Halloween, a day of scary things, is rooted in ancient Celtic practices of chasing ghosts away with bonfires and costumes. Catholics connected it to Nov. 1, All Saints Day, honoring people who overcame fear and bravely did good in a world too often tilting toward cruelty.

Still, the scariest thing about modern Halloween is the candy overload, so I stockpile non-edible “treats” and build a Halloween fire to frighten health hazards when “trick or treaters” knock. I tell people I caused the Oct. 31, 1991 blizzard because I feared being in school with sugar-hyper children the day after Halloween. That may be exaggerating facts to protect the innocent, but beware: the holiday is Sunday again in 2021.

“The Little Old Lady Who Was Not Afraid of Anything,” by Linda Williams, takes it all to a new level. An older woman, heading home from forest food gathering, is followed by a pair of clomping boots. She shouts, “I’m not afraid of you,” but begins moving faster. Then, one at a time she is trailed by wiggling pants, then a shirt, waving white gloves, a top hat, and finally a scary jack-o’-lantern. Each time she claims courage, but keeps running home to slam the door. Outside, all those scary items in disarray are screaming “BOO!” When the woman opens the door a tiny crack to say, “You can’t scare me,” the pumpkin head cries, “But, that’s our job. Please help us.” Whispering something, the woman closes the door, and next morning the scary items are assembled as a scarecrow to frighten off garden pests.

Oct. 31 pushes closely to Veterans Day, Nov. 11, originally called Armistice because the horror of World War I ended officially at the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month. For many years, bells rang worldwide at that ancient moment of power, coupled with a commitment to honor veterans by ending the suffering of war. Veterans for Peace revived that practice 30 years ago, and in 2018, 100 years from war’s end, even groups like the American Legion replaced their traditional 21 gun salute with an 11th hour, 21-bell volley. Jacques Goldstyn’s striking picture book, “The Eleventh Hour,” tells the scary truth about war at a level manageable for young children. Jules and Jim, childhood friends, grow up inseparable, even when they enlist in World War I. Together they endure war’s hardships, but their friendship ends (and Jules’ scary trauma begins) when Jim is killed, just minutes before the Armistice.

Long before Nov. 11 became Armistice Day, it was celebrated as St. Martin’s Day, honoring one of those Saints, a fourth-century Roman soldier converted to Christianity. “The Sword and the Cape” by Pamela Love wonderfully tells the story of Martin’s conversion, but omits his proclamation, “I am now a soldier for Christ. I can no longer kill.” Too many churches fear the implications of this story, but St. Martin did take on the practice of early Christianity, refusing to kill even in war. Other books do the same, but reading a book as a storyteller allows you the option of adding details or truths that are missing.

“Snow on Martinmas” by Heather Sleightholm says the converted Martin gave up his army career, choosing to live as a monk preaching the gospel. “St. Martin of Tours – Reluctant Warrior” by Ed Urbanowski says Martin managed to avoid battle, and finally helped the emperor win a peace accord. In it, Martin says, “The Lord is my Commanding Officer. I can no longer kill.”

Being a veteran/medic immersed me in the adage: “The first casualty of war is the truth.” Truth is the last thing that should die. Would that everyone, especially Christians, totally grasped the truth “Perfect love casts out fear,” captured in the Bible’s I John 4:18. Our world is a magnificent garden, to be protected by strategic worldwide collaboration, patterned after “fearless little old lady scarecrows.” We need massive, tough, perfect love that transforms killing into liberty and justice FOR ALL.

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