Trick or Treat?

Last night small bands of children roamed suburban streets here in Brisbane, dressed in a variety ghastly costumes. Ah, Halloween. While traditionally Aussies have never really celebrated this occasion, it’s becoming more popular. Why? A few reasons come to mind: the significant influence of the USA on our culture, the commercial incentive as retailers see an opportunity to increase sales in the lull before Christmas, boredom, and the fact that our individualistic society teaches us that our identities are something we create for ourselves – hence, it doesn’t matter if “Australian culture” has never really celebrated Halloween. If I want to celebrate it, I can. I will.

Oh, and another reason that Halloween is popular is that it’s official currency is ‘lollies’ (or ‘candy’, according to my children). And who doesn’t like ‘candy’? Ask my dentist.

As far as I can see, it all looks like a bit of fun. The kids get dressed up, socialise, and get exercise. Nothing wrong with that.

I’ve seen some Christians getting concerned about the dark overtones of Halloween. That it’s about Devil worship. Evil forces. Hence, it’s something to be grumbled about. 

As a Christian, I understand that concern. Surely there’s enough death and evil in the world, without teaching our children to think it’s fun!

But I think that misses the point.

The history and meaning of Halloween finds its roots in the church. I suggest you go to this article to get a better understanding of the religious roots of this unusual celebration. But whatever the history, the observance of Halloween has been largely emptied of any Christian content. And in that sense, it’s just like Christmas and Easter. The Christian truths behind the Christmas and Easter stories have been meshed with ancient pagan practices (like egg hunts, Christmas trees, etc) and more modern themes to create the holidays we know today.

Hence, while some people are celebrating the Resurrection of Jesus, many people will celebrate the Easter Bunny and give eggs as gifts; and while some are celebrating the birth of Jesus, people will erect pointy trees, wreaths of (plastic) holly, and wait for Santa. In both cases there is a clear Christian kernel which has been appropriated and changed for a variety of reasons. The same applies – at least in my opinion – to Halloween. It seems to have started within the Christian context, and has spread and taken on a non-religious life of its own.

I recently saw a thread on Facebook where a bunch of Christians were expressing their concerns about this dark festival. One well-respected minister replied that everyone should stop their whining. He said instead of grumbling about it, we should use the opportunity to connect with other people in our community, and remind them of the Christian heritage of this festival. Like Christmas and Easter, let’s be people who show the reality of the Jesus in how we engage lovingly and thoughtfully with others, despite the secular and pagan overtones.

Let’s be people who show that the light isn’t scared of darkness. 

Here’s a clever spoken-verse piece about Halloween which will reward careful listening.

Halloween: Trick or Treat? from 10ofthose.com on Vimeo.

Things to click (8)

It’s been a while since we posted anything, so I thought it would be good to hit you with another short list of some interesting links. Check them out . . .

(1)    To start with, here’s some disturbing news about the mass jailing of pastors in Vietnam. It’s something that’s definitely worth praying about.

(2)  “Love is love” – it’s a catchy little phrase used by advocates of gay marriage to suggest that if two consenting adults love each other and wish to marry, they should be able to. At first glance this sounds pretty fair and reasonable. But you soon realise that “love is love” is really a slippery slope that obliges our society to celebrate all kinds of aberrant relationships – like incestuous ones. Find one such case of this here. (p.s. we don’t endorse all of the content on this link).

(3) At one time in the West, the opinions of conservative Christians were fairly respected, and protected. Not so any more. Presbyterian pastor Tim Keller has some thoughts about that.

(4) Australian-born New Testament scholar Michael F. Bird has some things he wants Christians to know about the Bible. Definitely worth a read.

(5) Another New Testament scholar, Craig Keener, has shared his journey from atheism to Christianity.

(6) Finally, here’s a short post about “why giving thanks gives you an edge.” Who would’ve thunk it?!

May God bless your internet meanderings!

 

Things to click (7)

There’s no shortage of links to click if you’re a Christian seeking to broaden your thinking. Here is a small sampler of what’s on offer:

(1) One mantra oft-repeated in the West is “be yourself”. This little nugget of wisdom is appealing and self-affirming. Being genuine and true to yourself are valued traits. However, there’s a good argument to suggest that simply ‘being yourself’ is actually a bad idea. Here’s why.

(2) Recently there’s been quite a brouhaha over Religious Education in public schools, and what role religion, if any, can play in the formation of children in public education. This issue was a hot topic in our home state of Queensland (a.k.a. the best place to live in the world). Here’s a response to it. Here are some other reflections.

(3) Australian cartoonist Bill Leak talks about political correctness in the Australian context. Some great points about not taking ourselves too seriously.

(4) There’s an idea going around that taking faith or religion seriously is actually bad for you. To go to church, to read the Bible, and to identify as a person of faith, is to show you’re weak and need the help of the imaginary sky-man who loves to guilt-trip you about your sin. You actually love Jesus? You’re nuts right? Actually, there’s a growing body of evidence that says religious devotion is good for you.

(5) Our culture is actually deeply faith-centred. Especially in the western world. We have a deep belief in the gospel of self – that to love, promote, enrich, and benefit ourselves is the greatest good. But as more and more have put their trust in this idea, it’s not made us better people. It’s made many people narcissistic. Not all, of course. But many. Here’s a great piece about just that.

(6) Brett Lee-Price writes at the Thinking of God blog how, in light of encroaching secularist hegemony, a marriage plebiscite may be the last chance for a distinctively Christian perspective on marriage to be heard in the public sphere. Check it here.

(7) Finally, with a Federal election about to take place here in the land of Oz, it has been pointed out that the issue of Australia’s cruel offshore detention has not featured much in the campaigning. Simon Smart suggests that we should work to keep the treatment of asylum seekers an issue.

That’s it from me.

May God bless your clicking.

Book recommendation: “Disappearing Church”

disappearing churchDisappearing Church is the latest book by  pastor Mark Sayers. Mark heads up the team at RED church in Melbourne, Australia (considered the ‘most livable city in the world’). One of his strengths is his ability to analyse and critique broad cultural trends in the West, and what impact these have on the church.

In this book he speaks about where our culture is at, and what kind of response the church should make to the many changes that have taken place in recent decades.

Among his key points are:

  •  Western culture, while essentially post-Christian, has not moved into a kind of pre-Christian era, but instead into a highly individualised ‘hopeful secularism’ in which personal preferences and self-actualising choices are prized highly. People now preach “the gospel of self”, but our culture still retains many vestigial remnants of ‘Christendom’.
  • Most Westerners have a hunch that God is real, but form their own belief system, combining a mishmash of ideas that essentially serve the interests and preferences of the individual. He refers to this as “neo-gnosticism”.
  • While the church should seriously consider how it can engage culture with the Christian message, forms of Christianity which mess with doctrinal orthodoxy in order to be ‘relevant’ will ultimately fail. Instead churches need to accept their roles as creative minorities, working from the fringes to offer a counter-cultural narrative about God and life in which orthodox Christian teaching and practice speak coherently into real life.
  • It is possible that the church’s diminishing influence actually might be to our advantage. Being ‘the light’ works better when darkness falls across the land. As in sport, politics, and war, the advantage often lies with the underdog (ever heard of David and Goliath?).
  • In our world of images, entertainment, and the ‘good life’, many people in our culture are experiencing a profound poverty of the inner life. Referencing English philosopher Roger Scruton, Sayers notes that one of the great weaknesses of contemporary ‘atheistic’ Western culture is its inability to offer a genuine concept of personhood. The gospel message can speak powerfully to our deepest human needs in a way that secular ideologies simply can’t.

There are many other points I could add, but won’t.

When I read a book intently I usually mark it up with a pencil when I find a good quote or a profound insight. After reading Disappearing Church, I looked back – nearly every single page is marked, often in multiple places. I had more “ah ha” moments reading this book than any other book I’ve read in the last few years.

If you’re a Christian and want to think much more deeply about the state of our culture and how the church should respond, I suggest you buy yourself a copy. This book will amply reward a careful, prayerful reading.

You can buy it online here (Koorong Books, Australia), here (Book Depository, UK), or get the Kindle version here (the cheapest way to buy it).

Things to click (6)

Looking for something to get you thinking? We’ve got you covered.
Here’s another brief sampler of what you can find on the internets:

(1) Anxiety and depression are taking a huge toll on our society. And it’s not just adults feeling it. An increasing number of children are also struggling. Here are some suggestions to combat anxiety in children.

(2) We keep hearing about the demise of Christianity in the West – about how numbers are shrinking all the time. You don’t often hear much about the many conversions to Christianity there are every single day. Here’s one conversion story from an ardent ex-atheist.

(3) David Foster Wallace (1962-2008) was an American novelist, essay writer, and professor of English. In a famous commencement speech delivered in 2005 Wallace spoke on the topics of thinking, self, and life. His speech has some great insight into the human condition. Check it here. Note: language warning.

(4) American scholar Roger Olson asks some serious questions about the meaning of “transgender”.

(5) Is there a tension between Genesis chapter 1 and modern science? Most people today would say ‘yes’. Check out Rory Shiner’s thoughts at the Gospel Coalition blog.

(6) People will say “you can’t believe in Jesus just because the Bible says he’s real”. Really? Actually, most historians today treat the New Testament documents as legitimate sources of historical information. But if you’re looking for confirmation of the historicity of Jesus Christ there is plenty of evidence outside the Bible. Find some here.

(7) Ok. Let’s finish with a link about Donald Trump. That’s right – Donald Trump. Over at Nerdwriter’s Youtube channel you can find a great analysis of how Trump answers questions. It’s pretty interesting!

May God bless your internet travels.

 

 

Quote of the week – Concern for the poor, a Christian idea

Recently I saw a person on Facebook arguing that Christianity’s main contribution to Western culture was to make people feel guilty, whilst trying to force a rigid morality on them. And in some ways you can understand why a person would say that. Often the church has failed to be clear with its message of hope in the gospel and given people the impression that the main message of the Bible is “be a good moral person”. That’s not it. The main message of the Bible is we need to be reconciled to God through Jesus Christ in order to find the kind of life and hope God intended for humanity.

However, the claim that Christianity hasn’t made many good positive contributions to society at large is manifestly erroneous. This is especially true with regard to our Western concern for the poor and the downtrodden. Scholar Edwin Judge makes the following observation:

“In the classical world of Greece and Rome it was regarded as philosophically illogical and positively immoral to focus one’s care and attention on the weak and poor of society. And now everyone in the West thinks the opposite. Christianity turned the world upside down!”

Quote of the Week – Sabbath rest

Here’s a quote from a New York Times Magazine article (2 March, 2003) entitled “Bring Back the Sabbath”. It was written by Judith Shulevitz, who was raised in a Jewish family. She has some interesting insights into finding rest in a workaholic, stress-addicted culture.

“There is ample evidence that our relationship to work is out of whack. Let me argue on behalf of an institution that has kept workaholism in reasonable check for thousands of years.

Most people mistakenly believe that all you have to do to stop working is not work. The inventors of the Sabbath understood that it was a much more complicated undertaking. You cannot downshift casually and easily. This is why the Puritan and Jewish Sabbaths were so exactingly intentional. The rules did not exist to torture the faithful. Interrupting the ceaseless round of striving requires a surprisingly strenuous act of will – one that has to be bolstered by habit as well as by social sanction.”