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:

Vehicle overturned.

I squinted at the screen and punched away at my keyboard. School lunch menus. Somebody’s got to type ’em.

The police scanner on my editor’s desk crackled. I kept typing. Crispy chicken salad or tuna plate. Choice of veggie sticks, fresh seasonal fruit —

Vehicle overturned.

Vehicle overturned? I stopped typing and started listening to the scanner.

Two ejected. Block the road. Re-route traffic. Send the helicopter.

Of course. Something big always happens while I’m alone in the newsroom.

I interrupted an editor’s lunch with a head’s up phone call. I pulled up the Florida Highway Patrol Web site to find the intersection. The TV news reporter who shares our office called from the road.

“This is massive,” she said. “The worst single accident I’ve seen in my career.”

I made a second call to the editor. She called a photographer who called me for directions. A reporter met him at the scene.

The rest is history.

Another tragedy. Add it to the list.

The two Tampa police officers shot to death during a traffic stop.
The toddler killed in the care of his father.
The church destroyed in a fire.
The man who died when he drove his truck into a pond (the six kids and quadriplegic wife he left behind).
Yesterday’s fatal accident.

While we — humans — sort through them, we ask questions. It’s natural.

What happened?

How did it happen? How could it? Why?

There are other questions.

Why did God let this happen? Or, more usually, why did your God let it happen? How could a God be good who allows this?

My response is rough around the edges.

“You think this is His fault? You leave Him out of this!”

Shane Claiborne says it better in this old radio interview:

“And I can remember a comic in Philadelphia that was in the paper. There were these two guys that were asking that very question. It was — and one guy said, ‘You know, I wonder why God allows all this poverty and pain and hurting in the world?’ And his friend says, ‘Well, why don’t you ask God that?’ And the guy says, ‘Well, I guess I’m scared.’ And he says, ‘What are you scared of?’ He says, ‘I guess I’m scared that God will ask me the same question.'”

We ask why God allows sickness, but we don’t take care of ourselves.

We ask God why there’s poverty, but we avoid eye contact with the homeless guy when he stands next to our car at red lights.

We ask God why there’s murder, but we don’t love our neighbor.

Why?

In Shane Claiborne’s words, God’s “going, ‘Hey, you’re my body. You are my hands and my feet.’ And, you know, that this is something that we are entrusted with. And I think, probably, one of the most difficult things that Jesus ever did was sort of leave this idea of transforming the world or the kingdom of God coming in the hands of such a ragtag bunch of people that goof it up over and over.”

Deliver us from e-mail.

“I urge you to still every motion that is not rooted in the kingdom. Become quiet, hushed, motionless until you are finally centered. Strip away all excess baggage and nonessential trappings until you have come into the stark reality of the kingdom of God. Let go of all distractions until you are driven into the Core.” – Richard Foster, from his book Freedom of Simplicity

This weekend I traveled solo 170 miles south to a town called Cape Coral.

Road trip! A mini-vacation.

I stayed with my friend Kim and we celebrated 15 years of friendship. We watched movies, got burnt on the beach (where we also swam with sharks!) and sipped OJ and coconut rum. I didn’t bring my computer.

My friends would tell you I’m about as untethered to technology as it gets, but you don’t realize how much you use your computer until you don’t have access to it. In three days, I checked my e-mail twice from Kim’s computer, but I didn’t act on any messages I got.

I’ve always been quick to trash talk technology but e-mail is one thing I’ve long believed I couldn’t live without — literally, in that I really couldn’t do my job if it weren’t for e-mail. And not so literally, in that I can’t stand the thought of receiving a note that forever goes unanswered.

But leaving the laptop behind turned out to be a relief.

I liked not checking my e-mail.

I liked denying my self-imposed obligation to respond with rapidity.

I liked letting it go.

There is a stillness of body and mind in shifting our eyes away from all our screens. And in it, there’s also freedom.

I want more of that. And less e-mail.