Note: This is a post I wrote last year.
I must confess to a great deal of ambivalence to Halloween. I vaguely remember doing ‘trick or treat’ as a little boy which usually involved me and my mates ‘egging‘ doors whether people gave us a treat or not. Early in my ministry I was involved in putting on an ‘alternative’ event for the children of the church I was serving as a youth pastor. I suppose my motivation was good. I wanted to encourage young people to celebrate all that was good about Christ rather than dressing us as pixies and blood sucking vampires. The event was great and the children loved it but I don’t have any exciting stories to tell of youngsters I saved from a life of the ‘occult’. After that, I didn’t really pay the whole thing much attention.
Not until I have had children that is. My girls have seen all the creepy stuff in Tesco and asked about it and I have tried to answer them to the best of my ability. We don’t celebrate it because there is nothing really to celebrate. We don’t dress up as witches and stuff because we don’t want to give any credence to a world which, although unseen, is very much real and powerful. We have seen evidence of this both in Brazil and in Niddrie which has a very strong ‘occult‘ presence. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t for one minute believe that there is a direct connection between Halloween and kids growing up to practice the dark arts. I just don’t want to entertain it at any level when there is so many other things I can be doing with the girls. My convictions, I need to confess, are largely pragmatic and full of holes.
That’s why you must click on the following link from a ‘dear brother’ of mine, Steve Utley, who is infinitely more intelligent and well thought through on this issue than I am. In fact, he has done a brilliant job of putting forward a position which fully convinces me, even though I don’t actually practice it!
So, what’s my problem? Here are two pragmatic reasons why I don’t wander around the streets of my estate ‘trick or treating’.
1. Cultural. It is not really done by family members on our scheme but largely by gangs of young hoodies on the prowl. Sadly, we don’t have the old lady waiting with the bags of Haribo here. I generally don’t let my children out on the streets after dark, even with my wife, such is the unpredictability of life (3 school girl rapes in the last 2 weeks as an example – albeit an extreme one!). Maybe, if it was more of a family thing I would get more involved.
2. Anything like this makes me uneasy due to our missionary experiences. In Brazil we lived in the spiritist capital of the world where child sacrifice and the selling of their body parts was still common practice. You can appreciate that my girls never left my sight! In that country there was a national day celebrated only by spiritsts in which children were encouraged to go door to door, collecting sweets and being introduced to the concept of a ‘spirit guide’. I have a Brazilian intern at the church who is horrified by Halloween and sees it as nothing more than a Western rehashing of this Brazilian event (I am not saying he is correct – as I have explained to Him, many things we do were robbed from paganism and re-infused with Christian meaning). In Niddrie, likewise, spiritism is rife, although not to this extreme. I am very careful not to participate in anything no matter how innocent I know it to be. I know this point is a little bit silly and feels somewhat over exaggerated but I just can’t shake my unease. Hear me, I am not equating Halloween with child body part swindlers! I am just 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 Steve’s article is how much his much more balanced approach opened his community to him and his family. Our context is obviously a little different and we are quite well known already on our scheme – but in situations where people are having trouble relating to their neighbours, and if I lived in another place, I would be on to his approach in a heartbeat (which only goes to show the completely flighty nature of my position – I told you it was rubbish!) . What I will take away from his article is maybe keeping a few sweets on standby in the house rather than just blanking the doorbell when it rings or chasing off kids who want to set my wheelie bin on fire! I just value his challenge for us to keep thinking and evaluating our beliefs, even when we differ as believers, to work out just what we need to hold on to and what we need to throw out as we seek to reach out to those around us in our post-Christian culture.
So, basically, I am still thinking it through, aware of the inadequacy of my own ‘flip flop’ position. Not helpful, perhaps, but the truth nonetheless.