The weeks since posting last have been many and long, as many of you know quite well. Most of July and August was spent with preparations-within-preparations for our move to Minneapolis where it turns out I was accepted at Bethlehem College and Seminary. Months of deliberation and manic prayer culminated in me going all in with Bethlehem, heart lunging simultaneously towards two opposing poles: excited for “an education in serious joy,” but also apprehensive as I surveyed the topography of the kingdom, a kingdom of, well… Baptists. My misgivings were louder some days than others, but Lady Wisdom hollered through enough human microphones to put them in perspective and keep me on course for Minneapolis. One of them, Joshua Pegram, was decisive: “Go, and discover everything about Baptists worth keeping and everything worth leaving behind.” On top of the ideological anxieties, though, was the simple fact that I loved the people of my church, people who had become my family (particularly my teens in the youth group) and was loathe to leave. Equally crucial, therefore, was Stephen Villacorta’s impassioned plea when I told him leaving everyone behind felt like being ordered to Nineveh: “Do this, man- this isn’t Nineveh, it’s Dagobah. Learn what you need and return.” Wow. Thank you, my friend. So here we are, and I’m trying to do exactly that, and come out of this a full-fledged Jedi.
Unfortunately, there are several things from the past few months I missed covering, so expect some expository thoughts on Laudato Si, ISIS and immigrant exoduses, the Benedict Option, and a few other matters I don’t think it’s ever really too late to examine. Of vital importance, though, is the fact that it’s Halloween! Blake and I collaborated on a Halloween playlist with commentary for Mockingbird this week, and I’m enormously pleased with the results:
Go check those out, and as you enjoy the tunes and the rationale, feel your heart of stone melting and go ahead and jettison your Halloween-phobia. To help with this, listen to what Collin Garbarino, writing for Reformation21, has to offer. He notes how neo-pagans and neo-Puritans alike like to claim Halloween finds its genesis in the Celtic holiday Samhain. History, however, demonstrates how this is just bull. “Christian parents would need to shield their families from Halloween practices, if this story of Samhain were true, but it’s not. The truth is that historians don’t really know much of anything about Celtic religion. What gets passed around the Internet as history is mostly speculation and nonsense.” Garbarino, a Baptist with consciousness of church history as a living thing impinging on our present (!), notes that our current practices of Halloween have scarcely anything to do with Celtic or Roman ideas at all, that they are, in fact, distinctly Christian:
Too often we Americans forget that Halloween, or “All Hallows’ Evening,” is actually only the prelude to another holiday, All Saints’ Day. This Christian holy day, which has its roots in late antiquity, honors all those who have reached heaven, and originally it was especially concerned with the martyrs…
Should Christian children be allowed to trick-or-treat? I don’t see why not. Much like putting up a Christmas tree, we don’t know why or how this particular tradition began. Trick-or-treating and Christmas caroling probably stem from the same Christian motivation. The night before a holy day was a night of fun in which one would visit with neighbors. Perhaps dressing as a ghost or skeleton was a way to honor the dead that would be celebrated the next day. As I said, it wasn’t the pagans who were fascinated with the dead; it was the Christians, because it’s only the Christians that believed that the dead don’t stay dead.
We don’t know why the early church began celebrating All Saints’ Day on November 1st. Maybe it was to co-opt fall festivals for the church. (It’s ironic that many American churches won’t celebrate Halloween, and instead they replace it with the obviously pagan sounding “fall festival.”) But nonetheless the date makes sense within the overall rhythm of the liturgical calendar. Summer is over and the days are getting darker. What better time to acknowledge that we live in a fallen world? What better time to remember the martyrs who died during the dark days of persecution? But even though things are dark, we celebrate with joy. We can laugh as we dress our children in images of death because we know that death no longer has a hold on God’s people. Though things look dark, we mock the darkness and we mock death because we know that we haven’t been abandoned to the darkness and that in the darkest days of the year, Christmas will come, and the days will get brighter.As America moves farther away from its Christian roots, our society starts to resemble the pagans in some ways. We, like the Romans, tend to avoid death. We hide our elderly away in homes to die, and we don’t have funerals, rather we have “celebrations of life.” For one night a year, secular America becomes honest about the human condition; death and darkness are all around us. Christians should take advantage of the holiday even in its secularized form by mingling with neighbors and reminding each other why we can laugh at death and joyfully ask, “Death, where is your sting?” Our faith in the resurrection is the reason for the season.
What’s the real reason American Christians are so wary of Halloween? Because we have unthinkingly imbibed the theology of glory All Hallow’s Eve first strove against and have spurned the darkness that is real, the darkness in which our salvation was accomplished. Don’t buy the vapid, 700 Club theologizing that says Halloween fun is endorsing the Devil. So, with that in mind, go revel in Halloween fun, y’all!( And please, please, don’t cop out and call it Reformation Day. More on that another day.) And to all my people back home and abroad, know that I miss you- definitely in a Slint way!