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


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.


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.

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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.”

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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.


This morning, Amber woke to the Haitian rooster calling. She woke where the smells of spice and sorrow mingled 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 our sister church.


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.


Follow Amber, and our friends Sarah Bessey, Erika Morrison, and Sarah Markley as they write about Haiti for Help One Now. You can also follow their live tweets by following the hashtag #HONbloggers.

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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?


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!


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.


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).


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 #19 (Spring Stones)

Last night I had a brief exchange with a friend, a good woman who speaks timely words. We were discussing the status of public discourse, especially in concern to matters of faith. I said that I was growing weary of the endless battle royale, the endless war of words that has taken to the hallowed halls of the internetShe replied with a simple statement: this week I’m reminded that God (and the church) are bigger than the internet.

Wiser, more nuanced words haven’t been spoken to me in some time.

Last night I considered us, this grand swath of humanity. We are more than digital arguments, avatars, and coded bits and blips, no matter how much we might wish otherwise.


Psalm #19 (Spring Stones)

In the turning over of spring’s stones
I see the unfurled woodlouse, unafraid,
the lichen that lives best undisturbed,
and the soil that is the medium
of our genesis.

From dust I came
and dust will be my home.

There was once a Great Awakening
that started with clay and God,
and it knew nothing of
one thousand pixel bosoms,
or men whom, in their pyromaniacal fits
burned every expendable,
sexable good down
to its consumable, silicone dust.

We were created clay paupers,
at once began collecting orgasmic baubles.

If there were a man who could be all
to everyone, he would not be a man
but a god. These are the days
of the every-god,
god the terrible, god the kind,
god the electronic omnipresent,
god the straight, god the gay,
the ever opinionated, sometimes quiet
unjust semi-sovereign.

These are the days when men turn over
stones in spring and see only dirt, forgetting
that the soil is our cousin.

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Good Links (National Poetry Month Edition)

Last night, the black, gray, and white clouds swirled on top of each other while the radio screeched the National Weather Center warning. “This is not a test,” it said before indicating that a Tornado watch was in effect. I pulled into the drive, where Amber and the boys were standing, watching the clouds roll against each other like ocean waves. Titus pointed to the sky, “pormado, Dadda,” he said. I told him it’d be okay, that we were protected by a sturdy Ozark ridge (as if he understood the interaction of meteorology and geology). He smiled, pointed again, and said “pormado, pormado, pormado.”

Some words are just fun to say, I reckon. Titus is learning that. (And worry not; the fact that you are reading this is an indication that my home was not swept away to Oz.)

Speaking of fun words, I’ve been digging into a few this week. Check out this week’s list of good links.


Breaking convention, I’m leading with a video segment from Jimmy Kimmel’s interview of Bill Clinton. In it, the forty-second president speaks of alien visitation: “I just hope, that it’s not like Independence Day, the movie,” he says.


Did you know it’s National Poetry Month? The good folks at Tweetspeak Poetry have a Poetry Dare for you. Pick a poet and read his or her work every day through the month of April. Lyla Lindquist is reading Polish poet Wisława Szymborska. Check out her piece and take her up on the Poetry Dare. If you could pick one poet to read this month, who would it be? (I’m reading John Ciardi.)

Speaking of picking a poet, last night, I picked a few Facebook poets and followed links to their words. I ran across James Scott Smith’s poem “Weaver’s Prayer.” He writes, in part:

…we, cloak ourselves in the
love of one day’s worth of revelation, of a simple
reckoning with faith, enough to warm our faces in the
dawn and thank the One that fires up the rising sun for this
wondrous and mysterious consciousness of being in the world.

Visit his place, By Way of the Dog, for the rest of the poem. It’s a good one.

Yesterday, Hilary Sherratt writes on the connection between writing good poetry and voracious reading. By reading poetry, Hilary learned to read the world, learned to see the poetry all around her. She writes:

It is this way with the man who shovels snow too early in the morning to talk back to the silent trees. It is this way with the woman I see making her way nervously, heels-clicking, down the sidewalk towards the post office on Saturday, the way it is with the bird chatter or the dog and his patient tail thumping the song of our mornings.

Hilary’s piece is one of my favorite of the week. Make sure you check it out.


Over the last year or so, I’ve collected some of my favorite poetic songs in one extraordinary playlist (if I might say so myself). Enjoy.

Happy National Poetry Month! I hope you take the opportunity to delve deep into verse!

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