The Secret of Saints is...

On Saturday, I spoke at an event held in an Catholic church in Minneapolis. The stained glass was pristine, the stuff of much larger cathedrals, and it spurred this piece. Enjoy.

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The Secret of Saints Is

to be gentle with their histories; to hold them like crippled birds fallen from early summer's nest; to know nothing but that histories and wounded birds must go free to die (this is the earth's course); to mourn once the natural finite, the songs that might have been, maybe, and to rest ahead into tomorrow's sun, shining.

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Forgiveness, Grace, and Mercy for Our Enemies

Today, Ann Voskamp is sharing an excerpt of Coming Clean on A Holy Experience. Would you follow me there? The excerpt from the book is my journal entry from December 5, 2013.

*****

December 5, 2013

“I thank you, God, for most this amazing day.”

I pray with E. E. Cummings and look through the morning window to see snow blanketing the ground in Fayetteville.

I walk to the front door in my pajamas, open the door, and stand barefoot on the cold concrete of the front porch. A winter chill is an exhilarating thing, a thing that reminds me that I am alive in the wide, wild world.

The flakes are small—spit snow, I’ve always called it—but they are falling fast and hard and are piling up on the ground.

A white blanket stretches across the neighborhood, into the town, and out into the rural areas. It stretches onto mountains and into valleys, covers the banks of the Illinois watershed, the sides of the Boston Mountains.

I imagine the view from Hawksbill, how the valleys below are filling with an iridescent beauty, how the elk are craning their necks upward in their morning calls, how their breath is swirling upward.

 

Continue reading at A Holy Experience.

The 5 Embraces of Addiction Recovery

In the last 10 months, I’ve hosted a series of guests as they’ve stepped into the Recovery Room and written about coming clean from various addictions. Alcoholics, undereaters, overachievers, suck-it-up-ers, over-workers, they’ve all shared their stumbling, drunken stories and written of their journey into sobriety. Comment after comment, email after email, others have reached out in response; me too, they say. But comment after comment, email after email, I hear this from others—I just don’t know how to quit.

Maybe you’re like so many of the others. You recognize your own addiction, but the thought of coming clean is unbearable. A day without the drink, the credit card, the sex—is such a thing possible? 

It’s not an easy process, this road to recovery. There is a way through, though. Embrace the difficult yet not impossible.

1. Embrace Confession

Alcoholics, sex addicts, workaholics, and even shopping addicts—there is a twelve step recovery group for just about everyone these days. Each of these Anonymous recovery programs starts with the same first step--admit your powerlessness over addiction and confess your life has become unmanageable.

Addiction is the monster in the closet, the boogeyman under the bed. Confession brings the light of truth to addiction, allows mother, sister, brother, or friend into the room. Confession allows a community to help expose addiction for what it is--a beatable thing.

St. James says it best in the good book, “confess your sins one to another so that you may be healed.” A wiser word was never written; confession is the first step to wholeness and healing.

2. Embrace Community

I was asked a few months ago how I made it through the recovery process without joining my own Anonymous program. I stopped, mulled the question, and said, “it’s all about the community.”

In September of 2013, I quit the bottle under the outspread arms of an Austin Spanish oak. I was in Austin with some good friends, brothers from my hometown. I confessed my problem, told them I couldn’t seem to control the alchohol on my own. Straight faced, nodding, arms on shoulders, they said, “we’ll walk through this with you.”

And they have.

In scripture, Paul exhorts Christians to live a sober, Spirit-filled life. He writes, “Do not get drunk on wine, which leads to debauchery. Instead, be filled with the Spirit, speaking to one another with psalms, hymns, and songs from the Spirit.” I once wondered why Paul contrasts individual drunkenness with the Spirit-filled Christian community, and this is what I’ve come to believe: [tweetherder]The addictions of our life are often born from our own isolation, from our pain and anxiety.[/tweetherder]

The community of faith steels the legs of recovery. Community encourages the spiritual work. Community holds the addictions born from isolation at bay. Community and confession--they are kissing cousins.

3. Embrace Cliché

The early days of sobriety dawned like a house fire. Each day anxiety would set in, and my nerves would burn. The want for gin was less like a craving and more like an obsession. Gin and tonic, gin and tonic, gin and tonic--I was a broken record skipping on the beat.

I called my friend Heather, a sister who’d walked through her own bout with addiction. “I have to do this forever?” I asked. “I have to say no to gin for the rest of my life?”

“You’re approaching it all wrong,” she said. “I know it’s cliché, but it’s the best I have. Just take it one day at a time.”

Heather is a writer, and she knows full well how other writers hate clichés. We avoid them like the plague. They are a cancer. (See what I did there?) But as famed author Jack Kerouac said, “clichés are truisms and all truisms are true.” Put another way, there is a reason clichés become cliché.

One day at a time. It’s the most overused cliché in recovery circles, but it holds true. Jesus put it another way--give us this day our daily bread. In recovery, you don’t need a lifetime supply of bread for today; there’s a limit to how much a man can eat, see. Pray for today’s provision. Meal plan for today’s provision. Give thanks for today’s provision.

And if you need a list of good recovery cliches, I'm here to oblige.

4. Embrace Forgiveness

The drinking, eating, puking, shopping, working, sexing—is it about the act itself?

Yesterday I was on the phone with a friend, and we were discussing various addictive behaviors. “For me, it wasn’t about the alcohol,” I said, “it was about escaping presence and pain.” Isn’t this the way with most addictions?

Being present in and to the world, being awake and aware can be a painful thing. Remember the abuse as a child, the spiritual manipulation? Feel the anxiety rise, the panic attacks that come at the end of the day's work struggles? Hear the voices behind your eyes whispering, maybe your mother, perhaps your father, your husband, your boss? “You’re not good enough,” they say.

True sobriety—inner sobriety—begs us to recognize and face the sources of our pain and anxiety. Who first whispered the lies that stick in our craw? Who is the source of our pain? And once the sources are identified, then what?

Jesus—God in flesh—was hung for heresy. The innocent of all innocents looked down on the murdering men and prayed, “Father forgive them, they don’t know what they are doing.”

Forgiveness is an act of creation; it brings a garden of peace from the blackness of hate and hurt. Forgiveness brings resolution to the anxiety. Forgiveness is the antidote to the poison of life.

5. Embrace a Lifestyle of Recovery

Recovery is not a one time renunciation of addiction. It’s a daily process, a journey. Confession, community, forgiveness, these are the one-day-at-a-time, every-day-at-a-time imperatives.

A few weeks ago, Elizabeth Esther, author of Spiritual Sobriety (Convergent, 2016), asked about my process of recovery. I wrote,

As often as possible (at least a few times a week), I take an inventory of my emotional distractions. Is there an unresolved issue that's giving birth to anger? Am I refusing to forgive someone? What voices fill my head or my heart in times of quiet? I list those things and take them to God, asking him to change my heart. There, in those quiet places, I clean out the spiritual entanglements. I declutter the room, confess my sin and make space for King Jesus to sit on the throne of my heart. Only then can he properly direct my emotions and guard my sobriety.

This is the trick, I think. It’s only God who can guard our sobriety, and only then if we embrace a lifestyle of inner-sobriety, of confession in community. Is it hard work? Yes. [tweetherder text="But as sure as the sun will set, I can tell you this—recovery is beautiful."]But as sure as the sun will set, I can tell you this—recovery is beautiful.[/tweetherder]

*****

In October, my first book, Coming Clean: a Story of Faith, hits the bookstore shelves. It's a story of doubt, forgiveness, and recovery. Would you consider pre-ordering Coming Clean and help spread the good news of recovery? You can pre-order at Amazon, Barnes & Noble, or Givington's.

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Preston Yancey Stole My Bike

I've been playing a version If You Give a Mouse a Cookie these days. You know the game, right? If you give a mouse a cookie, then he'll want a glass of milk. And if you give a mouse some milk, then he'll have a milk mustache.  And if a mouse has a milk mustache, then he'll end up on a "Got Milk" billboard in New York City (New York City?!?). And if he ends up on the billboard, then he'll cause a thirty car pileup from the gawkers staring at the milk-mustached mouse.

And so on. And so forth.

I've been doing this in a spiritual sense lately.  Months ago, I began to trace certain faith struggles back to their genesis. I went back, and back, and back, and considered those times I wrestled with intense doubt. On nearly every occasion, I found that the birthplace of doubt sprung from a particular event.  It turns out, if you do a fella wrong, he'll likely choose the path of  unforgiveness. And if he chooses the path of unforgiveness, if he dwells on the nuanced working out of his fellow humans' mere humanity, then his anger will burn red hot. And if his anger burns red hot, then he'll want to call down a good 'ole fashioned American air strike against the offender. And once desire takes hold, it gives birth to a great deal of bitterness.  And if a man dwells too long in bitterness, he'll realize he's not a very good disciple, because, after all, how many times must I forgive a man? And once a man realizes he's not a very good disciple? Well, things go downhill pretty fast from there.

"This is all preposterous, hyperbolic hogwash!" you are thinking. "Hardly," I say.

So, in light of my realization that unforgiveness blocks the way for a more realized spirituality, I decided that it was time to lay some of those old burdens down.  Yes, I would practice the path of forgiveness. In fact, I determined that I would not only practice it, but that I'd be the best forgiver this side of the Mississippi. (I suppose God is amused with my Peterian declarations; "Lord, not my only my feet, but also my hands and my head!")

Here's the tricky part.  There's a milk-mustached mouse here, too.

Come to find out, if you endeavor to practice the spiritual virtue of forgiveness, you're bound to be tested. And if you are tested, you are bound to fail miserably. And if you fail miserably, you'll revist those dancing visions of good 'ole fashioned American air strikes against your enemies. And if you have these kinds of visions, you'll begin to question your discipleship (again). And if you question your discipleship (again), you will hear the voice of clarity saying, "boy, you got a long way to go."

If this were not the internet, if I weren't afraid that this entire piece would slip into a downward death spiral of circuitous logic and certifiable passive aggressivity, I'd give some specific examples. Instead, though, and because I am most fond of the Socratic Method (thank you, law school) allow me to use this hypothetical to demonstrate the very problem with which I'm dealing. In the process, I also hope to start a fake internet beef with Preston Yancey.*

Hypothetical:

Yesterday I slipped from my prayer time confident in my ability to practice the art of forgiveness. No sooner had I left my house on my bicycle, did I cross paths with the inimitable Preston Yancey, a man of unquestionable spiritual integrity, great literary talent, and one-heck of a head of hair. I pulled to the side, and we began making small talk, discussing his forthcoming book, the genius of Vonnegut, and our favorite Mary Oliver poems. Without warning, he pointed over my shoulder and shouted, "what's that!" I turned, of course, to see nothing but the squirrels chasing their collective tails in the branches of the American Sycamore, and at that precise moment, I felt a sledge-hammer like thud against my nose, saw tweety-birds and stars, and heard the crack and the ring of my head against the concrete. I looked up from the pavement to see Preston riding off on my bicycle, yelling "so long sucker!" That's right. Preston Yancey sucker punched me in my prominent Roman nose, and stole my bike to boot! 

In this hypothetical, what would my reaction be? Turn to him the other cheek? Offer him not only my bike but my car as well? Forgive him for the wrong right now and forever more? I doubt it. Most likely, my reaction would involve an infinite hatred, and endless seasons when there are everlasting missile strikes.

This may seem like a silly and over-blown hypothetical, but it occurs to me that the majority of wrongs in this world involve either (a) violence against the person, or (b) the theft of some perceived right. (Consider it.) We experience these wrongs not just in the moment; instead, the ghosts of these moments haunt, and haunt, and haunt. We relive violence and theft, replay it in our mind, tell ourselves exactly what we'll do the next we see him. But this kind of living, this thirst for personal vindication, this nurturing of hatred is counter-Christian and anti-disciple; isn't it?

I look around me these days, and the unfortunate truth is that too many of us are wrestling with unresolved forgiveness issues. This is not a hypothesis, or a guess. This is not my opinion. This can, at least by way of anecdotal evidence, be quantified. Want me to prove it? Easy.

1. Think of one person who has either (a) worked some violence against you, or (b) taken some right or thing that you believed to be yours;

2. Picture the person in your mind. Consider the expression on their face, the way they hold themselves, and their manner of speech;

3. Consider the things you'd say (or perhaps do) if there were no repercussions;

4. Would you offer an olive branch, a place of reconciliation? Or, would you rather tell them off or mete out a little Wild West justice? If you'd say the latter, ask yourself--am I really walking in forgiveness? Have I released anger and bitterness against them? Am I allowing them to interfere with the peace between me and my Maker?

Go ahead. Work the questions. Really. Work them.

Now ask yourself: do I still have some discipleship work to do?

*Full disclaimer. Preston Yancey neither crushed my nose, nor stole my bike. He's a gent and a scholar, and a man who's bound to go good places and do good things.

The Robe Upon My Back

Today, I'm writing over at Deeper Story, where I write: My running was not unique, really. I fiercely declared my independence, shook my fist and said "I'll show them!" I could list the litany of sins here, but sometimes I wonder if there are secrets best not splayed across the internet, at least not today. But the specifics aren't important.

Continue reading at Deeper Story to see just how I incorporate this song by Jordan Hurst (and go buy it)...

http://grooveshark.com/songWidget.swf