Why Not Halloween?

If you can’t already tell, Halloween is upon us.  I’m sure your street is littered with all manner of jack-o-laterns, fake spiderwebs and probably a few obnoxious blow-up lawn decorations.  I guess I should apologize to any of you reading this who have blow-up lawn ornaments. I’m sure you are a great person and have a very good reason for having them, I am just not a fan. I have a sort of love/hate relationship with the Halloween holiday and it’s for a very odd reason.  What I love about Halloween is the candy and the costumes and the good times.  What I’ve come to hate about Halloween is the decorations. My hatred stems purely from the fact that Halloween, Thanksgiving and Christmas come so close together along with the seeming necessity to put up unique decorations for ALL of them. Up go the Halloween decorations for a few weeks only to then be replaced with Thanksgiving decorations which then get quickly replaced by Christmas decorations (which could honestly stay up forever cause, who doesn’t love Christmas and you don’t hate baby Jesus right?). Oh…yeah…and you have to buy and store all those decorations. Call me a stickler…but I’ve enforced a “seasonal” decoration policy in our house to cut down on this madness and minimize my trips to the attic.

For those of you following along, my issues with Halloween are not divided along spiritual/religious lines. I have no issue with Halloween where others might see it as an “evil” or “pagan” day that celebrates Satan or demons and encourages bad behavior. Some people may see it that way, but that doesn’t mean Halloween has to be that. I looked up the history of Halloween on Wikipedia and found this nugget in the description.

“It initiates the triduum of Hallowmas, the time in the liturgical year dedicated to remembering the dead, including saints (hallows), martyrs, and all the faithful departed believers.”

Triduum is just a fancy way to say three days. You might be familiar with the more famous Triduum, Good Friday, Holy Saturday and Easter. Anyways, what I like about this little snippet about Halloween is that the focus is on remembering Christians who have passed on. Those who have finished the race before us in that great cloud of witnesses are who we are called to remember on Halloween and the days following. It’s a time to remember the greater Christian community on whose shoulders we stand. This I think is a good foundation on which to redeem the often skewed perception of Halloween.  Because of this idea, I think Halloween has a much better focus that we often miss behind the witches, candy and carnival games.

At it’s heart, Halloween is a holiday about community.

Seriously, what other day can you go around dressed in a costume, knocking on doors and generally expect to be greeted warmly and offered treats? Halloween calls us out of our homes to walk the streets and interact with our neighbors and community. We are encouraged to be hospitable, to be welcoming and offer good things to people regardless of what they look like on the outside.

And some would say that Halloween isn’t a Christian holiday?

So, instead of “bah-humbugging” Halloween because it seems dark, redeem it. Take some time to learn about a Christian who has passed, or share the story of your favorite saint with others. Embrace the community aspect of Halloween and get out of your house or invite others in. Rub shoulders and elbows with others in the community. Invite them to the event at your church (if you have one). Organize a block party, have a BBQ, pass out candy like it’s going out of style (but only the good kind, nobody likes getting raisins in their bucket). Do something communal and hospitable. Be an active part of the greater Christian community and the community you live in.  Like a jack-o-latern or candle lighting the way to your door be a light of hospitality that people will flock to with open hands ready to receive our good gifts.

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God Will Not Give US More than WE Can Bear

I was recently listening to the OnBeing podcast, which is one of my favorite podcasts of all time. If you have never listened to it, I recommend looking it up on iTunes or whatever podcast program you use. The episode I was listening to was the unedited interview with Nadia Bolz Weber. I may post a few things inspired by that podcast, so if you want to follow along, you can watch and listen here. Yes, she has a faux-hawk. Yes, she has tattoos. Yes, she is a Lutheran minister. Yes, that almost makes no sense…and it’s awesome.

One of the things that came up in the interview was how essential and important community is to the Church. If anything has been both a great blessing and a cancerous curse on the evangelical church, it’s the concept of a “personal relationship with Christ.” It is an immense blessing because it encourages us to get to know Christ, study, read devotionals, pray and all the other spiritual disciplines that we are often encouraged to do. It is also a curse in the sense that it seems to have spawned the concept that everything in Scripture is written to the individual. All those words were written to me, myself and I. If I have a problem, then I can turn to Scripture to find some help. While not a completely bad way to understand Scripture…what is bad is when we take that idea and then assume we can be a part of the Church in a vacuum. No…I don’t mean in a Hoover or a Dyson. But alone, without anyone else or any other influences around you. Somehow, we think this is how God wants us to be. That, He will never let us feel alone. And we as Christian individuals with one arm firmly around Jesus in a sort of awkward side hug and the other firmly gripping our leather-bound, highlighted and footnoted study Bible, can surmount any obstacle. And this verse gets trotted out anytime things get tough:

“But God is faithful. He won’t allow you to be tempted beyond your abilities.”
1 Corinthians 10:13 (CEB)

We’ll read that verse, we’ll get to the part that says “He won’t allow you…” and think that means me! And, in a sense it does…but it includes everyone standing behind you thinking the same thing. That little “you” there is plural. If we were from one of the southern states, we might read it as “He won’t allow ya’ll to be tempted beyond all of ya’lls abilities.” It’s a plural/communal you, not an individual/personal you. In fact, most of the time you will read “you” in scripture…it’s plural. The Bible is a communal book, it’s books and letters were products of or written for communities. The idea of community is essential in the Bible because it almost always has a communal focus and push.

You may get more than you can bear. You will crumble, your towers will fall and your lamp will burn out. Alone we are frail, we will bend and break as the pressures of this world push and press us. But, God will never give US more than WE can bear. God knew this from the beginning. The book of Genesis says:

Then the Lord God said, “It’s not good that the human is alone. I will make him a helper that is perfect for him.”
Genesis 2:18 (CEB)

Typically this verse gets trotted out at weddings and in support of marriages. While, that is all well and good I think that it is also important to realize that God realizes it was not good for us to be alone. Not that we specifically needed a mate or a companion, but that being alone was bad. Being in community with another person or other people was the better way to be.

A “very good” way to be.

As a community we can resist the pressure together. We can repair our cracks, rebuild our towers and relight our lamps. Jesus was constantly repairing the brokenness in the world and bringing people back into community and relationships. When the religious and political authorities wanted to throw up walls, Jesus broke them down. Alone we can do very little, but together we can do much. Lifting each other up, healing each other and blessing each other is some of the greatest work the Church can do. God does want to have a personal relationship with you, but he also wants to put you into a restored and redemptive community where you can mature and flourish. So, next time you’re feeling like you need some spiritual encouragement, put down the Bible and pick up a phone. Remember that you are not alone.

Rewarding Selfless Non-Violence

Last week I wrote about Rev. Emil Kapaun and I wanted to explore something a little more that I mentioned in passing. As I was writing last weeks post I realized this idea merited its own post.

What struck me as I was writing about Emil Kapaun was that he was receiving the military’s highest honor as a Chaplain. From the account I read, he never picked up a gun and never fought back with violence. He resisted peacefully as a minister although he was surrounded by violence. This forced me to ask the question…

How often do we choose to resist violence even when it seems like the only option?

In the Gospels, Jesus seems to always choose the non-violent path. However, there is an odd point in the Gospel of Luke where Jesus seems to tell his disciples to bring a sword with them.

Then he said to them, “But now, whoever has a wallet must take it, and likewise a bag. And those who don’t own a sword must sell their clothes and buy one. I tell you that this scripture must be fulfilled in relation to me: And he was counted among criminals . Indeed, what’s written about me is nearing completion.” They said to him, “Lord, look, here are two swords.” He replied, “Enough of that!”
Luke 22:36-38 (CEB)

Then, to make matters more confusing, when Jesus is arrested a few verses later, somebody uses the sword Jesus told them to carry. They cut off the ear of one of the guards. However, Jesus does not join in the violence. Instead…

When those around him recognized what was about to happen, they said, “Lord, should we fight with our swords?” One of them struck the high priest’s servant, cutting off his right ear. Jesus responded, “Stop! No more of this!” He touched the slave’s ear and healed him.
Luke 22:49-51 (CEB)

Jesus rebukes the use of the sword and proceeds to heal the injury to one of his captors. Then, as you may know, unspeakable violence is performed against Jesus as he is beaten and crucified.

So, let’s review. Jesus tells his disciples to bring a sword. When one of them uses it, Jesus rebukes them and heals the damage.  Shortly thereafter, Jesus is violently beaten, violently crucified and dies. He does not resist, does not fight back and does not speak ill of his attackers. Rather than lashing out violently, or encouraging his disciples to do so, Jesus resisted violence and was met with death.

Rev. Emil Kapaun also resisted violence and met with death.

Would the situation have been any different if they had chosen violent means?  My guess is probably not.

Again, the question I was asking myself…

How often do we choose to resist violence even when it seems like the only option?

Too often it feels like we choose to use violence to prevent violence. We fear that otherwise someone might be injured or die. This is pretty status quo for the whole of human history. It was probably no surprise to the disciples when Jesus asked them to bring a sword. Heck, they already had two with them. What is the surprise then is when Jesus rebukes the use of it. The surprise then is when a Chaplain refuses violence and instead resists as a “Good Thief” standing up against the status quo.  Violent means usually lead to violent ends.  Non-violent means leads to something completely different and often surprising.

New life.

We always have a choice between violence and non-violence. We always carry a “sword” with us the question is how will we use it? Sometimes our “sword” is a legitimate weapon and we can lash out violently and with great harm. Sometimes our weapons are more emotional. A biting critique, a racial or sexist insult, along with fear, worry and doubt can all injure just as much as a physical weapon. Jesus tells his disciples to bring a sword maybe not so much hoping that they will use it, but to challenge them with how to use it? Violent outbursts and attacks are condemned by Jesus. Whether we carry an actual weapon or not, our actions and words can cause wounds just as deep if not deeper. We have the option, but Jesus seems to constantly tell us to choose the stance of non-violence. Though we carry a “sword” with us, the sword should not be used with the excuse to “bring life” because it can’t, weapons can never bring life. Instead, make the choice to resist violence, and help protect, restore and bring a new life into reality.

Jesus resisted the temptation of violence and he was killed…but he was resurrected.

Emil Kapaun resisted the temptation of violence and he was killed…but he encouraged and saved the lives of many around him and he was given the Medal of Honor. But, even better, he has the expectation of a greater reward. The promise of resurrection demonstrated in Jesus.

The Good Thief

'Chaplain (Capt.) Emil J. Kapaun' photo (c) 2013, The U.S. Army - license: http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/While visiting my sister-in-law’s family in Colorado last year, she pointed me to this article in the paper that morning: Chaplain who died in Korean POW camp to get Medal of Honor. Here is a link to the official Medal of Honor website: Chaplain Emil J. Kapaun. If you have the time, I recommend reading the story of Rev. Emil Kapaun, who served soldiers in the Korean war in the most humble, selfless and probably Christ-like way possible. From reading the article, it seems Rev. Emil Kapaun definitely earned the right to be recognized with our military’s highest honors without, as far as I know, ever picking up a gun and killing another human. That would probably be a good topic for another post, but one of the things that hit me when reading the article was this little tidbit:

“He would pray to St. Dismas, the Good Thief, before he foraged in sheds and fields, stuffing corn, peaches and other food in his pockets, then giving it all to starving soldiers.”

My interest was piqued at the idea of there being saint recognized as the “Good Thief”. Thievery is bad right? That’s one of the 10 Commandments, it’s right there in the middle. “Thou shalt not steal” (Exodus 20:15, quoted from the KJV because when I discuss saints, I start feeling traditional). It is a pretty basic law of society that we do not take from others without asking or being offered. How can a thief be good? How can a thief be a saint? Why would you pray to such a saint?

I quickly found out that I was more familiar with Saint Dismas, the Good Thief, than I thought. He was the thief crucified alongside Jesus who, rather than hurling insults like his companion, asked Jesus to remember him when he comes into his kingdom.

Responding, the other criminal spoke harshly to him, “Don’t you fear God, seeing that you’ve also been sentenced to die? We are rightly condemned, for we are receiving the appropriate sentence for what we did. But this man has done nothing wrong.” Then he said, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.” Jesus replied, “I assure you that today you will be with me in paradise.”
Luke 23:40-43

St. Dismas (probably not his real name) is utterly forgotten to history after the biblical account and it is only through traditions and myths that we have any further “information” about him. Thus, we remember him mainly for this moment of repentance and acknowledging Jesus. We typically don’t recognize him for thievery, or whatever deeds got him to a cross in the first place. His attitude is what we remember him for, not his law-breaking actions. Which is why I think that the story of Rev. Emil Kapaun is so interesting and inspiring. He was a thief and a priest at the same time. How is this possible? Why do we remember his valor and not his thieving ways?

Sacrifice.

If you read the story, Rev. Emil Kapaun stole in order to feed starving soldiers. Even in the POW camp where no one (himself included) had enough to eat, he made sure he provided for those around him. He swatted away “an enemy soldier pointing a gun at a GI’s head,” he washed the wounded, he pulled injured soldiers out of the line of fire or dragged them away on stretchers.

“Come on, boys,” he would say. “Let’s help these guys.”

Every action was one in which Kapaun could have been killed or imprisoned. Yet, all were done with the other soldiers in mind. His attitude of selfless sacrifice led to him saving the lives of many soldiers at the expense of his own. If he died, he did not care. He realized his life was not his own and he gave it willingly for all around him. It’s not hard to imagine the words of Jesus to the Good Thief being whispered in Kaaun’s ear as he lie dying of penumonia and dysentary, “I assure you that today you will be with me in paradise.”

When we live our lives in such a way, with an attitude of selfless sacrifice for others, feeding them, washing them, clothing them, healing them, the laws and rules should not ultimately define our actions. Jesus often broke deeply held Jewish laws for the sake of the hungry, sick and helpless. He was a Sabbath-breaker, leper-toucher and adultery-and-sin-forgiver. It is true that rules and laws are good for the sake of a stable society and I’m not encouraging any vigilante, Robin Hood, type actions. But, when rules, laws and the threat of violence stand in the way of helping the poor, powerless and oppressed, Jesus seems to show that people are more important than legalities or threat of violence. Rev. Emil Kapaun stole for others and put his life on the line for others. He helped bring a little slice of paradise into their lives.

I pray we are not afraid to find opportunities to do the same.

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Two Pieces of Paper

So, after about a year of wringing my hands, pacing and telling myself that I can write something interesting and readable, here is my leap into the blogging world. I have done short spurts of blogging previously, specifically with Lenten Lectio, but I’ve never regularly committed my thoughts and ideas to the digital cacophony of the internet. I pray that for a few people, my voice will rise above the noise to provide inspiration, provoke questions and produce deeper faith. With that, I begin with one of my favorite quotes that will hopefully frame the direction for this blog.

“Keep two pieces of paper in your pockets always. One that says ‘I am a speck of dust.’ The other ‘The world was created for me.’”
Rabbi Bunim

'NGC 6334' photo (c) 2013, Kanijoman - license: http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/We live in the glorious in-between. A “fascinating mystery” if you will. On one hand we are beginning to realize that we are a very small part of a large, dark and mysterious universe. We are but a small blip on the timeline of creation and a slight twinkle through the ever present and swirling darkness of the universe. However, in that swirling darkness we have yet to discover a planet and life such as ours. We are unique among the potential of infinite possibilities within the universe. On the bell curve of possibilities within the universe, we are at the fringes.

We are unique and insignificant at the same time.

The Genesis story in the Bible reminds us of this as well. God creates so much else before he digs his “hands” into the dust to create humanity. Light, dark, day, night, dry ground, water, sky, birds, fish, livestock, bugs, trees, and fruit all come before humanity. We were the last element of the great work of art God was toiling over. If Creation was a Bob Ross painting, we wouldn’t be the “happy trees” or “happy clouds”. Rather, it might seem that we would be the last curved brush strokes that make make up his signature in the corner. The last and seemingly most inconsequential piece to the rest of the work. Then, the Genesis account records God doing some unique things (for the sake of consistency, I’m sticking with Genesis 1).

1. Humanity is made in God’s image – Genesis 1:26 
2. Humanity is given charge over creation – Genesis 1:26
2. God blesses humanity – Genesis 1:28
3. Creation is now awesome (“very good”, “supremely good”, etc.) – Genesis 1:31

None of these things are spoken over the rest of creation. Up until this point, the Creation is “good”. Now that the last brushstrokes have been made and Humanity has been placed on the canvas…Creation is “very good.” While we were the last, were were not the least. Humanity is the blessed, image bearers who are charged to care for this new Earth. We are the signature that signifies the artist.

We are specks of dust.

Yet, the world was created for us.

I believe this is the balance and tension we are called to live in throughout Scripture. Humanity is God’s prized piece of creation, his treasure and his joy. The pinnacle of all that God spoke into existence. But, that does not mean all other pieces are inconsequential. We might be the signature, but the signature alone means nothing without the masterpiece it is placed on. We are called to work with and care for creation. We are called to work with and care for the other image bearers around us. This is a vast, wide universe we find ourselves in. We are but a small element in its immense grandeur. If we suddenly vanished from the universe…it might just keep on spinning without our existence.

We are specks of dust. You are a speck of dust.

Yet, the world was created for us. The world was created for you, for him, for her, for them and for it.

All of this is just one piece of the fascinating mystery we find ourselves in. And I hope you will continue to join me as we explore it together.

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