(Don’t) Fear Halloween

(This part is not serious.) Now that it’s the last week of October, I feel I should give you a dire warning. Halloween is coming and it will corrupt your soul if you participate in any way, shape, or form. You’ll be signing up with the enemy and forsake all things good. When you buy and put on a Halloween costume, you are, in effect, putting off the ‘New Man’ and putting on the ‘Old Man’ that belongs to the enemy.

If your costume is that of a witch, you are supporting witchcraft, casting spells, and other wicked, evil arts.

If your costume is that of a vampire, ghost, ghoul, or other form of undead, you are into necromancy.

If your costume is that of a demon or fallen angel or Satan, you worship the enemy.

When you go door-to-door, you’re invading the homes of good people, corrupting them with evil and bringing with you curses. ‘Trick or Treat!’ you say – but you really mean is ‘Give me an offering so that you are not punished!’ Now you tell people not to worship God, but give offerings to you on behalf of the enemy, whom you now serve.

Christians who trick or treat are opening up a foothold for the enemy in our churches. This evil holiday must not be tolerated. Acceptable replacements are trunk or treat – where we suggest you hand out Bible tracts to counteract the wickedness of evil, dark chocolate and Hell Houses where you explain in graphic detail the horrors of Hell that awaits witches, necromancers, and Satan worshipers. You are warned – you don’t want to disappoint God and bring evil into church. Fear Halloween and do not participate so that you are free from the corruption of sin. (This is the end of the not serious part. What follows is all serious and seriously long – a new record for me.)

Now that it’s the last week of October, blog posts are starting to appear one by one where devout Christians try to figure out what they can and cannot do about Halloween. Biblically speaking, we have a mash-up of verses taken out of context that makes a pretty mean case about why people should never take things out of context. We also have historical perspectives that show us that today’s version of Halloween bears little resemblance to it’s original form. And we have centuries of Christians celebrating it anyway because it’s harmless fun.

Culturally speaking, America has never really been comfortable with death. Most of our t.v. shows are about people that somehow manage to cheat death when the odds are stacked against them (such as the Die Hard series). We don’t like death, we don’t like to know that it’s coming, what it looks like, or what it might feel like. Our national avoidance behavior could be classified as a fear. We do have Memorial Day when we stop to remember our honored military dead. So much loss of life deserves to be remembered. But what about everybody else?

Many cultures do worship the spirits of their deceased ancestors. Sort of like the first part of the movie Mulan: “Ancestors, hear my plea / Help me not to make a fool of me / And to not uproot my family tree / Keep my father standing tall.” Many cultures have a healthy understanding about death and do not fear it because it is the natural conclusion of life. They chose to remember loved ones who have passed on, leaving a legacy that doesn’t allow anybody to be forgotten. Día de Muertos is about taking time to clean up the cemetery, decorate tombstones with flowers, put up altars to remember loved ones that have passed on, eat ceremonial foods and drinks, and enjoy the presence of the loved ones that are still living.

I find it fascinating that these two very different cultures (the predecessor of Día de Muertos and Halloween) both decided that around the same time was a good point to stop and think about death. Seasonally, the summer was just coming to an end. The leaves of trees were dying and falling off all around them. Winter would soon arrive – the next sign of life would not be until Spring. Little or no harvesting could be accomplished at this time. Perhaps in their scientific thinking it made sense to think that some death spirits had descended upon the world and around the time of the equinox was the best time to try to ward them off with good old fashioned superstition. Remember, these customs are thousands of years old, handed down over centuries.

Our world was agricultural for a very long time, the acquisition of food was a long, slow process that took up the majority of a person’s day. Without machinery, much of it was done by hand, family by family, from one generation to the next. It’s natural to think that their holidays and traditions would be based on the seasons – Summer, and Spring are full of life, green growth, and good weather. Fall and Winter are full of decay, withered brown death, and bad weather.

But over time our world changed, machines made it possible for one man to do what one thousand did in a fraction of the time. People got to work in cities and some traditions changed as a result. In fall, some still exist, apple cider, pumpkin harvesting, fall break even. But we’ve also lost touch with much of the celebrations that brought families together. We have some of the what and some of the why, but not all of either one.

Eventually Halloween was commercialized, limited to buying a costume, buying candy to give out, buying party supplies, house decorations, or buying whatever you need to pull off a prank. Halloween is a big money maker from a financial stand point. Without it – any kid that doesn’t have a birthday would have to wait until Thanksgiving to have an excuse to get extra candy and other sweets.

None of that is unbiblical – but because of the aforementioned verses, people are getting all sorts of mixed messages. It’s as if people read the historical texts and think that we’re inviting evil or imitating evil or appearing evil or worshiping evil. This Christians says this, that Christian says that – it’s confusing enough when they’re talking about regular things like Scripture – but somehow Halloween is extremely wicked and vile and gets extra attention when it shows up unexpected at the same time every year.

Biblically speaking, God saw value in harvest type celebrations – this was to teach the people to remember that God made it possible for them to grow food and help take care of the people who didn’t have land to grow on. Harvest celebrations was a great time to bring the community together and be certain that everybody had what they needed to get through winter. But they didn’t have the same death-related traditions, so it’s possible that they didn’t associate fall/winter with death as the other cultures did it is possible that they associated the harvest with God’s provision. (As far as I can tell.)

Wow – I’ve been a little all over the place. Out of context Bible verses, cultures with a different understanding of death, looking at the seasons as an explanation for death being associated with fall, harvest celebrations, changing culture – it’s not wonder American Christians got weird about Halloween – we’re a melting pot with many cultures that kept some traditions and others were lost or changed over time. So let’s break it down into a few points:

1. Just because a tradition or festival descends from a pagan celebration does not mean that the holiday deserves to be disposed of – Christianity has overwritten pretty much every single pagan tradition with some Biblical variation. (All Soul’s Day, All Saint’s Day, All Hallow’s Eve, Christmas, and Valentines Day, for example.)

2. Just because a tradition or festival is associated with evil in some way, shape, or form, does not mean that it is to be feared – the Día de Muertos celebrations in Mexico actually pokes fun of death. When you turn death into a joke, it loses any fearful quality it might have. the is true of Halloween.

3. Just because other cultures aren’t afraid of death, it doesn’t mean that we’re not wrong to be afraid. Death is scary when you’re not sure what comes next. As a Christian, you are given specific promises: “Death has been swallowed up in victory.” ““Where, O death, is your victory? Where, O death, is your sting?””

With all this in mind (+2 points if you read all that), what’s wrong with celebrating Halloween? If you ask me, absolutely nothing. Go have fun. Be with your friends. Throw a party with your family. Have a conversation about the theology of life and death – whatever makes you happy.

Advertisements

Them’s fightin’ words!

Not long ago, I was in the midst of disagreement with another Christian because of our differing interpretations of a particular teaching on something somewhere in Scripture. The other Christian appealed to the idea that because we’re believers, we should come to the same conlusion for the sake of Christian unity. There was just one problem – there was no way that I was goving to move from my position to theirs or vise versa. We can’t even meet on the middle on this one because our interpretations are mutually exclusive.

It was easy for me to imagine our disagreement in the context of a blood feud: Christianity used to be one not-so-happy but not always unhappy family. At some point, two relatives began to fight over something and it came to blows. Members of the family took sides and pretty soon their split turned into an impassible divide. But something happened – the first generation died. The next generation was born into this “us” against “them” fight, was taught that they were on the right ride and the others were on the wrong side. They continued their parent’s fight. When they died, this feud was passed down from one generation to the next, sometimes calling a temporary truce, but usually making things worse in the long run with betrayal and finding brand new ways to perpetuate an age old conflict.

Here we are having spent the better part of two millenia continuing to fight each other – chosing our words to be our weapon against our distant cousins. Do we know why we fight? No – the whole story was lost a long time ago. But that’s not a problem because the preceeding generations made more enemies by in-fighting and continued splits. So when two people go to do battle online in one of those “this is why I’m right and you’re wrong” forums, the idea of calling it even for the sake of unity sounds like much too little and way too late.

At this point – there’s probably no way for us to bridge the divide – for every point in Scripture that inspired a schism, there are at least two, if not more possible interpretations. Each person that holds onto one of them sees it as being right and all others as wrong. Using logic and emotion won’t sway all people to the same belief – and that’s why at the heart of it all, true unity cannot be achieved. Only one person can settle the score for all sides – God. Until then, the best we can hope for to stop teaching each other to fight those we don’t agree with, but to respect each other’s differences and love them as people. I think that’s why they call it the Golden rule.

Elimination Game

Marco Polo is a classic kids game – a combination of tag and hide-and-seek – with the added challenge of not being able to see and only relying on what you hear to figure out your friend’s location so you can tag them to be it. Whenever It says ‘Marco’ everybody else is supposed to reply ‘Polo’. It’s a surprisingly fun game – that is, when everything is fair.

But sometimes I think Christianity is playing a weird version of the game. Firstly, they have to figure out who can – and more importantly can not be ‘It’. You see, if everybody could be it, then it might be awhile for them to get around to your turn, but if you eliminate all the girls at the pool party, then you just increased your chances of being It. (It also helps to install a rule like ‘boys can’t swim with girls and girls can’t swim with boys’ early on so that no girls would be tempted to show up at the pool party.)

Now that you only have boys playing the game, you still have the problem that it might be awhile before it’s your turn to be It. You could eliminate all the progressives that are apt to change the rules to the newer variations. Then you could eliminate the moderates that are apt to change the rules that you like to ones they like. Then you could eliminate the semi-conservatives that don’t follow all the rules you like.

That leaves all the conservative players to follow the traditional rules of the game. But with so few of you and so big a pool – you need to set limits. Perhaps you’ll only play in the south end of the pool or on the left side or only on the south and left quarter of the pool – anybody outside of that region is eliminated. But even so – you might not be It.

Maybe if you excluded all the girls, progressives, moderates, semi-conservatives, and everybody not in the south-left corner who was not right handed (like you are), didn’t have brown hair (like you do) and didn’t interpret the rules of the game the way you do from playing the game – then you might be It, but you’d have nobody else to play with.

So here Christianity is – having set in place rules that make it extremely difficult for women to participate beyond the spheres of cleaning, cooking, and childcare, having eliminated progressives from leadership, in the process of replacing moderates with conservatives, and preparing to elevate conservatives to higher and higher standards – but narrowing the definitions of what’s acceptable and adding reasons to disqualify people left and right so that the few that remain will have the benefit of all the prestiege, power, and wealth of being the best of the best Christian leaders. But can’t they see that this system will inevitably exclude them too?

Jesus a different kind of guy – he paid the price for each and every sin, bought every sinner, and re-wrote the rules to include everybody. The truth is, we are all It and Jesus is hoping that we will find him.

Servants, Least, and Last of All

Luke 9:46-48, “46 An argument started among the disciples as to which of them would be the greatest. 47 Jesus, knowing their thoughts, took a little child and had him stand beside him. 48 Then he said to them, “Whoever welcomes this little child in my name welcomes me; and whoever welcomes me welcomes the one who sent me. For it is the one who is least among you all who is the greatest.””

Luke 13:29-30, “29 People will come from east and west and north and south, and will take their places at the feast in the kingdom of God. 30 Indeed there are those who are last who will be first, and first who will be last.””

Matthew 20:24-28, “24 When the ten heard about this, they were indignant with the two brothers. 25 Jesus called them together and said, “You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their high officials exercise authority over them. 26 Not so with you. Instead, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, 27 and whoever wants to be first must be your slave— 28 just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.””

Sometimes I wonder what Christianity would be like if these three verses summed how we were different from the world. Instead of popular personalities, well-known writers, and wealthy speakers, we strove to be the best, least, last, humble, servants we could possibly be.

On Sunday, whoever arrived first at church would hold open the door so that they were the last to enter. The service might not begin on time, but that was o.k. because people at Sunday School were getting their questions answered thoroughly. In this church, people are more important than schedules. Because people are so very important, they wouldn’t hesitate to surround believers with love and support as they go through the trials in life. They would also try to accommodate different tastes – knowing that not everybody dances to the beat of the same drum. They might have services in two or three different styles – a little bit of everything for everybody. Because this church is service-oriented inside and out, they’re always finding a way to make a difference both in their lives and in their communities. If, for any reason, the church ceased to be, the community would miss their presence and mourn their absence.

I guess that’s why when it comes to leadership, the church is a lot like the world. It’s so much easier to borrow leafs out of the pages of business management or theories of order and organization when the world has spent centuries perfecting their strategies for making money. Sadly, much of that money is made by not caring about the consequences that happen to real people. Too often the church relies on human theories about leadership and authority and not often enough does it depend upon God. Churches are closing every day because the few faithful can’t afford to keep them going. Churches are closing every day because they are too expensive and too much to maintain. Churches are closing every day because the business of making money is considered far more important than the process of making disciples. Too many churches will not be missed and too many communities will say, “Good riddance!”

Training Wheels

When Paul was imprisoned, he wrote many letters to the churches throughout the Roman Empire – from modern-day Italy, to Greece, to Turkey, and beyond. He had to give advice to brand new churches that were filled up with all sorts of people: rich and poor, master and slave, from different cultures, and having different social status. No two churches seemed to have the same problems. One church had trouble with false teachings, another with the time-table of Jesus’ return, another with sexual sins. Paul had to give each church the answers they were looking for that would not conflict with the advice he had given other churches nor draw any attention from the authorities who already thought Christians were weird.

Which brings me to today’s question: Could Paul’s instruction be like training wheels for the church? The purpose of training wheels is to prevent young children from falling while they’re beginning to master balance when they first learn to ride a bicycle. Training wheels are not meant to be a permanent part of the process of learning how to ride a bike. Likewise, some teachings would make sense to be given to a brand new church – things they needed to learn and practice until they could move beyond that first level.

It seems that with the crazy world we live one, many people have decided that stricter adherence to the teachings of the Bible is the best solution for them – but we’re a whole other church than the ones that Paul wrote to. Sure if he was still around he might give us some of the same advice – but all of letters are unique. He doesn’t have a pre-written letter for all the churches that looks like this:

“Greetings (name of church) Church!

I’m so proud to hear of all the good things that you’ve been doing in Jesus’ name! It’s really wonderful to know that you’ve taken many teachings to heart.

But you have (problem #1) and I wanted to help you overcome it. This is the solution: (solution #1).

Also, (problem #2) and you should fix it by: (solution #2).

Don’t lose heart! (Encouragement) and (Reminder of a past teaching you had trouble with). I also heard you had a question about this teaching: (Question about teaching) and here’s another way of looking at it (clarification of teaching). (More encouragement) (Word of Instruction) Thanks for everything! I know you will do well and I look forward to hearing from you again. Goodbye.”

Considering what problems exist in America, if he were to write us a letter, it would probably make the Corinthian church look good in comparison.

I can’t help but wonder which teachings were temporary and meant to fall away with practice or which teachings were temporary and meant to to fall away when society had changed. Ultimately though, it’s a question of balance – if we never achieve balance, we will always need those training wheels to keep us from falling. But we will also be kept from achieving our potential. The truth is, we’re not a brand new church, we have had 2,000 years to mature and grow. No, we’re not perfect – we have still to master the basics!

But I still think that Christianity has forgotten one thing about growing up – in the same way that a baby will not resemble himself or herself as an adult or elder, so shall the church not resemble itself as it ages. Trying to always be like the churches in the Bible will keep us from being like the Church God wants to be here and now. Don’t worry, God’s not just in the Bible, but he’s also right before us, waiting for us to ride toward his outstretched arms – which we cannot do well if we’re constantly looking backwards.

Emotions are Essential

It seems in recent years, many churches have focused on teaching youth how to logically debate creationism, evolutionism, and answer some of the more common questions about belief in God in general. (He’s like the wind, you can’t always see it – but you can see leaves moving in the wind and know it’s there … unless there’s a tornado, in which case you can see it and it’s going to destroy whatever is in it’s path, that sort of thing.) But there seems to be an emotional disconnect in Christianity these days.

There are good emotions – joy, happiness, smiling faces. There are bad emotions – anger, depression, frowns. Christians are often cautioned to not be too emotional when it comes to God. So that way you won’t mistake elation for being elevated in the Holy Spirit, because the two are just so similar.

One day at church – I can’t remember which one, I could not help but noticed the conduct of one of the youth. He was a perfect example of boredom being bored. His expression, his posture, his attitude all clearly stated that he would rather be anywhere else (school being an exception) than where he was. I envied the kid – I felt exactly the same way, but I couldn’t show it. He was genuine, I felt insincere.

Looking online, there’s no end of Christian rescources on emotions:

“Any thought or emotion that agrees with what God’s Word says about you is from your new man. Any thought or emotion that violates God’s Word is from your old man or the devil.” (http://www.awmi.net/extra/article/harnessing_emotions)

“But God created us in His image and God’s emotions are revealed in the Scriptures; therefore, God created us emotional beings. We feel love, joy, happiness, guilt, anger, disappointment, and fear, and sometimes these can be “false” feelings if they are based upon false premises.” (http://www.gotquestions.org/managing-emotions.html)

“Emotions are an ignored reality in much of the Evangelical Church, but it is not so in the Bible. Within the Bible’s pages the Trinity manifests a rich emotionality. Within the New Testament the Person of the Spirit not only manifests rich emotions Himself, but is given to the believer to profoundly influence her or his emotional life. As we cooperate with the Spirit and sound spiritual principles, we shall experience an increasingly rich emotional life. The health of our emotions is a critical category of our spiritual life.” (https://bible.org/seriespage/holy-spirit-and-our-emotions)

So many times Christians are told to err on the side of being unemotional or at the very least wear a permanent happy face that they aren’t often taught to accept or understand their full range of emotions. Sometimes we forget that Jesus was an emotional guy, and there can be no doubt that Paul felt every single emotion possible along his journeys. David danced exhuberantly and also was on the run at one point. Nowhere did anybody in the Bible say: “I’m experiencing too much emotion here – I need to repress what I’m feeling.” But now so many Christians are taught to distrust their emotions or to repress them or hide them – they’re missing out on getting to know God through emotions.

“Rejoice with those who rejoice; mourn with those who mourn.” Romans 12:15

We’re suppsed to relate to one another with our emotions, not try to comfort each other with logic or sayings like, “What God giveth, He taketh away.” There are situations where that’s probably the least helpful thing you can say. For a list of more things you shouldn’t say – start with the Book of Job – most of it is covered in there.

There comes a point where our emotional selves are reaching out for each other and for God – sometimes it doesn’t look quite right because we’ve been taught that it’s wrong to be too emotional – but sometimes it’s exactly what we need. Logic isn’t known to be a comforter or counselor – but that’s the Holy Spirit’s job description.

Who are you in the Bible?

Good or bad, righteous or sinful, humble or proud – there are lots of characters you can see yourself in the Bible. But what if your entire Christian experience you were only taught about David, Elijah, Jesus, and Paul or Esther, Ruth, Martha, and Mary?

Are you David – least of your brothers, chosen by God, slayer of a giant, warrior that has killed tens of thousands, faithful ruler, man after God’s own heart / God’s friend, made mistakes – committed adultery, masterminded murder, but through it all restored to God?

Are you Elijah – challenging God’s foes and fighting for Him, holding the leaders accountable before God, a miracle-worker on the run, zealous – excited in your faith, but ultimately escorted to heaven in a chariot, evading death altogether?

Are you Jesus – the travelling religious guy that always taught, always found time to heal, always spoke to the heart of the matter, and never got along with the religious professionals?

Are you Paul – the guy that switched sides, took every opportunity to talk about Jesus, went through starvation, exhaustion, shipwrecks, mobs, and got thrown in jail, which was pretty convenient because it gave you time to write lots of letters?

For some odd reason, I’m pretty sure lots of guys would speak up and say, “What about Joshua? what about Moses? What about Abraham? What about Peter? What about John? What about Timothy?” Each and every man in the Bible has an important story – and there are tons of Bible Studies out there for men to really learn what they can.

But Women’s Bible studies are very limited. For one men vastly outnumber women in the Bible. Men are portrayed as heroes usually, Women struggle to be heroes but don’t often get the reputation of one.

Are you Esther – whose beauty was vital to your mission to save your people?

Are you Ruth – who must wait on your kinsman-redeemer to rescue you from poverty?

Are you Martha – who thought it more important to fulfil the role of hostess?

Are you Mary – who thought it more important to learn from Jesus?

“What about Jael? What about Deborah? What about Phoebe? What about Junia? What about Mary Magdelene? What about Elizabeth?”

There are lots of women in the Bible that are simply ignored, or in the case of Jezebel, used as a cautionary tale for “that’s as bad as a woman can get – and you don’t want to be anything like her.” Worse yet, historical and cultural context is nearly nonexistent for women. We don’t understand what these women were living through and having to deal with. Their future was dependent on marriage and children – without both of them, they had no future – no husband to provide for them and no children to care for them once they were old.

So when I see these Bible studies about Esther and Ruth and Martha and Mary – I can’t help but think that I’m not like any of these women and that I’m not in the Bible.