Friday, October 18, 2019

Fright Night...

At the risk of sounding like Jerry Seinfeld, what is it with Halloween? Why do folk go so ga-ga over it, and why has it become the second most "decorated" holiday next to Christmas in our culture? And why has the church had such a love/hate relationship with it?

First of all, here is my personal experience: As a kid, the only thing I got into about Halloween was the Trick or Treating. I was and always have been a "candy" person, and just couldn't resist getting all of that free candy. I was so depressed when I had to give up Trick or Treating (about two years ago--just kidding). When Dara and I got married, we were attending a church that had a problem with "blending" Christian thinking with what was seen as "the devil's holiday," so we decided we would not raise our children up to celebrate Halloween. We were very intentional about taking them out of school on the day of the Halloween parties and doing something special with them, like going to the Carnegie Science Center. We also made sure they didn't miss out on the "treats." We taught them to not rain on the "Halloween parade" of their friends, nor to "preach" any wild reason for why we did what we did as a family, but just to respect what others choose to do. Neither of our kids seemed to resent missing Halloween. (I should also mention that one factor that weighed in our decision to NOT celebrate Halloween was that at that time, the news was filled with stories of poisoned or drugged candy, and suggestions to take the "treats" to a local hospital to be x-rayed.) Now that they are adults, they have made up their own minds about the holiday. Our two grandchildren go Trick or Treating. We loved hearing our granddaughter try to say "pumpkin," which came out "POOOMP-man."

The first church I served was just getting ready to "battle" over what they would do during the month of October. The previous year, this church, being in decline and down on their luck, financially, actually rented out the while education wing to a local school group that turned it into a month-long haunted house, as a fundraiser. Many in the church church were very upset by this, and considering that Pittsburgh's "Christian" TV station (channel 40 in those days) was just up over the hill in Wall, PA, and was "calling out" this church for "selling out to the devil" by doing this, I can see why they were. It wasn't the best PR campaign for the church. As the new pastor, I did a little research into it, and persuaded the Administrative Board to abandon the plan to rent the church out for a Haunted House again, but did so on the basis that they had actually lost money on the endeavor, due to extra utility costs during October.

Another church I served held a "Harvest Party," and limited the costuming to "biblical characters" or "Disney" visages. The kids had fun, just the same.

At St. Paul's, we have had Haunted Houses for youth fundraisers, typically have "Trunk or Treat" as part of our Fall Fest, and have lots of Harry Potter fans, including yours truly. I think most churches have grown out of the "boogeyman" phase of Halloween, although there are still necessary cautions when it comes to Trick or Treating and getting candy from strangers, as some are stranger than others. I think the Harry Potter series did a lot to use  the "spooky" images of wizards, dragons, and potions to teach lessons about good and evil, right from wrong, and the triumph of love over hate and inordinate power-seeking. Did I say that I like Harry Potter?

But what has it become such a major holiday? I'll bet that 90 percent of the homes in our plan decorate--some excessively--for Halloween. Is it a way we make fun of our fears? Maybe. Possibly we are reliving the ancient days when, in preparation for All Saints Day, people of faith "celebrated" All Hallows Eve, mocking death, because of the promise of new life, resurrection, and eternal life that comes via the grace of God. I'd like to think that, even though many Halloween merrymakers may not be aware of this history.

I still don't see all of the commercial hype, though, but this is coming from a guy whose era rented a $30  tux for the prom, took a date who wore a dress her mom made, and arrived in a Volkswagen, so what do I know?

As to Halloween, it will now always be the time I heard that precious little voice dramatically and slowly drawling out, "POOOMP-man." Shalom, Dear Ones...

Thursday, October 3, 2019

Like Sands Through the Hourglass...

When I was a kid, faking illness to get a day off of school, I was often subjected to my Mom's TV viewing habits (she worked as an RN at night, and therefore watched daytime TV) which included a couple of "soap operas," including one that began with the dramatic pronouncement: "Like sands through the hourglass, so are the days of our lives..." Even in 1963, I didn't really know what an hourglass was, since I had a Mickey Mouse watch, but oh well. I think the point of the narrative was that life moves on, and we really can't stop its progress.

The past 10 days have sort of been like that for us. One of my best friends of young adulthood passed away very suddenly. Tim Tygert was a child of missionary parents, probably the most faithful Christian I have ever known, and even though we didn't see each other much over the past 15 years, I know that he became an amazing husband, father, and grandfather. [Story: Once, when I was serving First UMC in Warren, PA, a bright, talented young man came to practice on the huge pipe organ we had there. As I chatted with him, he said that I might know his fiancé's father, and then told me his name: Rev. Tim Tygert. I remember saying to him, "Ryan, you may have no idea how wonderful the family you are marrying into is! And then I told him a few good "Tim" stories, which were ALWAYS stories of faith.] I remember being so excited when Tim told me he was going to ask out this fantastic girl we both knew--I thought they would be a good match. While I was sad when they decided to stop dating, two others were blessed: Cindi, the wonderful young lady who would become his wife, and me, because the other girl was Dara!

As we were setting up our schedule to attend Tim's memorial service, we got word that Dara's dad, Edwin Apel, was taking a serious turn in his health. He recently entered into hospice care, and the sands of his hourglass may be dwindling. He has had a blessed life, and at almost 93, I know he will gladly look forward to being welcomed into the arms of Jesus. Still, this news was not something we were looking forward to hearing.

And then I got word that my Mom had been hospitalized by her doctor, who discovered a heart ailment that would require a pacemaker and related drug therapies. More sands ticking away. Her procedure was scheduled for Friday.

So, as that old "Days of Our Lives" sand crawls through the bottleneck of the hourglass, we'll be spending the next couple of days back "home" in Oil City. It isn't a joy ride, though--visiting Dara's dad, possibly witnessing his final days; visiting my mom in the hospital, and praying all goes well for her ticker to get back in a healthy rhythm; and saying an earthly "Goodbye" to a man who has inspired my life and Christian faith as much as anyone I ever knew. Life marches on--or trickles through the hourglass, as it were. How thankful we are for the grace of God and the love of Jesus, that embraces all in these times of need. May those eternal and endless arms surround all those who grieve, suffer, and strive for healing. Maybe that's YOU today, Dear Ones. Shalom...

What's Next?

  What’s Next?   2 Samuel 6:1-5, 12b-19 6:1 David again gathered all the chosen men of Israel, thirty thousand. 6:2 David and all the people...