Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Making Light of the Dark

In every generation, followers of Jesus Christ have had their faith put to the test, without relenting, without recanting, and without compromising, even in the face of death. That is what the night of Halloween was established to contemplate and celebrate.

Redeeming Halloween by Kim Wier & Pam McCune states quite emphatically that you can celebrate Halloween "without selling out." With the origins of Halloween spelled out, the authors go on to give tips and suggestions for celebrating this day commemorating the holy martyrs of our faith. I'll include these ideas here:
  • Dress up in costumes representing the kind of people who need Christ (hint: this would be everyone!). While dressing up in costumes depicting Biblical characters or heroes of faith is great, it can also be quite limiting - you can go beyond this and come up with anyone actually in need of Christ and His salvation. So yes, stretching it to include musicians, sports stars or even certain Disney characters (Mulan representing the people in China or the Little Mermaid representing those who make their living on the sea) could be acceptable as long as the intention is to represent and pray for others who are in need of the Truth. Training our kids in the knowledge that they can reach others with the gospel is no small thing.
  • Decorate with light representing the True Light of the world. Decorating is an important part of any seasonal celebration. It sets the mood, symbolically communicates a message, and adds some plain old fun. Like nativities at Christmastime, we can use lights at Halloween to testify to a needy world. White Christmas lights, luminaries lining your walkway and candle lights in your window all display light, look festive and even give you a head start on your Christmas decorating! Make a banner with a scriptural truth ("Jesus, the Light of the World" or "Father of Lights") printed on it or display a wreath with a verse on it.
  • Use traditional Halloween props to teach parables. The jack-o'-lantern can be a great teaching tool. Use the carving process to share the gospel. (We actually did this just tonight! It was fun and spiritually educational. If you're interested in this activity, I would be happy to lend you the book.)
  • Start the tradition of watching a family movie that either retells the story of a Biblical hero or martyr or includes a Biblical message such as, depending on the age, Veggietales, Storykeepers, classics like Ben Hur or The Robe or movies by Vision Video (Check out Behemoth). A movie night with a redemption theme is a wonderful opportunity for celebration. By establishing this kind of a movie night during the Halloween season, kids will have fun being introduced - maybe for the first time - to these unique characters and faith heroes. Make it a fun night, possibly one with costumes or movie-themed food, and then talk about the movie's message afterwards.
  • For older children and teens, plan an Underground Church Party. This party celebrates the history and adventure of the early church heroes. An Underground Church Party is full of action and fun as kids discover the risks that people around the world can face when they choose to follow Christ. The party can include games, dressing up, easy snacks, and a devotional, and it can help kids grow a real heart for believers around the world. (Detailed instructions for the game is included in the book.)

Other ideas for commemorating the true meaning of Halloween:
  • Be welcoming to the trick-or-treating public - always have your lights on, be known as a generous giver, engage with not only the children but the parents and overall show the love of Christ to all who come knocking on your door.
  • Host a Fear-Not Party. [Halloween] is a season of commemorating ordinary people who did not "fear those who kill the body but are unable to kill the soul; but rather fear [ed] Him who is able to destroy both soul and body in hell." (Matthew 10:28) [The party] is an outside event with s'mores, a costume parade, Romans-versus-Christians Flashlight Tag, and a "scary" story around the campfire. While the whole party is fun, we have found that it is the story that makes the biggest impression, because it is always the tale of someone who faced the greatest unknown and conquered his fear. It is the story of one of the heroes of the faith from the era of the church's early persecution. The Fear-Not Halloween Party is not an alternative to a Halloween event. Instead, it celebrates the very heart of the season by rejoicing in God's goodness and communicating the message that faith drives out fear.
  • Be a Tricky Treater secretly leaving offerings of love and encouragement to those who need it most.
  • Send a care package called a Harvest Box to a missionary and pray for them.
  • Celebrate your Halloween 'season' like you do with Advent - take the four weeks before Halloween to study various heroes of the faith.
  • Read The Pumpkin Patch Parade by Liz Curtis Higgs*
After you have spent the month looking at heroes worthy to emulate, we suggest spending All Saints' Day experiencing the worthiness of God Himself. October 31 is an exciting night, but All Saints' Day should be a day of honor. Like Christmas Eve to Christmas Day, they go hand in hand.

Celebrating All Saints' Day:
  • Play "God is Great" Game - Repeat "God is great. He made..." and then go down the alphabet thinking of things He has made such as "apples", "butterflies", "candy",etc.
  • Worship through song.
  • Read some Psalms.
  • Be creative and worship God through art. Have your children draw or paint their praise!
  • Worship Him through nature - go on a hike or stargaze and talk about His wonderful works.
Most of you know about Martin Luther - by nailing his 95 theses to the church door he sparked a massive spiritual movement and forever changed the way the body of believers worshiped God. The authors go on to tell more about his story, but what was interesting about this man of faith was the timing of the start of the Reformation. The day Luther is said to have posted his theses was October 31, 1517, Halloween Day. Reformation Day is a celebration of the rediscovery of truth and an opportunity for Christians to thank God for the chance to lead lives of faith instead of fear. How appropriate that Luther would choose Halloween-the day of commemorating those who died for the very truths he rediscovered- to make his proclamation. Commemorating Reformation Day on the last Sunday of October is especially rich with meaning as we observe the importance of faithful stewardship of the truths entrusted to us.

Not coincidentally, the International Day of Prayer for the Persecuted Church falls on the first Sunday of November. It is our privilege and our calling to "remember those in prison as if you were their fellow prisoners, and those who are mistreated as if you yourselves were suffering" (Hebrews 13:3).
Remember, and then pray.

Some of these ideas might seem like alternatives to the world's version of Halloween (and didn't the authors mention their ideas would NOT be alternatives to Halloween?), however the ideas are simple but effective ones - getting your children to think outside the box and to start thinking in terms of our spiritual heritage as well as the needs of others. When I first picked up this book, I wasn't sure what I would learn nor how I would feel about reading another fundamentalist's viewpoint on an "evil holiday". Now I feel as if my eyes have been opened and I've just been shown the true meaning of the holiday, such as a new Christian seeing past the Easter bunny and chocolate eggs to be able to reflect on the Cross or seeing past Santa Claus and presents and seeing the nativity and God's Gift to us. With all the relatively unknown holy days surrounding Halloween, it seems this is a time for reflection, commemoration and true celebration. We celebrate holidays such as Veteran's Day and Memorial Day, and they are worthy holidays. But how much more as Christians should we take time out to celebrate a holiday season for which the heroes and martyrs of our faith are remembered? Honor them this Halloween, and in so doing, your focus will be on the Light that shines through the darkness of this world.

All text in maroon including all celebratory ideas unless otherwise noted comes from Redeeming Halloween: Celebrating Without Selling Out by Kim Wier & Pam McCune.

* Book suggestion comes from Homespun Memories for the Heart

Some great websites about learning more about the persecution of Christians around the world and what you can do can be found at Voice of the Martyrs, Christian Solidarity Worldwide and Christian Freedom.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Halloween: Sacrilege or Sacred?

After my church decided to close their library and sell most of their books at a deeply discounted price, I ended up with a few books I probably wouldn't have bought on but looked interesting enough that I might eventually pick them up and read them. One of them is called Redeeming Halloween by Kim Wier & Pam McCune and put out by Focus on the Family. With the actual holiday looming ever closer, I thought it might be a good time to leaf through it and see if it had anything good to say.

I had to laugh at the author's description of her own experience in "celebrating" Halloween (or rather the lack thereof) with her family as it so closely resembled mine in my childhood days. Every year on Halloween night, my family would draw the shades, turn off all the outside lights (and most of the inside ones too), and pretend we weren't home to any and all trick-or-treating passersby. This was a concerted effort on my parents' part to make it as clear as day that we did NOT welcome these ghoulish pagan children knocking on our dark door looking for free sweets. This was the day of the devil, an evil occasion of sorts, and we would not be caught dead fraternizing with the enemy. Of course, with the lights out and shades drawn, my brother and I would stay glued to our dark windows and peek around the shades in anticipation of spying would-be trick-or-treaters and getting a glimpse of the diabolical but thrilling world we were missing. Our eyes would strain to see the various costumes that walked by on our dark street, and anytime there actually was an unwelcome knock on our door, we'd run out of our rooms to see what our parents would do which was usually ignore all pleas for treats and pretend we weren't home. If, God forbid, a persistent little kid continued to knock (I want my 2 dollars!)* , my mother would be forced to open the door and tell the child we didn't have anything for them, mortifying me in the process. Since my brother and I didn't really know what we were missing, having never taken part in the smorgasbord of door-to-door dessert, it was the experience of hiding and looking at the outside world trapped within that was our excitement. Looking back from a parent's perspective and a Christian, I have no fault with my parents' choice and know they were standing up for their beliefs, and I can only admire that.

My children's Halloween memories are quite different however. I have allowed my children to take part in the customary tradition of dressing up and walking door to door collecting treats. My only rules have been no scary costumes, and all the candy must be inspected before consumed. I have no guilt in this allowance, however I have always wondered if there is a better way or a better explanation to this annual tradition in which we take part. After reading the first part of this book, I now have a clearer idea of where Halloween came from and what it can mean for those interested in redeeming a holiday that is judged as pagan and not fit to celebrate.

To know how Halloween came to be is to revisit ancient times. The authors start by reminding us what times were like in the early church. With the severe persecution of Christians beginning under Nero's reign, there was no shortage of martyrs in the beginning of the church's history. "...the lengths to which the government would go to force Christians to deny their Savior seemed endless. The methods of torture have been unparalleled in human history. Strangled, beheaded, gouged, beaten, racked, boiled in oil, melted on hot iron plates, burned at the stake, fed to lions and bears, and crucified, men women and children went to their deaths praising God. Outsiders, amazed at the grace and often the joy with which Christians faced and endured death, discovered for themselves the salvation of Christ. In the face of unspeakable evil, the church grew."

As Tertullian, a second-century martyr, rightly proclaimed to the Roman officials who sentenced him to death, "Rack, torture, grind us to powder. Our numbers increase in proportion as you mow us down. The blood of the martyrs is the harvest seed [of the church]."

We are all part of that universal church - no matter the denominational label. As those who believe in salvation through Christ alone, we owe a debt of honor to the faithfulness of those who stood firm in the face of death and established the church.

As the church stepped into a new position of worldly honor, these martyrs were officially recognized. Special days were set aside to remember the individuals who had suffered and died for the love of their Savior. The list, though, was too long. There were not enough days on the calendar. Eventually one day was set aside for remembrance. In A.D. 610, the church dedicated May 13 as All Saints' Day. The "holy day" was added to the Christian festivals already being celebrated, namely Christmas, Easter, and Pentecost. Also known as All Hallows, May 13 was the day the festival was celebrated for over one hundred years.

Though so many of our Christian holidays seem to have pagan roots, what I didn't realize was the church purposefully placed their holy days next to or on pagan holidays to counteract the traditions celebrated by the rest of the pagan world. This time, Samhain, the pagan festival of death, was replaced with All Saints' Day. Borrowing from the Jewish tradition of preparing for significant festivals, the Christian church reserved the day before the religious festival as a sacred time. October 31 was then set aside as an evening of preparation called "All Hallow'een," or "the eve of the holy ones." Together, they created a meaningful time for the church to remember the early martyrs.

There is no denying that the original intention of the church fathers in celebrating All Saints' Day has been distorted by pagan tradition over the years. Just as in the case of Santa Claus for Christmas or the Easter bunny for Easter, original spiritual intent seemed to get lost over the ages. I've known other Christians who refuse to celebrate holidays such as Christmas because of the supposed pagan roots of the holiday. But are the holidays, even Halloween, really beyond redemption now? Can they hold no value for us and our families in this day and age?
For you know that it was not with perishable things such as silver or gold that you were redeemed from the empty way of life handed down to you from your forefathers, but with the precious blood of Christ. I Peter 1:18-19

The blood of Christ has the power to redeem all worthless things, whether that's Halloween or another "empty way of life handed down from our forefathers." If Halloween is just one more empty way of life in your family, we challenge you to consider the power of the blood of Christ, which brings worth out of something worthless.

I'm hoping to include some ideas by the authors for celebrating the season in next week's posting. But the authors are clear to state: This book is not a plan for Halloween alternatives. We don't suggest you simply remake the world's version of Halloween. We hope to inspire you to take back the celebration that rightly belongs to the people of God and restore purpose for which it was established.

Stay tuned...

*Sorry, I couldn't resist including the classic 80's movie line here! If you don't get it, you're probably too young to be a KG! :-)
All text in red comes from Redeeming Halloween: Celebrating Without Selling Out by Kim Wier & Pam McCune

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

The Worldwide Impact of Kajijis?

Ok, so maybe 'worldwide impact' is a bit extreme, but one of my favorite widgets added to our Kajiji Girl blog is the sitemeter - that little number down in the right-hand corner of the blogsite that lets us know how many visitors we've had to our site. Since November of last year, sitemeter has tracked over 500 visitors who have viewed various pages on the KG blog almost 900 times. My absolute favorite part of sitemeter though is seeing from where these visitors hail. The sitemeter site will show me a world map with dots indicating where our last few visitors viewed our site. So far the map has shown me visitors from:


And that's just the last 100 visitors! Now I'm not going to kid myself into thinking that all of our visitors arrive at our site on purpose and remain interested enough to return, however it's always nice to see those visitors that return again and again. Besides the US from which 50% of our visitors come, our largest amount of visitors come from Canada - a whopping 42%! Visitors from almost every province of Canada has visited us. So to our neighbors from the North, we welcome you!

Some new widgets that have been added to our site are the "Subscribe" button just above the sitemeter counter as well as the "Followers" button on the top right-hand side. Subscribing to our blog will make it easier to keep up with any new blog postings and if you're a fan of our site, please consider becoming a follower.

I'm not sure how often I'll be able to post this season as I'm facing a whole new (and much busier) world this year with a baby, two boys starting homeschool and a teenage daughter who's schooling at home as well. I'm laughing at myself these days because my brain is so scattered, I'm reading about 5 books at the same time. This might make for some interesting reading, but organizing it all for the sake of writing on a weekly blog is near impossible. However I do have some ideas for this season and hope to be able to blog on a fairly consistent basis. So check back every so often (or better yet, subscribe!) to see if there's a new entry. And please always feel free to leave comments or post your own blog entries if you're a contributing author (if you're not, and you'd like to be, please email me). I'm actually very excited about this new season of Kajiji Girls as it looks like we have some really neat things on the calendar already! I'll fill you in in the days to come...
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