Listen To Article
I have five episodes left to watch in the eleventh and final season of The Walking Dead. I watch this show not because I like gore (I don’t), but because I am fascinated by the way that people structure society in the wake of an apocalypse. The horror of this show began with the blood-thirsty zombies, but the true horror emerged in the form of the power-hungry leaders of the little communities that sprung up after the dead started walking.
Some of the leaders were obviously evil—hedonistic and feared by even their closest followers. Others had beneficent and attractive images with sinister motives or dark hidden hobbies. What makes this show great, in my opinion, is the complexity of the central and most beloved characters. Even the best of them weren’t perfect leaders (and some of the worst of them went through transformation). They all struggled to walk the line between self-preservation and serving the common good, between protecting the few people in their immediate families or the many people in the groups they’d taken responsibility for.
As the show twists to its end, the main characters find themselves in yet another corrupt community. There is a narrow window of time within which they need to decide whether to stay or to go. In episode 19, Princess (aka Juanita), a strong and feisty young woman, is gathering her things to leave. Ezekiel, a kind sage, is planning to stay.
Princess: Crazy s- – – is happening, man.
Ezekiel: All the more reason to stay! … People want change. What better time to fight for it than when the powers that be are frightened, huh?
Princess: Well maybe I don’t feel like fighting. Maybe this place looks all nice and wants us to think they’re cool, but really, underneath, it sucks. Maybe they’re not worth holding on to.
Ezekiel: … Most folks are trying to make the best of what’s in front of ‘em. …
Princess: Yeah, well, maybe this time, I deserve more than just the best of a bad situation.
Later in this episode, Princess is making her case to leave with an insider of the corrupt community – an insider with whom she had fallen in love.
Mercer: I don’t want you to leave.
Princess: I kind of have to.
Mercer: ‘Cause of me?
Princess: Yeah. No. Maybe. Look, you’re great. Really. But…
Mercer: But what?
Princess: I just… I gotta get out of here. … It’s all such a s- – – show.
Mercer: I know. This place ain’t perfect. Neither am I. But you’ve been out there. You’ve seen what’s waiting. It could be a lot worse.
Princess: Don’t. Don’t say that.
Mercer: Well, am I wrong?
(Princess tells the story of her life before the dead started walking. Her stepfather and stepbrother beat her and locked her in a closet for hours on end.)
Princess: And all I’d hear was, “Juanita, there’s a roof over your head. Juanita, the bills are paid. Juanita, it could be worse.” Well, you know what? F- – – that thinking. It could be better, too. It should be. Right?
As I watch all the main characters weigh their options, I see the lines they are walking. They want to be faithful to their companions, to their ideals, and to their need for survival. But they know that they can’t be faithful to all of these at the same time. Some want to stay because they think it really is the best place to be – at least they have a roof over their head. Others want to stay to work subversively from the inside. Still others stay even though they know they could be executed for their attempt to expose the corruption. Some want to leave because they are afraid, or because they feel called to a different battle, or because they hope for something better.
Obviously, I am not going to draw any direct parallels between the Walking Dead universe and the CRC universe, but this whole show – and this episode in particular – asks the questions many of us are asking now. How do we organize ourselves in the midst of crisis? How do we honour the multiple callings on our lives – calls to unity and diversity, decency and good order, authenticity and integrity, our families and our neighbours? How do we have truthful and loving conversations with the marginalized and the powerful—as the marginalized and the powerful?
Some want to stay because it still seems like the best place to be. Some want to stay because of the measure of protection and comfort they experience here. Some want to stay to work for change from the inside. Some will be rejected, even as they stay – and still, they will stay.
Some have left or will leave on account of fear or exhaustion or the hope for something different or better.
Some will make the best of what’s in front of them. Others will find new frontiers. Some have Plan As, Plan Bs, Plan Cs. First ways, Second ways, Third ways. Others of us are so completely disoriented, we can hardly find the horizon.
I’ve been carrying that disorientation with me in my in-between time. It flew with me on a flight to Grand Rapids last week and settled with me into my king size hotel bed, the night before I attended a Colossian Wayfinder training. And that night I had a dream. In my dream, I (and not my sister) was the one with brain cancer. And Mister Rogers was there. And he came to me and held my hand and sang a song with me and for me. I woke up filled with gratitude and peace.
While attending the training, I happened to meet a man who was the editor of the Fred Rogers documentary, Won’t You Be My Neighbor? I could not withhold the joy of the confluence. I told him about my dream and he responded with grace and curiosity. He said, “What song did Fred sing in your dream?” And I couldn’t remember exactly, but I said, “I think it was some combination of his song, Many Ways to Say I Love You with Ave Maria.”
We’ll assume that Mother Mary and Mister Rogers have both encouraged me to ponder things in my heart – and set that aside. But the song Many Ways to Say I Love You has been in my head all week and today I find it connecting to the multiplicity of callings and discernments my colleagues and friends are facing right now.
There are many ways to say I love you.
There are many ways to say I care about you.
Many ways, many ways, many ways to say I love you.
There are many ways to say I love you.
Just by being there when things are sad and scary…
Just by being there, being there, being there to say I love you.
Cleaning up a room can say I love you.
Hanging up a coat before you’re asked to do it.
Drawing special pictures for the holidays.
And making plays.
You’ll find many ways to say I love you.
You’ll find many ways to understand what love is.
Many ways, many ways, many ways to say I love you.
There are many ways to move forward in love. Not unlimited ways, of course. Princess’s stepdad might have said he loved her, but that was not love. If we’re wondering whether we’re loving as well as we can, we might ask the person we love if they are experiencing our love as love. If they are not, we must try another way. Because we could do worse, but we could do better. We should do better. Loving is something we must grow better at; it’s something we must learn to do well.
After Mister Rogers sung this song in an episode of his program in 1991, he said this:
As you grow, I trust that you are finding many more ways to show and tell people that you love them. Those are the most important things that you’ll ever learn to do. Because loving people and animals and the world we all live in is the most important part of being alive.
Header photo by New Zealand of Pexels
I wonder why it doesn’t say this in our Church Order: The first purpose of a Classis is to love its congregations, and the first purpose of a Synod is to love its Classes? Why is love so peripheral to our church structures and realities, as some sort of nice extra instead of the very fabric itself? Why do we church people have so few ways to say, I love you? So thanks for this. Apropos in so many ways.
This is an excellent wondering/suggestion, Daniel!
Thank you for this.
Thank you for putting all these elements together and sharing them with us. I am reminded of Krista Tippett’s assertion that we need love, not merely tolerance, to be the ideal and practice in the public square.
Compelling. Thought provoking. Artfully written. Thank you, Heidi, for your insight reflection. Again. I find your insights helpful.
I love this so much, thank-you Heidi!
My heart sings when I see your name in print and read your words . Thank you for sharing your thoughts and wisdom. Really showing love and not just saying the words – the frosting on the cake – what a difference that can make.
Thank you Heidi. Thanks Daniel for the additional comment. I haven’t watched “The Walking Dead,” but I can’t help but wonder, in pure ignorance, if the “Walking Dead” are the zombies or the human beings that survived the apocalypse. I’m watching “The Last of Us,” and I can’t help but think it’s asking the same question, although episode 3 offered an amazing picture of what love in its many complexities could look like in the midst of “the end.” Thanks again
Indeed. You can read what I wrote in my “Lament” in the Banner. I’m still torn. It hurts to go; it hurts to stay. So many of these decisions hinge on the question of pain tolerance. How much pain in staying can you take before you have to leave?
I used to look forward to Sunday mornings. Now they hang over me.
Blessings wherever you may go.
It’s not the grievous actions that is the problem. It’s the lack of understanding and empathy that makes us fail to listen and reach out to offer support and comfort. We cause great harm when we insist that we are right making us lose the humility that is required in order to be pastoral.
How I savor the lyricism, insight, gentle courage of your singular voice, Heidi. As one who at one time rehearsed in Fred Rogers’ Neighborhood I often thought of it as what a church could be.
Thank you so much.