I once watched "The Exorcist" (behind a chair with a coat over my head). It was still scarring. It's all Wayne's fault. He was a hottie on campus, or at least a hottie of my era, when a mullet was considered cute. My roommate and I were following him. (Actually I was - my roommate never thought mullets were hot.) Wayne headed into the movie theater and we followed, not realizing that the movie was "The Exorcist." I am one of those special people who never watch scary movies. Scary includes the likes of "The Legend of Sleepy Hollow" and "Monsters Inc." I've screamed during both of them and probably scared more than one small child.
So there we were, trapped in the makeshift theater on campus with "The Exorcist." We soon realized this was way beyond my capacity to handle. I'm not sure why it made more sense to huddle together behind the chairs with the coat over our heads instead of leaving, but it did make sense at the time. We listened to the movie and I have to admit that I picked up some good lines that I still use, and every now and then we would peek around to see Linda Blair's head spinning. That was enough to ensure a sleepless night for me.
All of that is to say that I don't do well with scary movies, but I am coming to see their value. I once had a teenager tell me that she watched horror movies so she would learn not to be scared. Years later as she confronted an abuser in her life, I wondered if those horror movies helped give her courage.
We are approaching the season of ghouls and goblins. Lutherans don't normally freak out over the spookiness of Halloween (even though we do kind of freak out that Americans spend $16.9 billion on candy and gum). Halloween is, in many ways, about confronting our fears. We dress up to mock death and evil. Kids also score some good candy out of it, but in our family we talk about confronting the darkness that is growing, we talk about the celebration of All Saint's Day that follows on the heals of All Hallow's Eve and we talk about Jesus' great command, "do not fear."
The guy I follow says "do not fear" almost as much as he talks about love. Somehow I think they go hand in hand. Jesus is continually chastising the disciples' for their fear. Love casts out fear, and fear has the ability to cast out love. I don't watch scary movies to practice being courageous, but I do pray, I do worship, and I actually practice dying. I try to practice those moments of laying down my life, letting go of control, and trusting Jesus' words: "Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled, and do not let them be afraid."
Tari Stage-Harvey is pastor at Shepherd of the Valley Lutheran Church.