Thursday, October 31, 2013

In Honor of Reformation Day

496 years ago, a man walked up the steps of the All Saints Church in Wittenburg, Germany, and nailed a document on the door. This day marks the beginning of a whole new era in church history.

Martin Luther - Augustinian monk, priest, Professor of theology - had devoted years of his life to the study of the Bible. On his life as a monk, he remarked, "If anyone could have gained heaven as a monk, then I would certainly have done so." Yet, he later described this time in his life as one of deep spiritual despair, stating that, "I lost touch with Christ the Savior and Comforter, and made of him the jailer and hangman of my poor soul." It was during this time that a superior advised to cease focusing on his failures and sins and instead reflect on the merits of Christ and this would later bring him the spiritual guidance that he sought.
'In 1513, while preparing lectures, Luther read Psalm 22, which recounts Christ’s cry for mercy on the cross, a cry similar to his own disillusionment with God and religion. Two years later, while preparing a lecture on Paul’s Epistle to the Romans, he read, “The just will live by faith.” He dwelt on this statement for some time. Finally, he realized the key to spiritual salvation was not to fear God or be enslaved by religious dogma but to believe that faith alone would bring salvation. This period marked a major change in his life and set in motion the Reformation.'

It is this very fact that gives us much of the religious freedom we enjoy today. 

10-12 years after the day that he nailed his 95 Theses on the door, Luther wrote what is the best known today of all the hymns he wrote - a hymn we know today as A Mighty Fortress is Our God. It has been called one of the best-loved hymns of the Lutheran and Protestant traditions, and was called by some, 'The Battle-Hymn of the Reformation".  Luther wrote the song as somewhat of a paraphrase of Psalm 46, the first seven verses of which read:

God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble. 

Therefore we will not fear, though the earth should change, though the mountains shake in the heart of the sea; though its waters roar and foam, though the mountains tremble with its tumult.

There is a river whose streams make glad the city of God,the holy habitation of the Most High. God is in the midst of the city; it shall not be moved; God will help it when the morning dawns. 
The nations are in an uproar, the kingdoms totter; he utters his voice, the earth melts. 

The Lord of hosts is with us; the God of Jacob is our refuge.

Though the song was written nearly 500 years ago, its words are still relevant for us today. Much as in Luther's day, sin is rampant. Even the so-called religious leaders are proclaiming that sin today is not what we used to think it. Things that, once, were thought of as abominable by even the non-religious, are now accepted as cultural norms. Governmental leaders are promoting those that would like to see Christianity gone for good, and telling anyone who will listen that that group of people that are categorized as 'Evangelical Christians' are nothing more than terrorists. 
Never more than today does it seem that we need a refuge, a fortress to protect from those that are out to destroy the cause of Christ. And, thankfully, the same Refuge that the Psalmist wrote about, the same 'Mighty Fortress' that Martin Luther leaned upon, is still ours today.

Our foe is great - but our God is greater. 

"We will not fear for God has willed His truth to triumph through us!"

Take courage! We have 'the Right Man' on our side, and 'He must win the battle'!

 A Mighty Fortress is Our God 

A mighty fortress is our God, a bulwark never failing;
Our helper He, amid the flood of mortal ills prevailing:
For still our ancient foe doth seek to work us woe;
His craft and power are great, and, armed with cruel hate,
On earth is not his equal.

Did we in our own strength confide, our striving would be losing;
Were not the right Man on our side, the Man of God’s own choosing:
Dost ask who that may be? Christ Jesus, it is He;
Lord Sabaoth, His Name, from age to age the same,
And He must win the battle.

And though this world, with devils filled, should threaten to undo us,
We will not fear, for God hath willed His truth to triumph through us:
The Prince of Darkness grim, we tremble not for him;
His rage we can endure, for lo, his doom is sure,
One little word shall fell him.

That word above all earthly powers, no thanks to them, abideth;
The Spirit and the gifts are ours through Him Who with us sideth:
Let goods and kindred go, this mortal life also;
The body they may kill: God’s truth abideth still,
His kingdom is forever.

(Words and music by Martin Luther, circa 1520-1530 AD)

Saturday, October 26, 2013

Witches and Zombies and Ghosties - Oh My! Part IV

Hi again! Today is the last part of my series of posts on Halloween. If you've stuck around this long, you have a formal invitation to be my best friend! :) If you're just joining us, be sure and go back and read parts I, II, and III!

When I started to write this, it was just supposed to be a little post venting about some of the issues I have with Halloween. I never dreamed it would turn into something so long it had to be broken up into 4 parts to make it a little easier to read. But, as often happens, I sat down and started writing, and then I started researching, and one thing led to another - and here we are!!

Just a little story to end this thing:

A couple of weeks ago, I was in the store with my daughter (who is almost 7), and she told me we needed to get some Halloween decorations, because it was almost Halloween and we hadn't decorated anything for it. She had mentioned this in passing a few other times, so I decided it was probably time to discuss it and settle the issue.
I explained to her that I don't decorate for Halloween, and pointed out to her that most of the Halloween decorations we saw were witches, skeletons, ghosts, spiders, and the like, and that those were not nice things, and I didn't want to celebrate them. After we discussed it for a while, she saw what I meant, and agreed with me that those things weren't really things she wanted to celebrate, either, but she was still feeling a little disturbed that we had NO decorations at all. (I rarely decorate for any holiday but Christmas, except for a seasonal tablecloth and (maybe) centerpiece on the dining room table, and some sort of seasonal door decoration) I told her that I would be happy to find her some fall decor - pumpkins, leaves, scarecrows, etc. and that made her happy. (We now have a cheerful scarecrow residing in our front flowerbed, and she has a small one in her room, among other things).
Similar to this little fellow. (Source)
I didn't realize how much she had taken our little talk to heart, though, until yesterday. 
Each day, when she comes home from school, she brings a binder with her completed papers for the day; one of these was a math sheet, on which they were learning about adding doubles. At the bottom of the page, it told them to draw pictures to demonstrate the problem - specifically, witch hats.
I looked it over and didn't see any witch hats.

My child had taken me seriously when I told her that we didn't want to be having witches around. In place of the witch hats, she had drawn cats. (Hopefully she got her teacher's permission before she did this.) 

So, what was the point of all of this?
Mostly just a chance to vent a little, but hopefully, if there were any questions in your mind about Halloween, and if Christians should celebrate it, maybe this has helped you, or at least made you want to find out for yourself what it's all about! Personally, it's always made me somewhat uncomfortable, and in recent years, has almost made me downright upset seeing how far some people seem to take it. Lately, a lot of what I've been seeing is people dressing up as zombies and dead people, axe murderers, etc. and it just seems to me that it's basically turned into the glorification of every thing bad and disgusting - and I want no part of that.

Disagree with me? Feel free to tell me so in the comments.Won't be the first time somebody hasn't agreed with me, and I imagine it won't be the last! :) I'll still love you anyway!

Now for some happy pics so that you can see I DO let me kids have a little fun every once in a while!!  We painted pumpkins last week - we carved pumpkins the week before, but they didn't even last a week and they were leaking all over the place, so we threw them out and started over. 

The Artiste - she likes everything to be perfect, and usually has a meltdown at every drip and streak
The Next Picasso - he's very into abstract art. The design on his pumpkin is, in fact, a cat.

Dad even got in on the pumpkin painting - his canvas was a bit smaller, though.

The finished products. If you look real hard, stick your tongue out just so, and squint a bit, you can almost see the cat face on Jonathan's pumpkin!

And, yes, we do like cats. And we like them to be anatomically correct, so these even have tails.  :)

I hope you've enjoyed my little jaunt into Halloween-land!

(Note 11/1/13: I wrote another post today to better clarify my intentions in writing this series of posts. Go check it out, here!)

Friday, October 25, 2013

Witches and Zombies and Ghosties - Oh My! Part III

Welcome to Part III of my series on Halloween. 
Wow, you must be a loyal reader, if you're back again! :) If you're just joining us, be sure and go back and read Part I and Part II!

Yesterday, we talked about the origins of the holiday we know as Halloween, and how it is linked to pagan rituals, Catholic traditions, witchcraft and ancient superstition. 
Now we want to discuss:

What does the Bible say about it?

Well, obviously, it doesn't address the day directly, but it does have somewhat to say about spirits and witchcraft; any times a witch or wizard is mentioned in Bible, it does not have anything positive to say about it:

(uh-oh, now we're really getting serious - bullet points and everything!)
  • Exodus 22:18: Thou shalt not suffer a witch to live. (KJV)
  • Deuteronomy 18:10-12: There shall not be found among you any one that maketh his son or his daughter to pass through the fire, or that useth divination, or an observer of times, or an enchanter, or a witch, Or a charmer, or a consulter with familiar spirits, or a wizard, or a necromancer.For all that do these things are an abomination unto the Lord: and because of these abominations the Lord thy God doth drive them out from before thee. (KJV)
In the New Testament, witchcraft is mentioned among a list of things that, it tells us, would prevent the doers thereof from entering the Kingdom of God (i.e. Heaven): 
·  Galatians 5:19-22 Now the works of the flesh are evident: sexual immorality, impurity, sensuality, idolatry, sorcery, enmity, strife, jealousy, fits of anger, rivalries, dissensions, divisions, envy, drunkenness, orgies, and things like these. I warn you, as I warned you before, that those who do such things will not inherit the kingdom of God. (ESV)

 "The Bible definitely speaks negatively about occultic practices, spirits, and witches and condemns not only the practice but also the people who are involved in it. As Christians, we are to have nothing to do with the occult. Tarot Cards, contacting the dead, séances, lucky charms, etc., are all unbiblical and can harm a Christian's fellowship with God and open the Christian to demonic oppression. " (source)

There are many other scriptures I could use that speak to us about avoiding evil, etc.

So, what's a Christian to do? If we allow our children to participate by dressing up and trick-or-treating, are we casting our implicit approval on the day?

I don't have all the answers to these questions (and others). 
I don't have all the answers for my own questions, to be honest. In some ways, my instinct says avoid it completely; I know that, in part, however, this is due to my personality type, and to my own experiences as a child. My family didn't trick-or-treat. We could dress up any day of the year, but we didn't get special costumes for Halloween. My parents did buy us some candy to help with our feeling left out on that respect, but giving us tons of candy was never priority. On the other hand, my husband's family DID go trick-or-treating. He remembers having fun with it, and wants out kids to be able to have fun as well. 
This is where we are at this time: 

  • I do allow my children to dress up, but the costumes cannot be anything scary or related in any way to ghosts, witches, dead people, demons, or the like.
  • We have, on some occasions, taken them trick-or-treating, but usually try to find something a little safer for them to do to occupy them on that day. Mostly, we want them to have fun and not be the one child left out when all their friends are crowing about the obscene amounts of candy they scored. (Not that I think it's always terrible to not go with the crowd - I firmly believe there is a time to stand for your convictions and it doesn't matter if LITERALLY every is doing it - if it's wrong it's wrong, but this is not one of those times.)
  • I fully support churches holding 'trunk-or-treat' or harvest themed events and promoting Bible and historical character costumes. It seems to me the best way to 'redeem' the day, so to speak, by giving kids something to do that is not involving them in the bad aspects of the holiday.
This isn't a definitive list, but it should give some idea of what we are allowing at this point in our lives. I can't tell that it won't change in the future, but I can tell you that the type of 'celebration' of this holiday that has become mainstream will NEVER be something I can willingly embrace.

Please understand that I am not presenting this as a one-size-fits-all thing. There are some Christians who would look at this as appalling - why in the world would a person go so far? It's just an amusing holiday is all! On the other hand, there are those who would even doubt my own Christianity for participating as much as we do. I understand that. This is where WE are at this point in our lives - I'm in no way saying you can't possibly be a Christian and 'do' Halloween. What I AM saying is that I can't comfortably do it.

Come back tomorrow for one last installment - an amusing ending to an otherwise dark subject!  

Thursday, October 24, 2013

Witches and Zombies and Ghosties - Oh My! Part II

Welcome to Part II of my series on my concerns about Halloween. If you're just joining us, be sure and go back and read the previous post.

The origins of the holiday we know as Halloween are somewhat uncertain. The most widely held opinion seems to be that it originated in the early middle ages with the Catholic church. The day after Halloween, November 1st, is the day known in the Catholic church as All Saints Day - a day set aside to celebrate all of the 'Saints', both known and unknown. It was apparently held by some that on the day prior to this (October 31), all of the souls that were currently residing in Purgatory (a holding place, so to speak, somewhere between Heaven and Hell, where souls unworthy of Heaven were thought to be held for the day of Judgement), were released to walk the earth for 24 hours. It became tradition for some to go from door to door on this day, asking for prayers for the souls of their deceased loved ones, as they believed that a soul held in Purgatory could be released to Heaven if enough supplication was made on their behalf by those still living.  

Still others trace the origins of Halloween back to the feast of Samhain, which was a Celtic festival celebrating the end of the harvest season, dating back to the time of Christ of before. Fairies and spirits were thought to be particularly active during this time, and feasts were held, during which places were set at the table for those that had passed, and their spirits were beckoned back to earth. The spirits of the dead were thought to wander the streets, looking for bodies to inhabit, so many of the living (who did not want their bodies to be overtaken by a spirit) would dress in costumes and parade about making loud noises, so as to frighten the spirits away.

"The Jack-O-Lantern apparently comes from Irish folklore about a man named Jack who tricked the devil into climbing a tree. Once the devil was in the tree, Jack carved a cross on the trunk, preventing the devil from coming down. The devil then made a deal with Jack not to allow Jack into hell after Jack died if only Jack would remove the cross from the tree. After Jack died, he couldn't go to hell, and he couldn't go to heaven. He was forced to wander around the earth with a single candle to light his way. The candle was placed in a turnip to keep it burning longer. When the Irish came to America in the 1800's, they adopted the pumpkin instead of the turnip. Along with these traditions, they brought the idea that the black cat was considered by some to be reincarnated spirits who had prophetic abilities." source

Since the early 20th century, pagans and Wiccans have adopted Samhain as somewhat of a religious celebration.

So, it seems that the holiday we now know as Halloween is linked to pagan rituals, Catholic traditions, witchcraft and ancient superstition. 

Sounds great. Let's have a party! (not.)

...To be continued. Come back tomorrow for the next installment!

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Witches and Zombies and Ghosties - Oh My! Part I

(For the next several days, I will be writing a series of posts addressing my concerns with Halloween. Be sure and come back to read the rest!)

It's that time of year again.

You know the one - the time of year when it's not at all uncommon to see pseudo-graveyards popping up in peoples' yards; when  gigantic mutant spiders build their webs on porches; ghosts wind their spooky selves around trees; and witches fly on their brooms throughout your normally quiet neighborhood.
It's that time of year when it seems everyone is preoccupied with the dead, dying and downright scary.

Now I'm not a big fan of fall to begin with - I prefer the breezy spring days with their colorful flowers, and the lazy, hot summer days. Fall just depresses me, mostly.
And then you add in all the Halloween decorations people insist on plastering on every available space, and it's enough to drive a barely-sane person crazy!

(Not these. They're cute  - even they are ghosts!)

Why does it bother me so?

People often tell me I'm making too much out of it - it's just an innocent holiday, a time when kids (and now-days, adults, too) dress up and go around asking for candy. Nothing wrong with that, right?
(Actually, the idea of wandering around, knocking on complete strangers' door asking them to give me anything makes me a little queasy, but that's just my anti-social, hermit-ish personality type shining)
And no, I can't say that there's anything wrong with kids dressing up, or with getting candy (other than the obvious health hazards linked to eating too much my children's mother completely losing her mind after they run their 57th lap around the house giggling maniacally in their sugar-induced stupor. But I digress.), however, I just can't reconcile having a little 'innocent fun' with all of the dark and dead stuff that seems to be celebrated on that day,

(To Be continued. Come back tomorrow for Part II!)