Thursday, October 27, 2005

Halloween Part 1

Halloween is the second largest commercial holiday in America. We spend $6.9 Billion. I think that’s roughly what was spent on Hurricane Andrew. What is it about Halloween that draws us in? Is it the candy? Candy comes with every holiday (mental note: don't snitch the kids' candy! I gain weight every Oct 31 - Thanksgiving)

No, it's not just the candy. There's something else that draws us and I want to spend 2-3 posts leading up to that and how we respond. I want to talk about the way we live on October 31, how we prepare for that, how we respond to our culture’s celebration, whether we boycott it or participate redemptively in it. I want to talk about the secular and sacred, how we often separate the two and how Halloween has become a secular celebration that we either boycott or carefully participate in and how we can more effectively again join our sacred and secular lives in such events as Halloween.

I wrote more briefly about this last year on my blog (and perhaps there's a bit of annual liturgy of the blog that will arise over the years, things we keep writing about annually for one reason or another).

Our Ugandan friends were frequently curious about our culture, as we were curious and learning their culture. We found it difficult, however, to explain Halloween to our Ugandan friends. In fact, we were awakened to the fact that any holiday that glorifies gore and darkness is suspect at best and can lead to sin at worst.

Yet there we were, ironically, "celebrating" a holiday in Uganda with apple bobbing, dressing up on Oct 31 night . . . in a place where we were trying to move Ugandans out of superstitions and belief that evil controls them, that evil spirits reign above the earth, that God is not in control; we were trying to preach Christ as more powerful than the evil one or evil spirits that most Ugandans very much believe in (Jn 4:4).

We would talk about fetishes and charms they wore on their arms, under their clothes, put in their houses. We’d warn against curses they’d put on others to hex them and win power over them. We’d frown and condemn the spirit mediums who would dress up in cowry shells with a shepherds crook, get drunk, wear a leopard skin, dance around, smoke a pipe, and divine the nature of sickness or death in a village, trying to determine what was the cause, animal sacrifice, even human sacrifice . . .

And we were Americans come to “show them the way” and we were glorifying a holiday where we dress up as spirits and gools . . . or maybe fools. Were we wrong? Did we send a wrong signal. Some of our Ugandan friends knew about our celebrations. One tailor named Charles Oneka even sewed costumes for our children. Our close friends understood . . . but perhaps others didn’t.

But I tell you that story because when we got outside of our culture, we learned something about ourselves that we otherwise might not have learned. And Ugandan Christians, and perhaps even more so non-Christian animists, view all of life as sacred, so Halloween would not simply be viewed as playtime. They seriously wondered what was all this talk of spirits and demons.

Like many other Christians recently, we've helped our children avoid dressing up as blantantly evil characters. Events have been changed from Halloween to "Fall Festivals," and trick or treating has become "trunk or treats" at churches. Ironically, as I will show in another post, the name "Fall Festival" is more like the pagan celebration than Halloween (All Hallows Eve), which is a derivative of a Middle English Hallowsmas, All Saints Day, the day of remembering Saints and Martyrs. Presumably, the Catholic Church brought this holiday in to offset the pagan harvest festival in which it was believed that the line between life and death was blurred and mediums and prophets could more easily discern and prophesy what would happen to crops, families, villages, etc. I'll write more about this in post 2 on Halloween.

Churches like mine do Fall Festivals, down the street at St. Luke’s they are raising money for missions with a Pumpkin Patch. On 21st street at a church you can attend a drama about the Fires of Hell and you see a coffin as advertisement for that drama.

A few years ago at a Fall Festival I helped plan in Houston, a Baptist came to our Fall Festival because his Baptist church “did not talk about Halloween or Fall Festivals because of pagan origins.” So I welcomed him . . . and asked him for tickets to the Baptist’s annual Christmas Pageant, because at that time, my church "didn’t talk about Christmas as Jesus birth.” His family attended our Fall Festival, ours attended the Baptist’s Christmas Pageant.

What is the biblical principle that guides us here? Should we join culture, celebrate with, revise events with Christian emphasis? Shouldn’t it concern us that we celebrate rightly as Christians? Do we celebrate outside of our Christian faith? Should there be secular and sacred separations in our lives?

Some biblical principles to think about . . .

•Avoid every appearance of evil (1 Thes 5:19-22)
•Meat sacrificed to idols (I Cor 8)
•Don’t handle, don’t taste, don’t touch! (Col 2:21)
•Don’t let anyone judge you because of celebrations (Col 2:16)
•Live in the world but not of the world (Jn 17:15-16)

How do we discern which we choose in dealing with events such as Halloween?

Well, Christians have chosen their texts and reacted certain ways to cultural events such as Halloween. Here are four ways we've responded to culture:

1.Overlook evil side of Halloween or benefits and be indifferent . . .
2.Stand against culture and boycott . . . truck or treat or turning off lights
3.Join it uncritically
4.Engage it and others in our culture and see it as part of the Kingdom life where we participate redemptively

My next post will detail origins of Halloween (and I'll give links to more) and talk about my response and what I plan to do on Halloween.

Monday, October 24, 2005

What goes on?

Name three things that must go on and on.

Name three things that must stop now.

Name three things that either can stop or can go on and on.

Tuesday, October 18, 2005

Why I love post-season baseball

Last night's game five of the NLCS is a perfect example of why I love post-season baseball. Anything can happen. Suspense. Drama. Action. It's really the best reality TV going and always has been.

Well, the reality around our house was that the kids were seeing their mother and father disagree. Jill was born in Houston. I, on the other hand, grew up listening to Jack Buck and going to St. Louis as family vacation and seeing the mid-70s Cardinals lose. I never visited Sportsman's Park but my family went before I was born. We have footage of a game on home movies from that park. I wore a T-shirt that sported Lou Brock's number, 20. My brother, Toby, sported number nine . . . of what St. Louis great who is now one of the most famous managers of this era? That's a question for you.

Meanwhile, Jill grew up in the shadow of the Eighth Wonder of the World and wore Nolan Ryan's number with the cool stripes and was just as deflated in 1980 when the Phillies took the championship away as she was last night when Albert Pujols hit a homer in the top of the ninth to go ahead 5 - 4.

We were sitting on opposite ends of the couch. We couldn't believe the jam Brad Lidge was in after striking two out, but I knew Eckstein would not go down without a fight and marveled at Jim Edmonds standing there, the day after he was tossed out for disputing a call, and take a walk. Then Pujols comes up, one of the best batters in baseball, against one of the best closers in baseball. Hanging slider and it was out. I stood up, fell over on the floor. Unbelievable.

After the game I said, "This makes me sick for Houston."

"You make me sick, falling on the floor," Jill said.

The air in the living room was unbreathable. We both had to get out and headed separate ways. Cardinals are the only team I've stuck with since I was a kid. Any sport. Jill was disappointed for her city, which was set up to become the first Texas city to ever host a World Series. Maybe they still will.

Either way, I can be happy and cheer them on. I don't want St. Louis to represent the NL the way they did last. I really do want the Astros to win . . . and I had fallen on the floor after Pujols's homer not from elation but from tragi-comic conflict within me.

I love this game.

Monday, October 17, 2005

The Digging-est Dog

I love the story of The Digging-est Dog. It's the children's storybook tale of a young boy who saves Duke from the "hard stone floor" of the pet store and frees him in the country, where he tries and fails to dig and in the process gets rejected by the neighbor dogs. When he finally learns how to dig, he digs up everything, the roads, the gates, even the garden of Mrs. Thwaites.

When the boy, Sammy Brown, finally catches up to him, Sammy does what he knew was the only thing he could do. Interestingly, the story is told from the dog's point of view, so here's how he narrates this turning point in the story: "I couldn't run. I couldn't hide. Dogs came at me from every side. And then suddenly I knew there was just one thing for me to do. I ran away from Sammy Brown. I dug a hole that went straight down."

Duke hit water and started to drown, then with discussion among the dogs and Sammy Brown at the top about whether they should save him or not, they all pitched in and made a human/dog chain to help him out of the hole that he'd dug.

He was glad to be saved from that hole, but he didn't just thank them. He knew what he had to do. He dug back the roads, the gates, and even the garden of Mrs. Thwaites.

It's a great story of grace and responsibility for all ages. Get it and read it to your children . . . or your adult friends.

Wednesday, October 12, 2005

Why do people turn bad?


I could start a whole blog about things my children say . . .

Jacob last night asked, "Why do people turn bad?"

I didn't have anything profound to reply but was gratified he asked it. Yet the condition of our world that leads Jacob to ask the question is depressing. Are people born good or bad? And if good, what makes our hearts and actions go sour? An age-old question that I don't want to answer for certain either way [check out Augustine v. Pelagius or Calvin v. Armenius]. What I want to reflect on this morning is the innocence of a pure heart that wonders, "Why do people not want to be good?"

Jacob went on to answer his own question, talking about how people start out with small lies, then begin to steal, then do worse things.

That's right, and I didn't feel the need to theologize any further with him. The best thing I could say to him is, "Son, that's a good question, and I'm glad you're asking." I didn't have to tell him again in that moment that we want to be good people, that we don't want to be bad guys. I can tell that's his heart's desire.

Tuesday, October 11, 2005

Don't lose focus on Katrina Redemption

Now is not the time to lose our resolve to assist victims of Katrina, to redeem hopelessness and to engage those who have lost everything yet teach me so much by their faith and hope in the midst of devastation. We ought to stay focused on helping long-term the evacuees who have spread out over fifty states.

Garnett Church of Christ, where I now work in Spiritual formation, small groups, and outreach is partnering with the North Peoria Church of Christ and civic housing organizations such as the Urban League to help up to fifty families find homes and start new life in Tulsa, to help them live meaningfully with adequate food, housing, clothes, transportation to live dignified and productive and honorable lives as God intended for humanity to live. Our commitment is to share with the desperate, the poor, and those hit with trauma, so they can rise again and live respectable and good lives in a new community.The process of helping evacuees find housing is complex.

It’s very important to note that this process has been made up with cooperation of many, many good and kind people in many organizations and churches. The process is not perfect, but we have chosen to participate in a way that brings honor to God and brings us in direct touch with needs of people by working in teams/small groups in direct connection with families. Some in the church have money and goods to donate, and that is still needed, but we want to connect each individual up with small teams of people who are helping families.

1,500 evacuees came to Camp Gruber near Muskogee, Oklahoma. They work about ten steps toward getting into housing that is either temporary or permanent, depending on their long-range plans to return to the Gulf Coast or start a new life elsewhere.

Jill has spent two days at Gruber meeting with evacuees, asking them questions such as, "Where do you want to live?" "What was your house like?" "How much did you pay in rent?" "Where were you working?" We worked with the Housing Authority (Tulsa, Muskogee), USDA, and Ministerial Alliance of Muskogee. President of the Muskogee Ministerial Alliance Kevin Stewart, also minister of the Muskogee Church of Christ, worked directly with reps from North Peoria and Garnett churches and many others in a variety of denominations. The pace was furious for several weeks until all the evacuees have been relocated to more permanent housing.

I believe a divinely appointed person in this is Carmen Pettie in the Tulsa Urban League. She is also a member of the North Peoria Church and is a key link in the flow of families in need connecting with good housing and people to adopt their needs. Through Kevin, Carmen and many others working together, evacuated families connect with a host group or individuals and start looking for houses or apartments. Some housing has been available through HUD and other housing has been donated by landlords wanting to help and who have donated 6-12 months rent and in some cases utilities.

Churches and small teams of people have fixed and furnished houses and provided families with basics. Garnett small groups are adopting families in need and helping with a wide range of needs from finding housing to furnishing to clothes, food, dishes, bedding, and transport. Garnett small groups have adopted 10 families, and North Peoria churches have adopted many more. I don't have a recent total of how many families have been helped to locate in Tulsa but will find out and post later.

Monday, October 10, 2005

I repent

As I've traveled recently to St. Louis (Kairos Church Planting Meeting) and Nashville (ZOE Conference), you've been telling me that you've been checking my blog but have found nothing new. My apologies.

The dry spell occurred from late August till now . . . so much was happening in life, and I won't bore you with details now. In upcoming posts, I plan, however, to reflect on events of summer, Katrina relief and how Jill and I have reacted to moving in a new home when hundreds of thousands have lost theirs.

I'll also be reflecting on the Kairos Church Planting Meeting, ZOE conferences, the latest issue of Wineskins, the next book I have coming. Mostly, I have stories about lives transformed and what it's like seeing that and the impact on us.

I leave you with words to this cutting and important song by Derek Webb that Randy Gill sang at the ZOE Leadership Conference Friday, October 7. The song gives voice to much of what I've been feeling for eleven years since moving to Uganda and returning. And now that Katrina peeled back one of the covers on poverty in America, I believe God is calling us to take a serious look at the way we live, the way we engage with the poor.

I repent