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."
[...silence...]
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. ...so 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. 

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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.
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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.

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