’ that has infected all known human beings.  The zombie apocalypse is in full swing-heads are flying, guns are blazing and zombies rule the earth.  But what is so spectacular for those of us who watch the show is to see how, in the end, it isn’t the undead that are the true source of evil and horror.   This is what I love most about that show-the subtle philosophic and sociocultural commentary the writers are making about the true nature of humanity.  You see, in the Walking Dead, the zombies are mere automatons, behaving only according to their nature-eating brains and such.  The real evil in the show comes from the survivors, the so-called living who were ‘lucky’ enough to live through the initial infection yet who demonstrate their insatiable darkness through greed, lust, theft, murder, avarice, and licentiousness.  What the writers of the show understand is the true universality of human darkness.

Back to Kay.  “Kay, what is it about the Walking Dead that you love most?” I asked.  She responded, “I love how the show is constantly asking the questions, ‘what does it mean to belong,’ and ‘what is the true nature of family?’  For most people who watch the show, deeper life questions like this are common as the series is replete with metaphors that connect deeply with our own human journey.  I responded, “I love that too.  My favorite aspect of the show is how deeply the major emphasis of evil connects with the Biblical story of Jesus and our relationship to God.”  I said this knowing that Kay was raised a somewhat religious person but left the church for a variety of reasons.  True to form, Kay responded, “Yeah, I haven’t thought about religion ever since I left church years ago so what do you mean?”  I began to explain the gospel using the Walking Dead by referencing one of my all-time favorite episodes.  In this episode, there is a scene where the survivors huddle in an abandoned prison.  They begin to recognize the fact that the real danger isn’t the zombies and that the real evil isn’t only from strangers outside their group.  In this episode, someone from within their ranks had recently murdered two of their members.  Herschel, the religious grandfatherly figure says to Rick something like, “We brought the evil in with us when we came,” to which Rick, the main character, despondently replies, “No.  It was here with us all along.”  I explained to Kay how the reality of sin is something that transcends socioeconomic status, race and ethnicity, and nationality and how in the Walking Dead, the real horror isn’t the zombies at all but the fact that within each person is a monster in the making.  In fact, in the Walking Dead, unlike nearly all other zombie storylines, all humans are already infected and do not have to be bitten in order to ‘turn’ into a zombie-they merely have to die to become the monster they already are on the inside.  This one truth in the storyline of the Walking Dead is perhaps the greatest metaphor for the universality of sin and our need for radical, divine healing and deliverance in all cinematic history!

Kay responded, “That’s really interesting, I never noticed these things.”  I continued to explain to Kay how our common problem of sin and death not only make us all monsters in the making but require a radical response from God in order to save us.   I explained how Jesus not only died on the cross to save us from death and separation from God but also to provide a cure for our soul sickness, the sickness that lays within us waiting to ‘turn’ us into the kind of mindless, vacuous automatons that litter the show of the Walking Dead.  Kay responded, “I don’t think I’ve ever thought about Jesus and religion that way but it makes a whole lot of sense-you’ve given me a lot to think about.”  I had shared elements of the gospel with Kay in previous hair-cut encounters but never had I gotten such interest and openness from her this time.  The most important thing is to create gospel opportunities so here are some conclusions from my encounter with Kay:

Creating Gospel Opportunities:

  1. Creating Gospel Opportunities from Pop-Culture: More importantly than one’s personal opinion about the timelessness of the greatest television show on earth, connecting everyday elements of popular culture with the gospel opens doors for us to relate naturally to people who are asking deep questions. Kay is drawn to the show as a result of her passion for family and a desire to define what constitutes true belonging. She is thinking deeply and metaphorically about the underlying message in a television show and our mutual passion for that message created a gospel opportunity.   We should be looking for themes in pop culture that address the deeper spiritual needs the gospel addresses and actively look to connect those themes for others to the Jesus.
  2. Connecting with People around Common Passions: We can often effectively witness to others around us as we connect in everyday life with people. A simple trip to the hair stylist can turn into a gospel opportunity by discussing everyday passions and pastimes. At times, there are really no spiritual values in our random conversations (e.g. the weather) but looking for the Message in the normal stuff of life can open doors to explicate many gospel themes in ways that make sense to people and connect with their longing for more.
  3. Living in the Moment and Being Available: By making ourselves available to be used by God and actively looking to connect our witness and the gospel to where people are at, it is exponentially more likely that will have opportunities to share Christ than if we have no plan or posture of availability. While I didn’t sit down in that chair that day to connect my favorite television show to Jesus, I did sit down looking and waiting for a strategic opportunity to be a witness for Jesus and to articulate the gospel. Sometimes those opportunities come by talking about family values, life struggles, recent world events, and even a show about zombies. What is more important than how these gospel opportunities arise is the heart attitude and availability we have toward those around us.

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