October 22, 2017

Writers’ Roundtable–Halloween Edition

Boo!

Ok, so that didn’t scare you. Maybe this will. I have five of the six iMonk writers sitting around a table right now, and they all look very scary. And Adam hasn’t even put on his mask yet.

We wanted to have some fun with this roundtable, but also touch on some serious issues. If you are new round these parts, or have forgotten who is who, allow me to introduce to you the greatest group of blog writers on the entire internet. Starting on my right, there is our editorial director, Chaplain Mike. Then there is Lisa Dye, Mike Bell, Damaris Zehner, and Adam Palmer. We excused Joe Spann as he and the Mrs. have a newborn baby that seems to be more important to him than participating in our roundtable.

Snacks today include one of my favorites this time of year: A bowl with salted peanuts and candy corn mixed together. Grab a handful, pop it in your mouth, and you’ll swear you’re eating a PayDay candy bar. We also have some apples, some popcorn, and what’s this? Mulled cider? Now we’re talking!

Jeff Dunn: So let me start this off by asking if you think Halloween might be the most Christian of all holidays. Or is it totally evil and to be avoided by followers of Jesus? Lisa?

Lisa Dye: I’ve never viewed Halloween as a Christian holiday. As a kid, I just enjoyed it. I looked forward to it for a variety of reasons – getting more candy than I was allowed to have any other time of year, the opportunity to dress up, the fun of meeting neighbors or going door-to-door with a group of friends and the fact that fall, with its crisp air and beautiful foliage, is my favorite time of year.

It wasn’t until I became a Christian that I began to view Halloween with the seemingly required suspicion, bordering on revulsion, that most churches advocated. So, I reigned in my overt enthusiasm, kept my children’s costumes decidedly unghoulish and visited only immediate neighbors and family for the candy haul. Later on, I read bits and pieces about the history of Halloween and realized that some aspects of it is rooted in Christian tradition. By no means have I made an in-depth study, but generally I think Halloween, as we see it today, is a conglomeration of customs from around the world combining pagan and Christian traditions.

Chaplain Mike: James Jordanâ’s article on Halloween helped me understand the Christian history and background of the holiday. If we would emphasize these traditions of mocking the devil by dressing up and celebrating his defeat through joy and laughter, it could go a long way toward helping today’s believers grasp a purpose for celebrating it.

But to me, the big change in the U.S. with regard to Christians and Halloween has been the creation of the evangelical subculture in the last forty years. This has paralleled the development of suburban culture, the loss of neighborhoods and communities, and the radical division of America through the culture wars. Churches have been transformed into the spiritual equivalent of walled communities –activity centers where Christians engage in a full program of “ministries” just for them. This keeps them separated from the world that they see as harmful to the life of faith.

LD: If Christians want a stake in the holiday and to be a force for change in how Halloween is viewed and celebrated, we should avoid perpetuating the negative campaign of the last few decades. Whatever is true and good and beautiful will attract and not repel. That we as Christ followers have authority over Satan and his domain is true and good. That the gates of hell cannot prevail against the Church and that saints have inherited victory in union with Jesus Christ is something to celebrate.

Mike Bell: I have never really viewed Halloween as a Christian holiday, despite the evidence to the contrary. Growing up we lived in a rural neighbourhood of 100 houses. Halloween was understood to be a fun time to dress up, get candy, and visit with neighbours. We always stayed away from the really scary stuff, and we have encouraged our children in the same way. Incidentally, now living in a city, Halloween is one of the few times we get to interact with our neighbours. Have we abdicated it to the world and should we fight to take it back? Abdication I think is a good word, as I don’t think it is/was a Christian holiday worth fighting for. I am disappointed with how it has been changing from being associated with fun to being associated with evil.

CM: When I grew up in small Midwest America, people were much more integrated into a community. We knew our neighbors and participated with them in a common culture that included holidays like Halloween. In fact, I live in a town that still values community. Our neighborhood has the most robust Halloween and trick-or-treat traditions I have ever seen. We have so many children and families come by that the police direct traffic.

I could go to church on Halloween and miss that; turn my lights out, get in my car and drive to some church, to participate in activities at a family-friendly Christian activity center. But why would I want to do that, when I can light the pumpkins, sit out on the porch, meet and greet my neighbors, smile at their kids’ creative costumes, hand out candy, and enjoy an evening when so many people are out on the sidewalks having fun and feeling part of the community?

JD: Adam?

Adam Palmer: The only holidays I see as explicitly Christian are Easter and Christmas, and that probably has to do with my non-denominational, evangelical background. I didn’t grow up in any sort of organized denomination, so while I understand that All Souls Day and All Saints Day exist, they are not a point of emphasis for me. To my Bible-belted mind, those are “church” holidays, not “Christian” holidays.

If we’re going to defend Halloween in modern times by trotting out its origin(s), do we then have to nix Christmas because it has the musty smell of pagan ritual in its origin story? That would make the most logical sense, but I don’t think we should do it. It comes down to culture. Our North American culture has decided what Halloween is now. I can have my kids go along with the fun stuff (dressing up! candy! dressing up as candy!) and use the other stuff (scary monsters! blood and guts! haunted houses!) as a means of teaching them about our history and our faith.

Damaris Zehner: I don’t see it as a Christian holiday. If we’re going to redeem lost Christian holidays, I’d vote for All Saints Day anyway. Vaughn Williams’ hymn “For All the Saints” is one of the masterpieces of Christian hymnody and should have a day all to itself. Although Halloween is related to All Saints Day, I don’t think it counts as a legitimate Christian celebration but is more of a superstition, a syncretic reaction to the genuine Christian doctrine of eternal life.

JD: Let’s assume that all of agree that Satan is a real person, or force, or however you want to refer to him. Are demons real as well? Are they active in our world today? Damaris, you look like you are ready to answer that.

DZ: Yes, demons are real. I don’t know specifically how, but I suspect that Satan’s nicknames give us the hint: father of lies and the accuser.

AP: Are demons real? I would have to say yes. Now, I’m not the type of guy who sees demons ’round every corner or thinks that all little boys who can’t sit still need to have a demon cast out of them. I used to be, but not anymore.

However! I spent almost a year living in Uganda, a place where witchcraft is a real thing. Children were regularly abducted to be used in ritual sacrifices. Every night at ten and midnight, when the witch doctors offered those sacrifices, all the dogs in our city would start barking exactly together, and stop together. People sought out witch doctors to cast spells for healing, spells for financial blessing, spells to have some hated person blow a tire on a dangerous stretch of road. This actually happened to a friend of mine.

Having lived in a spiritually heavy country, I have to say that yes, demons are real and have power to affect the lives of human beings.

JD: Wow. I remember one night getting a request for urgent prayer from your wife on Facebook. When I asked her what was going on, she told me about the abductions that occurred almost nightly. You can believe I did some time before God after hearing that.

MB: I believe that demons are real. I feel that we are so engrossed in our affluent North American society, that Satan has not had to worry much about us. We have already sold out to the gods of consumerism and self-indulgence, so that the spiritual realm has very little meaning to us. In other parts of the world where I have lived, or in the poorest neighborhoods of Canada, I have experienced quite a different story.

CM: I believe in a spiritual realm that is present, though mostly invisible to us. Ephesians calls this “the heavenly places,” and affirms that there are “powers,” both good and evil that are active in this realm. I don’t understand much about that realm, and the Bible gives us glimpses that whet our curiosity, but don’t allow us a detailed understanding.

I do know that Jesus has defeated the powers through his death and resurrection. I also know that there is a continuing battle in which believers play a part. I think C.S. Lewis was wise when he said that there are two dangerous approaches when we think about these powers: (1) to say they don’t exist, (2) to give undue attention to them. If for some reason, I would be in a situation of having to deal with one of these powers openly, I would claim Christ’s victory, quote Scripture, and sing “A Mighty Fortress Is Our God.”

LD: Anyone who reads my posts can discern that I take Scripture fairly literally. That’s not to say I don’t see metaphor and other literary devices in it, but I do believe Satan is real, as are demons. At first, I believed in their existence as a matter of faith. Later, a few experiences solidified my belief, however I don’t think satanic or demonic activity should be blamed every time something bad happens. Bad happenings are part and parcel of living in a fallen world. We all suffer the consequences of our own actions and the actions of others.

The gospels provide examples of how Satan and his demons worked then and, no doubt, work now. Satan is an accuser, deceiver and tempter — a destroyer of men’s souls. Demons possess, oppress and afflict humans and animals with disease, mental illness, outrageous behaviors and may even facilitate accidents or influence people to harm themselves. They speak. They have personality and they sometimes manifest physically. From the book of Daniel, we can see that demons hindered angelic messengers from reaching Daniel. Demonic and angelic activity in unseen dimensions affects circumstances on earth.

JD: Very good points, Lisa. The story in Daniel of how the archangel Michael fought the “prince of the kingdom of Persia” for 21 days always keeps me humble when I think I can command Satan to do this or that, or not do this or that as the case may be. We have all heard preachers who seemingly want to cast demons out of anyone who is slightly ill, or anything that may cause them an inconvenience. When is the right time to cast out demons? How do we know it is a demon and not just the flu?

MB: I wrote two posts on this issue, one about my experiences with mental illness, published at Internet Monk, and one about my very limited experiences posted at EclecticChristian.com.

I would recommend reading them as they really help to clarify the differences. In the first post I gave an example from personal experience about mental illness where I felt that it could be shown that there was no spiritual component. Just to set the record straight, in 46 years in the church I have had just one experience with the demonic. Only one. I am not the type to see a demon behind every bush. But I have had one experience that I think can help us understand how Jesus knew when people needed healing or needed a demon cast out of them. In short, a spiritual issue is spiritually discerned.

AP: Thank the Lord for the Holy Spirit, because He is our informant. Wondering what to do with this person who is acting abnormally? Pray about it. Seek God. He’ll let you know how to proceed. Maybe you need to put on your vomit-proof poncho and get exorcising, or maybe you need to put on your vomit-proof poncho and reach for the antibiotics (I have four kids, one on the way–I know all about vomit-proof ponchos).

JD: Thanks, Adam. No more peanuts and candy corn for me. Lisa?

LD: Knowing when demonic activity is occurring requires discernment and discernment comes from the Holy Spirit. 1 John 4:1, 2 gives instructions for testing spirits to learn their origin. Many years ago when I was suffering a depression, I realized that the ‘self-talk’ I was engaging in was not from me and it wasn’t from the Lord. When I finally tested the spirit behind what I was thinking, I realized I was being influenced by a false spirit. From there I could apply the truth of what God said in his word to refute these things, much as Jesus did during his time of testing in the wilderness. Renewing my mind that way ultimately led to overcoming what could have destroyed me, but it was a long, slow process.

It seems there would be some gifted and more suited to a ministry of exorcism than others, but that doesn’t allow us to abdicate our responsibility to maintain the culture of heaven on earth. If we encounter demonic spirits , we should subdue them and, if necessary, find help in doing it. If we have the person of Jesus Christ alive in us, we have his authority. His Spirit guides us into truth and empowers us.

Jesus also said that some kinds of demonic spirits only come out of people by intercessory prayer and fasting, so that would indicate the believer involving himself in an exorcism needs to be willing to pay a price spiritually. I have heard of a few cases where the process took a long time and was grueling hard work.

DZ: How do we know if it’s a demon or the flu? Wait three to five days, and if symptoms don’t improve, call your . . . Exorcist? I think mostly the family doctor will do. The Catholic church has only twelve certified exorcists in America, while there are hugely more medical doctors. I think that distribution reflects the reality of stubborn demonic possession pretty well.

JD: Chaplain, your thoughts?

CM: I don’t know. What I know is that Jesus cares about the person, no matter the source of the problem, and that the Word and Spirit will minister to him or her regardless. So I pray, and love, and serve.

JD: Excellent. Can’t do any better than that. Next question. The term “spiritual warfare” has been misused to the point I’m not sure what real spiritual warfare should look like today. Where is the war, and do I need to enlist?

CM: You enlisted when Jesus brought you into his family. In our tradition (Lutheran), the baptism liturgy includes renouncing the devil and his works. As to what “spiritual warfare” looks like, I think the Book of Acts pictures it as well as anything. For the most part, it appears to be about proclaiming the Good News of Jesus and the opposition that provokes. It’s not usually about my tummy ache or ingrown toenail. It’s not about politics or the culture war. It’s about spreading light through the darkness, and the darkness fighting its demise.

DZ: The first step of spiritual warfare is to keep your eyes on the Prince of Peace. And the last step, too. I think the phrase “spiritual warfare” is best used to describe the feelings of struggle Christians have as they mature spiritually. Once people try to develop spiritual warfare into a blow-by-blow account of a supernatural Waterloo or Midway, they’re going to descend into silliness, a la Frank Peretti.

AP: Oh, don’t get Jeff going on Peretti. We’ll be here all night listening to how bad of a writer he is.

JD: Just five minutes, Adam?

AP: You asked if we have to enlist in the spiritual war. If you’re a Christian, you’ve enlisted. Man, I’ve fallen into just about every possible ditch when it comes to Christian-ish stuff. I’ve made tons of things the focus of my faith: end times, prosperity, demonology, numerology, healing… you name it. When it comes to spiritual warfare, it’s really easy to start seeing demons influencing everything, but I think that probably gives the devil far too much credit. These days, I prefer to do my best to keep my focus on Jesus and trust that, if I need to give any of that other stuff my attention (say, when a child of mine gets sick inexplicably), he will guide my prayers to that area. Other than that, I’m doing good just getting through the day.

LD: The term ‘spiritual warfare’ is a reference to 2 Corinthians 10:4,5: “The weapons we fight with are not the weapons of the world. On the contrary, they have divine power to demolish strongholds. We demolish arguments and every pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of God, and we take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ.” This speaks to the personal experience I wrote about in question three. If there is a primary inroad that Satan or demons have into our lives, it’s through our minds.

A particular stronghold in me that keeps getting rebuilt and torn down and rebuilt is fear. Succumbing to fearful thoughts and the remembrance of past fear-inducing experiences can paralyze me and make me ineffective. If I analyze my thought processes, I can see that stubbornly clinging to beliefs that defy God’s word is pretension setting itself up against the knowledge of God. Wars are won one battle at a time. For me, spiritual warfare is usually dealing with my errant thoughts and taking them captive one at a time. After a long time of relatively fear free living, its something I’m once again encountering. I can’t say I’m having an easier time of it even with all my past experience.

CM: Lisa, thanks for being willing to be vulnerable and share your experiences with us.

JD: Luther, Lewis and others have said the best way to drive the devil away is to laugh at him. Still good advice? (Well, Luther had another method, one that involved burrito abuse…)

LD: Frivolity and flatulence, hmmm Jeff? Well, I’m willing to give those a try.

DZ: Yes, being laughed at is effective against him and good for us.

AP: Yeah, I remember that quote from Thomas More at the beginning of The Screwtape Letters, about “the devil, the prowde spirite, cannot endure to be mocked.” And I do love that book. But I also think of what Lewis wrote in the introduction to “Screwtape proposes a toast,” about how writing it was such an endurance test to him, that it wasn’t a joy, that it was all “dust, grit, thirst, and itch.” And I think that I should really just do my best to focus on Jesus. If I’m going to fall into a ditch, that’s the one to fall into.

Can I tell a story? When we lived in Uganda, we traveled to do some ministry with a short-term missions team, and while we were gone we picked up some bug (I think it was in the passion fruit juice at the hotel–we should’ve known better). Anyway, we were on our way back, and my entire family started getting vomitous and weak. We went to the doctor and started getting on medication, and in the meantime I spoke to the missions team leader on the phone. “Well,” she said, “God must really have something big planned for you guys. Otherwise, why would the devil attack you so hard?”

Now this is not the first time I’ve heard this. I’ve heard it from friends and family. I’ve heard it from my own mouth. Explaining some out-of-the-blue hardship with the words, “God must have something big in store for you.”

But doesn’t this give the devil far more credit than he deserves? Is he omniscient like God? Can he see ahead in my life? Does he know what’s coming up? Is he trying to get all Terminator in my life, to kill the John Connor in me before it grows up to defeat him? I’m not sure, but I think that isn’t the case. I think he’s full of himself, that he’s crafty, and he gets far more of a kick in leading mass groups astray by offering up some slightly twisted faith than he does out of making my family sick.

Maybe I’m wrong. In fact, I’m sure I don’t see the big picture here. Which is why I say again: I’m probably going to fall into a ditch, so I’m going to focus on Jesus and let Him be the ditch I fall into.

CM: Laughter, and the holy hand grenade, “that by it, Thou mayest blow thine enemies to bits. In thy mercy.”

Yes, I really liked James Jordan’s emphasis on mocking the devil and celebrating Christ’s victory over the powers of evil through joy and laughter.

JD: Well, now you know I will have to post that Monty Python clip at the end of this essay. One … Two … Five!

AP: Three.

JD: Three! Should Christians avoid watching horror movies, reading Stephen King novels, listening to groups like Marilyn Manson and Slipknot because we might be influenced by Satan? Can a Christian be led astray by Satan if he is truly seeking after the Lord?

DZ: I don’t know if horror movies, etc., influence us satanically, but I am suspicious of our motivations for watching or listening to a lot of those things. Why do we want to see horrible things? Why do we slow down to check out a car accident site? Why do we read gruesome stories in newspapers that have nothing to do with us? I won’t say anything about others’ motivations, but I know that my own in these cases are not godly. The creepy curiosity that I feel is much more like the temptation to participate in juicy gossip than it is pity or concern.

I think we can always be led astray but at the same time we can always trust Jesus to answer us when we call on him.

LD: Paul says, “All things are lawful for me, but all things are not helpful. All things are lawful for me, but I will not be brought under the power of any.” I think the decision to watch or not to watch, to read or not to read, to listen or not to listen needs to happen on an individual basis. Some people will be disturbed or influenced negatively by doing these things. Others won’t be. The two questions we can answer to help us determine if something is a good choice are, “Will this help me in some way?  and Is there a chance I’ll be captivated or enslaved by this activity?

I’m looking for a book by Stephen King called On Writing right now because I think he’s good at what he does even if his work isn’t always my taste. As a kid I was enthralled with stories of King Arthur and Merlin — magical things that Christians frowned upon. I can’t see that it hurt me in any way or led me away from pursuing Christ. At the same time, I can’t see any benefit for me in watching, reading or listening to gratuitous horror so I don’t, but I don’t think it should be censored. I’m also aware that my thoughts have changed over the years on lots of different subjects, so there’s always the possibility.

CM: I don’t care for anything that celebrates evil or advocates its practices, so I would avoid things like that. But I agree with Michael Spencer, who said, “Whether they be fairy tales or silly horror movies, the imaginative realm is a reflection of human beings’ ability to create their own worlds, with realities that reflect the depth of nature and the realities of good, evil, hope and redemption.” I would not be a separatist when it comes to literature or other expressions of creativity and imagination, even though they might include elements some would consider objectionable.

AP: The media you consume is a choice you make between you and God, unless you are under your parents’ authority, in which case you should respect them enough to play by their rules. I will say this, though: the moment I start justifying media decisions to myself or to someone else is usually the moment I realize I’m making the wrong decision and shouldn’t be partaking of that particular piece of media. But I’m all for self-monitoring, and it works. My two oldest kids, ages 11 and 9, are good at this. They have been in the midst of reading books they liked and have set them aside because they felt like it wasn’t right for them at that time.

MB: Garbage in, garbage out. I do enjoy scary movies that are not too gruesome, but my wife does not. So I tend not to watch them anymore.

JD: That is the best motive, Mike–making your choice so that it will not influence another in a negative way. Ok, let’s wrap this up with one last question. What are you dressing up as for this year? And what is the best costume you have ever donned for Halloween? (Ok, that was two questions…)

CM: If I were dressing up, I’d love to have the costume Adam Braverman (actor Peter Krause) wore in the most recent episode of the TV show, Parenthood. He wore one of the old “Black Sox” uniforms and went trick-or-treating as Shoeless Joe Jackson. It was sharp.

As a kid I went through a phase when I loved horror movies, subscribed to horror magazines, and built monster models. I decided to be “The Mummy” for Halloween. Only trouble was we had to walk to school, and by the time I got there, I was mostly unwrapped and carrying a bundle of cloth strips. I must have looked a little like Lazarus, post-resuscitation.

JD: I would have liked to have seen that!

DZ: I don’t know that we’ll dress up this year. My favorite Halloween costume was a spur-of-the-moment one. I was in graduate school and went to a party with the rest of the literature department. It was only when I arrived at the apartment where the party was held that I realized it was a costume party. I got a big mixing bowl, put it on my head, and said I was Virginia Woolf. (In A Room of One’s Own, she describes herself as a thought in the cranium of the British Museum’s stately dome.) I realize you had to be there — and you had to have been spending all day and night with literature. Well, THEY liked it . . .

AP: I get it, Damaris. And it kind of scares me that I do get it.

I usually don’t know what I’m dressing up as until hours before I have to wear a costume. The best costume I’ve ever seen was on my friend David, when he wore his normal clothes (black t-shirt, jeans, sneakers) and a fake mustache. “Who are you dressed up as, David?” I asked. His response: “My own evil twin.”

LD: I’m not sure I will dress up. My grown kids have all moved back in state after a few years of living away. My three grandchildren will come dressed for me to see them. Four year old Eva will be a Disney princess. Her twin brother will be Iron Man and two week old Annabelle hasn’t told me what she is planning to wear.

MB: Dressing up is pretty much mandatory where I work. I haven’t figured out my costume this year yet, but last year I went as an aging rockstar.

The best costume I ever donned was a giant pumpkin. A word of warning to all of you.  Never try square dancing when dressed as a giant pumpkin. That, however, is a story for another day.

JD: You know, Mike, somehow I believe you that that is not a good idea.

Thanks to each of you for your ideas and insights. Let’s open it up to the iMonks for the topic of our next roundtable. If we don’t get any good ones, we can go with my fallback: Explain to me the meaning of Pink Floyd’s The Wall.

Happy Halloween, everyone! As Orson Welles said at the end of the War of the Worlds radio broadcast, “So goodbye everybody, and remember the terrible lesson you learned tonight. That grinning, glowing, globular invader of your living room is an inhabitant of the pumpkin patch, and if your doorbell rings and there’s no one there, that was no Martian…it’s Halloween.”

Comments

  1. VolAlongTheWatchTower says:

    End the Halloween debate in 2 words: Alice Cooper.
    As for Marilyn Manson & Slipnot, O-VER-RATE-ED.

    • Great discussion.

      I have several questions.

      ” Churches have been transformed into the spiritual equivalent of walled communities—activity centers where Christians engage in a full program of “ministries” just for them”

      Great comment. Will you guys please address the silliness of Upward everything? I mean, I teach school. I have two small children. Sure I want to protect them. I get it, but has the world gone so crazy that I can’t even take my kids down to the rec center and sign them up for basketball, soccer, t-ball etc. Now that has to be a church function as well. Geez.

      Paradox.

      I grew up in a very conservative indie fundie home. Shorts not allowed, I knew folks who wouldn’t roller skate b/c it was too close to dancing, all that insanity. My parents attended those type of churches but never really bought into it all the way. My biggest clue was my parents excitment about Halloween. All of it, the dressing up, the haunted houses, the horror movies, (on network TV so all the nudity was gone) but the gore was there. It was the one night of the year I felt we got to act normal.

      I say this jokingly, I blame churches for messing up Halloween this year. It has been a big mess and debate b/c Halloween is on Sunday this year and Heaven forbid we trick or treat on Sunday.

      Worst Halloween experience ever. I was asked to do a youth service on Halloween. It was going to be a Hallelujah Night. It came complete with a horrible Carmen video and (no kidding) rapture practice where everyone sat down then jumped up with their arms in the air like the wave. Misery. Especially for some one who doesn’t even beleive in a secret rapture.

      Last thing.

      Why do you never see horror movies where it’s a UMC lady minister batteling the devil, or a nice Assemblies of God or SBC pastor? Why is it always RC or at least someone liturgical?

      But on serious note, I do believe in Satanic activity and demonic works, I’ve spoken with several missionaries and they all have similar stories. Interestingly, their stories match up with some accounts of the settlers first stories as they came to the New World. I wonder if perhaps when the Gospel is first carried into an area Satan is much more visible but as the cultrue becomes like ours he is happy to carry on his work in much more subtle manners.

      • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

        Why is it always RC or at least someone liturgical?

        Because movies are a visual medium, and being liturgical provides more on-screen action. Also, liturgical churches tend to have more of a historical presence, which can translate into the fictional “secret history” needed for the horror movie.

        • Buford Hollis says:

          In the novel “Son of the Endless Night,” a demon is driven away by a tongues-speaking Pentecostal preacher whose van has “Praying Hands” spray-painted onto the side, and a neon cross that comes up on top. They should totally make this into a movie.

      • Cedric Klein says:

        “From Dusk Till Dawn”- the hero is a fallen-away generic-Protestant preacher (Harvey Keitel) who has lost his faith due to his wife’s death. As his family & their captors are besieged by vampires in a Tex-Mex bordertown topless bar, villian George Clooney challenges him to bless the water so they’ll have Holy Water to fight the vampires. Here’s a cleaned-up paraphrase of Clooney’s challenge…

        “What we have outside are creatures from the Pit of Hell and if there’s a Hell, there must be a Heaven and if there’s a Heaven, there must be a God! So what are you going to be? Some failed preacher who’s lost his faith or are you going to be a mean motherf*ing man of God?”

      • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

        I get it, but has the world gone so crazy that I can’t even take my kids down to the rec center and sign them up for basketball, soccer, t-ball etc. Now that has to be a church function as well. Geez.

        No, everybody except you, me, my writing partner, and IMonk have all gone crazy, and Christians are no exception.
        “Upward — Just like sports, Except CHRISTIAN (TM)!”
        “Harvest Festival — Just like Halloween, Except CHRISTIAN (TM)!”
        “Hell House — Just like a haunted house, Except CHRISTIAN (TM)!”
        “Guitar Praise — Just like Guitar Hero, Except CHRISTIAN (TM)!”
        “Testamints — Just like Altoids, Except CHRISTIAN (TM)!”
        “GodTube — Just like YouTube, Except CHRISTIAN (TM)!”
        “Christian Chirp — Just like Twitter, Except CHRISTIAN (TM)!”
        “Seek & Find — Just like Google, Except CHRISTIAN (TM)!”

        It is now possible for Real True Christians (TM) to spend their entire lives — from Altar Call (TM) to Homegoing (TM) — without ever having to see or hear or touch or encounter one of Those Heathens except for drive-by prosletyzing sallies. Must keep nose squeeky-clean to pass God’s Litmus Test and get beamed up (any minute now), you know.

        (I’m waiting for the CHRISTIAN (TM) toilet paper to show up in the Jesus Junk stores. We already have “Scripture Soap”, with a Bible Verse embossed on each and every bar — “Faith is the Substance of Things Soaped For…”)

  2. Great discussion.

    I have several questions.

    ” Churches have been transformed into the spiritual equivalent of walled communities—activity centers where Christians engage in a full program of “ministries” just for them”

    Great comment. Will you guys please address the silliness of Upward everything? I mean, I teach school. I have two small children. Sure I want to protect them. I get it, but has the world gone so crazy that I can’t even take my kids down to the rec center and sign them up for basketball, soccer, t-ball etc. Now that has to be a church function as well. Geez.

    Paradox.

    I grew up in a very conservative indie fundie home. Shorts not allowed, I knew folks who wouldn’t roller skate b/c it was too close to dancing, all that insanity. My parents attended those type of churches but never really bought into it all the way. My biggest clue was my parents excitment about Halloween. All of it, the dressing up, the haunted houses, the horror movies, (on network TV so all the nudity was gone) but the gore was there. It was the one night of the year I felt we got to act normal.

    I say this jokingly, I blame churches for messing up Halloween this year. It has been a big mess and debate b/c Halloween is on Sunday this year and Heaven forbid we trick or treat on Sunday.

    Worst Halloween experience ever. I was asked to do a youth service on Halloween. It was going to be a Hallelujah Night. It came complete with a horrible Carmen video and (no kidding) rapture practice where everyone sat down then jumped up with their arms in the air like the wave. Misery. Especially for some one who doesn’t even beleive in a secret rapture.

    Last thing.

    Why do you never see horror movies where it’s a UMC lady minister batteling the devil, or a nice Assemblies of God or SBC pastor? Why is it always RC or at least someone liturgical?

    But on serious note, I do believe in Satanic activity and demonic works, I’ve spoken with several missionaries and they all have similar stories. Interestingly, their stories match up with some accounts of the settlers first stories as they came to the New World. I wonder if perhaps when the Gospel is first carried into an area Satan is much more visible but as the cultrue becomes like ours he is happy to carry on his work in much more subtle manners.

    • Re: Upward

      My schoolteacher husband coaches girls’ basketball. Even as a Christian, he absolutely deplores the “Upward” stuff. He has to spend serious amounts of time un-teaching really lousy habits and misunderstandings of the game because some of these girls have been involved in Upward.

      I deplore it for a different reason. We have a perfectly good and very operational Parks & Rec program in our town that offers the same activities offered by Upward – long before anyone ever heard of Upward. So all the people that go to the megachurch here that pushes Upward have left their community programs (and thereby their community) to sequester themselves with other Christians while their children are taught a pale version of a particular sport. How on earth does this benefit anyone? The Christians are denying themselves opportunities to interact with their neighbors and community members, and the community, I would assume everyone would agree, would be better served by the involvement and influence of Christians.

      Down with Upward!

      The same thing occurs when these churches have their fall festivals on trick or treat night. Again, removing themselves and their families from the community to sequester themselves in an exclusive manner.

    • “Why do you never see horror movies where it’s a UMC lady minister batteling the devil, or a nice Assemblies of God or SBC pastor? Why is it always RC or at least someone liturgical?”

      As a corolllary to that, whenever Sinister Church Machinations are required in films and books, why is it always the Roman Catholic Church? I’d love to see a diabolic plot involving the Greek Orthodox, or a Dan Brown bestseller revealing the terrible history of the Plymouth Brethren (and considering Aleister Crowley was raised PB, that isn’t so far-fetched as you might think).

      No, it’s always us Papists plotting and scheming. Ah, well: at least we have name-brand recognition.

      🙂

      • Apparently the newest John Grisham offering has a Lutheran pastor as hero … careful Martha, we’re going to steal the spotlight!

        • Ah, but is he going to be a two-fisted bi-vocational Lutheran pastor who’s some kind of legal personage (lawyer, judge, clerk of the court) by day and does the pastoring on a week-end basis?

          Or is he going to be a full-time pastor and we get to hear all about the cake sales to raise funding to repair the roof (every church, no matter what denomination, always has a leaky roof).

          😉

    • There is actually a TV trope entry about why in tv and movies, Christianity is always Catholic. Basically, Catholicism has cool/spooky stuff; it is large and thus open to intrigue of “secret societies”; things sound spookier in latin than in english; etc.

      http://tvtropes.org/pmwiki/pmwiki.php/Main/ChristianityIsCatholic

      • Yup, can’t beat the Ominous Latin Chanting. I particularly appreciate it in the early seasons of the tv show “Supernatural” when the boys are exorcising demons (using snippets of the text from the pre-Vatican II revised “Rituale Romanum”); on how many prime-time tv shows do you get to hear an invocation of the Immaculate Conception?

        “Imperat tibi excelsa Dei Genitrix Virgo Maria, quæ superbissimum caput tuum a primo instanti immaculatæ suæ conceptionis in sua humilitate contrivit.”

        🙂

        • Christiane says:

          I love it. Beautiful.

          • Christiane says:

            I forgot to mention what I loved. Thanks, Martha.

            “Yup, can’t beat the Ominous Latin Chanting. I particularly appreciate it in the early seasons of the tv show “Supernatural” when the boys are exorcising demons (using snippets of the text from the pre-Vatican II revised “Rituale Romanum”); on how many prime-time tv shows do you get to hear an invocation of the Immaculate Conception?

            “Imperat tibi excelsa Dei Genitrix Virgo Maria, quæ superbissimum caput tuum a primo instanti immaculatæ suæ conceptionis in sua humilitate contrivit.” “

  3. Interesting discussion. You may also want to check out the article, “Making Peace With Halloween”, and all the comments over at rabbitroom.com. Very interesting discussion happening over there.

    http://www.rabbitroom.com/?p=10435

  4. I enjoyed this discussion very much and I read both of the pages that were linked to learn about the history of Halloween.

    Happy Halloween, everyone! Here is a link to a 10 second video I made with my digital camera of one of our Jack O’Lanterns flickering in the pouring rain this week. Enjoy!

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=W3JpxbqnorY

  5. Jeff! Are you tellling me you don’t believe that on All Hallows Eve, the hinge of the year, the spirits come forth, the powers of darkness prowl around, the fairy forts are opened, mortals can cross into the Otherworld and they can cross into ours, and the púca spits on the blackberries?

    🙂

    Anyway, a poem for ye all for the upcoming festival of Hallowe’en! By an Irish poet (moreover, a Cork man) named Patrick Galvin, memorialising a custom of my childhood (but probably one that’s long died out now, even amongst country dwellers): the notion that on Hallowe’en, the souls of the dead returned to their old homes and so you laid out bread and water on the kitchen table for them and stoked the fire.

    The Aunt

    On All Soul’s Night
    My father said the aunt was due.
    We set a table near the fire
    A glass of wine, a loaf of bread.
    Was that the way to greet the dead?
    My father said it was.

    At three o’clock the aunt arrived
    I heard her knocking at the door
    And I went down to let her in.
    Her eyes were wide and black as sloes
    And she had clay upon her clothes
    And she was thin.

    Her breath was cold.
    And as we sat beside the fire
    I asked her if she’d like some wine.
    She said she never touched the stuff
    And honest bread was quite enough
    When you were dead.

    I watched her eating for an hour
    And saw the grave beneath the skin
    The moonlight through the bone.
    Now and then she coughed and cried
    And said she wished she hadn’t died
    The nights were chill.

    At four o’clock she rose to go
    But as she reached the kitchen door
    She turned and kissed me on the lips
    And then she smiled –
    When you are not your father’s child
    We two shall wed.

  6. Steve Newell says:

    I thought that Oct 31 is Reformation Day.

    • Steve Newell wins the Internet!

    • Steve, I refuse to dress up as Martin Luther!

      😉

      • Steve Newell says:

        That’s OK.

        I’m planning to dress up like Luther and hammer 95 Theses on the doors of all the Roman Catholic neighbors who don’t give me treats (indulgences).

        • Hmm – that means somebody needs to dress up as Pope Leo X to match you.

          The only trouble I foresee there is getting hold of a white elephant, but perhaps a stuffed toy one would do as well?:

          http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hanno_(elephant)

          “Hanno (Italian, Annone; c. 1510 – 8 June 1516) was the pet white elephant given by King Manuel I of Portugal to Pope Leo X (born Giovanni de’ Medici) on his coronation. Hanno came to Rome in 1514 and quickly became the Pope’s favorite animal. Hanno died two years later from complications of a treatment for constipation with gold-enriched laxative.”

  7. It seems to me that sometimes Satan becomes to people a king of the underworld, complete with his own staff (demons) and his own aims and motivations. The thing is, I there was a king of the underworld, Hades who was considered a god. So how do Christians who elevate Satan to the point where he is only a little lower than the Almighty, manage to retain the fiction that they are monotheistic?

    The concept of Satan in Job seems to show Satan more as an employee of the Almighty. I think David Plotz called him God’s Prosecuting Attorney.

  8. Steve Newell says:

    For Mr. Palmer, there are no “biblical” Christian holidays. The Church year is to help keep our focus on Christ and not on ourselves.

    What is it that many churches will focus on Halloween and not on All Saints Day? How many “evangelical” churches has a place in their worship services for Independence Day or Memorial Day BUT they don’t recognize Pentecost or Ascension as important days in the Church year?

    • Or indeed, the 2nd November, All Souls’ Day, when we remember all those who have died in the faith of Christ.

      • cermak_rd says:

        Lots of folks in my neighborhood celebrate All Souls as Dia de los Muertos. Complete with prayers (and offerings of food & drink) for the dead.

    • Steve, let me clarify:

      The question Jeff asked was whether Halloween was a “Christian” holiday, so I referenced Easter and Christmas as explicitly “Christian” holidays because those are days when we celebrate Christ Himself. Everything else is part of the Church calendar, which is awesome and necessary, but which wasn’t the question asked.

      In my answer, I also threw in not a reference to the Bible itself, but to me growing up in the Bible Belt (i.e. Northeast Oklahoma), which is packed with a lot of non-denominational evangelical churches that don’t know the first thing about the Church calendar. At least those were the churches I attended growing up. And maybe there are other parts of the Church calendar that celebrate Christ and HIm only that I still don’t know about. Like I said in another answer, I just try to fall into the ditch of Jesus.

      All that to say: I didn’t mean to indicate any holidays were expressly biblical. Whew!

  9. Spot on, Chaplain Mike! The American Experience “God in America” series traced the beginnings of the evangelical subculture back to the Scopes Trial. Rather than learning from the experience, evangelicals went underground, off-the-grid. When they resurfaced, they wanted to reform culture in the image of their subculture, calling it a return to God, the Bible, family values, etc.

    I never heard of Halloween as poking fun at the devil, but as a Lutheran, I love the idea. There is a need for caution, in light of the warning in Jude 1:9 not to be arrogant, even where the devil is concerned. I also am reminded of disturbing scenes of Word-Faith folks “rebuking” the devil – spending more time doing that then praying to God. But with grace should come courage, in the face of death, fate, hardships, loss, and personal weakness, brokenness, and failures. It’s that last part that I think is the hardest: poking fun at ourselves. A modern horror house would post viral videos of its visitors epic failures. Nothing can separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus. Nothing means nothing. That’s worth celebrating!

  10. Cincygirl says:

    One of my all-time favorite episodes in the “Great Halloween Debate” occurred a group of moms were discussing how their families “didn’t observe Halloween.”

    One family always went to dinner at their favorite restaurant. Another mom upped the ante by mentioning that they went to dinner AND a movie! Then someone mentioned roller skating while another would buy her kids a huge bag of their very favorite candy which they did not have to share.

    But the “winner” was the family which didn’t celebrate Halloween by taking the whole gang, Trick or Treat night, to a hotel with an indoor pool !

    I was sure that my own kids..who had to walk all over the neighbor for a lousy bag of mediocre candy…..were going to start insisting that that they want to “not celebrate Halloween” too! 😉

  11. Buford Hollis says:

    Here’s a great website from theistic Satanist Diane Vera. You guys should totally invite her for a dialogue!

    http://theisticsatanism.com