In Part One I explained a dilemma we’re facing as a family. Do we go against the teaching of our upbringing, and the convention of many of our Christian friends, by taking our son Seth along to a Halloween event at pre-school?
I explained my understanding of the teachings of Jesus and Paul, and how these all point us towards a life of freedom. How, equipped with the mind of Christ, we can make pragmatic judgments about how best to bless others, and fulfill God’s calling to be salt and light in the world around us. How this is the life to the full that Jesus promises, unconstrained by religious law.
All of this led me to conclude that there is no harm in joining in with a Halloween pumpkin carving event. It’s not an overtly spiritual event, and none of those responsible or in attendance are likely to see it as such.
So why have we ultimately decided not to attend?
My argument in favour of attending could be boiled down to the observation that the world isn’t black and white – it’s full of shades of grey. It’s not simply a matter of alternative ‘light’ parties organised by churches (as great as many of these are) being pure brilliant white, and anything to do with Halloween being jet black. I would certainly advise anyone to steer well clear of occult practices that explicitly aim to interact with the spiritual realm (such as seances, tarot cards, fortune tellers, mediums, etc.)
However, for most people, Halloween is just a fun, secular event – one of a few occasions in the year when otherwise isolated communities spill onto the streets together. The reality is that the majority of Halloween practice is in the tricky grey area of the world which Jesus and Paul invite us to bravely venture into.
But here’s the problem. Sometimes when you’re a child, black and white is exactly what you need.
It’s only when you’ve clearly got your head around black and white, that you can fully appreciated – and safely navigate – the many and varied shades of grey in between. As a parent, first I need to equip Seth to understand basic realities in simple terms: the spiritual realm is populated by good and evil. Some practices, namely relationship with Jesus, are good and life-giving; other practices are not.
The danger of propelling him into the grey areas too soon is that he is ill-equipped to make judgments for himself. As I’ve explained, I’ve no concerns about pumpkin carving now; I’m more worried about the chance that next year he attends a Halloween party by himself, which strays into more sinister territory when I’m not there with him to help decide what’s OK.
It’s a bit like crossing roads. At the moment I insist that Seth holds my hand whenever we cross a road. It doesn’t matter whether there are any cars coming. It doesn’t matter if it’s not even a road, and it just looks like one. For his own safety, as a toddler Seth first of all needs to understand in black and white terms that anything that even resembles a road could be dangerous – there’s always a risk that a car comes along.
If I’m inconsistent with the rule, it then becomes that much harder when we’re in a situation I know to be risky but Seth can’t understand (such as crossing close to a bend in an apparently quiet road). It’s only as he gets older that I’ll begin to relax the rule, help him to understand risks, and eventually allow him to choose for himself.
Paul makes a similar exception in his letter to the young Christians in Corinth which I discussed in Part One. His one caveat to the declaration that it’s fine to eat food that’s been sacrificed to idols is this: “Be careful, however, that the exercise of your freedom does not become a stumbling block to the weak”.
In other words, consider carefully circumstances when venturing into the grey areas could put others who are ‘weaker’ at risk. In Paul’s case, this might have been a new convert who until recently still participated in the pagan temple rituals, and who may find reminders of their recent past unhelpful. In our example, it’s our children.
And so that’s why this year we won’t be taking Seth pumpkin carving, dressing up in Halloween costumes, or trick or treating.
It’s not been a straightforward decision. Already the responses to Part One have given me further food for thought.
Blindly following a fixed set of black and white rules feels like a safe place to be. But Jesus isn’t about safe. I passionately believe that we are called to venture bravely into the grey areas in between, and that we do so equipped with the mind of Christ. So, who knows – when the same issues arise this time next year – perhaps I’ll be challenged to take a different stance.