A bit of grace inside each wrapper


A young girl who was dressed in a frog costume toddled toward my house. Her eyes were wide, her gait uncertain. Her parents said it was her first time trick-or-treating.

I smiled, told her I liked her costume, and plopped a gift into her bag. She looked down at the snack-sized candy bar and then back up at me, unsure how to respond. Her parents told her to say “thank you.” She did. And off she toddled, trying to wrap her brain around this unusual night.

This isn’t how things normally work in our world.

People don’t usually dress as frogs. And people don’t usually smile at every stranger who comes their way and give them something with no strings attached.

The coolest part of Halloween – besides the costumes and the decorations and the pumpkins – is how we set aside a night to celebrate unconditional sharing.

We give to all who ask of us. Everyone who asks, receives. Nobody is turned away. We don’t judge whether someone is more deserving or less worthy. No one asks a child what they’ve done to earn their treat – well, I hope not, anyway!

A reminder of grace

Everything is freely given – no fine print, no hidden agenda. Everyone is accepted and welcomed, regardless whether they’re a young child in a frog outfit or a teenager who has outgrown costumes but still likes to get treats.

This is us at our best. This is what we are called to be all the time.

It’s too bad that we don’t operate this way more often. Instead, we waste so much energy creating standards of worthiness and judging who meets them and who falls short. We reward those who meet our arbitrary measures and deny those whom we deem unfit.

I know one person who doesn’t celebrate Halloween because they think that handing out candy teaches young people they can get something for nothing. They see it as a bad life lesson.

I see it as a reminder of grace.

Grace can’t be earned or owned, only accepted and shared. Our next breath, our next heartbeat, our next moment of love is handed to us with absolutely no merit on our part. They’re just plopped right into our bag.

How do we react? We look at the gifts, and then we turn toward the Giver and we say, “Thank you. Thank you, thank you, thank you.” And then we go and do the same.

The universe has bumped along for billions of years without you and me, and it’s done quite well without us, to be honest. And then, we got this unearned moment of grace, We were invited to join the party — along with everyone else — and enjoy all that it entails.

Filling each other’s bags

Yes, each of us is a divine charity case. And yes, there’s part of us that hates that. We’d rather live with the illusion that we merit and deserve all we have. We prefer the delusion that we’re self-sufficient and we somehow earned what we’ve actually been handed.

Grace reminds us otherwise.

I remember the times I’ve been the one wearing a costume and opening the trick-or-treat bag on someone’s doorstep. I recall bundling up against the October chill in Cleveland and going door-to-door to experience the kindness of strangers.

I can still feel those warm moments of giving and receiving.

I also remember the many times in my life when I was running low on important things – hope, joy, love, money, you name it – and someone came along and filled my bag again. Often, it was a stranger.

That’s how this works. We give and receive, enclosing a bit of grace inside each wrapper.

Every day begins with more gifts plopped into our bags — another breath, another heartbeat, more possibilities and opportunities to give and receive love. Then for the rest of the day, it’s our turn to give generously and joyfully. And to receive thankfully and appreciatively.

To fill each other’s bags until they’re overflowing.

How do you act if you’re wearing this costume?

Jesus costume2

While checking out the spooky things at a Halloween store, I noticed an aisle of religious garb that included the Jesus costume shown above. I took a photo and brought it to church for our weekly youth group discussion.

First, I showed pictures of other costumes and asked the young people how they would act if they were wearing that outfit. What do you do if you’re wearing a zombie costume? You shuffle and groan. A superhero? You stretch your arms and pretend to fly.

Then I showed them the photo of the Jesus outfit and asked: What about this one? How must you act if you’re wearing a Jesus costume? One young man answered immediately.

“You have to love everybody,” he said.

Sometimes, young people get it better than we do as adults.

It’s fitting that we talk about costumes. Jesus talked about them. He warned us to be wary of wolves who dress in sheep outfits. He said many “religious” people with shiny outward appearances are nasty and decaying inside.

He reminded us to see the person inside the costume. Don’t assess by words or outward appearances. See how someone acts. Pay attention to the values they live. Don’t just assume that because a person is wearing a costume, they’re living what it represents.

Look beyond the clothes

So, what about the Jesus costume? How do we act if we’re wearing that one? Well, I think wearing that costume means …

  • We must love everybody. The young person nailed it. Jesus said people will recognize someone as his follower by their love, period. We can’t refuse to love anyone because we consider them a horrible sinner, unlike ourselves. We can’t exclude, judge or cast stones. We must love even the one we consider an enemy. If we’re not doing that, we’re out of costume.
  • We must reach out to everybody. We need to wear the costume in public. Jesus went public with his love. He sought those who were deemed unworthy by the self-righteous people, and he loved them in a way that transformed them and reminded them of their great worth. He said his followers should do the same – we can’t be a light hidden under a basket.
  • Finally, we must be the kind of person who brings healing everybody. Whenever Jesus sent his followers out to represent him, he told them to heal. Wearing the Jesus costume means healing the broken, the needy, the struggling. It means bringing peace into conflict, hope into despair, and love into every aspect of life. We serve and heal everyone, no exceptions.

Jesus’ attitude was that when we do those things – love, reach out, heal – then we’re fulfilling the job description. We’re fitting the costume.

And if we don’t do those things, people recognize that, too. They see that we’re as phony as the thick, black beard in the costume on the store shelf. They can spot #FakeJesus from far away. Many people have given up on religion that doesn’t speak, live or love like Jesus.

Just love. Period.

Finally, we must constantly remind ourselves that the Jesus costume doesn’t come with accessories. We never wear a crown of any sort. We don’t carry a stone to throw at anybody for any reason.

The Bibles we tote, the crosses we wear, the religious posts we make on social media — none of it matters if we’re not living in character.

Jesus’ spirit of love was woven into everything he did. He wore his love on his sleeve, and so must we. It’s part of the costume.

Just love everybody. Period.

Filling our bags


Let me take a moment to tell you about my excellent Halloween night.

As 6 o’clock came – the official bewitching hour in my town – the sun was sliding toward the horizon, turning the bottoms of the wispy clouds a gentle pink. It was so warm that trick-or-treaters could avoid wearing jackets.

I set up a chair at the end of my driveway and a small table with my jack-o-lantern and a bowl of candy. I could see the first group of kids making their way down the street, dashing door to door. Their excited, young voices filled the autumn-scented air.

I love Halloween!

A year ago, I missed the chance to give out candy because I was out of town covering a football game. It felt so good to be enjoying All Hallow’s Eve again.

As I waited for the group to reach my house, I watched the sky turn colors and saw a jet fly overhead. Whenever I see a plane, I get a bit distracted. I’m amazed by how those heavy tubes of metal can fly.

I get amazed by us, too.

Remarkable stuff in every way

We do some amazing things, we humans. Consider airplanes, for example. We dig up rocks, melt them down, do some fancy math about air and drag, design wings that fit the formula, and shape melted metal into specific forms. And then, we get inside of them and we fly.

Remarkable stuff, in every way. And so is what happens on Halloween night.

I live in a racially diverse neighborhood. There were black kids and white kids in the same group working their way down my side of the street. Parents and grandparents walked with them, having friendly conversation. Neighbors and strangers, sharing and enjoying each other’s company.

That’s us at our best. Celebrating our sacred humanity.

Sure, it’s amazing when we make planes that fly above the clouds, and rockets that take us to the moon, and drugs that kill diseases, and buildings so tall that they seem to scrape the sky. But we’re at our most amazing when we’re walking together and sharing our humanity.

As I was thinking about all of those things, a couple with a 2-year-old girl dressed in a frog costume approached my house. The girl’s eyes were wide, her gait uncertain. She looked like she was just trying to take it all in. Her parents said it was her first time trick-or-treating.

Anyone who asks, receives

I handed the girl a small bar of chocolate. Her mom told her to say thank you. She muttered “thank you” while inspecting the candy bar. I’m guessing she was trying to wrap her head around this unexpected generosity of a stranger to someone dressed as an amphibian.

Isn’t it wonderful to watch generations pass down this tradition of unconditional giving and unmerited receiving? It renews us and reminds us of our common bond, how each of us is both receiver and giver – not just on Oct. 31, but every day.

The coolest part of Halloween – besides the costumes and the decorations and the pumpkin patches and the corn mazes – is how we celebrate giving with no strings attached. We share with anyone who shows up at our doorstep. Anyone who asks, receives. No one is judged as more deserving or less worthy. Nobody wonders whether the kids have earned their treats.

Everything is freely given. Everyone is accepted and welcomed, regardless whether they’re a cute 2-year-old frog or a teenager with fake blood dripping from a corner of the mouth.

You look great. Here’s a treat. Enjoy.

A bit of grace inside each wrapper

We just give. And along with each small treat, we put a little bit of ourselves into the transaction – a smile, a kind word about the costume, a simple hello to the parents and grandparents.

Us, at our best. Giving the greatest gift that any of us can give – a bit of grace inside each wrapper.

In my experience, people enjoy the giving part so much because they remember the times they’ve been on the receiving end. They know what it’s like to be the young child getting a piece of candy.

Also, they’ve known times throughout their lives when they were running low on joy, love and hope. Maybe food and other things, too. Their bag was pretty much empty. And someone came along and filled it again.

That goes for all of us.

Each day begins with the best gifts simply plopped into our bags – another breath, another heartbeat, another day freely and joyfully given. Then for the rest of the day, it’s our turn to give generously and joyfully. And to receive thankfully and joyfully.

To try to fill everyone’s bag until it’s overflowing.