I love October–cooler weather, changing leaves, apple cider . . . and, of course, Halloween. I’m actually not a big fan of the horror side of Halloween–I don’t watch scary movies or go to haunted houses–but I love the costumes. I’ve turned my kids into a princess and a dog, an alien and a cheetah, a which and a unicorn. We went to the craft store yesterday and bought the white felt, orange foam sheet, and giant googly eyes necessary to turn my youngest into a penguin. (I tried to get her to buy a foam head and be a two-headed monster, but she would not cooperate.)
The creativity—not to mention the candy—that surrounds Halloween can be a lot of fun. I know, though, that some Christians choose not to celebrate Halloween because of its connection to the occult. And some Christians try to find a middle ground by letting their kids wear only Bible-based costumes. So as a public service for those who want to have a Bible-based Halloween celebration, here are some costume ideas:
Cute Couple Costumes:
Samson and Delilah: She’s holding seven braids and a razor. He’s got a really bad haircut and empty eye sockets.
Jael and Sisera: She has a hammer. He has a tent peg through his head. (Perhaps an appropriate double-date with Samson and Delilah.)
John the Baptist and Salome: She has on a beautiful, skimpy dress. He has a platter around his neck and a black sheath covering his body.
Adam and Eve: Maybe not the best option since the pre-fall costume is illegal in most places and the post-fall fig leaf get-up is a bit over done.
Joseph and Potiphar’s Wife: He should be “well built and handsome.” She should be in her nightgown holding his cloak.
Judah and Tamar: She should be veiled and pregnant, holding a staff. He should be significantly older and perhaps carrying a box of matches. (At an adults-only party you could throw in Onan for fun.)
David and Johnathan: I’m not sure how you would dress up like these two; I just think they are a cute couple.
For Inventive Individuals
Balaam’s Ass: Just wear the donkey costume and walk around saying, “Why did you beat me these three times?”
Absalom: You’ll need a long-haired wig, and somehow you have to get the hair to stand up straight and support a tree branch on top. Bonus points for three javelin’s sticking out of your heart.
Lot’s Wife: If you can pull off a costume that makes it look like you are turning into a pillar of salt, I want to see pictures!
The Lamb of Revelation: Seven horns, seven eyes, looks like it has been killed–again I want pictures.
Ezekiel: Just wear sackcloth and stick a scroll in your mouth. (Though I will not be wearing this costume as it would impede the eating of candy.)
Leviticus Prohibitions: There’s a lot to choose from. One option would be a tattooed menstruating lesbian eating shellfish. But don’t limit yourself here. Be creative.
When we are kids, we color pictures of a guy sitting up in the branches of a tree. But when we get older, we know that the really important part of the story comes at the end. When this very wealthy tax collector declares to Jesus, “Look, half of my possessions, Lord, I give to the poor; and if I have defrauded anyone of anything, I pay back four times as much.”
Giving to the poor is an important part of following Jesus. And without diminishing this point about holding our worldly possessions lightly, I would like to re-visit the childhood fascination with the short little businessman perched in a tree. So back up with me, if you would, to verse three: “He was trying to see who Jesus was, but on account of the crowd he could not.”
All those years of Sunday School and Vacation Bible School, all I ever got was that Zachhaeus wanted to see Jesus. Like the tourists want to see a movie star in Hollywood. Like my kids wanted to see Donald Duck at Disney World.
But the text doesn’t say he wanted to see Jesus. It says he wanted to see who Jesus was. This wealthy tax collector has questions about Jesus. Who is this guy? What does he look like? What does he sound like? What is it about the way that he looks at people, touches them, that stirs up all of this energy, this excitement?
Zachhaeus knew that the crowd was in the way, obscuring his view. So he climbed up a tree. Zachhaeus doesn’t care how ridiculous he looks or if he might rip his new toga. He wants to see who Jesus is. I am struck by this image of climbing the tree. Of putting ourselves in a place of perspective.
And I’m thinking about what our sycamore trees might be. Because I have to say that the crowds are pretty distracting right now. It would be nice to find a place of perspective, a place where it is possible to see who Jesus is in the midst of the chaos.
Worship is a sycamore tree for me. And morning prayer, when I manage it. And reading thoughtful, spiritual books. And listening to others. Those are all ways I can put myself in a better position to see who Jesus is. Those are some of the trees I need to climb.
What are yours? Where are the places of perspective to which you need to go?
I know there is more to following Jesus than climbing the tree. More than simply putting ourselves in a place of perspective. This following Jesus business is hard. And complicated. Still, I trust this story of Zacchaeus.
If we have the desire to see who Jesus is, if we have faith and courage and disregard for the crowds enough to climb the tree, Jesus will show up. He will look us in the eye. He will call our name. And our lives will never be the same again.
This post is excerpted from a sermon I wrote in 2009 and focuses on Luke 19:1-10.
Last weekend, I was honored to attend the 40th Anniversary celebration of the Brethren Mennonite Council for Lesbian, Bay, Bisexual and Transgender Interests. The theme of the gathering was “Walls to Tables.” I connected with good friends and got to know acquaintances better and met many wonderful new people. As much as I hate to promote stereotypes of the gay community, I have to admit that the singing—mostly four part a capella—was AMAZING. And the laughter. One thing about people who have stuck with the church despite decades of harassment and shaming and systemic oppression—they have wonderful senses of humor.
I am grateful to the LGBTQIA Mennonite and Brethren community for allowing me to be with them and
learn from them during their celebration. I learned how difficult and fearful it was for gay Mennonites to find each other and form this network of support in the 1970’s. I learned that in earlier years of the organization, BMC began board meetings by naming those who had died from AIDS. I learned the history of Germantown Mennonite, that has been kicked out of MCUSA for its open and affirming stance. I learned the phrase “lipstick lesbian.”
Most importantly, I got a brief sense of how it feels to be a minority in terms of my sexual identity; and I got a glimpse of the depth of my own heteronormative assumptions.
It was a wonderful weekend that concluded with a prophetic and celebratory worship service that focused on Psalm 23 and led us to a communion table laden with bread and juice and fruit. Below are three pieces written especially for this service. I share them here with deep gratitude for all who were gathered around that spectacular table with me this past Sunday.
A Call to Gather by Annabeth Roeschley
Welcome to this place — a place where all are welcome. Welcome to this sacred place, the walls that invite in, the table of abundance, the house of the holy; A house made ever more holy by our persistent presence. Welcome home.
You who have come home often, and you who have not been for a very long time; Welcome home.
You who saw the early walls, who have dismantled, who have danced in the margins, You who are still resisting, who are dancing even harder; Welcome home.
You who have gone before, You who have left, who have been left behind, pushed out; you who are dancing elsewhere; Your spirits are remembered in this home.
We have walked in the valley of shadows. We have seen evil. For forty years (and more!) we have wandered, and found, wandered, and found. And where we have gathered, we find —
beloved friends, the finest foods, cups pouring over, the anointing oil. We find the most colorful god who welcomes with reckless abandon. May we be blessed in this home!
May our bodies be blessed and at home here. Our born bodies, Our reclaimed bodies, Our transitioning bodies. May our inner selves be blessed and at home here. Our whole selves, Our partial selves, Our questioning selves.
May joyfulness, passion, and love meet us here; may this house of abundance be our dwelling forever. Welcome, and blessed be!
Litany of Prayer
by Lisa Ann Pierce
Gather at the Stonewall. Come as you are, you bright, wild, beautiful children of God, for here we will not be policed. At the Stonewall, your outrage is as welcome as your joy. Your desires are as welcome as your generosity. Your pride is as welcome as your humility. Bring your whole, holy, queer and queer-loving selves, for we are about to pray. Holy One, hear our prayers.
Holy One, hear our rage and peace, our longings and belongings, our brokenness and our fierce resiliency.
We thank you, God, for those who, with wisdom and courage, created BMC. Against all odds, they created a community of love and justice. They forged a path out of isolation and into possibility, out of Egypt and toward a land of milk and honey.
Thanks be to God!
We thank you, God, for all those who have followed, each injecting new hope and vitality in their own way, some arriving, some parting, all keeping BMC on the path through these 40 years of wilderness travel.
Thanks be to God!
We thank you, God, that we meet your love in the power of community to break down shame, to bind up wounds, to strengthen us for the hard work of desert living.
Thanks be to God!
Holy One, hear our rage! While you send manna in the desert, our denominations continue to build walls! Sometimes we have bloodied our heads on those walls. We have made ourselves vulnerable, shared our stories, pleaded for change. In response, denominational leaders have asked us to wait, to be patient, then to be vulnerable again and again, to put on sack cloth and ashes, to exhibit our pain for their examination, then sit in silent moratoria while they wait for their terms to end.
Hear us, Holy One, in our rage and pain!
But you, Holy One, cannot be contained by walls. You meet us at these walls, erected in fear. You tend our wounds, call us out of suffering, and invite us to dance. So we have learned to dance at the walls, watching the walls shake with every footfall. We have learned to celebrate the church we are, claiming our God-given gifts. Now we dance and play, finding joy, like Jesus, in resistance to injustice, in subversion of hatred.
Holy One, we dance with you!
Let this be our most joyful dance! Let us dance with such bliss that the walls shudder and fall. Let us take up those broken walls and transform them, that they may never be repurposed. Let us build a table for all, a table of welcome, joy, justice, and peace–a table to transform the world.
Holy One, your Love transforms the world!
Spread the table in beauty and in love. Fill it with abundance. There we will break bread, drink of the cup, remember Jesus and our cloud of witnesses. There we will look backward upon oppression and forward toward a just world. There we will look one another in the eye and know God’s greatest gift is love.
Holy One, your Love transforms the world! Amen.
Expanded Psalm 23
by Joanna Harader and Ruth Harder
The Holy One is our shepherd, we have enough: enough love and longing enough community and compassion enough sacred and sassy enough fierceness and fabulousness
They make us lie down in green pastures and lead us beside still waters and restore our souls: at BMC gatherings at Connecting Families at Pink Menno rooms at this place, right here, right now.
Even though we walk through the valley of the shadow of death where we are talked about, but not to where our giftedness is not received where our relationships are not honored where we are labeled and cast aside
We will fear no evil, for you are with us; your rod and your staff, they comfort us. We lean on your Word that speaks love and justice We lean on your people, who speak acceptance and life We lean on your church where it is open, affirming, and welcoming of our whole selves We lean on your Spirit of praise, protection, and protest
You prepare a table before us this table made from fallen walls this table covered with all the colors of the rainbow this table of fountains and fruits and abundance this table where we are welcome
In the presence of our enemies people and principalities polities, procedures, and processes “dialog” and “discernment” resolutions and yet another task force
You anoint our heads with oil the oil of blessing for lives that are holy and whole, sacred and fabulous the oil of commissioning that we might go forth in our fierceness to tear down walls and set spectacular tables
Our cups overflow our joy overflows our hearts overflow our queer and queer-loving selves overflow with the abundance you pour out
Surely rainbows and unicorns will follow us all the days of our lives and we will dwell in the fabulous house of the Divine forever.
*This piece is intended as an overview of how MCUSA and related institutions are addressing the sexual violence perpetrated against Lauren Shifflett. (It is slightly revised from a previous post.) I will try to update when major developments occur. For more details and analysis, I commend to you the links within the post.
In January (2016) Luke Hartman was arrested for solicitation of prostitution and resigned from his position as Vice President of Eastern Mennonite University. The Anabaptist-Mennonite chapter of SNAP urged anyone who had been harmed by Hartman to report to an authority outside of the church. SNAP received information suggesting that Hartman had used his positions within the church to harass and abuse people within the church; SNAP reported that leaders within EMU, MCUSA, and Virginia Mennonite Conference may have withheld information that allowed Hartman to continue in positions that gave him the power he abused in violent and harmful ways.
Lauren Shifflett bravely shared her story, which includes manipulation and abuse by Luke. Her sister, Marissa Buck, wrote about how their congregation, Lindale Mennonite, responded when Lauren told those in leadership about being abused; while Lauren and her family experienced cared and support from some members, adequate steps were not taken to hold Luke accountable or to protect Lauren spiritually, emotionally, and physically.
So, lucky for us, this wonderful group of people was already assembled to lead the denomination in addressing sexual abuse within the church. In May, this panel recommended that Eastern Mennonite University, Virginia Mennonite Conference, and Lindale Mennonite Church “seek out and cooperate with an investigation by an outside organization in a timely manner.” The panel recommended GRACE, Faith-Trust Institute, “or another panel-approved independent organization.” GRACE is considered the “gold standard” of investigating institutions by advocates in SNAP, and is the highly preferred option.
On August 2, 2016, Eastern Mennonite University announced that D. Stafford and Associates had been hired to conduct an administrative inquiry and a review of the university’s sexual misconduct policies and procedures. Victims’ advocates find D. Stafford problematic because it is institution-oriented, focusing on ways to help universities get into compliance with current laws and thus avoid lawsuits. There is also a concern that D. Stafford is run by a career police officer and thus does not do its work from a theological, pacifist foundation.
On August 16, Our Stories Untold posted a statement by Lauren Shifflett explaining why she had declined to participate in the investigation being done by D. Stafford and Associates. She is troubled by “the fact that DSA wants to talk to me about the “accusations of misconduct” I made against Luke. That fact alone shows me they just don’t get it. This investigation shouldn’t be about me. I already told my story in detail. I stand behind my words.” Lauren’s sister, Marissa Buck, has also refused to participate in the DSA review.
D. Stafford and Associates has been hired and is conducting the investigations at Eastern Mennonite University. This firm has also been hired by MCUSA to investigate the responses by Virginia Mennonite Conference and Lindale Mennonite Church to Luke Hartman’s abuse of Lauren Shifflett.
Feel free to contact those panel members and MCUSA staff with your encouragement, questions, and concerns.
Just before 7 p.m on July 7, as protesters gathered in Belo Garden Park, in Dallas, Texas, I settled onto a hard wooden seat in the choir stall of St. John’s Abbey Church in Collegeville, Minnesota. As they chanted “enough is enough,” we chanted Psalm 59: “You have been a refuge in the day of my distress.” As they shouted, we sat in silence. As they marched, we bowed.
Generally, when selecting a scripture reading for worship, I would leave out phrases like “the end of all things in near.” But when I read 1 Peter 4:7 this week, I decided it should stay in. Because . . . well . . . if you’ve been following the news at all these past few weeks, I think you may understand.
“The end of all things is near.” Or maybe not. But some days it feels like it. When we see news of violence, Hear leaders spew hatred, Watch loved ones suffer, Feel lost and alone. “The end of all things is near.” Maybe. This world is breaking and broken. For sure. So above all; Above everything maintain constant love. Love each other always. Be hospitable. Speak on behalf of God. Serve one another with the strength of God. And let us glorify God together, now, as we worship.