(The Privilege of) Loving to be Scared

Published 10:38 am Saturday, October 25, 2014

As we approach the fastest-growing holiday on the calendar — Halloween — I want to take this space to share some thoughts about why Americans have such a love of being scared, and why this love places us in a unique spot in the world. In my lifetime, Halloween has gone from being a day celebrated by pulling together a costume from odds and ends around the house to a season that takes up most of October. The National Retail Federation (www.nrf.com) has seen the same kind of growth in spending on Halloween, which has grown from $5 billion in 2006 to an estimate of nearly $8 billion this year.

The growth of Halloween is tied to our love of a good scare. The Huffington Post recently ran an article titled, “This is Why We Love to Scare Ourselves Silly,” (http://alturl.com/sviig) that offers some illuminating ideas about why we love to be scared. The article cites a number of scientists who looked at everything from brain chemistry to bonding with friends as reasons we love to be scared, but the key was this: We love to be scared in a safe environment. Being scared is fun when we know that we are not actually at risk. In a society where most of us don’t really have much to fear, we enjoy finding ways to pretend that life is scary, dangerous and risky.

The thing is, we live in a world where the safety and security our haunted houses take for granted is a privilege many people outside of America do not enjoy. There are many millions of people around the world who do not need to find a scare in a Halloween haunted house because the life they live on a daily basis is filled with situations, people and jobs that offer genuine fear. Those who face true fear do not usually pursue manufactured screams.

One man who was in a church I served illustrates this beautifully. He was an intimidating-looking person. He towered over me (which is not easy because I am 6’1”) and had the long, gnarly hair and beard that made him look like a member of a biker gang, which he had been for most of his life. Honestly, he scared me a bit when I first met him, but that fear quickly fell away as I got to know him. I will never forget my conversation with him about his video collection.

It turned out that this man had the most extensive collection of Disney videos of any person I had ever met. In fact, his neighbor’s 4-year-old daughter was constantly coming over to borrow something. When I asked him why the only shows he watched were kid’s shows, he told me that he had seen enough death and destruction in his life that he did not want to watch any more. He wanted to watch something that would make him smile.

He also did not go to haunted houses. He had enough of fear when he was living in a biker gang. The beauty of his life was that he was able to choose to leave that life (it also had something to do with encountering Jesus, but that is another story for another column) and leave the daily fear it inspired. Unfortunately, many people around this world don’t have that opportunity. They live in fear because the people around them with power have made decisions that inspire fear. They live in fear because death, rape, abduction, hunger and illness are ever-present realities. The children showing up on the Texas border who are fleeing from drug cartels in their home countries are a perfect example. Fear is simply a way of life for them.

My hope is that as you enjoy your screams this Halloween, you would remember those who don’t get to pick whether they are screaming. Go ahead and enjoy Halloween, but enjoying it realizing that it is a privilege to be safe enough that you can enjoy being scared.

At Courtland United Methodist Church, we will be celebrating Halloween and fall in general at our Fall Festival this Sunday, Oct. 26, from 5-7 p.m. We will have candy, games, food, a bonfire, and maybe even a scream or two in a place where we are all safe enough to enjoy it. We would love to have you join us as we enjoy this time together. Wherever you find yourself this Halloween, remember that you are privileged to live in a safe society. Don’t forget those who are not able to choose their fear!

ANDREW BOOK is the pastor of Courtland United Methodist Church. He can be contacted at 653-2240 or andrew@courtlandumcva.org