Monday, October 31, 2011

Why I Do Not Celebrate Halloween

This post will probably be a little controversial.  I acknowledge that fact from the beginning because I may not hold a popular view.  Last night, I had a discussion with my youngest daughter who is 17 years old.  She has never been "Trick or Treating" because my wife and I made a conscious decision to stop celebrating this holiday back in the 1980s. I explained to her, once again, why we do not celebrate Halloween.
      Now, before you feel sorry for my children, you need to know that they were not deprived of the fruits of trick or treating-- candy.  Ultimately, that is the bottom line for children anyway.  They get a whole sack of candy and can eat it virtually unfettered that night and then on a limited basis for the next few days and weeks.  So, we can all agree that the candy is what it is all about for the children.  Some may say, "no it is all about dressing up in costumes.  That is what is most important."  If you believe that line, then try this tonight.  Instead of giving out candy, just have your Polaroid camera ready and when you open the door snap their picture and then offer the picture to them in lieu of the candy by telling them how cute they are in their costumes.  If their response is anything short of disappointment, then I will be happy to stand corrected.

No, for kids. the bottom line is the candy.  

That is the point for the children, the costumes are just the means to an end.  We always gave our children a sack of candy on or around the Halloween date and they never, ever complained about not getting the chance to dress up.  But then we substituted a family tradition to the dressing up.

We would get dressed up (wait a minute, you just said you didn't dress up).  Quit interrupting me and let me finish.  I accept you apology.  We would dress up in "church clothes" (i.e. coat and tie, nice dresses, etc) and go to a fancy restaurant for dinner during the time when trick or treating was taking place.  It is a great time to go out to dinner because NO ONE is in the restaurants at that time of night on Halloween.  So we got VERY SPECIAL treatment.  Our kids loved that, and they got to go home and eat candy afterwards.

But let me tell you why we chose to avoid Halloween over 25 years ago.  Halloween has its roots in pagan holidays.  According to Wikipedia, "Some folklorists have detected its origins in the Roman feast of Pomona, the goddess of fruits and seeds, or in the festival of the dead called Parentalia, it is more typically linked to the Celtic festival of Samhain (pronounced sow-an or sow-in)", derived from the Old Irish Samuin meaning "summer's end".[1] Samhain was the first and by far the most important of the four quarter days in the medieval Irish calendar[2][3] and, falling on the last day of Autumn, it was a time for stock-taking and preparation for the cold winter months ahead.[1] There was also a sense that this was the time of year when the physical and supernatural worlds were closest and magical things could happen.[2][3] To ward off these spirits, the Irish built huge, symbolically regenerative bonfires and invoked the help of the gods through animal and perhaps even human sacrifice.[1]"

      We were in seminary in New Orleans when we made the decision to stop celebrating.  We heard news reports about the carcasses of animals that had been disemboweled and left in fields surrounding the city.  We hear about the increase in missing children around the end of October and we realized that some people were using the holiday to offer animal and children sacrifices to strange gods.
The decorations that are sold this time of year are of the macabre, the undead, and lots of other things with dark themes.
     Listen, before you write me off as some fundamental Christian kook, I want to examine what happens when we begin to compromise with our "enemy." You see, our enemy, Satan, wants Christians to go to one of two extremes:  (1) He wins when Christians see a demon behind every door.  This happens when we attribute everything negative in our lives to a demonic force.  This gives the enemy too much power over our lives. or (2) We trivialize his power and influence in our lives.  This may be more dangerous because we see Satan as an old man in a read suit with a pointed tail and a pitchfork that is so often seen in cartoons.  Either of these reactions causes the world to see the idea of a personal Devil as either insane or silly.

   Our enemy is real.  For Christians to engage in any behavior that either promotes or trivializes him, does harm to the kingdom of God.  For this reason, I refuse to participate.  I do observe what is happening and what I have seen is that Halloween has become even darker and more elaborate with each passing year.  The amount of money that is spent on costumes, decorations, candy, etc is ever increasing. ($6.2 BILLION in 2010 with the estimates for this year exceeding $7 Billion)  When I was a kid, there was NEVER a giant inflatable pumpkin building set up in front of the mall exclusively to sell these items.

     I wonder what would happen if Christians would take the money they normally spend on this frivolous and potentially dangerous holiday, combine that money and then use it for increasing the kingdom of God.  So much good could be accomplished with that money.

I think it is time for Christians to re-evaluate their participation in this holiday.  We did that many years ago and we do choose not celebrate Halloween.    I would challenge you to do the same.  Give the money you would spend instead to a local church, missions program, or benevolence program.

I would love to hear your responses to this post. 
  1. ^ a b c Rogers, Nicholas (2002). "Samhain and the Celtic Origins of Halloween". Halloween: From Pagan Ritual to Party Night, pp. 11–21. New York: Oxford Univ. Press. ISBN 0-19-516896-8.
  2. ^ a b A Pocket Guide To Superstitions Of The British Isles (Publisher: Penguin Books Ltd; Reprint edition (4 Nov 2004) ISBN-10: 0140515496
  3. ^ a b All Hallows' Eve BBC. Retrieved 2011-10-31.

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Whose Side Are You On?

     When I was a brand new chaplain in the Army, my first assignment was with an Infantry unit.  Now, you need to understand something about the nature of that particular branch of the Army and that is this:  They do NOT like aviators much.  
     Their reason is valid and I discovered how true their sentiment was first-hand when I joined an Infantry squad on a little ruck march right after my arrival to the unit.  The 101st Infantry Division is an Air Assault division.  That means that they get to and from the battle by helicopter.  We had been dropped off in an LZ (Landing Zone) that was supposed to be about 800 meters from their objective.  In fact, the pilots got it wrong (and they told me it happened often).  In fact, we exited the aircraft about 2,800 meters from the objective.  For a pilot that is no problem.  At the rate they fly, 2,000 meters takes about 3 seconds to cover.  For the Infantryman, it takes about one to one and a half hours to go 1,000 meters depending on the terrain.  So that 2,000 meter mistake cost us about 3 extra hours of walking through the woods with an 80 pound rucksack on your back.  
    So I really understood how they felt.  There was just one problem that I had to overcome.  Before I became a chaplain, I was a helicopter pilot and had the senior aviator wings on my uniform to prove it.  If you ever saw that Far Side cartoon of the two deer in the woods, one with a huge bulls-eye on his stomach, and the caption was , "Bummer of a birthmark Hal!"  Well, that is kind of how I felt.  I was the chaplain for this infantry unit and I had a huge bulls-eye on my uniform in the shape of those confounded aviator wings.
     Needless to say, I had to go an extra distance to prove to these guys that I was credible.  So you can understand how bad it was when it was announced that we were going to have a pickup basketball game that afternoon.  It was the battalion staff against the company commanders and first sergeants.  So my boss was on my team along with all the guys I had to work with every day.  
     Now, for those who know me, this goes without saying. But if you do not know me well, then you may not know that this event was significant for me because I am not, and never was, an athlete.  In high school I was the smallest guy in my Senior Class.  I take that back, I was the smallest PERSON in my graduating class.  Seriously.  
     To look at me now you would never believe that.  But when I started my senior year in high school, I was five foot three and I weighed about 98 pounds.  Really.  Needless to say, I was never asked to be on any sports team.  My thing in high school was music (think Glee).  Seriously.  I was the last guy (after all the girls) when people were picking people for their team.  Music was a much better fit because I was very unlikely to get hurt doing that.  
     So when I heard about this basketball game I became a little nervous, no I take that back.  I was VERY nervous because I was already on shaky ground with this unit because of my bulls-eye.  Now I was going to be exposed for the wimp I was by this basketball game.  
     Well, the time came and I showed up at the gym in the appropriate garb and the game began.  Because I had no idea what I was doing, I found myself just running back and forth on the court watching everyone else pass the ball back and forth and running to and from their respective goals.  I figured that I would just try to stay out of the way and maybe I would avoid embarrassment.  Then it happened.  
     One of the guys went up for a layup (I learned that term for that move later) and missed.  The ball bounced off of the backboard and landed in my hands.  Excited and nervous, I jumped and shot the ball at the goal and it dropped straight in -- nothing but net!  
     What happened next was kind of like those old E.F. Hutton commercials.  You know, "When E.F Hutton speaks,... everybody would stop what they were doing and listened.  Well after I made the shot the entire game came to a screeching halt.  I looked around and noticed the look that said, "I can't believe you just did that."  This look was on the faces of both of the teams on the court.  Then one of the guys on my team said, "Chaplain, our goal is at the other end of the court."
     I had successfully made the shot to the opposing teams goal.   If I could have found a way to slide under the boards of that basketball court I would have done it at that moment.  Needless to say I was never invited to play basketball again.  Ever.
     Now what is the point of this story?  I am glad you asked.  I am reminded of an Old Testament passage of Joshua just before the fall of Jericho.  Joshua 5:13-14, reads, "Now when Joshua was near Jericho, he looked up and saw a man standing in front of him with a drawn sword in his hand. Joshua went up to him and asked, “Are you for us or for our enemies?” “Neither,” he replied, “but as commander of the army of the LORD I have now come.” Then Joshua fell face down to the ground in reverence, and asked him, “What message does my Lord have for his servant?”
      A lot of times we get a great idea and then we want God to bless our efforts.  That is what Joshua thought.  That is why he asked the question, "Whose side are you on?  By the context it appears to be a rhetorical question.   I mean after all, he was the leader of God's chosen people.  But this guy, probably an angel, kind of set the record straight. God does not choose sides.  Here is the point, we need to choose God's side.  That means that we need to see what God is doing and join HIM in his efforts.  He is the team captain, we have simply been invited to join HIS team.  When we get that straight then we will find ourselves in the listening mode. 

Joshua got it.  Look at what he said at the end of that passage.  He fell face down to the ground in reverence -- right attitude; then he asked, "What message does my Lord have for his servant?"  Wait for God to speak and then follow the orders of the commander.  Then we can see walls come tumbling down.  So, whose side are you on?

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Making the General Wait


What is the most embarrassing moment in your life?  While I have had several, the most embarrassing moment for me was when I made a Four-Star General wait on me.  Even though this event happened many years ago, I was reminded of it recently when I ran into that General, now retired at a school event recently.

The year (as I remember) was 1995.  I was stationed in Korea and was serving as the Brigade Chaplain for the 8th Military Police Brigade.  Our Brigade was tasked with all Military Police and Security Police activities for the entire Korean peninsula.  Headquartered in Seoul at the US Military compound in Yongsan, we were "very close to the flagpole" meaning that our proximity to the US Forces, Korea, the 8th Army, and the Combined Forces Command consolidated headquarters were all located close by.  The General, who wore the Commander's hat for all of those commands was General Gary Luck.  My Brigade Commander, Colonel Robert Neubert and his wife were good friends and golfing buddies with General and Mrs. Luck.  As such our unit enjoyed a good relationship with that higher headquarters.

Because of that relationship, when it came time for our annual Dining Out event, a very formal affair, the General was invited to attend.  This was protocol for most events like this.  He was, of course, joined by his wife and also by his Command Sergeant Major.  In addition, it was attended by many senior and junior officers and non-comissioned officers from the Yongsan area.

Because I was on the staff, I never got a formal invitation. I was expected to be there because I was going to deliver the invocation for the event. As such my wife and I would sit at the head table with all the other dignitaries.

On the afternoon of the event I was still not sure of the start time so I asked the S-3 Operations officer, a major, what time it started. Now you have to understand that all of these events begin with a social period that lasts anywhere from 30 minutes to an hour.  So when he told me that it started at 7:00 pm I knew that I could arrive around 7:15 to 7:20 and still be early enough to make the dinner.  I made plans to arrive "fashionably late."

My wife was stunning and I was quite good looking in my Dress Blues formal uniform.  The event was held at the Dragon Hill Lodge, an Morale, Welfare, and Recreation hotel right there on the base.  Arriving at 7:15, we took the elevator up to the 2nd floor area where the dinner was being held and stepped off the elevator.  When we did, we came face to face with a very agitated Brigade Commander.  He snapped at me, "Where have you been?"


"Where have you been? The dinner was supposed to start at 7:00 pm.  It is now 7:20 and the head table has been waiting on you to arrive!"  Standing there with him was his wife, the Deputy Brigade Commander and his wife, the Command Sergeant Major, and the FOUR-STAR GENERAL and his wife.

I blurted out that I thought the SOCIAL HOUR started at 7:00 but no one heard me.  General Luck walked over to me, took his fist and hit me hard in the chest and said, "Son, don't you EVER make me wait like again!" Then he said something about a "dollar waiting on a dime"  but then he hugged me.

Now the fist to the chest I expected.  I deserved that. But the hug?

Later I was told that the musical ensemble had begun the music and everyone had risen to their feet 20 minutes before I arrived.  I didn't just make the General wait, I made everyone wait.  When the head table (including me) walked into the room, I saw that it was filled with several hundred people all standing at attention.  Needless to say, I did not enjoy the rest of the evening. 

But he hugged me.  Now why would he do that?  Well I can tell you why.  Because that was the kind of person he was.  He was not one of these Generals who is so high and mighty that he has lost touch with the average soldier.  No, he was a soldiers General.  I heard story after story of this man refusing to let anyone open the car door for him or carry his bags.  I remember a soldier telling me that General Luck stopped his armor-plated staff car to offer the young GI a ride on a hot day.

I keep going back to that hug.  So undeserved, yet so welcomed, especially under the circumstances.  That is how I feel about God's love for me.  It is so undeserved, yet so welcomed.

The Bible says in Romans 5:6-8 "You see, at just the right time, when we were still powerless, Christ died for the ungodly. Very rarely will anyone die for a righteous person, though for a good person someone might possibly dare to die. But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us." 

So the next time you get something good that you didn't expect or deserve, just remember that your relationship with God came just the same way.

As I prepared to leave Korea for reassignment back in the United States, it was General Luck, the soldier's General who awarded me the Meritorious Service Medal.

And it was General Luck, now retired, whom I found myself sitting next to at a school event for my daughter.  He really hadn't changed that much -- still the ruddy complexion and short gray hair.  And the same smile that I remembered that day when he punched me and then hugged me.  I am not even sure he would remember this event if I shared it with him.  It probably stands as a vivid memory in my mind alone; one that I will never forget.

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

When His Work Was Done, He Rested

bible college
  Yesterday I had the great joy of keeping my 3 year old "great" grandson (no I am not that old-- he is my grandson and he is a great kid) while my daughter ran some errands. The deal was that she would put him down for a nap while she was out and I would be close by to keep an eye on him.

     Well I know better than to go back downstairs while he is "sleeping".  Even though my office is only a few steps from his bedroom, he has become quite adept at being an escape artist.  For that reason, the door that leads from my workstation to his room is not only locked, but barricaded with a child's fence and a very large recliner.  For that reason I cannot simply just open the door and check on him.  I would have to go out through the garage and then in the front door and go down the inside stairs to check on him.

     So option B was to simply stay upstairs in the house while the little angel was sleeping...except he WASN'T SLEEPING!  Now normally, he is like a speech and sound generator.  He know virtually every line to all the Toy Story movies as well as Cars 1 (and he is working on Cars 2).  So he never shuts up when he is awake.  Now this is not a complaint -- just an observation.  There is one time, though, when he manages to be completely silent -- when he is in what I call "Stealth Mode."

     When he is in stealth mode, he is completely silent.  For example, besides the constant noise he generates, when he runs up and down the stairs and through the house it sounds like a herd of elephants.  If I am working downstairs I can tell if he is upstairs because I can hear him through the floor running around. 

     But not when he is in stealth mode.  He has mastered the art of silent running when he is in stealth mode.  Which is why I did not hear him come up the stairs and go into his mother's locked bedroom.  Yes, I said, "Locked Bedroom."  But this miniature cat burglar can unlock locked doors. Seriously.  So he stealthily came up the stairs, and did his voodoo magic on the door lock and then silently shut the door behind him.  Then he tossed the room.  When I used that term to describe his actions, my daughter, who is a college graduate, did not know what I meant, so let me explain:

     When I worked at the United States Disciplinary Barracks (U.S.D.B) at Fort Leavenworth, Kansas, I would often walk past a cell that was being "tossed" by the prison guards.  Simply put, they would go into the cell and pick up, and turn over, everything, tossing the items usually on the bed, but occasionally on the floor.  When they finished, the inmate would have to put his or her room back in order.

     My "great" grandson tossed his mother's room.  And when his work was done, he climbed into her bed and pulled the covers up to his chin.  She had left the television on so he laid there enjoying yet another episode of Yo Gabba Gabba.  At least until I went to check on him and found him there.  Then his joy ended.

     I would like to say that was the end of the story, except he is very much like his "great" grandfather in that he very seldom learns his lesson the first time.  Instead he must exercise his right to a redo.  About 45 minutes later I found him once more in the bed with Yo Gabba Gabba on the television.  I was not happy but then, neither was he.  I sent him back to his room about the time that my daughter returned and I quickly return the parental reigns back into her hands.  I cannot tell you what happened next but there was much wailing and gnashing of teeth from somewhere downstairs.

     I do feel somewhat responsible for my grandson's actions.  I say that because, after all, my genetic structure is, to some degree, floating around (does genetic structure float?) inside of him.  I would like to tell you that I was a "great" child, but I had my own stealth mode when I was his age and apples don't fall too far from the tree that bore the fruit that became the tree that dropped this little one to the ground.  (It's a little complicated but if you will get with me later, I can draw you a picture.)

    So, Pastor Dave, what is the lesson in all of this?  

I am glad you asked.  

Based on the title, you might suspect that I would pull the verse describing God's actions on the 7th day, but that is not where I am going with this story.  Instead, let me draw your attention to the book of Psalms 139:11-12:
11 If I say, “Surely the darkness will hide me
   and the light become night around me,”
12 even the darkness will not be dark to you;
   the night will shine like the day,
   for darkness is as light to you. 

    We all operate in the stealth mode, when we think no one is watching.  We do things that we think will never be seen by anyone; but as Bette Miller aptly sang, "God is Watching You" and he sees EVERYTHING.  All that we do will come to light someday.  Revelation 20:11-13 says this:

 11 Then I saw a great white throne and him who was seated on it. The earth and the heavens fled from his presence, and there was no place for them. 12 And I saw the dead, great and small, standing before the throne, and books were opened. Another book was opened, which is the book of life. The dead were judged according to what they had done as recorded in the books. 13 The sea gave up the dead that were in it, and death and Hades gave up the dead that were in them, and each person was judged according to what they had done.  (emphasis mine).

     So don't operate in the stealth mode with regard to sin, or you too might find yourself "weeping and gnashing your teeth" in a very bad place....forever. 


Monday, October 3, 2011

Do Whatever He Tells You

    Last Saturday, I had the opportunity to attend yet another marching band competition, this one in Brentwood Tennessee at the John Overton High School.  You see, my daughter is one of the drum wait, that is a term from my generation when the person who led the band actually marched out in front of the band and wore a HUGE furry hat and carried a HUGE javelin-length baton.  (Now they are called field commanders and direct from high in the air on an elevated platform...but I digress.)
     Anyway, after the preliminary competitions they had something called a "drill down."  Now this was new to me the first time I heard about it. (But then the first time you hear about something is always new...that is the essence of "new", but I digress.)

     Drill down is where the participants line up on the field in good old-fashioned style and the person in charge (in this case NOT a field commander) gives them rapid-fire instructions that they must follow to a tee.  Similar to "Simon Sez" if they fail to follow the commands precisely, they are eliminated from the competition.  This goes on until the last participant is standing.  In the case yesterday it happened to be a young man from my daughter's band (who, parenthetically, was the first boy to kiss my daughter while she was on a band trip a couple of years ago, which made my blood boil when I heard about it, but I digress).

     C'mon Pastor Dave, get to the point...try PROgressing for a change...OK I'll try.

     In my Sunday morning Bible Study class yesterday, we read the passage in John 2 where Jesus turned the water into wine at the wedding feast at Canaan.

     Pastor Dave, what does a band drill-down competition have to do with turning water into wine?
I am glad you asked!

     In that story,   Mary, Jesus' mother, turned to him to inform him that the wine was running out.  In true first-child fashion Jesus replies, "Why are you telling me this?"  Well actually his words were, "What has this concern of yours to do with me woman?" (John 2:4)  (Now when I was a young man, if I had called my mother, "Woman" I would have come away sans a few teeth, but I digress.)

     So Mary turns to the people who were serving the food and said to them, no doubt pointing to her son, and said, "Do whatever he tells you." (John 2:5)

     Now it was a good thing that they were obedient because the next thing that happened was that Jesus told them to basically fill up the bathtubs with water.  Seems a little odd to be asking someone to draw a little bath water in the midst of a wedding feast, but they obey.  (OK, I know they were water JARS but they were used for ceremonial washing so "bathtub" is a close analogy, but I digress)

   The next thing you know, they have a bathtub filled with fine wine. 

   So hears the point:  (Finally, whew)   "If you're a Christian, then, during your lifetime, Jesus will ask you to do many things that seem fantastically audacious" (I quoted that from my Bible Study book because it has the word "audacious" in it, but I digress)

    When he tells you to do something, no matter how crazy it seems, you need to just "Do Whatever  He Tells You" because you may be the next person through whom he is preparing to do something miraculous.

     It is always a good thing to obey your mother.  It is even better to obey your Savior and Lord.  so...

Do Whatever  He Tells You!

(By the way, someone suggested that I might be a little ADHD, but you don't think so, do you? But I digress.)