What's Gentleman's Club, Daddy?

Baby it's cold outside. Cousin winter blew into town like an uninvited guest and brought the old ice-skating-rink-in-a-box with him. He spilled that skating rink across the entire town, looked at the children and said, "let's call school off and party down! Ain't this a gas!"

A gas. Sure.

The boys have been out of school for two days now and Amber has been on the other side of the world. She's exploring Jerusalem and getting to know the people there, seeing the sights, walking the Old Town. We were exchanging messages last night, and she said, "there's so much to learn I think my head might explode." I looked out the window, saw the snow piling up, and heard the children screaming with delight at the announcement of today's school closing. They ran through the house like caffeine-infused squirrels, laughing. "My head might explode too," I said, "just for different reasons."

Yesterday, the boys came to the office with me because our baby sitter couldn't make her shift due to the inclement weather. All four wheels engaged, I trucked us eight miles to my office. The boys oohed and awed over the falling snow while I did my best to keep us between the ditches. This is the work of single parenting, I think. Just keep it between the ditches.

I finalized reports there at the office and the boys constructed Minecraft cities. Generally speaking, I think Minecraft is a soul-sucking, brain-melting, addiction-inducing thing. Yesterday, though, it made my list of favorite common graces. And when I was finished with my reporting and they with their construction projects, I said, "let's find a restaurant." Another dizzying cheer of joy rang out in my very small office.

There was only one restaurant open in town. La Heurta is the Mexican joint that sits right next to one of Fayetteville's local gentleman's clubs. As we pulled into the restaurant parking lot, Isaac asked why there was a club that was only for gentlemen. I said, "there's nothing gentlemanly about that club, son." He pepeppered me with questions, his 10 year old brain trying to make sense of a men's only club that sported a logo of a woman reclining in a martini glass. I didn't have the heart to tell him that it was a club where women negotiated feigned affection; I didn't have the heart to tell him that gentlemen have been making sport of exploiting these women for millennia. He's only 10. Shouldn't a child be allowed his innocence for a time?

[tweetherder]Innocence is a gift.[/tweetherder]

After supper we made our way back to the house and sat in the living room to read Shawn Smucker's new offering, The Day The Angels Fell. We read a chapter about innocence, how it is found in the eyes of a lamb, or in the heart of a pre-teen girl. We read about the sacrifice of innocence, too, how evil tries to snuff out any pure thing. I read, and the boys listened, eyes wide. They were not taking the metaphor in, but I was. I considered the ways in which this world attempts to steal the doe eyes of boys, the ways in which it hopes to turn them into gentlemen too soon. This is lamentable.

I tucked them in and prayed over them. Turning off the lights, I glanced at photos of Amber streaming from Israel. She and the rest of the women wore the glow of joy. They were awake when they'd otherwise be asleep and did not show the signs of jetlag. I, on the other hand, walked to my bed and crashed face-down, surely suffering from some sort of parental jetlag.

I tried a quiet prayer for my sons before I drifted to sleep in my jeans, but I didn't make it past the "dear God." I slept hard, dreamed of lambs and boys, dreamed of slaughter but also resurrection. I dreamed of the hope that might rescue every gentleman, even those yet to be born. I dreamed of innocence, dreamed that it was fashionable again. And in this way, I suppose I dreamed well.

*****

In this month's 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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Good Links (Burning Down the House Edition)

Last night my friend Joel and I played Scrabble together. This was the opening word. Morose? Amber has been on a writing retreat for almost a week now, and the boys and I have managed not to burn the house down or otherwise flood it. This might not sound like a big deal, but yesterday I came home to discover that I had turned off neither the oven, nor the fire-breathing wall heater (from 1968), and the boys had left the bathwater running in the tub, said bathwater being near the rim and almost overflowing.

Women, leaving five boys alone in your home is a perilous idea--just saying.

Last night we went for pizza, and Titus was so tired from all the fun that he fell asleep at the table after eating. The other boys, on the other hand, claimed boundless energy. On the way home, they asked if they could pull an all-nighter and skip school, and as good of an idea as that seemed to a worn out daddy, I had to ask myself WWAD, or what would Amber do. I told them no, regrettably, and as a consolation gave them sugar drinks and sent them to bed. It seemed like a good idea in the moment.

Again, I reiterate--perilous.

Alas, all good things come to an end, and the bachelor pad week is drawing to a close. We have had the best time, but we miss our mama. (Come on home, lady!)

And speaking of things coming to an end, and misssing, and such, here are some links to round out the week. You won't want to miss them.

BOOKS

This week I finished reading Tim Kreider and Shawn Smucker's book, Refuse to Drown. The book chronicles one father's tough decision--would he turn in his child for a brutal triple murder that occurred in Manheim Township, Pennsylvania? As the father of three boys, this piece of straightforward story-telling was gripping, and made me wonder the lengths I'd go to protect my children. I'm not going to lie, more than once I misted up and felt a lump in the old throat. You can pick up a copy at Amazon, but be warned--this is heavy stuff.

LINKS

1.  "The last time I thought about taking heroin was yesterday." This is the opening salvo of Russell Brand's amazing piece for the Guardian. If there's a must read piece for the week, this is it.

I leave him on the corner, a couple of rocks, a couple of $20 bags pressed into my sweaty palm. I get home, I pull out the foil, neatly torn. I break the bottom off a Martell miniature. I have cigarettes, using makes me need fags. I make a pipe for the rocks with the bottle. I lay a strip of foil on the counter to chase the brown. I pause to reflect and regret that I don't know how to fix, only smoke, feeling inferior even in the manner of my using. I see the foil scorch. I hear the crackle from which crack gets it's name. I feel the plastic fog hit the back of my yawning throat. Eyes up. Back relaxing, the bottle drops and the greedy bliss eats my pain. There is no girl, there is no tomorrow, there is nothing but the bilious kiss of the greedy bliss.

Even as I spin this beautifully dreaded web, I am reaching for my phone. I call someone: not a doctor or a sage, not a mystic or a physician, just a bloke like me, another alcoholic, who I know knows how I feel. The phone rings and I half hope he'll just let it ring out. It's 4am in London. He's asleep, he can't hear the phone, he won't pick up. I indicate left, heading to Santa Monica. The ringing stops, then the dry mouthed nocturnal mumble: "Hello. You all right mate?"

He picks up.

And for another day, thank God, I don't have to.

Make sure to check out the entire article at the Guardian.

2.  Preston Yancey wrote about a long exorcism, and it shook me up in the best way. Preston is a heck of a writer, and sometimes a story pulls you and and messes with you a bit. This is that kind of story.

What are we to do with the centuries of Christian tradition in which saints appear and Mary walks through chapels and consecrated Eucharistic Hosts bleed and limbs regrow and tongues are spoken?

3.  I stumbled across this video by my friend and fellow orphan-care advocate Kelley Nikondeha. Take a listen to her words. She has a something to say, and such a way of saying it.

And as good as this video is, this post at her place is almost better. You can tell when two people really love each other, can't you?

4. John Blase is at it again. He writes,

...In his awful incongruity
he was love perishing, pure gentleness in memory
and melody, Christmas in the wilderness.

What an amazing piece of poetry this week at his place. Check it out.

MUSIC VIDEOS (Because who doesn't miss the real MTV?)

Some of you know that I've been talking about addiction this week. I'm not going to retread it all here, but I can't seem to shake this song this week.

This one either.

Thanks for spending time at my place this week. Have a great weekend!

Good Links (The Ring Leader Edition)

I live with some good folks. I wanted to share a photo of two of them. We've come to the end of another week. Do you feel it? Did you make the most of it?

Amber's leaving town this weekend to work on a writing project that's brewing. As much as I miss her when she's gone, I'm excited for her. She has good words percolating. I hope they'll make their way to your hands one day.

Yes, Amber is leaving, which means that I'll go from being a working father, to being the circus ring-leader of my four boys. I have big plans. Legos, man-night, pizza, root beer, movies with Japanese monsters that eat entire buildings in one gulp--we'll do it all.

I'll be occupied, no doubt. But for those of you with less weekend occupation, here are a few links to keep you busy.

Posts

This week, Amber describes sisterhood with her yoga instructor. Sure, there was the obligatory comment push-back regarding the eastern origins of yoga, but I reckon we all knew that was coming.

Shawn Smucker penned a beautiful piece for my blog this week. I could not be more humbled that he shared it here. Not only does he personify the corn fields in an incredible way, he deals with the issues of guilt and shame, and does it all with such a light touch. Shawn is the real deal.

Winn Collier dropped a twenty dollar thought in this week's piece entitled "The Good, Small Faith." He writes, "Many insist that Christian maturity means our faith grows larger and larger, but I believe that as we deepen into good life, our faith actually grows smaller and smaller." This is a short piece, but you won't want to miss it.

Sarah Bessey is a brave soul. This week, she asked the question "should an egalitarian attend a complementarian church?" Sweet Bertha. She's asking for it. And her people? They delivered. (See the comments.)

Art

Yesterday, I ran across the wonderful Ann Voskamp's "Occupy Facebook," challenge, wherein she (and others) challenged us to take back Facebook by posting photos of art instead of... say... cats. I opted in, and she assigned me Wifredo Lam--attorney and artist extraordinaire. I posted his photo of Lam's work, "The Jungle."

Jungle

I co-opted Sarah Markley's Facebook feed, asked her to participate by sharing a piece by Emma Marie Cadwalader Guild. She did. It's called, "Free."

Free

Books

It's been a good month for literary feasting here in the Ozarks. We've had our fair share of sub-freezing temperatures and gale-force winds, so we've hunkered down with good books here in the Haines house. This month, I took down Jeanne Murray Walker's incredible book The Geography of Memory: A Pilgrimage Through Alzheimer's and Richard Rohr's The Naked Now: Learning to See as the Mystics Saw.

"Although most of the accounts I’ve read about Alzheimer’s are characterized by horror, the truth is, even my mother’s final months were not relentlessly grim. … Watching her was like watching a rowboat come loose and drift away from a dock. I was the one standing on the dock watching the boat glide away." ~Jeanne Murray Walker

"Jesus, as the icon of Christ Consciousness, is the very template of total paradox: human yet divine, heavenly but earthly... [a]nd we have made this momentous and cosmic Christ into the private savior of our personal agendas." ~Richard Rohr

Neither book is what I'd call an easy read, but by-gum, they are solid additions to your library.

Video

For those of you who know me, you know of my fondness for Carl Sandburg. This is a video of his digitized self reading "The People, Yes." I can't stop watching it.

 

Music

We're all recovering from something. I believe it. Come ye cynics, ye drunkards, ye abused and abusers. Take a listen.

Spilling Blood (A Guest Post by Shawn Smucker)

Some of you know that I've taken to hosting guest posts again this year. This week's is an absolute doozie. Many of you know Shawn Smucker. I stumbled across him a few years back, and immediately felt drawn to the honesty of his writing. In addition to being a heck of a writer, though, he's a kind gent. There's a lot to be said for that.

Enjoy Shawn's piece, and when you're finished, jump over to his place. You'll be glad you did.

***** ***

My Sunday School teacher had kind eyes that worked hard to negate the firm, almost harsh wrinkles, her gentle personality emerging in spite of some long ago atrocities still etched on to her face. She was probably the same age as my grandmother. It was at her suggestion that one year, in January, when I was around ten years old, I started reading through the Bible. Three chapters every weekday and five on Sundays would do it, she said.

I read Genesis in one long sitting, starting on Sunday night at church in the nursery where my mother sat with my baby sister, continuing in the car with a flashlight, and finishing at home, in the top bunk, under the all-seeing eye of my reading light, well after midnight. I woke the next morning fairly certain the words had soaked into my skin. I felt holy.

* * * * *

As soon as you hit Indiana, things smooth out, as if the earth is taking in a deep breath, or sighing. Long, flat lines stretch in every direction: lines of corn stubble poke up through the snow, lines of tall thin trees stand at the horizon, and wispy lines of clouds look down. Abandoned windmills age the skyline, like wrinkles around the eyes.

The highway is straight and rises up and down in long, gradual grades, ignoring the rundown shacks forgotten in the groves of trees, ignoring the small towns, ignoring the factories and the farms and the isolated houses whose only movement is the barely visible smoke rising from the chimney.

We pass it all by, rarely stopping.

* * * * *

I relished the times when my Sunday School teacher would ask me how it was going. Until a few months later when I got stranded in Isaiah and lost interest. Then I started avoiding her outside of class, ducking into side halls, plunging into the bathroom.

I developed a paranoia, around that time, that I might drop the communion plate as it passed. They were large, chrome, hubcap-shaped dishes, and they each held at least fifty small plastic cups filled with grape juice. The whole thing shimmered like a ruby, and every time it came to me I held on tight, white-knuckled, quite certain the dish had a life and mind of its own.

That’s a lot of grape juice, I’d think to myself. That’s a lot of blood.

My little hands shook as I squeezed on to a plateful of the blood of Jesus Christ, shed for me. Relief surged through me after I successfully passed it on. Because my hands were shaking, I had to put my small portion of grace into the holder in the pew in front of me.

The plate full of crackers was much less intimidating.

* * * * *

Driving a long, straight highway over a countryside pulled flat makes it easy to believe we don’t have much choice in life, that our timelines of existence are simply made up of things that happen to us, one after the other.

Then again, maybe that’s just the illusion of winter, with its large icy puddles lying where you know they don’t belong: in the long rows of corn stubble and at the edges of small streams.

* * * * *

I’ve spent my life afraid of dropping the plate, watching the blood spill on my childhood Sunday khakis, small plastic cups tipping over and making a mess on those sitting around me. The pink dots on the white carpet would forever remind people of my failings.

“Remember that?” parents would say to their small children, while pointing at the stains. “That’s what happens when little boys don’t hold on to the plate.”

But recently, when I take time to sit in silence, I recognize an emerging voice somehow communicating through the wordlessness. A kind voice. It cares nothing for abandoned Bible reading plans or dropped communion plates – I finally understand this when I take the time to listen.

And sometimes, if I go deep enough into the silence, the voice turns to sounds and syllables and eventually words, and the words turn me into a puddle – not an icy one stranded in the middle of an Indiana field, but a thawed out one reflecting spring. The words the melt me are like a sigh, or a May breeze, or a long straight road.

“You are enough, just as you are.”

***** ***

Original photograph by tylerhoff, Creative Commons via Flickr.