Priest, Shirley Jackson, and C. S. Lewis Walk into a Bar

Guess what. I can fill a 10-ounce glass from the freezer-door water dispenser while simultaneously retrieving a 6-ounce glass and a straw from the cupboard, removing a gallon of milk from the refrigerator, unscrewing the cap, and pouring the milk into the small glass—all while spilling neither the water nor the milk.

You can imagine, then, that I take exception when our energy company sends us a graph comparing the carbon consumption in our 1927 home with that of our neighbors and offering to install a device that will allow the company to turn down our heat remotely.

I am capable of turning down our heat and I do—thank you very much—all by myself.

What I cannot do all by myself is go to bed. I require a human being to function as my bed-time signal. I sleep without help. It’s getting up from what I’m doing and walking upstairs that seems to be the problem.

Priest’s Hive

Solenopsis invicta, red imported fire ants Austin, Texas, USA

Copyrighted image used by permission of Alexander Wild:

It’s 2 am. My human being is out of town preaching at a conference. And I’m watching Priest. I didn’t choose this movie because I miss my minister, though I do. I picked it because at this time of night the pickin’s are slim and because I cannot go to bed without my bed-time signal.  

Priest is one of several uniquely gifted people that the church conscripts to combat vampires. Stay with me here. After he kills the horde, Priest is relegated to a sewage-treatment job. But of course the church lied, the vampires are not all dead, and Priest must defy the hierarchy to fight them again. In this movie, the vampires swarm in a hive.

Think worker bees and nursery ants. Aside from a few job-distinctions, the individuals all look and act the same. Even their DNA is undifferentiated. As a force, their strength is entirely in their numbers, like the little dinosaurs in Jurassic Park, or in their ruthless efficiency, like the Borg in Star Trek.

In the case of Priest, the movie fizzles once I realize the monsters amount to big bugs. 

Shirley Jackson’s Collective

When I finally wake up the next morning, it’s Shirley Jackson’s take on the human hive that buzzes in my mind. In her Lottery, a small town gathers for their annual straw-draw and stoning. Jackson says one day she walked into her neighborhood post office, got the idea while waiting in line, and composed the story on her way home.

I get those same vibes when I drop my daughter at our neighborhood school and I pray we never win those socialization sweepstakes.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m for public schools, the US Postal Service, sewage-treatment, the church, government-subsidized extermination of vampires, and even the energy company. But none of that sends me to bed at night. Hive-mind doesn’t help.

I need my honey. I need my human-being signal to disconnect from the hive, from the to-do list, from the internet, from the television. I may be skilled at filling two glasses at once, but numbers and efficiency don’t take away the lonely. Stay with me here.

C. S. Lewis’s Community

The collective made C. S. Lewis’s skin crawl too. He disputed the value of “same” in The Weight of Glory and concluded that goose-stepping is not how the kingdom works. “If there is equality, it is in [God’s] love, not in us. . . .The Christian life defends the single personality from the collective, not by isolating him but by giving him the status of an organ in the mystical Body” (1 Cor 12:12–31).

The collective is good for maintaining civil order, but ultimately I am not designed for a collective. I am designed for the Body. My human-being signal sends me to bed, not because of peer-pressure, but because of relationship.

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