First Meditation

Heads bowed atop folded, sweat-sticky arms resting on wooden desks,
Mrs. Logan led us past the daily eraser lint and chalk dust,
deep into the imagination of seventh grade boys.

“Meditation,” she said, word unfolding like velvet blanket from mother’s alto,
“is a gift from God. Picture an orb, incandescent bulb over formless void,
bottomless chasm, or ashen open ocean. The orb is Christ.”

Time swung in rhythm–eyes on the watch, we each grew sleepy–
and in mind’s eye the orb drifted over bawdy Spanish beaches,
over the bare myths told in boyhood locker rooms.

“This is the Word not yet flesh, not yet nailed to tree but hanging in sky.
It is greater than sun and moon; it is creating the first Eden. Imagine?”
The first Eden, where all was naked and unashamed,

where mediation was unsullied by adolescent dreams of sex, or hunger, I imagined.
“Jesus, the always hanging orb, or ever present Savior comes to create peace.
See him approaching; feel him pushing past breastbone; know his peace.”

Voice calling into deeper dreams of decadence, of Eden’s perfect breastbones,
of sticky pomegranate smiles, powerful stallions, and multi-orbed skies,
I followed into innocence, into the wide-eyed wonder of time lost to sleep.

“Lunch,” the orb whispered, and pulled arms up from luscious earth, through clouds,
and into the groggy then of a Cheshire smile, the chorus of girlish giggles.
There, the mystic orb dissolved into the face of Mrs. Logan,

and left me to contend with that which was also real.

*****

In the most recent Tiny Letter (my once-a-month, insider newsletter delivered straight to your email), I’m discussing the Lenten season, the darkness of my heart, and the discipline of quiet reflection. If you sign up today, you’ll receive a FREE DOWNLOAD of the song “Train Wreck.” It’s a song I wrote about pain, loss, and the love of God.

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For Troy (Childlike, a Poem)

For Troy (Childlike)

This is the hope of glory:
rebirth with access to doe eyes,
to boyish naivety or girlish glow.
There is a growing young.

This is the hope of glory:
to know the world of monstrous men
who rule by violence, sex, and tricks,
and to remember fear of this dark.

This is the hope of glory:
clomping in creation’s garden,
wobbly-kneed in father’s boots,
laughter spilling into Spring’s buttercups.

This is the hope of glory:
feeling the decadent evening love
rising warm in pinking cheeks,
covering eyes to things not for children.

This is the hope of glory:
the wonder of traveling mercies,
snowy peaks and Carolina tide,
and ever asking “are we there yet?”

*****

In the most recent Tiny Letter (my once-a-month, insider newsletter delivered straight to your email), I’m discussing the Lenten season, the darkness of my heart, and the discipline of quiet reflection. If you sign up today, you’ll receive a FREE DOWNLOAD of the song “Train Wreck.” It’s a song I wrote about pain, loss, and the love of God.

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

From One Evangelical to Another: An Open Letter to Dr. Mohler

Last Friday, Dr. Albert Mohler published a podcast in which he discussed a Wall Street Journal article detailing the story of two brothers who left the Southern Baptist denomination. According to the Journal, one brother became a Catholic priest and the other serves as an Anglican bishop in Georgia.

In the podcast, he stated:

“As I read this news article, it comes as judgment–judgment upon all those who missed the opportunity and failed in the responsibility to ground these young boys as they were then in the Christian faith… the differences between the understanding of a Scripture-centered Christianity and one that is centered in the sacraments, as is the Roman Catholic system, and at least much of Anglicanism.” (See time stamp 16:06)

I have a great deal of respect for Dr. Mohler, as do my friends across many denominational lines. And admittedly, Dr. Mohler is generous to some expressions of evangelical Anglicanism. (“Because becoming an Anglican doesn’t necessarily mean, in any sense, the denial of the very essential of the Gospel…. Thanks be to God, there are a very good many evangelical Anglicans and we can only hope that this Bishop in Atlanta is one of them.” See time stamp 17:14) That being said, one of my friends, Preston Yancey, was raised Southern Baptist and is in the process of becoming an Anglican priest. Today, Preston writes an open letter in response to Dr. Mohler’s comments.

*****

Dear Dr. Mohler,

This afternoon, I hung my certificate of licensing by a Southern Baptist church to “preach the Gospel as [I] may have opportunity, and to exercise [my] gifts in the work of the Ministry.” The certificate is dated the 28th of January, 2009. Just over six years later, I am a confirmed Anglican and a Canon Theologian in the diocese that shares geography with the same Southern Baptist church that first recognized my call by our God to preach the Gospel. I could detail for you that journey, but I have both written about it at length in my book and it is on the whole a conversation for another day. (One I would welcome to have with you.) Here, I’d like to address your public remarks and the unnecessary fracturing of the Kingdom of God.

A few days ago you addressed an article from the Wall Street Journal about two brothers who were raised Southern Baptist and became Anglican and Roman Catholic respectively. Among your remarks, you concluded:

“This story appears as judgment and as challenge to every single one of us: as pastors, as parents, as youth leaders, as those who care about the perpetuation of the faith once delivered to the saints. If we do not ground our children in the faith, then they are going to find the answers to their questions elsewhere.”

You are the President of The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. My father is a graduate of Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, a pastor to the fabric of his being, and for just over a decade a Director of Missions. My mother, who has suffered for nearly fifteen years with chronic pain and subsists in no exaggeration on the miracle of prayer, knows the Scripture with a fierceness hard to rival. My grandparents on both sides are what apocryphal accounts of saints are made of—extraordinary conversions, piercing testimony, movements of the Spirit in the most miraculous ways. I was raised to love Jesus. I was raised to love the Scripture. I was raised to take seriously the realities of hell and judgment, of the blessed hope only securely held in the power of Christ. I was raised to trust the Spirit in all things, to weigh all choices in the rhythm of God, and to seek God first.

Who went wrong?

My parents, who taught me to pray and know the Scriptures? My pastors, who taught me Jesus longs for all of us to be reconciled to God? My youth leaders, who taught me the Spirit is always at work in us?

I became an Anglican, but I do not feel ashamed of the tradition I was raised in. I feel exceptionally blessed to have been raised in it. The Baptists gave me a fierce love of Scripture; the Baptists taught me to want salvation for all people. My questions about what those things meant and mean were not unsafe in the Baptist faith, at least not in the faith I experienced, so words like yours always startle me, especially from someone who is in the position of leadership you hold.

I am an Anglican, but I do not dismiss your faithfulness. I do not doubt your convictions or openness to the Spirit of God. Were you to come to our church, the Table would be open to you, for we confess and serve together the same Good Shepherd. More importantly, we were found by the same Good Shepherd.

I can guess your criticisms of my faith and the Christian faith as expressed in Roman Catholicism. Baptism, Communion, justification, and so on. I take these matters seriously, not least of all because it’s my job to. But as we both know, the world is becoming increasingly hostile to orthodox Christian faith. We both know the souls of many hang in the balance. We both know the witness of the church faces countless challenges.

I’ll be direct: why are we wasting time?

Some follow Paul. Some follow Apollos. — 1 Corinthians

We follow Jesus, you and I. Your tradition and mine.

So the saint once believed, and I believe the saint. — Edward Hirsch

At my church every Sunday, my bishop welcomes all newcomers by letting them know if our church is not a fit for them, we would be glad to help them find a church in our area that would be. Those churches are what we refer to casually as Christ-Honoring, and among them you’ll find Southern Baptist churches. We don’t curse anyone who becomes something other than Anglican when they follow the Spirit faithfully into the work to which God has called them. We are co-laborers in the efforts of God. We are serving in this kingdom together. Could we not celebrate when a movement away from one tradition does not lead away from Jesus? Could we not celebrate when a movement away from one tradition does not lead away from Kingdom work?

My certificate recognizing my call to preach the Gospel hangs beneath three icons. The first is of Pentecost, a packed room modernized to show centuries of saints metaphorically present at the moment God began a new work of such extraordinary beauty in and among us and through us. Below it is an icon of Martha of Bethany, who trusted Jesus enough to tell Him exactly what she thought and to obey. Beside her is the Good Shepherd Himself, a lamb upon His shoulders, our Jesus always seeking out the remaining one.

If that remaining one is found in your church or found in mine, the party in heaven will be the same. And as for me and my house, we lift holy hands and bless any and all who are reconciled to God through the good work Southern Baptists do. In the Name of the Good Shepherd to whom all of this is for and must be for, I hope you’d make a similar gesture in turn.

Let us not divide the Kingdom when the Kingdom continues to honor Jesus. Let us celebrate every moment his Name is exalted, wherever that may be.

In the midst of Him,

Preston Yancey

The Third Sunday of Lent, 2015

*****

You can follow Preston at PrestonYancey.com, and find his book, Tables in the Wilderness, at Givington’s, Amazon, or wherever fine books are sold.

*****

In the most recent Tiny Letter (my once-a-month, insider newsletter delivered straight to your email), I’m discussing the Lenten season, the darkness of my heart, and the discipline of quiet reflection. If you sign up today, you’ll receive a FREE DOWNLOAD of the song “Train Wreck.” It’s a song I wrote about pain, loss, and the love of God.

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

Take. Eat. Remember. (Our Distinctiveness)

I’m not one for posting on Sundays, but as I was considering the communion table last night, I couldn’t resist.

*****

There is power in the body and blood. There is something to that bread and wine.

Today I’ll gather with my people in a small basement warehouse in Fayetteville, Arkansas. We’re Christians in the Anglican tradition, a people who sing hymns, recite the Creed, listen to the scriptures, confess, and pray. These were the ways of our fathers’ fathers’ fathers, and believing them to be led into the wilderness of the world by the Spirit, we follow.

Upstairs, in space with street level access, a larger congregation meets. They are a more raucous congregation, and their music seeps through their floor, falls from our ceiling. On occasion, their kick drum shakes the dust from the rafters, and our quiet group looks at each other with half-smiles. They are different than us—yes—but they gather to sing their own hymns, listen to the scriptures, confess, and pray.

We are two congregations occupying a shared space separated by little more than a thin wall. This is the way of the broader church.

Though we may vary in the style of our gathering, at some point during the service, both congregations will turn to the table. And here’s the real beauty—this is not just the way at Fayetteville Anglican, or Thrive Bible Church, but it’s also the way of Grace Church, New Heights Bible, St. Joseph’s Catholic, and Mt. Comfort Church of Christ. It’s the way of your tiny church in backwoods Nebraska, or her tabernacle gathering in Brooklyn. It’s the way of the church of Tel Aviv and Burundi. We are distinct in congregations, yes, but we share a common distinctive—the bread and wine; the body and blood.

At his last supper, Jesus lifted up the bread, gave thanks and passed it to his disciples saying, “take, eat; this is my body.” He took the cup next, and when he had given thanks, he passed it too, said, “drink of it, all of you, for this is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins.” This was the grand moment, the moment when his words were fulfilled. “Whoever feeds on my flesh and drinks my blood,” he said, “abides in me, and I in him.”

Cannibalism? No. Communion, union? Yes.

This was the last supper, but it was also the first supper. It was the institution of the quantum supper of unity, the one that stretched from its point of origin into all time, filing its partakers with particular purpose. It has endured throughout the centuries, has cut through various cultural, socio-economic, and liturgical contexts. The bread and wine was the staple offering of the first century Church, and is the same for today’s middle-class American Church. It is the feast of the underground church in Djibouti, and was the most holy meal of the twenty-one Coptic Christians who were beheaded on the shores of Libya. The Eucharist, communion, the Lord’s Supper—this is the meal that marks us as belonging to The Family.

Since the night of its institution, there has never been a Sunday when bread was not broken and wine was not imbibed in memory of Christ. And though some congregations celebrate it weekly, some monthly, and some quarterly, we all celebrate it. In that way, the very words of Jesus—this is my body; this is my blood—continue. They stretch across the years and fill us; they stick to the roof of our mouths, slosh down into our bellies.

I think often about the kind of church we are becoming, especially here in the West. I suppose I could spend one thousand words expounding, critiquing, perhaps even blistering a Church that has forgotten its distinctiveness, its set-apart-ness from the world. I suppose that would be an exercise in futility, pride, and perhaps cynicism. Instead, let me offer this. When we remember the body and blood—when we take, eat, and drink—we are brought to the Family table. And there, we realize that we are a strange people, who use strange words, and carry a strange hope. But this strange hope, is the hope of the world.

Take; eat; drink. Today, remember.

*****

In the most recent Tiny Letter (my once-a-month, insider newsletter delivered straight to your email), I’m discussing the Lenten season, the darkness of my heart, and the discipline of quiet reflection. If you sign up today, you’ll receive a FREE DOWNLOAD of the song “Train Wreck.” It’s a song I wrote about pain, loss, and the love of God.

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

Good Friends and Good Links

I sat in the back seat of a brown Buick with two of my sixth grade basketball teammates. We were making the return trip up highway 71 after snatching defeat from the jaws of victory in Hatfield. The three of us were in the dumps. Mrs. G was driving.

Feeling the weight of loss in the car, Mrs. G said, “I know what you boys need,” and she pushed the half-ejected cassette tape into the stereo and spun the volume knob to the right. The crooning harmonica of Stevie Wonder filled the car.

A collective groan rose from the sticky naugahyde backseat, but undaunted, Mrs. G turned the volume up even louder. Captive to the sentimentality of a thirty-something mother with a penchant for Motown ballads, we endured Dionne Warwick’s meandering first verse. We came to the chorus of “That’s What Friends are For,” and as Warwick sang “friends are for,” Mrs. G pointed at each of us on the beat.

Mrs. G’s son turned beet read and put his head down. I looked out the window pretending not to notice. The boy to my left had a tear in his eye. (He was such a tenderhearted point guard.)

To this day, this remains one of the most embarrassing moments of my life.

Embarrassment aside, though, I was reminded of this story this weekend. It has been a stressful week of tending to four boys, a dog, and a career while Amber has been in Israel. So stressful, in fact, that on occasion I’ve felt the ends of my nerves fraying. And in one such moment last night, my phone rang. It was my friend and second-sister, Nicole, and we made small talk at first, hemming and hawing a few platitudes. Knowing this wasn’t why she called, I said, “what’s up?” She came out with it straight, no chaser.

Nicole knows well of my struggles with alcohol, knows how thirst for a stiff drink can sneak up on me. We talked through the gyrations of desire, and of the coping mechanisms I’ve used to stay sober. She listened, even let me ask a few questions.

We hung up the telephone and I whispered a prayer of thanks. That’s when I remembered Mrs. G pointing to the kids in the naugahyde seat of the old Buick, and smiled. The truth of that song sunk in all these years later. Was it a moment of sloppy sentimentality? Maybe. But it was my moment of sloppy sentimentality. And I’m grateful for it.

*****

It’s the weekend, and as is my custom, I’m leaving you a few good links. Enjoy!

LINKS:

Nathan Elmore: Nathan brings a reflection today on the Department of Justice’s Ferguson report. It’s poignant, true, and there’s an embedded homage to Woody Guthrie. Read “Hands Spread.”

Esther Emery: Want to know what it’s like to go off the grid? Don’t miss the mini-documentary on Esther Emery’s yurt-dwelling family. It’s too much fun not to watch.

Winn Collier: This week, Winn writes, “how is it possible that we have arrived at the place where many believe that love for God’s world sits at odds with Christian faith?” Check out “Bless Your Water.”

Me: Are you following the Marriage Letters series? Amber and I are writing into our marriage, and you’re invited to participate.

TWEETS:

#Pray703: Have you heard of Ann Voskamp’s Lenten prayer series? Follow the hashtag #Pray703 on Twitter. Pray the prayers every day at 7:03 (a.m. or p.m.). It’s a simple but powerful Lenten practice.

MUSIC:

“I’ve got love I’ve got friends, I don’t need to pretend I’m surviving.” Turn on the sun with Adam Cohen today.

Thanks for reading along this week! Have a fantastic weekend.

*****

In the most recent Tiny Letter (my once-a-month, insider newsletter delivered straight to your email), I’m discussing the Lenten season, the darkness of my heart, and the discipline of quiet reflection. If you sign up today, you’ll receive a FREE DOWNLOAD of the song “Train Wreck.” It’s a song I wrote about pain, loss, and the love of God.

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

© Copyright - Seth Haines