Happy Halloween

I’m a dad.  The joy of Halloween is not the candy, scaring people, or costume competitions.  It’s the opportunity to spend time with my daughters customizing a big orange gourd and watching them delight in the national day of “dress up.”

After a day of meetings yesterday, I brought a 12 pound pumpkin through the door at 7:45pm.  It was 15 minutes before bedtime, but I promised a jack-o-lantern and an evening of pumpkin carving.  My girls began to bubble like warm Fresca.

As I pierced the pumpkin, I stabbed something like a circle around the pumpkin’s thick green stem.  The girls craned their eyes around my hands as I was dissecting.  Once we got it open, my oldest took a look inside and refused to put her hands in.  No way.   She was serious.

Not my youngest.  I got out a large metal spoon and began to scrape the round interior.  Orange strings of snot and pumpkin tendons fell away from the inner walls and to the bottom of the impending jack-o-lantern.  On sheer principle, I played the mean-y and made my oldest touch the squishy strings and slimy seeds remaining inside.  As she groused, my youngest threw her hands in again and grinned.

Mom, the school teacher, helped the girls draw the pumpkin’s face.  At 5 and 7 years old, this itself required a strategic plan.  “You can draw one eye, then your sister can draw the other.  I’ll do the nose,” she mediated.  Katy, true to form, unilaterally proclaimed another plan.  Her plan.  She’ll be the mouth-designer.  Kenzlee’s face turned bitter.  For mom, this was two strikes.   No one on base.   “OK.  Kenzlee, you do both eyes and Katy can draw the mouth.”  It was a change up.  Home run.  Kenzlee smiled.  “Oh!  And, I get to do the fangs,” Katy said.  “You can do them thangs,” I said.  I realized, again, my humor was degrading since becoming a dad.  “No fangs!” she shouted like I was stupid.  “I know what them thangs are,” I retorted.

She looked at me like I was her hopeless younger brother.

By the time I stabbed out the jack-o-lantern’s face with my dull on-sale kitchen utensils, we were over an hour passed bed time.  In terms of mood, we were running on a Halloween high.  It was also borrowed time.  With all the exertion of watching, they were getting tired.

Wiggling the knife through the last couple of strokes, I was prematurely accosted.  “We need a light!  We need a candle!  Daddy!  Where are the tea-ites.”  We sent mom on a mission.  She found a few unopened.

Clearing off a space on the shelf of our plant stand, which faced the outside of our 5th floor apartment, we lit Jack.  “Shouldn’t we face the pumpkin outside?” Mom asked as if that was the obvious intention.  Our neighbors on the 3rd through 7th floors across the street could appreciate it.  “But, I wanna see it!,” they jabbered.  Their cry rang out, but out of sync.  So, Jack faced in.  For a moment, he was more popular than television.

“Light it, daddy!” they sounded.  I sent a match in through Jack’s mouth hoping I wouldn’t gag him.

“Turn the lights off!”  They scrambled.  The girls ran like it was raining inside.  We were at their mercy with a Halloween high and in the dark in less than 1.13 seconds.

A-glow, Jack was lit.

Admiring “their” work, they resigned themselves to bed.

Happy Halloween.

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Dietrich Bonhoeffer

“Christ is not a principle in accordance with which the whole world must be shaped.  Christ is not the proclaimer of a system of what would be good today, here and at all times.  Christ teaches no abstract ethics such as must at all costs be put into practice.  Christ was not essentially a teacher and legislator, but a human, a real human like ourselves…For indeed it is not written that God became an idea, a principle, a program, a universally valid proposition or a law, but that God became human.”

– Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Ethics.

Do the saved need to be saved?

After Christ, I don’t know how we can think of “God’s People” as we church-goers, as the righteous, or even religious.  The people of God are everywhere.  They are on the street, living next door, reading our meters, and selling us tires.  God’s people are everywhere…wherever we are, especially where there is alienation, injustice, defeat, or despair.   This is who Christ claimed in his sermons.  They are our neighbors.   We are those people.  Considering where denominational religion has taken us, it seems we’ve gone far astray.   Perhaps, outside the denominations and with faith outside their constraints is where God is…where God needs us the most.

I am embarrassed to say:  many churches have grown insular, stagnant, and have become overly private communities – communities that are and want to remain familiar and close.    Unlike others, I am not interested in bashing these churches, blaming “old people,” or argue about relevance.  What I’m interested in is people of faith have faith that resembles Christ’s coming into the world.  Into the world. The world “out there.”  So many of us have to remember or (re)learn that to proclaim Jesus Christ is to proclaim God in everyday life, God amongst the people on the street, and a Kingdom that meets people where real life and real hunger, real hope and real despair, can come together.

Churches would benefit from hearing the prophets of the obvious.   “Spend less time in your building and more time amidst My public places,” they shout.  “Go to the markets, hang out on the internet, or at the unemployment office.”  “Take down the walls of familiarity and hear my Gospel anew.”  “Be both givers and receivers of its witness!”

Do the saved need to be saved?

Religion can close us up in our denominations, beliefs, and congregations.  Familiarity is seductive.  It can tempt us to believe we need to keep emotionally safe.  But, Jesus told his disciples to “Go…”  Bible studies, women’s groups, and Christmas dinners are rich and wonderful.  But, Christ’s table is one of open communion.  It is for the bruised and broken.,  We must proclaim God’s purposes where they are.

I’ve spent all week at denominational meetings in Independence, Missouri.  One thing I’ve been reminded of this week is the importance of the Gospel and God’s intention that it be not just for us, but those around us.

Jesus is not a deity to be worshipped, but God’s outpouring invitation.  The messiah came into the world.  He was God-with-us.  As followers of Jesus, we must follow him out into the world.  Not to be tourists.  But, to find him there – in the faces of others, the tears of strangers, the stories of other sisters and brothers.

It’s time Jesus’ people abandon their religions and do what Jesus did – go to where God’s people are.  There, we might discover true faith begins beyond the walls of our congregations…and our religions.