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Part 2 of Hallowed be Halloween.

There is nothing quite like a child who prepares for their Halloween costume.  Thinking about the alternate identity.  Determining what they could stand to be and what they could not.  There is nothing like the child that comes to your door and peaks from around their mask to let us see their faces.  They often say “its me”.   Such hope to be known (even behind some very gross masks) is one of the good practices of Halloween.  Shame on us if we do not want to know who is under the mask when they come to our door.

There is something about growing up.  The dynamic with masks changes.  No longer are they purchased.  No longer are they always chosen.  They seem to slip on and before we know it we are wearing the mask of aggressor or victim.  The mask of trickster or know-it-all finds its way around our identity.  Masks of honor and shame, either one, can stifle.  Once a child and now an adult, we allow the masks to stay where they are not welcome because we are no longer children but adults.  We fear we should have known better than to have this mask.  After all, when we were children we picked them.

The mask of an adult requires a different sort of courage.  But we must remember that they once played peek-a-boo and they are still children of God.    Halloween whispers a divine question….”Who is behind the mask?”.

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I would not say that our house is enamoured with Halloween.  The children have dressed up in years past.  They have all walked the trick or treat route.  But at the end of each year, hey are ready to go home a bit early and they are a bit uncertain of the most gruesome costumes.  One year, as my children were worried about a group of marauding teens dressed like ghouls, one mother said to me….”Leslie, the holiday is good for your kids it  will toughen them up!”   But I wonder….is the holiday meant to desensitize us to the gruesomeness or  the uncertainty of tricks and treats?  Or is All Hallow’s Eve, in the spirit of all good festivals, intended to increase our sensitivity so that we can live with a greater sense of adventure?

Every week in church, we say the Lord’s Prayer.  Some say the ritual is good for us.  That is softens our heart and makes us better people.  But again I wonder. Is the prayer or even the art of praying meant to keep us docile and obedient before a mysterious God?   Or, could prayer be a ritual meant to increase our sensitivity to life and the adventure of faith?

It has been a temptation within the Christian church to distance Halloween and good Christian fun even though the two had so much to do with one another in the early church.  Perhaps over the next several weeks we can consider,  “Hallowed be Halloween”!

 

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Image of hell, part of The Garden of Earthly D...

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With the opening of each chapter of her book Sharon L. Baker is competing with the entrenched images of hell that Dante’s Inferno that still exercise themselves in human mind and culture. Like the  Baker is asking us to reconsider hell from a truly Christian perspective.  And sort out the complexities and dimensions of hell.  Hell can be confusing as imaged in this painting of hell by Hieronymus Bosch which is part of a two dimension piece of artwork ”The Garden of Earthly Delights

In Part III, Baker reinterprets traditional understandings of Hell and proposes a more biblically sound and intense hell than is traditionally considered. She begins in chapter ten by giving the reader an accessible formula for reading scripture:

Knowledge and assessment of scriptural context (ex. Gehenna as the trash dump of Jerusalem)

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Recognition of metaphoric/hyperbolic language used by Jesus (ex. weeping and gnashing of teeth)

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Individual ability to discern the archetypal message being conveyed.

=

Harmonization of message with a loving God for the final application to life of the believer

While the above formula is a part of my routine homeletical practice as a pastor, I confess I was skipping some steps in my theology.  Baker provides a more careful and fundamental approach.  This is essential for congregations such as mine.  With care she challenges the reader to harmonize their discoveries with the loving God of as seen through the “Jesus lens” of chapter five. 

Now, in the event that we were going to lose heart or courage that we were taking too much liberty or responsibility, Baker makes a most important statement on page 153.  Perhaps among the most important statements of her book in terms of encouraging her reader and substantiating her own constructive work, Baker writes,   “The layers of reinterpretation in both the biblical texts and in the history of Christian doctrine lead on to realize that the tradition is to reinterpret the tradition.  We reinterpret continually, repeatedly with a repetition of reinterpretation that preserves the relevance of the living and active Word of God.” (153)  As I read these words, my mind was drawn to the work of Bernard P. Prusak and his book The Church Unfinished:  Ecclesiology Through the Centuries.  Prusak addresses the organization of the church from which all doctrine springs when he says that:

The emerging Church did not stress unchangeability or a fixity of structures positively predetermined by an immutable divine decision.  To the contrary, it was still open-ended, and had to be.  Jesus had chosen the Twelve and had left an emphasis on service or “pro-existence.”(50)

Prusak’s work might undergird Baker’s reinterpretive efforts with audiences that are most concerned with the question “What would Jesus do?”

Not only does she reinterpret tradition.  Baker give us new ways to imagine hell. In her final chapters we revisit Otto (first introduced in chapter nine) who is the classic example of one who might “be sent” to hell as a consequence of his life.  However, and most importantly, we also meet Anne.  This woman is one who has led a devoted Christian life.  She has upheld and pursued the example of Christ and she is not one that we imagine would be destined for hell.  In her brilliance, Baker opens up her  re-imagined hell not as a place for just some people but for all people.  Having reminded the reader that fire is symbolically a consumptive and purifying power.  In chapter eleven, Baker welcomes the likes of Anne into hell. 

“On judgment day she came into the presence of God with joy and with a bit of trepidation (some would call it the fear of God).  The blinding light of God’s presence dazzled her, its burning heat encompassed her; and its boundless love embraced her.  At first she feared that the fire would totally consume her.  But as she experienced and then understood its inexpressible and excessive love, she hoped it would. …As the fire of God’s love continued to burn, she knew that the purification that began for her during her lifetime was finally finished.  But rather than the pain and the hellish work of repentance that unbelievers face in the fire, Annie experienced the intense joy of divine love.  She walked with Jesus next to her, into the center of the fire, into her at-one-ment with God.” *164-165. 

Between Otto and Anne, Sharon L. Baker has enriched a tired doctrine of atonement.  No longer is hell only a place to fix what is broken but a place that brings all people of varying circumstances into a more intense unity with God.  Baker notes this is the highest hope of the Christian faith as well. (176) 

You know, Halloween is coming…and we will celebrate All Saints Day that same Sunday in Osawatomie Kansas.  Though these dates have been very close on the calendar, never before have they been so powerfully reconciled in my mind.

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