A film commissioned by YFC’s ‘Ethos’ project – a series of short films for young adults.
I’m one of those annoying Christians who really dislike Halloween. However the reason I dislike it is not the same as lots of people I know, who see it as a celebration of evil and a trivialization of the occult. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t love that stuff either and I’ve seen the damage it can do, but the reason I dislike Halloween so much is unfortunately the same every year…the behaviour of Christians.
I am a Christian, and it is this belief that shapes everything I do and everything I think. I believe there is a kingdom of light, God’s kingdom, and I believe there is a kingdom of darkness belonging to Satan who is real and active in our world; stealing, killing and destroying. I believe these two kingdoms are at war, and I am engaged in this war, to defeat darkness and bring the kingdom of God to earth, which is how the story will end. Lots of people don’t think that which is fine, but it’s what I think.
I don’t have kids, but if I did and it was Halloween personally I would not dress them up in witch, demon or devil costumes, because for me those things are representing a kingdom I detest, a kingdom that hurts and binds rather than a kingdom that heals and sets people free. Do I expect other people who are not Christians to have this view? No, and I can’t help but feel sad when I hear Christians publicly condemn and rebuke those who dress their children up in costumes like this, when their worldview and beliefs are totally different. If I was sat in macdonalds enjoying a big mac, and a Jew walked in and started telling me I was wrong or even evil for eating meat that was not kosher, I would probably think something along the lines of, ‘how weird that this woman with totally different religious beliefs and values is expecting me to live the way she does when I have my own set of religious beliefs and values!’ It probably wouldn’t make me want to be a Jew any time soon either. I find it baffling when we condemn others by not living the way we live, but we are infuriated when others do the same to us.
Please hear what I’m saying – I would not dress my kids up in these costumes! It would be like a Jew dressing up as a Nazi for fun. Not sure what my obsession with Jews is about today. Anyway, while we’re on the subject of Jews and Nazis, remember when Prince Harry was slated for wearing a Nazi costume to a fancy dress party? (story here) Now is Harry the only person to have ever worn a Nazi costume to a fancy dress party? I think probably not. But why did people react so strongly to him wearing that costume? It was because of who Harry is, what he represents, the kingdom he is a part of. He is part of the royal family and it is that family he represents. To wear something that symbolizes such horrific violence, racism and evil goes against everything that royal family is supposed to stand for. And there you have it, that is why I wouldn’t dress as a witch, demon, devil, or anything for that matter that stands for something that hurts and destroys people. Because I am part of a royal family called to bring justice, mercy, forgiveness and love. I do not expect people not currently part of that family or representing that kingdom to feel or do the same.
I also watch with horror at the way people hide their kids away from anything even vaguely related to Halloween, filled with fear and suspicion and passing on the same. I totally get that how we raise our kids is so important, specifically how we raise them to cope with the kind of world we find ourselves in. The world is a dark place, where witches and vampires and demons have made their way into every part of society. For the first time recently, Halloween became the third highest grossing festival, behind Christmas and Easter. It’s here to stay and it’s getting bigger. Whether Christians like it or not, their kids are growing up in a world where this is normal and this presents us with an important question about how we respond, but also how we equip our kids to be in the midst of all of it. Can we hide them away? No! They are going to see it on TV, read it in books, talk about it with their friends and hiding them away from everything is not the answer. All it does is make them fearful, irrelevant and uneducated. I agree when kids are very young they need to be protected and I know there is a balance to be held here – but banning kids from having anything to do with Halloween parties and telling them their friends are joining in with Satan doesn’t seem to do much other than scare and isolate them! I would want my kids to go to the Halloween parties, to talk about Jesus, to not dress up as a demon or a witch and to know that they shouldn’t be afraid of evil spiritual beings because they know Jesus, who has already defeated that kingdom anyway. We are in a tough world and we need to raise tough kids who can face darkness fearlessly and sensitively.
I have spent most of my life reaching out to young people who aren’t Christians, to meet their needs and encourage them to explore faith for themselves. Through years of doing this, the two things that have always been the biggest barriers to them meeting Jesus are Christians and Church. Young people often feel judged by Christians for the way they behave and they reject the church for being old fashioned and irrelevant. So when a Christian posts something public on their facebook page and condemns people involved in Halloween as being evil, what do you think that does to someone who isn’t a Christian? How do you think it would make them feel? Loved and accepted or judged and rejected? I’m aware of what a huge missional opportunity Halloween is, and it makes me sad when we miss it, and instead use it as an opportunity to drive people further away from God by our judgements and criticisms.
When you ask most people on the street trick or treating why they are doing it, very few will reply with “we just love celebrating evil and witchcraft”. It’s fun to dress up in stupid costumes and get stuff for free. That is it and for lots of people that is as far as it will go for them. Just because some people use Halloween to speak curses over people, hurt others and commit crime, doesn’t mean everyone does.
Let’s look at Christmas too. Christmas was a pagan festival celebrating the return of light (More on that here), that Christians took over. Jesus was not born on December 25th. Christians engaged with a pre-existing festival and redeemed it into celebrating the arrival of the biggest light of them all! They didn’t run away scared and condemn it, they made it their own! They didn’t reject Christmas, they redeemed it. Why can’t we do that with Halloween? Why can’t we get right in the thick of it, giving out stuff on the streets when everyone else is taking, blessing instead of cursing, helping instead of tricking?
Richard Niebuhr wrote a very famous book about how Christians engage with culture – Christ against culture, Christ of culture, Christ above culture, Christ in paradox with culture and Christ transforming culture. (Explained better here) It is the transforming part that is so Christlike, so Godlike, to take something and completely transform it. We can do that too, we can transform culture, not think we are above it or be against it. In an essay once I argued that for me Christ went one step further, that he created culture. He created a new way of living, a different way of being in the midst of the existing, a third way, a new kingdom crashing into and dismantling another.
Jesus was and is brilliant. He went to all the places he shouldn’t. He hung out with all the wrong people, saying all the wrong things. He got quite a reputation and was even accused of being demon possessed himself! He confronted darkness, he didn’t hide from it. He was different in the midst of it. And I believe that we are all called to do that, all of us. We are not called to be a fearful, judgmental people who shrink back and stay in holy huddles, but a people who actually believe what they say they believe, that Jesus has defeated darkness already and that we have his power in us to do the same and therefore that we will go into every dark place with no fear, to transform and redeem in his name and for his glory.
Fear is a powerful thing, and for a bunch of people who are supposed to know the creator of the universe, the most powerful being in existence who defeated and conquered death, we sometimes act like we’re pretty scared. What makes me the most sad about this, is the stuff we’re NOT scared of. We’re not scared of the fact that the biggest humanitarian crisis of our generation is going on in the world right now where millions of people are homeless, with countless children orphaned and traumatized. We’re not scared that most churches haven’t even mentioned this on a Sunday. We’re not scared of our out of touch, elitist government as they privatize our services and force people into increasing levels of debt and poverty. We’re not scared that more people die of suicide than car accidents, we’re not scared that prescriptions for anti-depressants have doubled in the last decade, we’re not scared that one in six young people are not in employment, education or training of any kind. How about we start getting scared about the stuff that actually matters, about stuff that actually bothers God, about the stuff that we are supposed to be acting on and speaking out against as the Body of Christ. There are plenty of things to get scared about, Halloween is not one of them.
I am not afraid of death, or witchcraft, or evil, or the occult or the demonic or any other principality or power in this world or out of it. Why? Because I know a guy who not only defeated all of that, but who laughs at it, who made a public spectacle of it. (1 Corinthians 15:55-57, Colossians 2:15) His name is Jesus, and that name holds more power and more victory and more protection than anything else in heaven or on earth. I think it’s about time we realised who this Jesus is, what he has done, what he will do, and I think it’s about time we rose up and walked and talked like we believe that knowing him actually makes a difference in our lives and means we don’t ever need to fear anything ever, even Halloween, in fact especially Halloween.
A few years ago, a friend and I decided to make proper use of a mid-week day off, and travel to a nearby beach town. Because of the timing of our visit and the fact that it was mid-week, everywhere we went was eerily quiet. Walking down the main street we were greeted by the flashing lights and electronic sounds of games arcades, and we decided to visit one, to spend some of our hard earned two pence coins! As I walked into our chosen arcade, a big neon sign caught my eye, with the word ‘redemption’ on it. This was the cash desk where vouchers or tokens won on certain machines could be redeemed for cash. As I looked around a sadness hit me, as I saw many people playing on slot machines, people of all different ages, at about 11am in the morning. You could tell that for some this was a daily hobby, spending hours of time and lots of money in the hope that they would hit the jackpot and be able to make the journey to the redemption desk to exchange their winnings for something greater.
It made me think about how we all search for redemption in one way or another.
That sign has been on my mind again recently as I’ve explored what redemption might mean, a word we use a lot in ‘Christian-land’. We talk about God redeeming us, redeeming things, his redemption plan for the world. I’ve always thought about redemption in terms of being saved by God, that God has redeemed me, which I believe is true. But there is another meaning of redemption which I’ve perhaps neglected, one that takes me back to that slightly sad games arcade in that quiet beach town on my day off.
The second meaning of redemption is about gaining or regaining possession of something, normally in exchange for something else. So in that games arcade, you win tokens which you then exchange for real money. You give in what you have (or what you have is taken from you) and you receive something much better in exchange, something of a higher value. Something better than what you had before.
When I’ve lost things in my life or things have been taken from me – friendships, jobs, projects, whatever…it at times has felt unfair. People have often told me that God will, in time, redeem that situation, that I will get back whatever I’ve lost if I trust Him and wait. But what I’ve come to realise is that it’s so much better than that, and it goes right back to the very core of who God is; a massively creative creator, who is always pioneering new and amazing ways to restore, heal and bring people back to Himself.
Sometimes we don’t get back what was taken from us…we get something even better.
Take the story of Joseph (from the book of Genesis in the bible) as an example. I often imagine what Joseph must have felt like, being ripped away from his father, broken relationships with all his family, sold into slavery and thrown into prison. I wonder about those months and years that he spent in prison, with everything that had happened going round and round his mind. What did he think the redemption plan was? If it was me I would have probably imagined my brothers repenting, me being allowed to go back and live with my family, doing what I was doing before. What was God’s plan? Joseph became one of the most powerful men in Egypt, he saved the lives of thousands of people preventing them from being killed by famine, and in the end his relationship with his family was restored. Wow. Do you think he ever even imagined that as he sat in prison, alone, with his life in shreds? At the end of the story when being reconciled Joseph says this to his brothers; “You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good to accomplish what is now being done, the saving of many lives” – Genesis 50:20
Or Job. Job literally had everything taken away from him apart from his life. Through all his pain and questioning he never lost faith in God. At the end of his story we are told that ‘the Lord restored his fortunes and gave him twice as much as he had before’ – Job 42:10.
Or Moses. Because of a stupid mistake Moses went from being the son of a Pharaoh to a shepherd tending sheep in the wilderness. He lost everything. But it was Moses that God used to set the Israelites free from slavery. That’s kind of a big deal.
The bible seems to be full of people who in their loss, in their mistakes, in their grief, trusted God and waited, and out of that came a redemption plan that reached so far beyond their own imaginations. Greater purposes came from those messy situations, where what was taken or lost got replaced with something so much greater, something that stretched so far beyond meeting their own needs into meeting the needs of others.
When things are broken we can try to fix them so that they become exactly what they were before. We can see redemption as getting back what we had before and nothing else. But sometimes we need to just put the broken pieces in the hands of God, trusting that He, as the ultimate and most incredible creator we know, will take those pieces and make the most beautiful mosaic, something that will reach out and bring purpose, destiny, healing and redemption not only to our own lives, but to the lives of many other people.
I love this so much about God. That His creativity is not limited to the earth and the things He has made or done in the past. He is endlessly creative in the ways He engages with us; His provision, His interaction with us, the way He brings healing and restoration, all done differently for each individual, a masterpiece He paints differently for each of us. Even His redemption is creative beyond our comprehension, beyond anything we could ask or imagine in our wildest dreams.
“When you sow, you do not plant the body that will be, but just a seed, perhaps of wheat or of something else. But God gives it a body as he has determined, and to each kind of seed he gives its own body” – 1 Corinthians 15:37-38
We can be like seeds that get crushed. But it would be ridiculous to try and gather all the tiny parts of a seed and try to put it back together again, as it was before. We would know that this brokenness, the crushing of the seed, put in the right hands and given the right care, can grow into the most incredible tree, that brings life, fruit and shelter to many others for years to come.
I want to be able to trust that God, the first and ultimate artist, is the one who determines what kind of plant the crushed seeds of my life will become. What a relief, because every time I have had a plan in my head and I’ve finally let it go and let God take control, what grows is mind-blowing, overwhelming, something I never could have predicted or created.
It actually makes my own plans look ridiculous.
That is creative redemption, and day by day I am absolutely loving seeing it happen in my own life, and in the lives of others.
What if I really knew You?
You. The You that’s true.
If I could look into Your eyes.
Rip up the disguise I’ve made with my lies,
You see it’s easier when I make the real You hide.
What if I really knew me?
Me. The me that’s true.
If I could see me through You.
If I could just let you out of Your cage,
Have the courage to let things rearrange,
To let my view of You completely change.
You see You’re really all that I have,
And all that I am wants to know all that I can,
About this man they call Jesus.
You know, the one that freed us.
The one who heals us,
The one that came to earth to redeem us.
The one who still sees us,
Who knows what it’s like to be us.
There’s not a thing you’ve been dealt that He hasn’t felt,
Because no trial or temptation from Him was withheld.
He knows pain and shame and disgrace and blame,
He knows screaming and bleeding you see that’s why He came.
Now the debt’s paid and we’re being remade,
Into the light and out of the shade,
A fearless people no longer afraid.
Knowing all this, what can I say?
How can I possibly live the same way?
How can I ever just walk away?
There’s nothing I can do that will ever repay,
No gift I can give that would help to convey,
No word in any language that would help me to say,
Not a masterpiece painted that would rightly display.
So maybe I’ll just do what You do.
You gave Your life so I’ll give mine too.
Die to myself and live only for You.
You. The You that’s true.
The You that’s not through, with me or with You.
You see there’s some stuff for us to do.
People that need to know this too,
Who’d be helped and healed if only they knew,
That the kingdom of God is breaking through.
The now and not yet like yeast in bread,
As creation groans for all that’s unsaid.
The cancelled debt, all our regrets,
The effects of our mess that he just forgets.
What if they really knew You?
You. The You that’s true.
If they could look into Your eyes.
Rip up the disguise we’ve made with our lies,
And see they don’t need to run or to hide.
So help me show You.
You. The You that’s true.
In all I say and all I do I’ll be a light that shines for You,
A broken vessel You’re making new,
A wounded healer that You move through,
So in my weakness they’d see You.
You. The You that’s true.
This is the sixth in a set of six films I was commissioned to make for Scripture Union’s ‘Word Live’ website. The concept and writing for all six films was done by Alex Taylor and Becca Dean.
This is the fifth in a set of six films I was commissioned to make for Scripture Union’s ‘Word Live’ website. The concept and writing for all six films was done by Alex Taylor and Becca Dean.
This is the fourth in a set of six films I was commissioned to make for Scripture Union’s ‘Word Live’ website. It was filmed at an abandoned military base near Bath, England. The concept and writing for all six films was done by Alex Taylor and Becca Dean.
Well who’d have thought it?
In the midst of all of this shit I’d find my perfect fit
Rescued from the pit and now God this is it
My destiny calling no more tripping and falling
No more hearing “her behaviour’s appalling!”
You see now I’m determined to live for Your glory
And tell the whole world this amazing story
Of how at my darkest you saw me
And you didn’t ignore me.
God, You restored me.
And even now you go before me.
Yeah You’re the one that healed my heart
And now I’m here with this brand new start
And these words only help me express it in part
What You’ve done and who You are
Rescue, restore, redeem, repeat
Yeah you helped me get back on my feet
When I’d accepted defeat, when I was all but beat
When I was shattered and battered and calling retreat
When my heart was open and I was bleeding broken
And I cried out for help but there was just no one
The shame, the blame, their ridiculous claims
Took things from me I thought I’d never regain
And I reached my darkest
But You saw me. And you didn’t ignore me.
God You restored me.