Halloween, the Celebration of Fear

This week, fear-inducing scenes surrounded us. Figures of demons, devils and ghosts startled us as we walked in the mall, ducking to avoid spider filled cobwebs hanging in doorways. Theatres advertise horror films, Halloween costume parties are replete with vampires, witches and warlocks. It’s Halloween, the yearly celebration of things we fear.

We usually think of fear as a negative emotion. Jesus kept telling His followers, “Don’t be afraid.” But there is also a positive side to fear. 

Fear Is Not Always Negative
Our bodies are important to us therefore we dread suffering a crippling accident or debilitating disease. That’s why we fear, or at least profoundly respect, loaded firearms and powerful machinery, why we look both ways before crossing busy streets, and why we submit to the doctor’s probing during our annual medical check-up. These fears motivate us to actions that keep us alive and well.

What we Fear Shows What We Value
One of the most positive aspects of fear is that it helps us to understand ourselves better. What we dread shows us what we value. To determine what things I value the most, I recently listed some of the things that frighten me the most.

  • I fear committing “moral lapse” sins. I hear of fellow Christians speakers and writers who, through pride, abuse their power as communicators. Others, through greed and envy, embezzle ministry funds. Others, through lust and gluttony, sin by inappropriate sexual conduct, overeating or drunkenness. I value my fellowship with God and my reputation with those who know me. I value being respected by my wife, my family, and my colleagues. I value my public ministry as a speaker, writer and former Bible translator.
  • I fear suffering a crippling physical or mental injury or disease. I value being able to exercise choices and options. I hate being boxed in. I value serving God with my mind and body. I also value physical comfort and freedom from pain.
  • I dread messed up relationships with my family, friends, and colleagues. I value our interdependence, helping each other to succeed. I value mutual respect and appreciation.
  • I fear poverty. I value having the financial resources to live where I need to live, to travel to places of ministry, and to meet my needs and those of my family and of my ministry.
  • I cringe at the thought of losing all my computer data, my creative writing, personal history, my fifty-plus years of daily diaries, a lifetime collection of photos, etc. I value the written record of what I have done and experienced in the past because I constantly tap into it for my writings.
  • I fear that our children and grand-children and their spouses may lose their close relationship to God, drifting into low moral and ethical behaviour, or suffering major losses of health or relationships. My prayers for my wife and our extended family touch on these fears. I agree with the old apostle John who wrote, “I have no greater joy than to hear that my children are walking in the truth.” (3 JN 4)

So What?
During this Halloween week, let’s remember that no matter what happens to our bodies, our finances, or our goods, our soul is infinitely more important. As children of God we can sing, “Though trials should come . . . It is well with my soul.”

Unfortunately, hundreds of millions of people continue to live in fear, beset by Satanic forces. They don’t know that Jesus, the Son of God, has overcome Satan. They have never heard Jesus say, “Don’t be afraid.” They never will hear, unless we, His children, translate His Word into the language each group understands best.


The Canela Creation Story.

Long ago, life on earth was wonderful. Food was plentiful and easy to gather. Palms were not tall like they are now, but short, and their fruits and nuts could be plucked easily. Field-making and gardening tools like axes, machetes, and hoes didn’t need anyone to handle them; they worked by themselves.

One day Sun and Moon came to earth, to populate the earth with strong, beautiful people, and to set precedents that would benefit these descendants. Sun’s super-power was knowledge. He knew the purpose for their coming to earth and knew what Moon needed to do.

Moon’s super-power was to set patterns. Whatever Moon did would last forever.  Moon, however, depended on Sun to tell him what to do and what not to do. Unfortunately, Moon liked to do things his own way, even if it meant disobeying Sun.

Sun wanted to keep Moon from destroying the good life. “Don’t ever abuse any palm,” Sun said. “And don’t ever stare at the field tools working by themselves.” One afternoon, while Sun was napping, Moon picked some fruit from a palm, ate it and found it delicious.  The next fruit he picked, however, was hard and dry, so he threw it angrily against the trunk of the palm.  Immediately all the palms grew to enormous heights. Moon knew he had done wrong.

Moon then followed the sound of axes chopping. Instead of glancing at the tools and then walking away, Moon walked right up to where the tools were working by themselves. As soon as he stepped out into the open and looked at the tools, all the tools fell lifeless to the ground. Moon knew he had done wrong.

When Sun woke up, he soon saw the tall palms and the tools lying on the ground. He confronted Moon about his bad behavior. Moon kept lying, “I didn’t do anything.”

But Sun insisted, “Why do you go about setting bad precedents? Now our future descendants will suffer and have to work hard to make tools work.”

Sun showed Moon how to make children. Sun walked into a deep pool of water and carefully clapped his cupped hands on the water. Immediately a strong, handsome Canela son rose up. He did it again, and up came a beautiful Canela daughter. Moon jumped into the pool too but just splashed about in the water any old way. Up came an ugly, black-skinned, kinky-haired sons, and ugly pale-skinned children with blonde hair, and weird-looking daughters with slanted eyes.

Sun was very displeased with the patterns that Moon was establishing. One day Moon asked Sun, “What will happen to our children when they die?”

“They will be like this,” Sun explained, picking up a long, thin plant stalk, very light like balsa wood. He speared it down into the deep water. It went completely under the water, but being light, it popped back out of the water and floated. “They will die, but very soon they will come alive again,” Sun said.

“Okay,” Moon said, “So that is what will happen. And before Sun could stop him, Moon picked up a large stone and threw it into the deep pool. It sank to the bottom and stayed there.

“Oh, why did you do that?” Sun scolded him. “Why are you always doing exactly the opposite of what I do? Now you have set a precedent for our children. When they die, they will stay dead!”

“It’s because I am all wrong and twisted in my thinking,” Moon lamented. “My way of thinking and living is all wrong. But now it is too late to change anything.”

“Let’s go back to our houses,” Sun said to Moon. “We’ve been down here long enough.” They ascended to the sky and stayed there forever, never thinking about their children or returning to earth again.

When Jo and I accepted the Canelas’ invitation to come and live with them fifty years ago, we never heard a Canela pray. Why should they? Their Creator had abandoned them.

When we translated the first few chapters of Genesis, the Canelas immediately identified the actions of Adam with those of Moon. “Adam disobeyed the Creator, and that is why things are in such a mess on earth.”

When they read the translation of 1 Corinthians 15:22, “Because of what Adam did we all die, but because of what Jesus did, all will be made alive,” they immediately equated Adam with Moon. And what’s more, they exclaimed, “So our Creator did not abandon us. He sent His Son Jesus to set new patterns and make things right!” That’s when they started to pray to their Creator. They now call Him Pahpam, Our Father.

This story is a Redemptive Analogy. God has embedded analogies to illustrate some aspect of redemption in every culture’s myths, legends, customs or language.

Is Your Church a Family? Probably Not.

After high school, I worked with a seismic oil exploration crew in central Alberta. As driller’s helper, I noticed the specific layers of material that lay beneath the sod and black soil. The first was usually a thick layer of yellow clay, then layers of gravel, sand, grey clay, and shale of different colours. None of these layers were mixed, they all were clearly separated.

Stratified Churches
I thought of those layers recently when I paged through a church bulletin and noticed that every event was stratified according to age. From babies, toddlers, and elementary school age children, right through to teenagers, young couples, midlife adults and retired older folk, the congregation was segregated by age.

North American churches tend to be organized by age levels. But why? We certainly didn’t get that idea from the Bible! No, we got it from our secular culture. For generations, schools have divided students into thirteen distinct and separate levels from kindergarten through to high school. It goes on through college, and eventually ends in adult-only communities, retirement homes and finally, the hospice for the dying. We like to call the congregation the “Church family” but it’s more a “Church school.”

News Flash: Adult Has Meaningful Conversation With Teenager.
During one furlough from Brazil when our three daughters were teenagers, we visited a church where I had been invited to speak on missions.  After the service, we chatted with people in the vestibule of the church. Our daughters were stationed at the information tables, showing Canela artifacts, explaining photos and maps, and handing out literature, etc.

When the crowd thinned out, several people came up to Jo and me to compliment us on our girls. One said, “Your daughters are unique. They talk with adults! It’s been years since I had a meaningful conversation with a teenager. But your daughters relate to us easily and naturally.”

The Explanation.
“In Brazil we live on a mission centre.” I said, “We live as part of a large extended, multi-family group. We all know each other well, we work together, and party together, and old and young interact easily with each other not just horizontally among peers, but also vertically up and down the age scale.”

Our life on the mission centre was much like the indigenous Canela society we lived in. A Canela mother has all her daughters living in or near her house, along with their husbands and families. Many societies in Asia value extended families living close to each other, even in the same large house.

But in our stratified western society, the relationships tend to be lateral. So, teenagers learn to talk easily only with each other, not with adults.

My Experience As a Child.
Parents and teachers are the adults who are forced to interact with children. And, based on my own experience as a child, adults talked at me, or to me, but not with me. In our immigrant family, my parents were so busy working multiple jobs that time or energy to listen to me was scarce. My teachers had this message, “You sit and be quiet, and listen to me.” Fortunately, I now know of many families and school situations where children do have a voice, and adults a listening ear.

Children have much to learn from older people, but older folks also need to learn from the younger ones. A grandpa likes to hear, “What was it like when you were my age, Grandpa?” He tells about getting into trouble for chewing gum in class. But our grand kids are exposed to dangerous drugs, their classmates worry about pregnancy, and if they should abort their babies.

What If?
What if grandpas and grandmas took time to listen and learn about their grandchildren’s very different world?
== What if adults asked thoughtful questions of children and listened carefully to the answers?
== What if there were more multi-age, old and young together in home-sharing groups and Sunday school classes?
== What if churches sponsored social activities where old and young come together, tell stories and jokes and share experiences, or where teams made up of all ages go bowling together?
== What if everyone in our churches learned to relate vertically, up and down the age scale?
Would our churches eventually become the Church Families that our Father God intended them to be?



Jumping to Conclusions: Bad Exercise

“A major tornado has hit a provincial capital in southern Canada!”
It was Friday, July 31, 1987, when Jo and I heard this news headline on Brazilian radio.  I listened carefully, expecting to hear about Toronto, Ontario which is on the same latitude as South Dakota. Imagine my surprise when the announcer said, “Edmonton, a city in southern Canada, suffered major damage with twenty fatalities.”

Edmonton? Canada’s northernmost provincial capital? The gateway to the North? With its long cold winters, it’s in southern Canada? My wife and I looked at each other and shook our heads, as much in dismay over the grief caused by the tornado, as over the ignorance of the announcer.

But, later, looking at a map of North America, I understood why the reporter considered Edmonton to be in southern Canada. That’s because it is! It is well over 2,500 km from the northern boundary, and only 500 km from the southern border. It’s not just in the southern fifty percent of Canada, it’s in the southern fifteen percent!

Eli‘s Worldview Versus Hannah’s Reality
I thought of that long-ago incident recently when I read the story in 1 Samuel 1, of Eli the priest seeing Hannah, the childless woman, moving her lips but not uttering a sound. He glanced at her and knew he’d seen that behaviour before–in drunks. So he rebuked her for being drunk. Wrong! She was anything but drunk. She was fervently praying for a child.

Eli’s worldview led him to judge praying Hannah as a drunk. The reporter’s worldview saw Edmonton as a provincial capital located in the southern fifth of Canada, while some Edmontonians see themselves as the northernmost outpost of civilization.

People tend to misinterpret actions by others who have a different worldview. It happens between adults and children, immigrants and long-time residents, retired seniors and college students, international travelers and local residents, and between the haves and the have-nots in our society.

Topless Canela Women
One day a cargo truck stopped in the Canela village on its way to a Brazilian settlement. When the six young Brazilian men, catching a ride on the truck, saw all the Canela women were bare-breasted, they concluded this was a village of sluts and began to behave accordingly. Taking off their shirts and smirking lewdly into each other’s cameras, they draped their arms over the shoulders of half-naked Canela women. As Brazilians, they came from a hyper-sexed society, like our North American culture, which views breasts as sex objects, while to Canelas, breasts were simply baby-feeding organs.

Canela Banking System
When we started our twenty-plus years of living among the Canela, it seemed like we were living in a village of beggars since our neighbours kept asking us for things. It was only after we understood the culture more thoroughly that we realized they were not beggars at all. They were just practicing a centuries-old credit-based trading system.

When a hunter brought home fifty pounds of deer meat, he would have plenty left over after feeding his family. With neither salt nor refrigeration, he had no way to preserve it. So, when neighbours came and asked for some meat, he would gladly give it, knowing he was building up credit with them, to cash in the next time they had excess food. No paper, no IOUs—the entire village-wide credit and debit system was based on mutual understanding and family memory.

So What?
The next time we see someone do something that strikes us as crazy, we probably should ask ourselves, “Is this person of a different age, background, culture, race, gender or nationality?” If so, we need to recognize that this “crazy” action may be perfectly acceptable in the other person’s worldview.

Exercise is good for us, but not when we jump to wrong conclusions. That simply shows our ignorance.