Monday, October 31, 2011

Why give a nod to Halloween?

I have a love-hate relationship with Halloween.

Not big on the candy, costumes, and hoop-la.
But I think it's a great opportunity to remind us of life & love.

I don't really single it out. There are aspects of Easter and Christmas that bug me too. And I find little value in Valentine's Day, St. Patrick's Day, Mothers'-Fathers' Days, and Flag Day. (Flag Day... Really?!)

Anyway, Halloween is today. Our culture knows this: the day is second only to Christmas in terms of dollars spent in anticipation of (industry expected $6.9 billion for Halloween this year). I know it goes with the ages of my children, but it seems like the hype surrounding Halloween grows each and every year. My kids were invited to wear their costumes at their music recitals. They were invited to parties (on nights other than Oct. 31). My oldest - in first grade - even got a "boo-gram" again this year. (Kind of fun, actually: another child tapes candy to a piece of paper that says, "You've been BOOED!", puts it on the doorstep, rings the bell, and runs away.) The lawn and house ornaments and lights, etc. are so overdone, it's not even funny.  There are enough blow-up spiders on roofs in Hingham to make any arachnophobe tremble. It's unbelievable.

And why...?

With Christmas or Easter, we might explain that at least most people value the story and Christian tradition behind the holidays.

But Halloween...? Do people know?

Before I get to that, I almost forgot: my first-grade son Brayden came home from school one day last week and said, "Hey Dad, do you know the holiday called 'Day of the Dead'?"

Now I vaguely remembered hearing of this Mexican holiday, but at the moment, I just assumed he was confused: "You mean All Saints' Day, right?"

Brayden: "No, Dad. We learned in Spanish today about Day of the Dead. It's in Mexico. They all go into the cemetery and think about the dead."
Me: "Okay, Brayden, but that sounds a lot like our All Saints Day."
Brayden: "Well what's All Saints Day?"
Me: "It's a day when we remember those who have died in Christ."
Brayden: "Oh, no. Not that, Dad. My teacher said Day of the Dead has nothing to do with Jesus. It's not like rising from the dead."
Me: "Um, Brayden, when is Day of the Dead?"
Brayden: "November 1st."
Me: "Hmm...that's the same day as All Saints Day. So I imagine that they're related. Jesus is kind of important to All Saints Day."
Brayden: "That's not what my teacher said. She said it has nothing to do with Jesus."

Now I have a lot of respect for public school teachers, so I let it drop for the moment. I looked it up and remembered hearing in the past about Day of the Dead, which is indeed a national holiday in Mexico. Yep: while pre-dating even Christ with Aztec roots, the day is intentionally set on November 1st and 2nd in connection with All Saints/Souls Days. Not even sure why I looked it up.

But "it's got nothing to do with Jesus," of course. :-p

Anyway, I actually want Brayden to know about All Saints Day. So we've been having some conversations. Here's why I think Halloween is an opportunity for we who follow Christ and why I am up for working a bit to re-claim All Saints Day:

We're horrible at dealing with death. I wish I was talking about just American society in general, but it's true of my church tradition as well. So All Saints Day is a wonderful way to remind us what we believe about life, death, and resurrection by the Resurrected One himself, Jesus Christ.

So, I wrote the below for our church. For the third year in a row, we are handing out hot apple cider (for warmth), glow bracelets (for safety!), and candy (I guess because we're supposed to) to those who walk by the chapel. We're also adding about 75 milk jug luminaries around the property to light up the neighborhood. I may even pull out a table and light our red sanctuary candles that we have in memory of those saints who've gone before us. I'm hoping this continues to catch on for our church community. 


Why would an evangelical Christian church do anything on Halloween?
"There is no fear in love; but perfect love casts out fear..."
John was one of the first followers of Jesus Christ. He wrote the above words in one of the books of the Bible that's attributed to him. In today’s contemporary world, one in which much is built upon or informed by fear, our church believes rather that love is to be at the heart of what we do.
So we reject any continued and intentional effort to instill fear in anyone. Quite frankly, much of what causes fear these days is nothing at all to even be feared!

Life, Death, and Resurrection
What about participating in the evil of Halloween? It's true that many see Halloween as a night of opportunity for interacting with "evil," whatever that may be or look like. And this has mostly come from the subject of death and "what happens" after death: the folklore of ghosts, ghouls, zombies, and other scary things that we'd otherwise rather avoid. The mockery made of these things may actually be well-played, for in mockery, we are often seeking to rise above the things that scare us. But sometimes we mock things as an easy way to avoid dealing with an otherwise difficult subject.

What might be well-intentioned mockery to a child (or adult!) on October 31st may take form in untrue yet seemingly realistic and very influential ways when Grandpa or Mom or Brother dies any other time of the year.

For Christians, we don't fear death. We acknowledge its reality, but we seek to overcome it by the Resurrected Christ. We seek to speak life, light, hope, and love in the midst of death. As far as we know, we will all die someday. But those who follow the Risen Christ think differently about death, knowing that death is not the end, but a state of "rest" in which the dead are "waiting" for the return of Christ and the Great Resurrection.

So people who have died aren't wandering spirits, but instead are...well...dead. You've likely seen the popular usage of "R.I.P." on decorative Halloween tombstones, which means, "rest in peace." Well this is meaningful and not at all scary for Christians: that those who have died in Christ now lay in rest, waiting for his return.

For we who remain, we remember the dead (even with sadness sometimes), but we don't fear them! We acknowledge death, but we don't "meddle" in it. Death is for real and while mockery may help ease the all-too-often real "sting," for those who follow Christ, the true avenue to overcoming death and the hurt, despair, and other difficult things surrounding it is found in the Resurrection of Jesus Christ.

So we "practice" the things of resurrection now: life, love, light, hope, and peace.

You may know that the Halloween of today is a descendant of a holiday of the Christian Church. Even today, many churches still give a slight nod to what is called "All Saints Day" (and also for many, the subsequent "All Souls Day"). All Saints Day (or "All Hallows Day") is November 1st and the night before ("eve") has since become "All Hallows Eve" or Halloween.

For Christians, remembering our dead is a way to proclaim the continued reign of the Resurrected Christ. We don't fear them in their deaths...we celebrate their lives. Surely we miss them. But in Christ, we know that death is only temporary.

I'm looking forward to finally preaching two corresponding series this coming Lent & Easter on death and life. I think we need it. Jesus was pretty intent on bringing healing to people, good morals and all. But his life & ministry culminated on the cross and out of the empty tomb. This is our message.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

"Bringing a little Dorchester" to Hingham

"We're bringing a little Dorchester with us."

That's what Donnie Wahlberg said last night at the grand opening/premiere/party thing that opened up the new Wahlburgers restaurant about 2 miles from where I live, minister, and worship.

I find the statement so ironic. It's what I often wish would happen in Hingham.

Now the Wahlberg boys aren't stupid. Chef Paul (brother to the famous Donnie of NKOTB and even more famous Mark) chose the Hingham Shipyard as the location for his two (soon to be three) restaurants and not their actual hometown of Dorchester. Dorchester would have been a horrible business decision. The first restaurant is reportedly doing very well, and the second - scheduled to open to the public today - will likely as well. If the likes of the people who showed up to the private yet well-publicized premiere opening last night have anything to do with it, it will be just fine. David Ortiz, Kevin Youkilis, Danny Paille, and Rob Gronkowski were all there, completing the four major Boston sports teams. Alas, the minister from the closest house of worship was not invited. :-) And I'm not sure if the poor were there either. But I could be wrong.

Anyway, it's them (the poor) that made me write today.

At the very same time that these were celebrating the new establishment, much of the rest of Hingham was focused on establishing the financial foundation for a new middle school to the tune of $60.9 million. After much debate, the article at Hingham Town Meeting passed just fine by 82 votes (it now goes to general election this Saturday). I couldn't make it to the special Town Meeting as I had an Overseers meeting for the church, but I'm not sure how I would have voted had I been there. If and when I do go, I like to listen to the heart of democracy work (the New England town meeting is a thing of beauty and wonder) and then decide.

But I'm not really in the business of deciding the need for a new school. I think education is important, but I'm not overly worried about the quality of education in Hingham. I tend to think that the space is much less important than the people (teachers) and the medium (curriculum, etc.). But you do need a place to make these things happen. As it stands I "kind of" have three children in Hingham Schools: my oldest is in first grade and my twin girls go to the Integrated Preschool that we can't afford for about 10 hours a week. So I recognize and affirm the need for education and the much more subservient need for a place to do it.

...I'm just not sure why it takes $60.9 million.

Some of the scare tactics used to lobby for the school were laughable: "Crack forms in ceiling. Need new school." I guess I grew up in a different way: if the car needed a new radiator, we didn't buy a new car, we got a new radiator. I don't want to downplay the importance of fixing things for safety's sake. I do want to downplay the desire for fresh paint and an auditorium in a middle school. The middle school I went to (in a fairly wealthy town) had no auditorium. That was for the likes of a high school. And "not adequate space" for the music room? mean there's a music room!? And did you see all those instruments!? Anyway, I'm way too into details at this point.

What is my point?

It's in moments like these that I wish we could really do what Donnie Wahlberg suggests: bring a little Dorchester to Hingham. When I read the local paper and see people go on and on with the passion and zeal of Dr. King himself about where to put stoplights and whether or not the lines downtown should be yellow like everyone else's or red, white, and blue for the 4th of July, it makes me want to rent some coach buses and take my fellow Hinghamites a few miles down the road to Dorchester. Just to get out, ya know?

I want to give the town of Hingham some credit. If there's a need, the community is going to take care of it. The school system is pretty good, the roads are well-paved, and the stoplights are pretty (although the way we handle trash and recyclables needs to go!). The average home selling price is above $700,000 for good reason. Despite the "horrible" economy of the past several years, the housing market in Hingham hardly took a hit. There are houses on my street in which I could run from one side to the other in less than a second (=small...and I've got bad knees) that have sold multiple times in the last couple of years for over half a million dollars. Even the tiny house that I live in which is need of some repair and a decent paint job (again!) is assessed near $500,000 (five years ago).***

Further, there are really smart, thoughtful, and resourceful people here who know how to find money and exercise the various grants, funds, etc. available from nonprofits and levels of government outside the town. Example: did you know that there are grants that you can apply for to purchase a boat pump out stationSomeone in Hingham did. Props to them! And this $60.9 million middle school will actually "only" cost the taxpayers of Hingham $35.6 million because the state is kicking in some $25 million.

...If I lived in Dorchester, I'd kind of wonder why Hingham is getting $25 million dollars to build a new school. I mean...really? Hingham needs help building a school?

I'm not offering answers here, just throwing out these thoughts as a way of thinking more deeply than a scare-tactic YouTube video (Single-pane windows!? The horror! Can't we get new windows?). Education isn't about facility. Facilities are servants to more important things.

In six years, if I'm still in Hingham, my oldest son will go to the new middle school. I'm sure it will be great. And I understand about the opportune time in regard to the state funds.

I just struggle with the amount of money.

***Disclosure: By the way, I should really point out that I am hardly a Hingham taxpayer. I am a resident of almost six years, but the only taxes I've paid are from my vehicle and I believe, a small entertainment/food tax from the restaurants. The church owns the house we live in, and being a nonprofit, pays no real estate taxes. I'm conflicted by this when I consider town issues. So I don't even really have reason to complain as the tax increases won't affect me. I'll never be able to afford to buy in Hingham.

Friday, October 07, 2011

A Non-Resistant Ethical Blueprint?

I basically am typing this out and posting it for future reference as it describes better how nonviolence plays out for the one(s) following Christ.
If we took the precept of non-resistance as an ethical blueprint for general application, we should indeed be indulging in idealistic dreams: we should be dreaming of a utopia with laws which the world would never obey. To make non-resistance a principle for secular life is to deny God, by undermining his gracious ordinance for the preservation of the world. But Jesus is no draughtsman of political blueprints, he is the one who vanquished evil through suffering. It looked as though evil had triumphed on the cross, but the real victory belonged to Jesus. And the cross is the only justification for the precept of non-violence, for it alone can kindle a faith in the victory over evil which will enable men to obey that precept. And only such obedience is blessed with the promise that we shall be partakers of Christ's victory as well as of his sufferings. (Bonhoeffer, The Cost of Discipleship)
Pardon my Bennet Brauer quotational-tendencies for a moment, but when I first starting flirting with these understandings of Christ several years ago (just out of seminary), I was told by that I would "get over it," it was "just a phase," that I was "idealistic," etc. I was "out of touch with reality." At one panel discussion on nonviolence, one senior clergy-person said to me: "Yes, but Jeremy, right now there are terrorists hiding in those mountains who have a notion to kill innocent people," as if I didn't think about that.

In the years since, I've been more silent about my understanding of the nonviolent Christ. But my faith conviction in the prescriptive cross has not gone away and has actually only been kindled as I continue to watch the powers of the world bicker and smolder in a struggle of power and control. And by "powers" I don't only mean nation-states, but also the individuals around me (including myself) who so often resort to the ways and means of control to make situations as I would have them to be.

There is no blueprint, really. That would be another Law. Rather, there is a call to follow Jesus in the moments of life. Questions of "What if someone's rapin' your Grandma?" might slightly begin to help flesh out what to do, but only obedience to the will of God by the grace of God will lead us as it did Christ.

So really, it's not about "killing or not killing" at all. If the discussion/debate focuses there, we're doing no better. It's not even a discussion at all, really. And it's certainly not a "position" (of pacifism, or whatever else you want to call it). It's a decision to follow in the path and example of the crucified Christ. Obedience...

The notion of, "Yes, but in real life..." doesn't stop Jesus. We'd all be in big trouble if it did.