Costumes Required: When Church is a Halloween Party

A scary-good reflection from our friend, Scott Brand! The fall is wonderful. I spent the […]

Mockingbird / 10.27.15

A scary-good reflection from our friend, Scott Brand!


The fall is wonderful. I spent the last five years living in the perpetual summer of Florida weather, so being back in the Midwest for the leaves changing has been a wonderful recovery of the wonder of Autumn. I can wear sweaters and jeans without losing a few pounds of sweat. It makes sense to eat hot soup. Football season is matched by football weather. However, in the midst of apple picking and frolicking in the leaves, a sneaky thief comes to destroy the goodness of October–Halloween.

Now, don’t get me wrong. I am not an anti-Halloween-because-it-is-of-the-devil activist. I don’t mind the holiday because I feel it promotes the Satan worship or, worse, Harry Potter[1]. My dislike for Halloween is more personal in nature.

I hate finding a costume.

As a child, my siblings and I were prohibited from Trick-or-Treating around the neighborhood (my parents claim it was because of the abundance of allergies my brother and sister have and not, as I have long suspected, because of a large dose of James Dobson). Instead, we spent that night gorging ourselves on bottomless steak fries at Red Robin, followed by sneaking around our house with the lights off to discourage any children from coming to ring the doorbell of disappointment. As a result of these choices, costumes were never a priority for my family. We would dress up for school, but it usually ended up being a last-minute costume that was actually just my baseball uniform from the previous summer. One year I was a “boxer”, meaning I wore my dad’s bath robe, some large gym shorts, and carried around a pair of over sized boxing gloves that my dad received as a white-elephant gift.

Year after year, when I would walk into school for the Halloween parties, the insecurity would seize me. Every other student, it seemed, had spent a long time curating their costume, making sure it was as authentic as possible. In my mind, I went to school with professional Cosplayers, and I alone was throwing together a costume just below the level of a bed-sheet ghost.

Unfortunately, I did not leave this insecurity in elementary school. As I have stumbled into adulthood, Halloween parties have become more and more elaborate. It’s no longer a matter of matching the characters from your favorite movies. A premium has been placed upon the wittiness and topicality of a costume. Got a Donald Trump costume? Better make sure there is a pun involved. A dinosaur is only acceptable if it’s making a statement about how bad the most recent Jurassic Park movie was.

Last week, I received an invite to go to a party on Halloween from a fellow seminary student. As I was reading the description of the event on Facebook, I came across the last line and broke out in a cold sweat: “Costumes Required.”

I was talking with a friend recently and I commented that I find the idea of dressing up and pretending to be someone else exhausting. Why would I want to spend time thinking of a costume when most of my life is spent curating the one I already wear on a daily basis?

So much of my time is devoted to keeping together the costume I hope will get me into the party of approval. I wear the mask of “sleep-deprived seminary student” to hide the emotionally exhausted expressions of depression. I’m currently sewing together the coat for my “I’m fine with being single because Jesus is all I need” ensemble. It’ll go great with the theologically-sound pants that cover up the skid marks of doubt in my underpants.

I sometimes wonder if this isn’t the thing that keeps most people from wanting to be around the Church. Why would they want to step into a place wearing a costume of “having it together for Jesus” when they spend the rest of their existence perfecting a costume for a different audience? There is no rest there. Just a different mask to put on.

When I put on my costumes and parade around my community, showing off how put together I have made myself, I am essentially handing others an invitation to a party with a final line of condemnation: “Costumes Required.”

The face that bears the scars of depression needs to be covered by the mask of silver-lining-focused joy. The hands and arms that show the signs of addiction need to be covered with sleeves of a victorious testimony.

Lady-Gaga-frog-dress_lFor those of us that have been coming to the party for years, it becomes a Cosplay contest of spirituality. Moralism is passé, especially in my circles, so that’s not a good option. A Tim Keller costume better have some sort of witty line about his theology. The ironic Creflo Dollar in a toy plane costume will really show off how aware you are of the faulty prosperity gospel.

I bounce through costumes more than a Lady Gaga concert, hoping that one will give me the feeling I so desired in elementary school of standing in the midst of my costumed friends, but this time without shame. I can put together a new outfit almost overnight.

What would happen if I took my costumes off? What would happen if my scars were exposed, my nakedness revealed, my shame uncovered? Would others follow suit? Would I get kicked out of the party?

The only thing that could get me to drop the costume (which looks a lot like Adam and Eve’s fig leaves) is the Gospel–the good news that my admittance to the party is guaranteed because Someone else spent his life and death perfecting me a beautiful robe of Righteousness. A robe that has no room for my polished costumes of law-addicted tribute to better versions of myself. In that robe, I stand unashamed. And maybe someday I will believe it.

I still don’t know what I’m wearing to that party on Saturday. In all honesty, I’m hoping I can send this to the person planning the party as a petition to allow me to come without a costume (although I’m pretty sure it won’t work).

I wonder if my dad still has those boxing gloves.

[1]Before the hate mail comes in (I’m flattering myself), I am a lover of all things Harry Potter and could beat any of you in the Trivial Pursuit game that accompanies the books and movies.