There’s the November rain. It held off through the last dying gasps of October, to my total amazement, as I was expecting to be standing at the Trunk and Treat, soaked and angry, handing out cups of cocoa to other angry parents and their crying children.
Instead the afternoon was balmy and the rain, though threatening, never kept its fitful promise. And so the highways and byways were filled with people—children, parents, friendly dogs on leashes, grandparents, teenagers. My cocoa station was well traversed and I nearly ran out of cups.
The whole time I wondered to myself what was the point—not in a brooding disconsolate way, but in the praying, how should one go out into the world way. After decades of Christians warning against the relative dangers of witchery and evil on a night apparently devoted to just that thing, it seemed a reasonable moment to look sideways at oneself and consider one’s own Christian witness.
What surprised me last night was the sheer number of people I got to say hello to. ‘Hello! Would you like some cocoa?’ I said it over and over. And then got to chat about the costumes and the weather and how nice it was that we were all together and what a fine night it was. Children wandered away with buckets and bags full of sugar and that was that. And then my children went out with friends, and people came to our door through the evening, and we just kept saying, ‘Hello.’
There’s so much talk these days, and I’m sure it is all needed, about loving one’s neighbor, and going on from there to love one’s enemy, but the thing I find hard about American culture is the total absence of being able to say hello at all, of the possibility of greeting another person. There is no formal way to offer a greeting to any of the people I pass by. If I go for a walk, I can trudge by people on every corner of every street and I must go by them without saying anything. When my actual neighbor walks in and out of his house day after day, not only is there nothing culturally required for me to say, but it is inappropriate, usually, to do anything more than nod, even a smile sometimes feels out of the way. Though I always smile, rebelliously, under the unfriendly glare of the other. This is a function of being in an urban—I hesitate to say city because we have fallen to the population level of a town—context, of course. But it is also because the west threw away its complex system of manners and greetings ages ago.
So what I want to know is, how are you to love your neighbor if it is not culturally appropriate even to greet that one? And if there aren’t some ways that makes cultural sense, then Christians should, if at all possible, rush out at least on Halloween and say hello to as many people as possible who aren’t normally there, who are usually shut behind their doors and their screens, uninterested in social engagement. We worry about how to share the gospel with a dying world, but my more basic worry is how to even say hello. If you can’t say hello, your gospel presentation will be said to someone who is not even standing there any more.