Thursday, October 20, 2011

Faith Works 10-22

Faith Works 10-22-11

Jeff Gill


Is it a church, or something…else?



There's a place where people go, often as a family.


It's a place where they go to confront both fears and doubts, but also to laugh and celebrate, passing along family traditions that go back generations while generating a few new ones every year or so.


There is symbolism aplenty all around, and other people who gather with much the same intention, all gazing intently at the images, some subtle and amazing, others crude and startling, but all making young and old think about death, and what lies beyond.


Every year, a larger and larger portion of the family income goes to this place and the observance at home of the special day that everyone who passes through those doors celebrates. Even as the economy struggles, it's a priority to spend a chunk of what you earn not only for this event, this gathering, but also to share it back with many, mostly strangers, so they can know the odd mix of joy and awe that lies ahead for us all.


I'm speaking, of course, about the Hallowe'en store. Did you think I meant somewhere else?


Sure, it's just one day a year, but the fastest growing American holiday as measured by consumer expenditures. One date on the calendar, but another civic date called "Beggar's Night" just to keep everyone satisfied, and the lights and lawn décor and window clings and even tastefully arranged pumpkins on the porch go up earlier and earlier each year. Oct. 1 to Oct. 31, 'tis the season.


Do I overstate to compare it to a religion, a belief system? Well, there are plenty of people who claim a faith perspective who observe it in a church building maybe 2 days of the year, and there are lots of people who make at least that many trips (pilgrimages?) to the Hallowe'en store during the now six weeks the storefronts are "temporarily" open.


And look at the displays: they all, in one way or another, danse macabre-ly around the idea that beyond death is . . . something. Something unpleasant, something awful, or something awfully funny? We put on the whole armor of disguise and humor to fend off that which we spend money to shove in our own, let alone others' faces; a Raggedy Ann costume skipping past a skeleton sitting up from a Styrofoam tombstone.


What does it all mean?


Don't count me among the nay-sayers of Hallowe'en and Christianity mixing. Look to the roots of the word itself, the traditions of All Saints, the fiesta of Mexican Day(s) of the Dead with sugar skulls and graveside visits. There is a place for laughing at death, at the Devil himself, because everyone – churched or un-churched – knows that Satan hates being laughed at. No sense of humor at all, that one.


But in absence of any other belief system, Hallowe'en can awkwardly suggest one on its own merits, and a flawed structure it is, muddling zombies and vampyres and various undeads with magic spells and attributing power to wands and purloined skulls and twisted phrases usually stolen from the Mass anyhow.


Hallowe'en isn't necessarily a church, but it can become one if it's all you've got. I enjoyed visiting the Haunted Mansion at Disneyworld, but I wouldn't want to go there every Sunday.


What does how you observe the end of October (or the whole month) tell others about what you believe about death? Ask yourself that; the answer may surprise you.




Jeff Gill is a writer, storyteller, and supply preacher in central Ohio; tell him your story at or follow Knapsack @Twitter.  

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