If you know me, you know I love Halloween. Sometimes as a pastor and a Christian this leads to uncomfortable conversations with others who have a strong opinion about Halloween that I do not share. I have always loved Halloween. Not everything about it to be sure.
In seminary I first heard this quote, whose source I cannot find, from the great Methodist evangelist E. Stanley Jones, “What gets your attention gets you.” This was shared with us in the context of dealing with the supernatural in evangelism and ministry. His point to us was that we should not fret about the supernatural or things like Halloween but rather to focus on Christ and to point others in the same direction.
Halloween’s roots in All Saints Day (hence the name All Hallows Eve, a reference to its being the eve of that day when the dead in Christ are celebrated and remembered) is something I didn’t learn until long after I stopped trick-or-treating. When we dress up we mock the evil forces of the world and the spirit. We say ‘These things have no power over us.’ Death, the grave, and evil are not the victors – God has triumphed in Jesus Christ. While these things still exist in our world, their power is broken.
I find it fascinating how often people of faith generate and give into fear. How much we are manipulated by fear. Listen to the political campaigns and notice how many of the messages are intended to make us afraid. Even in the church we use fear to motivate or influence people. When I hear someone trying to make me afraid I get nervous.
How many times in the Gospels does Jesus say “Do not fear?” Especially after the Resurrection. While we are told that we must learn to fear God (another subject for another post), that fear means that nothing else should make us afraid. Halloween to me is a moment to say “Nothing in all creation – not even death or the power of evil – can make me fear.” And to go through my son’s treat bag because the stuff he doesn’t like are the things that I love. Maybe E. Stanley Jones was right!
Don’t give in to fear. Not in the raging political debates. Not next week when Halloween comes around once more. Not when you are confronted by someone or something that pushes your fear button. The things that we fear are often as illusory as the ghosts and goblins who ring our doorbells on Halloween night. When that fear is of something truly fearful – remember that it, too, has been conquered. And pay attention to the one who says still;
“Peace I leave with you. My peace I give you. I give to you not as the world gives. Don’t be troubled or afraid.”
(John 14:27 CEB)
One of the fall traditions that I miss is burning leaves. Yes I know it’s not good environmental stewardship and it is dangerous when the environment is dry. But the smell of burning leaves always smelled to me like fall. Every year when I smelled burning leaves I knew that fall was underway.
When leaves burn they go away – they are destroyed Like the burnt sacrifices of the Old Testament of the Bible. When things were burnt and destroyed in being offered to God.
Sometimes I feel like parts of my life are that way. Things are burnt, destroyed, consumed by struggle. And this isn’t always bad. Some things need clearing out of my life. Some things need removed from my soul. Some things need to be destroyed because they, like the leaves of fall, are dead.
Today we tend to be more sensitive to the consequences of burning leaves (and also the not uncommon practice in my youth of burning trash). Leaves are picked up and composted to be reused for new growth. Trash that gets burned is sometimes used to create electricity.
God is the ultimate recycler of human experience. What’s dead in us and what’s refuse in our lives gets reused. Our worst experiences are used by God to bring new life in the future. Our broken relationships become the basis for changing and growing how we relate (better) to others – spouses, children, friends, coworkers. Our mistakes become the compost of the next decisions that are made more wisely, more compassionately, more faithfully.
So as you rake your leaves out to the curb in the next few weeks (or at least see someone else do it), rake your old, dead stuff out to the curb of your soul. Let God take them and make them into something new in the next season of your life. I am working on it myself and look forward to what will grow out of my moldy and dying leaves.
The first full week of October (which begins this Sunday) is National Mental Health Awareness Week and Tuesday, October 9, is the Mental Health National Day of Prayer. Not something that gets a lot of coverage or attention. But it should, especially in the church. Of all the things misunderstood and mishandled in the church, mental health issues have to be near the top of the list.
While I don’t think this forum is the right place to say much about my personal or professional (pastoral) experience I can certainly say that mental health issues have clouded both. I have known many people who struggled with mental health concerns. No, that’s too cowardly – people whose lives have been overshadowed, overwhelmed and even destroyed by mental health problems. Often these struggles were seen by others as something else – physical illness, weakness of character, lack of faith, in need of more prayer, etc. Anything but a mental health struggle.
But these things are real and they are not always solved by the things people suggest. Even well-meaning people of faith. Prayer is important… crucial… life-bringing. Other spiritual disciplines bring light and goodness into our lives and minds as we place ourselves on the path where we meet God. But just as people sometimes need physical therapy to get heal a physical injury, some people need psychological therapy to find inner healing. Some people need medications to live well (like me — I need insulin), so some people need medications that correct chemical issues in their brains.
As a person of faith I believe faith makes a real and even physical difference in our lives. And for people who are in therapy or taking medications for mental health conditions, I believe faith makes life even better than these things do. But some conditions need helps that faith may augment but cannot replace. I hope people of faith can learn to see mental health issues more clearly and compassionately and correctly.
Our Creator has wired us so that our pain tells us when things are amiss. Inner pain is a teacher and an alarm. Like physical pains that tell us something is wrong in our bodies so do our mental pains – especially when they are long-running and overwhelming – tell us something is wrong inside. And pains that can’t be seen are as real and sometimes even more debilitating than the physical, outer one’s.
The National Association of Mental Illness (NAMI) has a faith communities page that may interest you if you are reading this blog…