too much hell for halloween

29 10 2014

What’s Halloween got to do with the church, I was asked last week. Makes you think, doesn’t it. 

We live in a society of escapism. Much of our society does all it can not to think about things that don’t make us feel good. Like death. Especially death. Instead of facing it with confidence, maturity and hope, we suppress our fears, then binge on it at Halloween. We make it ridiculous, outrageous, therefore disempowering it from having a hold over us. Hahaha, we say, look at ghosts and ghouls and axe-murderers and blood and fear and how we are not frightened of you. You’re not scary! You’re only in films! Evil is all made up! Touch wood.   

We show how so not frightened of evil we are by facing it in costume. Like soldiers dressing for battle or Batman donning his mask, we feel emboldened by hiding ourselves and becoming other. We dress as the deformed or the mentally ill or the demonic or simply those that strike fear into the hearts of everyone else – not us, of course – and we laugh in the face of evil. Or we would, if we believed it had a face. 

I believe it has a face. That is why I cannot join in.

It has a face, and especially this year. Not in the way the tabloids find an individual and call them the ‘face of evil’, as they periodically do.

Evil has a face when millions in Iraq and Syria and Central African Republic and Sudan are forced to be refugees, when hundreds of thousands are killed in war, are murdered by ISIS; when there are so many dead we cannot count them.
Evil has a face when children in your and my neighbourhood are abused.
Evil has a face when domestic abuse happens round the corner.
Evil has a face when corporations evade tax yet pay pittance.
Evil has a face when the disabled are discriminated against.
Evil has a face when people look at child abuse images for pleasure.
Evil has a face when a teenager is stabbed on a bus in broad daylight.
Evil has a face when someone is raped.
Evil has a face when I look in the mirror.

I cannot celebrate that. I cannot bring myself to gorge on the Dark Side, to wallow in that which brings hell and death, because though it might seem like innocent fun like wallowing in a mud bath suddenly we realise it is a bath of crap and we’re covered in it. 

We Christians tell a different story. A better story. In our story we take our masks off and look evil in the eye – even when it is within ourselves – and know that Jesus has the victory over it. It will not win. We do not need to make a mockery of evil and death in order to deal with it, because we face it confidently and maturely every day, by not burying our head in the sand but getting involved in the world in which we live and being a part of bringing the kingdom in. 

What has Halloween got to do with the church? All Hallows Eve reminds us of the presence of evil and hell and death, but more than that it reminds us of it’s imminent destruction because of Jesus. We celebrate salvation and we celebrate the goodness and grace of God, for he is the light of the world that casts out evil and darkness and death. Focus on the light.

There’s too much hell in real life to make a joke of it. 

….

See also Harmless Halloween by me and Halloween: Harmless or Harmful? by J John.





things jesus didn’t say #9 | touch wood

7 10 2014

“I pray that it works out for you, touch wood.” At which point you find the nearest wood or wood effect furniture (does that still work?), or for comedy value, touch your head. Yes Jesus was a carpenter, but that was his trade, not his prayer ministry technique. The only time he would say touch wood it is if he needed you to hold a speck whilst he took the plank out. 

thingsjesusdidntsay9touchwood

Is it a harmless phrase? Yes and no. Yes, because there is no spiritual power in wood, so invoking its power is harmless. No, because there is no spiritual power in wood, so invoking its power is harmful. Harmful as it contributes to the eroding of trust in God as the one to whom we pray. And harmful when we touch our own heads, as we do ourselves down and reveal a disturbingly negative sense of our own worth.

We believe in an actual real God who actually really answers prayer. Not in magic or superstition – or worse, a God who doesn’t listen unless we touch a particular type of natural material (or wood-effect laminate – again, does that work?).

I know most people don’t really believe in the power of touching wood. It’s just words. But words are never just words, are they. They carry a meaning.  Do we trust in the mysterious and magical power of wood (or wood effect…) to look after us, or do we trust in the God who made it.

Let’s mean what we say, or not say it at all. 

More in the cartoon series of things jesus didn’t say:
#1: stronger // whatever doesn’t kill you can only make you stronger
#2: dreams // follow your dreams and believe in yourself
#3: reason // everything happens for a reason
#4: harder // prayer harder
#5: third // on the third day, nothing important happened
#6: handle // I won’t give you more than you can handle
#7: other // other your neighbour as you other yourself
#8: tolerance // …faith, hope and tolerance. And the greatest of these is tolerance.





fearday the thirteenth

13 08 2010

Fate led me to accidentally walk under a ladder, but touch wood everything was fine – my star sign said it was going to be a difficult day, but I’m a good guy so I figured what goes around comes around and karma would treat me well. Anyway, as luck would have it I was wearing my cross and I took communion yesterday so I pretty much knew God would protect me. Even it had all ended in tears I know I would be ok because I was baptised so I’ll got to heaven. Touch wood.

be afraid

Superstition is everywhere. Beliefs that denote a wish, a desire for something; a hope that there is a higher power that looks out for us. Touch wood  – many say it, but does anyone actually believe that wood has special powers? Fate – a fear that there is some power that directs us like 2 blobs on a GPS into situations that we have no control over. Luck – an entity with a quota we might use up. Superstition comes from fear, fear that something somehow somewhere is going to make bad things happen. Fear that someone is out there trying to trip us up.

Religion often acts in the same way. It also stems from fear, fear that God looks on us badly, fear that we need punishing, fear that in the end he will make bad things happen or send us to hell. We bargain with God in the hope that he won’t trip us up; we look busy doing our best to please him; and if that is a bit much, we try to win him over (or con him) with some superstitious beliefs in the power of church attendance or the eucharist or baptism or confession or jewellery or money or quiet times or piety.  I know I haven’t given you much time over the years, Mr God, but here is my baptism certificate and my lucky cross to show I hadn’t forgotten you.

Should we be more afraid of the very real and tangible Mr God?

I am afraid but I am not afraid. I am afraid because God is God – beyond our comprehension and understanding, beyond planets and universes and full to the brim of creative wonderment and overflowing with so much love we could not look upon his face. I am afraid because I am human and he is God.

I am not afraid because God is not like a holy Subbuteo player ready to flick us from this world. I am not afraid because God does not demand endless superstitious acts to keep him onside, acts that I might get wrong and muck it all up and have to start again. He is remarkably irreligious. I am not afraid because Jesus asks for our whole lives and when we give him everything it would be totally out of character for him to turn round and say thanks for this but you forgot to touch the wood. And by the way, its Friday the 13th so you’re out of luck…

I am not afraid because he bursts through and breaks and shatters all ideas of luck and karma and fate with his wonderful, endless grace, grace we cannot earn or bargain for but grace which is given and which we can receive.  As the prophet Bono says: Grace travels outside of karma. Grace makes beauty out of ugly things. Grace is the thought that changed the world. Grace is real and tangible and is called Jesus. I said that last one.


Update – Fran points out that Mumford & Sons talk about grace in Roll Away Your Stone – so here it is too!

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