Tag Archive for: Faith

What is True (My 40th Confession)

I’ve crossed the threshold into life’s second half. Forty; four decades; one-half of eighty. The exuberance of my twenties is gone, the thought that the world was somehow mine to take by the tail. The gut punch of the thirties is a memory too, the winded nausea that results from anything overwrought. Thank God Almighty.

Forty came, somehow, like the morning sun waking Bayou Desiard. It settled in, patient as the heron on the bank, waiting. It was the daybreak that cleared the fog.

In the weeks of waking before my birthday, I turned to intentional reflection. I set out to make note of the things I believe, the things I’ve learned, the things I’ve experienced in my body as true. I explored the ideas I’d yet to practice too, the places where knowing hadn’t translated to proper doing. And as the sun rose over the stretch of my beliefs, experiences, and shortcomings, I caught a reflection of my true self in those waters.

As for the things I’ve experienced as true, they are few. The sound of a Martin guitar on the front porch. The smell of hiding in  my grandma’s cedar chest. Mulberry jam. The mesquite grove. The scissor-tailed flycatcher. Love. Marriage. Sex. And this: the way bread and wine transforms under the words of institution; the way those man-made, God-given gifts become (no matter what men say) the body and blood of Christ; the way the bread sticks to the ribs, his body becoming part of our body; the way the wine sucks the damned poison from our DNA, the way it eases the pain; how the sacrifice of Christ becomes more than a good idea; how the Eucharist is life.

(For more of my Eucharist story, follow this link and listen to “Dispatches, Vol. 2.”)

True sacrifice is a mirror, and what is a truer sacrifice than body and blood given for the life of the world? What is a truer mirror?

This, I suppose, leads me to the confession. As I turned to examination of the things I’d believed but hadn’t practiced, I saw this in the mirror: the way I paid lip service to the poor and marginalized, maybe even made financial sacrifices on their behalf before patting myself on the back; the way I’d thought and thought and thought about the trouble of the orphan, even how I’ve written about it; the way I’ve thrown my two-cents into Twitter’s coin slot and hoped the responses would end up triple 7s. It’s easy to get behind the idea of service. Wearing service like a rumpled suit, though, is a different story.

Last night, I spoke with my friend, Enneagram coach and Jedi force-wielder, Chris Hueretz. We talked through my proposentity to think, to strategize, to turn that thinking and strategy to written words, maybe even financial sacrifice. I shared my reflections with him and said, “I have this working theory that seventy… maybe eighty… no, ninety percent of our power complexes, interpersonal struggles, and political hand-wringing would work itself out if we’d just put our bodies in the way of sacrificial service.” He laughed, knowing this was a sort of epiphanal awakening for a Five (wing 4) Enneagram type. Between laughs, he gave it to me straight: You think?

I’ve pushed into my fortieth year of living, and I suppose I’m ready to put this on the page. I’m ready to stop thinking about service, about offering my own body and blood for the sake of the world. I’m ready to live into the thing I know to be true. Sacrifice, body and blood, Eucharist—this is supposed to be our way of being; it’s the gift we’re supposed to carry to the world.

What’s this mean for me in the years to come? I haven’t figured it all out yet, but I’m exploring. And in that exploration, I’m hoping to work my way into a sort of Eucharistic integrity, by which I mean this: the integrity of a life conforming to holy sacrifice. Without that, what does it mean to be Christian?

 

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A Monday Poem (Yes, You Need Poetry)

The world is off kilter (if’n you ain’t noticed). There’s no need for me to provide the laundry list of proofs. You feel it, don’t you? These seasons beg me to remember the gentleness of faith, and today, I’m offering this poem as just such a reminder.

And as a brief reminder, let’s discuss how to read a poem. Consider the title, what it might say, or foreshadow. Then, read the poem slowly, line by line. Using your imagination, see the text come to life. Then, move to the next line and do it again. At the end of the poem, ask yourself: How do I feel? or What was the takeaway?

***

To my Sons #2

Some days you will race toddler tipsy,
water balloon between your knees,
against children more adept at
the awkward waddle of boyish games.
Carry best as you may–careful, careful—
these sorts of events occasion failure,
joy falling like eggs from the sky,
spilling into a pool of whoops and tears.
There, let your father’s faith be gentle,
like that of a mother lifting last born
from the embarrassment of empty can’ts
and into the crook of forever
where life’s perfume lingers.

***

Tomorrow, I’ll turn my thoughts back to vocation. These posts, as it turns out, have been among some of my most popular. Why? Who can say, but there seems to be a universal itch when it comes to the careers we choose. I hope to see tomorrow.

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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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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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Seized by the Day

I sat alone in the living room, popcorn bowl in hand, and watched as John Keating—the fictitious teacher portrayed by Robin Williams in Dead Poets Society—taught Robert Herrick’s poem, “To the Virgins, to Make Much of Time.” The iconic scene culminated in Keating’s grand soliloquy. Asking the students to face the school trophy case, to gaze into the eyes of those who’d gone before them, Keating said, “[Those] boys are now fertilizing daffodils. But if you listen real close, you can hear them whisper their legacy to you . . . carpe diem, seize the day.”

I was 15, a budding romantic, and this scene became my motivator. I would “gather rosebuds” and suck the marrow from life. I would take every day captive and make the most of it. But as I began to practice this kind of living, I noticed it felt more akin to wrestling tigers.

With age and ever-growing responsibilities…

 

This month, InTouch Ministries’ magazine published my piece, “Seized by the Day.” It’s been cross-published online, and you can read the article in its entirety here.

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