Archive for category: church

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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My Priestess

It’s a season of unexpected motion, of movement. Amber, my wife of nearly 18 years, has reached the end of a sort of wrestling down her identity, or maybe it’s just the beginning. She’s been my girl, my beauty, my prophetess for all these years. She’s been the thing that’s brought me to salvation again and again, even in the bleakest seasons. What is a lover but a type and shadow of divine love? Lover–I could use this could be a sort of holistic nomenclature, but is this who she is?

She’s been my lover, yes. She’s been the mother to my children, too. There were years of sippy cups, diaper changes, and late-night feedings. The years that followed have been filled with other things–comforting hugs, words of discipline (perhaps frustration), gut laughs. What is a mother but a shepherd? Mother–this is also a facet of who she is, but it hardly names the gem.

She’s been a friend, a giver, an encourager. She’s been faithful to minister Word and sacrament to her people, I suppose. Maybe more, she’s been faithful to the ministry of flowers, one of the unsung ministries of friendship. What is a friend but the embodiment of Word and sacrament? What is a friend but the gift of flowers. Yes, a flower knows a flower; a friend knows a friend, but even these are not taxonomy enough for my lady.

She’s lived into all these roles, roles that fit in her skin like a soul. Even still, she’s wrestled down her Who Am I? over these last 18 years, and she’s come to know this for sure: she is a chosen, a royal priestess, a peculiar woman. In this, she’s found a new sort of calling, one that’s taking her to seminary, to training, to stepping into the thing that so many have said she can’t, woman as she is. She’s walking into holy orders, maybe, and in that, she’ll preside over so much life and death, weddings and funerals alike. She’s accepting the role of shepherd, teacher, perhaps evangelist and prophet, and wearing these roles like some brilliant stole. And here’s the humbling beauty lacing it all–there may come a day when others come to see her as my shepherd, teacher, evangelist, and prophet. (This is what happens when your wife is a minister.) They’ll ask me how I feel about that, I suppose. I’ll smile, wink, knowing this isn’t the whole of who she is, and I’ll tell them this: “She’s always been all of this and so much more.”

 

 

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Normalizing Therapy (Or How To Ungoop Your Noggin)

In the autumn of 2013, I found myself walking into a new season, a season of sobriety. If you’ve followed my work for any amount of time, you know the story, how my inebriation grew from a great pain. (You can read this story in Coming Clean.) You know, too, that I was able to untangle my mental morass of pain and alcohol dependency only by way of a good therapist. That good therapist–he helped me find the road to recovery. For that, I’m grateful.

In these years of different life, I’ve continued to share my story of sobriety and have praised the virtues of therapists. If I’ve said it once, I’ve said it ad infinitum: if there are experts in the human psyche, in mental health, pain, or recovery shouldn’t we use them? On so many occasions after I’ve shared my story, I’ve heard from others who’ve failed in their own attempts to unwind their tangled black brain threads, who only found clarity by way of their own therapist.

Last week, fortune smiled, and I was invited to share my story at a local clinic. I gathered in a group room with some of the best therapists and counselors in Northwest Arkansas, and I shared my story of pain, shared how it gooped up my noggin for a murky few years. I encouraged them in their work, told them how a member of their profession helped me live into a new reality. He helped me find the path to true sobriety, a sobriety characterized less by the to-drink-or-not-to-drink questions and more by the to-live-whole-or-not-to-live-whole questions. I could not be more grateful for their profession, I told them, and I meant every word.

These therapists were gracious, and they fielded my honest, rootsy, real confession. Maybe I cried once or twice while I shared my story (sometimes the pain still comes calling). Maybe one or two of them did, too. Maybe I cussed once or twice (pain pulls tears and curses from even the best humans), and not one of them blushed. Maybe I found empathy in the faces of these very human therapists, and in that empathy, I saw the beauty of people who cared about my story, who care about the stories of their clients. I saw folks who carry the hope of stability to folks who’ve gone awonk.

These therapists–they have a calling.

There are those who believe they don’t need therapy, the John Wayne types who six-shooter their way through any issue and come out smelling like gunpowder and Old Spice. Likewise, there are those in the Christian faith (perhaps pastors, priests, and deacons) who believe therapy is little more than applied humanism, that it supplies thin excuses for sin. “Repent and quit,” they say, as if it’s that easy.

Dear Mr. Wayne, Mr. Pastor, Sister Christian, let me be clear: your bootstrapping hornswoggle ain’t worth the bluster that blows it.

Weeks ago, I spoke with a pastor about my sobriety, how it was born from more than a handful of visits to a therapist who didn’t beat me over the head with scriptures on repentance. To his credit, he wasn’t dubious, wasn’t critical of my process. In fact, he showed great deference and support. At the tail end of the conversation, he asked how the church could normalize therapy for its parishioners. I choked down my immediate answer–does the church really think there’s something abnormal about therapy? I muddled out some answer about vulnerability in leadership, about pastors and leaders needing to lead the way to the therapists’ office, which is true. To be frank, though, I failed to give him a clear answer.

I’ve mulled the pastor’s question over, and I think I found my answer in the clinic visit last week. Normalization of therapy (in or outside of the church) happens when we admit that sometimes we can’t sort out our own noggin-goop, our own tangled black brain threads. Normalization of therapy happens when we watch therapists exercise their gifts, flex their empathy, when we participate with them in that process as patients. Normalization of therapy happens when leaders (read: pastors and priests) use their platforms to speak of their own therapeutic experiences, when they admit that they’re no John Wayne.

There’s no magic to normalizing therapy, whether in or outside the Christian faith. There is this, though: go, and you’ll see how normal it is, how magical it is, too.

If you’d like to read more about recovery from any addiction, habit, or dependency, please check out my Recovery Room series. No matter the vice, I think you’ll find something there for you.

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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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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.

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