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On Co-Laboring

“There is no American, African, or Asian way of breathing. There is no rich or poor way of breathing.”
~Richard Rohr, The Naked Now

I.

Amber woke me at 4:00 a.m. on Saturday morning. “I can’t find your keys,” she said, which I reckoned less of the truth and more of an excuse to squeeze one last kiss out of me before leaving on a jet plane. “They’re here, right by the door,” I said, the a.m. annoyance in my voice unmasked. She grinned, shrugged, and hugged me long. “Pray for me,” she said.

I watched her pull from the driveway and turn into the street. She is a wonder of a woman, my wife; she is mother, writer, sometimes preacher, road-tripping traveler. She has a grand capacity for loving people–all people.

The taillights of the car veered left at the end of the street. I wondered how this trip would change her. I wondered if I’d recognize her when she returns from Haiti. She’s traveling to tell stories with Help One Now. They are good people who hope to stay small and serve big. It’s their grand ideal, and Amber is going to write it.

II.

When mama’s away, the boys will play, so we loaded up the mini-van and made our way to a ranch south of Fort Smith. The ranch sits in the heart of the Ouachitas, the pearl that fell from the mouth of the Ozarks. I’ve been coming to this ranch since I was a teenager, it being owned by a family from the church of my teenage years. The ranch is a broad swath of green pasture with a black pond in the middle. It boasts a million wildflowers, an awakening honeybee colony, and a mess of Longhorn cattle.

photo (2)

We spent the day there, fishing, shooting pellet guns, tromping through runoff creeks. Titus took off most of his clothes and ran circles around the pond in his crocks and saggy diaper. The boy was meant to run free.

My parents and I took turns with the children. My pop taught Ike how to cast beyond the reeds, how to zip the spinner through the thick mucky underbrush where the bass had bedded down. He practiced and practiced until he struck pay dirt and reeled in a two-pound smallmouth.

Jude and I worked the other side of the pond, talked about school, and girls, and mama’s trip to Haiti. I told him about the earthquake in 2010, how the people were shaken up, some were killed. “This world is always shaking one way or another,” I told him, “but God says that we are members of an unshakeable kingdom.”

“Is that heaven?” he asked.

“Yes, but it’s unshakeable here. The kingdom is here, even now. It’s in this spring, in the beauty of the sun over the pond. It’s in church, in sharing scripture with each other. It’s in our conversation. The kingdom is in us.”

photo (3)

I think about the unshakeable kingdom, how I am teaching it to my children while Amber is experiencing it in Haiti. There is a co-laboring here. Do you see it? I am with the boys so that Amber can be in Haiti, and Amber is in Haiti so I can be with the boys. My parents are with me so that my four hoodlums don’t overrun me. They are co-laborers, too.

We are symbiotic.

III.

This morning, Amber woke to the Haitian rooster calling. She woke where the smells of spice and sorrow mingle with the incense of joy and the sound of laughter.

I wonder what the people of Haiti will give her, what kind of water she’ll carry home. Amber is the most empathetic person I have ever met–hands down. If you came to our house bedraggled and thirsty, if you told her your gullet was parched to cracking, she’d make two glasses of water, one for you and one for her. She feels the pains of all others, takes them on as if they were her one. She has no doubt tapped into the joy, pain, and love of the Haitian people. This is her gift.

Last night, Amber wrote of the Haitian church:

Today we met Gaetan’s wife, and after nearly being blinded by the joy of her face after she had cooked a meal for 31 children, my eyes went straight to her feet. I have never so desired to kneel straight down and wash feet. They are not famous and don’t belong on pedestals. They are humble, desperate, persevering disciples of Jesus Christ. To know them is to respect them and to want to show them honor.

She’s honoring the stories of our brothers and sisters, our co-laborers in the good and coming kingdom. She is learning from the unsung heroes of the church.

IV.

Richard Rohr says that we have all been given the same breath–the breath of the living God. There is no us and them, rich and poor, Haitian or American. Those with the Spirit of God are all lesser brothers together, the humble co-laborers and bearers of the unshakeable kingdom.

I co-labor with my wife as she co-labors with the beautiful church in Port-au-Prince. My parents co-labor with me as we teach my children the value of service, of running free, of reeling in smallmouth bass. You co-labor as you pray for your families, for the international church, for your friends.

We are all in this together.

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Good Links (The Haitian Edition)

It’s been a crazy week here at the Haines house. On Monday, my tiniest buddy, an eight pound Yorkie-Poo rescue named Lucy, headed for the hills. She was in the back yard with my son and found a gap in the fence line. Seeing a squirrel on the other side, she squeezed her way through, and like a shot, she was off!

Amber called, panicking, and asked me to come home. She told me that Lucy had squeezed through the fence gap, had disappeared in a flash. Our dog had run away. I sped home and scoured the neighborhood, searching all its nooks and crannies. There was no sign of my best little dog, so I did what all good dog-lovers are supposed to do when their mutt heads for the hills. I made flyers titled “LOST DOG,” and plastered them on every stop sign in a 2 mile radius.

A friend saw the flyer, suggested I post it on Facebook. I figured the odd were low that the finder of my dog (assuming there was one) would see the Facebook posting, but when you’re desperate, you’ll do just about anything. Here’s where the story gets crazy. I am Facebook friends with the local weatherman’s wife. She saw the posting, and went to said local weatherman’s Facebook fan page and reposted it. I woke up the next morning to a message saying that one of his many fans had found my Lucy!

Now, for those of you who’ve been following my blog, you know that I’ve been pushing back against the internet a little. I’ve been writing some words on staging a coup against the power this electronic medium wields over us, about staging some great Analog Resistance. But here’s the truth: social media ain’t all that bad. In fact, sometimes it’s a Godsend.

Let’s round up some of the good links this week. What do you say?

Books

Kelley Nikondeha is a gem, and one peach of a writer to boot. This month, she has opened up the “Transit Lounge” (follow the link for more details) wherein she and a few friends (yours truly included) will be reading Walter Brueggemann’s book, Sabbath as Resistance. This book has a shotgun start, and is a quick little read that will reconstruct the way you think about the fourth commandment in this modern age. Brueggemann describes his book as being written

“to those who are ‘weary and heavy laden,’ made so by the insatiable requirements of our society--in its taxation for the sake of imperialism, in its social conformity that urges doing more and having more (now perniciously embodied in ‘teaching to test’), in its frightened intent that there should be no ‘free lunch’ for anyone, in its assumption that there is a technological resolution of every human problem, in its pathologies of greed and control.”

I think this is a timely read for the many who feel the grinding of life, the endless do, do, do, that grinds your soul down to a nub. Join us in the Transit Lounge!

Links

This weekend, Amber will be heading to Haiti with the grand people of Help One Now. She’ll be rolling with some of my favorites: Sarah Bessey, Erika Morrison, Sarah Markley, Mike Rusch, and Scott Wade (hello, Lion-man!). Today’s links are dedicated to these fine folks who’ll be serving their guts out and writing good stories to boot.

Read more:

Amber Haines -- On Broken Parts in Regular Towns: Alabama, Arkansas, and Haiti.

Sarah Bessey -- In Which I’m Looking for Subversive Hope.

Sarah Markley -- What is Possible

Erika Morrison (a/k/a E-$) -- i always make it personal.

Video

My friend Tim Willard (and his inimitable cohort, Jason Locy), are ready to launch their second book into the world. If it’s anything like their first book, Veneer, you won’t want to miss it. Check out the trailer for Home Behind the Sun: Connect With God in the Brilliance of the Everyday (pre-order now).

MUSIC

I’ve been continuing this process of recovery (ain’t that a loaded word?), and it’s been, at times, brutal. I’ve found a few things that help the urge to drink. Good prayer, good quiet, and good music. This week, I created a second playlist entitled “Recovery 2.” Check it out.

 

Thanks for stopping in this week! Have a brilliant weekend!

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On Poetry, by Hilary Sherratt

It’s National Poetry Month, and I’ve been setting out to discover why we read and write poetry. Today, I’ve asked Hilary Sherratt to answer the question “why poetry?”

I first met Hilary by way of an email forwarded to me by her fiancé, Preston Yancey. “Read this poem,” it said. That was it. I read. I was hooked.

Hilary has a rare way with words. She has poems that make you say “whoa.” (So after her opening line, make sure you snigger extra loud.) After you read her piece, make sure you drop by her place.

*****

I’m not a poet, I’m the hidden in morning traffic undone hair and lonely smile. I’m not a poet, I’m wild bursts of laughter at the wrong end of the dinner table. I’m not a poet, I’m a gyroscope spinning in your closed hands. I’m not a poet, I’m a tangled yarn of words half phrased and loosed over the page like prisoners bolting for the cracked door.

I don’t write poetry because I’m a poet.

There’d be no point to the words, then, they’d be only the stricken shadows of a claim of identity, something to put after my name, titles lining up along behind me, wife, lover, student of and knower of and, and, and. I’d say, “I’m a poet” and really just mean to tell you to take me more seriously, treat my words like silver or gold rippling through your hands. I’d say, “I’m a poet” because I’d want you to think I’m a good writer and the title will tell you everything.

I’m not a poet.

I write because the words claw at my insides and there is nothing gentle or lamblike about the way they’re born. I write poetry because words are violent against ribcages and there isn’t a muscle in my body that can keep them. I write because the words are the tide’s relentless turning, and on the days when I do not know where I begin or end I do know that when I hear something beautiful it should be written.

I’m not a poet, because if I tell you I’m a poet I’m not telling you why I write poetry. I’m just telling you that I wish you’d think me a poet.

I write it because the words must be. Because out of nothing we might spin the beautiful.

And because I hear the word midwinter and all I think is:

The lake is still, undisturbed
as it must be, the justice
of such faithful movement all summer – to hold only itself.
And now my request.
My hands blush in asking
that it might carry me, too,
I glare skyward.
Is there anything to a body but gravity,
the heaving pull of the heart?
Is there anything to my hands but
a prayer I only half believe?
It is midwinter.
Must the world still carry me?

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Psalm #18 (On the Dawn)

From time to time I pen my own psalms. Follow the link for the entire corpus (such as it is).

I’ve heard enough about culture wars and the warring factions of religion to fill three lifetimes. Last week’s brouhaha regarding World Vision (which, to illuminate the situation, was mostly relegated to a particular internet sub-culture) was the tipping point. I suppose there are genuine points to be made regarding the importance of the discussion, but I also suppose there are genuine points to be made about remaining less resolute, more quiet.

In any event, even if you didn’t follow the goings-on last week, this poem is still for you. At least, it’s for me.

*****

Psalm #18 (On the Dawn)

Dawn is a half-rest, a symphonic pause
pregnant like Mary with possibility
of a meek Messiah who grows less like
“go and conquer,”
and more like
“suffer the child, the poor,
the broken-hearted self.”

Oh Dawn,
pray for us sinners, now
and at the hour of our dying.
Amen.

Always gentle, it comes like a child
waking God’s affection, greeting us
with purple robes and golden rods,
gifts fit for kings.
Who are the kings of the world?
The meek, the slowed, the quiet observant.
Who are the kings of the world?
They are us.

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On the Violences of Christian Taking

I.

For a moment let’s be still. Let’s listen to the chatter of birds returning from milder southern winters; let’s smell the neighbor’s fresh mulch spread in anticipation of the spring thaw. For a moment, let’s see the daffodils stretching upward, or at least imagine them begging to break through winter’s last gasp, its final chokehold.

II.

On Saturday, I visited a coffee shop with a hippy flair Carrboro, North Carolina. It was a packed house, with Tar Heel students sitting at the island tables that populated an outdoor garden. One student swung in a hammock, looked up through the greening trees. I walked by the hammock, smelled the weed stuck to his skin, noticed his nary-a-care smile. He looked up at me, said, “hey, man. Cool?” I had no idea what the question was, so I looked down, smiled, and nodded.

“Cool,” I said.

In the coffee shop, the high-ambition students sat along the room’s edges, they with their headphones on, furrowed brows sunk into the spines of text books. On occasion, they’d cast a longing glance to the low-ambition students in the center of the room, they chatting and laughing about who knows what. They were an eclectic mix of doers, and resters. They were a mix of take-the-world and take-what-comes, alike.

I watched the children poised on the unknowing edge of prosperity’s ambitious burnout. I wanted to tell them to dive into the pit of take-what-comers, to let things develop without assuming the onus being a catalyst, some sort of personal Big Bang.

“Go swing in the hammock,” I wanted to whisper in all their ears, but they wouldn’t have listened. I wouldn’t have either.

III.

Cool?

IV.

Before the Carrboro coffee shop, I sat in a lake house living room with fourteen men. We were strangers before the weekend, each of us coming from different professions and being invited by the five members of a sort of spiritual direction community. There were two pastors, a tech-startup cat, a money-manager, an executive coach, and a rock-and-roll church administrator from the Rocky Mountain State. There were two pastors from Virginia, and a peace mediator from Old Dominion, too. A seminarian had driven from the Blue Grass state, and two money managers and a pastor-therapist from middle Tenessee attended. Then there was me–a lay lawyer from the Ozark mountains.

One might ask whether a retreat of strangers is as uncomfortable as it sounds. I suppose the answer depends on the sorts of people that comprise the collective, but in our case, I would say it was anything but uncomfortable. We talked in simplest terms about the things we wanted and the status of our souls. We shared a common desire to live what’s left of this one life well, to push into relationships that are meaningful, that go beyond the platitudes of job, and money, and even family.

There’s something rich about sharing the status of you soul in a collective of otherwise strangers. Pretense and posturing disappears (if you let it). There are no business competitors, no one to get a leg up on. If the collective is honest, and ours was, it fosters a sense that, when you take it down to the nuts and bolts, we’re all so similar, all have the same underlying self-consuming doubts and struggles.

Near the end, I shared about my growing distaste of the creeping, subtle, Christian violences. I told them I was weary of Christian ambition, of church mission statements that include grandiose statements about “taking the city for Christ.” I’ve had my fill of warfare metaphors, and fighting memes. I’m tired of long-on-opinion and short-on-grace living. I want a community that’s flips the notion on its head, one that rests. I want a community that believes the great “give us this day our daily bread.”

We unpacked the notion, and the pastor from Virginia boiled it down to the bones–”at our church, we’re not looking to take anything anymore; instead, we’re hoping to cultivate a community of restful belonging.”

Belonging–I think it’s what we all want if we’re honest.

V.

Spring is not something to be seized and dragged into our present realities. It comes in its beauty, in its own time. It comes and we belong to it in the same way the cardinals, or the redbuds, or the daffodils belong to it. It comes without effort–without our effort, anyhow–and it’s the best of graces. This is the way of the good things of God, at least that’s the way I reckon it.

Is this the way of belonging?

VI.

Give us this day our daily bread.

Take what comes.

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