Hope in Community

There is something about Minnesota in the summer--emerald green grass, iridescent sky, the whole of community grateful, smiling, singing praises that it's not twenty below zero. (They are grateful for the little things in the Gopher State.) I was in the land of the Norsemen to speak at Steve Wiens's event, "Sobriety and Spirit," and to spend time with the communities of Genesis Covenant Church and The Table at Christ Presbyterian. Between Sunday services, I made my way to Minneapolis's Loring Park, to the schools of humans celebrating Pride. They hopped from rainbow colored tent to rainbow colored tent, from food truck to food truck, from the open-air pavilion to the tent throwing a Johnny Cash hoedown, complete with square dancing. Through and past the people I pushed, past the carnival food and the face-painting station, and I made my way to The Basilica of St. Mary standing guard over the north side of the park. Past its steps, past the prayer labyrinth mowed into the side of courtyard, I entered by way of the transept doors and sat on the first row. Simple music--piano and voices--filled the basilica like baptismal waters fill a font. My nose burned with the smell of fresh incense. Light streamed through the rose window. It was the place of an ornate peace.

An usher approached from the side, offered me a program--"Solemn Vespers for Healing an Hope," it read--and he invited me to the sacristy. Making my way beside and behind the altar, I looked up, saw the stony feet of saints carved from marble. There was Mary, too, her arms outstretched toward Loring Park. "Come children," she could have said, but she was silent as rock.

Time was not on my side (I had another service to attend), but when it is the hour for healing prayers under vespers lights, it's best to participate. Behind the altar, behind Mary's back, I sat with more modern saints, and we sang for the victims of Orlando, for the violence of a country, for the violences of our own hearts.

"As the evening sun moves toward the golden rays of dawn, we long for peace in our world, in our homes and in our hearts. Gratefully we sing:

Praise and thanks to you, God, Redeemer."

A video posted by Seth Haines (@sethhaines) on

[tweetherder]Healing and hope--this is the want of men.[/tweetherder]

I exited the basilica and was carted to The Table at Christ Presbyterian Church, my last event of the weekend. With my new friends in Edina, Minnesota, I shared a story of community and freedom, of hope connected to connectedness. I'd like to share that message with you today. (It begins at the 17 minute mark.)

***TINY LETTER***

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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!

***

1.

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.
2.

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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Redefining Recovery

It’s National Recovery Month, so I’m spinning a few pieces on the subject and reimagining the language. What is recovery? How do we find it? Consider the word--recovery. We use it as a badge of honor, sometimes a scarlet letter of shame. “I’ve been in recovery for almost twelve years without a drop,"  or “did you hear how Mary had to check herself into a long term recovery program?” It’s a shorthand of sorts, a way of classifying the more broken folks from the less broken folks.

[tweetherder]What is recovery really, though?[/tweetherder] Is it nomenclature confined to the world of addiction? Doesn't it imagine returning to a state of being or regaining something once lost? If so, couldn't we all stand this sort of returning, this kind of regaining?

Consider this.

She makes her way to the merry-go-round, grabs the bars sticking from the ears of the tiny black horse as the older children push her faster and faster. Her face is pure freedom, joy. Ponytail swinging wide, centripetal force slanting her sideways in the saddle, she dangles leftward, as if supported by a cosmic wire. There are no worries about gravity, which, as any adult knows, can sometimes be a real pain in the neck.

Round and round and round she goes, and where the laughter comes from every adult knows.

There are monkey bars and those same bigger kids who pushed the merry-go-round traverse the rungs. They swing from bar to bar, reach the end, examine their hands for callouses or new blisters. Laughing, they make it to the end of the line where they wait another turn. Titus pauses at the top of the ladder. “Help!” he shouts, and is lifted, held, and guided by adult arms. Rung by rung he smiles. At the end, he is dropped to a ladder, which he descends before running to my knees. He looks up, says, “I did it, Daddy.” I don't correct him.

In the evenings there is only the community of children creating a sludge-slick sheen of sweat and dirt, which they swap back and forth as they play Chinese freeze tag. I tell them the name of this game is not politically correct, but they shrug and go on, continuing to generate the smell worn by livestock. They chase and shout “your it!”

They want to fly and pose for photos. They want to believe the universe is raucous and good, even in the dark of evening. They are light on worries and gravity.

The world is a sacrament, an outward manifestation of the goodness of God in the land of the living. It’s the children who see this best and with the clearest eyes. Before first-kisses, first drinks, and first layoffs, even the most ornery of the lot is more innocent than the most innocent adult. This is the beauty of children.

Rest

I read, once, that a good lawyer came to a good teacher and asked how a man could find the kingdom of God. The good teacher looked at the good lawyer, said, “unless a man is born again he cannot find the Kingdom.” The good lawyer asked, “how is it possible to become a child again?” The teacher responded, “only believe.”

"What is recovery?” you ask. I’m not sure that I have it all quite deciphered yet. But consider the children. Now, you tell me.

 

***TINY LETTER AND COMING CLEAN***

Cover.FrancisThanks for stopping in! If you enjoy reading here, sign up to receive my bi-monthly Tiny Letter. In it, I discuss faith, doubt, and random bits and pieces of my life. Sign up and  received access to my serial eBook, Dear Little Brothers.

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The Places I've Been

Oh, hey there. It's been a crazy season here in world Haines, and if I went about the business of explaining it all, I'd bore you to tears, or at least to clicking off to your favorite online retailer. There's business to be done, children to raise, and a to-do lists that stretches from the Ozarks to the Rockies. In all of that (and more to be sure), it's the little things--like keeping up this little writing space--can fall by the wayside.

But in 400 words or less, allow me to catch you up on team Haines. Take a deep breath. Ready?

Amber took a break from raising children and chickens to birth her debut book, Wild in the Hollow. We threw a raucous book-release party on the hottest day of the summer; the air conditioner was on the fritz; everyone sweated buckets while Amber read. There was cake, though. Cake makes everything cooler.

Friends

girls

 

Music reading Cake

Good folks came in for the book release, so there was a weekend of entertaining. We sat around the big table and talked life. We laughed a little too hard, which is always good medicine. Austin listened to his wife without interjection or contradiction, only love. The world could use more conversations like the ones we had.

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A week later, our little church gathered on a Sunday and sent a girl to college. She was our first to fly the coop. God bless her. Everyone cried, especially her mother and father.

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In all this hustle and bustle, Amber and I bought a house. Ironic? Sure. (You understand this irony if you've read Wild in the Hollow.) But hey, things change. Right? To everything turn, turn, turn. Those Byrds (and King Solomon) had a few things right.

Under the cover of night, my little book, Coming Clean,  started its own giveaway on Goodreads. It was an awkward move on its part, and we had a little conversation, the book and I. "You can't go launching yourself to the world without my permission," I said. "Watch me," he said. Looks like I have a teenager on my hands. (While you're at it, though, would you consider entering the giveaway?)

Goodreads Book Giveaway

Coming Clean by Seth Haines

Coming Clean

by Seth Haines

Giveaway ends October 06, 2015.

See the giveaway details at Goodreads.

Enter Giveaway

Amber wrote about the Ashley Madison scandal, but not before calling to make sure my name wasn't on the list. (Hey, we're all human here.) It was a gutsy article to be sure. Take a gander. I wrote a few words about doubt, and boy did they hit home. I followed up that little Facebook post with a TinyLetter on the same subject. "A TinyLetter?" you ask. Yes. A TinyLetter. You can sign up here (or click the photo to redirect to my TinyLetter). 7a082db7-48c1-48ec-b33e-d99f897eeb7c We're running, running, running, and I'm not sure whether we're going or coming. At least we're still breathing, which is some testament of grace. What kind of grace? Who knows. But we're living into it. I'll be back regularly next week. It'll be September, which is National Recovery Month. I might have a few things to say about that. Thanks for reading along, and carry peace today. While we're all here, let's shut this down the way we shut the Wild in the Hollow release party down; shall we?

  Closing down the #wildinthehollow book party. Thanks for a special evening, all.   A video posted by Seth Haines (@sethhaines) on

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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 July newsletter, I'm discussing growing young. I'm also giving away Chapter 3 of Dear Little Brothers, a serial eBook. Sign up in the box below to receive Chapter 1 and look for the July Tiny Letter in your inbox to download the other chapters!

 

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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.