A Tiny Excerpt (On Community and the Grace of Remembering)

My Tiny Letter is a bi-monthly newsletter where I share more personal reflections. If you enjoy reading here, sign up for the Tiny Letter and you’ll receive my free eBook, Coming Clean|Austin Outtakes. The Outtakes share the story behind my first release from Zondervan, Coming Clean|A Story of Faith. Today, enjoy an excerpt from this month's first Tiny Letter. Thanks for reading along!

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1.

The morning light glinting from the water like buried stars; the cotton-candy colored sky; the “Hey there, ‘ello!” from old friends upon entering a room; the peanut-butter pretzels and Kosher salt; the smell of whisky spilt and rubbed into jeans (cowboy cologne)—these are the building blocks of memories. So many experiences truncate themselves into fragments. So many fragments sweeten time.

For two years, I’ve convened on this first weekend of March with a group of friends. There are pastors, businessmen, pastor-business men, and men who’ve yet to decipher whether they’d prefer to be pastors, businessmen, or a long-bearded hermits. We come from different parts of the country, and yet we’ve committed to this yearly celebration of friendship. Perhaps it’s as random as it sounds, but it works.

I first met these men on an invitation from my friend, Winn. He called after my rough winter of life, one in which I drank like a narwhale in an effort to sooth the ache of my youngest son’s illness. When I joined them, I was less than six months sober, and still learning to walk on my foal-legs. In the Carolinas of that first year—2014—we gathered in the living room. I sat cross-legged on the couch and one of the men, Ken, asked what I needed. “Sleep,” I said, and as that word sunk in, I cried, wiped a snot trail across the sleeve of my hoodie. Then I added, “and maybe a few laughs.”

I took Ken at his word. I slept, and slept, and slept. But new friends also sought me out, asked if I’d like to talk. They shared the load, listened as I unpacked the pain of a sick son, of unmet expectations. And as I pushed into these vulnerable conversations with new friends, I learned what it means to find the deeper rest—the rest that goes beyond sleep, deep sleep, REM sleep, the ocean-black sinking sleep. I found the rest that comes when friends give you space to shirk the yoke, when they say “let me run a row for you.” I found the rest that comes from a quiet walk in nature, or a professor who reads hours of Onion articles aloud until the laughter hurts the ribs, makes the wood floors creak. I found the rest that comes from the poetry of morning’s mallards on the water. I found the rest that comes from gathering with friends who are singularly devoted to the Spirit of God, but unashamedly human.
The locations have changed, so have some of the names and faces. But the tabernacling is the same—we are friends, made in God’s image, carrying God to one another, recognizing God in one another. This tabernacling and the recognition of it is a beautiful thing.
2.

This week was my yearly trip to be with these friends. Last night I sat with Andy at the kitchen table, empty wine glasses stained with purple-sediment, the remaining evidence of a good meal. Karen, our house mother, came with an uncorked bottle. She looked at Andy, and he spread thumb and forefinger about an inch apart. She poured. She looked at me, smiled as I waived her off. She said, “I know better. I wouldn’t pour if you asked.” Her shoulders shook as she laughed her way back to the kitchen.

I nursed water, Andy his red wine, and we unpacked an earlier conversation about faith, doubt, and the uncertainty of most things. I shared an idea—two atoms of an idea, really—for a book about remembering, about living out a continual communion of recollection. Forty years old, ordained and still searching in so many ways, he said, “Sometimes [tweetherder]I think that the chief sin of man is that we fail to remember.[/tweetherder] How many times did God command the Israelites to remember? Didn’t Christ tell us to take communion in memory of him?”

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Redefining Recovery

It’s National Recovery Month, so I’m spinning a few pieces on the subject and reimagining the language. What is recovery? How do we find it? Consider the word--recovery. We use it as a badge of honor, sometimes a scarlet letter of shame. “I’ve been in recovery for almost twelve years without a drop,"  or “did you hear how Mary had to check herself into a long term recovery program?” It’s a shorthand of sorts, a way of classifying the more broken folks from the less broken folks.

[tweetherder]What is recovery really, though?[/tweetherder] Is it nomenclature confined to the world of addiction? Doesn't it imagine returning to a state of being or regaining something once lost? If so, couldn't we all stand this sort of returning, this kind of regaining?

Consider this.

She makes her way to the merry-go-round, grabs the bars sticking from the ears of the tiny black horse as the older children push her faster and faster. Her face is pure freedom, joy. Ponytail swinging wide, centripetal force slanting her sideways in the saddle, she dangles leftward, as if supported by a cosmic wire. There are no worries about gravity, which, as any adult knows, can sometimes be a real pain in the neck.

Round and round and round she goes, and where the laughter comes from every adult knows.

There are monkey bars and those same bigger kids who pushed the merry-go-round traverse the rungs. They swing from bar to bar, reach the end, examine their hands for callouses or new blisters. Laughing, they make it to the end of the line where they wait another turn. Titus pauses at the top of the ladder. “Help!” he shouts, and is lifted, held, and guided by adult arms. Rung by rung he smiles. At the end, he is dropped to a ladder, which he descends before running to my knees. He looks up, says, “I did it, Daddy.” I don't correct him.

In the evenings there is only the community of children creating a sludge-slick sheen of sweat and dirt, which they swap back and forth as they play Chinese freeze tag. I tell them the name of this game is not politically correct, but they shrug and go on, continuing to generate the smell worn by livestock. They chase and shout “your it!”

They want to fly and pose for photos. They want to believe the universe is raucous and good, even in the dark of evening. They are light on worries and gravity.

The world is a sacrament, an outward manifestation of the goodness of God in the land of the living. It’s the children who see this best and with the clearest eyes. Before first-kisses, first drinks, and first layoffs, even the most ornery of the lot is more innocent than the most innocent adult. This is the beauty of children.

Rest

I read, once, that a good lawyer came to a good teacher and asked how a man could find the kingdom of God. The good teacher looked at the good lawyer, said, “unless a man is born again he cannot find the Kingdom.” The good lawyer asked, “how is it possible to become a child again?” The teacher responded, “only believe.”

"What is recovery?” you ask. I’m not sure that I have it all quite deciphered yet. But consider the children. Now, you tell me.

 

***TINY LETTER AND COMING CLEAN***

Cover.FrancisThanks for stopping in! If you enjoy reading here, sign up to receive my bi-monthly Tiny Letter. In it, I discuss faith, doubt, and random bits and pieces of my life. Sign up and  received access to my serial eBook, Dear Little Brothers.

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And don't forget to keep you eyes out for my upcoming book from Zondervan, Coming Clean.

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The Places I've Been

Oh, hey there. It's been a crazy season here in world Haines, and if I went about the business of explaining it all, I'd bore you to tears, or at least to clicking off to your favorite online retailer. There's business to be done, children to raise, and a to-do lists that stretches from the Ozarks to the Rockies. In all of that (and more to be sure), it's the little things--like keeping up this little writing space--can fall by the wayside.

But in 400 words or less, allow me to catch you up on team Haines. Take a deep breath. Ready?

Amber took a break from raising children and chickens to birth her debut book, Wild in the Hollow. We threw a raucous book-release party on the hottest day of the summer; the air conditioner was on the fritz; everyone sweated buckets while Amber read. There was cake, though. Cake makes everything cooler.

Friends

girls

 

Music reading Cake

Good folks came in for the book release, so there was a weekend of entertaining. We sat around the big table and talked life. We laughed a little too hard, which is always good medicine. Austin listened to his wife without interjection or contradiction, only love. The world could use more conversations like the ones we had.

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A week later, our little church gathered on a Sunday and sent a girl to college. She was our first to fly the coop. God bless her. Everyone cried, especially her mother and father.

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In all this hustle and bustle, Amber and I bought a house. Ironic? Sure. (You understand this irony if you've read Wild in the Hollow.) But hey, things change. Right? To everything turn, turn, turn. Those Byrds (and King Solomon) had a few things right.

Under the cover of night, my little book, Coming Clean,  started its own giveaway on Goodreads. It was an awkward move on its part, and we had a little conversation, the book and I. "You can't go launching yourself to the world without my permission," I said. "Watch me," he said. Looks like I have a teenager on my hands. (While you're at it, though, would you consider entering the giveaway?)

Goodreads Book Giveaway

Coming Clean by Seth Haines

Coming Clean

by Seth Haines

Giveaway ends October 06, 2015.

See the giveaway details at Goodreads.

Enter Giveaway

Amber wrote about the Ashley Madison scandal, but not before calling to make sure my name wasn't on the list. (Hey, we're all human here.) It was a gutsy article to be sure. Take a gander. I wrote a few words about doubt, and boy did they hit home. I followed up that little Facebook post with a TinyLetter on the same subject. "A TinyLetter?" you ask. Yes. A TinyLetter. You can sign up here (or click the photo to redirect to my TinyLetter). 7a082db7-48c1-48ec-b33e-d99f897eeb7c We're running, running, running, and I'm not sure whether we're going or coming. At least we're still breathing, which is some testament of grace. What kind of grace? Who knows. But we're living into it. I'll be back regularly next week. It'll be September, which is National Recovery Month. I might have a few things to say about that. Thanks for reading along, and carry peace today. While we're all here, let's shut this down the way we shut the Wild in the Hollow release party down; shall we?

  Closing down the #wildinthehollow book party. Thanks for a special evening, all.   A video posted by Seth Haines (@sethhaines) on

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Cover.FrancisThanks for stopping in! If you enjoy reading here, sign up to receive my bi-monthly Tiny Letter. In the first of edition of the July newsletter, I'm discussing growing young. I'm also giving away Chapter 3 of Dear Little Brothers, a serial eBook. Sign up in the box below to receive Chapter 1 and look for the July Tiny Letter in your inbox to download the other chapters!

 

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Confederate Treason

I attended a high school with rebel roots. We were a Southern school on the south side of town. Our rival high school was on the north side. We were the majority white school. They were the majority black school. The school mascot in those days was Johnny Reb, our unofficial theme song was Charlie Daniels' "The South's Gonna do it Again." Under the Friday night lights, the parking lot was filled with Confederate flags. After every touchdown, the band played Dixie, and we sang "I wish I was in the land of cotton, old times there are not forgotten." We justified it all, said this Confederate lingo was just part of our heritage.

I never took a stand against the mascot or the Confederate flag (the flag which was officially banned my sophomore year) in those days. Perhaps this was because I didn't understand the full implications of our histories, our heritage. Perhaps I blamed any criticism of the tradition as benig levied by those who were "too sensitive," or "too politically correct." Perhaps it was because I didn't listen to my black friends.

Whatever. I was wrong.

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My family sneaked away to Gulf Shores, Alabama last week for a little rest and relaxation. There, on the beach, plain as day, teenage boys wore Confederate flag shorts, and cars in the parking garage had stars-and-bars license plate holders. I saw at least a half-dozen Confederate flags flying on the highway, and more symbols of Southern rebellion on teeshirts, sunglasses, and belts.

It's strange, when you think about it, this swath of folks celebrating a flag that stands for treason and racism. If they flew ISIS flags, they'd be called traitors and racists. We'd round them up, interrogate them. We'd detain them and subject them to all manner of examinations. But these aren't Muslim terrorists, see. These are our own people, the people who share our office cubicles and grocery store aisles with us. Maybe a person or two who goes to church with us.

Do you see the treason? It looks like us.

*****

This morning I read the daily collect in the Book of Common Prayer. It reads:

"Keep O Lord, your household the Church in your steadfast faith and love, that through your grace we may proclaim your truth with boldness, and minister your justice with compassion." (emphasis added)

The truth is, racism is baked into our society. The truth is, the Confederate flag is a flag of treason and racism. The truth is, it is a symbol of hate speech, and ultimately, of treasonous evil.

I grew up in a world where flying the stars-and-bars was justified as "heritage not hate." Let's be honest. It's always been about hate not heritage. It's always been about rebellion.

*****

I'm grieving for my black brothers and sisters in Charleston, South Carolina. I'm grieving for the violence they suffered at the hands of a domestic terrorist. I'm grieving for children of the Reverend Clementa C. Pinckney, who will grow up without a father because of a racist with a gun. And I'm sorry they'll be reared in the shadow of the Confederate flag flying high over the Capitol.

See a Confederate flag? Speak out against it. Is this an attack on the Southern heritage, at least in part? You bet.

***TINY LETTER***

Cover.FrancisThanks for stopping in! If you enjoy reading here, sign up to receive my bi-monthly Tiny Letter. In the first of edition of the June newsletter, I'm giving away Chapter 2 of Dear Little Brothers, a serial eBook. Sign up in the box below to receive Chapter 1 and look for the June Tiny Letter in your inbox to download Chapter 2!

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Spacious Hospitality (A Grace Table Offering)

Seven children run through the backyard, arms waiving in the air and squealing. They pass under bare-armed apple trees, duck the lowest wispy switches. It is an evening of tag-you’re-it, and the children run under the spacious arms of stretching evening-pink that reach from the southwest. The older children bob and weave as the stump-legged youngest reaches out to touch the hem of any garment. Isaac pretends to trip, falls, and allows himself to be made it. He recovers, begins chasing his friend Anna, whose blonde hair flips wild as she turns her shoulders slender and ducks his swipe. There is nothing as hospitable as nature’s accommodation of children, I think. She is deep, and wide, and welcomes their chaos. Continue reading at Grace Table, where I'm writing about what it means to offer spacious hospitality.

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Do you subscribe to my monthly Tiny Letter newsletter? In January's Tiny Letter, I'm discussing the idea of resting  within church practices. There, I write about some recent changes in the Haines' household, and I'd love to hear your thoughts. Sign up and I'll send you a copy of January's letter, along with all future Tiny Letters!

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