Zombies Vs. Jesus, commentary

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Let me begin with a disclaimer: I don’t like zombie movies. 

That’s not to say I’m biased against the undead. I just don’t like horror movies in general. Or tear-jerkers. The way I see it, terror and sadness are two emotions I try to avoid in my daily life, so why would watch something that would induce them?

And yet I wrote a script called “Zombies Vs. Jesus.” Let me tell you why.

I was asked to write something that dealt with the theme of, “The Healing Power of the Eucharist.” My first script had a boy wake up one morning and everything the faced turned into a battle of some sort. The mother said he couldn’t have a car and then threw a grenade at him. His girlfriend broke up with him and then he had a ninja sword battle with her. At the end of the day he crawled into the chapel and cried, “Medic!” A priest came and gave him the Eucharist, healing his wounds and giving him strength to go and fight the “battle of his life.”

But that was deemed too violent. So I wrote about zombies.

Honestly, I didn’t think in a million years it would be accepted and was already trying to figure out another script idea when I got the call that they loved it.

The heart of the script was that sin makes us “the living dead” but through the Eucharist we are restored. Knowing that zombies like to eat flesh, I thought there was a cool parallel that our souls desire to eat flesh, too—the flesh of Jesus Christ.

Many of the scripts I write end up verbatim on the screen or with minimal changes. I would say of all the scripts I’ve written so far this one went through the most changes. And in this case, I think that’s a great thing.

Like I said, I don’t watch horror movies and I don’t do zombies. My original script was more of a parody of the genre. But the team that put this film together (Spirit Juice Studios and Outside Da Box Productions) did an excellent job of taking what I wanted to say and creating a tenser and grittier film that I would have been able to write on my own. It’s the result of a great artistic collaboration and I’m happy to have been a part of it.

But I’m really interested to know… What do you think?

On the Feast of St. Peter and Paul

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Today is the feast day of St. Peter and Paul and, with no offense to St. Paul, I’m a big fan of the original “Rock.” At the Mass today we read when St. Peter was the first to proclaim Jesus as Messiah, and in honor of that event I share this excerpt from my novel, Between the Savior and the Sea:

They were almost six months away from the Passover feast and Jesus was concerned. He knew exactly what would await him there, but that’s not what he was worried about.

The apostles weren’t ready.

They had shown little progress over the past twelve months. He had prayed that one of them, any of them, would understand who he was. But so far, his prayers to his Father had gone unanswered.

He led them north and they came upon the city of Caesarea Philippi. It took them about a week to get there, and they were tired from the rugged terrain.

The sun was still high in the sky, so Jesus knew they could make it to another town by nightfall. He told them to sit down and eat. Though happy for a chance to rest, Jesus could see the apostles were not comfortable to linger here. Caesarea was to the Gentiles what Jerusalem was to the Jews. It was their holy site, and people traveled thousands of miles to offer sacrifice to their gods.

Jesus looked up at the huge rock wall that the city was built against. In one part of the cliff, a large cave opened up into a bottomless pit. The Gentiles thought it was a gateway to hell. King Herod’s father built a large and beautiful temple dedicated to the god Pan and set it against this opening, so that sacrifices from the temple could easily be thrown into it. Jesus heard the cries of goats and lambs echo off the rock as they descended into “hell”, followed by the cheers of Gentiles who felt their god was appeased.

Statues of Greek gods were everywhere, especially that of Pan. He had cloven hoofs and played the pipe, dancing with a look of mischief on his face.

“Who is Pan the god of?” Simon asked.

“Shepherds and sheep,” Bartholomew said.

Almost as if on cue, a shepherd passed by followed by thirty or forty sheep, heading into town toward the temple.

“I have a feeling many of those sheep won’t make it back alive,” Philip said. The others laughed.

Jesus watched the flock closely as it passed. “I tell you the truth, anyone who does not enter the sheepfold by the gate, but climbs in some other way, is a thief and a bandit. But the one who enters through the gate is the shepherd of the flock. The sheep hear his voice, and one by one he calls them and leads them out. They will never follow a stranger, because they don’t recognize the voice of strangers.”

He turned to look at his apostles. Blank, confused expressions were on their faces. Will they ever understand?

“I am the gate,” he said. “All who have come before me are thieves and bandits, and they have come only to steal, kill, and destroy. But I have come that they may have life and have it to the full. Anyone who enters in through me will be safe and find good pasture.”

He looked at the statue of Pan that hovered over them in a portico against the wall. “I am the good shepherd,” Jesus said, “and the good shepherd lays down his life for his sheep. I know my own, and my own know me.”

The apostles nodded as if they understood, but Jesus wasn’t convinced. Do you really know me? he wondered.

It was time to find out.

“Who do people say that I am?” Jesus asked.

Judas immediately spoke up. “Some say that you are Elijah…” It seemed as though Judas wanted to say more, or maybe wanted Jesus to react to the statement. When he didn’t, Judas looked around at the others and awkwardly sat down.

“I have heard people say you are John the Baptist back from the dead,” Philip said.

“One person thought you were Jeremiah, if you can believe that,” Little James said. Some of them laughed.

“What about you?” Jesus asked. “Who do you say that I am?”

An uneasy silence fell over the apostles.

Bartholomew stood and bowed to him. “You are a great prophet,” he said. “If I may say, one of the greatest in all of Israel. And we are honored to serve you.” The others nodded in agreement.

It was a bold proclamation and Jesus took it graciously. He looked around to see if anyone had something else to say. Everyone was still except for Judas and Simon. Judas looked anxiously around. Simon looked flushed and sweated profusely.

Jesus sighed. The greatest in all of Israel, he thought. At least they are getting closer. “Let us go,” he said. Jesus stood and turned to gather his things, and the others began to as well.

 

From the moment Jesus asked the question, Simon’s heart began to race. But he didn’t dare speak. His face grew red and he felt sweat roll down his back. When the others began to gather their things, Simon’s heart screamed to him: SAY IT!

He could bear the voice no longer. Simon stood up and burst out, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God!”

Everyone froze, including Jesus who was turned away from him at that moment. Simon gasped for air, only then realizing that he had been holding his breath since Jesus asked the question.

Jesus turned and Simon did not know what to expect. He looked as surprised as the others. Then Jesus bowed his head and put his hands together over his mouth as if in prayer. He opened his arms wide and looked radiantly into the sun as if to say: thank you. Then he turned his gaze upon Simon.

“Blessed are you!” he cried out. “Simon, son of Jonah, you are a blessed man!” And he walked up to him and gripped his shoulders. Simon stood as one dead, unsure of what was going on. “My Father spoke to you, didn’t he? You didn’t get this from any man, but my Father in heaven.”

The Father? Was that the voice he heard on the boat?

Jesus hugged him and Simon found the strength to return the embrace. Jesus looked around at the others and then toward the large rock face that dominated Caesarea’s landscape. “You are no longer to be called Simon,” he said to him. “I say this to you, you are Peter, the rock, and upon this rock I will build my church.”

As if to compete with the sacred moment, the wail of an animal was heard, followed by the cheers of those who had thrown it into the pit. Jesus looked toward the temple of Pan and proclaimed, “And the gates of hell will not prevail against this church!”

He then turned his attention solely toward Simon, who fell on his knees before Jesus just as he did when he first called him on the boat. But this time, no words could come to his mouth.

You are the Messiah, Simon said to himself, reviling in the wonder of it all.

Jesus put his hands on Simon and blessed him. “Peter, I will give you the keys to the kingdom of heaven. Whatever you bind on earth will be bound there, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven.”

Simon looked up at him in amazement. He wasn’t completely sure what was happening, but knew in his heart that his life would never be the same. Jesus looked at him with such joy and love that Simon wished he could gaze upon that face forever. His mind had thousands of questions, but his heart had never felt such peace.

Jesus raised him up and they embraced again. Simon turned and looked at the others. They seemed frozen in shock.

“You are the Messiah…” John said.

Jesus smiled and nodded.

John jumped up and down. “You are the MESSIAH!”

Jesus held out his hands to silence him. “Be quiet and tell no one about this. There is more for you to know. But here,” he said as he glanced around at the surrounding statues, “is not the place. Let us go.”

15 Years Ago Today…

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15 years ago today, I got married to my best friend. I can confidently say it was the second best decision of my life.

The first one, obviously, was to follow Jesus.

And so today Jennie and I are doing what every couple should do to celebrate 15 years of marriage. We’re moving her mother from one apartment to another. Not very romantic per se, but still an act of genuine love.

In honor of our anniversary I’m happy to repost our story of the Pledge Card, which a few of you have asked for since I moved to the WordPress site.

The Pledge Card

I consciously gave my life to Jesus when I was 14 years old. I didn’t know all there was to know about the faith (still don’t) but I knew a few important things: I shouldn’t steal stuff, I shouldn’t lie, I should go to Church every Sunday, and I should save sex for marriage. So I made a commitment to stay a virgin until I got married.

Sounds noble, right? Well, in the spirit of full disclosure I must admit that at that age no girl had even remotely desired to sleep with me. I was the freshman in high school who shows up and you wonder who let the sixth graders in. Girls didn’t find me attractive and I didn’t like them much either (being a fan of a lot of D&D and fantasy books, my ideal woman was an Elven princess who knew karate and was good with a knife—a standard most 13 and 14 year old Catholic school girls don’t live up to).

As time went on, I did attract some girlfriends (playing guitar helped) and I entered the exciting world of male/female romance.

How did I do? Not well. My sincere apologies to those who had the misfortune of dating me.

The biggest thing that hindered positive relationships for me was I understood virginity but hadn’t a clue about chastity. Chastity is the virtue of sexual purity. I might not have had sex… but I wasn’t sexually pure either. And so I really made a mess of things, hurting myself and the women I dated.

A turning point came in 1994. I had just graduated college and was dating a wonderful Christian girl. I had it in my mind that she might be THE ONE and we had even entertained some conversations about marriage. We both loved the Lord and prayed together but were clearly confused about the chastity thing.

Then I went to a conference where I heard a speaker give an amazing talk about what chastity really was. It was not a restriction—it was a gift! God desires us to live in purity so we can have the greatest expression (and experience) of love. As I looked back on my life, I realized how things were at the worst when I was at my most unchaste. Chastity was there to protect beautiful relationships, while sexual activity confuses and destroys them.

I was thrilled to hear the truth. I felt so liberated! They passed out “Chastity Pledge” cards and I hastily filled one out, putting my name and the date on it. I got an extra one for my girlfriend, bought her a copy of the talk on cassette (yes, that’s what we used back then) and mailed it to her with great excitement. She also loved the message and we committed ourselves to a pure and chaste relationship. I was more convinced than ever that she was THE ONE.

Six months later we broke up.

Sexual activity is like a drug and when we got “sober” we realized that there were things about each other that were downright annoying. I was thankful to realize this, at least in my mind. But my heart was furious. I desired love. I thought she was THE ONE. And that stupid card blew it!

18 months later, I’m dated another girl with bright blue eyes and curly hair. I finally understood with her what it meant to have a chaste relationship and I wished I had been that way with every relationship I had! One day, after a few months of dating, we were praying together when I opened my bible and the Pledge Card fell out.

Though I had not forgotten my commitment to be chaste, I forgot the card was there. I remember feeling embarrassed to see it. I’m not sure why. I wasn’t embarrassed about my commitment to chastity—this girl had the same commitment. Maybe it was because it reminded me of her, THE ONE. I signed that card thinking it would bless and protect the relationship I had with the girl I thought would be my future wife. Instead, it destroyed it.

My new girlfriend picked up the card and it looked as though she was going to cry. She reached in her bible and pulled out her chastity pledge card. “Look!” she said. I nodded. She had a Pledge Card, too. Lots of people had.

She could tell I was missing her point. “Look closer,” she said, handing me both cards.

I looked at them. They weren’t just both pledge cards, they were the exact same card. From the same conference. On the same date.

When I was in one corner of the room, committing myself to God and my future spouse to stay pure for my marriage, she was in another corner of the room, pledging the same thing.

We were married a year later.

Our God is a God of faithfulness. “‘Yes, I know the plans I have for you,’ says the Lord, ‘plans for peace, not for disaster, to give you a future full of hope.’” (Jeremiah 29:11) When we give Him the most intimate parts of our lives, He gives us His most intimate blessing. So, “Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and lean not on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge Him, and He will make your paths straight.” (Proverbs 3:5-6)