Why I Enjoy Stephen King Novels (Even Though They Keep Me Up at Night)

ItPoster

For most of my life, I avoided the horror genre.

If I saw a poster with Freddy Krueger on the front, I struggled to sleep for a week. Classic horror monsters like the Creature from the Black Lagoon and Nosferatu gave me the heebie-jeebies. The giggling of the Green Ghosts from Scooby Doo could make my hair stand on end as a teenager (and even as an adult, if I’m completely honest). I couldn’t even be in the same room as my mom when she watched CSI or Law and Order, because I found those horrifying incidents as terrifying as any otherworldly creature.

I couldn’t handle these scary things. With anxiety, life itself is already plenty frightful. Give me a horror flick or book, and my overactive imagination would take those freaky scenarios, make me the main character, and turn the terror dial up to 11.

But this week, I am going into a crowded movie theater (with a friend) to see the latest adaptation of Stephen King’s It.

When the first trailer dropped, I watched it three times in one day. I followed all the news about its release, checked out all the behind the scenes and teaser photos, listened to cast interviews, and even watched a few leaked scenes online.

When something scares me, I research it like crazy. Spoilers have always been acceptable when it comes to scary things. I don’t want to be surprised. I don’t want to be a victim of “jump scares.” I want to know when every monster appearance will occur, when any victim breathes their last, when any twist comes out of no where.

But I never had a reason to research horror movies before. I just avoided them like the plague. Somehow, I found It’s premise and story fascinating enough to want to engage with it, despite (and even because of) my fear.

*****

It all began in 2016 as I was finishing up my final year of seminary. In an effort to really hone my craft, I read Stephen King’s On Writing. His tips were helpful, but more importantly, I fell in love with his writing style and storytelling voice. I wanted to keep hearing what that voice had to say.

I knew horror and I had an all but absent relationship, so before I went to the library, I set up a boundary: I would not read any of his books in my bed, in order to keep a bit of distance from me and the horrors. This often meant I would read on a mattress pad in my room below my bed, giving me at least one degree of separation, but eventually, I became so engrossed with the stories that I broke the boundary and read them until I fitfully fell asleep.

One of the first King books I read was ‘Salem’s Lot. It seemed like a safe choice. King’s monster in this one is vampires, and I figured an upbringing of Twilight and Buffy made me immune to vampire terror.

I slept with a cross by my bed for a week after I finished the book.

And yet, ‘Salem’s Lot, a story about “a vampire’s attempt to colonize a modern-day New England town,” is one of my favorite books.

*****

To pacify my fears, regarding the horror genre and my own anxieties, people often tell me they are “made up” and the products of a “dark imagination.” While I understand this to be true, I continue to believe in the scary things. That’s why I find them so damn scary.

I believe the darkest parts of our human brokenness can be made manifest physically, in everything from racist microaggressions to lynching, from “harmless” sexist jokes to rape and victim blaming, from “hating the sin but loving the sinner” to traumatizing LGBTQ+ people by putting them through “therapy.”

Because I believe in these very real horrors, I believe in the power of horrific symbols to help us better grapple with the ones we encounter everyday.

And that’s why I embraced Stephen King’s storytelling, not in spite of how much his writing haunts me, but because of how it does.

From shape-shifting clowns and colonizing vampires to abusive husbands and high school bullies, King confronts evil, both supernatural and terrestrial, head on.

King gives us the scary monsters to teach us how to deal with the real ones. He teaches us how to look the things that terrify us right in the eye, even if our bodies tremble as we do.

The scary stories, even more than the Church of my youth and beyond, taught me how to look evil in the eye and fight it.

‘Salem’s Lot taught me about the importance of forces of good combating against evil, even if that doesn’t necessarily mean an easy or immediate victory. The Stand helped me make peace with a chaotic world and an equally chaotic but just God. Revival kept me thinking about unbound science and untested religion long after my final seminary course. 11/22/63 reminded me of the dangers we inflict when we act on our own Messiah complexes.

And collectively, King’s stories taught me how to look white supremacists in the eye as I defended my friends of color from them, to know they were scary, but we were stronger than the fear they induced.

The Church of my youth taught me to avoid anything evil and monstrous, to put my hands over my ears when hell whispered at me. King taught me how to be bold and brave when the monsters broke loose and threatened to take over the world, and how to look into the depths of hell while pushing it back from whence it came.

So even though I’m freaking out about going to see It, I’m also encouraged that I will walk away not only with an adrenaline rush and a good story, but more strength and ability to deal with the world around me.

It will haunt me, and It will embolden me to keep showing up against evil in this world.

Thanks be to God.

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Mental Health Tips for Activists vs. What I Actually Do

Binge

1. Fast from social media, for minutes, hours, or even days at a time.

What I actually do: Refresh my Facebook and Twitter feeds all day every day, when I get anything resembling a breather or a break at work, or when I’m not stimulated enough by the world around me. You don’t want to miss anything after all, right? What kind of an activist would you be if you missed something BIG?

2. Designate time every day to practice deep breathing and meditation.

What I actually do: Hit snooze an extra ten times in the morning, because focused breathing is too much to ask me to do before 8 AM.

3. Meet with a therapist to process the highs and lows of your activism.

What I actually do: Drag my feet on finding a new therapist, because the new one “won’t be the same” (read, “as good as”) as my former one.

4. Make time to connect with friends and family. Whatever you do, don’t isolate yourself.

What I actually do: Hide in my room and binge-watch Netflix and binge-read Buzzfeed. 

5. Remember, self-care is an act of resistance. If you want to sustain yourself in the fight for justice, you must take care of yourself, and these steps (along with others) can help.

What I actually do: Allow “white guilt” (I’m sustaining an oppressive system and don’t deserve rest) to paralyze both my activism and my efforts and self-care while attempting to tell other people to do for themselves what I won’t do for myself.

Where Do I Begin?

Antifa

NY Magazine

Where do I begin?

Do I begin at St. Paul’s on Friday night, when the white supremacists surrounded a sanctuary of worship after beating up a gang of peaceful students, threatening and intimidating the people who came to answer the call of the God of justice?

Do I begin on Saturday morning, when the group with which I came couldn’t even get to Emancipation Park, the original site of the rally, because they knew they’d be marching to their arrests at best and their deaths at worst?

Do I begin when we finally got to the streets as the white supremacists were on their way out, and the white people put their bodies between the black and brown ones so the neo-Nazis couldn’t threaten them physically but could still taunt and demonize their sacred humanity?

Could I even begin when we got back to McGuffy Park after the white supremacists left and had a golden half hour of peace and joy, where we traded snacks and stories as if it were just a normal Saturday spent amongst friends?

Should I begin when we took to the streets again so we could meet some friends in need, when we marched and chanted and for a few shining moments held our fists up in victory?

Do I begin with the terror and chaos, the crashing cars, flying bodies, and screaming voices, of being separated from my group and not knowing if they were alive, injured or dead, of not knowing what the hell was going on except it was something awful?

Or must I start at the beginning of our nation’s history to unearth white supremacy’s origins, which have been embodied over and over again, from Native American genocide and slavery to Jim Crow laws and police brutality?

Where do I start? Where do I stop?

*****

DavidSmash

New York Times

The events are too much to recount. Should I begin with the people instead?

There was my main group, three activists from Black Lives Matter (BLM) and four from Showing Up for Racial Justice (SURJ). The BLM folks strategized where we would march and stationed themselves on the front lines during confrontations with the white supremacists. My fellow SURJ Care Bear and I provided snacks, water, and Aspirin to our Direct Action friends. Two SURJ de-escalators put their body between the three men in BLM and hoards of neo-Nazi, fascist white supremacists. We were seven brave souls doing God’s holy work of justice and mercy, demanding the acknowledgement of the sacred humanity of black and brown bodies, and handing out cough drops when the yelling broke our voices.

One of the BLM guys loved fruit snacks and always gave me a hug when I handed him a pack. He was always at the head of the pack when a confrontation with white supremacists occurred, at great risk to his own life. Another man had such a calm demeanor that I wondered what he was even doing there, until I heard him passionately chant and yell whenever he was on the front lines. Another carried a megaphone and led the whole community in our cries and made us double over with laughter at his witty one-liners. He’s a theater person like me, and he told me about the August Wilson play he’ll be performing in for which he hasn’t even begun to memorize his lines. (#Relatable).

My fellow Care Bear carried copious amounts of water and trail mix in her bag. Our de-escalators ran after our BLM comrades everywhere they went to make sure they stayed safe.

The so-called “evil” and “violent” Antifa prevented the white supremacists from beating clergy and stood by us when the alt-right passed us on the street, making sure we were safe and supported. They took control of the streets in the chaos following an act of terrorism, administering first aid and keeping people off the streets so fire trucks and ambulances could get through. We refused to go anywhere without them.

The people of SURJ made sure we all stayed together. After a terrorist drove through our fellow protesters and had us fleeing for our lives, they ensured that everyone was accounted for before seeking a safe house.

A seminary friend and community organizer prayed with my BLM friend after he witnessed the collision. Another seminary friend was the first familiar face I saw after escaping the chaos and the one I clung to in a desperate, terrified hug.

The family that housed my friends and I let us sleep on their furniture, breathe in their lavender and sage, gobble up their dark chocolate and honey, and rest in the sanctuary of a scenic and peaceful landscape after the chaos and hatred of the day.

In less than 24 hours, these people became my family and my great protectors.

I would march with them again any day.

*****

Is now the time to talk about returning home? Is this the end of the story?

On Saturday night, my fiance held me, the tension of watching and waiting finally over, his relief literally collapsing into me.

On Sunday, we watched movies and cooked meals together, and he kept looking at me and saying “You’re home,” as if he didn’t dare to believe it, because if circumstances had been different, it wouldn’t have been true.

On Monday morning, I used my prayer beads to pray in gratitude and in pain, for justice and for the steadying of my own heart, for myself to keep doing this holy, difficult, important work and for the families who have lost their loved ones to this same work.

On Monday afternoon, I went to work, and one of the first things I saw was my co-worker, a woman of color, leaving her lunch in tears because of a stray “…but don’t All Lives Matter” comment.

And then later that night, all my colleagues held a surprise bridal shower for me, and we ate cake, drank wine, and played Utter Nonesense for hours.

On Tuesday, I saw the posts and comments lumping my BLM friends and Antifa accomplices into the same category as those that threatened to and even succeeded at killing them. I read everything from “they’re the flip side of the same coin” to “everyone is equally responsible for making this happen,” as if our very presence in the face of evil was something to demonize and condemn.

Despite giving evidence that the BLM chapter of Charlottesville committed no violent acts, despite video footage of white supremacists viciously attacking people of color and other protesters, they didn’t listen. The president condemned us all and gave us a name associated with the evil we had encountered, as if we were worse than them.

And to add to the heartbreak and pain, to poison an already salted wound, the people saying and accepting these falsehoods claim the same “Christian” title I do.

We’re barely halfway through a new week, only days separated from Charlottesville, and still the tensions simmer. Still, the battles continue, not on the streets, but in the office and over Facebook and even in our own homes.

Now that I’m home, how do I keep fighting? Must I fight my own people?

Where do I start? When does it end?

*****

Do I conclude with a prayer, a prophecy, or a call to action?

Do I conclude with anything, or do I just let this be?

Do I tell you what to do next, or do I leave the choice up to you?

Do I remind you that real activism isn’t fuzzy hats and fuzzy feelings but hard, heartbreaking work that isn’t about you at all?

Do I dare give you an ending when this is far from over?

Geeking Out is Hard to Do

Melanie Biehle

As of late, fulfilling the “geeking out” part of my blog title has been difficult.

I haven’t been able to buy comic books since I can barely afford rent and food. Instead of re-reading Harry Potter, I’m reading The Hate U Give and The Autobiography of Malcolm X to wake up to the issues people of color in our country face. I also can’t binge-watch anything because I gave up Netflix for Lent, and in turn, they’re getting rid of Buffy on April 1st (seriously, God, what’s the deal with that?).

On the surface, the geeking out isn’t happening. But at the same time, it’s alive and well.

I am reading, analyzing, and studying the books on my Black Lives Matter reading list in order to better understand the pain, hope, and calls to action in these stories.

I am engaging in politics by studying legislation and political processes, and calling my representatives to attempt to engage in the conversation with them, even though this isn’t going so well with my current house rep…

I watch news stories, read commentaries, and try my best to have conversations about these passions without attempting to correct everyone on why they’re wrong.

This is where things get difficult…

Some might think calling this “geeking out” minimizes the important work being done in these movements and makes it sound more like a hobby of mine than an actual struggle in which to engage.

But it’s the best term I can think of to describe how passionate I am about engaging with this, to be as devoted as I am to my these phenomenal works of human effort in ways similar to and more dynamic than the devotion I show to most favorite and fandoms.

These are human stories and lives, and they deserve my and our fullest attention and devotion.

So geek out over politics if it makes you engage in them with thought and articulation. Geek out over social justice if it moves you into solidarity and alliances with people who want the same rights as the most privileged in our society. Talk with people about how to rewrite the damaging narratives in our society into a grand reality in which we see each other as equals and embrace our differences as things to be celebrated, not shunned.

Geek out by writing your stories of worlds only you could dream so we can see the beauty in our own world. Geek out by writing your own story to show others they do not struggle and yearn alone. Geek out by creating art which inspires us to be and do better, to give us comfort and peace in the midst of anxiety and uncertainty, to make us remember how good laughter and tears are for our souls, to put us inside the skin of another and see the world through their eyes and gain a little empathy.

Geek on, friends. We need this passion not only to survive, but to thrive.

Fire in Our Bones

fire

Christianity Today

“I will not mention his word or speak anymore in his name,” his word is in my heart like a fire, a fire shut up in my bones. I am weary of holding it in; indeed, I cannot.”

Jeremiah 20:9

There is fire within all of us. It can refine, and it can consume until nothing is left. The fire can warm us, and it can burn us.

Fire escapes containment. It spreads, and it tends to do on the outside what it is doing on the inside. If it is refining us, it can refine others. If it is consuming us, it can completely consume others. If it is warming us, it can warm the minds, bodies, and souls of others. If it is burning us, it can hurt others.

I struggle to keep my own flames in check. My passion can burn bright and warm people into action. It can also reach points which harm myself and those closest to me.

This is why prayer, rest, community, reading, and laughter are crucial. These practices keep the flames burning while preventing them from destroying me, which in turn can prevent me from burning friends, family, and allies in harmful ways.

In my very limited time of political involvement, I’ve realized the importance of maintaining these flames. I try to keep the fire at refining levels when I talk to my representative and senators. I let the fire burn with power at marches and meetings without allowing it to burn me to a crisp.

But the fire of passion threatens to turn into destructive hate when I hear naysayers and snowflake-accusers tell us as a movement to “get over ourselves,” “accept results,” and “just wait and see how things happen.”

Don’t they understand?

We have waited. Things are happening, and we oppose them. Things are happening that affect not only my family, but other American families. Things are happening which threaten our humanity, because they threaten the humanity of many. My liberation is bound up in the liberation of those on the margins. As long as they continue to be threatened, I continue to be threatened.

When I hear these attacks, I feel the passionate, beautiful fire in me change into hateful, destructive embers. I begin to feel the flames consuming my soul.

The best I can do to control this dangerous fire is to remind myself over and over that this is not all about me. Yes, I march, call, and write because the holy fire in me compels me to, and it’s part of what makes me a child of God. But I also do this work because of the Divine Image in every person I do and don’t encounter.

I do this work for the Divine Image in my cousin’s little girl Rylan, who celebrates her first birthday today; for the Divine Image of my sisters and brother, that they may live in a world which regards them with love, not suspicion; and for the Divine Image in the refugee detained at the airport, who only wants to begin life anew after witnessing so much destruction.

I do this work because of the Divine Image present in every single human being affected by fear-based policies, for the Black Lives Matter activists who demand just treatment of their divinely made bodies, and for the parents fearful of losing healthcare coverage because their Divine child has certain disabilities. I do this work, as hard as it can be, for the Divine Image present in those who enact these policies and in those who approve them, because they need to see the Divine Image in those affected by the laws they sign.

I do this work to remind my fellow citizens, as well as candidates, delegates, mayors, representatives, senators, cabinet members, and the President to see their own Divine Image, even when it’s disfigured beyond recognition. I want to call that Image out of them so they may see it, because maybe the act of seeing the Divine in themselves will cause them to notice, honor, and endorse the Image in everyone else, especially those they want to keep out.

I worry if we forget Whose we are and why we’re here, we’ll lose our souls. We’ll lose what makes us human, the love, compassion, and mercy God gives each of us, which is more than enough for everyone. I cry out to prevent us putting up walls, promoting fear and hatred, and singling people out as scapegoats, because these actions further damage our humanity.

I worry the act of forgetting our Image will cause us to lose our God-gifted love, compassion, and mercy, and I worry what such a loss will do to my actual Muslim brother, sisters, and parents, my black and brown brothers and sisters, my LGBTQ family, and this human race.

So my challenge to those who believe walls and vetting will save us is this:

Take the fire within you which ignites fear and hatred, and allow it to burn with love and hope. Let it kill the parts which hang on to misguided ideas of “other” and let it push you into life with those you once feared.

My challenge to those resisting and calling out the powers that is this:

Let the fire burn in you. Don’t let it be dimmed by onslaughts of negativity. Let the fire keep you going, and let it warm those who are hurting.

And to those already dealing with the negative repercussions of these policies and all of the ones which came before, I say this to you:

I see your Divine Image. I hear your Divine Cries. Let your fire live and burn bright. We are in this together.

For the sake of our humanity, for the sake of the precious Image of God in us, let the fire burn.

 

Sorry I’m Late: Showing Up for Justice after Ignoring the Invitations

rsvp

Broomwithaview.com

I read recently how protesting and resisting systemic evil in Trump’s America is like finally showing up to a party after numerous invitations and delays.

Organizations like Black Lives Matter, the ACLU, the International Rescue Committee, and other activist groups have known of this corruption for a much longer time than most of us privileged people. Some were born into this system and have been pushing back from an early age. Others “got woke” and caught the memo as early as they could and jumped right into action.

I, on the other hand, showed up to this “party” beyond fashionably late.

I made plenty of excuses in the process, too.

I didn’t know if anyone I knew would be there. I didn’t know what to say when I showed up, because I didn’t know if I would understand what everyone was saying and didn’t want to make any more social faux pas than I already do.

I also didn’t know what to bring. Should I keep it cheap and bring a bag of chips or actually go through the effort of preparing a tasty entree? Should I buy a little gift on the way or make something crafty and impressive so everyone there would know my presence was legitimate?

I didn’t know how to deal with my own power and privilege in these contexts, either. I didn’t know if I could voice my insights or if I should let everyone else do the talking. Would I be too “white,” too “hetero,” or too privileged to even have a reason to be there? Would people think I was there to fulfill my Messiah-complex? Would I know if that was my reason?

More than being uncomfortable with messing up, though, I didn’t want to arrive needing to learn anything. I wanted to arrive fully prepared and ready to do everything just right, as if I were the host and the leader, not the one invited to be led.

So instead of being with and learning from those who are most oppressed, I read articles and posted tweets. I wrote about social justice from my perspective, and while I mentioned the marginalized, I didn’t learn too much about their own perspectives. When I did read their words, I let my own guilt and shame push me away from their pain instead of deeper into it.

Finally, after the election, I began to realize I no longer cared (as much) if I said or did the wrong things as long as I said and did something. I began to honestly acknowledge my role, not to lead and take over, but to follow and learn from those affected most by these evils.

I finally showed up to the party, and I felt a little awkward.

I arrived with my bag of chips in hand and a sheepish grin on my face, all apologetic for my tardiness, and tried to figure out how to take part in the festivities.

I know I don’t get the head seat, which as a natural leader bothers me. I don’t get to call all the shots, which as an outspoken person discomforts me. I have to listen and learn more than I interject and teach, and my desire to control and be “right” are going to make this so difficult and so necessary.

I am so terribly late, and it will take me a while to feel comfortable with the crowd. It’s going to take some time for me to stop berating myself for showing up as late as I did, and to own my lateness without letting it own me.

In that time, though, I will listen to, learn from, and live with those on the front lines as a no-longer absent ally.

So to those with whom I am marching, protesting, and resisting, who have been doing this work a lot longer than I: Thank you for the invitation and for still opening the door and welcoming me in when you had every right to tell me to hit the road. Thank you for giving me the grace to learn and be here with you.

I’m sorry ahead of time for the things I will say that will show how much learning about I still have to do. I’m sorry for the times I will unintentionally step on your toes and try to be the leader when I am called to be the follower. I can only hope you will forgive me and extend grace my way, even when I don’t deserve it, in your own way and time.

Above all, know I am here with you because you are made in the sacred image of God, and I want to honor the divinity within you as well as I can.

Thank you for letting me join with you as an ally.

To those in my shoes, all tied up in power and privilege, wanting to be part of this but unsure exactly how, get involved anyway you can. March, protest, talk to your representatives.

Most of all, talk with and be among those whom these policies most affect, because they will be the ones to lead these movements and make change happen, because their lives and livelihoods are on the line.

Listen to and learn from them. Don’t try to lead. Instead, follow. Let them be the leaders of their own movements. Be allies instead of saviors.

You’re going to make mistakes. Of course you are. We all do. Be quick to apologize, quick to learn, and quick to move forward.

May God be with us, and may we be with each other, in the victories and pitfalls.

*****

To learn more about being involved in social change as a privileged person, check out Christena Cleveland’s upcoming series, How to be last:  A practical theology for privileged people.