Unlike Twilight, Two Vampires That Are Actually Scary

Last week, during a rare kid-free day, I went with my wife to see the final installment of the Twilight franchise. It was part of an even rarer midday date that included lunch at Longhorn’s (which we got for free thanks to a gift card and an awesome coupon) and some Christmas shopping. Despite Bill Condon’s efforts to make the denouement action-packed and epic, I personally left the theater hating the film and hating the newly-turned vampire Bella even more.

Put it to you this way: when you actively root for the main character to die, or at the very least suffer a gross dismemberment, the movie has failed on many fronts.

Now, I’m certainly not the movie’s target audience, so my dislike of the film won’t mean a thing. But I did come away thinking that the vampires presented in Twilight are not scary. At all. Even when the climactic battle scene began, I never once felt anything approximating fear (unless you count a general unease at the realization that they would never let Bella die).

There are several fascinating directions you can go with this realization (the presentation of evil as something benign or heroic, the continued wuss-ification of traditional villains, etc) but I was mainly concerned with this one thought:

I know of two real-life vampires that are far scarier than Edward and Bella.

The first is fairly obvious, though many people don’t think of it: the emotional vampire. An emotional vampire is a person who drains you of your time, energy and joy for life. They accomplish this in various ways: being needy 24/7; ignoring their own faults while claiming victimhood to the faults of others; persistent negativity; serial disregard for how their actions (or inactions) affect others; or, as my friend would say, just “general dirtbaggery”.

Sometimes people are aware that they are emotional vampires; quite often, though, they are not. Dealing with them depends a lot on your personality type, but I can tell you one method of coping that usually doesn’t work — trying to make them see their vampirism. At best you can get them to admit that maybe they have some issues, but rarely can you get them to truly own their problem.

The second vampire is a little less well-known, but real nonetheless: the vampire If. Or, if you prefer, the vampire What If. This ethereal creature inhabits our waking and unconscious minds and renders us paralyzed. It drains us of life, energy, and hope. It can come in many forms — from good things like dreams, hopes, and opportunities to terrible things like doubt, loss and self-loathing. It is overwhelming and oppressive, and unlike the emotional vampire, lacks a physical form against which we can lash out.

The vampire If can only be defeated by complete surrender to God. If you try and tackle it on your own, it will twist you and tease you and pull down into a never-ending pit of despair because you are finite; you are mortal; you don’t know anything beyond your immediate circumstances, and the vampire If can make you doubt even that.

But when you submit yourself to the eternal, omnipotent, all-knowing God, the vampire If is defanged. You don’t have to worry about the future because you’re entrusting it to the One who not only knows your future but designed it. You don’t have to fear potential outcomes because you’re giving them to the One who takes what is intended for evil and works it for good.

Vampires do exist, and they certainly ain’t sparkly. But the good news is that we can overcome through God our Father.

What the Bible Says About Ghosts

I’ve not posted anything this week because I’ve been busy researching the topic of this post for a message that I delivered to my students last night. With Halloween here, I’ve been talking to the youth about the existence of the supernatural, and specifically the evil forces within the supernatural realm. I mean, the month sort of sets itself up for the topic, right?

What has been hard is the research. Despite the fact that Christianity does believe in the existence of a personal devil, the Bible itself doesn’t lay out who the Devil is in the way a novel might; instead you have to sift through different and difficult passages, many of which are not labeled “About The Devil”. You have to do some digging, and you have to rely on not only the traditions of the faith, but on the scholarship of those who’ve gone before you.

However, this isn’t to say that the Bible is all coded up when it comes to Satan. Not at all. In fact the clearest passages on the existence of the Devil are found when Satan was given permission to torment/tempt two of God’s favorite people: Job and Jesus Christ.

As I said to the kids, you may think that Satan is a metaphor, you may believe that it’s merely a tool the church has used to keep people in line for 2,000 years, but the historicity of Jesus Christ is not in doubt. He existed. And according to the Bible, He encountered the Devil in person.

In other words, if you believe Jesus is real, you have to believe that Satan is too.

What does this have to do with ghosts, haunts, spooks, specters and things that go bump in the night? Everything. Supernatural phenomena have to be caused by something supernatural, and what’s more supernatural than the Devil?

Anyway, the embedded video at the top is my presentation on one of the most fascinating and illuminating chapters in the Bible – at least, illuminating on the subject of the paranormal, that is. In 1 Samuel 28, the deposed king Saul seeks out a medium to channel the spirit of the deceased prophet Samuel.

I’ll let the video speak for itself, but let me say this: the Bible does reveal that ghosts are real, and can be channeled. But it also says that humans should never consult those to have that ability. Instead, we should seek the counsel of God.

Here’s the PDF notes (The Bible and Ghosts) that go along with the video, so if you’d like to follow along, or maybe use this for your own small group discussion, feel free.

Also, if you’ve got a question after watching this – or if you just think I’m way off base – feel free to comment below. I’ll answer anything thrown my way.

Someone’s Gonna Get Killed…

This rarely happens in The Play Zone. There, kids rule the plastic jungle...

Tonight was “Spirit Night” for my daughter’s elementary school. The purpose of “Spirit Night” is to help kids get excited about going to their school by bribing them with fun nights where the family does something out of the norm. Tonight’s “Spirit Night” was at a local Chick-Fil-A, and may I say – it was well attended.

Now, as always, the people of Chickalay (as Jon calls it) do a fantastic job in general, but they were on the ball tonight. Not only did my son spill his lemonade onto the floor approximately 2.687 seconds after receiving it, but my wife accidentally shot salad dressing all over the table. The Chickalay folks were on it, man. Sticky, lemon-scented floor? Mopped and dried in under three minutes. Nasty globs of ranch coating your table? Wiped and clean in under a minute and a half.

But for all of the Chickalay folks’ derring-do, even they have limits. There exists a place inside almost every Chick-Fil-A where even the most hardened adult dares not venture.

The Play Zone.

It’s like being thrown into the monkey cage at the zoo, only if the monkeys were all small, had scores of black tar heroin thumping through their veins, and were trying to kill each other by screaming as loudly as possible.

Naturally I let my children run into the madhouse unsupervised.

Let me just say this: if the process of natural selection were still a viable method for the continuation of the human species, I would not have to worry about my genetic code disappearing from the face of the earth. My children would be able to hold their own in the unfriendly confines of the wild.

Especially Jon. Anytime another kid would get near him, my son would go crazy-eyed and start yelling as loud as possible in a manner similar to Macaulay Culkin in Home Alone. He freaked one girl out so bad she just fell on the floor, limp. Granted, Jon does this whenever he gets really excited (and let’s face it: what’s more exciting than a small, padded room where you and your friends can climb, slide, throw, roll and otherwise exert supreme mastery over all you see?), but tonight there was a little something extra in each scream, a primal force that seemed to burst out of my son as if to say, “I am KING of this bendy plastic jungle!”

Ella was much more subtle. My daughter has been called Ella-cat since she was born, because the child has at least 13 chromosomes from the feline species. She likes to get in your face whenever it’s inconvenient, she circles your lap three times before sitting down, she’s constantly stretching and arching her back, and whenever you ignore her she breaks crap to see if you’re paying attention.

So inside the plastic insanitarium, Ella was all slink and guile, moving through the different play sections with the liquid ease of a panther, slipping between the other rampaging tots like smoke through a crack in your door. It was amazing to watch her navigate; if the other kids had been covered in wet paint, Ella wouldn’t have gotten a spot on her. I’m telling you – if the fate of the free world were to come down to a game of dodgeball, I know whom I would put on the floor: my girl.

It was just weird to observe the chaos going on just mere feet away from all of the parents enjoying a few minutes respite from the usual assault of questions, demands and whines. You could see couples enjoying their conversation, even as a group of six year-olds hoisted a trussed-up toddler above their head like a pre-pubescent Lord of the Flies. No one wanted to look. No one wanted to see. Every adult seemed more than willing to concede the 45-square feet of the Play Zone entirely to the kids.

Eventually, someone’s going to get killed. But as they say, only the strong survive.

Hello Kitty: The Last Day of Childhood

The Destructor has been chosen...this freaking anime cat will take away my daughter's chldhood tomorrow morning.

Tomorrow morning, I will wake up earlier than usual. I will most likely have to rouse my daughter from her bed and usher her into the kitchen, where we’ll begin our normal morning routine. Only it won’t be normal anymore. There will be changes.

She won’t have the option of starting her day with her usual televised friends. She won’t be able to lay about in her nightclothes, playing with her dolls or ponies, until her mother or I insist on her getting dressed. Chances are she won’t even have time to bug her little brother. Ella will get dressed, get fed, put her hair into a bow, and together we’ll walk up the street to her bus stop.

Tomorrow, my daughter, bedecked in Hello Kitty, will say goodbye to the only life she’s known.

Over a single night, all that my family has known will change. And it will be a significant shift, one that will not correct, one that will not return to us except in brief stints known as winter, spring and summer break.

I was doing okay with that reality for the past few days, but much like the evening before major surgery, or your wedding, or any other life-altering day, I’m starting to feel a little less confident and a little more wistful. Almost panicked, even.

Do all people experience these kinds of shifts in the same way? Is it the singular feature of parenthood to feel more acutely those changes in your child’s life that signify maturation? I looked at the faces of other parents this morning at church and couldn’t detect any anxiety on their parts. But I could feel my heart beating wildly with each minute slipping by. I watched Ella play with her friends after the luncheon at our church and all I could think about was that at this same time next year she would be a completely different Ella. She wouldn’t be a precocious pre-K girl anymore; she would be something other, something undefined, something unpredictable.

Something foreign.

Of course that’s only true if I neglect to undergo this metamorphosis with her, and there is a real part of me that wants to scream, “No, this can’t be happening!” I feel as if somehow some giant, faceless force is attempting to wrench my little girl from my hands and take her somewhere I cannot go.

But the truth is, if I do not follow her on this new path, it will not be because I was forbidden; it will be because I chose to stay behind, cradling the past as fiercely as I once held her. This scares me because I can see the temptation of it and feel the pull towards that choice, but I know if I pull back and hold onto my memories of Ella’s early childhood as the basis for how I see and interact with her, I will lose her twice. Once, because she will move on and grow up and become herself as she is meant to be. Twice, because my memories will fade and, having made no new ones, I will be left with a dissolving image even more foreign and frightening than I could imagine.

So I will wake up tomorrow and get her out of bed. I will hold her longer than I normally would because I know that it will be the last time I can pull her into my embrace with the guarantee that nothing will happen to her unless I let it. I will crave that sense of protection that has safeguarded us both, even while we both knew it was a facade. I will let her go, my heart ripping to pieces and rebuilding itself only to rip into pieces again, and I will fix her a Pop Tart. Or a bowl of Cocoa Krispies. Or a bag of Frosted Flakes. Or maybe even a stack of pancakes, though I doubt that because she’s not really been into pancakes recently (just one more sign of the advancing of time). I will hurry her through her breakfast because, for the first time in her life, she will have a schedule that she must keep, a schedule that is enforced by a new entity that is greater than mom and dad and must be obeyed. She will have to dress and get medicine and brush her teeth and check her backpack and put on her shoes and clean her room and trek the Green Mile to the bus stop where her life, her young and frail life, will be forever changed by the opening of those big yellow doors and her first steps onto the Cheese Wagon.

In short, tomorrow morning I release my second-born, first-surviving child into the maws of the masochistic rat race that consumes us all with the same ferocity, while simultaneously losing my own divine illusion of control.

Two innocences for the price of one.

I can hear her singing now, a random yelp to herself and her friends “the Stuffies” that means nothing more to me than the very essence of her purity of soul. I hear it, and I tear up at the thought that some bruiser of a fifth grader may make fun of her tomorrow in the hallway. I hear it and I fill with rage at the very notion that someday some clumsy oaf will make an advance against her will and quite possibly she might feel helpless to resist.

Some people see the first day of Kindergarten as a bittersweet memory that signifies their child is growing up and will soon embark on new adventures.

I see the first day of Kindergarten as quite possibly the first steps to Hell. Or at the very least my own descent into madness.

It’s so bizarre, really, just how much of how I see the world is revealed through Ella’s venturing out into it. How contrary my internal thoughts are to the way I’ve presented the world to her. I’ve raised her to believe in herself, to believe in the powers of goodness and honesty, to trust her own innate creativity and intelligence and to resist the corrosion of conformity for as long as she can.

And all the while, I’ve harbored this festering hatred for the world I’ve painted with such caring detail. In essence, I’ve either lied to my child or to myself, and perhaps both; I’ve spent too long, it seems, dancing between two worlds instead of just inhabiting one.

Tomorrow, then, is my day of reckoning.

Will I choose to follow my daughter into her new world and do my best to reinforce those values and beliefs that I have instilled in her in order to help her become the very best person she can? Or will I hide, like a coward, in a hell of my own making, succumbing to the worst of all possible fates: being a wretched little man, afraid of the world and its unpredictability, who loses his beloved daughter because of his own weakness?

For better or worse, I must choose. As much for Ella’s sake as my own. And the choice will make my world radically different, for the good or the bad.

Who knew a day filled with excitement and potential and squeaky new Hello Kitty accessories could be so metaphysical?

My Wife, The Mama Bear

Rachel, the Mama Bear. I would advise against messing with her...

Most people wouldn’t think that tough comes in a package that looks like a Victoria’s Secret model but is sweeter than honey, but that’s okay – I know better. Not only does tough have a womanly figure, tough also has a great sense of humor, a keen sense of discernment, and some of the most beautiful eyes you’ve ever seen.

And by some quirk in the universe, she married me.

Yesterday reminded me of just how tough my wife, Rachel, really is. Not only did she haul both of our kids down to the pool by herself (a feat of epic proportions when you factor in the number of pool toys we have to take to keep Jonathan amused) but while they were at the pool, four teenaged boys started making trouble.

Rachel put a stop to it.

When she tells the story, her personality comes out: details, timing, not one thing said or recalled incorrectly. She tells it very much like the teacher she is, and it sounds fairly straight-forward: some teenaged boys were attempting to trespass at our neighborhood pool, she called them on it, they cursed at her, she called the cops, the boys ran. Simple, neat, end of story.

It’s a terse account of what, in my mind, was a situation filled with potential disaster. In fact, she takes what is a great story and turns it into a book report.

So I’m going to tell it.

First of all, some context. Our pool is a half-sized Olympic pool surrounded by a chain-link fence with two deadbolted gates. To get in, you have to have a HOA-issued key. If you don’t have one, the rules of the pool are explicit: you cannot come in. We’ve had several issues with vandals trying to circumvent the rules by doing such things as cutting holes in the chain-link or breaking the locks. So our neighborhood has a heightened sense of paranoia about the pool. We even have signs posted around to encourage members who spot trouble to call our HOA president so he can call the cops.

Secondly, Rachel was there with our kids, but there were also two teenaged girls laying out by the pool in their bikinis.

Now, if you have never been around teenaged boys then you don’t know that they tend to run on two types of fuel: testosterone and stupidity, both of which the teenaged male produces in copious quantities. Put teenaged boys around three attractive ladies in bikinis, and they’ll produce testosterone and stupidity like the government produces false promises.

In other words, this was a situation primed for something bad to happen.

If there had been only one teenaged boy, this is no problem; teen boys are easily confused and can be rendered quite harmless by an attractive woman. Three women in bikinis would pretty much render him incapacitated. But this wasn’t just one boy, which brings me to my next point.

Teenaged boys in a pack take on a pack mentality, which is dominated by the pack leader. In Rachel’s case, the pack leader was a boy with a muscular build and an utter disregard for the clearly posted rules of our pool. It was the pack leader who began the whole confrontation by leaping upon the fence and trying to climb over it. Rachel yelled him down off the fence, and his buddies gathered around to see what he would do.

Muscles stood there.

My wife, undaunted, pressed him for information. “You can’t come into the pool unless you are a member of the pool. Are you a member?”

Another boy raised his hand. “I am.”

“Okay. Where’s your pool key?”

He grunted. “I don’t have it.”

“Okay,” my wife said, “why don’t you go home and get it, and then come back. It can’t be too far to your house.”

“Someone forgot to give me the pool key,” the boy lied.

Rachel’s warning bells went off. “Who forgot to give it to you?”

“Uh, someone,” The Liar said.

“Someone who?” she persisted.

At this Muscles, The Liar and the other two boys walked away from the pool fence and back into the shade of our pool pavilion. Rachel could hear them barking at each other, their tempers flaring, but she walked away and back to where the kids were eating snacks.

And that’s when Muscles lost his freaking mind.

With his back to the fence, he screamed out, “BITCH!”

Here’s where my wife telling this story has it’s benefits. It’s at this point where she makes a face that can only be described as her version of the female, “Oh, hell no” face, which is a mixture of severe perturbation and outright masochistic violence.

If you’re in a committed relationship and ever forgot an important event or deadline, you know this face.

Anyway, after the boy curses, Rachel immediately grabs her cell phone – and here’s where the toughness kicks into overdrive – marches over to the fence nearest where the boys are sitting and dials the HOA president. They overhear her side of the conversation with our HOA pres:

“Hello, Dennis? Hi, this is Rachel Brooks…(she gives him our address)…yeah, that’s me…well, I’m down by the pool, and there are some boys causing a problem…well, first of all, I don’t think their members to the pool because they don’t have a pool key and were trying to jump the fence…uh-huh…well, I hollered at them and kept them from jumping the fence, and to their credit they climbed down…yeah, but then they sat down under the pavilion and started talking, and one of them screamed out a curse word at me…I’m here with my kids, and there are two teenage girls down here too, so what do we need to do…okay, so you’re going to CALL THE COPS…okay, I’ll wait right here…thanks, Dennis.”

The boys immediately get up and split into two groups: the weaker pair, the ones who’ve said nothing and were probably halfway between panicked and pissed at the other two, get up and walk away as quickly as possible. They did not pass “GO”, they just bolted the scene.

But Muscles and The Liar do not leave in a hurry. Instead, as my wife goes back to put her cell phone away, the duo takes a slow stroll around the fence towards Rachel. This idiot pair tries to menace my wife by walking towards her in a semi-threatening manner. They don’t come all the way to where she’s at, though – they turn and walk towards the woods, but they make sure to keep eye contact with Rachel for a long time. Finally, they disappear between the woods and some houses on the other side of the neighborhood.

When the cops finally show up, Rachel tells them what happened, and in her words, “they didn’t seem overly concerned.” But the show of force had been made, and if those boys were anywhere near the vicinity of that pool, they know that my wife meant business.

And that’s what makes me proudest. My wife, for the sake of her children, went Mama Bear on some punks and the punks backed down. Rachel roared and came away the victor. Could this situation have gone badly? Sure – with some kids these days, provocation like that only fuels their rage and leads to sometimes violent ends. In fact, I’m cognizant that my stereotyping of teenaged boys is rather dated, and built upon what the world was like when I was a teenager. Boys today don’t have nearly the same inhibitions I had as a kid.

And I’ve seen enough of the local, state and national news to know that teenagers can be some of the most cold-blooded and quick-tempered killers around.

But yesterday, thank God, that wasn’t the case.

My wife will probably read this and cringe. “You’re embellishing!” she’ll say. “It wasn’t that bad.” And perhaps my imagination does create mountains out of molehills from time to time. But that doesn’t diminish the fact that my wife is one bad mother. Three kids, a radical surgery, and a showdown with some teenaged punks is a pretty impressive resume of resilience and toughness. And she’s showing my daughter that women don’t have to be cowed by the stupidity of aggressive men, that women have power too, and don’t have to put up with boys’ crap. It’s a beautiful thing to be around.

I’m just glad she’s on my side.

But I’m going to take the trash out just to be safe…