Awhile back, when I lived in Ohio and was serving a church there, I experienced an annual reoccurrence come the end of every October. Numerous Christian parents in the community were very intentional about expressing their concerns regarding what they believed to be the sinister aspects of Halloween. What I came to later find out was that most of their concerns had little to do with the holiday's origins and far more to do with its contemporary practices.
I discovered that many parents' primary uneasiness with the holiday was that they believed that it was luring their kids away from Christ-like behavior. As they explained it to me, they believed that Halloween was having a negative effect on their kids because of its contemporary focus on violence, gore and over-sexualization of teenage girls. As a result of these issues, many parents in the community decided to stop celebrating the holiday altogether.
Of course this was their prerogative as parents, but I wonder if sometimes -- as followers of Jesus -- we are overly critical and quick to reject the things that we see as objectionable. Maybe a different approach should be taken? Maybe we ought to seek to transform and redeem that which we see as objectionable in a positive direction instead?
For instance, back in Ohio, our youth group chose to become very intentional about celebrating Halloween, but our purpose was to use it for good. Every year we would gather at a house in the neighborhood a few days before Halloween, tastefully dress up, and then go trick-or-treating for canned goods, with the haul going to a neighboring church's food bank. Of course, the responses we received, like with anything else, were initially mixed.
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The first year that we did this, the residents of one house literally slammed the door in the face of a group of 12-year-olds and proclaimed, "We don't celebrate Halloween; we're Christians!" That incident provided a teachable moment for our youth about how Jesus calls us to treat others.
But that response was the exception to the norm. Most people in the community saw the youth's efforts as admirable and were more than happy to help a good cause. One blind woman who lived by herself came to the door and proceeded to invite our students and chaperones into her house, asking them to take all of her canned goods because "certainly there were people far more in need than her."
After a couple of years of doing the event, more and more people in the community began to hear of our youth's efforts and other groups began to help. Later on, more organizations followed our lead and began doing door-to-door food drives at other times of the year. This led to more people being fed in the community.
Soon our youth began to realize the joy that could come from service, and they actively began looking for other ways in which they could serve. It became apparent to them that how they engage others matters in life. Slowly, I even saw skeptical parents catch the vision that God was capable of transforming a festival that had declined toward ill intention into one of love and service.
This Halloween you too have the opportunity to choose how you will engage people. My encouragement is that we would look to the opportunities that God is presenting in the situations that we face and seek to transform them in a way that exemplifies the love of Jesus.
The Rev. Christopher Benek is the associate pastor of family ministries at Providence Presbyterian Church. Read his blog at www.christopherbenek.com.