Earlier that year, I told our church to respond graciously to the confrontational bullhorn evangelists – even if they felt that the preachers were leaving Salem churches with an emotional mess to clean up when they returned home. Kupka's gracious offering to the street preacher became a model for our church. This was the way of our Savior – the Prince of Peace, and it was an agnostic who modeled the way of Jesus.
The volunteers who travel to join our little church in offering spiritual counseling to the Halloween crowds undergo outreach training beforehand. We introduce them to the belief systems of neopaganism and ask them to keep from engaging in antagonistic spiritual warfare. Valor, a local witch and friend of the church, spoke to the group about life as a witch. (During October, many Salem witches dress in black, with capes and pointy hats. The rest of the year, they might look like your next-door neighbor.)
This comes as a surprise to the people who join us, but visitors to Salem are seekers of truth. After 15 years of sharing God's love in October, people still stand in line for spiritual counsel and hear out our expressions of the gospel. They respond. Each year, dozens pray and ask Jesus to touch their hearts.
The World Standing On Its Head
We know the whole thing seems kind of crazy. Witches and monsters pass out flyers for psychic fairs and haunted houses, Hare Krishnas chant and pulse to the tambourine beats in their big happy circle, and people pretending to be Satanists shout, "Hail Satan" to upset the street preachers. The Youth With a Mission missionaries offer healing prayers like hawkers in the carnival. They're fun, they're positive, and they;re praying for passersby.
Then there's our festival evangelism, the costumed monks performing reverse confessions or wandering the streets offering free blessings; tents for dream interpretations and spiritual readings; live music from Christian and non-Christian artists together; a costume contest for the kids; free fair trade hot cocoa; and the experience of "outer darkness" from inside a old bank vault. Some see these carnival-like attractions as a mockery of the gospel. We see them as something revolutionary.
Russian philosopher Mikhail Bakhtin proposed the concept of "carnivalesque" as revolution. Medieval carnivals offered temporary relief from the drudgery of life. On one hand, they created a numbing effect for the suffering masses. The moment of carnal relief made years of oppression seem temporarily distant. On the other hand, revolutionary impetus sometimes rose from carnivale.
Bakhtin recognized the carnivalesque in literature, film, and the festivals of our world. Revolution through satire, humor, and dramatizing "the world standing on its head" is the power of carnivalesque.
Througout history, we see God use the unexpected and even ridiculous again and again. Could he be a fan of the carnivalesque? Ezekiel's strange behavior among the Jews captive in Babylon looks like part clown, part madman, and part angry social commentator. Eastern Orthodoxy celebrates the vocation of the "Holy Fool," with kooky characters such as St. Simeon the 6th-century hermit, or Saint Basil of Moscow. Paul tells us "God has chosen the foolish things of this world to confound the wise" (1 Cor. 1:27), so perhaps embracing our own foolishness propels the revolutionary power of the gospel.