Thursday, October 31, 2013

Happy Halloween!

It's that time of year again--a time of mystery and excitement, of candy and costumes and monster movies. It's that time where, for one night a year, the rest of the world comes around to my way of thinking, enjoying my favorite genre ;)

As with every year, I've seen my fair share of posts and articles written by some of my Christian brothers and sisters denouncing the holiday and listing all of its pagan origins. Like every year, I've resisted writing my own massive write-up defending Halloween up until this point, because I get exhausted just thinking about it. Yet, I'm going to give it a try, not by discussing where Halloween came from (and it's a LOT of different customs and certainly not all of them pagan), but what it means today. What it's always meant to me.

First and foremost, Christ was (most likely) NOT born Christmas morn. Christmas has just as much--if not more--pagan origins as Halloween, and yet the Church has "redeemed" that holiday. So why not Halloween?

I think the bottom line is that people fear Halloween for the same reasons they fear the terror genre: Because it deals with monsters, ghosts, and goblins. All ghastly, unpleasant things that are spoken AGAINST in the Bible. This year, I received a pamphlet from a local church telling me that, if I were participating in Halloween, I was breaking the commandment not to summon and speak to the dead. If I were holding a seance on October 31st, I would agree with them. But, in the Mitchell home, no ghosts, spirits, or devils are being prayed to, conjured, or otherwise contacted.

The monsters of Halloween and the monsters of my favorite films are just not real. It's fantasy. More than that, perhaps, it's an artform. Haven't you been watching Face Off on the Syfy Channel? Watch as these artists craft the most terrifying and ghoulish makeups. It's fascinating! But, more importantly, it's all fake. No real monsters, here, guys. Just the images of them. Powerful images that, I believe, serve a purpose. But more on that in a minute.

I also read an article this year that assured me that a coven of witches gathered at all the candy factories and pronounced curses over every--yes, every!--bag of "Halloween candy" (how can you tell the difference between a Reese's given in honor of the occasion and an old bag leftover from September?) to administer to unsuspecting boys and girls to bring demons into their lives. Of course, I've also heard of preachers in the past revealing to their congregations that rock bands such as KISS prayed to Satan over every single CD before it went to stores--yes, every single CD! That must have taken a long time!!

Look, I don't want to belittle another believer's convictions, but guys this is just silly. Most importantly, it's superstitious. Wasn't it in 1 Timothy 4:7 where we're instructed to "Have nothing to do with myths and old wives' tales; rather, train yourselves to be godly"? I hear this verse quoted to warn AGAINST Halloween and yarn-spinnin', but I rather see it as a means of calming down the hysteric masses that believe there is some type of demonic conspiracy by candy factories to break down the Christian home.

I've heard testimonies of believers who were once caught up in the occult and this year is a painful reminder of their old bonds. As I've said in the past regarding the horror genre--if that is your experience, then by all means avoid it. I wouldn't encourage a recovering alcoholic to work in a bar. But, in keeping with that metaphor, the Bible doesn't say that it's wrong for Christians to drink--only wrong for them to get drunk. I feel the same can be said of Halloween night and the world of scary stories. Enjoy it, but don't over indulge. Dress up like ghouls, but don't actually start seeking to contact them. Draw that line between fantasy and reality and adhere to the real. 

So what are Christians to do about Halloween? In my experience, people get so caught up in the trappings of the holiday, or horror as a genre, and they see this frightening outer covering, but they never take the time to look underneath the mask to discover the REAL reason people are attracted to these things. I won't deny that Halloween is a macabre occasion. No other holiday is celebrated by televised marathons of endless movies of young virgins being chased by guys in hockey masks or bloodthirsty vampires. I turn it on Sirius satellite radio this time every year for the awesome old songs like The Monster Mash, but I also have to contend with the monotonous and sometimes annoying sound effect tracks of screams and moans and weeping. Not very celebratory! We're essentially celebrating death, right?

But where the detractors get it wrong, I believe, is that we're not worshiping death and darkness (well, I'm sure someone is, but most of us aren't). No, for one night a year, we face it, with eyes open. We talk about death, we share ghost stories, we dress like the things that frighten us. We adorn our houses in images of the grave and fright. This isn't a night to be afraid, though, this is a night to confront those things that terrify us the other 364 days of the year. For one glorious night, we look those monsters square in the eye--and then we exchange candy! We laugh, we run, we shout, we crow. In a word, friends, we live. We live on this night! In spite of the ghosts and ghouls prowling the streets, we live! We go to the spookiest houses, and the door creaks open, but only to reveal the kind, smiling faces of neighbors we may never talk to other than this night. We connect with our communities; we're sharing a collective experience, connecting to a communal memory of Halloweens past. This is a night of friendship, of family, of hearth and home.

My conclusion is simple: I say open your door to your neighbors tonight. There are children behind those costumes that need love--yes, the love of Christ. This is THEIR night, after all, just as it was yours when you were young and innocent to all the very real terrors of the world. Halloween is a marvelous night when all children are the same. The social or economic lines that divide us are gone for this one night. All they want is a kind smile, an encouraging word, and a handful of candy. I know from my own kids' Halloween experiences that these little ones are out there and some of them are terrified by the creatures they see roaming the darkened streets, but they're out there all the same. They've donned their masks of empowerment and are braving the night, facing death, fighting against their own fears. Reward them with an open heart and a chocolate, for goodness sake. Let them know that there are kind people in this world and that they don't have to be scared. Be there for them.

After all, it's Halloween. :)

Have a safe and happy night!

Tuesday, October 8, 2013

R.I.P. "Uncle Phil" Nutman

I've done a lot of reflecting today.

Last night I learned that horror writer--and my friend--Philip Nutman (author of the zombie novel Wet Work) passed away quite unexpectedly. He's been on my mind all day as a flood of memories have come back. I owe Phil a lot. And I mean, a lot.

I met him 10 years ago this Halloween. At the time, I was a fresh-faced writer and horror fan. I'd just read his short-lived run on the Halloween comics back when Chaos! Comics held the Michael Myers licence. I was a huge fan of those books as they were all about continuity and bridging the gap between Halloween 6 and H20. I wrote him and told him as much and expressed that I, too, was a writer and desperately wanted to follow his run on the Halloween books and pick up where he left off. Pretty bold words, but I was in my early twenties and didn't know any better. For his part, Phil was gracious and we were soon speaking on the phone, talking about Halloween, horror, and film. It was Phil who convinced me to get on a plane (for the first time) and fly out to L.A. (also for the first time) to come meet him at the Halloween 25th Anniversary Convention in Pasadena. That convention changed my life and marked my birth as a "serious" writer.

That was Halloween weekend, ten years ago this Halloween. Now Phil's gone. How much has changed in a decade...

When I first met him, he was a manic, disheveled whirlwind, whipping about--and all I could do was hang on and enjoy the ride. And what a ride. He became a mentor to me, calling me his "protege" at parties, while insisting I call him "Uncle Phil". He took me under his wing and introduced me to Hollywood. I learned real quick that everyone knows Phil in the horror community. He never ceased to amaze me with his behind-the-scenes stories for all my favorite horror movies, because he was there, right in thick of it, reporting for Fangoria Magazine. Phil who opened my eyes to the industry and taught me how to conduct myself. He was all bluster and swagger as he deftly navigated celebrities and filmmakers. He was my foul-mouth Obi-Wan Kenobi, and I was in awe of him. He was a horror rock star.

I'm sitting here, at a loss for words. I could fill a novella with all that Phil taught me. All that he's done for me. He served as my unofficial agent for a time, helping me pitch scripts around town. He critiqued my earlier scripts, never afraid to tell me when I'd missed the mark. It was thanks to him I sold my first short story. While that anthology eventually fell apart before publication, the story remained and became "Flowers for Shelly".

Today, I'm tumbling through memories. All the phone calls we had. The times we talked about more important things than writing, like family. Like faith. I remember how he loved to cook, referring to himself as "Chef Philippe", and used to berate me for enjoying McDonalds' so much :) Of all the things that I remember about Phil, the thing I remember most is how kind he was to me, when he had no reason to be. I was a nobody. Not a writer back in those days--just a wannabe. But he was there for me, coaching me, patient with me, doing his very best to see I got my "big break". Oh, he'd yell and curse and was quick to say when something was crap, but when I earned his approval, I knew I'd earned it. And I cherished that. He gave me confidence and made me feel special, and taught me to do the same to others. To be kind and charitable to everyone I met. This is a business of friendships, and I learned that from Phil.

I looked forward to his calls and, while we lost touch in recent years, I'll never forget the impact he made on me--both personally and professionally. I've thanked him a lot over the years, in public and privately, and here I am again, after he's gone, still thinking about him. Still thanking him.

It'll never be enough. Thank you, Uncle Phil.