Hi, I'm Laura.
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I was a monster last Halloween. My house was quiet and still. I’d just magically settled to sleep a small miserable child with a roaring fever. My hands, my time, were my own for the first time in 12 hours. I made hot tea and collapsed for a date with Netflix.
Then I heard footsteps. Surely no! Once an orange balloon had arrived in our letterbox with a polite note inviting us to display it if happy for children to visit. As a Halloween Grinch, I binned that balloon. I hadn’t received another since.
Then the doorbell rang and rang with a host of shouts,“TRICK OR TREAT! TRICK OR TREAT!” And any exhausted caregiver of a sick sleeping child will know exactly what beast I had morphed into by the time I wrenched that door open.
I was not my best self that night.
I have mixed feelings about Halloween. But I suspect there is a better way to exist within the space Halloween is carving into my community than as a closed door or house of horrors.
This year I decided to give Halloween more thought.
What is Halloween exactly?
Well, there is no exactly. Halloween is a tree with a web of roots and branches. 2000 years ago the Celts lived in and around England. At the heart of Celtic spirituality was the rhythm of the seasons. When summer faded into the depths of winter, they believed the boundary blurred between the world of the living and the dead. Ghosts were thought to visit earth, yet also underworld creatures of destruction and chaos. To control the breach the Celts got busy celebrating ‘Samhain’.
Different communities had their own Samhain traditions, but often they burnt sacrifices and gifts on bonfires to placate the wrath of these monsters and prevent them causing trouble. Scary costumes were worn to help scare the monsters back into containment.
After 43 AD, the Romans swallowed the Celtic world. Some Roman celebrations of the dead merged into Samhain. After 300 AD, Christianity began to shift into the governing religion of the Roman Empire. In the 700s Pope Gregory III moved a feast day for dead saints, to the night before Samhain. This timed the feast with the harvest and layered a new Christian meaning onto the ancient tradition.
‘Halloween’ is ‘All Hallows Eve’—the eve of All Saints Day.
Some Protestants later banned Halloween to spite the Catholics.
In the 1800s Halloween arrived in America with Irish Catholics escaping the potato famine. It took on new shape as masked children terrorising the streets and proved perfect kindling for the flame of commercial capitalism. American consumers are expected to spend 9.1 billion on Halloween this year. The Washington Post suggests Australia did not readily adopt Halloween due to the conservative influence of Victorian England, a yoke revolutionary American had escaped.
Today an avalanche of pumpkins, autumn leaves, gore, monsters, heroes, princesses, sexy vampires, and coloured sugar invades the US landscape across October.
Halloween fever has overflowed into Australia and is taking root.
Is Halloween intrinsically evil?
Well, what is ‘intrinsic’ to Halloween? It has done so much shapeshifting. We are best to look at context, intent, and actuality. If your building is having a jolly dress-up party for the kids in the common area, I’d arrive with honey jumbles and make friends. If your book club invites you to a séance to contact the dead, I’d decline.
Some Halloween survival suggestions--
1. Go to the People.
We are to go to the nations not hide away in Christian ghettos. Our lives will always exist amongst different spirituality and how to respond a juggle. Paul taught that meat sacrificed to idols wasn’t evil to eat as the idol was an empty, but if eating idol meat would appear as idol worship, don’t eat. Paul raged that circumcision was a sign that pointed away from grace, yet he circumcised Timothy to help him connect to the Jews. How to live for Jesus out in the big wide world isn’t always one cut fits all.
If your community makes an event of Halloween that doesn’t burn your conscience or traumatise your children then it’s a chance to meet the locals. True community is hard to foster in our fast insular lives. An invitation is a gift. Even Jesus loved a party.
Yet I cringe to hear houses in America can receive 1000+ treat seekers. I would hope to see Australian Halloween be about neighbourly friendship, not a massive candy grab.
2. Stay Weird*
“Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things,” Paul taught. Halloween horror can be pushed to horrible extremes. To have houses, shops, and people all decorated with blood and gore can be traumatic to children and triggering to adults who have suffered violence.
Also, to quote a friend, “I just can’t get past the fact that trick or treat is privileged kids (like my own) asking for more stuff that they don’t need. With an implied threat if the person they ask doesn’t hand over the goods. What kind of lesson is that?”
Another friend is troubled by the excessive plastic waste.
We should not be ashamed to set our own tone in any situation. No need to be rude or preachy, but do stay weird. Do be beautiful, lovely, wise, and generous. There are endless playful and creative ways to be God’s light this All Hallows Eve.
Many of my friends spoke to me about doing exactly this.
3. Tell the truth.
Tell your children the history. Children love a story. Discuss what you will and won’t do as a family. Kids love being in the know. Encourage engaged thinking. Yet stay the parent. Missing a bucket of lollies doesn’t damage a child.
You could foster another family tradition. October is also the month to pack a box of treats for Operation Christmas Child.
4. No is a complete sentence.
You don’t have to Halloween, whatever your reasons. You can keep your children home. You can leave a note on the door saying no thanks. You are free.
5. Remember the truth.
When Halloween comes to town, let it trigger the truth. In Revelation the forces of evil mount for a war in horrific description. All looks set for a cataclysmic battle for earth. None happens. Jesus the lamb arrives. Jesus sweeps all opposition into the abyss and the new creation explodes like a field of cherry trees bursting full blossom.
Monsters will not forever walk on earth. But the kingdom of light and love seeded by Jesus is unfolding now, will be completed when Jesus returns, and is eternal.
I’ve no big plans for Wednesday. I’ve bought a bag of my favourite lollypops. If anyone dares visit I’ll put on my extrovert mask and be ready to meet some neighbours.
And stuck for costume ideas for the street party? Don’t forget it’s also Reformation Day. Dress up little Lucy up as Martin Luther and peg a copy of the Ninety-Five Theses to the back of baby Henry. Think of all the juicy questions you’ll provoke.
*I may have stolen ‘weird’ from Mike Frost’s new book ‘Keep Christianity Weird’, which I haven’t read but is on my list. I have just finished his ‘Surprise the Word! The Five Habits of Highly Missional People’, which was excellent, full with wonderful suggestions for how to do Kingdom living amongst everyday life.
A big thank you to all the friends who shared with me their Halloween worries, delights, and traditions, encouraging me to think deeper about Halloween and making this blog post possible.
I would love to hear how you do Halloween in the comments...
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A woman is a Tardis.
She is infinitely bigger
on the inside than the outside
and travels through a
thousand different worlds.
Some worlds she has chosen.
Some were chosen for her.
In many she is fighting wars.
Will you be an arrow in her quiver
or an arrow in her side?
The salt on her tongue
or the salt in her eyes?
Will you be her city of refuge
or the ambush on her road?
When creation kicked incomplete
within God’s womb, she was shaped
to be its final crown, so it could crown
and fill with breath and light.
And she is sent.
Commissioned to fill the world
with the God-image she holds.
And so full with God she fills.
Perhaps with her womb,
yet also with her words,
her works, her witness.
She is relentless.
And when God broke death for our rebirth,
he went first to be held within her arms.
And in this swaddle of love
he whispers into her tears,
“Go and tell them.”
‘A Woman is’ by Laura Tharion,
International Women’s Day 2018.
Photo by Warren Wong on Unsplash
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The city of Sydney lives in denial of winter. The look of surprise on all our faces when the June wind starts to bite is almost comic. Our housing is largely unheated. Our clothing has laughable thermal qualities. But we are a sunburnt country… we mutter in increasing despair as winter sinks its teeth, and we huddle in coats and blankets before our dicky little column heaters wondering how every year the universe manages to make such a terrible mistake. We wait—not stoically I must add, but wallowing in shock and misery—until our planet corrects it cruel misalignment, and the prodigal warmth begins its blessed return home.
It starts in August. The jasmine vines erupt in flower, doing their best to imitate the bulbous extravagance of an eighties wedding gown as they festoon our fences. And there is always that one day, when the sky is the epitome of blue, and the wind, the wind isn’t blusterous, rollicking, cold, or assuming—no, no, the wind is soft, lush with the sweetness of the jasmine, and has a lick of sun-kissed warmth. And you can feel the defrosting of the marrow in your bones, and a fizzing, a bubbling within the same intangible organ which brews the chemistry of new love—the effervescence of hope.
Spring is coming, summer will follow—the new creation promise in blueprint.
“She asked how we see God,” says a lovely friend as we watch our happy pre-schoolers potter around my winter-burnt grass, drenched in August sunshine. “I talked about the wind,” she adds as I marvel that her three-year-old has arrived at this question. How do we see God? I feel at a loss to give anyone, let alone a little child, a concise and satisfactory answer. I take a sip of my tea; the dregs are sadly cold.
How do we see God? There is such weight to this wondering. How do I see God? How is God seen? Do not all of us who desire to know God—to be in commune with God—grapple with this question? What for you verifies the existence of this immaterial being? How do you centre your life on actively loving and being loved by someone who cannot partake in a hug, give a reply in a conversation, receive a cup from your hands, or anything tangible?
Of course there are a thousand answers, but to speak them seems as impossible as condensing global history into a one page, or undoing Gordian’s knot, or neatly defining the word love, or naming the colour you see when you close your eyes in daylight.
Shall I try? I see God in creation: glorious, beautiful, complex, wild, ordered, knowable, and unfathomable. I see God in the unfolding of salvation history: persistent, jealous, ingenious, gracious, gregarious, smitten, and relentless. I see God in Jesus. I see God in my homesick heartache for the better promised. I see God in the unfolding of the new creation, now blossoming across the globe through the lives of all spirit-filled believers.
Yes, God is like the wind—wind gentle, wind blusterous, wind cold, and wind warm. Wind invisible, and wind undeniable—a pulsing presence ever untameable.
And faith, faith is to lean into all this seeing, to coil our tendrils around every fingerprint of God given, from the whispers to the infallible, and to dance with God in every season, until he is symbiotic with our very being.
We dance until carried home to the new Eden.
But how do we teach this to our children? Do you fear that for all your teaching and instructing, they will never see, never step forward into this dance, never say yes to God’s hand when offered? It is not hard to understand why the Israelites turned to carved idols. So much simpler to be able to see your god, to be assured that if you made a sacrifice, you had earned a blessing—so much harder to learn how to be graciously loved by a God who is beyond our imaginations, too big for our eyes.
But if faith wasn’t a struggle would we grow roots sturdy enough to last? I have read it is best not to water your lawn every day, as then the roots don’t bother to go deep, and so will not endure any water shortage or extreme heat. God walked with Eve and Adam, yet their love was fickle. Perhaps we need God to be somewhat of a mystery to entice us pursue him, perhaps true love is only birthed within a journey.
We can’t physically put our children’s hands inside God’s and lean back in relief that the connection is sealed. We cannot submit a form to apply for their entry into God’s people (but then again, we can’t do this with any of their friendships).
We can make sure they see us dance—see us delight in being loved by God, hear us speak of salvation history, watch us lament at brokenness and hope regardless, experience us strive to bring beauty to dark places.
Think your faith is too sloppy to be worthy of witness?
Ever danced wild and joyous at a friend’s wedding?
Who on this dance floor cared about perfection?
Faith is a passionate celebration of togetherness.
The flowers on my jasmine are now tatty and browning. My jonquils are already dead. August has turned cold again and the wind is rowdy and unpleasant. Watching the news it is easy to believe that our world is broken, but difficult to fathom that God is still in love with us and intimately involved in our saving. I am frustrated with my own insufficiencies when it comes to resembling Christ-likeness. I despair at all the pettiness and posturing within the Church, at the cost of the messy work of everyday unglamorous sacrificial loving. We do not appear at all a fitting vessel through which God will bring light to our children, let alone every tribe and nation.
Yet we are.
We are the bride God asked to dance.
So dance. Dance joy and dance sorrow. Dance with God through every season. And don’t journey alone. God’s people were built for togetherness. And think how quickly a small group of unashamed dancers tempts everyone else onto the dance floor.
What metaphor best gives shape to your communion with God?
How do you make visible this invisible connection?
Perhaps you’ll inspire me to write a story about it!
Stay warm sweet friends.