I threatened to do a “hell house” at Renovatus this year. You may know about hell houses, initially started by the Fallwell people. It’s the “Christian” alternative to the haunted house, wherein the object is to scare people into following Jesus. There was an interesting documentary about them a few years ago.
Now of course my irreverence about such tactics means that if we had done a hell house for Halloween, it would have been a hell house that made fun of hell houses. My idea for a hell house comes courtesy of the Southern radio duo of John Boy and Billy, whom I listened to for years before becoming all urbane and sophisticated and turning to NPR. They used to have a Pentecostal Holiness character named the Rev. Billy Ray Collins come on to promote his own haunted house. You could walk down the hall and see “the woman in the pantsuit—ooooohhh!” Or you could walk down and see “the man watching the cable television set–ooohhh!” Being a deep product of the Holiness-Pentecostal tradition, I honor my tradition and thus also feel qualified and comfortable to skewer it. I thought the sketch was hilarious.
Being as comfortable as I am making fun of my own tradition makes me feel exceedingly comfortable making fun of other people’s traditions, though that does not always go over as well. I’ve got a lot of contacts among the young new Reformed guys, the folks who are making the world safe for John Calvin (or at least the quote they heard by him from John Piper) and something called “biblical masculinity.” They are macho. Just ask them–they will be quick to tell you just how not-gay they are. So in a rather unheralded tweet, I threw out the other week that “For Halloween this year I’m going as a neo-Reformer. I’m going to subjugate women and talk smugly about books I’ve barely read.” I don’t know if they liked it, but C’MON. If you know any of these cats, you know that was funny.
Halloween is a taboo for many Christians. Oddly enough, despite growing up in a holiness environment where my mother didn’t wear makeup or jewelry or pants for my early life (she wore dresses–let me be clear about this!), Halloween was not a hangup for us growing up. It was fine for us to dress up like super heroes (just not ghosts and demons) and get some candy. For Christians that feel convicted about this whole “devil’s night” business, I can respect that. Or at least, I respect you as long as you grant me the opportunity to dress like Superman and eat candy on another day of the year. Preferably Thursdays. Every week.
Some of us, when warned of the dangers of Halloween, started having celebrations known as “Hallelujah parties” where we dressed like Bible characters. Once again, totally cool. Unless of course you are supposed to be dressed up at your elementary school, and your two best buddies dressed up as Darth Vader and Frankenstein’s creature, respectively. If you then are wearing a “robe” that looks conspicuously like your grandmother’s old housecoat with sandals, claiming to be an obscure character from 2 Kings they’ve never heard of, this does not feel as cool. And if you find yourself in that scenario, I would recommend you have your lunch money out already in your hand and just hand it over from the bigger kids before they even ask it of you.