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Ah, the rosy glow on children’s faces, houses all decorated in lights, and the many festive parties; ‘tis the season of… Halloween?! At the same time that many schools and governments seek to marginalize or minimize Christmas, Halloween is thriving in schools and in American culture. Each year more houses seem to be decked out in orange lights, some even flashing along with intricate synchronized music. As Halloween festivities grow and increasingly compete for attention with Thanksgiving and Christmas, how should Christians respond?
In some churches, harvest festivals now stand in the place of Halloween as a more faithful expression. However, many Halloween traditions originally developed as an alternative to pagan fall revelry. As the nights grew longer and colder, summer ended, and the fall reaping began, many people and cultures also found this to be a time to consider our own mortality, our own reaping. Some of Halloween’s ancient roots stem from a Celtic fear of death, a fear of roving spirits, and a fear of the dark unknown. Homes were lit only by candles, and costumes were worn to scare away any roving spirits that might come near.
Worship in the first Christian churches (c. A.D. 40) likely included prayers for fellow believers who had died. Eventually those prayer times became a day of prayer set aside for the departed. Later, in order to specifically stand in contrast to pagan fears, festivals, and superstitions, the Christian Church introduced the tradition of All Saints’ Day (November 1) and All Souls’ Day (November 2). All Souls’ Day was and is a day of prayer for the departed, while All Saints’ Day was and is a time to especially remember and hallow (honor, venerate) the departed saints. However, in the 1500s the Western Church split into Catholics and Protestants with one point of dissension being how to define a saint. Despite these remaining distinctions, most Christians still celebrate some form of All Saints’ Day.
As the tradition of All Souls’ and All Saints’ took hold, the evening prior to All Saints’ Day, known as All Hallows Eve, became a time for Christians to mock death and to remember the sentiment of 1 Corinthians 15:55: “Where, O death, is your victory? Where, O death, is your sting?” The word “Halloween” is simply a contraction of “Hallows Eve” and can be affirmed by Christians as a time to hallow those who have passed, to celebrate the power of Christ over death through the resurrection, and to even dress up in costumes that ridicule and demean the futile and feckless dominion of eternal death.
Although Halloween has become a highly secularized and indulgent celebration, we must remember that Christians are often called to offer alternatives and antidotes to an infirmed culture. The word “holiday” is an integration of “holy day” and “holy” means to set apart or sanctify. For some, the holy day of Halloween is simply a day of excess sweets, gory costumes, and unfettered partying. Rather than divorce ourselves from this secularized Halloween, Christians can instead reengage our culture and remind people of Halloween’s ancient Christian roots. We can ease fears of the unknown. We can encourage people to consider the death and resurrection of Christ and how death holds no eternal power. And we can help others find in Christ deep fulfillment and meaning in a joyous life now and in an eternal life to come. All of this is certainly worthy of celebration.
God is not dead; but some universities act as if they wish that were the case…
The scenes in the movie, God is Not Dead, show a university philosophy professor demanding that his students write and sign the proclamation “God is dead”. He requires this so that the class can put aside any philosophical silliness about God and be free to engage in serious thinking. Although this movie lacks subtlety and is a bit heavy on caricatures, its portrayal of a growing anti-Christian crusade on many university campuses has an unfortunately truthful ring.
As an example, I call your attention to a very important article published in Christianity Today about Vanderbilt University, founded as a Methodist Episcopal school. It reveals how Christian groups across the United States are being treated on many university campuses where one could also plausibly assume there are philosophy professors proclaiming that God is dead.
Here is how the article begins. I hope it piques your interest and that you will read the entire article about the clash of faith and culture:
“I thought I was an acceptable evangelical. I'm not a fundamentalist. My friends and I enjoy art, alcohol, and cultural engagement. We avoid spiritual clichés and buzzwords. We value authenticity, study, racial reconciliation, and social and environmental justice.” Yet, “discrimination…was lobbed [at us] like a grenade to end all argument. Administrators compared Christians to 1960s segregationists.”
What do you think? Are Christians overreacting? Are universities exhibiting a rotting of America? Share your thoughts by clicking here and voicing your opinion.
The United States stopped it from taking place here in 2002. But in New Jersey, 15 years ago, 17 babies were born via an In Vitro Fertilization process that included three parents. The procedure involves taking eggs from two women and injecting cytoplasm and mitochondria from the donor egg into the mother’s egg so that the baby inherits genetic material from three individuals. Such engineered babies are created so that mitochondrial diseases in the mother are not passed on to her children.
The 17 babies, now teenagers, are currently being sought for follow-up study as a British clinic plans to activate further IVF three-parent procedures and Parliament considers regulations or an outright ban.
How should elected officials or, more importantly, all us sort through our compassion toward those struggling with conception, and galloping scientific efforts that often race forward before we have given them adequate thought? Should science have an unlimited avenue for genetically engineering children? Where do we draw a line, because we can be sure that scientific advances will go far beyond just cytoplasmic transfer and mitochondrial donation. What is the ethical limit? What is the biological limit? What is the Christian limit?
Please take a moment to read this thought-provoking article on music and neuroscience from National Geographic magazine.
This discussion was prompted by our recent concert at Broadway from "Two and a Half Tenors." Here's what Pastor Rob wrote to initiate this discussion...
The music concert by Two and a Half Tenors Sunday night was a huge success on many levels: a packed house, great show with a variety on numbers, our sound system at its best, and a free will offering that, combined with our great sponsors, meant that we came out exactly $3 ahead! But there was one other aspect that made it such a special evening of music: it wonderfully demonstrated that we are made in the image and likeness of our Creator God.
Imago dei is the Latin phrase used by theologians to indicate that human beings bear the mark of our Creator. We are who we are because of who God is. The Bible describes heaven as a place where harpists play and singers join their voices (Rev. 14:2-3, Ps. 40:3). Worship that is pleasing to God involves music (Ps. 100:1-2) and music is an integral part of spiritual growth (Col. 3:16). We are musical because God is musical. In fact, there is so much music referenced in the Bible that as Genesis described God “speaking” the world into existence, C.S. Lewis imagined his Christ-like Aslan in The Magician’s Nephew creating the world by singing it into existence.
There are rules, patterns, and pleasing harmonies in music that transcend human construct. Animal brains do not react to music the way human brains do, and neuroscientists continue to be baffled by why music affects us the way it does. Chris Robinson summed up the mysterious heavenly quality of music when he reminded me that music is best expressed when it flows through us rather than from us. We are musical because God is musical and we bear the image of God. Thank you Two and a Half Tenors for the reminder.
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