Irrational Drinking

In light of a good convo with a friend last night, and in light of our upcoming “Monster’s Ball,” I thought I wd repost this, from St. GK.

“The sound rule in the matter would appear to be like many other sound rules–a paradox. Drink because you are happy, but never because you are miserable. Never drink when you are wretched without it, or you will be like the grey-faced gin-drinker in the slum; but drink when you would be happy without it, and you will be like the laughing peasant of Italy. Never drink because you need it, for this is rational drinking, and the way to death and hell. But drink because you do not need it, for this is irrational drinking, and the ancient health of the world.” –”Omar and the Sacred Vine,” Heretics

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Where did “Halloween” Come From?

Happy (early) All Saints Eve!

Enjoy this excellent article by James Jordan on the origins of Halloween, or All Hallows Eve:

Concerning Halloween

James Jordan

It has become routine in October for some Christian schools to send out letters warning parents about the evils of Halloween, and it has become equally routine for me to be asked questions about this matter.

“Halloween” is simply a contraction for All Hallows’ Eve. The word “hallow” means “saint,” in that “hallow” is just an alternative form of the word “holy” (“hallowed be Thy name”). All Saints’ Day is November 1. It is the celebration of the victory of the saints in union with Christ. The observance of various celebrations of All Saints arose in the late 300s, and these were united and fixed on November 1 in the late 700s. The origin of All Saints Day and of All Saints Eve in Mediterranean Christianity had nothing to do with Celtic Druidism or the Church’s fight against Druidism (assuming there ever even was any such thing as Druidism, which is actually a myth concocted in the 19th century by neo-pagans.)

In the First Covenant, the war between God’s people and God’s enemies was fought on the human level against Egyptians, Assyrians, etc. With the coming of the New Covenant, however, we are told that our primary battle is against principalities and powers, against fallen angels who bind the hearts and minds of men in ignorance and fear. We are assured that through faith, prayer, and obedience, the saints will be victorious in our battle against these demonic forces. The Spirit assures us: “The God of peace will crush Satan under your feet shortly” (Romans 16:20).

The Festival of All Saints reminds us that though Jesus has finished His work, we have not finished ours. He has struck the decisive blow, but we have the privilege of working in the mopping up operation. Thus, century by century the Christian faith has rolled back the demonic realm of ignorance, fear, and superstition. Though things look bad in the Western world today, this work continues to make progress in Asia and Africa and Latin America.

The Biblical day begins in the preceding evening, and thus in the Church calendar, the eve of a day is the actual beginning of the festive day. Christmas Eve is most familiar to us, but there is also the Vigil of Holy Saturday that precedes Easter Morn. Similarly, All Saints’ Eve precedes All Saints’ Day.

The concept, as dramatized in Christian custom, is quite simple: On October 31, the demonic realm tries one last time to achieve victory, but is banished by the joy of the Kingdom.

What is the means by which the demonic realm is vanquished? In a word: mockery. Satan’s great sin (and our great sin) is pride. Thus, to drive Satan from us we ridicule him. This is why the custom arose of portraying Satan in a ridiculous red suit with horns and a tail. Nobody thinks the devil really looks like this; the Bible teaches that he is the fallen Arch-Cherub. Rather, the idea is to ridicule him because he has lost the battle with Jesus and he no longer has power over us. (The tradition of mocking Satan and defeating him through joy and laughter plays a large role in Ray Bradbury’s classic novel, Something Wicked This Way Comes, which is a Halloween novel.)

The gargoyles that were placed on the churches of old had the same meaning. They symbolized the Church ridiculing the enemy. They stick out their tongues and make faces at those who would assault the Church. Gargoyles are not demonic; they are believers ridiculing the defeated demonic army.

Thus, the defeat of evil and of demonic powers is associated with Halloween. For this reason, Martin Luther posted his 95 challenges to the wicked practices of the Church to the bulletin board on the door of the Wittenberg chapel on Halloween. He picked his day with care, and ever since Halloween has also been Reformation Day.

Similarly, on All Hallows’ Eve (Hallow-Even – Hallow-E’en – Halloween), the custom arose of mocking the demonic realm by dressing children in costumes. Because the power of Satan has been broken once and for all, our children can mock him by dressing up like ghosts, goblins, and witches. The fact that we can dress our children this way shows our supreme confidence in the utter defeat of Satan by Jesus Christ – we have NO FEAR!

I don’t have the resources to check the historical origins of all Halloween customs, and doubtless they have varied from time to time and from Christian land to Christian land. “Trick or treat” doubtless originated simply enough: something fun for kids to do. Like anything else, this custom can be perverted, and there have been times when “tricking” involved really mean actions by teenagers and was banned from some localities.

We can hardly object, however, to children collecting candy from friends and neighbors. This might not mean much to us today, because we are so prosperous that we have candy whenever we want, but in earlier generations people were not so well o_, and obtaining some candy or other treats was something special. There is no reason to pour cold water on an innocent custom like this.

Similarly, the jack-o’-lantern’s origins are unknown. Hollowing out a gourd or some other vegetable, carving a face, and putting a lamp inside of it is something that no doubt has occurred quite independently to tens of thousands of ordinary people in hundreds of cultures worldwide over the centuries. Since people lit their homes with candles, decorating the candles and the candle-holders was a routine part of life designed to make the home pretty or interesting. Potatoes, turnips, beets, and any number of other items were used.

Wynn Parks writes of an incident he observed: “An English friend had managed to remove the skin of a tangerine in two intact halves. After carving eyes and nose in one hemisphere and a mouth in the other, he poured cooking oil over the pith sticking up in the lower half and lit the readymade wick. With its upper half on, the tangerine skin formed a miniature jack-o’-lantern. But my friend seemed puzzled that I should call it by that name. `What would I call it? Why a “tangerine head,” I suppose.’” (Parks, “The Head of the Dead,” The World & I, November 1994, p. 270.)

In the New World, people soon learned that pumpkins were admirably suited for this purpose. The jack-o’-lantern is nothing but a decoration; and the leftover pumpkin can be scraped again, roasted, and turned into pies and muffins.

In some cultures, what we call a jack-o’-lantern represented the face of a dead person, whose soul continued to have a presence in the fruit or vegetable used. But this has no particular relevance to Halloween customs. Did your mother tell you, while she carved the pumpkin, that this represented the head of a dead person and with his soul trapped inside? Of course not. Symbols and decorations, like words, mean different things in different cultures, in different languages, and in different periods of history. The only relevant question is what does it mean now, and nowadays it is only a decoration.

And even if some earlier generations did associate the jack-o’-lantern with a soul in a head, so what? They did not take it seriously. It was just part of the joking mockery of heathendom by Christian people.

This is a good place to note that many articles in books, magazines, and encyclopedias are written by secular humanists or even the pop-pagans of the so-called “New Age” movement. (An example is the article by Wynn Parks cited above.) These people actively suppress the Christian associations of historic customs, and try to magnify the pagan associations. They do this to try and make paganism acceptable and to downplay Christianity. Thus, Halloween, Christmas, Easter, etc., are said to have pagan origins. Not true.

Oddly, some fundamentalists have been influenced by these slanted views of history. These fundamentalists do not accept the humanist and pagan rewriting of Western history, American history, and science, but sometimes they do accept the humanist and pagan rewriting of the origins of Halloween and Christmas, the Christmas tree, etc. We can hope that in time these brethren will reexamine these matters as well. We ought not to let the pagans do our thinking for us.

Nowadays, children often dress up as superheroes, and the original Christian meaning of Halloween has been absorbed into popular culture. Also, with the present fad of “designer paganism” in the so-called New Age movement, some Christians are uneasy with dressing their children as spooks. So be it. But we should not forget that originally Halloween was a Christian custom, and there is no solid reason why Christians cannot enjoy it as such even today.

“He who sits in the heavens laughs; Yahweh ridicules them” says Psalm 2. Let us join in His holy laughter, and mock the enemies of Christ on October 31.

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Islamophobia at Fox News?

Until this last week I had not heard of “Tell Me More” or Tell Me More’s “Barbershop” discussion on NPR. Now, though, I’m a fan.

This discussion in particular, about the Juan Williams incident, was riveting for me, and I only wish I had time to gather my sisters, parents, and wife into a room to discuss it. (Pub club in Austin would be another desireable dialogue community for this one.)

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Good Guys & Bad Guys?

Bella: “Daddy, I don’t want to go outside and play in the front yard because I’m afraid that the bad guys will get me.”

Daddy: “Sweetheart, who are these ‘bad guys’ you’re talking about?”

Bella: “You know, the bad guys Auntie M. told me about, the bad guys on the news who kidnapped and did real bad things to that little boy last night. I saw it on the news, Daddy.”

Daddy: “Sweetheart, those people should not have done those bad things, and we must be careful and aware of our surroundings, but do you remember last week in the playground that you spit on your friend when she took your Hello Kitty ball away from you?”

Bella: “Yeah, I’m sorry I did that, Daddy.”

Daddy: “I totally forgive you, Sweetie, but since you did that, I mean, since you hit her and spit on her, does this make you a ‘bad guy?’”

Bella: “No, Daddy! I’m a good girl!”

Daddy: “But at that moment your heart was just as angry and hurtful as some of the people you see on the news.”

Bella: “Yeah, I guess you’re right.”

Daddy: “And, guess what else, Bella?”

Bella: “What, Daddy?”

Daddy: “I once knew a man who got thrown into jail for stealing a lot of money. That’s bad, right?”

Bella: “Right.”

Daddy: “Well, did you know that that same man loves his little daughter just like I love you?”

Bella: “How do you know, Daddy?”

Daddy: “Because that man is your Uncle ‘S.’”

This dialogue is typical of ones I have with my seven year old daughter, Bella. What I’m trying to do here is to show her that, in a sense, there is no such thing as “good guys” and “bad guys.”

With one exception, I tell her, and that is the case of characters in stories. Characters in stories can be good or bad. So for example, Saruman in the Lord of the Rings is truly bad, with no qualifications.

I would argue that something similar holds for the story of Holy Scripture which finds its climax or fulillment in (the paschal mystery of) Christ, which is one reason I have a different take on the role of narrative for the Christian understanding of violence than those who argue that there is no place for violence in the Christian story or in Christian theology.

What I want to show in the rest of this essay, however, is that, in another sense, there is such a thing as “bad guys.” The moral tradition of Christian virtue teaches that man is a functional concept. That is, the human being, created by God for a concrete and specific end or telos, is analogous to a human-made tool, for example, a hammer. A hammer can be said to be a good hammer if it successfully drives nails into pieces of wood. Alternatively a hammer (or a clock or a chair) may be said to be a poor hammer (or clock or chair) if it fails to fulfill its telos, the purpose for which it was made, properly.

According to the Christian tradition, rooted in Holy Scripture, the telos of humanity is to glorify God or (alternatively stated) to participate in the mystery of the triune God. To the extent that a person does this well and properly, she is a good woman. To the extent that a little boy or girl or grown-up fails to do this, he or she is a bad person.

Where does this leave us? It leaves me with a tension, a dilemma which might be undecideable. When forming the character of my seven year old, I want to discourage her from viewing the other (in particular those who are different from her) as “bad guys.” I want her to examine her heart and to verify the biblical truth that “all have sinned,” that “the heart is deceitful and desperately wicked, who can know it?”. I want her to pluck the beam out of her own eye first.

I think this posture is biblical and consistent with the spirit of Jesus, for whom the only “bad guys” were the power-mongers of religiosity of his day.

Since, like my seven year old, I have the capacity (even the tendency) for violence in my own life, I’m not really justified in speaking of others as bad guys.

And yet, I must admit that the moral tradition of Christian virtue ethics also maintains that there is such a thing a “good guys” and “bad guys.”

At the end of the day, am I myself a bad guy? In my view, that is for my (Christian) community to judge.

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Nouwen & Intimate Communion w/ God

My good friend Brady recently loaned me a copy of Henri Nouwen’s The Selfless Way of Christ. I found this passage good & convicting:

Only a life on ongoing intimate communion with God can reveal to us our true selfhood; only such a life can set us free to act according to the truth, and not according to our need for the spectacular…. This is far from easy. A serious and persevering discipline of solitude, silence, and prayer is demanded. Such a discipline will not reward us with the outer discipline of success, but with the inner light which enlightens our whole being, and which allows us to be free and uninhibited witnesses of God’s presence in our lives. – Henri Nouwen, The Selfless Way of Christ pp 59-60.

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Rite of Confession: For Whom?

Episcopal monk Martin Smith writes,

I may be so overwhealmed with grief and shame over some serious lapse that I feel too alienated from God and my fellow Christians to take part in worship – thus I am cut off even from the general absolution given there. Someone else may find that the sheer familiarity of general confession and absolution after years of repetition has muffled its impact, so that when he experiences the need for renewal of relationship with God something more is needed. For one person the problem might be one of healing: how is she to use God’s grace to change a sinful tendancy? She needs practical advice about how to seek changes in her life, which only a priest sensitive to the trouble through hearing her confession could give. Yet another may be drawn by a powerful need to unburden himself of the sin which weighs on his conscience, and discharge the oppressive sense of guilty secrets bottled up inside. Only the act of bringing everthing out into the full light of day in the presence of another will suffice to bring release and relief, the assurance of really handing over sin to God. – Martin Smith. Reconciliation: Preparing for Confession in the Episcopal Church.

There are so many people today who feel that they would love to experience God and Christian community, but they just can’t bring themselves to enter the door of a church and be around actual Christians. I’m really wondering if part of the problem is the need to experience this kind of healing love.

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Augustine on _Totus Christus_

From Augustine’s Homilies on the First Epistle of John:

Then let us rejoice and give thanks that we are made not only Christians, but Christ. Do you understand, brothers, and apprehend the grace of God upon us? Marvel, be glad, we are made Christ. For if he is the head, we are the members: the whole man is he and we… The fullness of Christ, then, is head and members. Head and members, what is that? Christ and the Church (In. Io. XXI.8).

Thanks, David Thomas.

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Bp. Tom defends Archbp. Rowan

Yet again, it seems to me that NT Wright has spoken profoundly and faithfully to a listening world, which is asking good and difficult questions, but which seems to resist the depth of truth which the church (at its best) offers.

Listen to then Bishop of Durham discuss and defend Archbishop Rowan Williams (and many other things besides) in the face of a round of questions which makes assumption after assumption with which then Bishop Wright gently takes issue.

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