Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Halloween Fun 2012

My Power Ranger, Ninja, Katniss (Hunger Games) & Hawkeye (The Avengers)

Me dressed as a middle-aged, white dad

Our Pumpkin Creations: The Avengers Logo & Hunger Games Mockingjay

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

One Christian's Response to Halloween

Photo Credit: -Snugg-
Looking back on my childhood of the 70's and 80's, I seem to remember that nearly everyone, Christian or non, participated in Halloween. When I was a kid, the only family I remember that didn't recognize Halloween was a very strict Catholic family that lived across the street from us. We children thought it rather odd that they didn't give out candy and we especially enjoyed knocking on their door all night knowing that, though the lights were off, they were certainly home.

In recent years, there has been an increasing trend within communities of faith to not have anything to do with Halloween or to offer an alternative party on church property.  Although I do respect Christian families and churches that choose not to participate in Halloween at all or provide another option for how to celebrate the holiday, I do wonder if there is a different perspective on it. Here's a thought provoking article that I read a number of years ago in CCM Magazine by a favorite writer of mine, John Fischer:
What will you do this Halloween? Fearing the worst on an evening many Christians believe celebrates the wiles of the devil, some will choose to have no part in the traditional neighborhood trick or-treating that accompanies the 31st of October formerly known as All Hallow’s Eve.

This boycott of neighborhood dress-up and doorbell ringing is relatively new on the Christian scene, at least in my experience. As a child in an evangelical Christian home, I was right in there with all the other gremlins and witches on our block trying to scare as many Snickers bars as I could out of our neighbors’ stashes and into my bulging pillow case. And you can be sure that every home on my block was always duly prepared to be scared by us.

The anti-Halloween movement among Christians didn’t catch my attention until after my own kids had outgrown this annual neighborhood siege. So you can imagine the shock and surprise on the face of the pastor’s wife who came up to me after a talk on Christian worldview I gave last November and wanted to know what I did with my children on Halloween. When I told her I helped them into their costumes, put on a monkey mask, turned up “Ghostbusters” on the stereo, and hit the streets with the express purpose of scaring all the neighborhood ghosts and goblins before they scared me, her face turned white. Apparently what was okay for my parents in 1958 and me and my wife in 1988 was no longer acceptable Christian behavior in 1998.

The more acceptable Christian thing to do on Halloween now is to close up the house and have an alternative party for our kids at church. This is usually around a harvest or a biblical character theme--no ghosts or goblins allowed. Though I understand how this safer alternative came to be, I wonder whether a blanket boycott is the only way to handle this controversial holiday. Is this just one more time when we Christians isolate ourselves from culture for religious reasons apparent only to us? Have we really thought through what our dark houses are saying to the rest of the block? While we’re off having our alternative party, I can hear the neighborhood kids shuffling by our house, saying, “Don’t go there, they don’t give anything.” Is this what we want to be known for in the community--a dark house on the one night you can be guaranteed neighbors will visit?

My kids are older now but when they were little, Halloween in the Massachusetts town they grew up in was nothing short of an informal neighborhood progressive party. I’d start out with my immediate neighbor and his kids and then run into other parents standing outside other houses. Soon we were a small crowd making our way up and down the street while tired little feet slogged through the fallen leaves of October. By the time the kids had filled their bags, I had been in and out of a number of homes, met people I never knew, started some relationships and renewed others. Meanwhile my wife was home dumping huge handfuls of candy into open bags, raving over costumes, inviting kids to come back and visit whenever they wanted, and entertaining other parents that I missed. It was a major community event and opened many doors for fruitful relationships we were able to continue the rest of the year.

Not to diminish the reality of spiritual warfare--something to be taken seriously by all believers--but the last day of October is not a spiritual battle any more than any other day. If Satan comes out on Halloween, he doesn’t go back into hiding the next morning. Whether the origins of Halloween are pagan or otherwise, what we have today is a culture-wide event that glorifies pretending more than the underworld. It’s actually one holiday that adults haven’t taken over--the one time kids get to “be” whatever they want to be. Our participation--or lack thereof--in such a popular, cultural event is only indicative of our ability to have a good time with silliness, not a measure of our standing in a fight between good and evil. If Satan wins anything on this day, he may win more through the darkened homes of Christians than anything else.

The truth is, Christians never have anything to fear--on this night or any other--or God is not God and His promises are not true. What we should be concerned about is a retreat from our homes, when, more than any other time, it’s important to be there with our lights on and a bowl full of treats near the door. If there is a darkness on Halloween night, I, for one, am going to at least make sure that it will not be on my block, at my house."
My family does choose to take part in the fun and celebration of Halloween.  We do not glorify the darkness and death that some choose to emphasize during this season but we do try to take this small window of opportunity to engage with our neighbors and the culture at large.  However you decide to handle Halloween this year, I hope you have a great time with family and friends.

For another perspective that touches on some of the Christian origins of what we now know as Halloween, please click here.

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

The Chens Tell A Beautiful Story of Adoption

One of the most moving aspects of becoming a Christian is the experience of having been adopted as a child of God. Adoption provides a beautiful example of what it means to demonstrate God's love in a meaningful and lasting way. Our friends, Dennis & Carita Chen, enjoyed the privilege of having aspects of their adoption journey captured on video. The video takes less than nine minutes and I promise you that your eyes won't be dry after seeing them meet their son, Jacob, for the first time. You can watch it below or by clicking here.

Thursday, October 18, 2012

Debt Is On The Rise For College Graduates

Photo Credit: 401(K) 2012
From USA Today:
"It's the latest snapshot of the growing burden of student debt and it's another discouraging one: Two-thirds of the national college class of 2011 finished school with loan debt, and those who borrowed walked off the graduation stage owing on average $26,600 - up about 5% from the class before. 
The latest figures are calculated in a report out Thursday by the California-based Institute for College Access and Success (TICAS) and likely underestimate the problem in some ways because they don't include most graduates of for-profit colleges, who typically borrow more than their counterparts elsewhere. 
Still, while 2011 college graduates faced an unemployment rate of 8.8% in 2011, even those with debt remained generally better off than those without a degree. The report emphasized research showing that the economic returns on college degrees remain, in general, strong. It noted the unemployment rate for those with only a high school credential last year was 19.1%. 
"In these tough times, a college degree is still your best bet for getting a job and decent pay," said TICAS President Lauren Asher. "But, as debt levels rise, fear of loans can prevent students from getting the education they need to succeed. Students and parents need to know that, even at similar looking schools, debt levels can be wildly different. And, if they do need to borrow to get through school, federal student loans, with options like income-based repayment, are the safest way to go."
To read the rest of the article please click here.

Monday, October 15, 2012

What Sign Language Teaches Us About Culture & Language

Photo Credit: pennstatelive
This article from Frances Stead Sellers of the The Washington Post offers some fascinating insights about the influence that culture has on how deaf people express themselves through sign language.

She says this:
"Carolyn McCaskill remembers exactly when she discovered that she couldn’t understand white people. It was 1968, she was 15 years old, and she and nine other deaf black students had just enrolled in an integrated school for the deaf in Talledega, Ala. When the teacher got up to address the class, McCaskill was lost. “I was dumbfounded,” McCaskill recalls through an interpreter. “I was like, ‘What in the world is going on?’ ” 
The teacher’s quicksilver hand movements looked little like the sign language McCaskill had grown up using at home with her two deaf siblings and had practiced at the Alabama School for the Negro Deaf and Blind, just a few miles away. It wasn’t a simple matter of people at the new school using unfamiliar vocabularly; they made hand movements for everyday words that looked foreign to McCaskill and her fellow black students. 
So, McCaskill says, “I put my signs aside.” She learned entirely new signs for such common nouns as “shoe” and “school.” She began to communicate words such as “why” and “don’t know” with one hand instead of two as she and her black friends had always done. She copied the white students who lowered their hands to make the signs for “what for” and “know” closer to their chins than to their foreheads. And she imitated the way white students mouthed words at the same time as they made manual signs for them. 
Whenever she went home, McCaskill carefully switched back to her old way of communicating. 
What intrigues McCaskill and other experts in deaf culture today is the degree to which distinct signing systems — one for whites and another for blacks — evolved and continue to coexist, even at Gallaudet University, where black and white students study and socialize together and where McCaskill is now a professor of deaf studies. 
Five years ago, with grants from the National Science Foundation and the Spencer Foundation, McCaskill and three fellow researchers began to investigate the distinctive structure and grammar of Black American Sign Language, or Black ASL, in much the way that linguists have studied spoken African American English (known by linguists as AAE or, more popularly, as Ebonics). Their study, which assembled and analyzed data from filmed conversations and interviews with 96 subjects in six states, is the first formal attempt to describe Black ASL and resulted in the publication last year of “The Hidden Treasure of Black ASL.” What the researchers have found is a rich signing system that reflects both a history of segregation and the ongoing influence of spoken black English."
To read the rest of the article please click here.

(h/t to Racialicious for the link.)