The Doxology and a Few Good Links

You know the Doxology, right? It’s a hymn of praise sung by Christians, and it’s been at the top of the church charts (both contemporary and traditional) for who-knows-how-long. The lyrics are simple. If you know them, sing along. (No really… sing along.)

Praise God from whom all blessings flow.
Praise him all creatures here below.
Praise him above you heavenly hosts.
Praise Father, Son, and Holy Ghost.
Amen.

We sing this song every week, just after the offering. We raise our voices as Colby carries the plates to the altar. And last week, as he was making his way to the front, the words really took root.

I have an awful lot to be thankful for (or “for which to be thankful” if you are reading this Mom). To the left of me was Jude, trying his best to keep up with the recitations of the liturgy, always a quarter note behind but trudging along anyway. Ian was to my right, drawing three crosses with a house in the shadow of the smallest cross on the right. (He would later tell me that our house sits in the shadow of the crosses.) Isaac stood in front of me, arm around Amber’s waist and head on her side as she sang harmony to the Amen. Titus sat in the floor of the far aisle, cuddled with his blankie.

And if it were just my family singing together in church, that’d be enough. But surveying the room, I beamed at our congregation. They’re a small band of misfits and miscreants, but they’re my misfits and miscreants. We’re led by a priest with a penchant for Star Trek (rest in peace, Mr. Spock), and a deacon who’s daughter calls out “MAMA!” from the back while she’s leading the Creed.

I dig these people. I love my church. Praise God from whom all blessing flow.

*****

Welcome to the weekend! And while we’re here, let me share a few of my favorite things.

BOOKS:

photo (2)

I didn’t always love the Church. In fact, I once kept a crockpot of church hatred simmering. I haven’t written about those days much. But if you’d like to read the story of my coming clean from church hatred, pick up my friend, Nish Weiseth’s book, Speak. In Speak, Nish shows how the power of stories can change lives. In fact, Nish shows how my story of falling in love with the church (again) changed hers. What’s more, her book is a good read on the power of story.

Click here to buy Speak from my fantastic friends at GIVINGTON’S. GO NOW. DO IT.

 

BLOG POSTS:

Are you keeping up with the persecution of Christians at the hands of ISIS. If not, it’s time to get up to speed. Follow the links for some good information, and a few thoughts on praying for our enemies.

ISIS Fast Facts, at CNN.com;

“Let us Not Forget Our Enemies, Also Known as Our Brothers,” by Erika Morrison;

“When the Way of the Cross Calls us Higher,” by Deidra Riggs;

“The Wake up Call That is ISIS: Who in the Church is Answering,” by Ann Voskamp.

 

PODCASTS:

I’m growing into a huge podcast fan, and I’d like to share two of my favorites with you.

Neighbors: Jakob Lewis is a master story teller and Nashville resident, and he takes the phrase “get to know your neighbors” literally. The result is the “Neighbors” podcast, which is sometimes poignant, sometimes humorous, but always fresh. Listen to his episode, “Bringing Wes Home” (warning: it will have you in tears).

Something Rather Than Nothing: Preston Yancey has been testing his chops at the podcast medium, and the result is something special. Listen to his episode, “Cover Your Privates (Or, Maybe Modesty Isn’t About That.)” I think you’ll find it thought provoking.

 

FACEBOOK PAGE:

Did you catch this photo of my friend Chris Marlow on my Facebook page? Check it out. His statement on the role of women in ministry in relation to his daughters is beautiful. (Oh, and by the way, have you given my page the old thumbs up yet?)

 

VIDEO:

Let’s jump in the way-back machine; shall we? Here’s to the Traveling Wilburys! This video only gets better with age.

*****

In this month’s Tiny Letter (my once-a-month, insider newsletter delivered straight to your email), I’m discussing the Lenten season, the darkness of my heart, and the discipline of quiet reflection. If you sign up today, you’ll receive a FREE DOWNLOAD of the song “Train Wreck.” It’s a song I wrote about pain, loss, and the love of God.

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Recovery Room: The Second Page (by A.J. Swoboda)

Throughout 2015, I’ll be hosting various writers, pastors, and counselors as they step into the Recovery Room. Here, we’ll discuss the things that supplant inner sobriety, and connectedness to an abiding God. Couldn’t we all use a little recovery from something? 

Today, welcome Dr. A.J. Swoboda to the Recovery Room. A.J. is a professor (George Fox Seminary, Fuller Seminary), author, and pastor of Theophilus (theophiluschurch.com), a church in urban Portland, Oregon. His newest book, A Glorious Dark, is a wonderful read, and is available HERE or wherever fine books are sold. (GO GET IT!) He’s also a great follow on Twitter!

Welcome A.J. to the Recovery Room.

*****

The second page is the most important page.

A few years back, I remember coming across a story that Eugene Peterson recounts in his book Under the Unpredictable Plant. In the context of discussing his pastoral work, Peterson talks about those little, ominous, mysterious reports a pastor is often required to submit to their denominational leaders regarding the health of the church. Peterson’s reports consisted of two pages—a first page which included statistics about how the church was doing; and a second page where the pastor would discuss how they were doing personally.

As time went on, Peterson grew suspicious that the denominational leaders above him were merely reading the first page, overlooking the second page where the pastor revealed how they themselves were doing. To test his theory that they were ignoring his own health, he began inserting into his denominational reports a fictional alcoholism that was taking over his life. When a response never came, he soon began to inflate the problem. Not only, Peterson reported in subsequent reports, was he struggling with an alcohol addiction, he had begun to introduce drugs and sex into his church’s liturgy as a way to reflect the shifting attitudes in culture.

Peterson never got a response. The denomination never read the second page. Later he confronted the denominational leaders for their oversight.

Peterson’s story has always stirred me. And it aptly reveals a church culture that has grown more interested and attuned to numbers relating to church growth than it has in the stories of spiritual growth. In short, we value the first page (statistics) but not the second page (how we are).

The cost of this is that the health and well being of a pastor is often overlooked.

My second-page struggle with alcohol was anything but fictional. It was real. As a pastor, I endured a pronounced struggle with alcohol for a period of about three years. Part of my struggle, I came to find, was related to my own personal struggles in local church ministry life. In short, I had little to no emotional or spiritual infrastructure to deal with the things that come with pastoring a church. There is a reason my professor friend Dan teaches his seminary students that every pastor should be in counseling.

And so, through a particularly rough period of time, alcohol became my numbing agent; it helped me “get through.” Over the course of a few years, alcohol became a real—almost violent—struggle. When I faced my own demons—particularly, my struggle with alcohol—a lot came to the fore. Mostly, I experienced the good news of Jesus. It was in realizing my own powerlessness; so to speak, that the gospel made sense to me it hadn’t before.

I have come to find that people in AA incessantly use the word “powerlessness.” It is a word, I might add, that is most closely related to the gospel. The gospel and powerlessness go hand-in-hand. For the person who is truly powerless, a hand from the outside is the only hope they have. We can’t, I can’t, you can’t, pull yourself up by your own bootstrap. That isn’t gospel. The good news is only Jesus can resurrect—and that we don’t even have to pretend that we even have bootstraps to pull up. Bootstraps are unnecessary for the Christ-follower.

The gospel is for those who don’t even have bootstraps.

Generally, people will use Christianity either to: 1) put on make-up to help us make-believe nothing is wrong in our lives, or, 2) remove our make-up so that we might enter the presence of the Almighty as we are. Christianity is not a way to Photoshop the pain out of our life.

Rather, it is by the cross that our pain becomes baptized into the love of God. In my new book, A Glorious Dark, I argue that we need all three days—Good Friday, Holy Saturday, and Resurrection Sunday to fully experience Christianity as it was intended to be experienced. We can’t pick our favorite day. We need all of them.

The invitation is to come as we are.

Be careful with that, though. Come as you are: one of those catchy, shallow, saccharine church marketing phrases we preach to ourselves and use with great regularity but, in the end, don’t really mean. Or at least practice. None of us want people to come as they are. We want people to come as we want them to come and become what we want them to become. Really, it’s our sales-pitch to get people in the door. But it’s really bait and switch, ironically, that we might get people through the door so that they might be changed.

I don’t like saying come as you are if by saying that we are falsely advertising that through these doors you are not expected to change. Jesus’ Kingdom is not about remaining the same. Jesus’ Kingdom will wreck us. It’s fine if we say come as you are so long as we extend the same hospitality toward God as we do the neighbor. If we come as we are, and God comes as He is, I have a suspicion that only one of the two needs to change.

If we can come as we are, then God can come as He is. True hospitality doesn’t just make room for me, and you, it makes room for the one who made us too.

In my experience of struggling with alcohol, I could come to Jesus as I was. Turns out that Jesus refused to be silent as I came to him. He spoke to me. I had to move away from what I was doing. But he still loved me. He still loves me. And that is the secret good news for any of us who have lots of stuff on our second page that we are ashamed of. We can come as we are, but, God loves us to too much to let us leave the conversation the same.

God reads the second page of our lives. He doesn’t merely read the statistics page. He reads the whole report; and I might go on to say he reads the second page first. And when God does read our second page, he writes back. He enters in. He cares. Because he cares more about us than about what we produce, complete, and finish.

One might even say that the first page shall be last.

*****

AJ_Public1

Thanks, AJ!

FOR MORE, FOLLOW THE RECOVERY ROOM SERIES!

*****

In this month’s Tiny Letter (my once-a-month, insider newsletter delivered straight to your email), I’m discussing the Lenten season, the darkness of my heart, and the discipline of quiet reflection. If you sign up today, you’ll receive a FREE DOWNLOAD of the song “Train Wreck.” It’s a song I wrote about pain, loss, and the love of God.

*powered by TinyLetter

 

*Photo by Seth Anderson, Creative Commons via Flickr.

Want to receive my updates in your inbox? Click here. Also, follow along on Twitter and Facebook.

Bring Them To Their Knees

This morning I woke to the news that 90 Christian men, women, and children in Syria were abducted by ISIS militants in a series of dawn raids. This news comes on the heels of last week’s video showing the execution of 21 Coptic Christians on the shores of Libya.

Lord, have mercy.

I considered this newest group of Syrian abductees this morning, considered how they will likely join the communion of martyred saints, the “souls of those who [have] been slain because of the word of God, and because of the testimony which they had maintained.” (Rev. 6:9) I considered how they will follow in the footsteps of Peter, Paul, and Stephen. And in that moment, I stopped to consider the story of Stephen and Paul, f/k/a Saul.

You may recall Stephen, the Christian convert who was executed by the religious leaders of the day. Saul was there, and the leaders of the stoning committee laid their cloaks at his feet. There is no indication that Saul threw the first stone, but there is no doubt that he looked on with approval. I wonder—did Saul see the light emanating from the eyes of Stephen who did not shrink from death? Did Stephen’s death somehow affect Saul?

Later, on the road to Damascus, Saul was stricken by the light of God–the hope of Stephen–and he was brought to his knees. A voice thundered, “Saul! Why are you persecuting me?” There can be no doubt that Paul considered those he’d murdered, those like Stephen. And you know the rest of the story. The experience led Saul’s conversion, to his name change, and ultimately, to the spread of the Christian faith across the world.

It’s an instructive story, I think. It’s a story about the power of God to transform the heart of the persecuting murderer. It’s the story of human power being brought to its knees by the love of a gracious God.

This morning, as I read the newsfeed, I was struck by the darkness of my heart. “Lord, bring ISIS to their knees; annihilate them!” I might have first prayed. But in light of Jesus words to “love your enemies, and pray for those who persecute you,” I don’t suppose that my prayers of retaliation and retribution would have been well-founded.

Instead, I stopped and reflected. Do I thirst for retaliation? Do I hunger for revenge? Would I soon see the bloody bodies of every ISIS fighter, every persecutor of Christianity, strewn across a desert valley? Or would I rather see the persecutor brought to his knees under the gracious love of God? I will not try to super spiritualize the answers to these questions. I am vengeful; I am spiteful. Lord, have mercy.

If I’m honest, I’m not sure I belong in the body of the “you” found in the passage “pray for those who persecute you.” I live a life of relative ease. My idea of persecution has more to do with losing social media followers because I espouse a particular Christian ideology than it does losing my head for my faith. I don’t think that’s persecution. But for the extended Christian family, for my cousins in Libya, Iraq, Syria, and the like, I pray. I pray for the enemies of the Christian Cross. And in those prayers, I’m trying my best to pray less for retribution and retaliation, and more for the soul-reformation of the persecutors. I’m praying they would be brought to their knees like Paul. Perhaps you would consider joining me?

It’s a simple prayer, one found in the Book of Common Prayer. It’s a wrote prayer, sure. But today, it’s my prayer.

“O God, the Father of all, whose Son commanded us to love
our enemies: Lead them and us from prejudice to truth:
deliver them and us from hatred, cruelty, and revenge; and in
your good time enable us all to stand reconciled before you,
through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.”

And finally, if you have a minute today, please visit 21Martyrs.Com and commit to pray for the next 40 days for both the persecuted and those who persecute.

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THE GIFT OF FRINGE HOURS (OR WHY MEN’S RETREATS ARE SEXIST)

Men’s retreats—whether church getaways or hunting trips—have always baffled me. This, I think, is one of the most honest statements I have ever written in this online space.

Allow me to explain.

We live in a world that keeps a frenetic pace, one in which children are expected to be exceptional and excel at everything. From basketball practice, to running club, to piano, to Little Theater, to yada-yada-yada, our children are inundated with cultural notions of American exceptionalism from the cradle. “You can do anything you put your mind to,” we say, and so, they are forced to do everything we put their minds to.

Our family is no exception. Our children are in karate, extracurricular clubs, school productions, and para-church ministries. Isaac wants to join the basketball team and take piano. Jude wants to take art and guitar lessons. Add to this the growing interests of Ian and Titus, and my family’s schedule is growing very full. (And this is without mentioning doctor’s appointments, church functions, and community involvement.)

By society’s standards, my children have a relatively relaxed schedule, but still, we find it difficult to keep the pace without becoming frazzled.

Move to strike.

Amber finds it difficult to keep the pace.

If I’m honest, I’m not quite sure how she does it. She wakes early to spend her time in scripture and prayer, and before she can whisper her last Amen, Titus is begging for a new sippy cup and Jude needs his school lunch made. From there, she is in constant motion, out of breath as she tends to the needs of four children. And though I live the extremely-busy-with-complicated-adult-business-meetings-and-teleconferences sort of life, I am not the constant chauffeur/butler/housekeeper to children who’ve not yet mastered the art of holding adult conversations with a frazzled mommy.

In all that going and blowing, in the flurry of activity, what happens to rest for my wife? How does she carve out quiet places to decompress and dream? Often, she doesn’t.

And this, I think, is where my befuddlement with men’s retreats, hunting trips, and the like comes in. As men, we are intentional about carving out time for ourselves. But these sorts of retreats leave the women at home alone–again–to tend to the children. The father’s retreat becomes the extended work week for the mother.

This is not to say men don’t need time to decompress. After all, we all have stress that needs blowing off (or blowing up, depending on the sort of retreat). But if we’re not seeing the corollary need for our wives carve out the same kind of retreat for themselves? I suppose you could call that sexist.

(Was that too strong?)

This morning, Amber is away, writing in a coffee shop. It’s no weekend retreat of massages and shopping, but it’s a mini-break from the routine of the day. There, she’ll prepare for a lesson she’s giving to a local women’s group, drink a few cups of coffee, and maybe have an adult conversation or two. It’ll be one morning where we trade roles, where I tend to the constant needs of our children’s morning routine while her mind is free to wander and dream a little.

Soon, Amber will attend a women’s conference. There, she’ll spend time with good friends, cry about whatever it is women cry about at those conferences, and catch a catnap or two. She’ll be filled with life by human connection. She’ll be recharged by rest.

I carve out these spaces for Amber because I think women need retreat just as much as men. I carve out these spaces because here, in these Fringe Hoursthese times of making space for herself–she is refreshed. I carve out these spaces because when she returns, when she hugs me and thanks me for tending to the harried life of chauffeur/butler/housekeeper, I’ll look into her eyes and see a woman alive.

And what man doesn’t want to be married to woman who is fully alive?

*****

Fring Hours

 

I wrote this post in celebration of the release of The Fringe Hours: Making Time For You, the new book by my friend, Jessica Turner. Maybe you’re a mother who needs to learn the art of carving out time for yourself. Maybe you’re a fella who knows your wife needs to carve out time for herself. Either way, grab a copy of The Fringe Hours. You’ll be glad you did. (Really… go on… BUY IT HERE!)

 

 

*****

In this month’s Tiny Letter (my once-a-month, insider newsletter delivered straight to your email), I’ll be discussing the Lenten season, the darkness of my heart, and the discipline of quiet reflection. Look for the newest edition later this week (the week of February 15). And if you sign up today, you’ll receive a FREE DOWNLOAD of the song “Train Wreck.” It’s a song I wrote about pain, loss, and the love of God.

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 *Photo by by André Banyai, Creative Commons via Flickr.

Want to receive my updates in your inbox? Click here. Also, follow along on Twitter and Facebook.

Parade of Questions

It was a daddy-date, just the two of us. Ian and I sat at U.S. Pizza Company, the home of the non-artisanal, non-organic, thin and crispy crust pizza. This is not your upper-crust fare; instead, it is the stuff reminiscent of the late-night college cramming sessions (of both chemistry formulas and junk food).

Pizza is among Ian’s favorite foods, which should come as no surprise. I don’t suppose I know a single seven year old who does not hang the hope of the world on cheese pizza and chocolate donuts. Couple either with chocolate milk from a square carton and you have a meal worthy of grade-school Valhalla.

A trim waitress with bright eyes and blond hair brought the pizza to the table. She bent down to Ian’s eye-level, and with a smile said, “will this work, buddy?” He stared only at the steaming cheese, oblivious to her striking beauty, and with eyes big as pizza pans gave an elongated, dramatic “yeeeeeesssss….”

We sat in the joint and talked about school. I asked him whether he was enjoying it, and he said mostly. “Some of the kids are starting to cuss,” he said. “They’re trying to make me do it, too.” I asked him whether he had joined their attempts at grown up language. He stopped eating, gave me the furrowed brow of surprise and said, “are you crazy?!? Those words are bad!”

That was that. I am raising a rule-boy.

Half a cheese pizza and three cups of Sprite later, we sat talking, when I overheard one of the waitresses saying, “the parade is starting!” She was standing by the large windows in the front of the restaurant, and looking out toward Dickson Street, where I could see candy and beads flying through the air. Ian was letting his food digest, so I asked him if he’d like to take a peek at the parade. “There’ll be candy and beads,” I said. Innocent as a lamb, he said, “candy? Sure. Let’s go.”

Outside, the folks of Fayetteville lined the street, stretched their arms upward and said “beads here! Beads here!” The parade processional was just making its way down the street, and a Little Guys Mover’s truck was at the head. It was adorned with shiny, plastic beads on the passenger side mirror, and a woman from inside was tossing candy and stringed necklaces to the crowd. She threw me two tangled strands and I offered them to Ian. He recoiled. “Necklaces are for girls,” he said. I put them over my head.

As the parade rolled on, a float came with a sign denoting it was the “Love Shack.” A structure had been constructed on the back of a trailer, and women danced under it while throwing goodies to the crowd. A public address system blared, “the love shack is a little old place where we can get together.”

Ian looked at me, confused by the bawdy dancing women and asked, “what is that daddy?”

“I’ll tell you when you’re older, son.”

Float after float came down the street, and we watched them pass. This was the family-friendly Mardi Gras parade our town holds every year. It’s a small parade, boasting no more than fifteen floats, and the candy and beads flow like milk and honey. A gang of roller-derby girls skated behind a float of purple-headed fairies in matching tutus. A vintage Ford truck cruised, blaring Willy Nelson. A trailer hauled a local band that played an old Doobie Brother’s tune.

Beads, beads, and more beads, the floats were generous with the crowd. Finally, Ian asked, “what’s all this about?”
“Tuesday,” I said, “is Fat Tuesday, or Mardi Gras. It’s the last day before Lent, the day that we feast on whatever it is we will fast from so that we can draw closer to God.”

“What’s Lent,” he yelled over the band.

“It’s the season where we remember our need for repentance; it’s the season just before Easter!”

Ian stopped and looked at me. “So this parade–they’re having a big party because they’ll have to give up parties soon?”

“Something like that.”

“Daddy?” He paused. “Are they throwing a party for sin?”

I stood on the side of Dickson and held the tenderness of his question. Sometimes, I think having childlike faith means asking the most uncomfortable questions.

*****

In this month’s Tiny Letter (my once-a-month, insider newsletter delivered straight to your email), I’ll be discussing the Lenten season, the darkness of my heart, and the discipline of quiet reflection. Look for the newest edition later this week (the week of February 15). And if you sign up today, you’ll receive a FREE DOWNLOAD of the song “Train Wreck.” It’s a song I wrote about pain, loss, and the love of God.

*powered by TinyLetter

 *Photo by by André Banyai, Creative Commons via Flickr.

Want to receive my updates in your inbox? Click here. Also, follow along on Twitter and Facebook.

© Copyright - Seth Haines