Peace Among the Monsters

I’ve never seen Bigfoot myself (other than when he guest-starred on The Six Million Dollar […]

Josh Retterer / 4.16.19

I’ve never seen Bigfoot myself (other than when he guest-starred on The Six Million Dollar Man). But when I was in kindergarten, I was convinced, more than once, that he would be, at any given time — particularly at night — looking through my bedroom window. The fact that my bedroom was on the second floor didn’t make me feel any better; it was Bigfoot after all. He appeared to range in size from seven to forty-five feet tall, depending on the eyewitness interviewed on Leonard Nimoy’s post-Star Trek gig, In Search Of.

These early scares didn’t keep me from checking out as many library books as I could find about Bigfoot, the Loch Ness Monster, the Bermuda Triangle, and flying saucers. Combining science, folklore, and the supernatural, this stuff checked all the boxes for me. Folks like the anthropologist Dr. Grover Krantz and science writer (fiction and otherwise) Arthur C. Clarke lent a certain academic credibility to this fringe area of science. I’m not sure that last sentence is actually true, but at least they gave a tiny bit of cover for people like me who enjoyed the field. I like monsters the same way I like ghost stories and conspiracy theories. I can’t say I believe in any of them, but “I want to believe,” and that wanting is what makes these stories fun.

Small Town Monsters is an Ohio-based production company specializing in documentaries about Bigfoot, lake monsters, Mothman, cryptids, UFOs, and everything else supernatural. Starting with the perspective of the people in the little towns and hamlets where these odd events have happened, the company’s creator Seth Breedlove explores the history of the towns themselves for clues. A place’s history isn’t always written down, but it is just as permanently preserved through the telling and retelling of the stories that happened there.

Unlike a book, storytellers choose whom they share their tales with. They often take some coaxing, as Breedlove occasionally shows us, but his persistence has led to some rather shocking and disturbing discoveries. An example of this is in one of their recent documentaries, The Bray Road Beast. I don’t want to give any spoilers, but let’s just say in the interview with retired animal-control officer, John Fredrickson — his revelations would fit pretty squarely in the shocking and disturbing category. As Joan Didion once infamously said about an equally horrible incident, for a writer (or documentarian), “Let me tell you, it was gold.”

Breedlove, and his Monsteropolis podcast co-host, the Reverend Mark Matzke, are both involved in the production and writing of these documentaries. Yes, you read that right: Reverend Mark Matzke. A Lutheran minister by day and paranormal investigator by night, the Geauga County, Ohio-based pastor has the dream job as far as I am concerned.

Having consumed every one of the documentaries they’ve made since their 2015 start, I couldn’t help but reach out to the good Reverend and ask the obvious question. As you can see, he was way ahead of me:

Even though I know the question is coming, it is always a bit of a surprise. Whether it comes after the screening of one of our films, or is part of a podcast interview, or arises out of casual conversation, it goes something like this:​

‘How do you reconcile your faith with your interest in the unexplained?’

To be candid, I have mixed feelings about the question. My most natural self tends to cringe at it, preferring to keep the two things in separate compartments: the ‘faith’ part, while deeply felt, is also my professional life; the ‘crypto’ part, a lifelong passion, is my personal toy box, an escape from the pressures of my vocation. However, I have come to accept that I have been given the opportunity to contribute to Small Town Monsters for the precise purpose of answering that very question.

And the answer is, I don’t feel a need to reconcile the two. To my way of thinking, which I pray is grounded in solid theology, biblical faith and ‘the paranormal’ cannot help but coexist. To push that idea a little harder, a biblical faith that is emptied of the supernatural is really not ‘faith’ in a recognizable, historical sense. That there would be an apparent contradiction between a biblical worldview and a worldview that is open to the transpiring of inexplicable and miraculous events is a sobering commentary on how far the Church’s witness has moved in the direction of rationalism and materialism.

So, in the context of Bigfoot conferences and Cryptozoology conclaves I have been granted the chance to confess that biblical Christian faith rests on concepts that are utterly mysterious, beginning with a creative, Triune God, and centering on an individual who is both fully human and completely divine. I’ve confessed a faith in an unseen realm and the reality of angels and demons, and if I’m willing to say that, why wouldn’t I be willing to entertain the idea that there are strange lights in the sky, or creatures in the woods that we have yet to classify?

As it turns out, I’m on the weirdest and most wonderful mission I could imagine.

Mark’s answer reminded me of something I found in this book called Seculosityyou may have heard of it. In the chapter titled “The Seculosity of Leisure,” the author, one David Zahl, explores the “sheep without a shepherd” passage found in Matthew 9:36:

He [Jesus] doesn’t wait for them [the crowds] to calm down or figure out their aversion to leisure before he engages. Nor does he leave them in a trap of unremitting activity. Instead, he begins to teach. And what he teaches them — and later what he embodies — is that the judgement we’re all so afraid of, the one that undergirds our restlessness, has been quelled, once and for all.

That is a wonderful thing to experience; enjoying the things we enjoy, simply for … enjoyment. The relaxing escape Mark finds in his cryptozoological exploration, filmmaking, and storytelling, is a direct reflection of his embrace of the grace he also preaches from the pulpit Sunday mornings. He takes what was done and rests in that.

It’s what allows him to find peace among the monsters.

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9 responses to “Peace Among the Monsters”

  1. Ian says:

    Josh, you’re speaking the little-known sixth love language to me and I am utterly enamored with it. The introduction particularly gets my heart thumping like sneakers in the dryer because my four year old is currently obsessed with Bigfoot— he’s convinced Bigfoot lives in the arctic and is a formidable foe. He redacts Attenborough’s narration in Frozen Planet to include Bigfoot: “The greatest predator here is—” “BIGFOOT.” Or upon seeing a glacier collapse spectacularly into the ocean he’ll pronounce with a due sense of awe, “I fink Bigfoot did dat.” May we all unwind a little and find delight In Search Of the weird stuff we share this planet with.

  2. Josh Retterer says:

    Thanks Ian! Brilliant young man you have there!

  3. Fascinating, and love the conclusion.

  4. T.S. Mart says:

    Great post. Appreciate this affirmation of why I do what I do.

  5. Created a link piece to this today, Josh. Really encouraging stuff:

  6. Pat Peterson says:

    I live with a skeptic’s heart—equally in matters of faith and in all you encompass here. I played in the same playground in my childhood, swearing I saw a UFO—twice, and swinging between the true science fiction of Heinlein, van Vogt, and others, to the works of Hynek and George Adamski. Skeptical, but not dismissive! Thank you for the article.

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