Archive for category: christianity

You are Fraud; You are Family

There is a universal secret, a uniform truth so many of us tuck between the religious things we read from notecards. (Secrets, secrets they’re no fun; they seem to weigh a metric ton.) What’s the secret?

So many of us feel like frauds.

On an average Sunday evening, I gather with a liturgical community in a sacred space rented from an evangelical, non-denominational, non-liturgical church. The bell rings, the cross processes down the aisle, and I cannot help but notice the elongated shadows of our sister church, haunting. I imagine the morning crowd, now at their evening home groups, or maybe at home with their families, or doing whatever it is they do on a Sunday evening. I fix their faces in my imagination, even as I bow to the passing brass cross. I imagine all those morning church folk, and as I look at the shadows between my sneakers, I see the scattered crumbs of their own fraud-feelings.

The morning folk–did they come hoping to put these secrets to death? Did they come hoping that fresh faith would somehow kill the nagging doubt or hypocrisy or abivilance? Perhaps not all, but certainly some. And the evening folk, are we any different?

Universal truths are universal for reason.

If you listen to the voices beyond the voices in any worship service, the internal echo of things we hear but don’t say, you’ll find the revenant. It’s Thomas, Peter, maybe even Judas. You know they are in you. You know you need an exorcism from the voices.

Lord, I’m not feeling any of this; help my unbelief.

On an average Sunday evening, though, there is a moment of mass exorcism. There is bread and wine. There is us—all in our counterfeit sainthood—confessing our saggy fraudulence together.

Lord, I am not worthy to receive you, but only say the word and I shall be healed.

The bread is lifted; light streams through the baptismal window illuminating an eternal circle of grain. Eclipsing the sun, a corona of truth hems the host, driving every shadow of doubt back to hellfire. Broken, bread crumbs flit down to the chalice of wine. I enter the line, expecting something. (Who knows what?) I take and eat. I drink.

This is the stuff.

Even in my fitful faith, I sense the alchemy. Those crumbs, the smallest ones now soaked in blood, have the power to change me into something more than shadows. They have the power to change my neighbor, too. They have the power to meld the evening church folk and the morning church folk. This is the meal that turns frauds to family.

 

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I Haven’t Been Raptured Yet

I was raised in a religious tradition that believed in the rapture, the notion that all Christians would be whisked away before the coming of the great Antichrist, the strongman of Satan. We learned the signs of the times–earthquakes, wars, rumors of wars, religious persecution, the collapse of morality, the rise of the Demon-cratic party. There were plans to rebuild the temple in Jerusalem, which meant something to someone better-versed in eschatological matters than I. The world was spinning out of control in 1994. If you closed your eyes hard enough, tuned yourself to the gyrations of the Earth, you could sense a new wobble in its rotation. Things were off-kilter.

I was only sixteen, green and trusting. Under the impression that the world was worse in 1994 than it’d ever been, I was naive to the liberal sexual ethics of, say, the Renaissance. I’d not studied the hellish trenches of the War to End All Wars, or the war that came after. I had not read Elie Wiesel.  I was unaware of Pompeii. I didn’t understand the genocides of history. The preachers and politicians told me the world was worse for the wear in 1994, and that was that; I believed them.

“The sky is falling!” they said. “The King is coming!”

That was twenty-two years ago. I haven’t seen the King, and I haven’t been called up yonder. I’m sipping coffee in an air conditioned cafe.

I’m thirty-eight now, just old enough to have witnessed more than a few natural disasters, a handful of presidential administrations, a smattering of global skirmishes, a handful of prophetic warnings, a societal shift or two, a social justice movement or three, the occasional Catholic and Protestant bar fight (in which everyone lost a tooth), the frequent Christian/Muslim/Jew conflicts (in which everyone lost a son), and the everyday violences that taste like blood. I’ve seen white terrorist blow a hole in the Alfred P. Murrah building. I’ve seen Islamic terrorist take down the Twin Towers. I’ve seen Shock and Awe, watched mothers carry their limp children from the rubble of Bagdad building. I’ve seen the boys come home from Shock and Awe with prosthetic limbs. I’ve seen the rise of the European Union, and might live to see its collapse. But these things, aren’t they just the echoes of history coming full circle? Isn’t this world just a plate of historical vinyl, skipping back to the previous track?

Humans–we’ve been singing the same dirges since Cain murdered Abel.

But this world isn’t just a series of  violences. I’m old enough now to have experienced the love behind a first kiss, the wedding, the consummation of that love in a honeymoon suite. I’ve witnessed the birth of four children, watched as friends brought their own children into the world. I’ve heard my grandparents speak of angels on their deathbeds, heard the eulogies and hymns sung in their honor. I’ve eaten cuisine on four continents, felt tiny explosions as slow cooked goat, beef, liver, or pasta has melted in my mouth. (Some of those meals were cooked by the rich; some by the poor.) I’ve had wine–celebratory wine (and too much of it). I’ve slugged communion wine, too–wine that tastes of salvation. I’ve done these things, and so have my brothers and sisters, so have you. The world is always creating, always giving birth to joy, after joy, after joy, after joy.

Things have never been as good as they are today. 

I’m just old enough to understand that the world is sometimes raucous, sometimes beautiful. It’s not falling apart. There’s no exigency today that has not existed since Eve first ate the fruit. There’s no true beauty today that has not existed since Adam first took the fruit from Eve. The world is raw, unfiltered, sometimes unfair, but it’s also beautiful and full of life. The world is a miracle.

It’s been over twenty-years, and though not disillusioned, perhaps I’m a bit wiser. And so, I’ll not keep an eye to the sky, though I’ll still say my prayers. I won’t expect any rapturous exit, though I’ll still read the pages of Scripture. I won’t warn you of a coming collapse, or the necessity to set all things to right. I won’t look for patterns where there aren’t any. Instead, I’ll love my wife, my kids, my life. I’ll ask God what it means to be sober, to be grateful, to be free from fear. I’ll ask where the Kingdom of God has already come, and if I find it, I’ll invite you to come along. I wonder if this is the genuine article of faith.

Sing your doxologies.

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Christian Satire in Babylon

1.

The Babylon Bee–“Your Trusted Source For Christian News Satire”–publishes a piece on a famous pastor, an author, a Christian basketball player. It takes shots at the average mini-van driving mega-church family, at Mormon missionaries, at porn-addicted Redditors.  There is a piece about Minnesota preacher John Piper punching himself, Jen Hatmaker’s supposed lack of clarity. There is a piece about TD Jakes–a heretic, the Bee insinuates. The sarcasm is thick, the writing a shade of clever, deprecating, perhaps even irreverent. Everyone in the Christian family is fair game; no one is spared from the Bee’s falling anvils of irony.

The clickbaity headlines are bookended by ads for Compassion International and Eternity Bible College. A penny a click? A flat fee? Who knows whether the dollars pile up in the office of the Bee, but the message is sent–this is Christian-sponsored mockery. Welcome to the new Church.

2.

If you ask Google to define the term satire, she will tell you it is “the the use of humor, irony, exaggeration, or ridicule to expose and criticize people’s stupidity or vices, particularly in the context of contemporary politics and other topical issues.” (Emphasis added.) The satirist is the ironic hit man, the exploiter of the people for personal gain. And sometimes, I suppose, it’s all in good humor. Sometimes, I suppose, it’s good comedy. Maybe I’ve used satire in the past. Perhaps I’ll use it in the future.

Sometimes, though, it feels cheap. Sometimes, it feels smarmy. What’s the difference between good satire and arrogant mockery? As Justice Potter Stewart once wrote about hard-core pornography, “…I know it when I see it.” And let me be more to the point: Christian satire feels more like mockery when it stands in opposition to the guiding ethics of the Christ.

3.

The Christ swung by Earth, stepped out of eternity and into humanity. He gathered all manner of folks to himself–tax collectors, fishermen, perhaps a graduate or two from Eternity Bible College–and he taught them the by-God way. Satire was not the primary language of the by-God way (though Christ occasionally painted in redder shades). Instead, Jesus instructed his followers in the ways of love and mercy.

Do to others what you’d have them do to you.

Do good to your enemies.

Love your neighbor as yourself.

These were all things the good preacher preached. But then he upped the ante. “By this everyone will know that you are my disciples,” he said, “if you love one another.”

Loving our neighbors, treating each other well, being kind–these are the evidences of spiritual transformation. And sure, there were times that Jesus took issue with the teachers of the day, but did he take issue by way of satirical teachings? Did his teachings drip with sarcasm and irony?

4.

I’ve searched the words of Jesus, the writings of Paul and the other apostles. I find little proof that satire is a spiritual fruit or a Christian virtue. (Granted, I’m not a first century Jew and the satire and irony might be lost in translation.) I find little evidence that the God-way entails commodifying others for personal gain. And when the satire is against Christians, for Christians, by Christians, it sends mixed message to a world that longs for path to peace and love.

We are a people of peace and love. Watch us roast each other to a crisp!

What’s peaceful about satirizing your brothers and sisters? What’s loving about it? Really. This is not a rhetorical question.

5.

Perhaps you’re rolling your eyes, saying “please, for the love of God, stop taking yourself so seriously.” Fair enough. But ask yourself this question: aren’t love and peace things to be taken seriously?

This, too, is not a rhetorical question.

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Refugees, Compassion, and a Fella Named Clay

1.

I’ve been watching the handwringing and haranguing over the refugee crisis these last few weeks. I’ve watched it amplify in the wake of the Paris tragedy. This debate? It’s gotten mean. And there are the refugees, the downtrodden, the marginalized Syrian-Muslim-Christian-Sunni-Whatevers who’ve had their personhood stripped in favor of their issue-ness.

We’re a bunch of sick suckers, aren’t we?

2.

Clay is a good man whose wool is dyed Republican red. He’s carried a concealed weapon longer than he’s carried a driver’s license. He breathes to to the rhythm of the National Anthem. He loves Jesus, his wife and kids, fried chicken, and country music. He is the quintessential southern male.

Clay may be all of these things, his wool might be scarlet, but this is not to say he is unthinking or lacks tenderness. On Tuesday, he called, said, “Seth, this refugee thing has me all in a fit. I’ve been praying, and praying, and praying about it, and I just keep hearing this from God: what’s more important, your safety or caring for the least of these?” He paused and as the words hung, the pangs of conviction quivered.

We hashed it out, and over the course of twenty minutes he came to this simple conclusion: his identity as a Christ-bearer was more important than his American identity. He chuckled, asked, “does this make me liberal?”

“No,” I said. “It makes you compassionate, a little more faithful, a lot more human.”

Here’s to Clay. Here’s to the wrestler. Here’s to the bleach that bleeds red or blue from identity’s wool.

3.

Let’s hear it for the lovers, patient and kind, the ones who don’t take the moral high ground or boast in their rightness.

Let’s hear it for the lovers who do not reduce people to issues, or gain from either fear-mongering or love-idoling.

Let’s hear it for the lovers who work, and work, and work to quench their anger with cool water.

Let’s hear it for the lovers who do not delight in control by fear, but turn their ears to the wind in hopes of catching a simple whistle of truth.

Let’s hear it for the lovers who do not fear death. Death is pain. Pain is love. Let’s hear it for the lovers.

Let’s hear it for the lovers who always protect, always trust, always hope, always persevere.

Sweet mercy, let’s close our mouths and turn our ears to something sweet; let’s hear it for the lovers.

*****

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The Language of Abortion

1.

Abortion.

Let the word do it’s work. Let it take you to the edge of your emotions, whatever those emotions are. Consider it. Contemplate it. Do you have any connection with it? Have you terminated a pregnancy? Has your sister? Your mother? Sit with your emotions and connections for thirty seconds.

Now, let’s begin.

2.

Abortion has found it’s way into the news cycle again, as abortion always seems to do. This time, it’s the #ShoutYourAbortion social media campaign that’s causing all the stir. I’ll not go into the details of the campaign–you can find more than a few news articles on the hashtaggery–but sufficed to say, my Facebook and Twitter feeds were burning down the internet last night with the topic of abortion. The sides were chosen and the social media war was underway. The pro-choicers were shouting their abortions while the pro-lifers were decrying them, and some were taking potshots at their opposition from behind the safety of their avatars. (Isn’t this the way of debate these days–avatar pot shots from the safety of one’s own couch?)

Though I’m not one to get too wound up about these sorts of virtual debates, one particular subset of avatars got my goat last night. You might know them betters as the abortion-is-murder subset.

3.

The abortion-is-murder subset comprises many well-meaning, Bible believing (and very genuine) folks who cling to the notion that the taking of life–any life–is murder. They speak of the murder of babies callously, vacuously, as if there were no human eyes behind the decision to terminate a given pregnancy. They wield the language of shame–millions of legal murders a year; murder, murder, murder, and not justice for the unborn. They take a prophetic tone, an icy one.

I understand the point they’re hoping to make, and perhaps I even agree with some of their underlying ideology. But how does the language of murder prick the ears of the women who’ve made the decision to terminate a pregnancy? How do the husbands of women who’ve terminated pregnancies hear it?

Last night, on my own Facebook page, I put it like this:

I am pro-life and unashamed. However, allow me this gentle reminder.

The language in which we couch the discussion matters. If you call abortion murder, you are calling the women who chose abortion murderers. And though you might fold your arms and say, “yes, Seth, that’s exactly what I’m saying,” remember this: 1 in 3 women will chose to terminate a pregnancy, and many of them will carry that decision as a secret. Your wife, sister, mother, best friend, or Bible study leader may be one of these women.

So use whatever language you want to heap shame on whomever you want. I can’t stop you. But just bear this in mind: you might be unknowingly dredging up old wounds for some of your closest friends.

Posted by Seth Haines (Writing) on Monday, September 21, 2015

4.

Consider the statistic: 1 in 3 women have chosen to terminate a pregnancy. And if Christians are humans–a belief I cling to despite some preaching to the contrary–then the fact is, you are connected with someone who’s been touched by abortion–likely a good-hearted, Christ-centered, God-fearing someone. They’ve been splayed across the table, tears in their eyes, agonizing over the decision. They’ve unfolded the bills, paid for the abortion while trying to avoid the niggling of the Spirit in their conscience. They’ve made the decision; maybe they’ve later repented. But perhaps–and this is what I want you to hear–it’s a secret they carry with them to their graves. In other words, you may not know just who in your circle has chosen abortion.

The language we use matters. If we’re hellbent on using the language of shame, hellbent on shaming the women and men who’ve made the choice to terminate a pregnancy, we’ve forgotten the Greatest Command–love your neighbor as yourself. If we’re hellbent on naming all the murderers in the great-big-out-there, we’ve forgotten the law of grace that covers a multitude of sins. If we’re hellbent on splashing our dispassionate judgments across the pages of the internet, we’ve forgotten our own humanity, made ourselves into something akin to little gods. 

If you’re pro-life–as I am–by all means work to alleviate the conditions that lead a woman to choose abortion. Be active. Be an activist. But above all, love well. Love as you would want to be loved if you had made that decision to terminate a child. Love without reserve. Love in your language. Love as a form of resistance. Yes, in all things, love.

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