Meddle not in the affairs of holiday dragon displays…

I know it’s a bit late for the most popular winter holidays, but I thought I’d weigh in on this one that went viral enough to be featured on at least one national (US) news outlet.

Friendly Atheist (among others) reported on a rather unconventional holiday display involving dragons. Diana Rowland tweeted a photo of the display and a letter from a “holier than thou” type neighbor saying the display would be “only marginally acceptable at Halloween” but “totally inappropriate at Christmas” along with the worn-out line that “[her neighbors wonder if [Diana] is in a demonic cult”. Where this neighbor gets his/her authority to judge acceptable way(s) to celebrate the winter holidays, as well as his/her knowledge on demonic cults, is not mentioned. Diana’s opinion of the neighbor who left the letter is mentioned, though, with the highlight being “judgy-mcjudgyface”.

What I personally would take exception to here, is the assumption that it is Christmas that is being celebrated with this display and not one of the dozens of other winter holidays. (And you know what they say about assumptions. Hint: look at the first three letters of the word.) I mean, I’m pretty sure I can rule out Boxing Day, Hanukkah, and Kwanzaa, but this could easily be a display for Yule or Saturnalia. Or, Diana could be starting a new trend and observing a day in December (could be the 25th, could be some other day) as Day of the Dragons. That’s how these things start, right? Doesn’t someone have to be first? Does one necessarily have to be in a “demonic cult” just to be a bit different? Isn’t that the reason some of the colonists came over to begin with (persecution, specifically for religious reasons)?

Diana, of course, did the responsible thing: she added halos to the dragons. And added more dragons, too. She also cited a Bible passage about mystical creatures which seems to fit the description of the dragons rather well. I think Diana did rather well given she has no obligation to alter her holiday display to fit some random neighbor’s idea of what a holiday display should be.

The alternative tack is, of course, “Of course this display is not appropriate for Christmas. Neither is, say, a giant menorah and dreidel, or [insert other non-Christmas holiday symbols as desired]. Why do I have to observe all the same holidays you do?” Personally, that’s my style, calling out the assumption out for what it is, and making the person writing an anonymous letter look like the fool (s)he is.  It’s unfortunate that this is the only way some can learn that some people observe different beliefs and different holidays than they do.

Church vs. mom, all over a Halloween costume

I ran across this story in my drafts folder and considered just deleting it like about 50-75% or so of the stories I make draft entries for and never get around to turning into actual posts. On one hand, this story is months old, and nothing new has happened in this story since February. However, in a broader sense, however, the issue of intolerance is still very relevant and timely and is a topic that cannot easily be ignored, and I believe this story should not be simply forgotten. It is for this reason I decided to go ahead and post about this topic, even though it may appear to have gathered a visible layer of dust.

In an article in The Pitch, a local Kansas City area news outlet, the story of a needlessly ugly dispute between a mother and her church is told. The story quickly got national attention (as you can see by the embedded video from the Today show).

From the beginning. On 2010 November 2, Nerdy Apple Bottom (Sarah) wrote this post about her son’s Halloween experience at a church preschool. Sarah made a command decision as a parent that if he wants to dress up as a female character for Halloween, that’s his decision. Three moms at the church preschool apparently chose to make a huge issue out of it.

Before I get into this, I’d like to note it’s a bit of a surprise here to see a church doing anything special for Halloween at all. I have heard of some churches going as far as to call it “the devil’s holiday” or the like. I fail to see how dressing up in costumes is in any way related to devil worship. It is interesting to note that many so-called “Christian” holidays actually have pagan roots (for example Yule began as a pagan festival but was absorbed into the Christian holiday and renamed Christmas).

Quoting the post:

We walk down the hall to where his classroom is.

And that’s where things went wrong. Two mothers went wide-eyed and made faces as if they smelled decomp. And I realize that my son is seeing the same thing I am. So I say, “Doesn’t he look great?” And Mom A says in disgust, “Did he ask to be that?!” I say that he sure did as Halloween is the time of year that you can be whatever it is that you want to be. They continue with their nosy, probing questions as to how that was an option and didn’t I try to talk him out of it. Mom B mostly just stood there in shock and dismay.

My reaction to the story up to this point is a bit unusual. It actually made me quite disappointed I never tried to dress up as a female character for Halloween when attending my Baptist private school when I was younger. I guess my desire to “break the mold” had yet to fully develop by fifth grade (which the last year I attended this school, and that summer coincidentally began the beginning of a 6½ year stretch where I distanced myself from organized religion and became a “devout Atheist” — my words at the time, which I know is a contradiction in terms).

I like how Sarah handles the reaction of Mom A and Mom B, and defends Halloween as the one day a year a kid can choose whatever costume he or she wishes. (And yes, I realize adults have Halloween parties too.)

Continuing on:

And then Mom C approaches. She had been in the main room, saw us walk in, and followed us down the hall to let me know her thoughts. And they were that I should never have ‘allowed’ this and thank God it wasn’t next year when he was in Kindergarten since I would have had to put my foot down and ‘forbidden’ it. To which I calmly replied that I would do no such thing and couldn’t imagine what she was talking about. She continued on and on about how mean children could be and how he would be ridiculed.

Really, Mom C? I have a radical idea for you. Why don’t you let Sarah raise her kids, and you stick to raising yours? Being ridiculed is no reason to give up on expressing oneself. It does not matter whether it’s Halloween in preschool, or making a work of art as an adult.

But it doesn’t end with the pure hate and bullying from Moms ABC. No, the story goes on and the plot thickens. On November 4, the blog post goes viral, getting picked up by news outlets all over the world. The following day, Sarah gets a call from the pastor at the church. The day after, the pastor decided Sarah had broken the 8th commandment by “bearing false witness”. On November 8 (two days after that), Sarah gets a text message from the pastor while she was in New York City for the Today Show, then another call the following day (November 9) to schedule a meeting for the next day (November 10).

Sarah writes this rebuttal on November 16 appropriately titled “Not necessary, but I’m doing it anyway.” Here are what I consider some of the more quotable quotes from that second post:

1. […] I am just as shocked as you are that this went viral. If I could have predicted this would go viral, I would also have advertising on my blog and possibly a high paying job at an ad agency.
[…]

6. […] [Boo] will hear this story for the rest of his life. And be totally bored with it by the time he’s 8. And if someone brings it up 10 years from now, it will be because a mean parent held onto it for a decade. And that’s a problem in and of itself.

7. I did not stop parenting that day. Boo will be raised to not bully, to be who he is, to be kind, to be able to handle himself in all kinds of situations. He is a strong child. He will be a strong adult.

After all that, there’s a long window (over two months) where Sarah has no contact with the pastor at all. Fast forward to 2011 January 26, the second and final meeting at the pastor’s office, which Sarah discusses in detail in a post entitled “Epilogue”.

More than 2 months later, I was called in for another meeting. Upon arriving, he started talking about my need to apologize to the women I had slandered. He read aloud to me from a brochure on Peacemaking, underscoring the fact that I needed to apologize. I disagreed. […]

For an hour and a half he spoke to me as if this was my fault, […] He continued to accuse me of libel and slander, told me I didn’t have a “free ride to talk about others,” and that I needed to apologize and reconcile.

I was offered 4 steps to restore my relationships with Moms ABC:

  1. Write Moms ABC an apology with an example of how to word it.
  2. Take down the Halloween post.
  3. No longer write or speak of these women regarding my “accusations.”
  4. Consider taking the entire blog down.

So now it becomes obvious that the pastor’s motivation here is censorship and humiliation. I am glad Sarah chose not to do so; bullies loathe people who choose to defend themselves.

Indeed, the pastor’s “offer” here seems to be at odds with Mark 12:31:

The second is this: “Love your neighbor as yourself.” There is no commandment greater than these.

The pastor’s sentiment here, from my point of view, is one of pure hate. It’s completely opposed to any sense of love. For that matter, so is the sentiment of Moms ABC: pure hate, pure intolerance, pure vitriol. All over a kid’s Halloween costume. When I look at it like that, I realize just how silly this is.

Moms ABC had an excellent chance to turn this into a lesson in tolerance and respecting the decisions of others, on what it means to be in a free country like the US, and the meaning of “I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it.” (as penned by Evelyn Beatrice Hall, in The Friends of Voltaire, commonly misattributed to Voltaire himself)

And, obviously, they blew it.

Here in 2011, there are brave and spectacular parents like Sarah out there, that were the best parents they knew how to be. I hope when I look back on posts like this in a decade or two, that the offspring of the spectacular parents made more of an impact over the years. I believe, given enough time, good will triumph over evil, and as (possibly mis-)attributed to Edmund Burke, “All that is necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men do nothing.”

Every time an authority figure like a pastor convinces a good mom like Sarah to retract a blog entry and apologize for a parenting decision that’s the least bit controversial, we all lose. I’m confident Boo (and Sarah’s other children) will grow up to be great people and I wish the family the best.