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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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. [tweetherder]The world was spinning out of control in 1994.[/tweetherder] 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.

[tweetherder]Things have never been as good as they are today. [/tweetherder]

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. [tweetherder]The world is a miracle.[/tweetherder]

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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Christian Satire in Babylon


The Babylon Bee--"Your Trusted Source For Christian News Satire"--publishes a piece on a famous pastor, an author, a Christian basketball player. It takes shots at the average mini-van driving mega-church family, at Mormon missionaries, at porn-addicted Redditors.  There is a piece about Minnesota preacher John Piper punching himself, Jen Hatmaker's supposed lack of clarity. There is a piece about TD Jakes--a heretic, the Bee insinuates. The sarcasm is thick, the writing a shade of clever, deprecating, perhaps even irreverent. Everyone in the Christian family is fair game; no one is spared from the Bee's falling anvils of irony.

The clickbaity headlines are bookended by ads for Compassion International and Eternity Bible College. A penny a click? A flat fee? Who knows whether the dollars pile up in the office of the Bee, but the message is sent--this is Christian-sponsored mockery. Welcome to the new Church.


If you ask Google to define the term satire, she will tell you it is "the the use of humor, irony, exaggeration, or ridicule to expose and criticize people's stupidity or vices, particularly in the context of contemporary politics and other topical issues." (Emphasis added.) The satirist is the ironic hit man, the exploiter of the people for personal gain. And sometimes, I suppose, it's all in good humor. Sometimes, I suppose, it's good comedy. Maybe I've used satire in the past. Perhaps I'll use it in the future.

Sometimes, though, it feels cheap. Sometimes, it feels smarmy. What's the difference between good satire and arrogant mockery? As Justice Potter Stewart once wrote about hard-core pornography, "...I know it when I see it." And let me be more to the point: [tweetherder]Christian satire feels more like mockery when it stands in opposition to the guiding ethics of the Christ.[/tweetherder]


The Christ swung by Earth, stepped out of eternity and into humanity. He gathered all manner of folks to himself--tax collectors, fishermen, perhaps a graduate or two from Eternity Bible College--and he taught them the by-God way. Satire was not the primary language of the by-God way (though Christ occasionally painted in redder shades). Instead, Jesus instructed his followers in the ways of love and mercy.

Do to others what you'd have them do to you.

Do good to your enemies.

Love your neighbor as yourself.

These were all things the good preacher preached. But then he upped the ante. "By this everyone will know that you are my disciples," he said, "if you love one another."

Loving our neighbors, treating each other well, being kind--these are the evidences of spiritual transformation. And sure, there were times that Jesus took issue with the teachers of the day, but did he take issue by way of satirical teachings? Did his teachings drip with sarcasm and irony?


I've searched the words of Jesus, the writings of Paul and the other apostles. [tweetherder]I find little proof that satire is a spiritual fruit or a Christian virtue.[/tweetherder] (Granted, I'm not a first century Jew and the satire and irony might be lost in translation.) I find little evidence that the God-way entails commodifying others for personal gain. And when the satire is against Christians, for Christians, by Christians, it sends mixed message to a world that longs for path to peace and love.

We are a people of peace and love. Watch us roast each other to a crisp!

What's peaceful about satirizing your brothers and sisters? What's loving about it? Really. This is not a rhetorical question.


Perhaps you're rolling your eyes, saying "please, for the love of God, stop taking yourself so seriously." Fair enough. But ask yourself this question: aren't love and peace things to be taken seriously?

This, too, is not a rhetorical question.


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Bring Them To Their Knees

This morning I woke to the news that 90 Christian men, women, and children in Syria were abducted by ISIS militants in a series of dawn raids. This news comes on the heels of last week’s video showing the execution of 21 Coptic Christians on the shores of Libya. Lord, have mercy.

I considered this newest group of Syrian abductees this morning, considered how they will likely join the communion of martyred saints, the "souls of those who [have] been slain because of the word of God, and because of the testimony which they had maintained.” (Rev. 6:9) I considered how they will follow in the footsteps of Peter, Paul, and Stephen. And in that moment, I stopped to consider the story of Stephen and Paul, f/k/a Saul.

You may recall Stephen, the Christian convert who was executed by the religious leaders of the day. Saul was there, and the leaders of the stoning committee laid their cloaks at his feet. There is no indication that Saul threw the first stone, but there is no doubt that he looked on with approval. I wonder—did Saul see the light emanating from the eyes of Stephen who did not shrink from death? Did Stephen's death somehow affect Saul?

Later, on the road to Damascus, Saul was stricken by the light of God--the hope of Stephen--and he was brought to his knees. A voice thundered, “Saul! Why are you persecuting me?” There can be no doubt that Paul considered those he'd murdered, those like Stephen. And you know the rest of the story. The experience led Saul’s conversion, to his name change, and ultimately, to the spread of the Christian faith across the world.

It’s an instructive story, I think. It's a story about the power of God to transform the heart of the persecuting murderer. It's the story of human power being brought to its knees by the love of a gracious God.

This morning, as I read the newsfeed, I was struck by the darkness of my heart. “Lord, bring ISIS to their knees; annihilate them!” I might have first prayed. But in light of Jesus words to “love your enemies, and pray for those who persecute you,” I don’t suppose that my prayers of retaliation and retribution would have been well-founded.

Instead, I stopped and reflected. Do I thirst for retaliation? Do I hunger for revenge? Would I soon see the bloody bodies of every ISIS fighter, every persecutor of Christianity, strewn across a desert valley? Or would I rather see the persecutor brought to his knees under the gracious love of God? I will not try to super spiritualize the answers to these questions. I am vengeful; I am spiteful. Lord, have mercy.

If I’m honest, I’m not sure I belong in the body of the “you” found in the passage “pray for those who persecute you.” I live a life of relative ease. My idea of persecution has more to do with losing social media followers because I espouse a particular Christian ideology than it does losing my head for my faith. I don’t think that’s persecution. But for the extended Christian family, for my cousins in Libya, Iraq, Syria, and the like, I pray. I pray for the enemies of the Christian Cross. And in those prayers, I'm trying my best to pray less for retribution and retaliation, and more for the soul-reformation of the persecutors. I'm praying they would be brought to their knees like Paul. Perhaps you would consider joining me?

It’s a simple prayer, one found in the Book of Common Prayer. It’s a wrote prayer, sure. But today, it’s my prayer.

"O God, the Father of all, whose Son commanded us to love our enemies: Lead them and us from prejudice to truth: deliver them and us from hatred, cruelty, and revenge; and in your good time enable us all to stand reconciled before you, through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.”

And finally, if you have a minute today, please visit 21Martyrs.Com and commit to pray for the next 40 days for both the persecuted and those who persecute.

On Winter Rest and the Imitation of God

"There is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under the heavens." ~Ecclesiastes 3:1

"To everything - turn, turn, turn; There is a season - turn, turn, turn; And a time for every purpose under heaven." ~The Byrds

The frost of an Ozark winter has set in. In the mornings, the frigid sheen of colder nights blankets grass and cars alike. It is a thinner frost this January--the temperatures being more temperate across these hills than in years past--but it is frost nonetheless. This sheen washes the color from the mountain pallet, leaves a nostalgic impression as nature's white contrasts against the black and gray of the early morning sky. Some may say that winter is the bleakest season, but there's beauty here if you're willing to find it.

All of nature is still here. The mole in my front yard has ceased his tunneling, stopped somewhere between the two mounds of rich black dirt pushed up twenty feet from my door. Come spring, I'll need ideas to rid my yard of the pest (anyone?), but for now, he and I both rest.

The birds have all flown the coop, and they have left the leafless oaks still and quiet. The oaks stretch exhibitionist arms upward, spines straight but still in a posture of rest. The butterfly and moth larva have burrowed deep into the warm earth under these oaks, and the king snake rests in his den under the warmer, lower layers of the compost pile.

All nature is at rest here, all nature--that is--except the squirrels. If God made a single animal with boundless energy, with an inbred inability to cease striving, it is the squirrel. They spring from branch to branch, drop down to the ground looking for opening pecan husks. Even still, they are gathering, hoarding. I consider their dens, the liberality of their nut stores, and I wonder whether God chuckles at the busybodies of creation.

In six days, God created all these things. On the seventh day, he rested. It was his Sabbath, his winter holiday. He created this rhythmic calendar, the seasons that speak to nature's need for Sabbath. (All nature save and except the squirrels, that is.) And creative as he was, he breathed life into the dormant dust of nature--this nature which itself rests--and created man. Yes, we are made from material that needs a fallow season.

"Cease striving," he says, "and know that I am God."



In this month's Tiny Letter (my monthly newsletter), I'm discussing the idea of resting  within church practices. There, I'm speaking candidly about some recent changes in the Haines' household, and I'd love to hear your thoughts. Sign up to read along!

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