Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Methodists and Halloween

Rough notes in a sort of Bible Study format. No time to make pretty and I didn't write down many references and I know a few of the questions were not mine, but most of this is off the top of my head....

Methodists and Halloween -- Yes or No?
Short answer: Methodists are not big on theory -- Wesley was not a theologian (per se). We proclaim a loving and grace-filled God to a hurting world. There is no hard and fast doctrine on all this; just ways to live. Looking at the history of Halloween and the three general rules (Discipline 2004) would be a good place to start.

Halloween is a combination of Samhain (Pagen/Druid -- harvest festival and "festival of the dead") and All Saint's Eve. (see http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/All_Saints). There are echoes of both traditions in the celebration of Halloween.

Beginning Discussion Questions:
For each of the following statements, explain why for you it is true or why it is false:
1. The origin of Halloween doesn't matter.
2. Halloween is a celebration of evil and the dark forces of Satan.
3. A Christian seeks to honor and please God in all that he or she does.
4. It is okay to observe Halloween just for the fun of it.

To talk about Methodists celebrating Halloween -- here are the General Rules.
First do no harm. Some times stated as by "do no harm or any kind of evil." What practices and images come to mind when we discuss Halloween? What is it about Halloween that could be seen as harmful? By participating in Halloween, are we doing harm? Are we doing evil? (Make up your own questions!)

Second, by doing good, all kinds of mercy and doing all the good you can -- Is there a way that Halloween can be "sanitized"? What can we do to offer alternatives? Should we withdraw from participating? How can we use Halloween as an opportunity to show mercy? (Make up your own questions!)

Thirdly, by attending upon the ordinances of God, (worship, Communion, prayer, Bible study, Christian Conferencing etc) How can we teach our children about Halloween? Should we tie together the two celebrations (Halloween and All Saints)? What would that look like?

Answers to Direct Questions:
Do UM believe in Satan/Devil etc? The answer is yes, some do and no some don't. Most Methodists stress first Holy Living -- Holiness of Heart and Life and the abundant grace of God. Evil exists in this world, there is no doubt. Sin does as well -- and sin separates us from perfect communion with God. If there is a personification of Evil in this world called the Devil or Satan --that is up to debate in Methodist circles, but the ravages of evil in this world are very real. There is some debate about the book of Job -- if it is literal or allegorical. Those who believe in a literal interpretation of scripture would insist that, yes, there is a devil. For those who take a more allegorical -- no there isn't. But the upshot is that EVIL EXISTS and it's the Christian's duty to fight that evil. Where it comes from is sort of beside the point -- it's what we do about it that matters.

Another aside: people can be the hands of Christ in this world. There is a famous prayer that goes, "God has no hands but mine, no feet but mine, no mouth but mine. Put my hand to your use..." etc. If we can be the hands of God, if we do evil, can we not be seen as the hand of Satan, as well? The Flip Wilson "But the Devil made me do it!" is a passing of the blame.... We need to acknowledge that our own sinful nature, left alone, can be and can do evil.

Demonic Possession: Again yes and no. Depending on which Methodist you ask, you will get a different answer. Look here. This is one view, and there are others. But he has a great quote:
Jesus is like, "Yeah, it's cool and all, but it's not the main point. The point is that we want to deliver people from the things that possess them so that they can be free from sin -- so that their names might be written in the Book of life. Today's Demons might be things like: alcohol, addictions to drugs, internet porn, image, the love of money and power. Any thing that replaces God from being center in your life might be a demon to you and possess you. But personally, yes, I believe there might be demonic possession (just my opinion). Or as the Bard said "There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio, Than are dreamt of in your philosophy." (Hamlet, Act I Scene V)

Aside: Some people wonder if the "demonic possessions" in the Biblical witness are mental illnesses that could not be described in the 1st century.

Methodist Exorcism:
From the British Methodist Church
Since we don't stress a personification of evil or demonic possession, as such, in the US you would be hard pressed to find a Methodist minister to perform a "exorcism" with a crucifix etc on a person laying in a bed streaming nonsense syllables in a deep voice and with their head twisting round and round. BUT you will find Methodist ministers anointing with oil for healing, using water in symbolic ways, asking people to "repent and remember your baptism", asking them to renounce the forces of wickedness (look in the membership vows in the front of the hymnal) and blessing people and places.

We take seriously the casting out of demons in the Bible -- esp. the ones that Jesus did. But if you look closely, you won't see Linda Blair -- you will see people in desperate circumstances being delivered from their own personal hell. At the time of Jesus, there was a general belief about spirits and demons -- everything had a spirit. Nowadays, we are a lot more "rational" about it all. We understand disease to be caused by 1)poor choices 2)viruses, bacteria etc. We don't think of disease being caused by "spirits."

So, the long and the short of it -- we would rather stress the healing portion of this all and the ministry of deliverance. Have I ever observed someone being sprinkled or sprinkled someone/ something/ someplace with Holy water? Have I ever felt a sour or bad spirit in a place? Yes -- and those "demons" respond better to prayer (that's a Biblical Jesus quote -- homework: look it up!)

Final Note:
Now, we aren't trying to sell evil short. It exists and it's bad news. But do we need to dwell on evil or dwell on and in the grace of a Loving God?

Final Final Note:
We celebrate All Saint's every year -- and my kids go trick-or-treating. But they know the origin of it all and know why I don't like some of the trappings of the entire event. No Witches or Devils at my house! But I also see it as an opportunity for my kids to talk to other kids about why they do or do not participate. We did a "Trunk-or-Treat" at the last church I served -- and everyone dressed up as a Biblical Hero (Saint) and gave away candy that tied in (John the Baptist gave away gummy locusts...) We also have had sticks of Gum that had stickers inviting people to church. This year, I'm giving away Easter Eggs and when I get funny looks, I'll say that I find Easter a more compelling holiday. (And I don't have to store those silly Easter eggs any longer!)

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