Archive for category: Faith

The Disciple of Failure

The photograph header for this series on failure includes an icon I keep in my planner. It’s an icon of Thomas, the doubter of doubters, with his too-long fingers stuck in the side-wound of Christ.

“I won’t believe,” he said, “unless I feel the wounds.”

Faith? Nah. Give me the evidence, man.

Christ gave him that evidence; he appeared in the upper room and invited Failing-Faithed Thomas to touch his sticky wounds. Thomas’ did, and his response was simple and faithful–“My Lord and my God.” It was a moment of fresh faith that sprung from the recognition of his failure, his doubt. The failure of his faith served as a sort of floor, a foundation for the construction of something more sturdy.

Thomas’ failure was recorded in great detail in the Gospel of John and has survived these 2,000 years. (Thomas (or John, rather) showed us his work.) But the restoration that sprung from that failure was recorded, too. What’s more, church history teaches us that Thomas was, perhaps, the first missionary to the East, that he died his own martyr’s death for the faith. Could there be a more successful act of faith than dying a martyr’s death?

I keep the icon of Doubting Thomas in my journal as a reminder of sorts. I take it out from time to time, look at the kneeling, placid-faced man recollecting his faith, and I remember the lesson of his life. Failure is not fatal if you have the courage to see it for what it is–an opportunity for restoration.

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Sacraments Within Sacraments Within Sacraments

On occasion, the boys and I head out into God’s first sacrament, the place he first made his grace known to men and women–nature. Our favorite among The First Sacramental places is Steel Creek, a short stretch of the Buffalo River with the best little swimming hole in all of America. (This is not hyperbolic.) After a day in the water, we walked upstream and were treated to witness a sacrament within The First Sacrament. We happened upon them just as the preacher invoked the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, just as he named them husband and wife under the banner of the Trinity. And if this sacrament within The First Sacrament were not enough, after the first kiss, the bride and groom made their way into the river. No, it wasn’t a formal baptism, but it turned into a baptism nonetheless.

 

The world is a sacramental place, a place where God’s grace is made known to us through the elements, through vows, through the things that otherwise seem ordinary. Sacraments unfold within sacraments within sacraments, and in that unfolding, somehow, the world is preserved.

Thanks be to God.

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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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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.

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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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*Photo by Lwp Kommunikáció, Creative Commons via Flickr.

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