Rethinking Halloween: A Christian Viewpoint (RePost)

It's not uncommon these days in North America to find some Christian somewhere who makes it their agenda to moderate and critique holidays. Currently, this can be illustrated by a simple perusing of Godtube.com, where a ridiculous debate is going on between those who call themselves believers. Some think it is okay to celebrate Halloween and others do not. Those who do not, as you might expect, label those who do as "un-Christian", "satanic", "worldly", "secular", etc. I can't help but laugh on the one hand and be heart-broken on the other. Clearly, too many people who act as though they are holier-than-thou, are over-zealous and under-informed. Their logic isn't even clear most of the time!

So, how does one who calls themselves a Christian counter people who act too pious? Well, the place to begin is to rethink Halloween. In fact, it might not even be "re" thinking as much as "thinking in the first place". For example, it is helpful to know that Halloween doesn't have its origins in a secular holiday, no, it can be traced back to Christian roots; it was a Christian holiday celebrated by the Celts (e.g. All Saints' / Souls' Day or Hallow's Eve)--even though the Celts were considered by many to be barbaric. Even more than that, and perhaps, more importantly, it goes back to the end-of-summer Celtic celebration called Samhain, an agricultural festival. This was the time when people would soak up the "light" and prepare for the "dark" winter months. It was a time to celebrate agricultural fruits and goods before the harsh winter came and killed everything. Hmm, so, it was more about life than death in some ways, right? Yes!

So, the over-zealous evangelists who argue that this is a satanic ritual, a celebration of death, etc., need to chill out a bit. I sense that many Christians have a problem with all of the ghoulish attire on the one hand and the supposed celebration of death on the other. Well, as for the ghoulish attire, we may recall that in earlier centuries, the Church actually used ghouls and whatnot to ward off evil spirits. Many modern church buildings still have gargoyles on them. As for the celebration of death, I think too many people have over-played this whole idea. I mean, those of us who have lost loved ones, there are certain times of year and certain things we do to commemorate their memory: We think of them, look at pictures, share stories, go to graveyards, etc. None of this is considered evil, satanic or un-Christian.

On a similar note, some suggest that by celebrating death we are nullifying the resurrection. This is simply not true. First of all, Christians commemorate Christ's death (and resurrection) in communion; Christ Himself bade us to do this. Second of all, to remember the deceased is clearly not the same thing as worshipping them or celebrating death itself. It is this point that I feel many are missing. In missing this point, one Christian accuses another and everything just becomes ridiculous or, no joke intended, even "evil" and "nasty" and "ghoulish".

In the 19th century, when Halloween migrated to North America from Europe, it was not a "devilish" holiday still. For example, the whole custom of "jack-o-lanterns", a pumpkin with a candle inside, was meant to resemble the soul of a lost one who might be waiting in purgatory. It was meant as a reminder to pray for that person or to simply, remember them. But it was also meant to be a symbol of celebration, of celebrating that person's life on earth. So, people would be merry and jolly and walk through the streets singing, sometimes even with bands. Often, this turned into a type of parade. Still, the custom existed that, if you have a jack-o-latnern on your porch, it was not just a memorabilia thing, it was a "message" too; a message to others that your loved one might need prayer or that you might need help appeasing God with gifts for that person's soul. So, people began leaving gifts, nickels, dimes, quarters, etc. next to the pumpkins.

As time progressed, people, usually youths, began stealing these monies (which kind of became an expectation after a while) and run to the stores to buy treats and candies. Now, it's not too big of a step from this "thieving" to marauding and causing trouble--eventually, that's exactly what began to happen! Today, that's what much of Halloween has come to stand for and symbolize: pranks, danger, stealing, causing trouble, marauding, etc. And if there is anything to be against as a Christian, when it comes to Halloween, these types of things are it!

In a world where holidays have become increasingly domesticated (e.g. Thanksgiving, Christmas, Easter, etc.), it seems as though Halloween is the one night, the one holiday, where youths can go out, act crazy and try to subvert the holiday norm(s)! This too, should give us pause! Not only should it give us pause for negative reasons but maybe positive ones too: Maybe we should stop watering down and domesticating all of our meaningful holidays!

So, in the end, there is no good reason for Christians to call each other names or to accuse persons of satanic or whatever. Just as well, there is no reason that Christian children should not be able to go out for candy, dress up and have fun. There is nothing evil about this. I would also say that our kids do not have to be "evangelistic" and dress up as Bible characters, etc. (but we must ask, is there even one character other than Jesus Christ himself in the Bible who is really worth emulating?). One last thought: Perhaps this holiday which is so often associated with darkness and evil, brings out the darkness and evil that reside in the hearts of many who call themselves believers. Yes, the name calling, the slandering, the hatred, etc. is all evil and it is all illogical. In my view, Halloween can be a profitable holiday, if for nothing else, to subvert those types of attitudes, a subversion done with merriment and tasty candy!


Dear Scripture

Dear Scripture,

I want you to know that I appreciate you. Some scoff at you and judge you by your cover and some remain perplexed. I know you've been beat down and used up but I also know how beautifully you read. I know you intimately. I know your history, you've told me a thousands times. You have your highs and lows and still, I have your name written on me. We go well together most of the time.

You are well-traveled, well-spoken and your whispher has rippled and echoed through the earth. Your storied soul is a picturesque geography of integrity and your narrative world ebbs and flows, rises and falls and has its own accent and inflection. If I didn't know any better, I'd think you were from the hills of Kentucky.

Do you realize how much people talk about you? At schools, churches, on bridges, in prisons, on cardboard...And do you realize the power you wield? It's not just God's hands that you rest. And its not just your friends that stake a claim on you or say they really know you when they don't. I just think you should know about these kinds of things; you have a right to know, after all! Besides, friends don't keep secrets.

How is it that you maintain your composure? Your sophistication? Your persistence? And how is it that you are still a voice for so many, even as your voice keeps getting muzzled? I know I'm asking a lot of questions and maybe you don't have all of the answers...or do you? Regardless, I just want to thank you for your brutal honesty, it has made me a better man. And I want you to know that I am deeply grateful for your unfailing presence, even when the going has gotten tough. I hope this letter finds you well and as always, we'll talk soon.

Your friend,


Was Mark Framed? Killing the Messenger in Mark's Greek Tragedy (Audio)

(NOTE: Due to a certain someone attempting to misuse my lecture, I have since removed it. Sorry!) Here is an audio copy of the lecture I delivered at the conference yesterday. It is titled "Was Mark Framed? Killing the Messenger in Mark's Greek Tragedy". Give it a listen and let me know what you think, I'm hoping to publish this soon in an updated and modified format. (Note: It may take a moment to load. Also, please forgive the poor, lisp-creating quality of audio.)

Citation Info: T. Michael W. Halcomb, “Was Mark Framed? : Killing the Messenger in Mark’s Tragedy,” 5th Annual Western Fellowship of Professors and Scholars, Manhattan, KS, October 8-9, 2010.


Bullying Gays, Bullying Christians

From the start, I want folks to know that I write this post as a person who has had close family members and friends who have been and/or are gay. I know the pains and struggles that many of them have faced and still deal with, and I am more than familiar with the sense of rejection that they have experienced, especially from religious folks. I also write this post as a Christian and even more, as a Christian who lives in the midst of the tensions between two groups who often seem to be at loggerheads with one another: the gay community and the evangelical church.

In the wake of the recent suicides carried out by a number of gay teenagers, I have seen several things said or done that I would like to address here. First of all, however, because the phrase "gay bullying" is being used in many headlines, I feel like I need to clarify what "bullying" is (or, at least how I understand and use the term) so that the things I say below are not ripped out of context. For the most part, children themselves associate "bullying" with experiencing aggressive forms of behavior from peers. Adults, however, tend to link bullying with repeated negative actions that inflict or attempt to inflict pain or discomfort on someone. When I speak of bullying here, I define it as unprovoked aggressive acts aimed at a peer with the intent to inflict pain or discomfort upon them.

Now that I have my definition set, there is one other thing that I need to point out. Research has shown (Xin Ma, 2001) that to speak of "bullying" as a one-sided phenomenon is incorrect. In fact, studies have revealed that where bullying is identified, deeper analyses will almost always show that in fact, a "bully-victim cycle" is at work. To put it differently, in a school setting, the student who is most likely to play the part of the bully is the one who just left the counselor's office where he/she received therapy for having been victimized earlier. In short, one who plays the role of a bully has almost always been a recent victim.

This previous point is very important in my opinion because it helps us better understand some of the tension-filled relationship that exists between gays and evangelicals who hold different viewpoints on homosexuality. Let us take for example, the Christian who has shared passages from the Bible to summarize his or her views on why homosexuality is wrong. When they do this, the gay the gay person who disagrees either with the Bible or that interpretation of the Bible, gets defensive. The gay person proceeds to bully the Christian by calling him or her things like "homophobic," "anti-gay," "closed-minded," "ignorant," "old-fashioned," "hateful," "bigot," etc. In this scenario, which is very common in fact, the gay person initially perceived the Christian to be a bully for citing scripture and expressing their disagreement with the gay lifestyle, an act which made them feel victimized. In an act of defense, the gay person then flipped the script and quickly took on the role of the bully by defaming the Christian's character and thereby victimizing him or her. Now that the conversation or argument has started this way, what will continue throughout is the bully-victim cycle. Because this is the case, honest and civil dialogue will be impossible.

And that's just the thing, ground cannot be gained and understanding cannot be reached when the bully-victim cycle is at work. On the one hand, many gay persons feel like Christians are attempting to bully them by passing laws against gay marriage or civil unions. On the other hand, Christians feel like many gay persons are attempting to bully them by passing laws to silence them so that they can no longer express their beliefs. The way forward is not to embrace the bully-victim cycle as the paradigm of choice but rather to realize that different views exist and that such views can be expressed without malevolent intent.

In the case of the teenagers who have recently killed themselves, bullying has been argued to be a factor. While no bully can ever be fully blamed for someone choosing to end their own life, there is certainly truth to the claim that they may have contributed to the stress that led to someone's choice to commit suicide. Again, however, it might benefit us all to ask whether or not the bully-victim cycle was at work in the background of such events. When we do this, it may move us away from merely defaming others and pointing fingers to getting closer to the heart of the matter. Once we to begin ending the cycle is to attempt to find its recent starting point(s).

Certainly, the situation with the teenagers who have recently committed suicide is troubling to hear about. And with the media flocking to the matter and celebrities making videos about it, the emotional roller-coasters that the families were initially on have probably become even more dramatic and/or traumatic. And without a doubt, a lot of finger pointing, name calling, blaming and hating is going on. In such situations it is particularly hard for Christians who disagree with the homosexual lifestyle to offer any support because as soon as they open their mouths or attempt to be pastoral, they get bullied right back. Perhaps another lesson from the Amish on dealings in inter-personal relationships could be learned here too!

All I am really attempting to do in this post is to identify a perceived problem and even inconsistency in this whole matter, namely, the perpetuation of the bully-victim cycle. Many Christians would love to be a healing presence among these grieving families and even gay persons in general but are essentially told that to do so, they must compromise their own viewpoints and beliefs. In other words, they become bullied and victimized for wanting to help. And this extends beyond the homosexuality matter to many other significant issues such as politics, economics or even abortion. For instance, while much is being made over the loss of 9 teenage lives--and yes, it is a big deal--as soon as the Christian who does not support abortion mentions the 4,000 lives of children who will be murdered this week alone in America, they are demonized (again, a form of bullying). Once again, we see the vicious cycle and the inconsistencies that accompany it.

What needs to happen then is a different approach. Persons should not have to compromise their own views in order to gain a hearing or to be respected; these things should be fundamental to any and all human discourse! In the same way that the gay person should not be forced to change their views, neither should the Christian. Civil conversation is possible even where fundamental disagreements exist and occur. Perhaps the relevance of what I've said here has more to do with how to be civil with one another when matters like "gay bullying" come up so that in keeping the dialogue going, negative approaches like the bully-victim cycle are not what we use to steer the conversation down the wrong avenues. At the risk of sounding repetitive, let us remember that we can talk, debate and even disagree civilly, we do NOT have to resort to a bully-victim cycle to try to make our points (for if we do, we will likely not succeed in making a point anyway but rather, only in making enemies).


Putting God In His Place: A Sermon On Nehemiah 3

Here is an audio copy of the sermon I delivered at church yesterday morning. It covers Nehemiah 3 and is titled "Putting God in His Place". Give it a listen and let me know what you think. (Note: It may take a moment to load.)