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 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!



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.

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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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.


[tweetherder]There is power in the body and blood. There is something to that bread and wine.[/tweetherder]

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. [tweetherder]When we remember the body and blood—when we take, eat, and drink—we are brought to the Family table.[/tweetherder] 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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My Completely Irrational, Unscientific, Orthodox, Fringe System of Belief (Advent, Part 4)

Recently, a co-worker asked whether we’ve reached the place in American culture where Christianity is seen as a fringe system of belief. I rattled off nine reasons why, if we’re honest, Christianity should be considered a fringe system of belief to those in the world at large. This Advent season, I’m exploring these beliefs and offering a somewhat surprising conclusion. Today, I'll explore reason number 4. 



POINT 1: We believe in an invisible, eternal, Supreme Power who created the world with a few words. 

POINT 2:  We believe that the Supreme Power became small and stepped into his own creation.

POINT 3:  We believe that Jesus was born into poverty, oppression, and scandal.

POINT 4: We believe that Jesus grew into a man who taught salvation by way of eating his flesh and drinking his blood.

Jesus was a man of awkward metaphors. To a samaritan women drawing water from a well, he offered "living water." He instructed a Jewish teacher to be "born again." One apocryphal text indicates that the boy Jesus was blocking a doorway out of which his little brother Jude was trying look so as to see the setting sun. Jude quipped, "you'd make a better door than a window, Jesus," to which Jesus responded said, "how right you are." (See generally 1 Haines' Imagination 4:32.)

In the book of John, Jesus is seen tending to the needs of the masses. God of the creative word, he takes five loaves and two fish and breathes a blessing of multiplication over them. Under this reenactment of Genesis, the pittance of a meal undergoes a sort of mitotic multiplication, grows exponentially until the entire crowd is fed, with leftovers to boot.

Days later, the same crowd comes to Jesus, hungry again. Pressing him, they ask for yet another meal. Jesus, though, swings the engagement toward a teachable moment. Knowing they would trade the spiritual truth for a full belly, Jesus denies them another gustative miracle. Instead, he seizes the opportunity to wax eloquent (if not in grotesque metaphors) about true food. Jesus says,

“Truly, truly, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you. Whoever feeds on my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day. For my flesh is true food, and my blood is true drink. Whoever feeds on my flesh and drinks my blood abides in me, and I in him."

As modern believers in the Christian story, our post death-and-resurrection context neuters this teaching. We read the text, see through to the metaphor of the matter. Yes, Jesus said that we must eat his flesh and drink his blood, but what he really meant is that we must accept his death burial and resurrection. What he really meant was that a cracker and Welch's grape juice would suffice. The Jewish audience of the day would not have been blessed with such high-minded modern notions, though. They would have been aghast. In fact, in a private moment his own disciples confronted him. "This is a hard saying; who can listen to it?" they said. Jesus shrugged off their criticism, said, "do you take offense at this? Then what if you were to see the Son of Man ascending to where he was before?" In other words, "I'm the God-son, fellas. You'd better get used to hard teachings and awkward metaphors."

This Advent we celebrate the coming of Jesus, creative Word made flesh. We celebrate, too, the reason for his coming. He came to bring us awkward metaphors? Yes. But he came, too, to bring us spiritual food and drink. He came to bring us living bread and water. He came so we could feast on his body and blood.

Does this sounds like a tenet of a fringe system of belief? Good. It should.


Thank you for reading. Follow along this Advent season as I explore my Completely Irrational, Unscientific, Orthodox, Fringe System of Belief.

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*Photo by David Antis, Creative Commons via Flickr.


On Crawfish Boils and Communion

Allow me to boil it down, the truth about reverse carpet-baggers. Becky is an upright Catholic from South Louisiana, Baton Rouge to be exact, somewhere 'round about Ridgley Road to be even more exact. She's a reverse carpet bagger of sorts, one who followed a fine gentlemen into the heart of the Ozark Mountains. If you are looking for the good news about reverse carpet baggers, it boils down to this: they carry their belongings in oversized stockpots. If there's one thing folks from South Louisiana know, it's how to cook, how to stew, steam, and boil.

I met Becky and her husband, Jim, in the months after Titus was born. She was friends with Amber, and had volunteered to bring us a post-birth meal. She came, several children in tow and carrying a large Tupperware full of homemade Gumbo. Specific in her preparation directions, she said, "don't use Tobasco; this stuff isn't made to taste vinegary. If you have a good Cajun seasoning, use that instead."

There ain't nothing that beats a Type A Cajun.

"There are boiled eggs in it," she said, and seeing the puzzled look on my face, added, "I grew up Catholic and on fast days, the egg was our protein."

At the time, she said, they were doing a stint away from Catholicism, had hunkered down among some good folks at local Presbyterian joint. I smiled, nodded. Truth is, we were all trying on our more reformed theological jeans in those days, in the days before finding them a bit too snug in the rear. This of course, is only a side note, and perhaps one that doesn't beg to be said. [tweetherder text="'Truth be told, though, I often boil folks down to two things: theology and cuisine.' @sethhaines"]Truth be told, though, I often boil folks down to two things: theology and cuisine.[/tweetherder]

In any event, back to boiling things down.

It's the tail-end of May, which is to say it is the tail-end of crawfish season in South Louisiana. For those of you who might happen to be of the more Yankee or Mid-Western variety, let me share a secret with you: there is not a single upright southern Louisianan who does not, come hell or high water, figure out a way to boil crawfish when they're in season. I half-suspect that the Cajun humanitarian workers in the outer reaches of the African bush have sorted out a way to procure fresh crawfish in season; this, or they fly home at least once a year.

I digress.

Last week, Jim sent me note, asked whether I'd be interested in swinging the family by on Saturday for a crawfish boil. My heart response was, "does a Cajun eat nutria?" but I kept it above board, replied instead, "sure." And with that, we made our way to the Carters on Saturday afternoon.

If'n God ever did make a more perfect little boy cuisine, I don't suppose I know what it is. In the Carter's backyard there was a large red tub full of live crawfish swimming in saltwater. The boys gathered around the tub, picked up the lethargic crawfish, put their fingers between the pincers and laughed at the crawfishes' weak attempts to pinch themselves free. They held the mudbugs in the air like prized lobsters, tried to find the ones with the biggest claws. They ran around the yard, holding them to our faces.

"Look at this one; he has one big pincer and one small!" Ike said. Titus stood behind him, wondering at his brave big brother who was holding the alien creature. "Wook, dadda; wook!" he said.

Of course, the day of reckoning comes to all living things, and after asking the boys to return the crawfish to the tub, Jim picked the tub up by the handles and dumped the hoard of creatures into an oversized stockpot of boiling water. A little salt, a little pepper, a healthy dose of cayenne, and some cut lemons were added, along with potatoes, onions, corn, mushrooms, and sausage.

Double, double, toil and trouble--the boiling pot roiled.

A tender woman asked Jim whether the crawfish felt any pain. "Nah," he said. "It's like a warm bath to them."

"Yeah," I said, "like a warm bath to death." I don't suppose this is the way I want to go out, which is another reason I thank the good Lord purposed my life for humanity and not crawfishery.

This, of course, brings us to the finer points of the boil--the eating. After the crawfish blush red, they are removed from the boil and spilled across plastic tables. I turned to Ike, asked him whether he remember how to peel a crawfish. With out a word, and with a smile as wide as an alligator, he twisted the tail from the thorax, sucked the head, pitched the thorax in the trash, removed the exoskeleton from the first knuckle of the tail, pinched the back end of the tail, squeezed out the tail, and tossed it back. He looked up at me, blue eyes beaming, and said, "just like that!" before grabbing another.

Jim and I stood, shoulder to shoulder, working our way through several pounds as Becky worked the table across from us, coaching a fine Arkie-talian fellow (an Arkansan of Italian descent) on the finer points of crawfish eating. "Some of the bigger claws have salvageable meat," she said, demonstrating how to suck every usable bit from the mudbug.

We stood there under the shade of a giant American sycamore, all salvaging, all sucking spicy crawfish juices down to the dregs. We talked life, politics (though not to any serious measure), and religion. We talked rosaries and trim-carpentry. We talked beer and sobriety. We shared the table while the children ran through the yard, pitched crawfish thoraxes at each other and chugged Sprite. [tweetherder text="Perhaps it wasn't Eucharist, but it was communion nonetheless. @sethhaines"]Perhaps it wasn't Eucharist, but it was communion nonetheless.[/tweetherder]

Yes, everyone needs a good reverse carpet-bagging friend, I think. And the truth of good reverse carpet-baggers, especially those from 'round about Baton Rouge, boils down to this: they are creators of good life; they are curators of communion.