October 30, 2013

Should We Let Them Live? Thinking About Halloween In The Schemes

Halloween is always a tricky time for Christians. I vaguely remember ‘trick or treating’ as a young boy, carrying a pocket full of eggs. Even if we got goodies, we would usually end up throwing eggs at some poor unsuspecting householder. If somebody was really mean, we came back later with stones. It was not a celebration to which we gave much serious thought.

Early on in my ministry as a youth worker, I was involved in staging ‘Christian alternatives’ to Halloween parties. I suppose my motivation was good. I wanted young people to celebrate all that was good about Christ rather than dressing up as ghouls and vampires. The events were, in the main, excellent, although I have no amazing tales to tell of people saved from a life of the occult. After that, we moved to Brazil, where everyday was Halloween, and not much of it involved dressing up in cutesy outfits and knocking on doors (more on this later).

Having children made me think much more about Halloween—as we returned to the UK with two inquisitive young girls and Supermarkets full of all sorts of costumes and paraphernalia. It was time to have a discussion that was a little deeper than, “We don't celebrate it because it is a Satan inspired event designed to make evil appear harmless and fun.” In our family, we don’t dress up or celebrate Halloween because, for us, there is nothing to celebrate. We don’t give any credence to a world that, although unseen, is still very real and powerful. We have seen evidence of this both in Brazil and Niddrie, where the occult is a very strong presence and has a stranglehold on many people.

Now, don’t get me wrong. I am not for one minute equating Halloween with children growing up to be Satan worshippers. I just don’t want to entertain it when there are so many other things we could be doing as a family. Now I know, as with all issues, there is a sliding scale when it comes to understanding and appreciating Halloween in Christian circles. A great friend of mine, Steve Utley, has written a thoughtful blog post on this issue (a few years old but still relevant) from another, well thought through perspective. You must take the time to read it here. Steve has a brilliant mind and has come to a different conclusion to me. In fact, I find his arguments very convincing, but we still do not participate, as a family or a church, in any Halloween celebrations on the scheme. So, what’s our problem? Here are a couple of reasons why I don’t wander around the streets of Niddrie ‘trick or treating’.

1. Cultural. This is not a family thing on our scheme. Door knocking for sweets is largely, though not exclusively, done by masked teens in hoodies and, often, with menaces. Put out of your mind the old lady with a bag of Haribo, sitting on her rocking-chair handing out sweets and words of wisdom as Jeff and June and the kids pop by. Forget beautifully carved pumpkins with pretty, coloured candles hanging in the windows. The scheme is not a place I let my children out after dark, even if it was with my wife. Such is the unpredictability of life here (rape and sexual assault is commonplace, alongside stolen motorbikes and cars driven at breakneck speed along pavements and roads). Maybe if there was more of a family atmosphere I would get involved. But, around here at least, Halloween is more like state sponsored mugging for youths just looking for trouble and (some) of whom would think nothing of taking sweets off passing children.

2. The Occult. In Brazil, we lived and worked in the Spiritist capital of the world, where the sacrifice of children and the black market dealing of their body parts is still a common practice. You can appreciate that, in this culture, my girls never left my sight! In the state where we lived (Sao Luis, Maranhao), there was a national day celebrated only by the occult community which encouraged children to go door-to-door, collecting sweets, dressing up and being introduced to the concept of their ‘spirit guide’ (read demon in my opinion). When my young Brazilian intern first came to our shores, he was horrified by Halloween, and sees it as nothing more than a Western rehashing of this satanic Brazilian event. Likewise, in Niddrie, spiritism is rife. Therefore, I am very careful not to participate in anything, however innocent it appears to be. I know it feels like this point is a little exaggerated, but I just cannot shake my unease. Hear me, I am not equating Halloween with black market body part sales! I am just extremely uneasy about the ‘cartoonish’ nature of a spirit world I have seen in full, terrible flight on another continent.

Now, what I really appreciated about my friend's article (link above) is how he approached Halloween from the cultural context he is engaged in. He uses the event as a time to make contacts, cement relationships, and promote the gospel of Jesus. I can appreciate that many Christians and churches may feel the need to cash in on this. As a missiologist, I can appreciate the concept of ‘investing old forms with new meaning’ (although we must be careful of overstepping the line) even if I don’t agree with it in this case. However, we have no need to do this in Niddrie. We are very well known in our community. Most people know who I am and they are aware of the church. But, in situations where maybe people are having trouble relating to their neighbours, and if I lived in another place, I would definitely be on to his approach in a heartbeat.

So, when a young child comes knocking at my door dressed as a witch, I don’t stand there quoting Exodus 22:18 at them (look it up). Nor do I invite them in for a Bible study on Deuteronomy 18:10–12 (likewise). I will smile, hand them a few sweets, and encourage them to think about coming along to our Bible club down the road. The reality is that I will probably have to chase half a dozen idiots down the street because they have been trying to set my dustbin on fire (definitely no sweets for them)! Read Steve’s article and have a (re)think about it (or not). I just value his challenge to the Christian world in the UK to keep thinking and evaluating our beliefs, even if we differ as believers (and dear friends). Please refer to his new site here.

Here’s a bit of John Piper giving us his view.

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