Sunday, September 25, 2011

Reverse Haunted House

Today my church did something very creative. They called it a series of hidden experiences. The actual title was, "Captivated: A Heart that Burns". A prophetic interactive experience using scripture, art, and decorations. I was intrigued by the concept and so my fiance and I scheduled a time slot to go check it out.

You've all heard of haunted houses. You enter into the dark house and are led around by a ghoulish stranger. Stick your fingers in this and feel the slimy eyeballs and brains... come see the dining table still splattered with blood where the family who once owned this mansion were all slaughtered where they sat... Well, if there is such a thing as a reverse haunted house, "Captivated" was it. There were things to touch, taste, smell, and hear.

We entered the church sanctuary which had been totally emptied of everything except for a giant lampstand in the center of the room, with the cross clothed in scarlet cloth behind it. The aim was to have all of the visitors senses captivated by the Holy Spirit. The sanctuary was my favourite part, although it was more or less a "waiting room" as they wanted to take only two people in at a time. The peace in there was tangible and the environment was ripe for worship.

We were led downstairs of the church, which contained seven tableau-like stations. Not the stations of the cross, but rather separate rooms decorated much like a set. Unlike a haunted house, the goal is not to give you a thrill, but rather the goal is that you would enter into a full-body experience of deeper understanding of scripture, and position yourself to be ministered to by the Holy Spirit.

These were the stations:
The Bride who makes herself ready;
The Waterfall where deep calls unto deep;
The Burning Bush;
The River of the Cross Flowing to the altar of God;
Gold Refined by the fire (Revelations);
The Throne with fiery wheels and the scrolls of the Ancient of Days (from Daniel);
and The 10 Virgins (5 Foolish, 5 Wise).

After the last "station" was the Tent of Meeting, a place for soaking and resting. This was my second favourite place to be. In this tent there was a pillow-y bed, an "ark of the covenant", a small table where my fiance and I took communion and signed a guestbook.

Another interesting station was The shining cross, with a river flowing from it to the stone altar of God, upon which burned a fire. In front of the altar we were shown that there was a heart made from stone. We took the stone into our hands, it was cold and hard. We then downloaded our own hearts into that stone heart, (this was done silently unto ourselves), releasing into it our disappointments, our shames, our hopes, our longings, our thankfulness and our praise. As we clasped the heart it warmed in our hands. When we were done we place it on the altar, offering our hearts to the Lord. Worship music played, heavenly aromas filled the air. This station moved me to tears.

Prophetic words were ministered to us in the Daniel station, which portrayed God's Holy throne atop flaming wheels, with a pillar of fire before it, where thousands of angels minister to Him always. It was surrounded by the ancient scrolls of the Ancient of Days, and the Scroll of the book of Life was also depicted here.

Just like a haunted house (at least the ones I used to go to put on by my elementary school...), we left with goodies: A gold-plated rock from the Revelation station ("Come, buy from me gold refined in the fire, so you can become rich; and white clothes to wear, so you can cover your shameful nakedness; and salve to put on your eyes, so you can see." Rev. 318), and an oil lamp with two vials of extra oil from the 10 Virgins station.

I work at a very large supermarket, which currently has several aisles dedicated to Halloween crap. And I mean total garbage. Crappy polyester "costumes in a bag" for $30, dollar-store quality owls and crows whose black feathers barely cover the styrofoam underneath, skulls with glowing eyes, bloodied rubber arm stumps, plastic demon and monster masks, we even have fake chainsaws which whir, complete with blood splatters. Oh, and I can't forget my favourite of all, the shackled zombie prisoner, to hang on your door. He has a radar inside so whenever you walk by (which is often when you work there and have to clean the aisle every 2 hours) he is activated and cries out pleading with you to unchain him. "I won't hurt you, I promise! Pleeeeease, unchain me! They left me hear to die!!"

So why am I so stuck on this haunted house/Halloween thing? Because every time I walk down that aisle I get nauseous waves going through me as I see parents giddily taking their 2, 3, 4 year old children through the maze of total utter trash, all of it there for no other reason than to glorify darkness, death, and evil (and of course make money off it). Every time I walk this aisle a memory shoots to the forefront of my mind, one that still brings me conviction. It was several Halloweens ago, I was with my girlfriends for the annual Halloween parade on Commercial Drive in Vancouver.

We milled through the crowd of revelers pointing out costumes and mindlessly becoming one with the throng of thousands, I pushed back and ignored the nagging in my spirit that was reminding me that this night was a night of unspeakable atrocities, that dark forces are real and occult practices are not fun and games. Most people here could probably plead ignorance or disbelief, but I could not say the same for myself and I knew it. "Shush you!" I said, "I'm not doing anything wrong!".

We were distracted by the neon green Borat speedo when it happened. We bumped into a group of Christians who came down to the parade, not to participate in the reverie, though they looked like they were enjoying themselves, but to pray for people in the name of Jesus Christ. I instantly knew that's what I should have been doing. Bringing light to the darkness as we are called to do. So yeah, maybe I wasn't doing anything wrong. But what was I doing that was right? I wasn't hurting anyone, so who was I helping? No one, not even myself. For in the end, I will have to take accountability and there will be no excuses. How did I demonstrate the light? And what, what really, was my excuse?

So this is the thing about that Halloween aisle at work, and the peeled grape and spaghetti brains haunted houses, and the mob of costumed celebrators who don't even know what they are really celebrating. Proverbs 24:11-12 pretty much says it all:

"Rescue those being led away to death; hold back those staggering toward slaughter. If you say, "But we knew nothing about this," does not he who weighs the heart perceive it? Does not he who guards your life know it? Will he not repay each person according to what he has done?"

That Halloween aisle is the opposite of everything that I as a Christian propose to promote in this dark world. Philipians 4:8 leaves nothing to be misinterpreted about how we are to act in the face of unrelenting death culture. "Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable--if anything is excellent or praiseworthy--think about such things." The previous verse reminds us of two benefits of obeying this command.

1) If we put this into practice we will feel God's peace which transcends understanding.
2) It guarantees the safety of our most precious possession... our hearts... will be guarded (Proverbs 4:23, "Above all else, guard your heart, for it determines the course of your life.")

Philipians 4:9, "And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus."

Without getting into the environmental psychology of it, supposedly people love haunted houses because it is a safe place they can experience fear. Unfortunately this is done by exploiting peoples fears of death, darkness, and evil. The fear comes because as they focus on these things, the peace leaves them and their hearts are exposed to the darkness. But there is a good fear that requires no exploitation of hearts, and that is the Fear of the Lord. Awe at His goodness and love, his might and his wisdom.

This was the reason I appreciated the experience of Captivated, it cultivated the Fear of the Lord by focusing on whatever is good. As my future husband and I held the stone heart representing our own hearts as one we felt the weight of it, the texture of it, the temperature of it. It brought home to me the importance of my heart and it's safekeeping. Through this experience I have been reminded that it is so much more spine-tingling to immerse yourself in something that is totally pure and true. It can't compare to allowing yourself to meddle in the tepid pool of "not wrong, but not right".


  1. Thanks for commenting on my blog, and for bringing this to my attention. I think the concept is a neat idea. But I would hesitate to call it a "worship experience." I come from a different Christian tradition, where frankly I would be somewhat appalled if my church did this in place of worship. If these tableaus were done as something completely separate from worship, in the manner that living nativities are usually done, then I would be perfectly fine with it. But there is something, I think, that is dangerous about mixing "experiences" and "tableaus" (which some might classify as "entertainment") with divine worship.

    Here is why: divine worship, i.e. corporate worship, is where God comes to us in his Word and Sacraments. There is no Scriptural evidence that the Holy Spirit can strengthen our faith through visual and tactile experiences. I really don't mean to judge someone else's efforts to worship as "wrong"... But somewhere in the midst of all that pretending, becoming immersed, and trying to discern a message from each tableau, the body and blood of Christ were physically present. It seems a bit too much like a funhouse or theme park to serve as a setting for the means of grace. It's just such a bizarre contradiction that I can't think of an appropriate comparison.

    Were your experiences fun, immersive, emotional, enlightening? It seems so, and there's nothing wrong with that. But that kind of an experience should, I think, be kept separate and distinct from corporate worship, where we receive God's Word, are strengthened in faith by the Holy Spirit, and receive forgiveness of sins through Baptism and the Lord's Supper.

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