Collective Failure and a Drunk President

I've explored failure this week, the ways our recognition of it and honesty with it can instruct, refine, and guide. It's a lesson I've learned from experience, from years of floundering in a failing faith and drinking away the pain. This season of alcohol dependency was an acute season of failure, and the smell of that failure--the juniper of the gin, the oak in the whiskey--lingers. It reminds me that my doubts were only resolved by walking through the failure and into the healing of true inner sobriety. Our personal failures provide a unique opportunity, I suppose. Don't our collective failures provide the same sort of opportunity?

Months ago, our country found itself drunk on self-importance and self-interest, on single-issue politics, on reactionary rage. So many put aside their civil scruples (81% of evangelical Christians, in fact), closed their moral compasses and voted for a new sort of mix-it-up, social media, reality television, kingpin president. Drunk on his promises, they excused his past failures--misogynism, xenophobia, jingoism, a history of racism--failures from which he never learned. And so, as President of the United States (an office deserving of dignity), Donald Trump continues to repeat the brash mistakes of his past. Yesterday, he engaged in the petty slander he's come to be known for, attacking the appearance of yet another female cable news anchor.

There can be no denying it--President Trump is drunk on vengeance and rage. [tweetherder]Vengeance and rage are coming from his Twitter stream, from his ears, from his eyes, from his wherever.[/tweetherder] These demons have blinded him to his failures, have kept him from the emotional and moral maturity expected of a president. You can mark my word; this will be his undoing.

Our collective failure as people of faith, our inability to see past our own self-interest for the good of our country has led to the sorts of indignities we see coming from the White House. And though we cannot make the President of the United States sober up, though we cannot make him learn from his own mistakes, we can tend to our own sobriety. We can confess the drunkenness that resulted in him becoming the Chief Executive.

Failures are an opportunity to recollect, to refine, to course correct. If this is true--and I think it is--our country has not seen a more opportune time to recollect, refine, and course-correct in my lifetime. Our failure is our drunkenness. It's time to sober up.

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Pray Yourself Sober

What is sobriety? Doesn't it mean more than keeping free of the bottle, the needle, the prescription pill, the credit card bill? This has been the drum I've banged for nearly three years, now. Sobriety, it seems to me, is that quality of connection that keeps us clear-headed. And in this modern world of noise, and news, and endless screaming over each other, don't we need that kind of connection more than ever? I've tried my best over the last few months to cultivate personal practices of sobriety, and in that, I've turned to the writings of George Buttrick, the twentieth-century Presbyterian pastor who wrote about prayer. Buttrick's practices and insights lead me to quieter places, places of thanksgiving, confession, and rest. I've enjoyed these practices, and I'm inviting you to join me in them.

[tweetherder]An invitation begs attendance. Doesn't it?[/tweetherder]

I've created two daily email plans based on Buttrick's work. The first, The Practice of Prayer: Thanksgivingis a five-day email plan stretching into the recognition of the good gifts of God in our everyday lives. The next, The Practice of Prayer: Confession, is a five-day email plan of examination and recognition. Confession--it's hard, maybe, but aren't most things worth doing?

If you sign up for the Thanksgiving plan, you'll receive the Confession plan immediately following the completion of your gratitude practice. And if you complete the Confession plan, you'll receive an email notification when new prayer plans are available (I'll release another one in the next month or two).

Would you consider signing up? And as you're working through the plans, feel free to invite a conversation partner or two (perhaps a small group) along. You can invite your friends to sign up by way of Twitter or  Facebook.

So, pull a group together, and let's go. I'll be working my way through these plans, too (you can't practice thanksgiving and confession too much). Let's cultivate practices of sobriety. Shall we?

 

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Marriage Letters: The Quickening Moments

Dear Amber, There are moments in marriage where all things quicken, where best or worst moments siphon out the essence of togetherness. In those moments, we’re brought to the edge of joy or pain, hope or despair. These are the moments that suck the air out of the room, moments leaving me in holy awe that, yes, this thing called marriage is an ordination, a calling.

I felt it first when the white wooden doors at the Guntersville Church of Christ swung wide, and you stood there in blinding beauty. This was the first time my future passed before me, and all the possibilities of life spread wide. I felt it again with the birth of Isaac, then Jude, then Ian, then Titus—the bundles of potential energy, of potential boyhood, of potential manhood.

There were other quickenings--the time you called from Louisiana; “grandma’s gone,” you said. There was the morning we woke to discover grandpa’s soul had fled his hospice bed and tore a hole through the great hereafter; he and grandma were together again.

The quickening moments of marriage are not relegated to life or death, to marriage vows or the renewing of vows. Confession, repentance—these are quickening moments, too. In September of 2013 I called from a conference in Austin, Texas. You were home with the children, and you answered at the end of a frazzled day. Our conversation was brief.

“I think I need you to get rid of all the alcohol in the house,” I said. “I think I have to quit drinking.”

“You have a drinking problem?” The words hung, lump forming in my throat.

“Yes,” I managed after too long a pause.

“Okay,” you said. “I love you.” And that was it.

You were all grace. It was a quickening moment for me, but perhaps for you, too?

You’d clung to a dream of Paris. In your dream, we sat in an outdoor cafe, wine in our glasses, baguettes and butter on our plates. At night, we turned down Parisian sheets, sipped chilled champagne and found the right mood. In the morning, we traveled to the French countryside, toured wineries and learned the slower way of the farmers. We collected wine stories, perhaps wine bottles. Your dream was one of art, French jazz, wine and love. Could there be anything more romantic?

S&A

My confession on that September evening stole your dream. I came clean, and your fantasy of Paris was thrown out with the bathtub gin. You didn’t tell me this until nearly six months into my sobriety (thank you). By then, you were glad to trade your dream for a more sober version of me.

There’s been a lot of talk and some abuse of the Holy Scripture's recitation of wifely submission. "Wives, submit yourselves to your own husbands as you do to the Lord.” (Eph. 5:22). [tweetherder]Some doofuses quote this scripture as they bark commands, or as they push the women-folk down the chain of command.[/tweetherder] I’m not qualified to unpack this scripture in its entirety, but this is what I know: you led me into sobriety by your gentle-hearted submission. You crucified your full French fantasy to serve me in sobriety’s throes (see all the scripture you embody?). If that’s not submission, I’m not sure what is.

Perhaps there’s still Paris. Art, the countryside, baguettes, butter, and midnight romance--it's still a possibility. There may not be wine or champagne, but there’s still us. Somehow, I know that's good enough for you. I know I’m good enough for you. That’s a hard sentence to type.

Here’s what else I know: we’re siphoned, and siphoned, and siphoned, and I suppose one day there will be nothing left us but the bare essentials. Maybe we’ll submit to each other. Maybe I’ll crucify a few dreams for you. Maybe you’ll crucify a few more for me. Maybe we’ll have quickening after quickening. Maybe we’ll watch our children be siphoned. Maybe we’ll see our parents' souls siphoned. Maybe we’ll watch the world be siphoned to its nothing-elseness. [tweetherder]If we’re lucky, maybe the nothing-elseness will look like faith, hope, and love.[/tweetherder]

Submitting to the siphoning,

Seth

***COMING CLEAN***

Coming Clean: A Story of Faith, is available! You can order online wherever good books are sold, or visit your local Barnes & Noble and pick up your copy! While you're there, check out this month's Relevant Magazine, which features and interview with me about Coming Clean.

***TINY LETTER***

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A Free eBook: Coming Clean |Austin Outtakes

On the weekend of my coming clean—the weekend I was blinded by the epiphany that, yes, I had a drinking problem—I traveled to Austin. A lawyer by trade, I was presenting at a humanitarian conference known as the Idea Camp. My topic du jour related to international orphan care, and how worldview, international legal frameworks, and Gospel dignity should shape our view of it. Riveting stuff, eh? Don't answer that question.

A group of friends converged from across the country for the conference, and opting against the bourgeois trappings of single rooms at the conference-recommended hotel, we split room and board at an Austin house situated at 1900 David Street. We gathered under the roof of that spacious house, under the broad-shouldered and gnarled Spanish oak that protected the far corner of the porch. I remember that Spanish oak. How it seemed to anchor so much of that weekend.

My little band of compatriots calls this house “The David House.” I call it my halfway house—the house where I entered fully dependent on alcohol, where I left in the newness of a shaky sobriety. The folks at The David House, along with a few Idea Camp attendees (Heather King, most notably) played a direct role in the birth of my sobriety. I couldn’t be more grateful for them.

In my soon-to-be-released book Coming Clean, I write more about that Austin weekend. But in my little eBook, Coming Clean|Austin Outtakes, I flesh out that weekend a little more with the help of my friends, my first community of support. In the Austin Outtakes, I've compiled pieces from Kristen Howerton, Karen Yates, Preston Yancey, Heather King, Matt Mooney, and my wife, Amber Haines. They discuss The David House, lead you through their experiences of the weekend, and their interactions with me as I came clean.

CC Austin Outtakes

The eBook is completely free for those who've pre-ordered Coming Clean. If you pre-order today (or if you've already pre-ordered), let me know (whether in the comments below or on social media), and I'll make sure you get your free copy of the Austin Outtakes.

And if you'd like to help spread the word about Coming Clean and the Austin Outtakes, [tweetherder text="Pre-order @sethhaines' new book, Coming Clean, and receive a free eBook! http://amzn.to/1QIsKGH // "]click this link.[/tweetherder]

Thanks to all of you who've followed and supported this journey. I couldn't be more grateful. Sincerely.

 

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Recovery Room: An Anniversary of Inner Sobriety

On Sunday, September 21, I will celebrate my first anniversary of sobriety. I suppose some see their sobriety anniversary as a sort of birthday, an event worthy of candles, party poppers, and groovy house music (all things of which I am decidedly for). I'm choosing a different analogue, though; I'm choosing to celebrate Sunday as my own personal Easter. That being the case, this week constitutes the consummation of a personal Lent, a season of reflecting on the death of addiction and the resurrection to new life. Though it may seem counterintuitive at first, I have not centered my reflection in the celebration of being drink-free. Instead, I’ve turned inward, beyond the obvious point of celebration. I've examined the condition of my inner sobriety, asking whether I've dealt with the things that led me to over-imbibe in the first place.

Mr. Webster defines sobriety a number of ways, including the way in which it is most colloquially understood—“not addicted to intoxicating drink.” And though that is certainly one aspect of sobriety (often the most difficult to accomplish), if we stopped there, the quality of our sobriety would be judged by our ability to modify behavior. We are more than Pavlov's dogs, though, more than animals to be trained.

[tweetherder text="Practicing sobriety through the lens of the Gospel is not an exercise in behavior modification."]When one practices sobriety through the lens of the Gospel, one is reminded that that Jesus didn’t come to prod us toward behavior modification.[/tweetherder] He didn't preach white-knuckle accomplishment or celebration of right behavior at the expense of the heart. In fact, the primary focus of his teaching was on the heart of the inner man. Consider his examination of adultery, how it was not centered on the act itself, but rather on the lust of the inner man. "Everyone who looks at a woman with lust for her has already committed adultery with her in his heart," he said. (Matthew 5)

The quality of my sobriety, then, isn't marked by mere abstinence from a particular vice. Instead, the quality of my sobriety is only as good as the quality of my inner sobriety (i.e., am I free from the addictions of the heart, from lust, anger, or greed?). Has my inner man been transformed into something resembling the shape of an olive branch, something carried in the beak of a great dove? This is the crux of inner sobriety.

"How do you examine your inner sobriety?" you might be asking. Our processes may differ, but this week, I’m giving space to these questions:

Have I dealt with the pains that led me to over-drink?

Are there new pains that threaten to consume my heart?

Are there areas of fear, anxiety, or anger that consume my thoughts?

Do I think of death or disease more often than life and the possibility of healing?

Have I confessed my darker thoughts to my wife, therapist, or a trusted friend?

Am I walking in forgiveness with those around me?

Am I actively pursuing peace with those with whom I disagree?

Are there addictions I’m using to self-soothe, to numb the pain, anxiety, fear, or anger?

Am I honest about the state of my frailty, about how close I am to reaching for the bottle (or sex, or shopping, or religious certitude)?

It's my strong suspicious that avoiding the work of examining my inner-sobriety creates fertile ground for relapse. And even if I could white-knuckle my way through abstaining from alcohol, I’d simply manage to transfer my addiction elsewhere—eating, drinking, Xanax, sex, consumerism, purging, feigning religious devotion, over-engaging in social media, or all of the aboev. This is the way of my wayward heart. Sound familiar?

Jesus left us with this grand promise:

"Peace I leave with you; My peace I give to you; not as the world gives do I give to you. Do not let your heart be troubled, nor let it be fearful.”

This sort of world-transcending peace marks the character of inner sobriety, I think. And so today, I’m asking myself, “is that peace rooted in all areas of my life?”

Yes, I'm moving toward my own personal Easter, and this is not the Easter of externalities. It's not about broken bottles and modified behaviors. It's not about one-year AA chips, or rounds of applause. This is an Easter of inner rebirth. You're invited to come along. Do you want to?

**Note: Join me in walking through the inventory of questions above. If you find yourself high-centered on one, sit with a piece of paper and write your thoughts. If you find yourself high-centered on either of the last two questions (no matter the coping mechanism), consider seeing a trusted therapist, priest, pastor. There’s no shame in coming clean.

*****

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