I don’t get our fascination with horror and fake fear, but I’m starting to believe the reason we pay to see these haunted attractions is not just because we want to be scared but maybe because we want it to be true.
I go to church with a great teacher and thinker named Richard Beck. A few years ago he wrote a blog about how Scooby Doo is a great parable for our modern world. In every episode, the dog and his deceptive friends start off terrified of some supernatural demon that is out to get them and destroy the world, but by the end of the episode the demon is always some grumpy old man who is unmasked and upset, because “he would have gotten away with it if it wasn’t for those meddling kids.”
Here’s how Beck talks about it:
it struck me how Scooby-Doo is a perfect parable of disenchantment…over the last 500 years, the world moved from enchantment to disenchantment. Five hundred years ago the world was full of supernatural forces, witchcraft, and ghosts. A world full of thin places, where the border between this world and the Other world was porous and leaky. Five hundred years ago people could be demon possessed or afflicted by witches. The night was full of occult menace and magic. Black cats were bad luck. Things are much different today…There’s no room for monsters. Medicine and psychiatry have pushed witchcraft and demon possession offstage. Worrying about black cats is just superstitious and irrational. And ghost stories are just that–fictional tales to scare the kids around the campfire.
This past month, a few preacher friends and I spent the day with the author and church(ish) planter Peter Rollins. You may have heard of Rollins work before, he’s written books like How (not) to Speak of God, and Insurrection, and he’s writing one now that has something to do with haunted houses.
About an hour into talking to us, Rollins brought up something that I had never heard of. Apparently there is a real scientific field of study called “Hauntology”
Immediately I started thinking about Ghostbuster’s, and Peter Vankman, but it’s nothing like that. Hauntology is the very real study of the way we are all affected by the lingering presence of what or who is not there.
The example Rollins gave was that for every person there is someone (living or dead) who could walk into a room and their mere presence would immediately make us angry or anxious. These people, Rollins say, haunt us. Their absence is profound but in our modern, dis-enchanted world, we don’t have a way to talk about ghosts so we just pretend that we aren’t haunted.
All Saints Day
And that brings us, obviously to Halloween.
Growing up, Halloween was something that my family had a awkward relationship with. My first 10 years, my parents allowed me to go Trick or Treating, sometimes we’d even get to dress up as we went to church events. After all Scooby Doo had unmasked the ghost’s and the demons were just something Christians dealt with in the book of Acts.
This part of my life ended when my Mom read the book, “Devil in the Toy Box” I’m not sure what was in that book, but it was the sole reason I stopped getting candy on October 31st (and why for some reason I could never watch the Smurfs again)
For years I hated that book. But today I’m somewhat grateful for it. Because suddenly, for my family the world was enchanted again. It was haunted.
The last year I was allowed to go Trick or Treating, my friends and I walked a solid mile, hitting every house on River Ridge Rd, most of them gave us O-Henry’s and Tootsie Rolls, but there was one house that didn’t give us any candy, and I’ll never forget it.
The man answered the doors with bags under his eyes and a sad look in his gaze. He looked through us as he talked to the 3 little boys dressed like Superheroes and I had the distinct impression he didn’t know what time of day it was. He certainly didn’t know what day it was.
“Trick or Treat!” we yelled.
“Huh? Oh, is that today.” he mumbled groggily,”Wait one second” and then he closed the door and came back a few seconds later with some pocket change to put in our little plastic orange Jack-o-latern buckets.
Later we found out that he had lost his young son that month in an automobile accident.
I had knocked on the door of a truly haunted house.
This was one of the most disturbing memories of childhood, but looking back on it it’s also one of my most profound moments for understanding Halloween.
I have lived a charmed life, but I’ve also had to deal with more death than most of my peers. I did my first funeral when I was 14, and several of my best childhood friends died before I finished college. I don’t know how I would have been able to deal with it if I hadn’t believed the world was still haunted.
The Church calendar has for over a thousand years insisted that we don’t forget the people who have died, the saints who have gone before us. It has insisted that we don’t gloss over death, or give death more power than it is due. It calls us to remember the lives of those who have died, and acknowledge that in some mysterious way they are with God, and we will be with them again.
So during this season, all over the world, Christians take flowers to tombs, clean graves, tell stories about their departed family and friends, and for a short season they allow the absences that haunt them to come into focus.
The Church calls this season “Hallow Tide” as if the material world is being washed in the hallowed, unknown mystery of the age to come.
This may sound creepy, but I believe our modern world need’s to embrace this tradition, because I’ve done enough funerals to know that it’s only when we think about death that we honestly answer the question, “What is a good life?” Nobody talks about what great hair they had at a funeral, or what a nice car they drove, it’s here that we remember how we want to be remembered.
Halloween and All Saints Day are more than just remembering death. It’s a way of remembering the Christian Hope, that God has not abandoned us or the ones we love. The saints departed are with God, and in some strange way still with us. It’s a way we remember that the world is haunted with the saints of God.
So this week, I will spend some time thinking about Foy and Ruby and Richard and Shirley and Hayes and Frank and Jeramie and all the cloud of witnesses that are still cheering me on.
May their souls rest in peace, may their bodies rise in glory.