Monthly Archives: October 2014

Five Reasons I celebrate Halloween

trick or treat jesus

Jesus doesn’t want pencils or Smarties either.

1. It is fun. Candy. Decorations. Costumes.  What’s not to love?   Why do we search for eggs on Easter?  Why do we watch fireworks on the Fourth of July?  Why do we hang stockings on Christmas?  It’s fun.  It is a day to celebrate with friends, family, and neighbors.  Kids love to play pretend.  They love to dress up as superheroes, cartoon characters, magical creatures, and yes – even monsters.  Today I picked up my daughter from school, and you know what I saw?  Elsas.  So many Elsas.  And storm troopers, clowns, ninjas, jesters, Harry Potters, minecraft guys, princesses, and batmen.  More than this though, I saw smiles.  I saw kids running and playing and laughing.  I saw Dads holding little hands, asking “did you have fun?” and an exuberant, “Yes” in response.  I saw teachers giving hugs and kids sharing candy.  Halloween is fun, and in a world that is full of plenty of real-life monsters, a little bit of fun is a good thing.

2. It builds community. On my block, Halloween is a great community building experience.  All the families come out and enjoy the evening together.  We bring food.  We have bonfires.  The kids play, the adults talk.  We get to know each other.  The neighborhood I live in now is the first place I’ve lived since where I grew up that I know the names of everyone on my block.  A big reason for that is that the neighborhood embraces Halloween.

Secret Reason #6 - Strangely warmed pumpkins. I carved this bad boy by hand at youth group.

Secret Reason #6 – Strangely warmed pumpkins. I carved this bad boy by hand at youth group.

3. It is a chance to mock death and evil, not celebrate it.  OK, so now I’ll get a little deeper. At every graveside service I have ever officiated, I have read these words, “Death has been swallowed up in victory.  Where, o death, is your victory? Where, o death, is your sting? But thanks be to God, who gives us victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.”  I could make the argument that Halloween, or All Hallow’s Eve, is an important Christian holiday.  It comes on the eve of winter, when death is impending.  Yet it is only through this death that we have a harvest.  It is “when a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains just a single grain; but if it dies, it bears much fruit.”  Death is something that is universally feared.  Halloween is a chance to look straight into that death and laugh.  It is on the brink of death, just as we enter the valley, that we can stand in the assurance that we shall fear no evil.

4. Reverse Trick or Treating. In years past, we have used Halloween as a chance to raise awareness about fair trade chocolate.  If you want to be upset about Halloween, then be upset about the part of it that really matters.  Get upset that it is the most popular season for buying chocolate, and that most of the chocolate bought on Halloween is made by child slaves.  I’ve written a lot about Fair Trade Chocolate. Every Halloween, I try to use it as a chance to teach people about the value of fair trade chocolate.  We glue little chocolates from Equal Exchange to postcards explaining some bullet-points about the chocolate market, and hand them out to people as we go trick or treating.  It is a small thing, but it is a way to connect a fun event to a real issue. and hopefully, some people learn something along the way.

Download this and use it as a quarter of a piece of paper. Print it on card stock, glue a piece of Equal Exchange candy to it, and you are ready to spread some justice this Halloween. Put some stuff about your church on the other side, and you're doing evangelism too.

Download this and use it as a quarter of a piece of paper. Print it on card stock, glue a piece of Equal Exchange candy to it, and you are ready to spread some justice this Halloween. Put some stuff about your church on the other side, and you’re doing evangelism too.

5. Jesus said, “Lighten up.”  Ok, so he might not have said that, but stay with me for a second.  In the Old Testament, God and the prophets tells the people over and over again to “fear the Lord.”  Most modern readers of these texts bristle at the idea of a fearful God.  They, and I count myself among them, remind people that biblical fear is more about reverence.  “Revere and respect the Lord,” is fine translation.  Now, jump ahead to Jesus, who went around saying “fear not” or “don’t be afraid,” a lot.  If we look at the OT understanding of fear as reverence, is it possible that Jesus was saying, “Be irreverent.”  In other words, “lighten up,” or “have a sense of humor.”  So, maybe this is a stretch.  I don’t have time to do the proper word study, but I do believe that Jesus appreciated life.  He wants us to have it abundantly, and sometimes that means having a great time with friends, family, and even strangers.  So, Happy Halloween everybody.

Listen to a great podcast about the Church and Halloween

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Help me invite Amy Poehler to be on my podcast #AmyOnPulpitFiction

amy poehler

Dear Amy Poehler: You are amazing. Please come on our podcast. #AmyOnPulpitFiction

Yesterday I read this story from a website called Deadline.  It is painfully short, so I’ll sum it up for you: The greatest TV show ever is coming.  OK, so that’s not exactly what it says, and I don’t know if Amy Poehler’s newest project will live up to my expectations, but I am excited about the possibilities.

My wife and I love Parks and Recreation. It is smart, funny, poignant, and touching.  It is full of lovable, flawed, believable, and honest characters.  I could go on and on about how much I love that show.  You can bet that every episode of its upcoming final season will be appointment television for my wife and I.  And now Amy Poehler is in production of a show for NBC with a similar style that is set in a church.  Imagine it: Nick Offerman as a member of the trustees.  Aziz Ansari as the youth pastor.  Aubrey Plaza as the secretary. Rob Lowe as the District Superintendent. Adam Scott as the finance chair.  Chris Pratt as the leader of the praise band (Church Rat).  

So here’s the part where I ask you for some help.  If you are as excited about this as I am, then do me a solid.  Go on twitter and use the hashtag #AmyOnPulpitFiction.  You may or not be aware of the fact that I co-host a podcast called Pulpit Fiction. It’s a weekly discussion between my friend Eric Fistler and me. We talk each week about the Bible, pop culture, sermon writing, the church, and other fun stuff.  We’re just two good friends who are pastors talking about the Bible.  In addition to our weekly podcast, we do periodic Thursday Night Specials.

During these Thursday Night Specials we interview authors, musicians, and other awesome people.  We’ve had some great conversations with Adam Hamilton, Rachel Held Evans, Nadia Bolz Weber, and Jennifer Knapp.  We want to talk to Amy Poehler about this new show.  It would be incredible.  It’s a long shot, but it would probably be the coolest thing I’ve ever done in my life.  I’m not sure if Amy is on twitter.  The closest thing to a personal twitter account she has is @smrtgrls.  Her partner in producing the show is Aisha Muharrar.  Her twitter handle is @eeshmu.  Today I sent a letter to 3Arts Entertainment in hopes that it would somehow get to Amy.  Any help you can give us in getting noticed would be greatly appreciated.

So please, right now, go to Twitter and ask Amy and/or Aisha to be on Pulpit Fiction.  Tweet something like “@Smrtgrls and @eeshmu So excited about your new project, please go on @pulpitfpodcast to talk about it #AmyOnPulpitFiction”

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Dr. Seuss Tells the Sermon on the Mount, Part 4: The Zax

Zax_in_prax

The north-going Zax and the south-going Zax cross paths in the prairie of Prax.

The Zax are lesser-known Seuss creations.  Found in one of the smaller stories within the Sneetches book, they are two creatures full of certainty.  Their paths intersect one day in an open field.  One is going north.  The other south.  They run into each other, and refuse to yield.  Each Zax is certain of his path.  He is certain that there is no other way to go.  There is no room for east or west.  Both dig in, ready for a wait, ready to hold fast to their certainty for as long as it takes.  As they stand there at a face off, a funny things happens.  The world around them goes on.   The story ends with the north-going Zax and the south-going Zax standing face to face, with the world all around them changed.  There are buildings and roads, even a bridge that goes over them.  All around them is progress, leaving behind the Zax and their certainty.

zax standoffAssurance is a virtue.  I’m not sure certainty is.  Certainty is built on the promise that I am right.  It inspires us to dig deeper trenches, and defend certainty at all costs.  Certainty regards new facts with suspicion.  It does not adapt well to change.  Assurance is built on the promise that I am loved. It is a source of hope and inspires confidence.  Assurance allows freedom for challenge and growth.  I think the world could use more blessed assurance and less religious certainty.

Jesus closes his Sermon on the Mount with a warning.  “Not everybody who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will get into the kingdom of heaven,” he says (Matthew 7:21).  Faith is not about checking a box.  Faith is not about making your claim, saying a formulaic prayer, and thinking that your ticket has been punched.  “Only those who do the will of my Father will enter,” he continues.  He closes this long sermon, one in which he told them some pretty radical stuff, with a reminder that nodding their heads in agreement, even shouting a few ‘amens’ wouldn’t be enough.  I can imagine after this sermon, the people filing by Jesus, shaking his hand warmly and saying, “Good sermon, teacher.”  The Kingdom of Heaven is about more than knowing what is right.  It is about living each day as if the things Jesus taught actually matter.

The Christian life is not easily defined, and it is not easily lived.  It starts not with having all the answers, but with having the courage to ask the questions.  Religious certainty is built on having all the answers.  It is about picking the right Bible verses to memorize, and standing firm on the right side.  It is built, above all, on being right.  Yet Jesus himself called out those who wanted to draw such clear lines.  To those who memorized all the right Bible verses, he declared “You have heard it said… But I say to you.”  He threw doubt upon all that their institutions and religious righteousness had been built on.

Instead he called people to struggle with real problems.  He called people to fix upon the spirit of love that transcended the letter of the Law.  Instead of offering certainty, he offered assurance.  Assurance that the entirety of the Bible could be summed up with a commandment to love.  Assurance that the sinner is welcome at the table.  Assurance that treating one another with love was more important than being right.

Blessed assurance gives me the strength to love.  It gives me the confidence to be vulnerable.  It gives me the safety to adventure into uncharted territory.  Assurance inspires me to go to new places, meet new people, and try to find new ways to encounter what transcends all things: God’s love.

Jesus closes his Sermon on the Mount with a simple metaphor.  “Everybody who hears these words of mine and puts them into practice is like the wise builder who built a house on bedrock.  The rain fell, the floods came, and the wind blew and beat against that house.  It didn’t fall…  But everybody who hears these words and doesn’t put them into practice will be like a fool who built his house on sand.  The rain fell, the floods came, and the wind blew against that house.  It fell and was completely destroyed” (Matthew 7:24-27)

Certainty is built upon the promise that I am right.  It does not respond well to shifting winds or changing times.  Assurance is built upon the promise that I am loved.  With that foundation, I can stand against any storm.

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