My Repentance

It was not just any Sunday night. It was the Sunday after the verdict was read in the Philando Castile case, a case in which another black man was killed by a police officer with an itchy trigger finger. Not Guilty. 

The facts were the facts, and who am I to recount them here. (Follow this link for proper reporting on the trial of Jeronimo Yanez, the officer who killed Castile.) But facts being what they were, reporting being what it was, many were left asking these questions:

What is justice anymore?

What has it ever been?

It was that Sunday night, and my predominately white, middle-class church gathered under a roof that was not opulent but was (sure-as-shooting) adorned with middle-class comforts. There, we prayed the responsive Prayers of the People together, and after the rote prayers, the officiant held the floor open for extemporaneous petitions. Prayers may be offered silently, the bulletin read, but a woman on the front row chose an alternative path to heaven. In that space, she broke open, wept over the violence in our country, over the lack of justice for so many image-bearers of God. She broke wide for Philando Castile. She broke wide for the people in her life who'd never known justice, who never would, at least not the justice so many of us take for granted. She broke and broke and broke, sobbing at the altar. When she finished, there was a holy pause. A hush, even if just for a few moments. I listened to that hush, heard the sobs of Christ there, too.

It was one of those moments that punched me in my pearly whites. It reminded me that prayer is sometimes the ultimate expression of sorrow and that if my prayers do not express that kind of sorrow, perhaps I've bartered my humanity away. Maybe I've traded it for comfort. Perhaps I've become something less that the Christ of the scriptures.

It was one of those altar moments I'll not soon forget. It was a call to personal repentance.

 

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The Hymn of Invitation

1. I've been thinking a great deal about returns. When we were children, we were who we were--trusty and true. Do you remember how easy belief was in the days of felt-board Jesus, Goldfish crackers, and cherry Kool-Aid? John 3:16 leveled the playing field, taught us that we loved God because he first loved us. That was that, and many of us believed.

Somewhere along the way, though, the lusts set in and we began the metamorphosis. We learned cynicism, violence, and greed. We learned to cheat (whether on tests and girlfriends), steal (whether candy bars or lusty glances at our neighbor's wife), and kill (whether the farmland or our children's spirits). This was the intoxicating brokenness of adulthood, and we created clothes from the poison and shards of glass, tried them on and called them the fashion of the day.

Stop. Examine. You know this to be true.

2.

There's a lot of talk about systemic sin and oppression, these days. The conservative crowd (whatever that means) laments the sin (mostly sexual) that seems to be permeating the culture at an alarming rate. They preach, and the hellfire fills their cheeks as they call an entire nation to repent.

The progressive crowd (whatever that means) points to other cultural indicators, shows how the market beats back the least of these. The classes aren't on a level playing field, and widows,* orphans, and poor have their rights trampled. This is the sin of ancient Israel, they say, and their cheeks fill with a different sort of hellfire as they call an entire nation to repent.

If I'm honest, on most days my right cheek is filled with the conservative fire and my left with the progressive one.

3.

It's important to talk about systemic sin and oppression; let's make no bones about it. But is there a point at which all this calling for societal change leads us away from personal examination, from personal repentance?

4.

This is not a piece to point out anyone's particular fault. It's not a piece to point out systemic sin, either. This is a simple piece to remind myself of the days of childlike faith, the days before all that lusty, greedy, violent fear filled my noggin.

Do you remember your own similar days? What happened to them?

Put away your thoughts of society for a moment. Turn inward and remember. Is there a turning that needs to happen in your own spirit? Do you need to come back toward that child-like faith? So often, I do.

"If all that you are is not all you desire," says Damien Rice, "then come."

And former-Baptist that I am, here is your hymn of invitation.

 

*In the original post, "widows" was "windows." My friend Erika Morrison believed this to be a typo, but I indicated that no, actually, everyone is always trying to save the windows. She thought it made more sense with the substitution, though. She's a good and right life-artist, so I changed it.

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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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 *Photo by Williams, Creative Commons via Flickr.

Sinking the Will

I've been working on another lengthy piece of writing. This, perhaps, is folly since I have not yet published my first lengthy piece of writing (a novel I scratched out last year). No matter; I have thrown caution to the wind and myself into words upon words upon words. (Because that's what we need. Right? More words?) This morning, I reflected on the act of putting the will to death. I'm not sure whether this excerpt will be helpful to anyone, but I rather enjoyed writing it and thought I'd share. Enjoy.

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"I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me." -the Bible

"...for it is God who works in you, both to will and work for his good pleasure" -the Bible again.

There are, of course, various responses to any voice, including the voice of the Still Small, the voice of the mystic whisper. I suppose the myriad potential responses mingle somewhere within the place we call the human will. The will—is this the part of humanity that must be mastered? Is this the “I” that must be “crucified with Christ," so that "[i]t is no longer I who live?” The will, though—isn’t it most persistent, most vicious, that dogged biting bitch?

As I see it, the crucifixion of the will feels less like a crucifixion and more like a drowning, or a sinking. Perhaps this is because I’ve never been crucified and don’t plan on being any time soon. I’ve never seen a crucifixion either (in fact, I avoided watching Mel Gibson's famous Christ flick, The Passion of the Christ, because I could not stand to watch such graphic torture). What's more, I don’t suppose I'll happen upon the infamous form of Roman torture anytime soon. My hands have never been pierced through, and I’ve never worn a crown of thorns. I have, however, been impaled by my fair share of Texan field stickers, but I don’t reckon this to be even the remotest of corollaries.

In any event, I’ve never been crucified, but I have been on a sinking ship. For the sake of honesty, I should confess that it was really more of a sinking canoe, but the principle holds. I was with my father when the canoe capsized, and though my feet could touch the bottom, the icy spring waters of the Buffalo River robbed me of any semblance of orientation.

Yes, I think that killing the worst part of the will feels less like a crucifixion and more like the sinking of your own ship.

Every time I consider releasing addictions—that infernal everyday occurrence—a familiar capsizing dread creeps in, and with it, the skin prickle of the cold Buffalo waters. These things steal breath, right?

Perhaps you might say, "Seth, you are creating similes for nothing more than common anxiety and mild panic." Allow me to respond: I find nothing common feeling about either anxiety or panic. You might tell me that anxiety and panic can be mastered by stopping, breathing, relaxing, and the like. Does such a thing work for the passengers of a sinking ship, though? Doesn't every well-meaning person panic when their Lusitanias are sinking? This capsizing of the will, after all, is the opening salvo that brings the internal War to End All Wars.

This is the analogy I'm going with. I'm sinking my own Lusitania, even if that luxury ship resurrects every day—ah, those familiar beautiful ghost ships! And if it should resurrect, I have the opportunity to let it float through the channel, or commit it to drowning again. And perhaps again. And perhaps again. Yes, it is a daily decision to sink the will, a decision that I'm often to pooped to make.

But just when I think I can no longer sink my ship for the umpteenth time, I call upon the Mightiest of Guns, and he comes roaring in. Ah, the Mightiest of Guns!

Lord, Jesus Christ, son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner. Drown my will and bring peace to the War to End All Wars.