Back to School Inspiration (A Modern Parable)

It’s that time of year again, the time when all the children catch anxiety like the flu, the time they carry it to the schoolhouse and pass it around quicker than lice. It’s back-to-school season!

Ain’t it grand?

In the hopes of lightening the mood for you and your child and perhaps imparting a little inspiration, I created an Instagram Stories back-to-school parable. Today, I’m sharing that inspiration with you here. (And for the record, I use the term “inspiration” quite loosely.)

 

Are you ready for another school year? Go get ’em! And by that, I mean, “show up and coast.”

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The Symmetry of a Woman

There are women born into symmetry, and this is less a statement about beauty and more one of being. These are the women who learn themselves, who learn life, and who learn to balance their emotional, physical, and spiritual well-being across the axis of awareness. Only visionary women live this way.

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In the old house on the tiny farm, Amber vacuums the baseboards, prepares the house for another tenant. She hums a tune–the Pixies?–as she works the far wall. “This is how to work without grumbling,” she could say to the boys, but instead she is the personification of example. It is even-keeled. Steady.Amber10

Before supper, she takes a twenty minute cat nap. This is her body and she listens to the weight of gravity working against it. There have been grocery store runs, school pickups, and children using her as if she were a jungle gym. The act of mothering is a balancing act, and when the give outstrips the take, symmetry skews. “I’ll feel so much better in ten,” she says, and closes her eyes. With the precision of an egg timer, she opens her eyes, reborn.

Rain Dance

In New Haven, the rain comes, and our friend Erika begs her to dance in the downpour. The children–all four–ask to play like adults, and the lot of them run down the sidewalks and cross onto the Yale campus. Adult and child, woman and girl, they search for symmetry and find it in the puddles near the Women’s Table (the monument celebrating liberation and equality, a grander form of symmetry). Women and children dance in the rain, reflecting joy, even under a slate-gray sky.

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Do you know a person of symmetry? Feel free to honor them in the comments below. I’d love to hear the stories of those who teach you about beauty and balance.

And while you’re hear, allow me to bend your ear? I’ve created a 30 day email journal designed to walk you into better balance, into the symmetry of inner sobriety. Follow this link to sign up for the 30 day Coming Clean Journal. With excerpts from Coming Clean: A Story of Faith, and daily journal prompts, I hope you’ll find this journal another useful tool for the journey. Come along?

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The Secret of Saints is…

On Saturday, I spoke at an event held in an Catholic church in Minneapolis. The stained glass was pristine, the stuff of much larger cathedrals, and it spurred this piece. Enjoy.

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The Secret of Saints Is

to be gentle with their histories;
to hold them like crippled birds
fallen from early summer’s nest;
to know nothing but that histories
and wounded birds must go free
to die (this is the earth’s course);
to mourn once the natural finite,
the songs that might have been, maybe,
and to rest ahead into tomorrow’s sun,
shining.

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Hope in Community

There is something about Minnesota in the summer–emerald green grass, iridescent sky, the whole of community grateful, smiling, singing praises that it’s not twenty below zero. (They are grateful for the little things in the Gopher State.) I was in the land of the Norsemen to speak at Steve Wiens’s event, “Sobriety and Spirit,” and to spend time with the communities of Genesis Covenant Church and The Table at Christ Presbyterian.

Between Sunday services, I made my way to Minneapolis’s Loring Park, to the schools of humans celebrating Pride. They hopped from rainbow colored tent to rainbow colored tent, from food truck to food truck, from the open-air pavilion to the tent throwing a Johnny Cash hoedown, complete with square dancing. Through and past the people I pushed, past the carnival food and the face-painting station, and I made my way to The Basilica of St. Mary standing guard over the north side of the park. Past its steps, past the prayer labyrinth mowed into the side of courtyard, I entered by way of the transept doors and sat on the first row. Simple music–piano and voices–filled the basilica like baptismal waters fill a font. My nose burned with the smell of fresh incense. Light streamed through the rose window. It was the place of an ornate peace.

An usher approached from the side, offered me a program–“Solemn Vespers for Healing an Hope,” it read–and he invited me to the sacristy. Making my way beside and behind the altar, I looked up, saw the stony feet of saints carved from marble. There was Mary, too, her arms outstretched toward Loring Park. “Come children,” she could have said, but she was silent as rock.

Time was not on my side (I had another service to attend), but when it is the hour for healing prayers under vespers lights, it’s best to participate. Behind the altar, behind Mary’s back, I sat with more modern saints, and we sang for the victims of Orlando, for the violence of a country, for the violences of our own hearts.

“As the evening sun moves toward the golden rays of dawn, we long for peace in our world, in our homes and in our hearts. Gratefully we sing:

Praise and thanks to you, God, Redeemer.”

A video posted by Seth Haines (@sethhaines) on

Healing and hope–this is the want of men.

I exited the basilica and was carted to The Table at Christ Presbyterian Church, my last event of the weekend. With my new friends in Edina, Minnesota, I shared a story of community and freedom, of hope connected to connectedness. I’d like to share that message with you today. (It begins at the 17 minute mark.)

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A Good and Proper Slaughtering

John, Winn, and I have been talking about the human experience, about writing, and about recording the things that are real, sans fluff. This is a passing attempt. (Warning: this gets gory.)

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The straight-run matured into a veritable flock–ten hens and eleven hackled and cocky roosters. Ratios being what they were (one rooster for every hen, with only one hen to spare), and cocks being what they are (territorial and full of the stuff of life) our lady birds were receiving quite a bit of attention (hint, hint; wink, wink; nudge, nudge). One might say the free range at the Haines Homestead had become bawdy, prurient, or lewd.

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If you are not well-versed on animal husbandry, and I count myself as no expert, you might know that over-sexed hens tend to skittishness, fits of anxiety, and perhaps self-doubt.  What’s more, the over-sexing roosters tend to chest puffing, fight picking, and plucking plugs out of their brothers’ feathers. On a smaller scale (one to one, or some such ratio) this sexing and fighting becomes a quasi-comical metaphor of sorts. At the ratio of ten to eleven, it creates nothing short of a farmyard ruckus.
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Last week, the roosters matured to a braise-worthy size. The season of harvest had come. A good-and-proper slaughtering being necessary and appropriate, I sharpened the reaper’s blade and hung the noose from the Cypress tree overlooking the pond.

(This is where things get gruesome. You’ve been warned.)

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Experts explain that the most humane way to dispatch a chicken is to hang it by its feet allowing it to relax into a near sleep. This induction of sleep and the ensuing dispatching is often made easier by the use “killing cones,” in which a chicken is placed upside down, head and neck extending through an opening in the bottom, wings compressed against the metal sides, and legs protruding from the top. A gentle kill–so these same experts tell you–involves a deep, quick slice against the jugular, opening the blood spigot. The heart quickens, pulling and pulsing blood from the meat, through the neck, and onto the ground. The pain is minimal–again, per the experts–and the cock-sure soul wakes in the land of eternal morning, of endless cock-a-doodle-doos and capitulating lady birds.

All this said, I had no killing cone for this good-and-proper slaughtering, and I didn’t intend to spend my spare change on such a device for the sake of ten birds. And so, crafty gentleman farmer that I am, I strung the young roos by their feet, allowed them to relax to the point of sleep, turned their necks, and made the cuts. The blood spigot opened, sure enough, and the stream ran red down the side of the cypress, pooling at its base. Within minutes, green-backed flies congregated in the pool, one on top of another, hundreds of living sequins winking at each other in the sunlight. (Hint, hint; wink, wink; nudge nudge.)

Life and death pulse along an infinite loop.

In the last seconds of a chicken’s life, there is a final shudder, the quickening of breath in the breast, the spasmodic and violent flapping of the wings. There is a last lifting of the neck toward the sky, a searching for the sun. It is intimate, primal, perhaps holy. Mindfulness turns the moment to both sorrow and gratitude, toward other juxtapositions I haven’t quite sorted, might not ever sort.

Roos plucked, processed, and packed, the meat now lines my freezer. Meat aside, the killing floor by the old cypress welcomed me into the experience of life, into the fragility of it, into the undulations of nature’s sexing, birthing, and dying. This world is fierce, violent, and sometimes lacking in mercy (such as we define it).

This, I suppose, is the point: if the world were all daisies, roses, and unicorn flatulence, I’m not sure faith would be a necessary thing. A fairytale life, a life celebrating only love, joy, peace and mercy is just that–a fairytale. Sex, birth, violence, killing, provision, death, and the fear of dying–these things beg imperative questions.

What is life and its end?

What is the last gasp, the craning of the neck?

What does it mean to kill and to die?

What does it mean to find provision through death?

How does the heart find gratitude in sacrifice?

How does it feel to be alive?

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