Building the Church: Dear Little Brothers

If you've been keeping up with my monthly Tiny Letter, you know I've been exploring the life of St. Francis through my serial eBook, Dear Little Brothers. St. Francis was the saint who was called by God to rebuild the church. Part 2 of Dear Little Brothers, describes this call in greater detail, and you'll receive a FREE copy (of Part 1 and Part 2) by signing up for my bi-monthly Tiny Letter here. Periodically, I'll send additional Chapters of Dear Little Brothers, but only to Tiny Letter subscribers.

Do you want a little taste of this month's Tiny Letter? Read below and enjoy!

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Building the Church

We're a small band of believers. A mishmash of misfits who gather on Sunday for scripture and sacrament. We pass prayers, pass the peace, and pass the bread and wine. On Wednesdays, we pass potluck plates of chicken, pass smiles, pass stories at the tiny farm house.  We pass pieces of ourselves one to another.

On Sunday a young family carried their legacy before our small cloud of witnesses. Creamy skin reflecting white gown, he was the baptismal baby--blue-eyed and giggling. The church stood, shoulder to shoulder, together in the most unifying of moments. We'd been learning to live life together over these last months, and this was the next step.

The priest asked whether we would shepherd this young one's faith, whether our body of belief will hold belief out for him. "We will," we said, and the conviction in the response steels spiritual bones. Father held baby over basin, and the water was poured over the child's head. This was his initiation into the church. It was our initiation into family.

Read carefully. This isn't so much about the theology of infant baptism (or the lack thereof as you might believe). This is about something bigger.

Sign up for my Tiny Letter to read the rest of the piece.

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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 June newsletter, I'm be 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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Dear Little Brothers (a Franciscan eBook)

From time to time, I get excited about a writing project. Whether it's Coming Clean, the great American novel (that's all but finished), or even the Psalm series here on the blog, I'm more alive when I'm chasing down some creative idea. These days, I'm working on a serial book for my children. It's entitled Dear Little Brothers, and it recasts the biography of St. Francis of Assisi, as written by St. Bonaventure. Today, I'm offering the Preface below so you can get a taste of the project. Each month, I'll release a new chapter of Dear Little Brothers, but only to my Tiny Letter subscribers. Do you want to read along? CLICK THIS LINK TO SIGN UP (You'll receive a download link at the confirmation screen).

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PREFACE TO DEAR LITTLE BROTHERS

Carol Mouk was bad to drink. For too many years, she lived in the boozy haze, stumbled sideways into the country club or Sunday brunch. Full of too much nervous energy, and with a fuse as short as bottle rocket, she was a spark-spitting, explosive drunk. She was a screamer, a shoe thrower, and a tyrant. She was unbearable.

I don’t suppose I know the full extent of Carol’s drinking problem, but I trust these recollections. After all, this is what she told me just before she died.

It may seem like an awkward starting point for a book on St. Francis of Assisi, but for me, it makes all the sense in the world. Carol was my grandmother, and in the years before I was born, the Easter lily of a woman had been transformed by a great grace. She met Jesus in a recovery room, and found sobriety. She devoted herself to the faith of her youth, rekindled an admiration for the saints revered by her Episcopalian tradition. A lover of good literature, she held Saint Lewis—as she called the The Screwtape Letters’ author—in high esteem. A woman in need of inner sobriety, she also nursed a particular affection for the saint of light and peace—St. Francis.

My grandmother told me bits and pieces of Francis’ story, but we never spoke about him at great length. I think she liked the idea of Francis’ retreat from the cares and troubles of the world, but I don’t know how familiar she was with his writings, or the writings about him. Even still, she kept weathered stone statues of the man from Assisi in her garden, and often prayed the prayer attributed to him—“make me a channel of your peace.”

Over the last few years, I’ve been walking my own road of recovery from over-drinking. When I stopped drowning my own anxieties with liquor, I remembered my grandmother’s affinity for St. Francis and thought, “maybe there’s something for me to learn from his life.” I dove into the Franciscan literature, and there I found real spiritual treasure. Francis was a man of peace, yes. But more than anything, he was an example of one who, by obedience to his King Jesus, rebuilt and revitalized the church.

In the Spring of 2015, on a visit to Powell’s bookstore in Portland, Oregon, I picked up a used copy of a translation of The Legenda Sancti Francisci. Written by St. Bonaventure some forty years after Francis death in 1226, it is considered the official biography of St. Francis. The language of the book was stilted, and the flow was disjointed. Still, it was one of the most beautiful and timely biographies I’d read in some time.

Francis.Quote.Chap1As I read the pages, I wanted nothing more than my four children to know this great work. So, I set out to tackle the language barrier by completing an imaginative family translation.

That leads us to this work. Dear Little Brothers, comprises a series of letters, each of which is adapted from a chapter of The Legenda of Sancti Francisci. The letters open with a salutation to the “little brothers,” and close with love from St. Bonaventure himself. Every month, I mail these letters to my sons (who doesn’t enjoy receiving mail from time to time?) and we read them as a family around the dinner table, or just before bed. It’s a special time. And as I considered how enjoyable it has been to adapt Bonaventure’s biography into this series of letters, I thought others might enjoy reading along.

The purpose of these letters is to make St. Bonaventure’s work approachable for a younger audience—preteens and teenagers to be exact—and I hope you’ll read them to your children and grandchildren. But even more, I hope you’ll find some inspiration in the pages yourself. Maybe you’ll find the way peace, the way of living a life away from the world’s cares. Perhaps you’ll delve into the work of rebuilding a ruined church or two. But whatever inspiration might strike, I hope you’ll find the path of Francis leads you into a deeper understanding of the Kingdom of Jesus.

Enjoy these letters. If you do, and if you’d like to receive the next installment as it becomes available, make sure you’re signed up to receive my newsletter updates at https://tinyletter.com/sethhaines. I’ll send the new letter around the first of every month.

And now, without further adieu, allow me to introduce you to St. Francis’ personal biographer, St. Bonaventure.

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Thanks for stopping in! If you enjoy reading here, sign up to receive my bi-monthly Tiny Letter. In the first of edition of the May newsletter (coming soon), I'm be giving away the first chapter of Dear Little Brothers, a serial book. Sign up and follow along!

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Friday Journal: Tiny Farm, Tiny World.

It's been a good week here at the little farm. A neighbor from a few doors down, Buddy, stopped by with his tractor, asked us whether we'd like to have our corn rows cut. The stalks had browned up, and where lush, productive arms had once reached toward the God of the Ozarks, there were only gnarled bones. Amber told Buddy to have at it, and he was down lickety-split with his tractor. He made short work of those dried-up stalks. Buddy left behind an empty garden plot. The summer's vegetation gone, only a few rooting vegetables now lag behind. The boys make good use of the shovels and spades, digging out what's left of the sweet potatoes. Isaac works the big shovel, smiles ear to ear when he hits a run of potatoes and says, "look daddy! I found a big one!" The sweet potatoes are, for the most part, small, and so one the size of a nine-year-old fist is a gem of a find.

IMG_1261.JPG Isaac asks nearly every day whether we can have sweet potatoes for supper. I laugh, tell him he's likely the only child in the history of the world who's begged this much for sweet potatoes. He tells me he's just so proud of his work and wants to taste the product of his labor. His words are a tangible reminder of why we moved to this tiny farm in the first place.

"Let's teach our children to work some land, to see their effort produce something tangible" Amber said when she first saw the listing for the tiny farm. "Yes," I replied, "let's." That was nearly two months ago, and today, we're here. And though we thought we'd have to wait until next summer's harvest for this place to pay off, the previous owner left us the gift of sweet potatoes (and a few watermelons) so that we could taste our dream early.

But it's not all work and no play around here. Our next-door neighbor is a kind and quiet church. They have a basketball court behind the sanctuary, and have given us a standing offer to use it whenever we like. Their property joins ours directly, and in the evenings we walk across the gravel drive and shoot hoops together. Isaac is getting his layups down, while Jude does his best to get the ball up and over the rim. Ian--God bless him--dribbles like he has two left feet for hands, laughs at his own lack of coordination. Titus joins the lot of us, runs onto the court, strips off his shirt and shoes, and yells "pass, pass!" He falls down in laughter at some personal joke that shoots right over our collective heads.

BOOKS:

I was happy to receive Eager to Love: The Alternative Way of Francis of Assisi, by Richard Rohr, this week. I've been reading a great many books about St. Francis since I gave up the bottle. Last night I began to wonder whether I've replaced my alcohol dependency with a books-about-St. Francis dependency.  Better the latter than the former, I suppose. Anyhow, if you pick up a copy, let me know. I'd love to discuss it with you as I make my way through it.

LINKS:

A friend of mine--a peace-loving Muslim friend--has been posting a great number of articles on ISIS (a/k/a ISIL, a/k/a IS), gaza, and the war in Afghanistan. I check his Facebook feed every morning because he is curating the best articles on the subject. Yesterday he posted this piece about Phil Robertson's comments regarding radical Islam, how he said we should "you have to convert them (which I think would be next to impossible)... or kill them." And though my friend is not a "radical Islamist," (to use Fox News' words) I wonder how he felt about this clip.

Tsh Oxenreider is one great lady. Have you been keeping up with her family as they prepare a year-long globetrotting tip? In preparation, Tsh wrote this piece, "5 Lessons in 37 Years." Take a gander, and remember, "it's not too late to completely change your mind."

MUSIC:

This is where nostalgia and current geopolitics meet:

Thanks for stopping in this week. Have a great weekend!

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On Addiction, Dependency, and One Less Despised Thing

I’ve been writing a series on recovery. My particular bag of choice was liquor, but yours might be different. Perhaps you’re into pills, or eating, or not eating, or materialism. No matter; we’re all in recovery from something. Welcome to the Recovery Room. (And while you’re here, please consider liking my Facebook page to receive Recovery Room updates.)

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1.

It has been 206 days since my last good drunk. In fact, it’s been as many days since my last drink altogether. The early days of beating back addiction are something akin to swimming up-waterfall in a river of tar. It’s long, slow, intentional, relentless, gutsy slogging.

2.

Words With Friends is a good game, and well-meaning folks love to play it with their addict friends. I don’t suppose this is a thing limited to those with alcohol dependency; I suppose the cutters, sex-addicts, pill-poppers, and those with eating disorders have noticed it, too. The well-meaning advice pushers offer wise words. “Just stop it,” they say, or “have you considered a twelve step program?” They ask whether you’re harboring secret sins, sometimes mistake your desire for solitude with the hiding of a bottle, a blade, or a barbiturate.

Friends of Job, what if I just need space to process?

3.

Addiction is a tricky bitch, which, after convincing you she is safe, jumps in your lap and nuzzles your free hand just before biting off the tip of your nose (despite your face).

4.

There were twelve men at a table, of which I was one. The head, with squinted eyes and cocked head, wondered aloud whether a drunk could take the Eucharist, wine and all. I chuckled, said, “my protestant Eucharist consists of tiny crackers and individual plastic chalices of grape juice; why not?”

He laughed, retorted, “no… but seriously.”

It is no laughing matter. Can’t all things be redeemed?

5.

St. Francis expounded upon the great teaching of Jesus--blessed are the pure in heart. He wrote, “[t]he truly pure of heart are those who despise the things of earth and seek the things of heaven, and who never cease to adore and behold the Lord God living and true with pure heart and soul.”

I read Francis to say, “blessed are the recovering addicts, because by their recovery, they have one less thing to despise.”

6.

A friend asked me yesterday what I’ve found in my ever-awakening sobriety. I told him that both spirits and the hope of spirits help keep anxiety at bay. Between the hours of 4:00 p.m. and 10:00 a.m. a functional dependent can dull anxiety with his drug of choice. Between 10:00 a.m. and 4:00 p.m., the same functioning dependent can overcome anxiety by fantasizing about the next fix. By comparison, the sober mind can have no fantasy, no hope of any anesthetizing agent. The sober mind has only the full illumination of all its anxiety, doubt, and pain.

This sounds like a terrible curse, save for that particularly overlooked promise of our little brother Johnny--if we walk in the light, as God is in the light, we have fellowship and are purified. And through the purification, awful as it may be, there is gratitude, joy, and peace.

Photo by by André Banyai, Creative Commons via Flickr.