Archive for the ‘Faith’ Category

Celebrating Halloween Doesn’t Make Me a Bad Christian –The Meaning of Halloween

Sunday, October 8th, 2017

I once saw a guy in my office printing out drawings of jack o’lanterns with a line through them. At first, I wondered what he had against pumpkins. How can any parent not like a smiling vegetable?Kate Dolan writes about the meaning of Halloween Then I read the message under the picture “Sorry, no trick or treat. This house is washed in the blood of the lamb.” While it might sound like they were unable to give out treats because they’d been visited by the gory villain from a horror movie, instead they were trying to say that they wouldn’t give out candy because celebrating Halloween violated their Christian beliefs. While I recognize that they’re entitled to that opinion, here’s why I think they’re wrong. I do not believe that Halloween is an anti-Christian holiday and in fact the meaning of Halloween can actually reinforce Christian truths.

First there’s the name. “Halloween” is a shortened form of All Hallows Evening. It is a the eve or night before All Hallows Day. This is a Christian holiday more often referred to now as All Saints Day and it is a time for remembering the most hallowed Christians. Many people think the word “hallow” has to do with the occult because of Halloween imagery or Harry Potter’s “deathly” hallows. But really nothing is further from the truth. Remember in the Lord’s prayer, we say “Hallowed by thy name.” It is a term of reverence and respect. So the eve of a feast honoring the saints is not a pagan celebration.

But, many are quick to point out, the Christian name All Hallows Eve was just pasted on top of a pagan celebration. And that is probably true. Celtic pagans celebrated the feast of Samhain near the cross quarter day which is halfway between autumn equinox and winter solstice. It marks the end of the bountiful harvest season and the coming of the dark winter months. Thought to be a time when the boundary between this world and the next was quite thin, the days were marked with feasts and offerings to spirits to ensure survival through the long winter.

Kate Dolan writes about Halloween decorationsWhen Christian missionaries tried to convert pagans to the Christian faith, they often found it difficult to encourage their converts to give up pagan celebrations. After all, most of us love a good party. So instead of cancelling the celebrations, they changed the reason for the celebration. And All Hallows Eve joins a long list of Christian holidays in bearing that distinction, including Christmas (winter solstice) and Easter (spring equinox).

The ancient Celtic druids may have believed that they were setting out offerings to ward off evil spirits. They may have carved jack o’lanterns and dressed as spirits to confuse unwanted visitors from the otherworld. They were not trying to invite evil or encourage it but rather survive the coming wrath of nature. In any case, these days people who dress in costume, carve pumpkins and put up scary decorations are certainly not trying to invite the damned into their homes. Most of us are just trying to add a little novelty into our lives and shake up the status quo a bit.

We live in a society that ignores death for the most part. We react with horror and sadness and then quickly turn away. Other societies have not been so fortunate, whether due to war, famine or disease, death was an everyday possibility. When we in our modern whitewashed culture put up skeletons and ghosts, we acknowledge that death exists and sooner or later it’s coming for all of us. It is the great equalizer. And it’s not pretty. The gore of Halloween reminds us that we can only ignore our mortality for so long. I think that’s a good thing.

Kate Dolan writes about Halloween as a ChristianAnd of course Christians can celebrate Halloween for other reasons. We have been freed from fears about death and fears of the dangers of evil spirits. We can celebrate that freedom and even make fun of our pagan past. Don’t get me wrong – I’m not saying evil doesn’t roam in this world. I’m just saying that we now know that carving a pumpkin or dressing as a spook isn’t going to drive it away.

So if you believe in the promises of Christ, I think you can celebrate Halloween with a clear conscience. Likewise, if you choose to stay inside and keep the candy for yourself, you’re free to do that, too. But don’t be afraid that a pagan lurks behind every Halloween mask, because that’s simply not true.

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Years ago, Christmas used to be the time when friends and family would gather together and tell ghost stories. Inspired by this, I wrote a story about a scary Christmas tale that starts to come to life in my Christmas novella Bride of Belznickel.

 

 

 

 

Perils of the Private Eye

Monday, September 25th, 2017

Remember the hard boiled private detective? The private investigator hired to save a client wrongly accused of some heinous crime was a staple of page and screen for many years. But in our casual-Fridays world, the detective who stood out for wearing a cheap suit is long gone. Characters solving crimes these days usually work in law enforcement or serve as consultants to the police.

So when I started writing Christian cozy mysteries, why did I decide to make my sleuth Karen Maxwell a private investigator? The obvious answer would be that I didn’t know what I was doing. But I prefer to think that I did it to challenge myself.

Here’s why it’s a bad idea to use a private detective in a modern mystery.

  • First of all, there is no such thing as a private detective. Detectives work for the police. “Private eyes” work for investigation firms, and most of their business consists of doing background checks. Clients often hire investigators to find who out who’s stealing from them, but they don’t hire them to solve murders. So if the lead character is a private investigator, she’s not going to be solving murders, and most people pick up a mystery expecting to find at least one or two dead bodies lurking in the pages. But this situation actually this works in my favor. I tend to write with a lot of humor and it just didn’t feel right to have characters snarking at each other over breakfast cereal while people are dropping dead all over town. So my cozy mysteries have dead parrots rather than dead people.
  • The second problem with using a private investigator as my fictional crime solver is that a competent investigator already has a pretty good idea “whodunit” by the time he or she goes out to a site to investigate. There may be a couple of suspects, but nowhere near the number of red herrings that are required to sustain a good cozy mystery plot. What’s my solution to this problem? I deviate from reality here and have my investigator spend more time “undercover” than a client would realistically pay for.
  • A third problem with using a private investigator as my fictional detective is that most investigation work these days is done on the computer. If I write a story where the heroine comes to the office and sits in front of her computer for eight hours, it’s not going to be much fun to read even if I have her associate turn the coffeemaker into a Feng Shui aquarium. My solution to this problem is two-fold. First, I skip over most of the computer stuff. Second, I would have Karen get even with her associate by doing something like covering his motivational posters with banana stickers and sardine labels. It may not advance the plot, but at least it’s a change of pace.

Of course, there are some advantages to using a private investigator. For starters, it gives my heroine a reason to get involved in the first place. I don’t have to make my character a busybody or know-it-all—she gets involved and starts asking questions because that’s her job. And because it’s a new job and she’s not very confident about either her abilities or her status in the firm, her insecurity creates a sense of tension. The job provides her sole source of income and a chance to rebuild her confidence after a disastrous divorce. So if she fails to solve the mystery, that failure would be devastating.  While the books are intended to be entertaining and share a Christian message, there is a serious undercurrent about a woman rebuilding her life and sense of self worth.

So while I would not recommend that other writers use professional private investigators as the main character in a cozy mystery novel, I think it works for my offbeat suburban soccer mom mysteries. I hope you agree!

Thanks for reading!

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The Karen Maxwell mysteries are available in ebook in all formats through a variety of online retailers. Book three in the series, Roped In, is also available in print through online retailers. The first two books are out-of-print but print copies are available through Authors Den. Click on the covers to learn more about each book:

K.D. Hays's Christian mystery George Washington Stepped HereK. D. Hays has a new cover for Worth its Weight in Old

 

 

Rodent extortion and other ways to celebrate February 2

Tuesday, February 2nd, 2016

Happy Cross Quarter Day! Today we celebrate the fact that we are halfway between Winter Solstice and the Spring Equinox. Okay,  in the age of electric lighting the Cross Quarter is not a big deal for most of us, but every day closer to summer is a victory in my book. Plus, back when people lived their lives by the cycle of the sun, it was really something worth celebrating. And what better way to celebrate than with large furry rodents?Kate Dolan explores the history of Groundhog Day

Groundhog Day itself seems to be an American tradition, but for centuries before Punxsutawney Phil made his debut, some Europeans celebrated this highlight in the calendar by watching bears, hedgehogs and badgers.  The legends say that if these animals see their shadows (i.e., it’s a sunny day) then we will have six more weeks of winter weather. If they don’t, then spring is supposed to start.  Germans brought these traditions with them to the United States, and of course Americans turned the idea into an opportunity for commercialism and extortion. During Prohibition, Punxsutawney Phil supposedly threatened everyone with 60 more weeks of winter if he couldn’t get a drink.

Another popular old festival from this time of year comes from the Romans, who celebrated the birth of their god Mars by parading through the streets with torches. Out of these pagan traditions, we ended up with Candlemas Day, which is supposed to commemorate the day of Jesus’s presentation in the temple in Jerusalem. People would bring in candles to be blessed for the year. They also made weather predictions such as the one in this popular English poem

“If Candlemas be fair and bright,
Winter has another flight.

If Candlemas brings clouds and rain,
Winter will not come again.”

Like many other church holidays, Candlemas was probably devised to justify continuing a popular pagan celebration. The appeal  of candles and torches is obvious at a time of year when we’re longing for more sunlight. The appeal of the animal weather forecasting doesn’t make quite as much sense, but then part of the tradition of Groundhog Day used to involve eating the groundhog after  it came out of hibernation, so a rodent feast could have spurred that part of the tradition.

Candlemas is known as el Día de la Candelaria in Spanish speaking countries, where celebrations can last as long as a week. Coming 40 days after Christmas, Candlemas marks the official end of the Christmas season. It also coincides with St. Brigid’s Day in Ireland, based on the pagan goddess Brigid whose feast was known is Imbolc.

So this holiday may have more names than other on the calendar. Pick one and celebrate, with or without rodents. Just don’t threaten me with any extra days of winter.

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For some interesting stories about about Candlemas Day and all its permutations, check out http://episcopaldigitalnetwork.com/ens/2013/02/05/candlemas-and-dia-de-la-candelaria-shine-in-new-light/ http://amamariesimard.tripod.com/id16.html.

Why Do We Care that it’s Friday the 13th?

Friday, February 13th, 2015

Many superstitions date back to the medieval days when people believed that you could tell if your neighbor was a witch based her buoyancy in the local pond. But the “bad luck on Friday the 13th” thing doesn’t show up in lore until fairly recently. Why?
My guess is that someone was bored. I can just picture an older obnoxious brother who noticed two “unlucky” features coinciding on the calendar and deciding to terrorize his younger siblings with stories of all the horrid things that could happen on that rare day.

Kate Dolan writes about the first bad Friday

A bad Friday

Both the number 13 and the day Friday developed reputations as being unlucky, but there is not much reference to this reputation until about 200 years ago. Starting in the 1800s, reports circulate about people who were afraid to begin a new task on a Friday, sometimes going to great lengths to begin on Thursday night so that any work on Friday would be merely a continuation of work and not a new beginning. (more…)

Put Death on the Schedule

Friday, January 17th, 2014

The mourning process is a surreal and awkward experience in modern American society.  That shouldn’t come as a surprise. They pointed out to us in Sociology class (the only class required for all seniors when I was in high school) that our society doesn’t really “do” death.

Do we need to go back to this standard?

Do we need to go back to this standard?

We don’t even use the word, except with respect to cars. I can tell people that my minivan “died” at the stoplight. But my Dad “passed away.”  Even dogs are “put to sleep.”  Our loved ones aren’t allowed to die. We can say they are “no longer with us.” But then someone is bound to remind us that loved ones are always “with us in spirit.”

Well, maybe they are some of the time. But most of the time, they’re not. They’re gone. A dead person is dead. And we need to accept that in order to move on with the rest of our own lives. Signs, reminders, feelings of closeness – they’re all great. But if we focus on searching for connections to the dead, we never truly mourn the loss of the connection. And we should.

Because the loss is real, however much we may tell ourselves that so and so is “with us in spirit.”

Grief may seem selfish at times, and that’s okay. The dead person is no longer in pain, no longer dealing with the cares of this world, has moved on to be with God. Isn’t it selfish to wish them back? Yes. We should go ahead and do it anyway. It’s not like wishing is going to reincarnate loved ones unless we go all “Pet Sematery” about it. What we are really grieving is the loss of connection, and while that is self-centered, it’s natural and part of the healing process. And we owe it to the people we cared about to heal and get on with our lives. No soul wants to go through eternity feeling guilty because his death caused someone else to tether themselves to a memory and miss out on the flow of life.

So we have to stop for a while and grieve in order to move forward later. It’s a little bass ackwards, but then, so is life overall. What makes it even more awkward is that the time to stop and grieve is not measured, at least not in our current society. Other cultures, or even our own in an earlier age, had rituals and customs that were expected to be followed by families mourning the death of a loved (okay, no one cared if anyone actually loved the deceased—just say a closely related) family member.  There were ways to dress, things to do and not do, for a specific amount of time. Artificial? Yes, but it allowed time to accept the loss and provided a pretty constant reminder of it. I don’t advocate a return to the required wearing of widow’s weeds and restraints on socializing, but when our society lost those rules, it also lost the sense that mourning is a process we need to experience, and it takes time to get through it.

When my dad died last month, many people expressed condolences (which I gratefully accepted even though I’m not really sure what they are). And people excused me from the responsibilities of day to day life—until the funeral was over. Then it was back to normal (except for a few friends  who seem astonished that I’m not a blubbering mess 24/7). My boss sent a nice fruit bouquet, but then expressed surprise that I was behind on my work after ten days absence at the office. Everyone still expects me to work on committees, attend meetings, plan events, promote everything and in general carry on as if I hadn’t  just experienced a major transition in my life. In fact, they expect me to be even more efficient than usual, to make up for the time I missed.

But in reality I need to move slower for a while. I’m not going to spend hours blubbering. But I need extra moments here and there for contemplation. I need time to reach out and connect to others experiencing the same loss. People send cards and flowers, but I wish they could send me time instead.

They can’t. I will just have to take it.

And I will be selfish and mourn some of the time.

My dad deserves it. And I do, too.

Good news, for a change

Monday, March 4th, 2013

Boy Scout Troop 306 in Catonsville has a long tradition of presenting a bouquet of roses to the mother of a new Eagle Scout. At the troop’s most recent Eagle Scout investiture ceremony, however, flowers were presented to both the scout’s mother and his wife. And the new honoree had the obligations and responsibilities of an Eagle Scout read to him by his own sons, both now in college and both Eagle Scouts themselves.

Troop 306’s newest Eagle Scout waited 35 years to receive his official recognition.

Troop 306's "newest" Eagle Scout Dave Warshaw flanked by his sons Bill (left) and Jimmy and wife, Gay

Troop 306’s “newest” Eagle Scout Dave Warshaw flanked by his sons Bill (left) and Jimmy and wife, Gay

His story should be the basis for a movie, because it’s a heart-warming tale with a wonderful message. But the hero demonstrates the rather pedestrian traits of forgiveness, faithfulness, loyalty and long-term service—and exhibits none of the angry drama nor achieves the glamorous overnight success that seems to be required for an exciting movie.

That it is not exciting makes it no less wonderful, however.

In 1978, Life Scout David Warshaw of Troop 306 presented himself for his Eagle Scout Board of Review. Like other scouts before and after him, Warshaw had worked years for this day. Statistically, only about 2% of all boys who enter Scouting reach the rank of Eagle. To do so, a Scout must prove himself in a variety of leadership roles, advancing through the ranks of Tenderfoot, Second Class, First Class, Star, and Life by serving and leading other boys in the troop and learning and proving new skills through the attainment of merit badges. A Scout must earn 21 merit badges before being eligible to become an Eagle, many of them requiring months of supervised work. After a Scout has earned the required badges and served in at least three major leadership positions within the troop, he is ready for the final element, the Eagle Scout project. This is a project chosen to serve the community that is planned and managed by the Scout, who must recruit crews to complete the work. When it’s finished, he evaluates the process and the work itself, and presents himself to a board of leaders who review his project and his career as a Scout and determine whether he is worthy to earn the rank of Eagle. It all must be completed before he reaches his 18th birthday.

Very often the Scout will approach the board as a raw jumble of nerves, and the members sitting in judgment may loom with stern demeanors and fire off seemingly endless questions. But in the end, if the Scout has truly done the work represented, he passes the ordeal and becomes an Eagle. His family and troop celebrate together with a special ceremony, the Eagle Scout Court of Honor.

Dave Warshaw may have been imagining his own ceremony that day in 1978 as he stood before the Board of Review. But something went wrong. Instead of congratulations, Warshaw was told that due to procedural errors, his Eagle application was not approved. Shocked and devastated, Warshaw returned home knowing that he was forever denied access to the brotherhood of those devoted to scouting.

No one would have blamed him for being bitter. No one would have blamed him if he had ranted against the Scouts and spoken out against them at every turn. Instead, he served them.

Fast forward to fatherhood. When his oldest son Bill enrolled in Cub Scouts, Dave took on leadership roles within the pack. He continued in pack leadership until his youngest son Jimmy bridged up to Boy Scouts – to Troop 306, the same troop that rejected him. Dave soon became Chairman of the Troop Committee, putting in hours every week to grow the troop and make the boys’ experience adventurous, positive and uplifting. He not only encouraged his own two sons to continue on the path of work and service to advance through the ranks and become an Eagle, he also enabled many other boys to do so. Today he still serves as an advisor to the troop, participating in events and leading outings. Has he shown any bitterness? No. It’s a great example of forgiveness in action.

And finally, his faithful service was recognized in what may be the world’s first ever surprise Eagle Scout Court of Honor.

As his birthday approached, Dave figured his wife Gay was planning something. There were a few too many text messages from people who would normally text him instead of her. So when he walked in to Dimitri’s restaurant last Saturday night, he expected to find a few friends and family waiting to celebrate his birthday.

The friends were there and the word “surprise” did not surprise him—but what did surprise him was that there were so many people and that two of them pulled him aside to put on the shirt of his scout uniform. Then they showed him the banner that read “Congratulations Eagle Scout David Warshaw.” This was no ordinary birthday party.

Thirty-five years later, Warshaw was finally awarded his Eagle pin. In fact, just like Dave, the pin had been waiting for recognition since the 1970s. Current Troop 306 Committee Chair Mike McDonal found the silver pin while going through boxes of scout stuff in Catonsville Presbyterian Church, which has hosted the troop for over 100 years. He knew Dave’s story and spent years working behind the scenes to convince those in headquarters to grant the award. The hard work eventually paid off, but once the success was achieved, McDonal and Warshaw’s wife Gay decided to keep the secret a while, until after the Warshaw’s youngest son had a chance to celebrate his own Eagle Scout Court of Honor. She planned the surprise ceremony for her husband on his birthday, and it may have been the best present he ever received.

All the Scout leaders in the room, all the friends, all the family—everyone there knew that Dave Warshaw epitomized what an Eagle Scout should be. They already considered him to be of that rank. Probably the only person in the room who didn’t consider Dave an Eagle Scout was Dave himself. But now it’s unanimous. Congratulations to Troop 306’s “newest” Eagle Scout.

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photo by Don Martin

A leopard changes its spots

Friday, February 22nd, 2013

My neighbor has decided to convert to Catholicism. That’s not news in most cases, people convert all the time. But the neighbor I’m referring to is not a person, it’s a church. St. Timothy’s (soon to be formerly) Episcopal Church, to be exact. With a sanctuary that dates back to 1855, St. Timothy’s is one of the oldest churches in the region and controls a large chunk of land in an area that has otherwise been parceled up into small lots. It’s not surprising that a church with so much tradition should also have a core congregation with very traditional conservative beliefs who have been distressed by the not-so-conservative decisions of their governing body. What surprised me is that they were able to do something about it.Kate Dolan has been a neighbor of St. Timothys for neary twenty years

The governing body concerned is, or rather was, the Protestant Episcopal Church in the United States of America. That group, usually just referred to as the Episcopal Church, was formed after the American revolution when the Anglican churches separated themselves from the Church of England (or were kicked out, depending on who you talk to.) Clergy in the Church of England are required to swear allegiance to the King of England as head of the church, and that wasn’t going to happen with clergy in a country that fought for eight years to expel the authority of the king and his evil minions.

So now, 200+ years later, some of those congregations are voting to pledge allegiance to the Catholic Pope in Rome.

How can they do that? Why would they?

I don’t have a full answer to the first question. The Christian Post reports that the congregation voted to leave the Episcopal Diocese and join a Roman Catholic Ordinariate, which is a group formed for former Anglican churches who want to be part of the Catholic church while still retaining their liturgy and tradition. St. Timothy’s is not the first congregation to take this step–two others in the Baltimore area did so last year. The article includes a picture of the former Anglican priests being ordained as Roman Catholic priests, so presumably that is what will happen with the rector of St Timothy’s Church as well. Unfortunately, according to the article, the church will lose its extensive property as part of this move, since they were unable to “reach a settlement” with the diocese as other churches had done.

Why would they take such a difficult drastic move? I would have to say conviction. We’ve lived adjacent to the church (they literally own half of our front yard) for nearly twenty years and in that time spoken to various members, officials and three different rectors. As religion editor of the Catonsville Times, I read their newsletter every month for ten years and frequently interviewed members and staff about events and activities. All the people of St. Tim’s had one thing in common – a strong committed faith to serve the Lord in the manner that they thought best. Each time the governing Episcopal leadership voted in a manner contrary to their beliefs, it seemed like a knife in the side. I think finally they just had enough. They didn’t feel that they could serve God under the mantle of a church that they see as having strayed from the principles of Biblical teaching. (Of course, it was the Roman Catholic church’s straying from Biblical teaching that led the whole formation of the Protestant faith in the first place. These congregations are coming full circle.)

I will be very curious to see how this all works out — and who will take over my front yard.

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Information in this article comes from The Christian Post http://www.christianpost.com/news/md-episcopal-congregation-votes-to-join-catholic-church-90521/.

The title of the articles refers to Jeremiah 13:23

 

 

Grace to Gephyrophobiacs

Friday, September 14th, 2012
Kate Dolan stops at the gift shop on the Chesapeake Bay Bridge Tunnel to take pictures

The view from the Chesapeake Bay Bridge Tunnel

Did you know that God lowered a bridge for me? And not just any bridge, either. It was a 17 mile expanse across the mouth of the Chesapeake Bay. A bridge so long it has its own restaurant right in the middle in case people with bridge phobia (like me!) need to take a break. That I made it that far the first time without driving off the side in complete hysteria is still a minor miracle to me over ten years later.

Gephyrophobia is the scientific name for “bridge phobia.” In my case, it’s only a real problem if I’m driving over a high bridge. For some people, gephyrophobia is linked to claustrophobia and fears of being trapped. Not in my case, though. I just seem to have this sense that I’m going to swerve and drive right off the side of a bridge if it gets too high or goes on for too long. (more…)

Football and faith

Monday, January 9th, 2012

I’m not a big sports fan though I do enjoy watching my hometown Ravens and Orioles. So why am I now writing about the Denver Broncos? It all comes down to faith.

“First of all, thank you Lord.” That’s what I heard when I turned on the TV this morning.  Tim Tebow spreads faith through footballBecause I live with a husband and son who are avid football fans, I’ve managed to hear quite a bit about Tim Tebow over the last couple of months. We were in Denver (searching the radio band for the Ravens game) when Tebow lead his team to victory over Kansas City in a game in which he completed only two passes.  Sports commentators talked about him nonstop for weeks. In one discussion I heard the panel of sports experts ask “are you a believer?”– meaning – do you believe this quarterback who can’t seem to throw a pass can lead his team to victory? (more…)