Tuesday Reflections: A New Kind of Lenten Fast

Over the next couple of months, I’m offering Tuesday reflections on pain, healing, and recovery. I hope you’ll join the community of folks walking this road together. (To keep up with this reflection series, signup for blog updates in the maroon box in the left sidebar.)

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There is a universal truth in the human experience: we are all the walking bitten; we are all stung by our fellow humans. And here’s the rub: I’ve stung others along the way, maybe some of you.

Consider it: haven’t you felt the poison of the lying, cheating, abusing world? Haven’t those with well-meaning words wounded you? Hasn’t the venom of manipulation coagulated in your veins? Haven’t you harbored bitterness, unforgiveness, doubt in your fellow man, doubt in God? Hasn’t it become your best pet malady?

It is mine.

~Coming Clean, November 20

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It’s Mardi Gras, Fat Tuesday, Shrove Tuesday–whichever you prefer. It’s the day before the season of Lent, the season of penitence and fasting. That being the case, today is the binge day, the fill-er-up-while-you-can-because-you’re-about-to-run-your-addictions-dry day. Don’t you love Fat Tuesday?

You may know the fasting tradition of Lent, of giving up some indulgence in an effort to better fix your eyes on the divine. It’s a tradition long celebrated in the Christian faith, in liturgical and non-liturgical settings alike. For some, it’s the highlight of their year. For others, it’s the bane of the liturgical calendar.

I’ve been considering my personal fast, and I’ve decided to come at it from a different angle. I’ll keep drinking coffee, eating chocolate, and indulging my sweet tooth. (What good is it to torture the body but indulge the soul?) This year, instead of fasting from food, I’m pushing back into a practice I started in Coming Clean. This year, I’ll practice fasting from anger, angst, and bitterness toward my fellow men.

If you sit in the quiet, if you contemplate the course of your history, do you feel the sting of your fellow men? Do you cling to the wrongs wrought against you by mothers, fathers, friends, ex-husbands, or children? Do you seethe with anger toward a boss or co-worker? You’ve had trouble with other humans, yes?

In this world you will have trouble–it’s a promise. But here’s the tricky bit: in this world, you’ll inflict trouble upon others, too. How, then, will you receive forgiveness for the pain inflicted upon others if you refuse to forgive your own enemies, family members, and friends? (Matthew 6:15) This is not a rhetorical question.

It’s Shrove Tuesday, and tonight I’ll feast on pancakes at our church’s second annual pancake supper. Then, I’ll retire to my house, grab a pen and paper, and make a list of those who’ve caused me pain. I’ll look at that list, allow the emotion to surface, and I’ll pray the words “I forgive you,” over each name. I’ll ask God to help me release the emotions, to see each pain-bearer with divine love. I’ll ask for help in fasting from anger.

Would you join me in this fast?

Reflective Exercise:

1. Would you commit to participating in a new kind of fast? Would you consider joining me in the work of forgiveness?

2. Consider the times in your life when you’ve been wounded. Pick a specific example—perhaps the pain inflicted by a lover, child, your mother or father. Make a list of the individuals that inflicted these wounds. As new names come to mind, add them to the list.

3. Pray forgiveness over each name on your list, and commit to continuing praying the same prayer each day throughout the Lenten season (from now till Easter). 

4. If you’d like to discuss this prompt, along with other reflections, feel free to join the Coming Clean Insiders Group on Facebook. There, a few souls gather and discuss a range of topics, including addiction, pain, and the path to healing.

***TINY LETTER***

CC Austin OuttakesThanks for stopping in! If you enjoy reading here, sign up to receive my bi-monthly Tiny Letter. If you sign up, you’ll receive my free eBook, Coming Clean|Austin Outtakes. The Outtakes share the story behind my latest release from Zondervan, Coming Clean|A Story of Faith.

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To My Son, During the Superbowl

To My Son, During the Superbowl
 
My son stretched across the couch,
was pulled into the spectacle of this year’s
feats of strength by men, women—products.
I know some by name, persona, statistics,
not by handshakes, conversations, bedrooms.
They are white gold, chocolate, or coffee
consumed for a season, another season,
until the shells of heroes are nothing more
than the peanut skins of trivia.
 
I try to explain ownership, or power,
the way it masquerades as competition,
progress, prowess, or sport.
It’s only football, he says, hand waiving,
eyes fixed on the goal, on the pompoms.
 
Sure, I say, and could cuss the game
he’s learned to love—but no,
this is not about football.
This is about having the imagination
to see through smoke machines.
 
In my mouth are these words:
The peoples’ power is found in the thigh
that captures a boy’s imagination,
and the heavier a hammer a man can swing
the more rubble he can create, if—
and this is a mighty big if—
he is willing to create rubble.
 
There is a criticism here, but it’s stuck,
and dumb because I know that speaking this
will one day cause a son to call me foolish,
or worse, romantic. But there were days,
I’ve been told, when legends weren’t paid
to be legendary, and the power of a thigh
transformed mortals into goddesses.
I want these days for my son,
but more, I want them for us.

***TINY LETTER***

CC Austin OuttakesThanks for stopping in! If you enjoy reading here, sign up to receive my bi-monthly Tiny Letter. If you sign up, you’ll receive my free eBook, Coming Clean|Austin Outtakes. The Outtakes share the story behind my latest release from Zondervan, Coming Clean|A Story of Faith.

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Weekend Review: Paper Cuts and Sonnets

Amber is away doing girl things at a girl conference is a city packed with girls. I’m sure there are tears, and tea, tremulous prayers being lifted to heaven in that city that shall not be named, but in this neck of the woods, the four boys and I are all about pizza, root beer, and bodily-function jokes. At the end of the day, I’m still a boy.

We have a great big day planned, one including shooting hoops and cleaning out the mini-van. (At the end of the day, I’m still a boy, that’s married to a girl, that drives a mini-van to the supermarket.) But before we roll up our sleeves and get after it, let’s waste a little time.

What do you say?

***

If this isn’t a seed of hope, nothing is. Do not miss this video about Ward College in Chicago, a community college designed to help those who “want to trade in their guns for pens.”

There’s a lot of talk about forgiveness these days, especially the forgiveness of self. But what about the concept of absolution? Don’t miss this piece for Mockingbird, in which Adam Morton writes:

“This is a nation full of Christian people who believe that God forgives, but have rarely if ever heard the words, ‘Your sins are forgiven’ directed to them. Forgiveness has become a concept, often associated with Jesus, but not a word spoken with the tongue or heard with the ear. If forgiveness is an act, it is strictly an internal one,  a movement of the will or emotions. I ask my therapist how I can forgive someone who has harmed me, but by this I do not mean actually absolving them with my words. I mean, ‘How can I feel okay about the past?'”

“Parth Kothekar is a paper-cut artist from Ahmedabad, India.” Intrigued? You should be. This paper-cut art is so delicate, you won’t believe your eyes.

Is your bio a bit bland? Does it need a little spice? Use this Designer Bio Generator to spruce it up a bit. Does it generate anything true? Nope. Is it funny? Here’s mine; you decide:

“Skier, ramen eater, DJ, reclaimed wood collector and HTML5 Guru. Making at the junction of modernism and programing to craft an inspiring, compelling and authentic brand narrative. Let’s chat.”

I love Malcolm Guite, and you should, too. We’re days away from Ash Wednesday. Lent is upon us. Before we enter this penitential season, though, allow Guite to give you a glimpse of light.

Finally, don’t miss my Tuesday Reflection from this week, in which I ask the question, “…without pain, would you know the locus of your weakness?

Thanks for reading along. Let’s let Luke and Old Ben take us out with their rendition of “The Bushes of Love.”

***TINY LETTER***

CC Austin OuttakesThanks for stopping in! If you enjoy reading here, sign up to receive my bi-monthly Tiny Letter. If you sign up, you’ll receive my free eBook, Coming Clean|Austin Outtakes. The Outtakes share the story behind my latest release from Zondervan, Coming Clean|A Story of Faith.

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Recovery Room: From Gumption to Inner-Sobriety

Over the last year, I’ve received my fair share of me-too emails, emails in which the writer has reached out to say, “you’ve wrestled with addiction? Me too.” These emails take various shapes and forms–advice from someone ten years ahead of me on this recovery journey, confessions from other addicts on the other side of the screen.  This is the beauty of confession–it both invites the wisdom and grace of age, and encourages the lame to take their own first step.

Yesterday, I received an email from a reader who shared his pain. He’d come to the conclusion of Coming Clean and decided to stretch back into the possibility of God. He wrote, “my life hasn’t changed at all yet… I still ache all the time… I am still trying to take it in, trying to really believe it all… trying to get up the gumption to believe in Jesus again, maybe just a little….”

Trying to get the gumption–what a line.

These are the confessions that are difficult to field, especially in a relational vacuum, but I did my best. As I closed my response, I typed,

“‘trying to get up the gumption to believe in Jesus again…’ Maybe this is the trick. Maybe it’s intestinal fortitude, and intuition, and a bit of wonder that keeps us holding on, or reaching out (depending on our posture). I think God sees that. I think God is okay with that. In fact, I think God smiles on it.”

I clicked send, sat in the silence, and considered my bald assertion.

***

You may not be a twelve-step disciple, may not attend Alcoholics Anonymous, Narcotics Anonymous, or a Sex Addicts Anonymous. (To put all cards on the table, you should know I’m not a regular attender.) But even if you’ve never stepped into a meeting, if you have no disordered attachments or disruptive addictions, even if you’ve only had passing conversations with true addicts (whatever that might mean to you), don’t you have some familiarity with the twelve steps of the Anonymous programs? Don’t you at least know the first two?

Step 1: admit you are powerless over your addiction, and that life has become unmanageable in that addition.

Step 2: admit that only a Power greater than yourself can restore you to sanity.

These are the foundational principals of the twelve-step programs designed to beat addiction. And herein lies the problem: even if one believes his life unmanageable, even if addiction, or pain, or our spiritual condition has rendered him powerless, what if he can’t quite admit that there is a Power greater than himself? What if belief in God is a struggle at best, and impossible at worst? Is recovery possible?

I’m not here to give you the twelve-step answer to the struggle, or to chide your disbelief. I’m also not here to provide resources for atheist and agnostic twelve-steppers (though they exist). Today I’m writing for a far different purpose; I’m writing to inspire your imagination.

Ask yourself this question: What if I don’t believe in a Power great enough to save me from addiction? Consider yesterday’s emailer; he was onto something.

There’s no such thing as perfect belief this side of the veil. So what if we admitted our doubts, the weakness of our faith, and responded, I’m trying to get up the gumption to believe in Jesus again…? What if that response–imperfect as it might seem–was good enough for our communities of recovery? What if our communities (both twelve-step communities and church communities) made space for doubt, faith, and the gumption in the liminal space between? Wouldn’t that be a community of honesty and authenticity? Are there any better weapons against addiction and disordered attachments than honesty and authenticity?

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In these recovery conversations, let’s make space for the doubt and disbelief. Let’s make space for unresolved pain and questions. And instead of giving all the right answers, let’s inspire those around us to gumption. Perhaps their gumption is God’s gift for the recovery of their faith, for the recovery of their inner-sobriety.

Can you imagine it?

***TINY LETTER***

CC Austin OuttakesThanks for stopping in! If you enjoy reading here, sign up to receive my bi-monthly Tiny Letter. If you sign up, you’ll receive my free eBook, Coming Clean|Austin Outtakes. The Outtakes share the story behind my latest release from Zondervan, Coming Clean|A Story of Faith.

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Tuesday Reflections: The Gift of Pain

Over the next couple of months, I’m offering Tuesday reflections on pain, healing, and recovery. I hope you’ll join the community of folks walking this road together.

(To keep up with this reflection series, signup for blog updates in the maroon box in the left sidebar.)

*****

“What if pain, what if the thing parents try the hardest to protect their children from, was the thing your child needed most?” ~Good Morning America, July 5, 2012

Ashlyn Blocker came into this world with the pushing pain of her mother, came screaming into this world like any other new life come screaming into this world. She was wide-eyed, sweet, and as she settled into her new digs, her parents noticed her quietness. She was so quiet, in fact, that she didn’t cry when she was hungry, didn’t scream when diaper rash spread across her bottom. Toddling, she didn’t make a peep when she fell and knocked her head against the coffee table.

It came to a head when Ashlyn was eight months old. Her doctors discovered that she had a corneal abrasion, and what should should have turned her into a throbbing, screaming mess, didn’t seem to register. That’s when they discovered it–Ashlyn couldn’t feel pain.

CIP–Congenital Insensitivity to Pain–is a genetic defect so rare, medical professionals aren’t sure how many individuals it affects. And though insensitivity to pain might seem like a evolutionary miracle, a blessing of sorts, consider this: CIP patients cannot feel the sear of a burn, the throbbing warning of appendicitis, or the crack of the broken bone. They are often unaware of their injuries, suffer infections, or otherwise succumb to treatable diseases. Their inability to feel pain is dangerous, often life-threatening.

Pain, see, is a gift.

The curse of pain is also its present. The throbbing, searing, stinging, and aching shows the locus of injury; it is indicative of the place weakness and need.

There’s an analog here in the emotional and spiritual world. So many of us would rather numb the pain or otherwise not feel it. In Coming Clean, I put it this way:

“When life slides its shiv into the soft spot between two ribs, when the pain shoots through every nerve, common sense dictates that we run to the doctor or therapist. Common sense dictates that we allow them to take it out and bind our wounds. Why, then, do we so often ignore the shivs?” ~November 2

If Congenital Insensitivity to Emotional/Spiritual Pain were a thing, I’d take it, you might say. But without pain, would you know the locus of your weakness? Without the emotional or spiritual pain, wouldn’t the machinations of your life be robotic, unfeeling? Without sensitivity to these sorts of aches, could you enjoy the pleasures of healing and wholeness brought by a good healing-and-wholeness doctor?

Emotional and spiritual pain show us our need for treatment, show us the need for a greater physician. And it’s the tenderness of this great physician that makes life worth living.

At least, that’s my take.

Reflective Exercise:

1. This morning, take an inventory of your emotional and spiritual pains. Where do you feel battered, bruised, or cut by those in your life?

2. Sit in the silence and ask God to visit, to bring treatment. Do you sense anything?

3. If the pains run deep–perhaps too deep–consider calling a therapist today. Really. Do it.

4. If you’d like to discuss this prompt, along with other reflections, feel free to join the Coming Clean Insiders Group on Facebook. There, a few souls gather and discuss a range of topics, including addiction, pain, and the path to healing. 

***TINY LETTER***

CC Austin OuttakesThanks for stopping in! If you enjoy reading here, sign up to receive my bi-monthly Tiny Letter. If you sign up, you’ll receive my free eBook, Coming Clean|Austin Outtakes. The Outtakes share the story behind my latest release from Zondervan, Coming Clean|A Story of Faith.

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