Today, I bring you another installment of Conversations with Ourselves, a series of posts in which every Thursday the author addresses the Past Self through the Present or vice versa (or sometimes totally not this, but something equally cool) concerning matters of Faith, specifically.
I am honored to share Seth Haines's words. Seth is a brilliant and gifted writer, contributor for Deeper Story, prolific thinker, and wise counselor. A simple email from him can help set the course of a life. Yesterday, Seth shared the first part of his reflection at Deeper Story. Join us there for the first part, then return here for part two?
Arsaga’s in December is a solemn place. Students cram in tight, brace for the coming blizzard of final exams. Fifteen years ago I sat in these same plastic chairs drowning myself in black coffee, the schwuging sounds of steaming milk, and black-letter law. We called Arsaga’s roast “outliners’ crack.” It was every gunners’ addiction.
Today I am in the corner booth. I remember finding this strip-center hovel on my first day in Fayetteville. It was the day I left vocational ministry, the day I decided to enroll in law school. Vocational ministry—how I loathed that term, the rubric for judgment. They were the church body. We were the vocational ministers. It never sat well with me.
In those bygone days I was hot-headed, a burned out wonder-mess. I sat in this same corner and listened to the Christians banter over lattes. Some outlined quaint theologies. Easy systems. Numbered spiritual laws with alliterated points and acrosticisms. As if relegating Yahweh to Roman numerals somehow made him understandable or controllable. Some broke the box, rendered God as some transcendental ideal, some mystic apple, a golden shower. As if rendering Yahweh unknowable made him somehow more grand
Hogwash I said back then, and I still say it today.
I feel the old-anger rising in the memory of the Christian misconstruction. I feel the toxic spew of pride rising like a chemical plume and everything’s growing quickly thick. I stop. Reminding myself to exhale, I say it quietly—“holding that much rancid air is going to kill you.”
The phone rings and I answer. It’s my seven-year old and he’s calling to tell me about the school bully. It only takes a few minutes and he’s crying. I tell him that I’m working at the coffee shop, that we’ll talk when I get home. I ask him if he can forgive and he says he can. I tell him that forgiveness is the measure of a Christ-bearer. It marks us as meek, as poor in spirit.
“Let it go, son.” I say and he agrees before hanging up the phone.
Forgiveness and grace. Love and affection. Meekness. Poverty in spirit. Peacemaking. These comprise the holy rubric.
Forgiveness, how it’s opposite almost killed me. I sip my coffee and remember old-church thoughts. Building programs, high-attendance Sundays, and visiting rock star preachers. The money, how it’s become so enmeshed in the walls of worship.
I remember how it all drove me into darkness, into hiding. I had become the dank cynic, the one disconnected from the body of Christ.
I pull my feet from the chair opposite the table and sit up straight. I wish I had known back then. I wish I had been well versed in the reality of beatitudinal living. The Christ-Truth, how it changes everything. I marvel at the thought of Truth, how that word doesn’t scare me any more.
I remember that church service, the day where I broke like old dam seals. I remember the breath of God. “Listen closely because I’m hoping this will save us both a great deal of pain,” he said to me. And in this coffee shop I repeat his words, a reminder of where I’ve been—“stop this business with hating the church, criticizing her every move. In the same way that I am in you, you are in her.”
I say these words and the old crazed itch falls for the hundredth time. In the remembering, there is freedom to love the imperfect bride. “I am in her,” I say to myself. “I am in her; I am in her.”
The barista has come to refill my coffee. She sees me cleaning my fingernails with my pocketknife, a red one, like the one Pagoda used to shiv Tenenbaum. I’m absorbed in my mantra and do not notice her. She asks if I’m okay. Startled, I look at her and smile. “Yes,” I say. “I’m just talking to myself.” She chuckles and turns toward the counter. I pack up my work things and leave the hot air behind.
Arsaga’s in December is a solemn place.
I am a working stiff stranded somewhere between Arkansas and home. I am blessed to be the husband of Amber Haines and the father of four boys. I enjoy good sentences, good music, good food, and good fly fishing. It’s a privilege to scratch out words when the opportunity arises. Thanks for reading.