Vampires and Vultures or Every Minister's Monsters: Whitterings, November 2007

From Ghoulies and Ghosties
And Long Legged Beasties
And All Things that Go Bump in the Night
Good Lord Deliver Us.
Traditional Welsh Prayer

The pagan traditions surrounding All Hallows Eve were originally meant to ward off evil. By dressing up as nightmarish creatures one effectively scared the real monsters away, just like gargoyles on a cathedral. If only it were so easy.

During this time of the Day of the Dead, I take the opportunity to warn you about some of the monsters that live among us, especially the vampires and the vultures. You all know them but perhaps you have never seen beneath their disguise to know their true and terrible nature.

The vampires slowly suck the life from you, drop by drop. You will know you have encountered a vampire when you begin by having a peaceful, lovely day and everything seems right in the world, hope remains constant. Then you meet someone who proceeds to sing to you a spell of their woe and the pain of the world. They need you to listen, you try to break free and run, but you can not get a word in edgeways and then suddenly it is too late. You have been bitten. You have been infected and you can no longer remember why you felt peaceful and hope has fled. The world takes on a darker, gloomier cast. Remember the folklore of our forbearers, if they bite you three times you are turned and become one of them. Watch out!

Vampires really do exist, but in reality it is not always easy to differentiate between them and those who are in true need of pastoral care. All of us go through dark and painful periods in our life and we need to talk to those who will listen and who will try and love us. The difference is that those who are in real need do not leave us feeling drained, no matter how much pain they share with us. They give back to you with their vulnerability; you can discern Christ in their eyes. The vampires, on the other hand, never seem to heal and do not seem to want to find new life. There is always a need for attention, a need to pull you down. Like a black hole, they are never filled. Their eyes give nothing back. It is always the cross and never the resurrection. They are truly creatures of the night. Those of us who do pastoral work know that we can not really avoid vampires, but we should be careful to limit our exposure lest we succumb and have nothing left for others. It is a good reminder that it is the cross, the hope of resurrection and freedom from death, that repulses them and protects us.

Vultures are another creature that we must protect ourselves from. Vultures soar majestically over the earth, taking in the fields, forests, rivers and lakes, and the cities of men. They see the clouds racing by and the sun go down with grandeur in the west. They see all of the wonder of God’s creation. Yet vultures possess a special kind of eye, an eye that sees extraordinary detail. The detail that a vulture sees is of a special character. A vulture would soar over the Grand Canyon, taking in the full scope of the wild grace of the landscape but all he or she will focus on is a single dead rat three miles away. The detail that a vulture’s eye focuses on is the dead, the dying, and the rotten: carrion. Their ability to pick out the weak, the dying, and the dead blind them to absolutely everything else. In the eyes of a vulture you can never do anything right, you can never succeed, you can never please. All of you will know vultures. Perhaps they can be turned into eagles, but I have yet to find the right spell. Until someone does, it is best to avoid them at all costs. They are not docile, they are strong and powerful creatures and after you have been savaged by their talons it takes a long time to heal.

The last creature I wish to warn you about is one that is very much in evidence in our Diocese and Communion these days. I am not sure what its name is and this worries me. We all know that a demon must be named before you can even see it let alone exorcise it. I have yet to see it and name it but I can reveal to you some of its characteristics. This creature lives on fear. I believe it must be physically weak because it seems to want to separate us from one another. The only rational conclusion is that it can only attack one person at a time and is afraid when people stick together in groups. So it sows seeds of disharmony, fear mongering and gossip to make sure that people are left alone and vulnerable. I know it is with us because of the hesitancy in people to speak their mind to one another and to share their feelings. I believe it particularly likes to prey on clergy and has a special fondness for Bishops. It certainly delights in feeding on Archbishops! Dark gossip filters its way through the highways and byways of our church filling people with dis-ease and leaving a haunted, hunted look. I know it is among us because I can see it in the unease in people’s eyes, when they want to speak, to trust and yet they don’t. I can see it in the quick surreptitious eye contact at meetings, the triangulation, and the lack of communication. I can see its footprint in the reluctance to share equally in conversations – to meet honesty with honesty. I can smell its presence in the increase of politics and scheming in the church. I can see its work in our disunity, in our individualism, our turning inward and not outward in mission, and our retreat back into our own safe castles by ourselves.

I also know it can turn you into one of its own kind because I can discern the effects of its attack already in me. I, as a Christian, should fear nothing in this world especially from other members of the Body of Christ. Yet I am having nightmares about power and malicious schemes in the church, Bishops against Bishops, clergy against clergy, and laity against laity. I feel consistently vulnerable and insecure, but I do not know why. It is as though something is watching me from the shadows, constantly judging me and my every move, waiting to catch me off guard. I often feel guilty even though I have done nothing to be ashamed of. I find myself looking at things from a purely political perspective and not with the generosity demanded of me by Christ. It already has its claws into me; I only hope that the wounds are superficial.

I am not alone in noticing this invisible and deadly demon amongst us. More and more people are waking up to the fact and beginning to search it out and seek a name for it. My brothers and sisters in Christ, now is the time when we should come back together around the fire, pool our resources and wisdom, and seek it, name it, and cast it out. We can only do this together as it fears us when we gather as family. If we remain isolated and alone, it will seek us out, and find us.