Tuesday, October 21, 2014

On the matter of Halloween...

I almost didn't write this post for fear of causing division within the church. However, like many of my friends, this is an issue that, especially last year, I struggled with. I read an article about how Christians should participate in Halloween to evangelize, and I tried to convince my husband that we should pass out candy and Bible verses to the neighborhood kids. We should participate in Halloween so we can do our part to reach the lost, I argued. I felt that having holy motivation would make it okay. He knew better, and through his unwavering attitude, the Lord revealed to me some truths that settled the issue of Halloween with me. If you're on the fence, maybe sharing what I've learned can help settle it for you, too.

There's this article floating around the Facebook realm written by Kirk Cameron about his thoughts on whether Christians should celebrate Halloween. I adore Kirk Cameron; I think he has a lot of important things to say, and I typically enjoy reading his articles.

But his belief that Christians should celebrate Halloween just makes me sad. His thoughts are that Christians should be throwing the biggest party; we should be laughing in the face of darkness as we don our witch hats and ghost-like sheets. We should absolutely be using it as an opportunity to tell our neighbors about Jesus.

I agree; we should rest easy in the truth that Jesus has overcome the grave. (We do have a holiday for that; it's called Easter.) I agree; we should be telling our neighbors about Jesus. Nice word, Kirk.

Why is this issue of our participation in Halloween so confusing? We argue about whether the origin of Halloween is Christian or pagan. We argue about whether it's okay to dress our kids up in cute little overpriced costumes, as long as they aren't something evil like a witch or a demon. We wonder whether we should be hospitable and pass out candy or turn off our porch light and pretend we're not home. We have festivals at our churches to give our kids an alternative to go to, because somehow celebrating Halloween at our church feels more safe than being "out in the world with the heathens."

There are some gray areas in the Christian faith regarding what our response should be to the things of the world. But I don't feel like this is one of them.

"For you were once darkness, but now you are light in the Lord. Live as children of light (for the fruit of the light consists in all goodness, righteousness and truth) and find out what pleases the Lord. Have nothing to do with the fruitless deeds of darkness, but rather expose them...Be very careful then, how you live—not as unwise but as wise, making the most of every opportunity, because the days are evil. Therefore do not be foolish, but understand what the Lord's will is." Ephesians 5:8-17

There is our answer. It's simple. We are to have NOTHING to do with anything that gives fear, death, or darkness the attention it craves.

That still may not convince you, but it's not because this is a gray area, folks. Here's why this issue is so hard for us: because our flesh wants something that the Holy Spirit warns us against. Let's just call it what it is. Because the world gets to have all the fun while we have to pass up a costume party for the sake of Christ.

It's hard being left out. Loneliness is one of the most painful things we can experience as human beings. It's one of the hardest things we encounter when we hold fast to our counter-cultural beliefs. Neither my husband nor I grew up celebrating Halloween, and we don't ever plan to. And sometimes it is lonely, especially because a lot (most) of my Christians friends were and are swooning over their (and now their kids') costumes and bringing Halloween candy in their lunchboxes to school for weeks. It didn't seem fair. We did go to our church's fall festival many years, but it was not the same.

Friends, we were not created for this world. We are not called to love the things this world loves. We are called to be anti-cultural, because that's exactly the example Jesus gave us. We're in the world, but not of it. And yes, it's lonely at times. But the best thing about following God is that we NEVER are alone. He is always with us. And His way is ALWAYS the best way. It's hard because our flesh wants to belong. It sees the world having fun, and it wants so badly to join in that it will justify any action, or worse, try to make it seem spiritual, so that we don't have to be left out.

"Do not be deceived: God cannot be mocked. A man reaps what he sows. The one who sows to please his sinful nature, from that nature will reap destruction; the one who sows to please the Spirit, from the Spirit will reap eternal life." Galations 6:7-8

Here's the danger in that: when we justify actions that the Bible clearly warns us against, we come out from under the protection that comes from honoring the Lord. We reap what we sow. Those who sow to please their flesh will reap the consequences of living in the flesh. And in doing so, we are left vulnerable against the attacks of the enemy. It's a double standard that we want to belong in the world, but then we complain when the effects of our actions cause stress in our everyday lives. We want our kids to have fun on Halloween, but our heart breaks when our children have nightmares. When they worry. When they are afraid. Do you see the issue here? We are deceiving ourselves if we think the two are not connected. There is so much evil in the world; why would we want to teach our children it's okay to have fun with it? There's nothing "fun" about the spirit of fear.

Cameron says that we should use Halloween to make fun of the darkness as a way to rejoice that it no longer has power over us. But the truth is, we're still giving it presence in our lives when we make fun of it, and that simply contradicts what the Word tells us we should do. We are to give it NO room to breathe.

I recently learned that the entire month of October is sacred to the satanic culture. In fact, during this month, many satanists specifically fast and pray for the downfall of Christianity. Why would we have ANYTHING to do with that effort? You see, that's not something that would happen all at once. The destruction of Christianity happens as Christians start to make small little compromises with our faith for the sake of adaptability and to seem easy-going. Small, unnoticeable compromises and justifications that over time de-contruct our belief system and values. If he can get us to believe that certain behaviors of ours don't matter, he wins. When we waver, Satan wins. And he takes any little inch he can get.

I don't know about you, but usually October carries more sources of stress for us than any other month. Year after year, we'd experience this feeling that we'd lost ground, that the things going good in our lives would suddenly become uncertain. It was just...a struggle. It's also the month that people assemble graveyards in their front yards, hang "cute little ghosts" from their trees, and there are skeleton and witch displays everywhere you look. It wasn't until a few years ago that I finally connected the dots.

What would happen if, during the whole month of October, Christians united to fast and pray for the salvation of the lost and for the darkness to flee from our land? What would happen if, instead of joining in the Halloween festivities, we exposed them for what they are? What kind of impact would that have on our nation?

Well, we may participate in Halloween (make jack o' lanterns and trick-or-treat), but we certainly don't celebrate it. What does this even mean? As a writer, it's easy to carefully choose words that make anything I want to do sound good, but this was just semantics. I told my husband we could still carve pumpkins and let the kids dress up without "actually celebrating the holiday." (He didn't buy it.) But no matter how it's worded, having anything to do with Halloween is not having nothing to do with it. Just a thought.

Oh, but what about the "harmless" costumes?! We want to see our kids waddling around dressed as their favorite characters! My boys love to play pretend. At any time during the year, they will dress up as a cowboy, a fisherman, or a construction worker and have their fun. I take lots of pictures, and we have a blast! October 31 is not the only day they are allowed to dress up as something they aren't. Get your costumes half-price in November, and let your kids use them to their hearts' content all year long!

Oh, but our kids deserve to have some fun traditions, as long as we don't focus on the bad stuff. What's the real issue here? We have lots of traditions throughout the whole month of October: pumpkin patches, hay rides, face painting, drinking hot chocolate, making fall crafts, visiting farmer's markets, eating chili, playing outside in the leaves...Perhaps we're projecting our own emotions onto our kids? Maybe it's us adults who are afraid of missing out or who are inadvertently living vicariously through our kids and creating issues where they don't need to exist. My kids get to experience so many fun activities during October that focus on the benefits of the harvest season that they hardly have time to notice they may miss out on one night of ringing doorbells.

Likewise, if October 31 is the one day of the year that we reach out to our neighbors, then shame on us. We aren't doing our job of being a light in our little corner of the world if we aren't consistently looking for opportunities to invest in a relationship with and bless our neighbors, making efforts to meet their needs and point them to Jesus. I confess I only know two of my neighbors. If I'm not developing a relationship with them year-round, what makes me think they're going to listen to my beliefs on one night of the year? It could happen, sure, but it's not the most effective way to evangelize. And I suspect that us saying we want to evangelize the lost on Halloween is more about us really wanting to dress up and collect candy than it is about us really desiring to seek out and save the lost in our community. If that was our real motivation, we would be seeking them out the rest of year, too.

"What fellowship can light have with darkness?" 2 Corinthians 6:14

I bring up all these arguments because I've said them all myself at one point or another. We seem to think that if we twist and tweak the darkness a little, we can make it spiritually wholesome. But darkness simply cannot share space with light. No matter how we try to justify the cravings of our flesh, we can't just bend and allow a little bit of darkness in and still be in the light that we are called to live in. It defies every spiritual and physical law. Outreach isn't the most effective when we are entering the lost world and justifying it. The best outreach is when we invite the lost into our world, presenting something much more satisfying—the message of the cross and the hope we have in Jesus to totally obliterate the darkness. We don't reach those in darkness by going into the darkness; we reach them by inviting them into the light. That's where lives are permanently changed.

It's that simple.


Wednesday, October 15, 2014

A mama never forgets...

Today is National Pregnancy and Infant Loss Remembrance Day. Last year, I sympathized with my friends and family members who have miscarried or lost an infant. This year, I joined the club.

Also today, I learned that another sweet friend of mine lost her baby at five weeks pregnant, same as me. Except, it's not the same as me. There's a famous quote (I forget by whom), "To cheapen something, make it common." It would be ridiculous to assume that because many couples have children, each child is somehow less valuable. In the same way, even though this is a day observed by countless moms (and dads), it's still the loss of a child that they've suffered, and there's nothing common about that.

So, today, we remember. Not that we could ever forget in the first place. I would be almost 15 weeks pregnant today with our third child, which is the same point in each of my previous pregnancies at which I found out the gender. I would no doubt be in maternity clothes by now, hopefully past the sickness stage, and getting ready to go into the holiday season knowing whether we would be collecting girl or boy items. I would be even more excited than I already am (although I'm not sure that's possible) about the news of a friend of mine, someone who has struggled with infertility for years, who is welcoming her baby girl in April, because that means we would be swapping pregnancy cravings and that our babies could grow up together.

I have realized through this experience that, each time one of my friends lost a child, the things I said to bring comfort were somewhat trite:

"At least you weren't that far along." 

"Well, don't feel like there's something wrong with you, because SO MANY women miscarry."

"Be thankful for the kids you do have." 

"Don't worry; a lot of women find it's easier to get pregnant after having a miscarriage. I'm sure you'll be pregnant again soon."

"At least you know you can get pregnant."

These statements, though certainly well-intentioned by dear friends who stand with us during times of loss, offer very little encouragement. What did help, however—probably the ONLY thing that really brought me hope and helped me move on—was a truth I happened across in the comment section of some random person's Facebook status update: That, when we lose someone, they are not a part of our past; they become a part of our future. The hope we have in Christ is that this world is temporary, and that they have gone ahead of us to our permanent home. And each day we live doesn't tear us farther away from our loved one; it brings us closer to being reunited with them.

This has always been a part of my theology as a follower of Christ, but until recently it's never been a truth I've had to rely on so heavily or cling to so tightly. But it's the one thing that has given me the courage to take steps forward and move on.

So, on this day of remembrance, I want to do what I can to offer that same bit of hope to any of you mamas out there who are caressing unworn baby clothes, sitting in empty nurseries, pulling out ultrasound photos of a child you haven't gotten to meet yet, or who simply have hearts that are aching for a friend who is in pain. The pain is real, but the loss is temporal. We grieve, but in the next breath we can give thanks for the blessing of a child who is as eager to meet us as we are them. And while we remember on this day, we look forward to that day.

Thursday, October 9, 2014

An open letter to Tootsie Roll Industries

To Whom It May Concern:

I had been doing so well on my diet recently that I felt I deserved a little reward, so the other day I purchased a bag of your Tootsie Fruit Rolls; few treats can compare to this sassy little snack.

I was so disappointed (read: crushed) when I tore open the bag I'd hidden in my closet for after my kids' bedtime and discovered that there were quite possibly only eight assorted fruity rolls in the bag; a scant smattering of citrus amidst a sea of blue vanilla wrappers.

Now, let's be clear: there's nothing wrong with vanilla. It's a much better alternative to the limp handshake that is the chocolate flavor. (This is personal preference only, of course. My mom went into labor with me over a bag of the original chocolate rolls, so they have their merit and should keep their spot on the candy aisle.) Obviously you agree that vanilla is a crowd-pleaser, or you wouldn't offer a bag filled entirely with vanilla rolls. Vanilla is smooth and sweet and is great when you smush it with the orange rolls to create a dreamsicle experience. Vanilla is like a warm friendly hug, but it's still kind of...well, vanilla. BUT THE FRUIT FLAVORS are a passionate smackaroo right on the kisser. They are tangy and tart and tantalizing, the perfect amount of acidity to cut the sweetness. And what is a warm hug without a kiss that follows and knocks you off your feet? Dissatisfying at best; heartbreaking at worst.

And since I didn't pick up a bag of the purely vanilla Tootsie Rolls (I double-checked), I'd expected more kisses than hugs. It was like an anticlimatic end to what I thought was a great first date. Or more realistically in my world, the end of a hectic day with two toddlers.

I want to bring this to your attention because I would never want to drive a wedge between myself and my beloved Tootsies. The key to any healthy relationship is honesty. And I wanted to give you the opportunity to make sure that, moving forward, maybe you could give the fruit rolls the center stage they so desperately deserve.

Thank you for your consideration!


Courtney Thompson