Taking Candy From Strangers: grace and the everyday gift economy pt. 1

“Don’t take candy from strangers,” is one of the first proverbial lessons we try to teach our children.   Its up there with looking both ways before you cross the street. It is even higher than, “stop, drop and roll.”    Its an important  precursor to, “there is no such thing as a free lunch.”  But it is also why my friend Rich thinks that Halloween (not all saints day,  not all souls day, not a ‘harvest festival,” but Halloween) is one of the best holidays for Christians and Burners to celebrate, precisely because it is so much about candy and strangers…

Even more than Christmas, Halloween is the one day of the year that people practice true unreciprocated giving.  Halloween is really the holiday which we put the most effort into teaching our children to say thank you.  Thank you.  These are powerful words, dangerous words even, that if used correctly can revolutionize how your friends, and even acquaintances come to understand who they are and what they mean to you.

My friend Lane inspired this post when describing  Burning Flipside, an event not too unlike Halloween (at least in terms of creativity and costumes).   and other “burner” events are very much a matter of  taking candy from strangers, …by actually taking candy from strangers.

Burner events practice a “gift economy.”  Its a simple idea the first part is bringing something to share.  Its recommended to gift something people will use in a moment (like candy) or keep keep for a lifetime. Other than that there is absolutely no selling.  To sum up: Give. And equally important: receive.  A burn event would be an absolute failure if everyone went around saying, “No thank you, I brought my own.”

My first year I remember a a large elephant cart that had breakfast tacos being thrown out the backend to the happily bleary eyed passers-by.  I also remember sitting next to the creek, enjoying the sun and resting my imagination since it had been pretty relentlessly stretched for a full 48 hours. I was watching a guy barbeque brisket out of the back of a thirteen foot chicken sculpture which doubled as a see saw.  I was wondering how much further my mind could be blown when right on cue a gentleman pushed his fruit cart right behind me and handed me a slice of perfectly chilled watermelon. No questions asked. Bliss. Thank you.

Receiving gifts from others is risky business.  So far it has not inspired fear in me. In fact, just the opposite. But it is why we teach our kids how to do it well and when.  It is an art form.  Sometimes you have to ask what is in the fruit punch.  Sometimes you can be suspicious of the candy.  It is a responsibility we learn with age and with practice.  It takes practice to discern when its worth the risk that there is no hidden agenda. But there is sometimes such things as a gifted lunch, the only cost of which is to say thank you, recognize it as a gift, and eventually pass it on, sometimes to a stranger   Its a gift economy.

When my friends and acquaintances see that I am currenlty in a wheelchair, everyone wants to help.   Sometimes I need to let them push even if its easier for me to do it myself.  Its risky. Its also humbling.  These people, however,  just want to participate in your healing an reach for whatever favor is ready at hand.  Best I can do is be grateful

Sometimes the most empowering thing we can do for each other is receive. We can transform our friendships by accepting the gifts of others and thank them for what they bring to our lives and experiences.   It feels awesome to say, “you’re welcome.”  It is short hand for saying, “you are welcome here, at least to this extent for now. You are welcome.”

I believe that most problems and conflicts in relationships involve, at some level, the anguish of believing their giftedness is no long needed or welcomed.  There is a frustrated gift trying to work its way out and one of the hardest things to do in a conflict is to risk needing someone.

I want to welcome the best of who you are into the world in such a way that you know specificly what you have brought to my life.  Most important I need to reach out in humility to invite what I need into my life.  Sometimes in a real way it is like  taking from strangers.  There is no doubt about it.  This is risky.

Other posts regarding Burner Culture;


Saint Benedict Goes to Burning Man.

Eat at Joe’s:  A beautiful story of what happens when a bunch of Burners get their hands on the feast of St. Joseph.


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One Comment

  • Chris Miller

    I had not heard you were in a wheelchair for some hopefully temporary reason. I did not know if I had ever shared the part of my story about how I spent 5 years in a wheelchair as a result of AIDS back in the early 90s. I appreciate your insight about how the accepting and giving of the gift of help with mobility can affect one, It was often a struggle for me, hard for me to accept but often absolutely necessary. I hope you are doing well and that you are on a road to recovery as you learn and grow. You meant a lot to me during my seminary years, more than you probably are aware. I am preparing to attempt the process again and am afraid, afraid of failing and what succeeding might demand.