Friday, October 30, 2015

Friday’s Essay – Don’t Be Distracted by Halloween

Below is an essay that I sent to those on the Cove Presbyterian Church e-mailing list. You can hear a podcast of this essay by going to the Cove Presbyterian Podbean page. 

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Tomorrow is Halloween, and if we’re not careful, I think that one single day can become an enormous distraction for a lot of Christians. Let me explain. Every year we sort go through what’s become a little religious ritual, with some Christians condemning the day as Satanic and inferring, if not openly stating, that anyone who would allow their children to dress up like a princess or like the Hulk is jeopardizing the eternal destinies of both the kids and themselves. And they’ll promote this idea with a confidence that generally sounds pretty self-righteous. Now that’s what one group does, while others spends about the same amount of time, energy and self-righteousness mocking them. Now that’s what’s happening on the other end of the spectrum, while still others are wandering around somewhere in the middle, with the brothers and sisters who tilt toward those who see Satan in the candy corn allowing their children to wear costumes and get goodies and even trick or treat, but not on Halloween, rather at the Harvest Festival which just so happens to fall on the same day. (I guess those who see this as a better alternative never read about the pagan celebrations of the fertility the harvest represents. If they did, it would radically change the nature of the senior high hay ride.) That’s what they do. And those who may be on the “Halloween’s Not the Instrument of the Devil” side of the mid-point, they try to Christianize the day by carving a cross or the face of Jesus rather than Jack-O-Latern into their pumpkins. But you know, regardless of where you fall on the continuum, the result is the same: a whole lot of time and attention is spent dealing with the day.

And if we have a lot of free time, that may be alright. But you know, even if we do, all this Halloween concern can really distract us from what’s most important on October 31 and every other day in the year. You see, when we’re worried about spiritual damage done by celebrating or the psychological damage done by condemning, we’re not focusing our attention on the one who’s Lord of the entire universe and on what’s he’s told us to do 24/7.

In other words, the time we spend attacking or defending Halloween may distract us from the one who loved us before the foundation of the world and whose cross freed us and empty tomb gives us reason to hope and whose Spirit surrounds us all the time, opening our minds so that we can understand and our hearts so that we can feel and our wills so that we can respond. You see, when our attention on worldly things, Halloween included, becomes a little bit obsessive, we’re probably shifting our focus from the one who stands as creator, redeemer and sustainer to something else, something a whole lot less important. And I can tell you right here and now, that’s not good, but that’s not all that can happen.

This pursuit can also distract us from what we’ve been called to do. You see, when asked, Jesus was very clear about what God expects from us: “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your strength, and with all your mind; and your neighbor as yourself.” And the more time we spend debating the merits of a single day, the less time we have to do things like caring for the hungry and thirsty, the stranger and the naked, those who are sick or in prison. But even more than that, when we see this as spiritual debate worth pursuing, we tend to gravitate toward one side or the other. And sadly, when that happens, often the closeness we’re called to share as members of Christ’s body breaks down, with those who condemn the day judging those who don’t while those who believe that tricks or treats offer kids the chance to have some good, harmless fun, it’s easy for them to ridicule those who don’t. And even though we might go through some kind of semantic exercise to label either judgement or ridicule as acts of Christian compassion, it’s mighty hard to love someone whom you believe is choosing to go to Hell or who’s making a mountain out of a candied apple.

Of course, almost anything can and does distract us from the one whom we worship and the kind of lives he’s called us to live. Still I think the nature of Halloween can be particularly distracting. And even though, personally, I believe that unless we take it to some kind of bizarre extreme, our celebration of the day is pretty harmless, I also recognize that there are some Christians who don’t feel that way at all. I mean, they see Satan behind every cardboard witch and inside every carved pumpkin. And I also recognize that it’s tempting for me to see these folks as, at the very least, silly and, at worst, a little bit on the dumb side. But you know, where we stand on the line between the extremes isn’t relevant, because the day itself can occupy more spiritual attention than it should, distracting us from the God we love and serve. And for that reason, let’s make an intentional effort to push aside all that secondary stuff so that we can focus on the one who loves us and the love we’re called to show others.

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