Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Halloween and Remembering our Saints

Halloween 1982, Eston, SK
As a kid, Halloween was second in my estimation only to Christmas, as far as holidays went.  Not only was there a mountain of candy and dressing up on the day, but there a season of anticipation of coming up with and preparing an original and creative costume.  There was also was a party at school, including a parade through the classrooms.  In my school some of the Christian families didn’t allow their children to participate in school Halloween festivities because the holiday was viewed as non-Christian, even anti-Christian.  But there are plenty of ways to talk about and prepare for Halloween through a lens of faith. 

For starters, Halloween (like so many holidays that have been secularized) began in the church.  All Hallows Eve is the evening before All Hallows/All Saints Day, the day to remember those saints who have been witnesses to God’s reign in times past.  On this day and on All Souls Day which follows, we have an opportunity to intentionally remember those we have lost and the faithful ‘saints’ who have gone before us. 

Who do we remember from the past and what ‘saints’ are still with us?  Who are the family members who have been and are faithful witnesses to God’s reign?  In our family we sometimes remember and tell the stories of Joe’s grandpa and my own who were conscientious objectors during the 2nd World War.  My grandpa served in the Forestry Service in Canada.  Joe’s grandpa was a smoke jumper in western Montana.  Another of his grandpas went to prison for his resistance to war.  In our families, these stories that witness to the way of Jesus – serving the community and eschewing violence – are powerful reminders of how we are still called to follow Christ’s example.

Halloween can also be an opportunity to give thanks for the generosity of neighbors who welcome hordes of children and freely offer gifts of chocolate and candy (which parents can later sneak out of the bucket). It may also be an opportunity to think about how to be generous ourselves, and to encourage generosity in our children.  This year I want to at least temper the attitude of mass sugar consumption by offering a parallel treat-or-treat experience that involves giving.  We’re going to collect non-perishables for the food bank in addition to the candy and encourage others at the annual Halloween party we attend to do the same. 

For a few more reflections on how to celebrate Halloween with a faith lens, check out the bloggers at Practicing Families here and here, Mennonite pastor Joanna Harader's reflections about life in a holiday that celebrates death here and finally a possible book for conversation about what’s scary at Worshiping with Children.

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Sabbath Keeping for Busy People in my preparation for sermon writing this Sunday I read: our standard answer to the question, ‘How are you?’ has shifted from, ‘Fine, thanks.’ to ‘Busy.’   Possibly with a shrug and an implied or explicit, ‘Well, you know,’ because we all experience it.  I certainly have answered that way many times myself.  Who isn’t busy who’s juggling a balance of work with family and other relationships plus additional community responsibilities and pursuits.

‘Busy’ is exactly the problem that the gift of Sabbath seeks to engage.  The problem of busy is that most of what makes us busy is the race to keep up with a culture that has nothing to do with God’s economy and kin-dom (built on relationship).  It has, instead, everything to do with the empire of better, more, faster.  This is true even when individually our activities may be good and necessary ones.  Jesus was explicit: “Sabbath is made for humans.”  We should embrace this gift.

Lee Hull Moses writes in Hopes and Fear: Everyday Theology for New Parents and Other Tired, Anxious People, “The Sabbath commandment is rooted in God’s own day of rest after six busy days of creating the world: ‘and on the seventh day, God finished the work that [God] had done, and rested on the seventh day from all the work [which was] done.’ (Gen 2:2)  That word finished glares at me from the page…The hard part, it seems to me, is the stopping – especially when the work isn’t done…Must I really finish all the work before I rest?  ‘God,’ I think irreverently, ‘did not have a toddler at home.’”

And yet if we want our toddlers – or our teens or our children of any age – to understand the goodness of the world God created, and to live in that reality rather than one created by the constant activity of produce and consume, the rhythm of Sabbath is important.  Not only important but key in recognizing the God of Creation as the God of justice for all created beings.  As the people of God in the Bible let go of Sabbath keeping and turned away from it as a way of life, they turned more toward injustice.  Prophets like Isaiah and Amos are not kind in their words for those who ‘profane’ Sabbath.

Do a quick search on Practicing Families for Sabbath and you’ll see many ideas about how different families incorporate this practice into their lives (eg. here, here and here).  A little to my chagrin, some of them even involve staying home from church.  None of them, however, involve sports practices, homework, email, errand running or laundry.  What they have in common is a focus on holy rest, relationship, and a reminder that at our center, we are God’s not the world’s.  It is out of this rhythm of knowing whose we are that we can re-enter busy.