Letter from the Editor: Tragic Beginnings
Healing, restoration, and renewal often follow in the wake of pain and unimaginable trauma. It’s no surprise, then, that this issue of Christ and Pop Culture Magazine is a continuation of our previous issue on renewal. As pitches came in for articles on renewal, a subtheme emerged: horror. In times of uncertainty, tragedy, and grief, hope is sustenance, life-giving water in a dessert.
While individual and shared trauma has existed since the Fall, the past year has inarguably been a time of specific, collective horror. Our apocalyptic movies and games haven’t ever felt so fantastical, but relatable. Yet, as our writers this month demonstrate, even in the most devastating disasters, historic conflicts, and painful moments, hope can be found when we look beyond the worldly.
Sarah Sanderson’s feature, “Outwardly Wasting Away: Hope in the Horrible-Childhood Memoir,” points to the profound power of reading about the trauma of others. In reading three difficult childhood memoirs—Angela’s Ashes (Frank McCourt), The Glass Castle (Jeannette Walls), and Men We Reaped (Jesmyn Ward)—Sanderson found comfort and hope as she encountered memories of her own childhood abuse:
Even as these books were speaking to me about trauma, helping me to reach back and grab hold of my own story, they spoke to me of hope. The most basic hopefulness present in every autobiographical disaster tale is its very existence. The name of the author on the front cover, together with their picture on the back flap, proclaims to the reader, “I survived.” No matter how bad things get in the midst of the book’s pages, the fact that there are pages at all proves that this, too, has passed. Somehow, the author has found a way to speak the unspeakable.
Although dealing with fictional horror, M Morse’s feature, “A Grief Obscured: Horror and Hope in A Dark Song,” also focuses on individual grief and tragedy, as well as the freedom that comes with acceptance and repentance, when necessary. As the main character, Sophia, seeks to find healing from the death of her son by participating in the Abramelin ritual, she fails to escape the all-encompassing pain that has defined her life—until she surrenders:
In that moment, looking up at the world from the bottom of a well that she has patiently dug for herself, finally understanding just how far she has fallen, Sophia reaches acceptance. Acceptance of her role in her own suffering. Acceptance of the part her own negligence played in the crime for which she seeks vengeance. Acceptance, perhaps, that her son is truly gone. And in reaching acceptance, Sophia finds repentance. For what is repentance, at its core, but those three words spoken in clear sincerity?
Both our third and fourth writers adjust our focus from individual to collective horror. In Peter Martin’s feature, “Artificial Intelligence, Reconciliation, and the Apocalypse,” we enter the world of the Mass Effect trilogy. In an adept synopsis, Martin describes the conflict between the alien Quarian and their AI creations, the Geth. As you go further in the game, however, the conflict becomes more nuanced, and your assumptions about “bad guys” and “good guys” become scrambled. Success, Martin points out, requires forgiveness, redemption, and cooperation:
It was a bit of a shock for me when I realized it, but the behavior of the Geth, particularly Legion, closely mirrors Paul’s description of what love looks like in 1 Corinthians. The Geth are an incredibly advanced species, but their central project and goal is to essentially make a huge Dyson sphere/server farm to allow all of them to exist on the same hardware so they can be in community with one another. As Legion puts it, “no Geth would be alone.” Okay, so there’s the humility (not proud, not boastful). The Geth use just enough force to preserve themselves and no more (does not delight in evil) and Legion is generally very forthright (rejoices in the truth) but the thing that really brought tears to my eyes when I was playing the series was how patience, kindness, and keeping no record of wrongs played out.
It was the only time I’ve ever seen an artificial intelligence forgive in a piece of media.
It is true, biblical hope—created by community—that sustains in an apocalypse. Stephen Woodworth also looks to the apocalyptic story in our final feature, “Faith, Hope, Love and Monsters.” In the post-apocalyptic world of Love and Monsters, protagonist Joel hopes to battle the dangers of monsters above ground to rekindle his teenage love. The relationship, like most of Joel’s desires to escape the loneliness caused by apocalyptic isolation, are fleeting. However, for many of us who can relate a bit to Joel, this can serve as a warning to store our hope in something that will not fail:
Biblical hope transcends our current circumstances and anchors us to a foundation that no apocalypse can overcome. A hope that is “laid up in heaven” where moth, and rust…and monsters can’t destroy. Like Joel venturing forth into a world that is pulling apart at the seams, each step of faith brings a refreshing renewal of what it means to allow love to cast out fear, and the redemption available to those who choose to place their hope in the King of world to come, a world we can participate in re-creating, rather than merely hiding from the world we are in. It is a hope “laid up” for us in the sense that is stored and protected. It is “in Heaven” because that is precisely where Christ, the object of our hope, currently resides. In this way, Paul commends to a hope that we have full access to, regardless of how dark the night might become. It is a hope that is anchored beneath the churning waves of circumstance, to the bedrock foundation of a faith in the steadfast love of the one who has already rescued us from the ultimate apocalypse.
In times of uncertainty, tragedy, and grief, hope is sustenance, life-giving water in a dessert. As you read this issue, may you see glimpses of God’s redeeming, restoring, renewing hope that we will eventually experience in full. Until then, may we thank Him for “strength for today and bright hope for tomorrow.”
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In This Issue
Outwardly Wasting Away: Hope in the Horrible-Childhood Memoir
The most basic hopefulness present in every autobiographical disaster tale is its very existence. The name of the author on the front cover, together with their picture on the back flap, proclaims to the reader, “I survived.” by Sarah Sanderson
A Grief Obscured: Horror and Hope in A Dark Song
Writer-Director Liam Gavin’s A Dark Song (2016) promises its audience horror, delivers creeping unease, and ultimately yields itself up to awe—taking us on a journey from the depths of entropic despair to the heights of spiritual renewal. by M Morse
Reconciliation, Artificial Intelligence, and the Apocalypse
The best ending possible to the Mass Effect trilogy is easiest to achieve with the help of the Quarians and the Geth. It also requires a lot of cooperation from other various peoples around the entire galaxy. by Peter Martin
Faith, Hope, Love and Monsters
Love and Monsters pushes beneath the familiar “unstoppable force of love” trope to unveil our varied attempts at quelling the painful longing that often hangs in the shadows of it: loneliness. by Steve Woodworth
Finding the Church in the Horror Masterpiece A Quiet Place
Instead of viewing each other as only possessing weaknesses to be overcome, in A Quiet Place the Abbott family reminds us that our weaknesses can make each other stronger, and the strength of community is only possible because of its vulnerability. by Kaitlyn Schiess
Hereditary Is a Masterful Meditation on the Horrors of Grief
In Hereditary, guilt is grief’s demonic cousin, and it often makes an unwelcome entrance in the midst of tragedy. by Cameron McAllister
William Hope Hodgson: A Light in the Night Land
William Hope Hodgson’s dark works are not without glimmers of something like light. by Geoffrey Reiter
Storied: The Compelling Hopefulness of Sad Stories
The catharsis of a sad story is the catharsis of a life lived in expectation that it is not now okay, but it will be okay someday. by K. B. Hoyle