If you need any more evidence that people crave something holy, eternal and life-giving, then go to your nearest movie theater and count the hoards of people in a mad rush to see the new “Twilight” movie.
The intensity with which these books and movies gather followers can mean only one thing; eternity remains a deep and inescapable desire of the human soul and psyche, and if you don’t find it in religion, your heart will surely seek it elsewhere. Eternity, after all, is the defining attribute of the vampire–or vampyre, depending on your medium. Conflicted and tortured though they seem, vampires remain sexy, exciting, and in some small way, enviable. From Stoker to Stephenie, those who pen these novels understand, in every age, the allure of life everlasting.
Of course, vampire stories also deal with literature’s unholy trinity; sex, death and otherness. Vampires embody the three mortal fears at the heart of all human drama, all human tragedy. Tensions around sex, death, and the Other compel the best and worst of our capabilities, relationships and even our desire to procreate. The best storytellers know these three tales of darkness and light. And when they want to tell all three in one fell swoop of wings and cape, they can only tell it with vampires.
Now, I’m more of a Sookie Stackhouse girl myself; more of the sex and death without all the hormonal angst of high school. Besides, its southern setting gives even more power to the dreaded trinity. No place in the world is that trio more prevelant and less talked about than in the Bible belt. The vampires that roam that part of the county don’t terrorize alone. They’re accompanied by centuries of bigotry, sexism, homophobia and general hatred of the other, often in the name of something holy.
Each series has its own band of faithful disciples who find something deeply needful fulfilled in the vampire story. That need lies beyond escapism and entertainment. To be loved by a vampire is to somehow cheat death, and that has all the appeal in the world to anyone seeking life.
With threats of terror, pandemic and economic disaster on every side, people are desperate for something that transcends the current circumstances, something more lasting than the day. And most of them seek it anywhere but the Church because of our deep and long-standing failure to deal with the trinity. Not Van Helsing’s trinity, but the big scary one. Sex. Death. Other.
Stephenie Meyer has found a better way to tell the story that people so desperately need to hear: that love can transcend time and place; that life exists beyond what we know; and that nothing–not sex, death, or the most untouchable thing about us–nothing can seperate us from the love, the life, the endlessness that we seek.
There’s nothing wrong with seeking these assurances in fantasy. That’s how great–and even just ok–literature is born. But if the world seeks this fantasy because the Church can’t provide the reality, then we are not long for this world. And not even the dreamiest of undead boyfriends will be able to revive us (call him Edward if you want–he’ll always be Cedric to me…)
In many ways, the mainline progressive Church appears to be living its twilight years. But perhaps there’s an invitation to eternal life, an opening for the story that we long to tell. When the world is so hungry–or thirsty, as it were–for eternity, for love that crosses boundaries, then opportunity knocks. But like every undead dreamboat from Dracula to Edward, it must be invited in. Are we ready to tell the story of how love lives and breathes in the face of our darkest fears? Or will we cling a little more tightly to our garlic cloves and crosses?
Our neighbors crave a little bit of darkness. But what they’re truly after is the light that refuses to be overcome by it; the light of grace, of sacrifice, and of life everlasting. The light of love that reaches even the most threatening and unlovable among us. There’s a rush to bookstores and theaters because, most days, fictional, fantastical characters tell that story better than Christians. Vampires are far easier to love than a body that claims to live forever, but just keeps driving nails, driving away the other.
In the coming decade, the Church’s ability to deal with matters of sexuality, mortality, and difference in a way that reflects the love of Christ will determine our will to live. Our response will mean the final nail in our coffin, or the wide open, empty tomb. It is apparent that our neighbors seek good news. They long for love that transcends time and place, that does not die, and that reaches out to every unspeakable, untouchable ill we can dream of. I think I heard a story like that once… Its time we bring it back from the dead.