What the Bible Says About Ghosts

I’ve not posted anything this week because I’ve been busy researching the topic of this post for a message that I delivered to my students last night. With Halloween here, I’ve been talking to the youth about the existence of the supernatural, and specifically the evil forces within the supernatural realm. I mean, the month sort of sets itself up for the topic, right?

What has been hard is the research. Despite the fact that Christianity does believe in the existence of a personal devil, the Bible itself doesn’t lay out who the Devil is in the way a novel might; instead you have to sift through different and difficult passages, many of which are not labeled “About The Devil”. You have to do some digging, and you have to rely on not only the traditions of the faith, but on the scholarship of those who’ve gone before you.

However, this isn’t to say that the Bible is all coded up when it comes to Satan. Not at all. In fact the clearest passages on the existence of the Devil are found when Satan was given permission to torment/tempt two of God’s favorite people: Job and Jesus Christ.

As I said to the kids, you may think that Satan is a metaphor, you may believe that it’s merely a tool the church has used to keep people in line for 2,000 years, but the historicity of Jesus Christ is not in doubt. He existed. And according to the Bible, He encountered the Devil in person.

In other words, if you believe Jesus is real, you have to believe that Satan is too.

What does this have to do with ghosts, haunts, spooks, specters and things that go bump in the night? Everything. Supernatural phenomena have to be caused by something supernatural, and what’s more supernatural than the Devil?

Anyway, the embedded video at the top is my presentation on one of the most fascinating and illuminating chapters in the Bible – at least, illuminating on the subject of the paranormal, that is. In 1 Samuel 28, the deposed king Saul seeks out a medium to channel the spirit of the deceased prophet Samuel.

I’ll let the video speak for itself, but let me say this: the Bible does reveal that ghosts are real, and can be channeled. But it also says that humans should never consult those to have that ability. Instead, we should seek the counsel of God.

Here’s the PDF notes (The Bible and Ghosts) that go along with the video, so if you’d like to follow along, or maybe use this for your own small group discussion, feel free.

Also, if you’ve got a question after watching this – or if you just think I’m way off base – feel free to comment below. I’ll answer anything thrown my way.

Birth of a Saleswoman

It's fundraising time!

I’ve not posted on the exploits of Ella in good while, so I thought I share her latest adventure with you. As you might recall, she started Kindergarten this year, and so far she’s loved every minute.

At least, I think she has. I wouldn’t know – she won’t talk about school. It’s like she’s one of the kids from Sleepers. Or, better yet, like she’s been through R2I training(resistance to interrogation) led by former Spetsnaz commanders. I ask her how her day went, and all I get is name, rank, and favorite cereal flavor.

But last week things changed. She came home with a special note in her folder: Fund Raiser (sic).

Now, I personally like what her school does – instead of selling useless items like chocolate, wrapping paper, and other assorted cheap knick-knacks, Trip Elementary sells coupon cards that get you discounts at local retailers. For $20.00 you get over $100.00 in discounts that can be used over and over again through the course of a year. It’s a pretty snazzy little deal.

But liking the fundraiser and actually liking the fund raising are two separate things.

I hated fundraisers when I was a kid. I was shy, a bit unsure of myself, and the thought of going door-to-door and soliciting potential rejection was about as pleasant as the thought of being dragged naked through the girl’s locker room during gym. Even in elementary school I recognized the futility of trying to sell people crap they don’t need or want at prices they weren’t willing to pay; so when other kids were somehow able to con people into buying hundreds, and in some cases, thousands, of dollars of that dreck, I felt a strange sense of shame – as well as a fair certainty who some of my future political representatives would be.

Thus, when I saw the Fund Raiser packet, I began preparing my speech on dealing with life’s disappointments, because I knew that when the first person rejected her, she would fall to pieces like an Congressional budget.

Ella, however, was completely excited for the opportunity to sell stuff, another reminder that she only gets half of her genes from me. We haven’t had the chance to do some door-to-door schlepping before tonight, so when I came home from work, Ella met me at the door, her little fundraiser cards in her hands.

“Please, daddy,” she begged, “can we go outside and give these cards away?”

I agreed, with the stipulations that we would be selling the cards for money, not giving them away, and that we would head out after dinner, a concept which bugged her to no end.

“Why can’t we just go out now, daddy? The people’s houses are there.”

“Yes,” I replied, “but just because the houses are there, it doesn’t mean the people are. If we wait until after dinner, we’ll have a better chance of catching people at home.”

“But we’re home now,” she countered.

“Yes we are. But we’re strange.”

Ella agreed to postpone our inaugural sales jaunt until after dinner, and I was glad; personally, I was terrified that she would get rejected right off the bat, and I wasn’t sure how either of us would handle it. Because of our history, we’ve been very cautious with Ella; I won’t say we’ve been overprotective because we actually give her a fair amount of liberty to try and fail at things on her own. But we, and by we I mean me, have always been a little leery of how people might treat our daughter. The unknown in so much of human interaction scares me, because it means my little girl might get hurt.

It’s a silly fear, I suppose, but it’s one of my biggest when it comes to my daughter making her way in the big, bad world.

I tried to prepare Ella for the eventuality. “You know that not everyone is going to buy a card from you, right?”

“Why not?” she asked.

“Because not everyone will have the money.”


“And some people just won’t want one of the cards.”


“And you know that, just because someone tells you ‘no’, it doesn’t mean they don’t like you.”


“And it’s okay to be disappointed if you don’t sell any cards, but you don’t need to feel like something’s wrong with you.”

“Daddy, quit being weird.”

So, with that stunning sales pep talk out of the way, we headed out the door. Jon decided to join us, so both of them hopped on their bicycles (which sucked for me because a) Jon can’t really ride his; he requires me to push him in order to make the bike go and b) Ella can ride her bike really well and has no problems just taking off and leaving me in her wake) and we hit the first house.

I made Ella practice her sales pitch during dinner. I didn’t tell her what to say; instead, i asked what she thought she should say.

“I’m selling cards because I want to see a BMX show” was her first pitch. It turns out, kids who sell at least five cards get to see a special BMX exhibition at her school.

I told her that people might not find that a compelling reason to buy.

“Okay, then how ’bout, ‘This is for my school. We need money.'”

What can I say? She’s her mother’s daughter.

We settled on, “Hi! My name’s Ella, and I’m selling these cards to raise money for my school.”

I won’t bore you with the details of each and every stop, but I will tell you that my daughter, my Kindergarten princess, rode up to each and every house without me having to prompt her, parked her bike in front of each door, rang every doorbell and handled every pitch ON HER OWN. The only time she looked for me was when she forgot the price, or when someone asked her how the cards worked.

Otherwise, my kid went at this all by herself. And she sold cards at the first three houses she went to.

“This is easy!” she chirped after her third sale. “Let’s get more people’s money!”

Sadly those first three houses were the only ones she sold to. The other five houses we hit were like a Newt Gingrich Gay Pride Parade – no one there. Ella wanted to keep going; I finally shut her down and said it was time for her bath.

Eight houses, three sales, one very grown up daughter. I didn’t feel compelled to cry, but I did marvel at her independence and just how much Kindergarten has given her a confidence boost. I guess when you realize that you can learn to read, or do simple math, or color inside the lines, the world seems your oyster.

Of course, part of her success is attributed to the fact that she is one very articulate, and very cute, kid. But who cares? I watched my daughter take on the world, and it felt pretty darn good. Sure, there’ll be someone who eventually tells her ‘no’ but I’m not really worried about it. Somehow, I don’t think there will be that many.

After all – you’d have to practically be dead to say ‘no’ to a face like this:

Hello Kitty: The Last Day of Childhood

The Destructor has been chosen...this freaking anime cat will take away my daughter's chldhood tomorrow morning.

Tomorrow morning, I will wake up earlier than usual. I will most likely have to rouse my daughter from her bed and usher her into the kitchen, where we’ll begin our normal morning routine. Only it won’t be normal anymore. There will be changes.

She won’t have the option of starting her day with her usual televised friends. She won’t be able to lay about in her nightclothes, playing with her dolls or ponies, until her mother or I insist on her getting dressed. Chances are she won’t even have time to bug her little brother. Ella will get dressed, get fed, put her hair into a bow, and together we’ll walk up the street to her bus stop.

Tomorrow, my daughter, bedecked in Hello Kitty, will say goodbye to the only life she’s known.

Over a single night, all that my family has known will change. And it will be a significant shift, one that will not correct, one that will not return to us except in brief stints known as winter, spring and summer break.

I was doing okay with that reality for the past few days, but much like the evening before major surgery, or your wedding, or any other life-altering day, I’m starting to feel a little less confident and a little more wistful. Almost panicked, even.

Do all people experience these kinds of shifts in the same way? Is it the singular feature of parenthood to feel more acutely those changes in your child’s life that signify maturation? I looked at the faces of other parents this morning at church and couldn’t detect any anxiety on their parts. But I could feel my heart beating wildly with each minute slipping by. I watched Ella play with her friends after the luncheon at our church and all I could think about was that at this same time next year she would be a completely different Ella. She wouldn’t be a precocious pre-K girl anymore; she would be something other, something undefined, something unpredictable.

Something foreign.

Of course that’s only true if I neglect to undergo this metamorphosis with her, and there is a real part of me that wants to scream, “No, this can’t be happening!” I feel as if somehow some giant, faceless force is attempting to wrench my little girl from my hands and take her somewhere I cannot go.

But the truth is, if I do not follow her on this new path, it will not be because I was forbidden; it will be because I chose to stay behind, cradling the past as fiercely as I once held her. This scares me because I can see the temptation of it and feel the pull towards that choice, but I know if I pull back and hold onto my memories of Ella’s early childhood as the basis for how I see and interact with her, I will lose her twice. Once, because she will move on and grow up and become herself as she is meant to be. Twice, because my memories will fade and, having made no new ones, I will be left with a dissolving image even more foreign and frightening than I could imagine.

So I will wake up tomorrow and get her out of bed. I will hold her longer than I normally would because I know that it will be the last time I can pull her into my embrace with the guarantee that nothing will happen to her unless I let it. I will crave that sense of protection that has safeguarded us both, even while we both knew it was a facade. I will let her go, my heart ripping to pieces and rebuilding itself only to rip into pieces again, and I will fix her a Pop Tart. Or a bowl of Cocoa Krispies. Or a bag of Frosted Flakes. Or maybe even a stack of pancakes, though I doubt that because she’s not really been into pancakes recently (just one more sign of the advancing of time). I will hurry her through her breakfast because, for the first time in her life, she will have a schedule that she must keep, a schedule that is enforced by a new entity that is greater than mom and dad and must be obeyed. She will have to dress and get medicine and brush her teeth and check her backpack and put on her shoes and clean her room and trek the Green Mile to the bus stop where her life, her young and frail life, will be forever changed by the opening of those big yellow doors and her first steps onto the Cheese Wagon.

In short, tomorrow morning I release my second-born, first-surviving child into the maws of the masochistic rat race that consumes us all with the same ferocity, while simultaneously losing my own divine illusion of control.

Two innocences for the price of one.

I can hear her singing now, a random yelp to herself and her friends “the Stuffies” that means nothing more to me than the very essence of her purity of soul. I hear it, and I tear up at the thought that some bruiser of a fifth grader may make fun of her tomorrow in the hallway. I hear it and I fill with rage at the very notion that someday some clumsy oaf will make an advance against her will and quite possibly she might feel helpless to resist.

Some people see the first day of Kindergarten as a bittersweet memory that signifies their child is growing up and will soon embark on new adventures.

I see the first day of Kindergarten as quite possibly the first steps to Hell. Or at the very least my own descent into madness.

It’s so bizarre, really, just how much of how I see the world is revealed through Ella’s venturing out into it. How contrary my internal thoughts are to the way I’ve presented the world to her. I’ve raised her to believe in herself, to believe in the powers of goodness and honesty, to trust her own innate creativity and intelligence and to resist the corrosion of conformity for as long as she can.

And all the while, I’ve harbored this festering hatred for the world I’ve painted with such caring detail. In essence, I’ve either lied to my child or to myself, and perhaps both; I’ve spent too long, it seems, dancing between two worlds instead of just inhabiting one.

Tomorrow, then, is my day of reckoning.

Will I choose to follow my daughter into her new world and do my best to reinforce those values and beliefs that I have instilled in her in order to help her become the very best person she can? Or will I hide, like a coward, in a hell of my own making, succumbing to the worst of all possible fates: being a wretched little man, afraid of the world and its unpredictability, who loses his beloved daughter because of his own weakness?

For better or worse, I must choose. As much for Ella’s sake as my own. And the choice will make my world radically different, for the good or the bad.

Who knew a day filled with excitement and potential and squeaky new Hello Kitty accessories could be so metaphysical?

For Her Own Good…I Hope

Tomorrow Ella will have an elective adenoidectomy. I may have to watch "Toddlers and Tiaras" to rebuild my parenting self-esteem.

Tomorrow morning, my daughter Ella will undergo a relatively simple surgical procedure to have her adenoids taken out. Apparently, they are just this side of Congress in terms of causing problems for people like my daughter. The doctor says the procedure will take only a few minutes at the most, will leave a relatively short recovery time, and should make my daughter’s quality of life increase about 200%.

But they all say that, don’t they?

I’ve heard from many people that the surgery is nothing.

“I was out and about that same afternoon with my kid. She wanted to eat at McDonald’s.”

“Oh, we were shopping for shoes less than an hour after surgery. It was nothing.”

“Dude, seven minutes after we were out of recovery, my kid felt so great she started singing ‘The Star-Spangled Banner’ and was signed to a recording contract by an A&R guy who just happened to be at the doctor’s to have his inner ear checked. Best day our lives. Plus, her album drops on October 15th. We’ve got Snoop-Dog!”

OK – that last one might be an exaggeration. But still, the general consensus is Why freak out, dude? Your kid will be fine.

In my head, I know this. The surgery is so simple the doctors can do it in their sleep. The recovery is so easy, I’ll enjoy eating all of the leftover Jell-O. I know this because I’ve read the literature, heard the experts, and heard it again from friends and family.

But in my heart?

I’m freaking out. Part of it comes from our past. We’re the 1-percenters you always hear about but never really think anything of. You know, when the doc is giving you the boilerplate spiel about how “only 1% of all patients suffer from any kind of severe setbacks…” or “less than 1% of people who have anesthesia swell up like fugu and see purple spots.” If you’ve ever heard a doctor give you the legal CYB, you know what I’m talking about.

Well, that’s us. If anyone is going to sprout goat horns and trot across the surgical center because of some minute adverse reaction to anesthesia, it’ll be my kid. If one surgery in a thousand has some grave operator error, where the doc somehow accidentally cauterizes the patient’s sinuses shut, it’ll be us. That’s just the way it’s been in our history, medically speaking.

So you can see why I’m a little on edge.

In the end, we’ll get up, drink a buttload of coffee and drive out to Scottish Rite tomorrow, and everything will go fine. Ella will have no problems with the intubation, there’ll be no adverse effects from the anesthesia, she’ll have no bleeding or other abnormal response to the surgery, and I’ll move on to my next nervous breakdown, schedule for the same day she starts kindergarten.

But tonight, I’m sitting here, my heart pounding in my chest, worried that I’ve chosen something I think is for her own good but can’t guarantee. I’m hoping against hope that this brings relief instead of trauma, healing instead of hurting, and a better future instead of one that seems shrouded in clouds right now. It’s a battle of faith: will I or will I not trust God with the life of my daughter?

It’s gonna be a long night.


Ella Goes to Kindergarten Camp, Dad Goes to Pieces…

Ella, the Kindergarten slayer.

My brain is normally a jumble of thoughts, some connected, others disjointed and meandering around like a bored relative at a party. But today is especially tough for me – while I’m working on my fall calendar, teaching plan for the year, and just in general trying to have a peaceful mental breakdown, I’m constantly distracted by one monstrous question that threatens to consume for the rest of my natural life:

How’s Ella doing?

This morning, Rachel and I (along with Jon) escorted Ella to her first day of Kindergarten Camp. That’s right – they now have practice runs for Kindergarteners. Brilliant move. I don’t remember if I had such a thing at my disposal when I was a kid; it’s certainly possible, but somehow I doubt it. I can only vaguely recall the emotional horror of being escorted to the bus stop by mom and placed inside the foul-smelling yellow beast’s belly. The feeling of insignificance as older, larger, aggressive kids swarmed in anarchy around me as I clung tightly to my lunchbox and stared at my brilliant white new sneakers. The sense of fear that enveloped me as I moved with the teeming masses into the cavernous opening of the school and navigated the absolute bedlam of the hallways. Thinking long and hard on this, my best impressions are fear, smallness, lostness, worry, anxiety.

It’s a very cinematic memory. I think it has a Michael Giacchino score.

In fact, the emotional core of the memory is so strong that even as I walked into Ella’s school today, I felt those same stirrings in me, only amplified because I was considering my child’s future. I looked at Ella’s thin little body, walking tip-toe across the great waxed floor, her tiny pink shorts and shirt shrinking against the massive white block walls, and all I could think about was: Heck no. She ain’t coming here.

The hallways were ridiculously long, the walls barren and bereft of color or style. The color scheme (mute whites and greys) combined with the fluorescent lighting made me feel as if I was dropping of my gifted and rare child at some secretive government lab where they specialize in stripping the unique and beautiful people of their souls (which, come to think of it, is the official mission and vision statement of Gwinnett County Public Schools…ba-dum-cha! Thank you, I’ll be here all week!). It felt wrong, taking my daughter into some weird amalgamation of an Aldous Huxley/George Orwell novel.

And public school architectural theory has changed quite a bit since I was in school. The colors used to be warmer and more inviting, for one thing, and the office, cafeteria and the library were all closer together. At Ella’s school the office is an intimidating bank of curtained windows to your far left once you walk through the front door, the kind of darkened, curtained windows you would imagine Drs. Mengele and Frankenstein collaborating behind. The entryway, instead of being small and cozy, is a massive swath of tile burnished to a high sheen (a sign of exceptional custodial work, may I say), the vast majority of which is white so as to give the entryway an even larger sense of space. And the library, despite its welcoming exterior and warm interior, seems to be only a mirage far across the expanse of whiteness.

It’s like Dr. Zhivago.

The rest of the school is laid out on a simple grid, like New York City or DC, though when you don’t know the grid it seems anything but simple. All in all, it’s a cold, empty tomb. And here I was, walking my daughter into the heart of it with only a Hello Kitty lunchbox at her side. I suddenly thought of Ella, suspended by her feet from a ceiling of ice, kind of like Luke Skywalker in the lair of the Wampa in The Empire Strikes Back. I was overwhelmed by the image; I mean the least I could’ve done was give Ella a good blaster. Or a lightsaber.

We got Ella to her class without me sharing any of my thoughts with her or Rachel, and once we got to the actual room, a magnificent burst of color and texture and shapes and warmth burst into sight. But despite the homeyness of the surroundings, there was still the second greatest fear of all school-aged kids: the teacher. She turned out to be the daughter-in-law of one of our neighbors, a young woman with a nice smile and gently burning auburn hair. She let Ella choose her own seat (at the green table) and offered her some paper to draw on. Ella sat down without hesitation and happily scribbled away, as if she had no fear. Me, I would have been terrified; if the teacher is the second greatest fear, then the first should be obvious – classmates. Those walking, talking abstractions we call fellow students, the ones you don’t know, aren’t sure how to get to know, and secretly worry will not like you in the slightest.

As a kid, I would have recurring nightmares in which I was the sole focus of my classmates’ collective rage and hatred, and I would be surrounded by them in their pitiless fury, their faces gone, replaced by smooth, featureless skin that made them all the more inhuman and unknown. I hated the first day of school, the great mystery of whether or not I would have an ally already in class, the torturous tension of having to learn an all-new set of people and their accompanying foibles. But my daughter, thank God, seems not to have inherited this part of my personality. In fact, she didn’t seem to care in the slightest about the horrible unanswered question before her: who’s in my class? She just colored. And sang.

I ended up having to take Jonathan out of the room because he was threatening to completely disassemble it, and so I didn’t see how Ella reacted when Rachel finally left her alone. I imagined her, so small and innocent, sitting at the slightly too-large table coloring in a daze and then suddenly snapping to and realizing: I’m alone. What would she do? Would she panic? Would she call out for me to come to her rescue and wonder why I didn’t respond? Would she suddenly come face-to-face with the greatest horror of human existence, that despite the presence of family and friends who love and guide us, in the end our lives come down to our ability to live them on our own?

I almost hyperventilated. Metaphysically speaking.

Rachel found Jonathan and I wandering the halls and we talked about the school, its size, the relative blandness of the color palette. Suddenly Rachel looked at me.

“I forgot to tell the teacher about Ella’s allergies and asthma!”

She darted down the hall, and Jon and I slowly followed after her. I wondered how Ella would respond to Rachel’s reappearance. Would she want to go home with her? Would she cry out for the comfort and safety of her mother’s embrace? The minute passed like decade. Finally Rachel came around the corner.

“I told the teacher about Ella. She’s thinks it’ll be okay.”

“How was Ella?” I asked.

Rachel smiled. “She looked at me, pointed to the door, and mouthed, ‘Go away, Mommy!’ Guess she won’t have any problem coming to school.”

For the first time that morning, I felt a natural smile break out. My daughter is not me, not full of my random worries and thoughts, not paralyzed by my innate shyness. She is her own brilliant little person, and I know – despite her innocence, despite her curiosity, despite all of my personal fears – that she will be just fine with school and beyond.

A father couldn’t ask for more.