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Saturday, October 31, 2015

All Hallows' Eve

Another little surprise of America 2015:  Halloween is HUGE.  Now our personal experience as small children involved low-tech home-grown costumes, paper bags (Jennifer) or pillow cases (Scott) for candy collection from neighbors, with the most terrifying story being the titillating possibility of a razor blade in an apple.  It was a one-evening neighborhood-based activity for kids.  Mid-childhood we switched to a reformed church with some healthy skepticism about the pagan origins of the old neighborhood trick-or-treat traditions, so we then had Reformation Day Harvest Parties at the church, which still involved dressing up but this time historical church figures were preferred.  Fast-forward 30 years, and we find a commercial holiday involving elaborate lawn decorations, weeks of hype, expensive costumes for all ages, pumpkin-everything, and night-after-night of zombie movies.  Halloween dominates October almost as thoroughly as Christmas stretches back through December.  People of all ages are expected to invest in costumes, and colleges pepper the students' emails with instructions on what is appropriate.  You can dress up, but not as another culture, race, gender.  You should stick with  non-human super-heroes or cartoon characters, provided they are not a Disney rendering of a non-white person if you're white.  I'm not exactly sure of the rules, but if there is one thing the social media of 2015 polices well, it is every possible grey zone of offense.  Which one must applaud for the sensitivity to others that we have historically lacked, but one must also admit that the anxious search for ulterior motives takes some fun out of a dress-up holiday.

So how did we get to the point of a global permission for carousing in costumes on a church holy day?

I am not an expert on this, but it seems to make sense that the early church co-opted some pagan traditions and synthesized new ones, building on culture while imbuing it with new meaning.  A celtic observance of the harvest, of the end of the year, of remembering the dead, becomes a Christian holiday to pray for those who have died and honor their memory.  And when the Christian version became so exploitative and corrupt that Martin Luther could no longer stand silently by, he chose this day to nail his 95 objections onto the door of the Wittenburg chapel, sparking the Protestant Reformation.  A half-millennia later, we're all pretty confused, and the holi-day has been all but divorced from any holiness.

So in the spirit of embracing the culture as it evolves, here are a few thoughts about the day:
Let's agree that the world is more than meets the eye.  This is one holiday that acknowledges the existence of spirits, of events that can't be explained by Newtonian physics, of true evil.  Let's agree on that.
Let's remember and honor the saints who have gone before us, and the party that we're going to have together.  We stand on the shoulders of the church in glory, the throngs around the throne.  My Bible reading this morning came from Revelation 19:
Then I heard what seemed to be the voice of a great multitude, like the osound of many waters and like the sound of mighty thunder-peals, crying out 
For the Lord our God the almighty reigns
Let us rejoice and exult and give him the glory,
for the marriage of the Lamb has come,
and his bride has made herself ready;
to her it has been granted to be clothed with fine linen, bright and pure'---
for the fine linen is the righteous deeds of the saints.
And the angel said to me, "Write this:  Blessed are those who are invited to the marriage supper of the Lamb."
So this is a holiday, a party, a blast.  And our costume is pure and shining and as beautiful as a bride's wedding gown.
While we wait for a defeated Evil to be completely routed out, let's not be lulled into complacency.  I think what bothers me about Halloween is not that it is too evil, it's that it's not evil enough.  If we mock devils by creating costumes, if we imply that skull-faced ghouls are make-believe, we pacify our fear by hiding from reality.  If you want scary, watch the movie discussed below, because the real life true horrors that go down in this world are nothing to laugh at.

Meanwhile, Scott and I are dressing up as what we call our James-Bond like America-personas, where we look clean and together and spiff, and not very much like the grungy doctors with spattered coats we have been most of the last 22 years, as we testify to God's work at the Serge Vision Summit.  Whatever you're dressing up as tonight, don't forget to turn back your clocks.  An extra hour of sleep is surely a fitting commemoration of the saints!

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