Halloween can help a child’s faith development

I’m probably one of only a handful of Baptist ministers that you’ll ever meet who actually considers Halloween a favorite holiday.  Every year, I look forward to reliving the wonderfully rich memories of my childhood by invoking all of the imaginary and fantastic surrealism that comes with the season: trick or treating, decorating the house with cobwebs, carving pumpkins, and watching “It’s the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown.”

One of the other reasons why I love Halloween is that it plays right into my big, bodacious imagination.  I love fantasy and fiction, and there’s nothing better than Halloween that brings out the best literary archetypes of old: vampires (Bram Stoker), ghosts (Shakespeare), wizards (Wizard of Oz), and creepy animals (Edgar Allen Poe’s The Raven and The Black Cat).  This also brings out the best in my spooky story-telling, which is a favorite activity I do with the children in the neighborhood on Halloween night.

Aside from Halloween night, my children and I participate in story-telling, make-believe, and dress-up in our household all year long.  These activities build my children’s sense of creativity and take them into various pretend universes.  I am blessed when they are generous enough to invite me to play along!

Self-expression through role-playing is critical in a child’s faith development.  According to James Fowler, a definitive scholar on faith development, make-believe “provides powerful symbolizations for children’s inner terrors and for the hidden fantasies … that bring them secret feelings of guilt.  [Fantasies] also provide the child with tangible models of courage and virtue and with conviction-awakening stories showing that goodness and resourcefulness triumph over evil and sloth.”

In other words, storytelling allows children to objectify their inner fears and struggles and see them as a healthy part of life—fear when held in perspective keeps us safe; exploring the mysteries of a dark, dark room can lead to candy-corn blessings.

Unfortunately a majority of children in America are sitting in front of TVs and computers without parents monitoring content.  This can feed them sensational programming void of a moral anchor.

James Fowler gives this warning: “The desirability of children’s exposure to death, poverty, treachery and maliciousness in the context of fairy tales and Bible stories, when told to them by trusted adults with whom their feelings can be tested and shared is one thing.  It does not…sanction children’s exposure to the super-realistic violence, materialism and sexploitation of prime-time television programming.”

My family’s way of doing Halloween ultimately helps my children translate the metaphors, signs, and symbols of stories into tangible life lessons.  This also helps them in their faith as they navigate and learn about the symbols of Christianity.  Just consider the many symbols we use at church: Christ is the “Lamb” of God; we take communion by drinking and eating elements representative of body and blood; we hang crosses– ancient tools of persecution and execution—in our sanctuaries.   Each one of these symbols has the power to teach important lessons of our faith.

Inevitably, then, fairy tales, dress-up, and yes, Halloween, can help children garner the necessary resources to discern fact from fiction, make-believe from truth, and fairy tale from the faithfully true Word of God.  That is a part of the power of stories.

Just-War, Peace, and Lingering In Afghanistan

Our government is in the process of making some tough decisions about the war in Afghanistan.   There are several ideas on how to deal with a country riddled with tribal conflicts and pervasive instability.  One idea is to send more troops—as many troops as nearly half of Rockdale County’s population.   With that many troops embarking oversees in addition to the thousands employed, Christians should consider how to be politically engaged during this time of war.

The complex relationship between Christians and warfare began when the Roman emperor, Constantine, made Christianity the official religion of the Roman Empire.  At the time, tribal groups from the East threatened the very fabric of the Roman Empire and encroached on its territory.  It turned out that thousands of Christians, now suddenly able to worship freely, made for a formidable force indeed.

Nevertheless, Christians debated how to reconcile war with the teachings of Jesus, some of which commanded believers to not kill, much less be angry with one another (Matthew 5:21-22).  How were Christians going to engage in battle with an ethic like that?

Enter St. Augustine of Hippo, one of the most influential theologians of the early church.  He came up with this little thing called the just-war theory, which basically outlined a set of circumstances that, if met, permitted Christians to go to war.

Just-war theory continues to guide how Christians think about war.  I remember back when President George W. Bush made a case for going to war with Iraq in 2003 he basically cited in so many words the just-war theory.   Many Christians went to war willingly, some without even considering the negative implications of war on the Middle Eastern world.

Years later, we are still debating whether the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan are just.  Christians are divided, and there does not seem to be any end in sight as to the propagation on views ranging from all out nuclear proliferation to extreme pacifism.

In The Future of Faith in American Politics, Baptist ethicist David Gushee writes, “It is not too simple to say that our nation is constantly fighting wars and that as we do, we are constantly assessing those wars according to some version of just-war theory.”

We have to just agree to disagree on this one.

What I think we can agree on is that God calls Christians to be truth-tellers, many of which reflect directly on our Christian witness.

One truth is that all humans are made in God’s image.  Torture, unilateral arrogance, and intimidation belittle others in the global community and are not becoming of a nation that prides itself on family values and moral authority.  Just warfare implies precision and great care, with as little civilian casualties as possible.

If you think this is obvious, then just remember Blackwater’s dismal record regarding civilian loses, Blackwater being a company headed up by an outspoken Christian.

Another truth is that Christians can biblically support what Glen Stassen calls just peacemaking.  This means helping Afghanistan and Iraq build healthy infrastructures by instilling trust-building measures, focusing on dialogue-driven conflict resolution, and enacting human rights initiatives.   The focus emphasizes preventative policies aside from military ones.

Lastly, being a truth-teller means keeping our leaders accountable to making decisions that are in the best interest of the global community, of which all Christians are a part.  In effect, it’s up to us to remind our leaders of their promise to keep their eyes on the ball, the ball of peacemaking.

My father had a saying: “You live by the gun, you die by the gun.”  The justification for war will always be debated and wars often fought, but truth-telling must be assertive in demanding obedience to God’s will and the laying down of guns for humanity’s sake.