Sunday, October 30, 2016

REPOST: A response to Halloween

This is the response to Halloween I gave out at church...

I never went trick-or-treating as a kid. It had nothing to do with religion, as my parents didn’t attend church, it just wasn’t done amongst my friends or in my neighbourhood. 
I’m only in my early thirties, but even I have to admit that times seem to have changed. Quickly.
Halloween is getting increasingly difficult to ignore. It’s in shops, day-care centres, kindergartens and (you’ve probably noticed!) schools. 
Each year there seems to be an increasing number of trick-or-treaters.
And… Halloween’s not going away…

So, how should parents respond to Halloween? 

Is it nothing but harmless fun or evil-incarnate? A sugar-fuelled time of enjoyment or a corrupting influence?
If you ask Google, you get approximately 31,100,000 results in just 0.24 seconds.
This short article isn’t about giving you a definitive answer, but instead, provide information to help you arrive at a decision which is most appropriate for what you and your family believe to be important.

Halloween raises, for many, two potential issues resolving around culture and faith…
First, no matter what your beliefs may be, should those in Australia celebrate Halloween, a tradition closer associated with North America.

And, if you’re a Christian, is it appropriate to celebrate Halloween and what options are there to respond? 

In order to make some informed decisions, it makes sense to quickly take a closer look at what Halloween is…

HISTORY... Why Halloween?

Two traditions hide behind Halloween.

Halloween falls on October 31, the day before the church celebrates and remembers All Saints’/All Hallows Day. On this date, the church recalls and recognises the important people of faith, both past and present – near and far, who have been significant in a personal and communal faith journey. Halloween is an abbreviation of All Hallows Eve.

But the oldest tradition comes from the Celts who marked the New Year, and change of the seasons, by celebrating Samhain. Details can be confusing, but it was believed that the spiritual and physical realms overlapped during that night and the spirits could then walk the earth. People put on scary masks and lit bonfires to scare away evil spirits.

Like other Christian festivals, the church utilised a date of previous observance or celebration to mark a significant date on the calendar.

Should this history be a problem?

To begin, if might be wise to consider, for yourself, your family and your neighbours, what Halloween means today. Does it still revolve around Druid rituals?
Unless you have a concern about the dates of other Christian festivals and the symbols used, like the Christmas tree - a tradition which can be traced back to ‘pagan’ customs, then Halloween need not cause immediate apprehension.
But Halloween does raise some modern questions…

CONNECTION... A Safe Opportunity?

To start, is the idea of knocking on strangers’ doors safe for your kids? 
Doesn’t trick-or-treating go against “Stranger Danger”?

Well supervised, trick-or-treating can be relatively safe, especially if done in local communities, amongst people your family already have a relationship with.
If done thoughtfully, Halloween can be a fantastic opportunity to connect with the parents of children’s friends, other families and your neighbours.

Second, do my kids need to dress provocatively?

Of course not. You control what they do and don’t wear. You don’t need to allow your child to dress as a ghost, witch, the devil or an overtly revealing costume if it makes you uncomfortable. There are plenty of alternate costume options.

But, is this something we really need to do in Australia?

You have complete freedom to choose what you do on Halloween.
But Halloween is celebrated in many parts of the world, particularly the United Kingdom, Europe and, of course, the United States.

Some would point to the vast number of imported traditions, North American and otherwise, we’ve embraced and see little wrong with Halloween being yet another event in a multicultural society.

FAITH... Discernment and Conscience.

 If you’re a person of faith, Halloween can be problematic with a quick Google search producing 1,3200,000 results for “What should Christians do on Halloween?” Unsurprisingly, opinions differ wildly.
At the core, issues not directly addressed by the bible need to be governed by two things, discernment and conscience.

If, in the surroundings of your family, community and church, it would be unwise to partake in Halloween, then, by all means, give it a miss. God would not want you to do something you cannot do in good faith (Romans 14:3). Instead, stay home and have a quiet night in.

Alternatively, if you can think of no reason which would prevent you from participating in Halloween, or no one who would be hindered by your participation, then feel free to get involved as much as you’re comfortable in doing so (Ephesians 5:15-16, Colossians 4::3).

Being guided by your conscience and the Spirit of God would be a good indicator of what you should do on October 31.
If you’re looking for an alternate way to get involved in Halloween, you might want to check out

The bible says in 1 Corinthians 10:31 - So whether you eat or drink or whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God.
Our desire in life should be to please God, with Halloween being no exception. 

But whatever you decide, if one has put considerable thought into their participation in Halloween and come to a different conclusion as you, it is not your (or my) place to judge them (Romans 1:1-5).

Sunday, October 23, 2016

Exit interview questions

People change churches. 
People leave ministries.

It happens.
At every church.
Big and small.
Time and again.

Some churches deal with it better than others.

Those who deal with it in the most mature and productive manner will have a system in place to speak with those who are leaving. Most often, this is done through a type of exit interview.

For those heading through the exit door, these are the questions I'd want to ask...

Now, these questions work best with a few ground rules.
First, the church needs to accept that the person is moving on. The aim isn't to try and "win the person back."
Second, all parties should want this to be an opportunity for learning and growth, not a moment for finger-pointing.

  1. What's your first memory of xyz church?
  2. What's your favourite memory of xyz church?
  3. What are you going to miss most about xyz church?
  4. When did you come to the decision to leave xyz church?
  5. What, if anything, changed/caused you to come to this decision?
  6. Are you going to a new church?
  7. What drew you to that church?
  8. What could we at xyz church do better?
  9. What are your feelings about xyz church?
  10. How could we, at xyz church, bless you at this time?
  11. Would you feel comfortable if we kept in touch, and if so, what degree would you like that to be and how's the best way of staying in touch?

Wednesday, October 19, 2016

Anatonmy of a dying church

For all of my Christian life I've been a member of a mainline church which is one of - if not the #1 - fastest declining and oldest denomination in Australia.

As such, I've seen and heard about a lot of dying churches.

Generally, they contain a few common traits.

  • They love Jesus (even dying churches are full of people who love Jesus).
  • They don't have a refreshment of people for those who are dying (this doesn't necessarily need to be younger people, just any fresh bodies!).
  • They are stuck in their style of doing things.
  • They have an unhealthy church budget. This means that more than a third is used for staffing, their budget is dependant on external tenancy & offerings are declining.
  • The majority of budget, worship, energy and creativity are directed inwardly.
  • They have, and are often proud, of older communication and offertory strategies.
  • They have a worn out facility.
  • They have no family/children's ministry strategy.
  • There's reduced human resources, resulting in the majority of activities done by the minister.
  • They have quick minister/staff turnover.
No church sets out to be fatally declining, but a lot of churches, when you look at them are at their deaths door.

The challenge is to spot these markers, hear the alarm-bells and do all you can to try and reverse the tide.

Tuesday, October 11, 2016

Not being disappointed when the wind continued to blow

Last weekend my eldest showed me that she is... Ordinary.

Or at least not divine. 

For, while the wind blew on a sunny Saturday afternoon in Sydney, she tried to stop the breeze. 

Without success.

But, the episode got me thinking... What if...

What if the wind did stop?
What if I were the parent of the divine?
What if my offspring were the next Messiah?

How long would it take for me to notice?
What would be the first hint?
Would I tell anyone?
If I did tell someone, would they believe me?
What proof would others want?
Why didn't I get some kind of sign from God earlier?
Would I be tempted to exploit my daughters powers?
Would our wine and food budgets be drastically slashed?

In truth, I was quietly pleased that Hanna left the weather unrebuked, it raises far too many problems.

Wednesday, October 5, 2016

Spreading out the gospels

I've written about a few bible reading schemes I've, albeit unsuccessfully, attempted to undertake the last few years (here and here).

Anyone who has attempted to read the bible cover-to-cover, which I have successfully done a few times, will be aware of the stumbling block that hits as you near the end of the Pentateuch.

As you draw away from the patriarchs in Genesis and the thrills of the Exodus, you delve into the Law. Followed by more Law. And then... A restating of the Law in Deuteronomy.

In truth, it feels a tad repetitive.

But, a similar thing can happen in the New Testament if you read from the beginning.

By the time you encounter the third of the synoptic gospels, it can feel a bit familiar.

I know it might seem a near blasphemous, but the accounts of Jesus can feel a little repeated, opening up the danger of skimming over the segments you've encountered previously.

But there might be a wise way around this. 

What if you dispersed the gospels thoughtout your reading plan for the remainder of the New Testament?

What if you started with Matthew, then read Acts-Romans, followed by Mark, then the rest of the Pauline Epistles, then Luke, then Hebrews-Jude, finalised by the gospel of John and Revelation.

I like this structure since it, freshly, brings you back to the life and ministry of Jesus, seeing how this affected the embryonic church and the struggles it faced and avoiding the chronological trap of gospel complacency. 

Tuesday, October 4, 2016

The lens that opens authenticity

A few days ago I read this article about the ways Christians turn people off church and loved the third point - We base community on shared beliefs instead of shared brokenness.

It reminds me of my post on Jenga faith and the activity I did with many of the young adults at my last church.

In short, the point I wanted to impress was that imperfect faith and lives were welcome in church.

But, following on from the relevantmagazine article, I wonder how churches would look if we actually... Dare I say primarily(?)... See each other through the lens of everyone being a broken, flawed person?

How would we treat each other differently?

How would our conversations change?

Would we be more welcoming and accepting of outsiders?

Would we be less socked by each other's flaws and failings?

Would we finally have permission and feel comfortable to drop the perfect Christian veneer?

When it comes to activating the elusive, modern-church enigma, of authenticity, does it all begin with the way we view each other?