Halloween is Fun

Seriously? I asked myself as I read yet another Christian blogger who was trying to make a long argument that Halloween was a pagan celebration of all things evil and a form of satanic worship. It seems that every year the same old lines get trotted out for the same old song and dance. It seems that some Christians have done nothing but fear-mongering on the one night of year that’s all about being scarier than anything that’s worth being afraid of.

But I’m also thinking of one of my favorite movies – the Labyrinth. Sarah’s triumph is in realizing that the Goblin King has no power over her. I think too many Christians dress up Satan as the Goblin King – some enigmatic all-powerful evil force that’s out to snatch kids and raise them up in all things evil. Their plan to be the hero of the story is not to navigate the maze, but to flee as far from it as they can get. They know that God has and is defeating him – but on this one night of the year he’s more powerful than God because all the children are participating in some bizarre costumed candy-collection ritual that mysteriously fuels Satan with more than enough power to set his throne above the Most High – until midnight and God’s full power is restored. So long as people imagine that Satan has power over them, he becomes this scapegoat for any and every reason that something happens.

Some of the craziest feats of illogical ramblings usually accompany the litany of reasons why Halloween is evil. But the truth is that Halloween is fun. The kid in all of us gets to play dress up, team up with their friends and visit their neighbors, say the magic words and get free stuff. Some of the parties that go on are quite epic, even the simple ones are just as fun as the elaborate ones. In a year of being boring and serious, Halloween celebrates being fun and silly.

If there was something vaguely Satanist about it, one would expect Churches of Satan to arise of out of each neighborhood with a fresh batch of converts each Halloween. For kids to talk about the theology of Satan, to sing songs about Satan’s power, and preach the message of Satan out in public every day of the year. But that has never really been the case as long as Halloween has been celebrated. This imagined threat is nothing but smoke and mirrors; but because of it, too many parents forbid their children from having any fun at all and sentence them to various alternatives just to keep their kids out of Satan’s hands.

Halloween is quickly becoming one of my favorite holidays. I’ve watched children chatter on excitedly about their costumes, their eyes light up as they get to decide which treats ought to be given out, it’s a night of the year where kids who don’t have much don’t have to spend a lot to have some fun and they get some extra meals that the might not have otherwise. Even the parents are in on it, their inner kids aren’t much different than the little ones.

If everything truly comes from God, then Halloween must be God’s gift to us to remind us to have fun.

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Forsaking All

Growing up, I learned the ABCs (Admit, Believe, Confess) of FAITH (Forsaking All, I Trust Him). So long as I admit that Jesus is my savior, believe that Jesus is my savior, confess that Jesus is my savior and forsake all others as I trust Him alone, then my salvation is assured. It’s a pretty individualistic message; usually individualistic given that it’s not uncommon for stories in the Bible to report the conversion of one person to Christianity usually meant the rest of his or her household also converted into Christianity. Faith was a collective experience. Not only you and your family shared the same faith, but with any luck, so did everyone else around you; same faith and same values.

We’re an individualistic society – that’s how we read and apply the Bible. God’s promise to captive Israelites being marched to Babylon is interpreted as God’s promise to each and every one of us to give us a good life, to protect us, to provide for us no matter what happens – he has our backs. So we would view the promise of salvation as saving ourselves – whereas the ancient believers would have turned down any concept of salvation where their entire family couldn’t be saved as well.

This tendency creates a sort of righteous isolation – I’m being saved, I have the truth, I will go to heaven; who cares about the unsaved, who don’t have the truth and who won’t go to heaven? Something of this thinking gives people permission to cut out from their lives anyone that could jeopardize their salvation – an inconvenient relative or friend who just doesn’t share their values or makes them question their own faith or doesn’t get how important faith is. Such thinking would never have been possible in the ancient world – where families were strongly connected, where communities were closely bound, where friends were as family, where clients where as family, where relationships were at the core of everything.

Walking away from those relationships was to lose one’s identity, one’s security, one’s future, one’s past, one’s hope – yet Jesus promised new relationships to replace the ones that had been lost for those who would believe in him; for giving up a flesh-and-blood family, they would be part of a greater spiritual family with one father – God himself. Our culture doesn’t give us many parallels – perhaps during the Civil War when brother fought brother, or during the Civil Rights era when one marched on one side and the other fought to hold down traditions. Perhaps it’s the cutting off of a LGBTQ teenager to show him or her tough love to snap them back to their senses and return home as the prodigal children that they are. For some reason, many Christians feel justified in sacrificing some relationships for the church. Forsaking all others indeed.

I wish that shared faith wasn’t a non-negotiable prerequisite to be associated with them for these people – because it’s so strange to stand across the table from somebody I used to know from church and from somebody who used to know me from church knowing that I haven’t changed and they haven’t changed, but the relationship we had isn’t the same. Trying to talk politely around the church issue without broaching the subject. Perhaps this spiritual family is too much like a flesh-and-blood family and when relatives are on opposite sides – you know the saying, a house divided falls.

Childhood View

“I got a drop-dead simple childhood view of salvation, perhaps that’s how it was always meant to be. The more I add up all this information, it seems it all comes down in the end to you and me.”

So I’ve just discovered jazz and with it a bit of Trans-Siberian Orchestra. When I heard this lyric – it really stuck out to me. Christianity ruined itself when it decided to put childish ways behind it. It decided to explain the works. The story went from one of Jesus saving us (somehow) (and for some reason) (from something) to one of Jesus saving us by substitutionary atonement for God’s glory from God’s sovereign will that anyone who doesn’t believe won’t be saved from God sending them where the unrighteous go when they die. Then they said that in eternity past God created everyone, predestined some of them to be saved and predestined the rest to not be saved. A simple view of salvation grew increasingly complex as we tried to answer questions – turning a savior into the monster that he saves us from in the process.

It reminded me of the Masked Magician doing a trick and then revealing how it’s done – as fascinating as it was, it was also a gauntlet being thrown down to challenge a community famous for never revealing it’s secrets to make new secrets to astound us all and to rise to the occasion of doing something new. Some days I wish I hadn’t watched those episodes and learned how all the tricks were done. Magic without mystery was meaningless.

And so it seems is a God whose ways are higher than our ways, and yet we can fully explain from infinity past to infinity future what he has done, is doing, and will do as if we understand him and how his tricks are done. Like Pharaoh’s magicians, we can replicate some of his power – to cure plagues and to cause them, to make fields grow and to make fields die, to war with the best of them with devastating weapons of mass destruction and mass casualties.

There is something to be said for a simpler view of Christianity, where there is mystery and suspense and unpredictability. Kids aren’t told that salvation can be denied to them because they aren’t elect. It’s only as kids grow up are the simple sketches of faith filled in with more detail, things that were deemed too difficult, too inappropriate were hidden from them are now revealed. They put away childish things behind them, and for some, that includes a simple faith, a trusting spirit, a knowledge of salvation.

An Awkward Conversation

There’s a time and place to have the “Do you know Jesus?” conversation and during a shift at work is not one of them. He had been a repeat customer, this was his third visit. Ahead of him was woman – both were quite free discussing matters of faith. “Praise the Lord!” “I’ll be praying for her.” That sort of thing. That was fine with me, better that they speak with each other than me. Then my luck ran out as the woman left and it was his turn at the register. Turns out the man had just attended a revival meeting and had felt the Holy Spirit move him to speak. Still on that spiritual high, he opted to ask me the question, “do you know Jesus?”

“Yeah, sort of.” I said. Which was true. I know the Jesus that Christianity teaches – whether or not that’s a reasonable facsimile of the real thing is anyone’s guess. It’s not like Jesus and I can go to catch a movie together, stop by the store to pick up some groceries, and take a walk through the park discussing the finer points of theology. Jesus, to me, is an ideal (in the sense of a concept) of spiritual perfection. Perhaps that’s due to the WWJD? bracelet trend that was popular when I was a kid. The question: “What would Jesus do?” was meant to help us consider Jesus’ example as our guide. I also know Jesus’ story, born of the virgin Mary, adopted by Joseph, lived in Nazareth, Magi / wise men and shepherds were there to play their part; then his public ministry, his arrest, his trial, his death and Resurrection followed by his ascension . Could there have been a historical Jesus who really did exist? Sure, why not? Jesus is a variant of Joshua, which was an exceedingly popular name. I also know that my church wouldn’t have baptized me as a kid if my faith weren’t sincere – so I know Jesus as my savior also. But in many ways, I’m that kid anymore and I’ve grown up, changed, and become a whole other person.

“Sort of? Once you’ve been saved you’re always saved. Just like Jesus told the woman caught in adultery, ‘go and sin no more.'” He began.

Of all the Bible references to chose to bring up, why that one? I don’t think I look like an adulteress. Should I take it as a compliment? Though there is a footnote in most Bibles that the entire story was a late addition, few early manuscripts happen to include the tale. Make of that what you will.

“Do you go to church? You’re always welcome at mine.” He added.

“It isn’t Baptist is it?” I asked. Eighty percent of the churches in this county are Southern Baptist – which I’ve promised myself to avoid if it’s at all humanly possible. I don’t like Southern Baptist Churches because I used to attend them and I found them lacking. As far as guesses go, it’s usually correct.

“No, I attend a Pentecostal church way over in the city.” He answered.

That’s the other downside to this area, you have to drive to either of the local big cities to have any decent choices of churches – and that’s a forty-five minute drive in either direction. Been there, done that and I’m not about to start that commute all over again. Besides, I don’t know anything about Pentecostalism. The only thing I had heard about them was the time one of my friends had attended a service only to be branded a sinner when she couldn’t speak in tongues.

“I appreciate the offer, you’ve given me a lot to think over.” I said. I meant it, sort of. But mostly I just needed out of the ill-timed and awkwardly-placed conversation – after all, I was working and had a lot of my plate. I guess I had accepted my lot as a millennial to be on the outs with religion. After all the issues I’ve had with the Baptist brand of Evangelicalism, I’m not sure I’m ready to give the Pentecostal flavor of Evangelicalism a try. Odds are it won’t be the last conversation that goes like that – but it’s not in me to tell people what they want to hear. (Though it would be far easier if it were.)

Other People’s Music

Perhaps it was the fifth time I had heard “Walkin’ on Sunshine” or the sixth time that “It’s Rainin’ Men” blasted over the store speaker system that I realized how horrible other people’s music can be. Not in that “they have the worst taste in music” sense – but in the way that there are songs that are fine once in a blue moon become annoying when heard multiple times the very same day; songs that you barely tolerate once become much more difficult to stand as they’re continually repeated. The more I heard other people’s music, the more I longed for just one of my own played just once. But it also made me wonder if I really should share it, after all, what if other people don’t like my music any more than I don’t like theirs?

It makes me think of the worship wars and being the odd one out. Music is and can be it’s own personal language. For someone going through a tragedy, “It is Well” can help them cope, for one celebrating “It is Well” can be quite a bit of downer, particularly if you know it’s history. No two people take to the same song the same way. Even with contemporary music, “In Christ Alone” has it’s fans and it’s detractors. Ultimately, other people’s music really has no power over you. As much as I don’t like hearing the same songs over and over again in the course of a day, as much as I don’t like old-fashioned hymns – it ultimately falls flat. The thrill that others might get out of “Walkin’ on Sunshine” “It’s Raining Men” “It is Well” and other hymns is pretty much a “meh” for me.

Unless the Holy Spirit is a void entity in the world of contemporary Christian music, then the reality must be that God inspired both old-fashioned hymns and contemporary Christian music – and that both are ultimately God’s music. One would think that no matter which side each of us as people fell on, churches would be capable of celebrating both kinds of God’s music. But it doesn’t seem to be the case. Most churches are small and tend to pick just one – out on the rural areas such as this one, hymns tend to win hands down as the congregations are often older and haven’t much experience with contemporary music. It takes a spectacularly humble elder to set aside his or her own taste in order to accept their kids, grandchildren’s, and great-grandchildren’s preference in God’s music in order to facilitate the worship experience of the younger generation – and such elders seem to be a rarity indeed.

Being the odd one out is a special misery – where you realize that in certain churches you will never, ever get to sing your favorite song to honor God, in a chorus with the voices of those around you, lifting up your sacrifice of praise. You get to lift up other people’s songs though, ones that don’t resonate with you. You might, if you’re very lucky, get to do a special music of the song that you like – but you’d have to perform it alone with all eyes on you, and you’d have to sing it really well because no other voices will come to your aid. If you’re not a talented singer (I’m decidedly not) then you don’t even have that option.

Some days I really wish that the shoe was on the other foot, that the hymn-singing churches would have entire services with contemporary music where it’s done right. Where they get to miss out on their music and come to understand what it feels like to know that never again “In the Garden” or “Blessed Assurance” or “How Great Thou Art” will ever be sung again. Then I think twice and realize that I’ve gotten used to the misery of other people’s music and I wouldn’t wish it on anyone. I know that misery loves company and I just mostly wish I wasn’t so miserable – I just really, really miss my own music these days.

The Bruise

It’s become a rather awkward topic of conversation of late – the sort-of square-shaped slightly smaller than a playing card-sized purple bruise on my right arm just about half-way between my wrist and elbow. It’s not helped by the fact that I have quite a few smaller bruises on the rest of that arm. Human nature being what it is likes to jump to the worst possible conclusion. Everyone who sees it thinks it’s the result of abuse – and since abuse victims are the first to deny that they’ve been abused then saying that it isn’t only more firmly convinces them that’s the case. Should I cover up or conceal the bruise, the people who already know it’s there would think that I had something to hide, perhaps abuse. So I have little choice but to let people see it, to let people ask about it and let people assume the worst because that’s the only way to prove that’s not the cause and the character of my loved ones is impeccable.

It doesn’t help that I’m extremely pale and bruise easily as it is. Awhile ago, I realized that I had a mysterious series of bruises. I eventually figured out that sitting cross-legged while wearing shoes was the cause – something having to do with the combination of my own weight pressing down into the edges of my shoes. As for the bruise on my arm – my guess is that the likely suspect is that my dog has figured out that if he sits on his human then she can’t get up or go anywhere and he can always be sure of where his human is at all times. He’s a seventy pound gentle giant and putting some or all of that weight on my arm would be enough to cause it.

Of course, the other point of consideration is despite so much suspicion of abuse, it all falls under the category of “not my business” and that’s the limit of what people will do in the face of their suspicions – ignore them. I know that nobody wants to be the bad guy, the tattle-tale – but it’s still pretty sad that those who actually endure abuse can pretty much expect that you’ll ignore the evidence of your eyes and your gut instinct just in case you’re wrong. People don’t like to think about the unpleasant reality that they’re right and that their silence just makes it that much easier for the abuse to keep on happen to someone else they know.

I’d much rather that abuse was taken more seriously, that people would take a risk and report it and investigate it so that people who need help but won’t ask for it can get it. Everyone deserves better than to mark it under “not my business” and go on with their lives. What’s so wrong with being wrong, anyway? Wouldn’t it just prove that one’s associates are honorable? Isn’t that better to be right and silent? Given time, my bruise will heal – but my faith in humanity has a more serious wound.

Awesome Testimony vs Boring Testimony

“You know, I wasn’t always saved. I was rebellious. Got into trouble. Partied. Addictions. Made lots of really stupid mistakes …” Brother J began, referring to his infamous tattoos chronicling a lifetime spent lost in the world, ” … I ain’t gonna lie, jail-time was tough. But when I had everything stripped away, everyone gone, and absolutely nothing – that’s when the visiting pastor told me about God. Turned my life around. Got a reduced sentence. Ever since I’ve been out, I haven’t missed a church service – Wednesdays and Sundays. I work hard and volunteer whenever I can. I study the Bible relentlessly and I’m learning more every day. I work with at-risk kids – trying to keep them from making the same mistakes I did. Through it all, God is there with me – showing me his love, having forgiven me of all the wrong I’ve ever done.” The whole congregation clapped, some even shouted “Praise God!”. The pastor came up to the stage, spoke a quick prayer and then asked for the next volunteer to deliver their testimony. An uncomfortable silence quickly ensued. How could anyone top that?

For many of us who grew up in the church, having such a testimony seems like it’s proof-positive that God’s at work. “I was that way, now I’m this way.” “I used to do that, but now I’m into this.” There’s this clear diving line between the “old man” and the “new man”. But growing up into a Christian family, it’s often difficult to remember what our “old selves” were like as we were so young when we were baptized. Some people celebrate the anniversary of their “birthday” in the kingdom – I can’t tell you when mine was. I don’t have any idea how I’m different than how I used to be because all I can remember is how I am now and I can’t imagine not being the same person that I am now and have always been.

I’m not really sure that I feel like a Christian, like one who has a personal connection with the idea that even though I’m not worthy of salvation having been a sinful sinner and showered with God’s grace and love I’m forgiven. If anything, I’m more like the Pharisee, more apt to list the things that I’ve done right and all the ways that I’m not like those sinners over there. Evangelical Christianity isn’t a place for the fallen to kneel at the altar, it’s where the pure of faith stand tall before it as a living sacrifice – as a spotless lamb who bears no guilt and has committed no crime. But I’m not sure I feel like one of those perfect Christians either. Church isn’t my thing anymore as I no longer feel any sense of belonging. I’ve neglected Bible study as I’ve read it all before. I don’t feel like singing and I don’t like the songs that they would make me sing.

I sometimes wonder just where I stand. Before I had read somewhere that some teachings of Christianity are like getting a fix, you have to keep going to keep it in your system. Now it feels as if the worst of withdrawal is over. I attended a church last week and developed no desire to return to that church or any church like it. Having tried out other churches in this region – it seems like there’s nowhere that would be a good fit for me unless I changed to fit their image.

Perhaps it’s the pressure to have an awesome testimony that’s half the problem. The only people who can really have them are the ones who converted into Christianity as an older youth or adult; little children who grow up into the church never really develop an opportunity to be rebellious as it would reflect badly on the parents they have been taught to honor at all times. A great many millenials stated that one of the reasons they walked away from the church was that they’d seen how that kids who were raised in the church were often dropped like a hot potato when they made just one mistake. They lost their perfect status and could no longer be living sacrifices. They also feel that talking about any doubts they may have would cause them to be seen as unbelievers. There’s no safe conversation a doubter may have in a church that allows them to wrestle with the faith and it’s teachings. So many feel that they aren’t welcome as they are that they have no choice but to leave or to just not go at all. As for me – I still hold out hope that I’m just in a deep valley and it’s a matter of time before I’m back on the mountain. It just saddens me that Christianity isn’t making it any easier to reach toward the heights.