year of mercy

My Racist Halloween

MyRacistHalloween (2)

Yes, I know.  I should’ve written this in October, early November at worst.  Forgive me.  I was kind of busy trying to write something else. Real life, however, did not go on hold, and so there was a Halloween.

One of the things I didn’t like about Don’t You Forget About Me was that the cast of characters was, by needs of the conflict, not exactly diverse.  In fact, one of the things I (subconsciously) wanted to show in that story was that a lack of diversity leads  to unnecessary conflict.  No, I don’t have anything but anectdotal evidence for that, but that evidence is pretty strong.  Whenever I’ve been in a group that was too homogenous, that group found stupid things to fight about at best.  At worst, that group targeted the one person who fit in with the group the least and, in the words of DYFAM’s Sister Thomas Marie, set to “Lopping off the tall poppy.”


In my experience, if I’m different from you, you’re going to exclude me at best, bully me at worst, and there’s really no reason to hope for anything different.DYFAMCoverFrontForFlyer

So with that kind of conflict coloring the whole background of DYFAM, I knew I wanted at least one main character in the sequel to be not of European descent.  I started out wanting that because, well, that’s just the way the world is, and art is supposed to be a reflection of reality.  I hope you’ll all get to meet her soon, but this is how I met Emanuelle Claire “Mel” Valcour, Cate Whelihan’s estranged best friend from high school.  They’re reunited in NLMDA, and part of this book’s adventure is shared with Mel’s “baby” brother, Father Jean-Christophe Valcour.

Every writing project has its own unique lessons to teach me.  Mel has been a very good teacher.  I want to portray her honestly, so I’ve read a lot of articles on what it’s like to be a black woman, because, duh, I’m not.  Still… writing her is risky, because I don’t want to hurt her feelings.  Not wanting to hurt anyone’s feelings has kept me from developing better friendships with a wide variety of people–real and imagined, ahem.

Ahem.  Back to Halloween.

We live in the first country town right outside a more urbanized area.  Our block happens to have the area volunteer haunted house, for lack of a better term.  You know, that one family that goes all out for Halloween, fills the yard with zombies and graves and puts giant fuzzy spiders–I’m talking a 12 foot leg span here–on their roof.


And then, and then they have all the young adult kids’ friends come over and dress as zombies who jump out and scare the trick-or-treaters on Halloween! Yeah, they mean business across the street.  And it’s awesome.  Halloween is my third favorite holiday, but it’s a close third.  I love costumes and candy and being silly.  I love our neighbors for offering this to our community…ZombiesWantSugar

And the surrounding communities as well.  I was flabbergasted our first Halloween out here, coming from an apartment in Philly where we were lucky to get two trick-or-treaters to this neighborhood, where we go through at least seven giant value bags of candy each year.  People drive to our block from all over to trick-or-treat at The Scary House, and they’re not above stopping at our boring house, with the orange lights on the trees and the five jack o’lanterns.

But the manners.  The manners.  Or lack thereof. No “Trick-or-treat!” No, “Thank you!” Grabby hands in my two foot-tall stock pot filled with Dum Dums!  And then, the teenagers, teenagers, who had the gall to arrive in my driveway with… wait for it…


And the aforementioned lack of manners.  And… well, given the neighborhoods from which these ambassadors came, a lot of them had darker skin than mine.

I’m starting to realize there’s an inherent danger in growing up white after Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s “I Have a Dream” speech.  We’re kinda sorta raised to think that if we just act like the Dream has come true, then POOF! It has.  So, when these presumptuous teens showed up at my house with no costumes and no manners, I would…

Oh, Lord have mercy, this is shameful…

I would give them less candy.  Didn’t matter what color their skin was, mind you, but you got a full scoop of candy if you had a costume and made eye contact and said, “Trick or Treat!”  If you didn’t do any of those things, you got one piece of candy and an irritated smirk from me.

I thought I was doing the right thing.  The right colorblind thing.  Doesn’t matter what skin color you have! It doesn’t cost anybody a thing to have good manners!

Does it?

I have this weird… it’s not a belief, but it’s a wondering. I know fictional characters don’t have souls, but I wonder if they have guardian angels.  God made all the angels He wanted, so who’s to say He didn’t give the creatures of our imaginings their own guardian angels to watch over us, their parents?  Maybe it’s Mel’s guardian angel, or maybe it’s just mine, but someone did some guiding here that affected my heart in ways it so sorely needed.

First I ran across the article “What You Need to Know About 6-Foot Trick-or-Treaters.”  I immediately thought–not yet about race–just about the ages of the evasive, costumeless kids roaming our block and felt ashamed of myself for judging.

Meanwhile, researching, I read about the pressure a woman like Mel might likely feel to be a strong black woman, about what it is to be an angry black woman, heck, about what it’s like to have black hair.  Then while passing through the library, I saw an actual available copy of The Help (book, not movie) sitting on a shelf.  I read it in two days.  I saw how a culture could be built where to show what one color demands as “justice” and “manners” can come across as a weakness and vulnerability that the other color simply can’t afford to keep paying.


Reading is a safe place to learn the things I’m afraid to ask real, live humans. Reading answers questions I didn’t even know I needed to ask.  Reading the personal and private rather than the newsworthy and violent was exactly the way to break my particular heart in just the way it needed to be broken–broken out of a sense of justice that hasn’t actually been gained yet, broken out of a make-believe world where we all have the same privilege.

We haven’t earned your dream yet, Dr. King.  To act like we have would be a lie.

So Halloween 2015 came.  Costumeless kids showed up with bad manners and plunged grabby hands, many darker than mine, into my stock pot.

This time, I picked up an extra scoop of candy to add to theirs.

I see now that too many others in our neighborhood would be holding back the sweetness on those kids who didn’t perform to our privileged expectations. They likely wouldn’t have mercy on the non-white trick-or-treaters, because we’re all supposed to be the same, right? Nobody needs any extra mercy, we don’t care how much you’ve already been kicked around before you showed up in our driveways! So in went the extra scoops.

“Have a little extra.  Happy Halloween.”

And I’ll say it, the thing that made my Halloween so racist: Yes, I gave the surly black teens more candy than I gave the surly white teens.

At first.

Because once you start thinking that people who don’t look like you might need wounds salved that you can’t see, you start realizing that everyone  has wounds… that everyone needs a little extra candy sometimes.

I think I got more “thank yous” this year.  Maybe.  I’m not sure.  I know I ran out of candy a bit earlier than usual, but I deserved to.  Part of being Catholic is believing in the efficacy of reparation, that when we sin, if we truly repent, we naturally want to make things better than they’ve been–than what our sins and self-righteousness made them.

I know our whole world needs to do better when it comes to having compassion on people whose lives have been tougher than ours and, as a result, encourage them to be tougher than suits our precious preferences, thankyouverymuch.  I feel like that extra candy in the shopping bags and held-out shirttails wasn’t very effective, though.  I’m also stark scared that someone is going to point out to me that my well-intentioned act of mercy was just another ignorant thing I did from a place of clueless privilege.

(Note–this post is teaching me how to spell privilege off the top of my head, without relying on spellcheck.)

I know I still have a lot to learn about being kind to everyone, that fair isn’t always merciful, and that if I’m striving to be the face of Christ in a faceless world, I’m going to hurt and I’ll need to give more and I’m going to make mistakes.  But I have to have faith that the desire to please Him does in fact please Him–because if I don’t, I’ll just hide again and shut my mouth and never click “Schedule” to have this post show up in your feed on the morning of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s Birthday (Observed).

We have not earned your dream yet, Dr. King.  We have more work to do.  We paler people have more trust to earn.  We have wounds to heal.  We have repairs to make.

And I still have more to learn from Mel.

And I guess I have more candy to buy in 2016.

Be Heroes: Modern Love vs. Year of Mercy


Image courtesy of “The Thin White Duke 76” by Jean-Luc Ourlin . Uploaded here by Auréola. – originally posted to Flickr as David Bowie. Licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0 via Wikimedia Commons – 

This post has been percolating for quite a while.  If you’ve read Don’t You Forget About Me (or even just the reviews), you won’t need much thinking to figure out that music is an important part of my life–and not pure, holy music by Matt Maher or Audrey Asaad, either.

When I first returned to the faith of my baptism, I’d come from months of trying really, really hard to be a fan of CCM: Contemporary Christian Music.  And while a lot of the words were nice to hear, the music didn’t necessarily speak to me.  With the exception of Rich Mullins, it’s nothing I still listen to now.

“Don’t let the Devil have all the good music!” I  heard.  So I tried, but given the choice between Echo & the Bunnymen and Phillips, Craig & Dean… sorry.  Jesus may have saved me, but if I said I’d lost my way, would you sympathize? Could you sympathize?

I asked God to change my tastes, knowing full well He has the power to do so.  But He didn’t.  So here I am, downright afflicted with an ear that loves anything from blurred lines to the center of the hollow moon. I’m careful with what I let linger in my mind (the former gets the station changed; the latter… well, if it’s on the radio, it gets bleeped, so I let it play).  But I still worry about the state of my soul.

The state of my soul.

The state of my soul.

The state of my selfish soul.

So while it did occur to me a few years ago to offer prayers for the soul of Ian Curtis, I didn’t really extend those prayers to anyone else.  Then a few months ago, someone in a Catholic blogger FB group asked if it was weird to offer prayers for the soul of Kurt Cobain. Of course it isn’t, not if I’m praying for Ian and his family.  After all, dollars to donuts, neither of those people ran in circles where folks are including them in their rosary intentions.

So when Scott Weiland of Stone Temple Pilots died this fall, I was pretty comfortable praying for his soul.  I was even contemplating having a Mass said for him (announced? maybe…) when I found this letter from the mother of his children.

Our once sweet Catholic boy refused to watch the kids participate in Christmas Eve plays because he was now an atheist.

“Once sweet Catholic boy.”  So… he might have people saying Masses for him?  People not making the Entertainment section, but still, people.

But why didn’t I think to pray for him before he died?  I’m a child of the grunge era.  I liked STP well enough.  Maybe if I had focused less on being a Good Contemporary Christian Music Fan and more on the people making the music I liked… I could have fasted and prayed and Noah and Lucy would still have a father here on earth.

I don’t know.  We’ll never know, I guess.  And now, David Bowie is gone, too.  Without a single Rosary from me.

The Catholic definition of “love” (courtesy of Aristotle first, then Aquinas) is to will the good of another.  God has been waving this musical flags in front of my ears, begging me to love people who very likely have turned from Him and written Him off.  And I’ve been sitting here, tentatively pulling my fingers out of my ears, saying to myself, “Oh, just one more song isn’t gonna hurt me.”

Dumbass.  It hasn’t been about me.

It’s the Year of Mercy.  We are asked to focus on how much God loves everyone, everyone, no matter how much they look like they don’t need Him.  So here’s the dumb thing I’m gonna do to celebrate the Year of Mercy.  I’m gonna have Masses said for David Bowie and Scott Weiland and Ian Curtis.  I’m also gong to have Masses said for the conversion of other souls still walking among us–souls that, frankly, look irrevocably hardened to my eyes, but as Simcha Fisher said,  generosity to one’s audience can be an act of charity, of virtue open to grace; and as all faithful Catholics know, we cannot know another’s soul.

So, Henry Rollins, you’re getting a Mass said for you before 2016 is out.  You too, Ian McCulloch.  Aaron Bruno? Dave Grohl? Heck, if you’ve ever played the Doctor, you might get a Mass, too.  (I’d keep naming names, but I just had steroids injected into my elbow, and while I’m offering it up for all these folks, I’m also a flesh & blood woman for whom Tylenol and ice only go so far.)

So that’s my Modern Love: getting celebrities who don’t know me from Adam into heaven.  If it doesn’t work (free can be a b1tch sometimes), then I’ll at least have some guardian angels joining me at my individual judgment who can hopefully say, “See how she loved them?”

Loved them.  Not their music.  Them.

Any other names you want to throw onto my list?  Pray for them.  Ask me to pray for them.  And we could be heroes.  

“And may God’s love be with you.”  

Let me know, below, on FB, shoot me an email, whatever works for you (but a reply might take a while, see above re: big needles in my elbow.)