Well, the hallelujah party was in the park across the road from the church. Hallelujah for this, because there was no parking anywhere, but with my friend being an employee of the church, this gave us a free and empty parking space.
Now I had heard of parties that provided an alternative to Halloween before, but it seemed that most of them had a focus on teaching the kids that Halloween isn’t for us holier-than-thou-Christian-do-gooders. Such parties may as well be called judgement parties and I didn’t really want to be part of such a thing. I was interested in this one, but only from a distance. As I understood it, all or most of the churches in the town had pulled together to stage this event. They had lots of children’s amusement park kind of things, live music, the fire brigade and other community organisations. Everything was wonderfully free, wholesome and family-with-children orientated.
Now I do not know if it was the family that I was with, or if it was right across the board, but at no stage did I feel the dreaded ‘them and us’ feelings that can be so synonymous with ghetto Christianity. There were people present who worshipped God through the church, people who worshipped him outside of the church and those who either didn’t know, didn’t care or for whom my boxes were irrelevant. Everybody was having a great time, the only major difference was that because it was organised by the town’s churches, they conveniently omitted the parts they did not believe in. It really was a beautiful example of church outside of her building. I loved every minute of it and began to understand why, from the view of an outsider, this town did seem so blessed.
I will give you another useless bit of information for naught as well. Those little monsters did look a whole lot scarier in the dark. Though I did wonder if the kids dressed up as superheroes were the Christian kids and if the ones dressed up as witches and goblins were, well in the non-Christian box; perhaps we had accidentally ghettoed our kids. This was the Bible belt after all and though I did not see a lot of evidence of it, apparently the distance between black and white can be quite large. But that is another subject.
So let me walk you a little through the hell-less hallelujah party. They had all kinds of stalls for the kids, for example; they had a fake cow and the weans had to lasso it. If you missed or if you succeeded you were given candy as your prize. They had five-pin bowling down a slightly concave gang-plank. It would have been harder to miss than to score a strike, but it didn’t matter, just bowling won you a sugar infested prize. Even jumping in the jumping castle got you a prize.
And this is one of the crazy and bizarre things about America… they love encouraging people. For me personally it is both weird and contagious. I mean picture this, little Texan Caleb is enthusiastically bowling that heavy bowling ball. He is a boy, so naturally he wants to smash those pins to smitherines. Just before he bowls, he trips and falls flat on his butt, the ball goes flying over his head, knocks out his little sister, bounces once, bounces a second time on the bonnet of his father’s Mercedes Benz pick-up truck then smashes through the front windscreen and takes out his terrified Granny. And there are his over-excited Mum and Dad, jumping up and down on the sideline shouting ‘At-a-boy son, well done, way to go, woo-hoo! We know it didn’t work out quite the way you wanted it to, but son, at least you gave it your best shot’. In the mean time wee Caleb is jumping up and down with excitement running after his candy. I know that this is an improbable situation, anyone knows that Mercedes Benz does not make pick-up trucks, but hey this is Texas, who cares? My point is still valid. Americans encourage, encouragement leads to confidence and that confidence can lead to a lot of really good things and not so good things. It also can lead to justifiably or unjustifiably invading countries, and here the mess starts to develop.
I have met so many beautiful, wonderful Americans living in different parts of the world, true almost all of them have been Christian and most of them missionaries. But the one thing almost without exception that they have in common is that they have left home proud to be American and now almost all of them in some manner seem to be ashamed of it. They have tasted the foulness of the world’s judgement upon them and have slunk away from their precious gift of encouraged confidence. Americans abroad call it the ‘big ugly American syndrome’. And it is true almost anywhere in the world, the loudest voice in the room usually supports an American accent, but this is not inherently bad. A great Kiwi artist(68) penned it this way; ‘You [America] have righteousness without humility’. And believe it or not, I could see the bud of this, watching kids trying to lasso fake cows. I could see the bud of international Americans having such a low self-esteem and I could see the bud of righteousness not tempered with humility leading the world into armed conflict over a world-view’s sense of what is right and what is wrong, or by what George W. Bush’s world-view coined as what is good and evil. And oddly enough this seemed to be exactly the opposite message that this wonderful hallelujah party was trying to portray.
And this party really was wonderful. I walked through a simulated house fire complete with real firemen and flashing alarms and I stood and listened to a band that was so bad that only the parents were listening. Well actually the band was quite good, but they were on the back of a truck under a tin roof with no walls and to add insult to injury, their sound set up was done very poorly. But they were a good band.
All the kids had a great time. By the time we left they were high on Halloween, high on life and high on candy. Each child left supporting an overflowing scalped pumpkin head full of candy wrapped up in Bible verses. But their Dad, my friend, one of the town’s local pastors, well he was happy that his kids were happy, but for him taking his kids out on a Friday evening is very much so work. I understand this totally, for me it is hard to leave work without leaving the country. Lithuania is a small enough country for me to know that at any time anywhere in the country I could be snapped into work mode. Once we were on holiday in a national park on the opposite side of the country, we rounded a corner and bumped into the summer camp of our orphanage kids. As lovely as it was to see them and as hard as it may be to understand, it was very much so work. When I finally allowed myself to leave these kids, I was once again dealing with the tragic events of the kids’ lives and the nation’s history that led them to be lost in state care.
The same was happening for my friend. Parishioners were jumping out at him every five minutes. Some were making a fuss over the kids, some were asking about church on the coming Sunday, others were trying to avoid him. His evening out with his kids and Kiwi friends was very much so work, work and work. All of the people treated him the same, on one side of their face he was a friend, on the other side he was their pastor. He was expected to be their friend and be totally relaxed around them, he was also expected to pastor their emotional and spiritual side as well as making sure that logistically everything was in order for Sunday morning. It was also very clear that he was expected to be the coolest man in town and to have the most perfect marriage with the perfect wife and adorable saintly kids. Though I missed most of it, I caught a little of the politicking, people edging themselves into position and letting out little disapproving manipulative comments aimed at turning situations to their favour. I mean this is our job, we mostly love pastoring, but I for one want to pastor out of relationship, not out of position. I want the freedom to live life, to screw up without being judged and to be loved as a co-heir with Christ to the kingdom of God. Perhaps we will hear more on this subject later.
Hang in there until next week to read about the Battlin’ Billies and my football game of the year.
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You may have noticed some bracketed numbers in this chapter. These numbers correspond with explanations and definitions that are in an accompanying glossary. To read the glossary you will need to by the yet to be released book. Sorry!
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Ta (Kiwi for thank you)