Sunday, September 27, 2009
It's almost that time again...
Anyway, the time is fast approaching when churches that refuse to celebrate Halloween will have "harvest parties", inviting the little children to come to the event dressed up in costumes, get loads of candy, play games, and do a lot of other Halloweenesque activities. I guess it is okay to celebrate in essentially the same way, as long as you don't call it Halloween.
I grew up in an Assembly of God church, and the Halloween alternative at our church was called "Hallelujah Night". I never saw a marked difference between Hallelujah Night and other Halloween events, and it seemed silly to me. My parents, however, thought it was the holiest option, and I remember very clearly one Halloween when my mother held nothing back when I told her I wanted to go trick-or-treating.
"Don't you know that there are people sacrificing babies on this night? Don't you know that going trick-or-treating gives power to Satan, and that Satanists celebrate that power by sacrificing animals and children?"
The tyrade went on and on. You see, prior to rolling out the Hallelujah Night idea, our church had spent several weeks educating us on all of the satanic activity that happens in our area. A police officer, whose stories were always shared second or third hand, stated that there were several hot spots in our neighborhood which became abuzz with activity on Halloween night. During our education, we were told in graphic detail exactly what happens when a child or animal is sacrificed, and we were clued in on what signs to look for if we suspected a satanic group had been performing sacrifices in any of our nearby forests.
One of the signs was diapers. So, every time I saw a diaper that had been tossed out somewhere, I assumed it was somehow linked to satanic activity. That made for a traumatic adolesence, if you know anything about the highways and byways of rural northern Michigan. Dirty diapers that didn't make it to the trash can, can be found just about anywhere.
We were also educated on the many satanic symbols we should be looking for among our peers and coworkers, to tip us off if they were involved in satanic practices. I remember one time I drew all the symbols on a piece of loose leaf paper, and gave them to a substitute teacher. I don't think that's what we were supposed to do with them.
My point is, I was freaked out by the things I was being told about the world around me. The ugly truths I was being told about Halloween paled only in comparison to the shocking documentary-style movie my parents took me to at the tender age of 6, in which all of the horrors of the lifestyles of the heavy metal rock and rollers was shared in gory detail. We went to a Baptist church to see that one, and the images were so violent, I remember my dad had to take me outside for the rest of the film. I asked him why the police didn't stop those men in the film from hurting people, since one of them had just threatened to beat up my dad and rape my mom.
I'm not sure that the film was meant for a 6 year old.
I grew up in an environment that told me that the world around me was one to be feared, and the only way to be safe was to avoid it at all costs. We burned secular music. Many of the people in my church did not watch television. I remember reading "Sybil" when I was in tenth grade, and my youth pastor told me he would pray over me so the spirits in the book didn't start oppressing me.
Years later, when I really did end up in a psychiatric hospital due to major depression, I was asked by this same pastor what sin was in my life that would have caused me to end up there. I'm sure he was thinking back to "Sybil". Meanwhile, I was feeling depressed, and now, very guilty.
After I left my Assembly of God upbringing, the trendy thing became to have a yearly Halloween production of "Heaven's Gates, Hell's Flames", which people were told to invite their unsaved friends to. I have never seen the show live, but from the bits I have seen online, I gather that the idea is to get people to come to Christ by making them scared shitless not to.
I'm not sure that's the approach Christ would prefer we use.
Something about this upcoming time of year causes many of these memories to surface. I grew up believing that God cared about us enough to send Jesus for us, but beyond that, He pretty much couldn't stand us. I grew up believing that God looked for reasons to punish me, and I not only needed to fear screwing up in the world outside -- maybe by inadvertantly participating in satanic activity--but I also needed to fear the world inside my own mind and spirit, lest I fall into a sin as egregious as depression.
As the fall celebrations give way to the big moneymaker, Christmas, claims staked by the church-at-large become even more glaring. If you're going to mention the holiday, it better be by way of a "Merry Christmas". Don't pull me into your "happy holidays", inclusive, ecumenical, Christ-hating greetings. And if your store sells cards that contain any such greetings, I won't shop there.
Actually, I don't really care how you greet me, as long as it's kind. I think I'm "supposed" to care, though, or my salvation may be questionable.
I have a friend that I walk with, and on our walks, we usually end up talking about churchy things. She attends a church very similar to the one I grew up in, and still believes much of what I have abandoned. We were discussing the economy and the bleak job market in northern Michigan, and somehow we moved to the topic of men and women in the work place. She believes that women should not make more money than men, or hold a position that ranks higher than a man's. I wanted to enjoy the walk, and chose not to argue.
We also talked about the plight of being human. Life is hard. Nobody gets through it unscathed. We talked about addiction, and the reality that having Jesus in your life doesn't mean you'll never struggle with it again. We talked about the struggle life can be, and how sometimes it's enough just to get up and face the day when you're going through a hard time. She went on to discuss the sins people struggle with...sex, drugs, rock and roll, and depression. Once again, I decided not to argue with her.
She feels empowered by her beliefs, and while I cannot agree with her even in the slightest degree, I am not going to take those things away from her to attempt to minimize her in any way because she has these beliefs. She believes what she is told to believe, as long as the one telling her is her pastor and he says he can prove it with a Bible verse.
Still, it saddens me that so many of these ideas are still being kicked around in some church circles as though they are biblically based, when they are nothing of the kind and only serve to alienate people from Jesus. It's not enough that you're struggling with substance abuse or mental illness. Now, you have to feel guilty on top of it.
"God doesn't like any of us all that much, but he especially doesn't like YOU." That's the message I walked away with on most Sunday mornings.
These days, I'm not really sure where my place is in the whole church scene. I'm not interested in being churchy. I'm interested in being Jesusy, and raising my son to be Jesusy in his own way, as well. I think we can be Jesusy and still celebrate Jaden's first Halloween, and wish people "happy holidays" during the upcoming holiday season. I think we can be Jesusy without fearing the world around us. I think we can even be Jesusy if we believe that not only does God love us enough to send His only son, but God actually likes us a lot, too.
Having a son to raise has made me re-evaluate many of the beliefs I grew up with, in contrast to the beliefs I have now, and find the best way to teach my son about Jesus. I haven't figured that part out yet, other than knowing that I don't want him to have the same fearful, self-loathing perception of things that I did.
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