A Christian's Halloween

"And now, my poor old woman, why are you crying so bitterly? It is autumn. The leaves are falling from the trees like burning tears- the wind howls. Why must you mimic them?"
-Mervyn Peake
The discussion of Halloween among Christians is a rather controversial one- much more so than Christmas. Halloween and Christmas are, for most people, the biggest holidays of the year. Christians are generally agreed about celebrating Christmas. (Don't worry, I'll do my best to destroy any preconceived notions you have on that topic as December draws nearer.) But Halloween is a bit trickier. Where does Halloween land? To examine this topic, we'll first look a bit at the origins, and then at what it's become.

A quick Google will reveal that Halloween comes from an ancient Celtic harvest festival called Samhain. It seems that it was once believed that on a certain day of the year (i.e., October 31st) the dead would walk among the living. This had several effects. One major effect was that it supposedly made it easier for the druids to contact the spirits. But these spirits could also be rather troublesome. To appease them and keep them from causing trouble and playing tricks, the people would leave food and other treats on their doorsteps as offerings for the spirits. If they needed to leave the house for some reason, they would dress up in ghastly costumes so as to be mistaken for other spirits.
The Catholics eventually established All Martyrs Day, to honor those who had died in the name of Christ. It was later extended to include all saints, not just martyrs, and was called All Saints Day. I should note that the dates I'm finding are a bit confusing. As there are a number of festivals going on in this time period (including a couple Roman ones that were added on), I'm finding dates that include October 31st, November 1st, and November 2nd. So the exact dates of the exact festivals are getting a bit mixed around. But what I am finding clearly is that the night before All Saints Day, also called All-Hallows, was called All-Hallows Eve, and later, Halloween.

As a Christian, I don't see any reason to celebrate Samhain. I don't think any Christians would contest my saying that such a celebration is demonic in nature. All Saints Day was moved from May 13th to November 1st, some believe, in order to try to blot out their festivals with another holiday that had to do with death. But as it turns out, the traditions remained pretty much the same. And as time has gone on, the traditions have still changed very little. The description I gave of Samhain likely seemed very familiar to you. On Halloween people still perform those actions, albeit in a different manner and for different reasons. People still dress up in costumes, bob for apples (coming from a Roman celebration honoring their goddess Pomona, whose symbol was the apple), and have a tradition that we now refer to as "trick or treat." The difference? "We don't actually believe in that stuff. It's just for fun." I'll address that in a moment, but first let me look at the Christian alternatives. The main ones I've heard of are churches hosting harvest festivals and "trunk or treat." This is basically Halloween, but with an emphasis on general cosplay rather than horror. It's a "clean" Halloween.

We agree that the origins are demonic, right? "Yes, but that's not what it means anymore. It's just for fun." I didn't ask what it means now, I just asked about the origins. If we agree that the origins are demonic, then why would you want to mimic that? This isn't something where it was mostly a good thing but there was a little piece that you needed to cut out to make it clean, this was something that was wholly centered around demonic practices. "But is it wrong to dress up in costumes and eat candy?" No, of course not. If I had unlimited materials to use for cosplay, you would probably never see me in normal clothes again (except for maybe in October). Cosplay isn't the issue. The issue is what the practice is based on.

The early church put one of their holidays on the same day as a pagan holiday and attempted to change its purpose, while changing as few traditions as possible. Why? It's been speculated, as I mentioned before, that they may have wanted to wipe out the original holiday completely. (We can see how well that worked.) It's also possible that the traditions were, simply speaking, fun. The question isn't whether celebrating Halloween ("clean" version or not) is technically "wrong." It's about the basis. The celebrations are based on a demonic holiday, and the day is still revered by Wiccans, pagans, and Satanists. We are taking something that we acknowledge as demonic and mimicking it, then saying "it's not a sin." Whether it's a sin or not is debatable, but it's not the question. The question is, is it glorifying to God to mimic a demonic holiday? A rose by any other name is just as sweet, and a corpse by any other name is just as foul.
"When you enter the land which the Lord your God gives you, you shall not learn to imitate the detestable things of those nations."
-Deuteronomy 18:9 (NASB)
"Woe to those who call evil good, and good evil;
Who substitute darkness for light and light for darkness;
Who substitute bitter for sweet and sweet for bitter!"
-Isaiah 5:20 (NASB)

Here's the issue. When you despise something, you don't mimic it. You don't copy it. You don't try to do things in the same way. You get as far away from it as possible. I'm not just saying that that's what we should do, I'm saying that when we really do hate something, that's what happens naturally. We may not be successful in getting as far from it as we'd like, but we sure do try. And if we, as Christians, really hated the demonic celebrations that started Halloween, and that still continue in some places, we wouldn't be trying to get as close as possible without crossing the line, and especially not with "it's just for fun" as our excuse.

Am I saying that we ought to just hide away on Halloween and do nothing, or cease to exist on that day? No, of course not. But we shouldn't be getting as close to the world's traditions as possible; we should be set apart. We should be noticeably different from the rest of the world. If we really believe what we say we believe, we ought to act like it.
"There is a difference, I have learned, between not crossing the line and causing the other to stumble, and actively pushing that person toward Christ all the time. Whether you're talking Bible or not."

What is a Bed?

"Ceci n'est pas une pipe."
(This is not a pipe.)
René Magritte

Today's post is extremely simple. No, the title was not a metaphor; that really is what this post is about. What is a bed? Like I said, it's very simple. After all, you probably already know what a bed is. This is more of a post for preschoolers, you know? I mean, I have to expand my audience. So if you don't know what a bed is, raise your hand. Everyone else, you can go.
Well, not right away, I suppose. I mean, we can't have you pretending that you know what a bed is just to get out of reading this post. So before you go, prove your knowledge to me with a simple test, and tell me- what is a bed?

Of course, I know that you won't just say, "it's where you sleep." After all, we all know that simply sleeping someplace doesn't transform its nature. If I sleep on the floor, the floor is still a floor, not a bed. If I sleep on the roof, the roof does not change in its nature to become a bed for my sake; of course, I could sleep on the floor, and refer to it as my bed, but that would be in the sense of, "this is where I consistently bed down for the night." That would not change the floor's nature- merely what I use it for. Similarly, if I jump on a bed, it does not become a trampoline, even if that's how I decide to treat it.

Similarly, I know that you will not say, "it's an object intended to be slept on." As you certainly know, somebody can intend for an object to be used in one way, without it being actually used in that manner. For example, if I am a carpenter-in-training, I may set out to craft a bed. And yet, in my inexperience, I come up instead with a pile of broken wood. Certainly, I intended for this to be slept on, and yet, it is clearly not a bed. You might say that I intended for it to be slept on, because I intended for it to be a bed. But alas, though I meant to make a bed, I failed. So we can see that intent does not necessitate a particular essence.

Next, one might clarify that it's an object that was not only intended to be slept on, but was designed correctly. Of course, I know that this isn't what you will say, because while I may intend to make something to be slept on, and while I may build the object correctly, I may also have rather poor ideas as to what a bed is. I may, for example, make  guitar instead. I designed for it to be slept on, and I made it according to my blueprints, but my initial idea was off. Even if I lay it on the floor and sleep on it, it doesn't make it a bed. I'm just sleeping on a guitar.
"[A] piece of furniture upon which or within which a person sleeps, rests, or stays when not well."
Well, yes, of course that's what the word means. But that's all the dictionary describes- the meaning of the word. What we're looking for is the very concept- that is to say, if you take a bed and you take away one piece at a time, at what point does it cease to be a bed? Or, what if you take it away one molecule at a time? At what point then is it no longer a bed? Where is the specific set of traits that we can look at to determine whether something is a bed or not? And how many traits can be missing before we cease to call it a flawed bed and start to say that it is no longer a bed at all?

The value in a word is to point to a particular concept. The word and the concept are not the same, but the word points to a concept so that I can tell you what it is that I'm thinking about. Defining a word is significantly easier than defining a concept. To define a word, all you have to do is point to a particular concept and say "that's the concept that I'm talking about." But in order to define the idea itself, we have to come up with boundaries, which is much more difficult. At what point is a bed "strange" or "broken," and at what point does it cease to belong to the same idea?

As it turns out, this can also apply to abstract concepts. At what point is something in the circle, and at what point is something outside of the circle? At what point does somebody fit into a certain category? As humans, I don't think we can know for certain where the boundaries are on certain concepts, which is why we should be careful when choosing our words. For example, let's take the word Whovian. One person says that all Whovians are annoying and will obsess about the show and let it run their lives. (Seeing as how some Whovians not only act in this manner, but are proud of it, even somebody who calls themselves a Whovian may use this definition.) However, I also refer to myself as a Whovian, because I find the show to be entertaining. I do not, as it turns out, obsess about it, let it run my life, or make my friends feel bad if they don't happen to like the show. Thus, people define the same concept with different borders. Does this mean that the concept is different for different people? No, it just means that different people see the concept as starting and ending in different places, and we should be careful about jumping to conclusions about how somebody else uses their terminology.
"Boundaries aren't all bad. That's why there are walls around mental institutions."
-Peggy Noonan

Great Expectations

"Blessed is he who expects nothing, for he shall never be disappointed."
-Alexander Pope
Today we'll be looking at expectations. The issue with expectations, of course, is that everybody has different ones. So we will be looking at these expectations- particularly, expectations of people- and what they're based on, to see if these expectations are reasonable. Because everybody has expectations, and everybody thinks that their expectations are perfectly acceptable.

When you meet somebody, you will tend to make subconscious judgements about them based on how well they fit into the many expectations that you have. Some expectations are very common. For example, I imagine that you probably expect for somebody that you meet to be standing or sitting when you meet him or her, as opposed to licking your shoes. This is a common expectation- so common, in fact, that most people don't even think about it. Is this expectation reasonable? Perhaps. Perhaps not.

As I mentioned in my previous post, I despise small talk. When I meet somebody, I expect them to greet me with a real conversation, as opposed to the weak chit-chat of the world. This rarely happens; most people that I meet do not live up to my expectations. But let's look at the other side of the coin. Somebody else may expect me to greet them in a socially correct manner, using small talk, before we get to know eachother better. I will, of course, engage in polite small talk with them (even though I may prefer to repeatedly bang my head against the wall,) but afterwards, they will expect me to remember their existence. If we ever speak again, they will be rather disappointed in this area (as explained in my last post).

One person may expect me to meet their eyes when we speak. I, on the other hand, expect for them them be understanding as I avoid eye contact. One person expects me to be respectful of their personal space and not give them a hug so soon after we've met. But I expect them to give me a hug instead of a handshake, which is a bit too standard for my tastes (though I have gotten used to it through speech&debate). Whose expectations are reasonable? Isn't it perfectly reasonable to expect me to meet their eyes, not lick their shoes, and behave in a civilized manner? In fact, we could go even more basic than that. If those expectations aren't reasonable, then isn't it at least reasonable to expect me to actually care about them enough to give them some basic respect, whatever I may consider that respect to be?

I would contend that we ought not to have expectations of others prior to meeting them, however reasonable those expectations may seem. This includes expectations that they will respect you or care about you. Does this mean that I don't care about people that I haven't met? Of course not! But it shouldn't fall into one of their expectations. The reason being that everybody's expectations are different. One person is offended when I don't remember them after small talk, because they expected me to remember them. However, as I explained in my previous post, this isn't for lack of caring about them, but rather because of small talk itself. What seems to them to be a reasonable expectation is, in my case, extremely difficult, if not impossible.

But as I've said before, don't I have my own expectations of people? In a sense, yes. But the reason that I don't tend to grow closer to people who meet me with small talk isn't because they've failed my expectations, it's because I don't know how to grow closer to somebody that I can't remember. I don't reject people who engage in small talk- rather, I try to fight small talk itself. If someone doesn't meet your expectations, the thing to do is not to reject the person, but rather to discuss the expectations themselves. Every person thinks that their own expectations are reasonable, and each person who doesn't meet your expectations thinks that said expectations are unreasonable- even somebody who doesn't care about your existence and doesn't respect you by even their own standards would say that you must earn their respect.

Of course, expectations among friends are reasonable, to some extent. This is because you've had time to discuss expectations and get to know eachother- you know how to behave in a loving manner towards your friends, and they know how to behave in a loving manner towards you. But you can hardly have expectations for somebody that you don't know. Even if they try to meet your expectations, they don't know what those expectations are, because the last person they spoke to may have had completely different expectations. Each person has a reason for doing things the way they do; whether they're right or wrong, you can't expect them to be perfect before you've even met them.
"When you stop expecting people to be perfect, you can like them for who they are."
-Donald Miller

Small Talk

"Many [introverts] have a horror of small talk, but enjoy deep discussions."
-Susan Cain
I believe that there are several layers of small talk, and several ways of looking at it. So it's difficult for me to address the topic as a whole. A lot of this will be looking at how I see small talk, which will tie into some future posts. But let me say up front that, while I believe there is a time and place for everything, including small talk, I also believe that small talk is detrimental to society as a whole.

Small talk is, as I describe it, a waste of breath. It has, in most situations, no value or purpose. The very name describes it. "Small talk." Not "meaningful talk," or "helpful talk," or the like. "Small talk." However, I have heard some attempt to defend small talk. They say that small talk is how you get to know somebody before you can engage in more meaningful conversations. But I beg to differ.

In my situation (though I accept that not everybody is this way) small talk makes a person more difficult for me to know, recognize, or speak to. Part of this is because I don't recognize people until I know them. I see strangers as male or female, but unless I get to know them in some way, that's all. Every male looks identical, and every female looks identical. As I get to know them, their faces become more distinct. I start to recognize them. Bear in mind, this is not based on how often I see somebody. My sister has some friends who are sisters, and for a while I saw them every week at a class that Hannah and I were taking. After several years, I couldn't tell them apart, despite my sister's instances that they looked nothing alike, and didn't even have the same color of hair. On the other hand, there have been people that I've talked to online for months before meeting them in real life, and I've recognized them, because I had gotten to know them.
As I talk to someone, their face becomes molded to their personality, and also hardens into place. Small talk, therefore, is damaging. When the first conversation I have with someone is small talk, it almost guarantees that I will not recognize them later, because it hardens their face, but doesn't shape their face. Thus, they are setting their face in stone as the "default" face, making it harder for me to remember them in the future. If someone asks my name, I can usually handle it. But if they follow that up by asking about work, school, family, church, where I live, and other questions like that, it becomes very difficult for me to tell them apart from anybody else. Thus, the idea that I ought to meet people through small talk falls apart.

Small talk is discussing trivial matters that have no real meaning- talking for the sake of talking. This is why I call it a waste of breath. Does every conversation have to be some deep philosophical discussion? Of course not! But each conversation should have meaning, even if it's a lighthearted talk with friends. If nothing of meaning is there to be said, I'll enjoy spending time with you anyway. We don't need meaningless words to fill a gap in the air.

I consider small talk to have its place in professional settings where a friendship is not required. If you approach me with small talk, I will return in kind. I will say what I am supposed to say, because that's what you do with small talk. You fit in with how the world expects you to behave. So I will be polite and say, for the most part, what you want me to say. But in thirty minutes, I'll have forgotten your name. In an hour, I'll have forgotten anything I may have learned of your face, and in a day I'll have forgotten your existence. All you gave me was the identifying information- the information that's only important for distinguishing between people that you know, but has no real meaning in and of itself. (Because of this, I believe that small talk should be eschewed in church more than anywhere else- sadly, however, it seems to me that church is where small talk is the most welcome.)

Like I said at the beginning of this post, much of this is simply my view on small talk. I would, of course, be pleased if small talk were obliterated from this world, which is why I have analyzed this topic today, but I do realize that part of this relies on my personality. Thus, I plan to have this post tie into further posts in the future. For now, let it be known that if you want to be my friend, a real conversation will go further than remembering my name.
"I don't know half of you half as well as I should like; and I like less than half of you half as well as you deserve."
-Bilbo Baggins (J.R.R. Tolkien)