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.

***

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.

***TINY LETTER***

Thanks 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 OuttakesAnd, if you enjoy this website, or my Tiny Letter, consider signing up as a monthly content supporter.

powered by TinyLetter

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

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.)

***TINY LETTER***

Thanks 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 OuttakesAnd, if you enjoy this website, or my Tiny Letter, consider signing up as a monthly content supporter.

powered by TinyLetter

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

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.)

***

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.

27557242300_9e66d98b5f_z

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.
27223423703_4e1fa960a6_z

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.)

27557249750_f33cf0aa00_z

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?

***TINY LETTER***

Thanks 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 OuttakesAnd, if you enjoy this website, or my Tiny Letter, consider signing up as a monthly content supporter.

powered by TinyLetter

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

I Once Was Lost and am Lost Again, Was Blind but now Can’t See

A pastor calls, tells me he’s hearing voices again. These aren’t the voices of the alternate personality, the new age spirit guide, or the self-harmer telling him to run down the hall double-fisting scissors. These days, he hears the very real voice of history, of sex, of regret.

“What if she comes to my church? What if she stands in the back of the congregation and outs me? What if she tells of all of those last-time-we’ll-ever-do-this nights we shared, the ones just after college? I was supposed to be a minister in those days.” He says this aloud, wonders whether it might end his career as an up-and-coming preacher in his conservative tradition.

“Have you told anyone?” I ask. He is silent.

His dalliances were almost twenty years ago. He still carries fear that the world might discover the truth: he is a fraud.

***

A woman calls–a local church leader–and she outs the demons she’s wrestled with since childhood. She outs, and outs, and outs, explaining all the ways she’s hidden the slashes left by demon talons. Long-sleeved dresses, pretty bracelets, adornments–these are fashionable sleights of hand. Rattle, rattle, rattle–hear the jewelry rattle. Look at all the pretties; there’s nothing to see on the skin, beneath the skin, down to the veins.

She speaks her pain, picking up steam, tells me she’s ready to unhide. Then she asks, “but what if they reject me?”

“What if?” I say, more as a challenge and less as a question.

***

Christian culture has made a mockery of grace. You know this mockery. It goes something like this: I once was lost, but now I’m found, was blind but now I see. Well ain’t that freaking amazing?

We expect our Christian leaders to be once broken, yes. But once amazing grace has been applied, we expect perfection, or at least a certain modicum of respectability. We expect them to exercise holy discretion, to keep their more unsavory bits unexposed, maybe even hidden for the sake of some god-ish illusion. Even if we don’t expect it, they expect that we expect it, and so the circuitous cycle of fear and shame continues unbroken.

This life of faith–how often is it the impetus to  secret away our more damnable acts; how often is it the impetus to shame others into secreting away theirs? Secrets, secrets everywhere, but look at all of our pretties.

I’ve lived a little life, and here’s the truth the human experience has taught me: I once was lost, and will be lost again, was blind, and sometimes still can’t see. This exercise of faith is one of fumbling around in the dark, and that’s part of the good news. Good? Yes. Who here has it all together? You? (Great-God and howdy-doody; feel free to move along in your perfection.) I fumble; you fumble; everybody fumbles. No one is expected not to fumble. Fumbling is part of the human condition. Fumbling is natural. And without a good and painful fumble, how would we ever learn of our need for a bit of help?

We have tidy closets and others stuffed with junk. The junky closets, don’t they cause the most angst? But how to unpack them? Why unpack them? I suppose our good friend Jimmy gives us the answer to both of these questions:

Make this your common practice: Confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you can live together whole and healed.

(James 5:16, The Message)

The human condition is the everyday juxtaposition of our hidden junk, our hit and runs, our late night dalliances, our secret pills, our covered cuts–our hidden wreckedness–against the eternal put-togetherness of the Divine. If you want, I suppose you can keep hiding that wreckedness. But if you’d rather not, if you’d rather find a little healing, if you’d rather release the projection of your illusion in favor of hiding yourself inside the put-together Divine, there’s really only one way, at least the way I see it.

I suppose the point is this: if you’re one of those pastors, one of those quasi-famous speakers of faith, one of those authors, or elders, or deacons charged with leading the church, give the people (of which I am one) something real. Show them your closets, all of them. Ask for their help unpacking and organizing the particularly junky one, and offer help unpacking theirs. Lock your broken arms and sing a new song in this kind of community–we once were blind, and and sometimes still can’t see.

*This post brought to you courtesy of Coming Clean: A Story of Faith.

***TINY LETTER***

Thanks 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 OuttakesAnd, if you enjoy this website, or my Tiny Letter, consider signing up as a monthly content supporter.

powered by TinyLetter

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

The News According to Fear, Anger, Sex and Hope

This is the news according to Facebook, according to Twitter, according to CNN, according to fair-and-balanced Fox: Hillary pulls ahead by a nose; Trump is a hairpiece away from the presidency; Bernie is being Bernie, and the people love Bernie (“hip-hip BERN-IE!”); the black box was found; the boy is alive though the gorilla is dead; the starlet has a new sex tape (click, click, click and watch her work); the temperature and the terror alert are on the rise; the hurricane is coming; stocks are more volatile than the San Andreas; employment is more fickle than manna; the robots are here; we’re going to Mars; we’re shooting past Pluto; we are our only limitation–other than Trump, who is a hairpiece away from the presidency.

Some call the media a spin cycle, a constant tumbling of news (that is not news), which keeps us off kilter. I call it a mint, watch as they throw the machine into high gear, as they fuel the machine with fear, anger, sex, hope, shades of love, colors of greed. Out comes the money. (What does it profit a man to report on the whole world and lose his gold?)

“Tune in tonight for more fear.”

“After this commercial break, more sex.”

“Buy this box of hope.”

“Tonight’s angry political commentary brought to you by the good people at Sugar Soy American Porn Corp., Inc.”

The stories roll. The emotions roll. The dollars roll. The saints look up from their pine boxes–they roll, too. “The soul was not made to withstand this sort of manipulation,” they think; then, “Lord have mercy.”

The things I believe about the nature of men are simple: we were made to fear only saber-toothed tigers and the rustling of leaves in the dark; we were imbued with anger to bring gift of reformation; our eyes were meant to see only as far as the horizon, our legs made to walk a few miles at a time; sex was meant for the love our life; love was meant for the wife, the children, the community; hope was given so that we might create; hunger was purposed to push us as far as the next meal.

The things I believe about the nature of the soul are likewise simple: it is tiny, child-like, eternal; it stronger than the body, but so often led by it; it can master or be mastered by anger, fear, hunger, hope and sex. Can I prove this? No. But stop and reflect. You know this is true; don’t you?

The line between master and mastered is quite thin–this is the news according to Facebook, according to Twitter, according to CNN, according to fair-and-balanced Fox.

***TINY LETTER***

Thanks 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 OuttakesAnd, if you enjoy this website, or my Tiny Letter, consider signing up as a monthly content supporter.

powered by TinyLetter

 

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