Monday, October 31, 2016

On not joining in

I am not answering the door to the trick-or-treaters moving down the street, pressing on the bell and knocking so aggressively.

Some Christians object to Halloween on faith grounds, seeing it as a celebration of evil. I am not one of them.

Other Christians see Halloween as a gift of an opportunity to love their neighbours, by sharing in this cultural event in creative ways that allow light to shine in the darkness. I have greater affinity with this position; but I am not one of them, either.

I am one of the many people, including some (not all) elderly people and some (not all) children on the multi-faceted Autism Spectrum, who simply find the trappings and practices of Halloween anxiety-inducing.

Anxiety is something I live with, and manage to a greater or lesser extent. It is also something that those who don’t experience anxiety find hard to appreciate. Most of the time it does not quite overwhelm me; but some days and some situations are harder than others, require more coping strategies. Noisy groups of costumed trick-or-treaters are up there, for me, with such things as parties, crowds, heights (including crossing bridges and climbing towers), and having to speak to anyone on the telephone. (The list is longer, but does not need to be fully disclosed.)

Of course, this is bigger than me and bigger than Halloween. There are those who find Bonfire Night difficult, especially as the noise of fireworks upsets many pets and some people. There are those who might find themselves needing to opt-out of all the celebrations of Christmas, especially the first Christmas after a bereavement.

It is as unreasonable as it is impractical to take a bah-humbug approach to celebrations and events in the cultural calendar. But it is important that people are free, and enabled, to choose not to join in (my concern is perhaps best described as pastoral).

And that is particularly hard at Halloween when not only do those who run every space that is open to the public seem to feel the need to deck it out in cobwebs, skeletons and witches’ hats, but you are not even safe retreating behind your own front door.

(It would be kind if we might agree on a convention by which Halloween lights/decorations indicated that trick-or-treaters were welcome, and the lack of such was understood as wanting to be passed by.)

So here is the thing.

It is okay to join in with Halloween.

(Or Bonfire Night, or Christmas, or insert here).

And if you do, I genuinely hope you have a lot of fun.

And it is okay to opt out.

(Dare I say it is okay to opt out of the increasingly-sprawling Remembrance Day?)

It doesn’t make you a kill-joy.

It isn’t okay to pass judgment without love on those who join in.

And it isn’t okay to pass judgment without love on those who opt out.

(I do not get to opt-out of the command to love my neighbour, but I need to manage my capacity to show them love; indeed, God’s command is that we love our neighbour as ourselves, and advocating for the recognition of safe spaces may be a generous and thoughtful way of so loving.)

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