There has been a series of conversations at our house about what costume our 9-year-old son will be wearing on Halloween. He has decided that his costume will be made from a cardboard box (he feels that it is tradition: in past years, he has been a Lego®, a birdhouse, a television, and a clock). Beyond that, the options are incalculable: he could go out into the neighborhood disguised as a board game, a rocket ship, a refrigerator or a hundred other ‘boxy’ things. For one night a year, my son will get the opportunity to pretend that he is someone or something else.
When he gets older, he will get the opportunity to pretend that he is someone or something else all the time. Lord willing, he will learn how to fashion and wear a mask to disguise his true self in the business world, the social spaces and marketplace. We all, as we mature, put on masks to protect our frail vulnerabilities and preserve our fragile sensitivities. We all learn that there are things about us that we choose to keep to ourselves: we temper our opinions, our preferences and our accomplishments to avoid being rejected by those around us. We all wear masks and pretend that we belong.
Except, we cannot wear the masks all the time. They chafe upon us and distort our vision. They prevent us from expressing our emotions and enjoying nourishment. So, we take them off and show ourselves to those we love and to those who love us. In those moments we find comfort and strength in being know as we truly are.
Beside all this, there is one who knows us, whether we don our masks or not; the one who created us knows us completely. We cannot hide our thoughts from Him. We cannot keep our opinions from Him. We cannot shield our motives from His eyes. It serves no purpose to wear a disguise in His presence, as He see through our cardboard boxes and knows who we are. There is a word in the New Testament that describes our attempts at pretending we are someone or something else, a word which literally means ‘a play actor’: hypocrite. It is this word that Jesus uses to describe those who perform a role in public places to protect themselves:
“So when you give to the needy, do not announce it with trumpets, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and on the streets, to be honored by others. … And when you pray, do not be like the hypocrites, for they love to pray standing in the synagogues and on the street corners to be seen by others. … When you fast, do not look somber as the hypocrites do, for they disfigure their faces to show others they are fasting.” Matthew 6:2, 5, 16
One night a year is sufficient time to wear a costume and pretend that you are a superhero or a celebrity or a washing machine. Perhaps you will need a disguise at the next corporate outing or family reunion. You need not wear these things just to make people like you. You need to know that the One who made you knows what is behind your mask, and loves you just as you are.
There is an ongoing effort by Millennials and Gen Zers (those 35 and younger) to eliminate doorbell usage. They argue that these bells, chimes and buzzers have become: a) unnecessary, since most young people now use their cell phones to text or call and announce their arrival at your door; b) dangerous, since one might be seeking entrance into the wrong residence, which might be followed by incurring the wrath of frosty (and often annoyed) neighbors; and c) panic-inducing, since we all know that ‘no one’ uses the doorbell anymore, we can only imagine what awful form of old person or sales rep is the cause of that startling and unexpected buzz or bell. I have experienced this change in practice myself every time the pizza delivery person calls from the car in front of our house or my teenage child’s friend texts from our front porch.
The world is constantly changing. Fifty years ago, you’d expect people to occasionally knock on the door or ring the bell; people would “drop by” unexpectedly, so the sitting room or parlor or living room needed to be always ready for guests and mother had a tin of cookies hidden for “company”. Now, no one comes to visit unannounced, partly because people today are so rarely home (what with work and the gym and the kids’ sports and PTA meetings) and partly because people today cherish their privacy (we let others know about us through social media or over coffee at Dunkin’ Donuts, not through visitors being allowed to rummage through our medicine cabinet or magazines). We know the rules of the cul-de-sac: if the garage door or the window shade is down, do not ring the bell unless you’ve been invited over.
As Jesus and his disciples were on their way, he came to a village where a woman named Martha opened her home to him. Luke 10:38
It seems to me that since we no longer want people to come to our home unannounced, we ought to consider the practice of inviting them over for a meal, a cup of coffee, a game, a party or a chat. Perhaps you could have family dinner with a college student you met at church or watch the Patriots play with the older gentlemen across the street. Perhaps you could have coffee with the mother of one of your child’s friends while they played video games or let the single mom you are friendly with when you are both at the grocery store wash a load of clothes in your machine while you talk about “This Is Us”. Be like Martha and open your home.
One last thing about “dropping by” and doorbell ringing: remember that October 31st is Halloween, and if you have a bell, let it be rung. Take advantage of the fact that kids in costumes will be ringing your doorbell eleven nights from now. Introduce yourself to the parents you haven’t met and give out the big bars to the little children – especially if the neighborhood knows yours is a Christian home.
If I were to look for them, I could find pictures of my children in Halloween costumes – I vividly remember them dressed as a pumpkin, Ash (a Pokemon© trainer), an athlete, a princess, a shark, and a birdhouse. I suppose it is good clean fun to put on a costume or a mask and walk around the neighborhood until your pillow case is full of candy. I suppose it is also good to have the neighborhood kids come to the door and declare ‘trick-or-treat’ with their hands out for a snack-sized Snickers™. Truth be told, I actually like celebrating Halloween.
Well, that actually may not be true. I do not enjoy the excessive lawn displays a few in the community have assembled: the spectacle of gravestones (I will make an exception for a cleverly worded epitaph) and half-buried bodies or the presentation of hedges draped with too many cobwebs or strings of orange pumpkin lights. I do not enjoy the barrage of Halloween merchandise peddled for the two months between ‘The Back-to-School Buys’ and ‘The Holiday Shopping Season’. I do not enjoy everything coming in some sort of pumpkin flavoring (again, I will make an exception for pies, raviolis and lattes). Maybe I don’t like celebrating Halloween.
What I do like is handing out candy. I like seeing all the costumes and all the smiling faces. I like that my neighbors will come to my door, ring my bell and receive what I have to offer. I like that the streets are filled with the happy sounds of cheerful children as they assess the stashes they already amassed. I even like the 16 year-olds with a costume consisting of face-paint that still delights in peanut M&Ms™. I like eating my kids candy after they come home, just to make sure it is alright to consume (I want to keep them safe).
“Do not forget to show hospitality to strangers, for by so doing some people have shown hospitality to angels without knowing it.” Hebrews 13:2
I have no doubt that I will be showing hospitality (i.e. giving out some Laffy Taffy™) to a few strangers tonight. Some will have costumes that I won’t understand and others will be well-recognized and highly-commercialized ‘wintery’ characters. Some will come from other parts of the city and some will be neighbors I haven’t met. Some will be shy and others will be bold. And some may just be angels in disguise.
There may be some who will argue that, as a Christian, participating in Halloween is a subtle type of syncretism (a fancy term meaning “the combination of different forms of belief or practice”) and that I am compromising my faith to mingle with the dark forces in our culture. I appreciate that concern and understand their position. I simply disagree: the children that will ring my bell and enjoy my candy are not in some way celebrating evil or participating in witchcraft; they are having a bit of fun pretending to be their hero and getting enough chocolate to last a week. Maybe my offering of a candy bar will lead to a deeper conversation with a parent just in time for the next few holidays…and that would truly be a treat.