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10.31.2004    |    All Hallows Eve
The Christian reaction to Halloween varies all over the map. It is basically a celebration of the dead, a pagan holiday that got Christian trappings and was dressed up as All Saints’ Day, November 1. As a “holy day of obligation", this is a biggie for faithful Catholics.
Hence, of course, Halloween, “hallow” being what we old guys know to mean “sacred” or “venerated.” As in, “hallowed by thy name…” No, not “hollowed,” although that’s what I thought it meant when I was a little younger…

All Hallows Day is not to be confused with All Souls Day, normally celebrated the very next day, November 2. This is merely a “feast.” It’s easier being Protestant, I suppose…

The way Halloween is actually celebrated is, to say the least, quite secular. It’s all about ghosties and ghoulies and goblins; about lots of candy; about one of my favorite colors, orange (a Protestant color if ever there was one, thanks to William of, well, you know…) I understand that Halloween has become the occasion on which the most is spent on decorating, costumes, consumables, etc.

In my experience, conservative evangelical churches considered Halloween to be a thing of Satan; Old Scratch being a very popular figure for costumes, even if he is often disguised as a stand-in (e.g. Jimmy Carter, Bill Clinton, Osama bin Laden). Just kidding about Bill Clinton; he doesn’t really belong with those other two devils.

My thought is that Halloween is fun, if it doesn’t devolve into worship of that which is evil. Of course, the whole concept of Halloween, the money and time spent on it, does reek just a little of idolatry, the worship of a thing. Actually, it seems quite a lot like idolatry-- but no more so than how Christmas is celebrated in the public square, especially now that it’s become difficult to even use the name “Christmas.” That period of time between Thanksgiving (and who are we giving thanks to?) and New Year’s is called “The Holidays", just another opportunity for retailers to make their sales numbers for the year.

So why is Halloween fun for a Christian? Simply because it can be used as a reminder. That death, which is ostensibly the thing celebrated, is part of life. Halloween could instruct us, especially if we recall its ancient meaning in the Church, that death is not the end.
Just the beginning of a new chapter.

Happy All Hallows Eve, y’all.
10.30.2004    |    Forgiveness
Some folks in the Church of the Fluffy Bunny (you know who you are) are wont to excuse any kind of immoral behavior in the name of forgiveness. After morning services, I was talking with an elderly parishoner about a certain bishop in a certain state that is to the right of Vermont on the map. She thought this was just ducky, because, get this, “we are in no position to judge another.”

I introduced this woman to the Bible, which she claims to have read. Apparently she never got past the part where Jesus forgave the woman her sins, and told the crowd, “let he who is without sin…", well, we all know the rest about stones and all. This woman, however, never apparently got to the part where Jesus tells the adulteress, “you are forgiven; now, go and sin no more." It’s that last part that the fluffy bunnies tend to ignore. Or, in the case of this woman, simply not acknowledge that any sin has occurred.

Gene Robinson has committed sins, as have we all. God may, or may not, forgive him. In the here and now, I believe we should adhere to what Paul wrote in 1 Corinthians, Chapters 5 and 6. In these passages, Paul weighs in strongly against a variety of sins, including those that are sexual. The overarching philosophy, since I need to avoid proof-texting, is conveyed by 1 Corinthians 6:12, “Everything is permissible for me–but not everything is beneficial". It should go without saying that Paul stands in the gap against homosexuality, and those who would defend it in the church must do some fancy lawyering and speechifying to get around the plain-text meaning of Paul.

I was accused of being “judgmental” when I stated that Robinison should never have left his family for a man. Not judging, I respond, merely predicting that without repentance, God will carry out His judgment. Another difference with Robinson is that he has committed what some consider the gravest sin, the sin of pride. He has placed his own view of what is acceptable treatment of his family, and his own sexuality and need to be in charge of things, ahead of the unity of his church.

You may believe that a person’s sexual orientation is their own business (I do). You may even believe that it is not wrong for two men to poke each other in their body cavities, as disgusting as these images are to me. You may even be strongly in favor of “gay marriage." But one must not ever insist that one man’s view, if it contradicts black-letter scripture, and tradition, and the consensus of the Anglican Communion, is somehow worth celebrating.

Short version of this post: All sins may be forgiven on repentance. Absent repentance, try to convince us that 2,000 years of tradition, and scripture are wrong. You might be right; not everything in scripture is worthy at first glance. Usually, however, the Word is strong and clear; it is our perception that is clouded.

In the meantime, don’t spit in our eye and claim it’s raining. This is pride, and it goeth before the fall.

[Note: I first published this March 7, 2004, at life, liberty, & the pursuit of happiness. The just-published Eames Report on the pending schism in the Anglican Communion prompted the repost.]
10.28.2004    |    A threefold cord is not quickly broken
Ecclesiastes is useful to look at every now and again. Its theme may seem to be nihilistic at first, when it begins with the famous King James Version’s “Vanity of vanities, saith the Preacher, vanity of vanities; all is vanity".

But this Wisdom book has a very concrete theme – we are all under God’s judgment, and our lives are in His hands. So, we should, as the old saying goes, “fear the Lord” and do His will. As a reminder, “fear” in the old sense is not just the fear of death and damnation. It is beholding God with the sense of awe and wonder appropriate to our Creator.

In the business of how we may best live in this world, some particular verses for consideration. It is Chapter 4:9-12:
9Two are better than one, because they have a good reward for their toil. 10For if they fall, one will lift up his fellow. But woe to him who is alone when he falls and has not another to lift him up! 11Again, if two lie together, they keep warm, but how can one keep warm alone? 12And though a man might prevail against one who is alone, two will withstand him--a threefold cord is not quickly broken.
Verses 9-11 are plain enough; two are far better than one. It is good to have someone to share life’s burdens. Then there’s the last part of that 12th verse: a threefold cord is not quickly broken. The clear meaning is that there is strength in numbers, and if two are better than one, then three are even better. But, perhaps, this is an echo of the Trinity, the ultimate strength, manifesting through the author of Ecclesiastes?

Just a thought for contemplation.
10.27.2004    |    Exclusion
Christians seems to be their own worst enemy when it comes to unity. Most churches, Catholic, Orthodox, or Protestant, claim to be “catholic” in the sense of being universal. In fact, we all recite that part of the Nicene Creed every week or so, you know, “we believe in one holy catholic and apostolic Church.” Seems to me that many, if not most denominations give the lie to this call to unity.

Perhaps it is basic human nature to wish to organize into tribes; groups of “us” as against “them.” Where “them” is usually everyone who does not meet the precise criteria for being one of “us.” I’ve no objection to people aligning themselves in communities of like-minded folks. The problem is the hypocrisy of the continual pleas for Christian unity, usually loudest from those who might be the biggest stumbling blocks to said unity. That is, it’s unity, so long as you do things our way and no other way.

Two examples, one small, one large. The small one was at a Baptist church that we went to one recent Sunday. Lovely community; there was energy and the Spirit seemed to be in the assembly. When we looked over their literature, we discovered that this particular church recognized only full-immersion baptism. On the logical presumption that, a) “baptism” literally means “a dipping under", or “immersion", and b) that is how Jesus Himself is portrayed as having been baptized in the River Jordan. Those who were baptized by any other method would need to be re-baptized in order to join this church.

The large example is the exclusivity of the communion table in the Roman Catholic Church. Only those baptized and confirmed in the Roman Church, and not in mortal sin, may take communion. Needless to say, this is a large stumbling block for those who are not Catholics and don’t wish to become Catholic in order to share in the body and blood of Christ.

The point is that communion table hospitality, and the nature of baptism are tied together by the Holy Spirit – which is how any of these saving acts take place. The rules and requirements of men may be inspired by the Holy Spirit, but without the Spirit then baptism is just a bath, and communion is just a dry wafer. When a sinner, which is any and all of us, is turned away from receiving His body and His blood – every baptized person’s right regardless of denomination or how the baptism was performed – Jesus must weep.

It’s about God and His Son and the Holy Spirit; it’s got nothing to do with our intricate rules and dogmas that can too-easily become fences between Christians.
10.17.2004    |    "he's trying to force his beliefs on us"
The “he” in question is George Bush, evangelical Christian. The complaint comes from a senior citizen at the AARP conference in Lost Wages, er, Las Vegas. It’s in the context of an article in today’s Washington Post that notes the fact that seniors are not just single issue voters.

This particular complaint is hardly unique to this one man. I’ve been told the exact same thing to my face by several of my neighbors. Mostly, these neighbors are not Christian, or are of the pale, pale, whitebread-Christmas-and-Easter variety, who are, frankly, unchurched and seemingly a little embarrassed by their faith.

I don’t know what goes on in their heart of hearts, of course, and it is not for me to doubt anyone’s faith. It is for me, and for George Bush, and for all who confess Christ as Lord, to share the good news. Those who complain the loudest about the President’s faith are likely those whose own needs some shoring up. In other words, methinks these folks doth protest too much.

Now, from an evangelical point of view, the President does very little outright preaching. What he does do is ensure that we know what motivates him, what moves him to govern as he does. He’s also quite effective in preaching the gospel, without words. Which is always best.

For those who complain the loudest about evangelization, perhaps a word from Jesus might help. From Luke 8:16 (NIV):
No one lights a lamp and hides it in a jar or puts it under a bed. Instead, he puts it on a stand, so that those who come in can see the light.
Or, as the song goes, “you can’t be a beacon if your light don’t shine.”

About this site and the author

Welcome. My name is John Luke Rich, (very) struggling Christian. The focus here is Christianity in its many varieties, its fussing and feuding, how it impacts our lives and our society, with detours to consider it with other faiths (or lack thereof).

Call this blog my way of evangelizing on the internet.

Putting it differently, we're only here on this earth a short time. It's the rest of eternity that we should be most concerned about. Call it the care and feeding of our souls.

I was born Jewish, and born again in Christ Jesus over thirty years ago. First as a Roman Catholic; now a Calvinist by persuasion and a Baptist by denomination. But I'm hardly a poster boy for doctrinal rigidity.

I believe that Scripture is the rock on which all Christian churches must stand -- or sink if they are not so grounded. I believe that we are saved by faith, but hardly in a vacuum. That faith is a gift from God, through no agency on our part -- although we sometimes turn a deaf ear and choose to ignore God's knocking on the door.

To be Christian is to evangelize. Those who think it not their part to evangelize perhaps haven't truly understood what our Lord told us in Matthew 28. We must preach the Gospel as best we are able. Using words if necessary.

Though my faith waxes and wanes, it never seems to go away. Sometimes I wish it would, to give me some peace of mind. But then, Jesus never said that walking with Him was going to be easy...

Final note: I also blog as Jack Rich on cultural, political and other things over at Wrong Side of the Tracks

Thanks for stopping by.