Halloween. Who would have thought that a national costume party would be such a complicated endeavor and an unexpected opportunity for Christians?
I have a friend named Jason. He was an under-pastor at a fairly large, successful church in the Midwest. A couple of autumns ago, Jason's boss pulled him aside and asked him to represent the pastoral team at the church's Harvest Party (a sacred replacement for the pagan Halloween).
Jason was a natural choice for the festive responsibility. He was popular in the church. Everyone knew and liked him. He had young children, so his "official" responsibilities could be easily harmonized with his family duties. You would think that Jason would have jumped at the opportunity, but it didn't sit right with him.
The problem wasn't the event. Not at all. It was both an appropriate and enjoyable opportunity as a young pastor. The thing that needled him was the thought of leaving his neighborhood on the one night of the year when his neighbors came to his house unsolicited, knocked on his door and, even if just for a moment, acted like neighbors.
Jason understood the church's reason for a "Harvest Party." Halloween was about zombies, ghouls, and witches, things that celebrate darkness and evil. Are those things appropriate for children? On the other hand, who could argue with the theme of "harvest"? Even Jesus told stories about harvesting … like the one about the wheat and tares, which tells of eternal judgment and damnation … which is clearly a children's story … wait a minute. Where was I? Oh yes, Jason.
Jason wondered, "As a person of faith, is it my calling to be the chief religious person on my block (focused on religious events and ceremonies) or is it my calling to be with my neighbors in a faithful way?"
This is a false dichotomy of course, but you get the point.
The Sacred Secular
As a sacred person, am I called to avoid "pagan" or "secular" events, or is it my responsibility to bring my sacredness to them?
Certainly the prophet Daniel would have something to say about this. He was only a boy when he was taken to Babylon. While there, he fully participated in society and was able to study and understand magic and astrology better than his Babylonian teachers (Daniel 1:18-20). But apparently, all in the service of God. He was a faithful participant in the most pagan of societies.
Recently I sat with a group of wonderful folks from The Parish Collective (a group committed to expressing Christianity through integrated neighborhoods). We studied the story of Tabitha from Acts 9. Dr. Dwight Friesen of The Seattle School was leading our discussion.
The story of Tabitha—called "Dorcas" by her pagan neighbors—is a lovely story of healing, hope, and neighborly participation. One of the things that really shocked us was how beloved Tabitha was by her Greek (pagan) neighbors. The widows who lived all around her wept uncontrollably over Tabitha's death. This sorrow was not the product of a fleeting or momentary relationship. The story says that the widows displayed the evidence of Tabitha's long and serving presence with them (Acts 9:39). She had practiced "faithful participation." Keep in mind that this faithful participation among pagans was before Peter's vision that took him to Cornelius' home. In this vision God clarified to Peter that the Gentiles were truly part of God's gospel commission. Peter's vision happens in the next chapter, Acts 10, and one must wonder if the profound example of Tabitha had prepared Peter's heart for his change of theology.