Rules

Many years ago, I took my young sons Trick-or-Treating. I would take them to the houses with the outside lights on and skip those that weren’t, following the traditional Halloween rules and teaching them to my children. Everything went as it usually does on Halloween – candy and costumes, laughs and glow-in-the-dark bracelets – until we got to the white house with the wrought iron fence. Lights were on, inside and out, so we went up to the door and rang the bell. No one came. After a minute, my son rang the bell again. “I can hear it ringing,” he said, but no one came. “Try knocking,” I said. No one came. After another minute, we walked away. “That’s not fair. They have their lights on,” my other son said. For several Halloweens after, my sons would talk about the rule breakers in the white house; oddly enough, they never said a word about the lights off houses. It was the rule breaking that bothered them, not missing out on treats.

The lights off/lights on Halloween house rule is a great way to know who wants costumed children at the door and who doesn’t. Most people abide by this rule because it’s practical and convenient, not because it has moral weight or importance. Breaking with custom or habit may make things awkward, but unless real harm is intended or inflicted, there is no need to harbor resentment. I suspect the same can be said for many of the social rules I hold dear.

When my sons came home from school today (high school and middle school), I brought up that Halloween incident. It took them a few moments to remember it, and they moved on to another topic within a minute. No negative comments, no judgment, and no interest in past sins. They had moved on. When a social rule I value is disregarded, especially when no harm has come, I hope I can do the same.

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Johnna

I am a Christian educator and writer.I have worked in churches, denominational offices, and seminaries. I have a PhD in Theology from Princeton Theological Seminary, with a focus on Practical Theology and educating in faith. In 2010, my book, "How the Other Half Lives: the challenges facing clergy spouses and partners," was published by Pilgrim Press. I believe that words can build doorways that lead to encounters with God through the Spirit.

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