For Naming Positive and Negative Spirits (In Favor of Halloween): Old First E-pistle 10.31.19

For Naming Positive and Negative Spirits (In Favor of Halloween): Old First E-pistle 10.31.19

As you will hear me say in the sermon on Sunday, I don’t think a day to remember the negative spirits is a bad thing, or in any way dangerous. In fact, I think it is realistic. 

Of course, I am reacting to churches that fear that childhood’s practice of Halloween is somehow the start of the road to ruin. That it’s teaching Satanism. Or it’s about summoning evil spirits and putting children at risk. 

Tony P. tells me that back in Mississippi, his mom was always convinced there were witches everywhere. She was involved with a conservative church, and I am guessing her witch-scares (along the lines of red-scares!) came from that congregation. 

When Tony talks about how his mom was warning him against this place or that because they were witches’ havens, or when he tells me she’d pray for spiritual strength over against the witches, it makes me smile. Not because I am laughing at her faith. But because  back when these stories come from, except for “Bewitched,” I didn’t even know there were any real witches around. 

I also smile because I am friends with someone who identifies as a real witch. You wouldn’t know, couldn’t tell unless he told you. Just one more comfortable, Center City professional… who belongs to a coven. 

 Offering to introduce Tony to my friend the witch always elicits a reaction. 

Or reminding Tony that my friend worshiped for a while at Old First before he became a witch. That gets a rise out of Tony too. He isn’t quite sure what it means that we are the kind of church that can be a spiritual community along the way helping someone find their path to witchcraft! (My friend thought we could have been a good spiritual community for him, but in the end decided he wanted me more as a friend than as a pastor. I know, not exactly my greatest accomplishment in evangelization!) 

I do not fear witches, because they aren’t all bad! In fact, my friend is a compassionate, empathic spirit. And let’s be honest, haven’t we all known a Christian or two who seemed to be about and to do more evil than good? 

Witchcraft or Neo-paganism and all the other new spiritualities that seem to be emerging these days, they are not signs of doom or existential threats to me. They are rather just alternative ways the human spirit grapples with or tries to grasp the Spirit. Like Judaism, Islam, Buddhism, Hinduism, Taoism, Shintoism…

I am no less Christian because my faith can embrace people whose understandings are different than mine. I don’t need to agree, much less understand someone else to know that my faith calls me to respect them and care for them. 

Halloween is fun for the kids. From what I’ve seen on the streets of Philly this past week, adults also like dress up. I think there might even be something emotionally healthy about the trying on of new or alternative identities involved in dress up. Even when are alter-identities are more “Dark Shadows” than sunny and light. 

But here’s my new, deeper theory of Halloween. If on All Saints Day, we Christians mean to remember those who have gone before us, and whose positive influence we still feel or recognize somehow accounts for who we have become, aren’t there others, less positive, we might remember too? I’m thinking about those who have gone before us and whose influence, still remembered, continues to feel negative. They may account for who we have become too, even if only in reaction! Or they may be — even after death — they may be cause of our struggles and troubles. 

Maybe it is better to make room for and acknowledge this reality, too. And the Bible does always challenge us to be thankful in everything. 

In fact, there may be people we are going to have to remember on both days. Perhaps the greatest truth is that most of us need both Halloween and All Saints Day.

I am glad I am a member of a church that celebrates Halloween. And a church that figures that the good in our faith can see us safely even through the real evil faces in our world. 

I am glad for my friend and his friendship. And how he makes witchcraft personal for me and assures me it can be for the good. Sometimes I think he’s my Glenda the good witch! 

And I am thankful for those who have gone before me, the good and the bad and the greater cloud of those who were both in varying measure. I too am not without my faults and blemishes, malice and evil. But I would not be where I am or who I am without those who have come before me, the good, the bad and the mixed blessings! And those who are gone are yet in spirit — both positive and negative — with me today. 

See you in church,