Through smoke.

Every year around 9/11, memories and commercials rope me into watching a show (or two) that documents the attack.

I could never forget what I saw while it unfolded on live television. I could never forget half my tiny high school huddled in silence in the boys’ locker room — the only room where we could find a TV.

But watching footage years later, and interviews with the people who were there — and even interviewing people who survived — keeps it real. It keeps it from fading into memory so distant it stops reminding me how to love.

So last weekend, when National Geographic aired a couple of documentaries, I watched. Every story moved me.

Like the wives whose husbands called from airplanes and the businessman in his young 20s who lost his life going up and down flights and flights of stairs so he could save the lives of men and women several years his senior.

And the Muslim man who hit the ground, forced into falling by the power of the smoke and ash that swiveled around street corners after each tower collapsed. From the concrete, he couldn’t see anything. He couldn’t get up. He probably thought he would die there.

The smoke near his face started to clear. He could see a man — clearly a hasidic Jewish one, with curly sideburns and a yarmulke on his head. The stranger reached toward the Muslim man, through smoke.

“Come on, brother.” he said. “Let’s get out of here!”

That, the Muslim man said, is the last thing he expected to hear. This Jewish stranger was the last person he expected might save him. But he grabbed his hand, shot up from the ground and the pair ran together. Eventually, they lost each other in the crowd. They never saw each other again.

So much of what happened between them reminds me of how we’re to love.

How tempting it is while our world crashes down around us to work our own way out, to secure our own safety, while ignoring the ones around us who need our help.

How typical in this culture to ignore the ones around us, even while our world is in completely intact.

Love your neighbor (and your enemies). Even through smoke.

My prayer for you. Yes, you!

A Four-fold Franciscan Blessing

May God bless you with a restless discomfort about easy answers, half-truths and superficial relationships, so that you may seek truth boldly and love deep within your heart.

May God bless you with holy anger at injustice, oppression, and exploitation of people, so that you may tirelessly work for justice, freedom, and peace among all people.

May God bless you with the gift of tears to shed with those who suffer from pain, rejection, starvation, or the loss of all that they cherish, so that you may reach out your hand to comfort them and transform their pain into joy.

May God bless you with enough foolishness to believe that you really can make a difference in this world, so that you are able, with God’s grace, to do what others claim cannot be done.

And the blessing of God the Supreme Majesty and our Creator, Jesus Christ the Incarnate Word who is our brother and Saviour, and the Holy Spirit, our Advocate and Guide, be with you and remain with you, this day and forevermore.

Amen.

Why I Love Halloween

This post originally appeared on Catholic Revolutionaries. I wrote it a week after Halloween last year. As the holiday approaches, it’s been on my mind. So, I thought I’d share!

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Last weekend, my dad dumped a giant bag of fun size candy bars into a giant bowl. I peered out the window.

“I wonder when trick-or-treaters will get here,” I thought out loud, watching my neighbor — a space alien that night — decorate a tent in her driveway across the street. “I wonder how many we’ll get!”

When the kids finally came, clad in costumes like Spongebob and ninja and princess, I reached into the bowl of candy and tossed some of it into their plastic pumpkins and pillow cases. They thanked me, mostly, and their parents waved. And between each ring of the doorbell, I really couldn’t contain my excitement.

I love Halloween. I always have. This year, I think I’ve figured out why.

As a kid, I didn’t care much for the candy (maybe minus Twix), but the experience made me glow. I’d dress up like a gypsy, a witch or a cowgirl and traipse around suburbia knocking on doors, trick-or-treating. Something in the sometimes crisp Florida fall air and in the rubbing elbows in the streets with kids and parents I’d otherwise never meet just made me giddy. For one night — just one — we’d all let down our guard.

As a trick-or-treater, I’d wave at people I’d never met. I’d skip across streets and when cars came by, their drivers would smile and stop until we’d crossed. As an adult, I watch my quiet neighborhood come to life. I embrace the one night when suburbia welcomes the stranger.

That’s why I love Halloween.

In a neighborhood of folks who stay separated from their nameless neighbors by fences and closed garage doors and “our convenient Lexus cages,” to quote Switchfoot, everything changes for a night. We don’t get suspicious when strangers walk past our houses. We don’t yell at them if they cross the grass. We invite them to our homes. And then we give them things.

Imagine a world where every day felt like that. But instead of candy, we could give guests what they need.

“Instead of monsters and zombies, people could not dress up as anything,” my best friend Laurel said the other day. We could all just try to be like Jesus. If only it didn’t take a mask to get us to welcome a stranger, and it didn’t take candy to get them to come. And in other ways, if only every day could be more like Halloween.

What are we doing?

After dinner tonight, I put on one of my Matt Maher CDs, called Overflow. I have a mildly serious love for his music, so when I sing along, I mean it. When I listen, I listen carefully.

During number 8 (more popularly known as Canticle of Zechariah), I heard a line that consistently makes my face tingle (that’s a good thing):

Declare victory/You’ve set us free/for from You and through You and for You are all things/ to You be all glory, all honor, all blessing.

I believe that. Jesus sets us free. I’d guess most people who call themselves Christians believe that, too. In light of it, though, what are we doing?

Really.

What are we doing?

Why, pray tell, do we sing about all the ways Jesus sets us free but live like we’re bound to all the things from which he’s freed us?

Why do we live like we believe we’re on earth for a 401k?

Why do we work for retirement?

What are we doing?

“No one can serve two masters; for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to one and despise the other You cannot serve God and wealth.” -Jesus

“Do not worry then, saying, ‘What will we eat?’ or ‘What will we drink?’ or ‘What will we wear for clothing?’ For the Gentiles eagerly seek all these things; for your heavenly Father knows that you need all these things.” -Jesus

Why do we grow up believing what they told us? “Go out and make something of yourself.”

Why do we value keeping the peace more than moving past the status quo?

Why do we want so badly to fit in?

Why do we do anything if it means we won’t have to suffer?

“Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted. Blessed are the gentle, for they shall inherit the earth. Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied. Blessed are the merciful, for they shall receive mercy. Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God. Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God. Blessed are those who have been persecuted for the sake of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are you when people insult you and persecute you, and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of Me. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward in heaven is great; for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.” -Jesus

Blessed, he said, are you who — essentially — deny yourself.

In America.

Where we live for self. We trust in self.

What does that say about what we believe?

What are we doing?

Trust like Ivy, love like Lucius.

In my final free week before fall classes start, I’m spending a lot of time doing what rejuvenates me. Sitting in silence. Playing with my dog. Watching my favorite movies.

Last night, I watched the Village.

I won’t spoil too much of the film for those who haven’t seen it, but here’s some context: the woods that surround the village in the film are forbidden. The village’s elders always warn about about “those we do not speak of,” the enemies who’ll invade with a vengeance if a villager visits the woods.

But somebody does it anyway. So “those we do not speak of” are spotted and it sends the village into a frenzy of slamming shut shutters, locking doors and hiding in basements. Almost everybody freaks out.

Then, there’s Ivy (Bryce Dallas Howard), a blind girl who stands at her open front door while everyone else runs for cover. Her sister implores her to shut the door, to save herself.

There is also Lucius (Joaquin Phoenix), who — while his entire community hides from what might happen — takes risks with selfless, reckless abandon.

I wonder what the world would look like if we trusted God with trust like Ivy’s and loved each other like Lucius loves: