Dancing the dance. It can be perplexing and, quite frankly, draining.
We want and need to protect our children. In that service, some parents label Halloween as “of the devil.” I understand why. Too many dark themes. When we label such themes “of the devil” and do not expose our children to those themes, we hope that our little ones’ precious and fragile minds won’t become contaminated. Or, we convince ourselves that if we can just block such disquieting motives from bubbling up to the surface, if we can bury the fears, aggressive impulses, and twisted fantasies deep enough inside our children, then those inner forces won’t later haunt them or unduly drive their behavior.
These beliefs are half true. I’ve already shared in the previous article how I wanted to protect my own son’s mind from one movie’s horrific vignette of disembodied talking heads. And how I was pretty miffed that Walt Disney introduced my boy to the fact that mommies die. No doubt, some young parents have had similar reactions to a mother’s death alluded to in Finding Nemo. Or the outright depiction of a father’s death, Mufasa’s, in the movie The Lion King. Now, as a grandparent, I want to protect my grandchildren. Having said that, the problem—our problem as parents and grandparents—is that Halloween’s dark themes are realities. Fears and twisted fantasies from without and from within—from howling winds to the violent scenarios within the human heart to death itself—are all realities our children actually do contend with. Whether we creatively play out those realities on Halloween or not, whether we sing songs about the wind and bats, dress up as evildoers, or drape skeletons on our fences or not, the fears, the confusion, and the fantasies remain real. They won’t go away. Avoiding won’t equip. And parental denial just buries the children’s machinations deep within their hearts, only to knock them off balance later as teenagers or adults.
One troubling way our children can emerge off balance in young adulthood is in being precariously naïve about dealing with life. I’ve witnessed teenagers who came from backgrounds where the parents and church leaders not only intentionally avoided dealing with the deeper matters of the heart, but also tried to suppress any expression of them. Sadly, both parents and leaders alike had not equipped them. So when the children left home to go to college, many of them “popped the cork,” acting out through sexual exploits and intense alcohol abuse. They had no idea what to do with the impulses within them—impulses stirred, though not created, by the campus culture around them. Others who did not act out nevertheless remained blind and ignorant, tied up in knots, not knowing how to cope with their peers…or the broader culture confronting them through television, movies, and the internet. The fact is, not equipping our children to deal with the forces inside them—or the culture’s often warped expressions of those forces—can lead to any one of a myriad of problems later on, including anxiety, depression, “anger management” challenges, sexual repression, and social isolation, as well as acting out through promiscuity, gambling, or drug and alcohol abuse. Such patterns, once set up, can last a lifetime. Incredible. Naiveté is dangerous.
Many parents intuitively know all this. They know it is not wise to simply suppress the strange thoughts within the child’s heart nor outright pretend that these dynamics do not exist. That’s why they use nightlights. They intuitively know that a nightlight softens the darkness, which softens their children’s projections of their inner machinations…helping them be less disquieted by what already resides within them. Those same parents willingly face the sin within their children when, for example, they see one sibling hit another. They teach them how to love—training them to be kind and generous over against the dark motives of jealousy and violence that broil within. (I discussed how to do this at some length in the Coach’s Corner). And these parents also accept that their young children are not logical thinkers…not yet anyway. Their precious ones don’t have enough information to sort out their reality. So the parents, including my wife, wisely use mini-dramas, songs, costumes, and parades to help their young children master what they have to contend with.
The fact is, Halloween’s dynamics are life’s dynamics. And all of life is a Rorschach. Our propensity to project our childish fears, our aggressive and morbid fantasies, and our magical thinking onto others and the universe around us continues throughout adulthood. The Celtics, Romans, and medieval Catholic Christians did it—and so do we.
The Celtics believed ghosts exist. People in Jesus’ time did as well. They thought at first Jesus was a ghost. But he wasn’t. Still today, many Christians think life after death is a ghostly existence. And innumerable secularists believe many houses are portals into an invisible world of disembodied human beings, easily trusting seemingly credible reports of strange phenomena. They believe…but do so without much effort to think logically. Or without doing the arduous work of actually “connecting the dots.” John Edwards played off such childlike thinking with his television series Crossing Over, becoming wealthy by acting as if he could magically connect with those on “the other side.” We’ve had television programs about human and animal spirits that roam attics and basements. We’ve had movies that try to scare us with apparitions. We’ve also had Ghostbusters that helped us master our fears by making fun of it all…just like some do on Halloween. While it is wise to be open to all possibilities of what reality might actually be, we still need to logically connect the dots of our experiences. And we need solid evidence, not tantalizing fantasy. That’s why some do paranormal research. But we adults too often think magically, just like little children. And reality draws that out of us, appearing enchantingly mysterious, as if its Creator were David Copperfield.
Basements and attics—and an occasional hotel—aren’t the only sources of our hauntings. Like Scrooge with his ghosts of Christmas past, we are haunted by our own ghosts from our distant past. We sometimes react to our loved ones with fear and anger as if they were poltergeists. Our marital arguments are too often “shadow boxing” with such phantasms. Like the child’s projection of fears onto the nighttime curtain of darkness or the client’s projection of conflicts onto the formless inkblot, our spouse becomes the “inkblot” or “curtain” onto which we project our childhood drama of emotional pain fashioned in us by unskilled parents. That’s why our “buttons get pressed” when our loved ones do or say certain things—and why we’re willing to pour out a hundred dollars’ worth of reaction onto a dime’s worth of situation. In the extreme, it’s why some spouses fight incessantly without resolution. And why spousal and child abuse happen. Projections of such parental ghosts from Christmases’ past is a major cause of divorce.
Talking about loved ones…how is it that women had to fight for so many decades for the right to vote?
Sociologists’ offer many reasons, among them are the ways men viewed—and did not view—women. I suggest the bottom line about how husbands and fathers viewed their loved ones is that these men didn’t ask and answer the key questions: Just who is my wife to me? And who is my daughter?
The fact is, husbands didn’t get to know their own wives and daughters. That’s at the heart of misogyny in the suffrage issue. Not that husbands necessarily hated their wives or daughters. Rather, they didn’t get to really know them…and chose not to. They didn’t connect the dots of who sat right in front of them at dinner. Or to whom they made love. Not knowing what these dear women were really made of—the richness of their minds, their full range of skills, and their incredible potential—husbands made things up, like “my wife is too ladylike to dirty herself with politics.” Or “my daughter isn’t bright enough or wise enough to make such worldly discernments.” Such presumptions were simply contrived fantasies—cultural ghosts projected onto the inkblot of their loved ones in order to manage their inner male world. The ghostly projections had little to no basis in reality. These men didn’t look at the evidence of who women really were. Nor did they think logically about the fact that their wives and daughters were people too. Not really knowing their loved ones, they became fearful and angry about supporting their right to vote…about unleashing the power of their own wives and daughters into the world of politics and economics. A voting wife would be a feared wife, a Skeletor, a potentially evil and destructive character roaming the community. According to social scientists, men believed a voting woman would become the mysterious toilet monster, flushing the men’s sane politics down some frighteningly unknowable abyss. Or the howling wind, bringing down their economic houses. Or the unmanageable bats in the night getting into their hair—incredibly annoying on one hand but bringing the fearful prospect of a rabid bite on the other. Question: How many Christian men across this land considered the Apostle Paul’s take that there is neither male nor female in Jesus Christ? And if equal in Jesus Christ…if truly equal…then equal how in the game of life?
In a classical hymn which speaks about the amazing grace we have in Jesus, John Newton described himself as a wretch. Newton likely penned those words as he came to terms with his own wretched projected nonsense onto slaves. Newton eventually made the transition from slave owner to abolitionist. Somehow, he caught the apostle’s vision that there was neither slave nor free in Christ—and that such equality mattered in the nuts-‘n-bolts of life.
Yet, here in America, whites—including Christian whites—owned, beat, used up, and violently destroyed blacks. Like husbands in the suffrage issue, whites deliberately chose not to get to know blacks. They chose not to connect the dots of their slaves’ humanity. They chose not to face their own dehumanizing machinations projected onto the curtain of slavery’s darkness. While attending church—while affirming Jesus as Lord of truth—they chose not to square off with the truth of their own brutally violent impulses acted out by ripping black children from their parents and beating slaves. Continuing to deny what lurked within their hearts after slaves’ emancipation, whites chose to shadow box with the truth, lynching blacks who yet remained the inkblots for the whites’ projected fantasies, fears, and rage. Incredible, the power of the mind to deny truth. And the power of the Christian mind to resist the Spirit of God.
All this played out until some whites’ exercised courage to get to know blacks one-on-one. Or respect them from a distance, like Frederick Douglass. Or more recently, Martin Luther King, and now President Obama. We also had to wait for the bigots, who refused to repent, to die off. As whites got to know blacks, and blacks got to know whites, logic and evidence—truth—replaced the childish intrigues that once drove the Jim Crow laws. Still, the primitive dynamics continued until the 1960’s. Americans lynched a couple thousand more black men, women, and children than were killed on 9/11 in the Twin Towers. Whites cut off blacks’ fingers, ears, and testicles. Such violent scenes were just as or more horrific than any haunted house on Halloween or the sadistic fantasies of young children, like my own little boy who pictured cutting off his mom’s head and baking it in the oven. However, those sadistic dynamics that emerged in my son’s mind for a very brief moment captivated whites’ minds for their lifetimes. And—it is those same violent little boy dynamics that have captivated the imaginations of dictators and terrorists worldwide for millennia.
Caitlyn Jenner. Who is she? What are the forces within Bruce that give rise to such incomprehensible cravings to be a gender your own body is not? What? I wonder how many Christians have made fun of Bruce-become-Caitlyn? I’ve already witnessed several. We mock what we do not know. We denigrate what we refuse to understand. We fabricate when we do not see. It is no news that many have concocted either laughable or dark images of the transgendered, as they have of gays, lesbians, bisexuals, and transvestites. They then react to those images with fear, disgust, anger, and sometimes outright hatred. But they’re reacting to projections—to their own imaginations, not real people. Whatever one’s adjudications are about what is or is not normal in the LGBT community, or what is or is not sinful (and I am not addressing those concerns here at all), the fact is, magically transforming people into scary ghosts and then reacting to them as such is the very definition of prejudice.
The ability to create and then project fictions—whether between European whites and Native Americans; whites and blacks; men and women; straight and gay; Nazis and Jews—is rooted in our early childhood. Projections are childish substitutes for reality. They’re made up. Fabricated. In dealing with life’s mysteries and with one another, we often reach back to the kid in us to make stuff up. We abandon our education. We don’t use our skills to think logically. Or search for the hard truth. Halloween reminds us parents and grandparents that we ourselves really do need to keep putting in the grand effort to think like adults. On important issues, we must not make things up because we’re frightened; or make things up because it’s titillating; or make things up because we’re childishly naïve…and lazy. The apostle Paul reminds us of the same:
When I was a child, I talked like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I stopped those childish ways.
(1 Cor. 13:11; NCV)
To say the obvious, before we can equip our children and grandchildren to face truth, we need to equip ourselves.
All this from Halloween. The richness and challenges of this holiday are the richness and challenges of life. But we’re not done yet. We still haven’t addressed: As our children get older, how do we equip them? What do we do with our children who push to watch The Walking Dead?