What is America?

Yesterday was All Saints Sunday, and during the prayers of the people, I prayed for the departed saints in Sutherland Springs, Texas, all 26 of them, including no less than three children, a woman who was 5 months pregnant, and the the elderly who could duck, or run, or whatever. What good is prayer? I genuinely wonder sometimes, but in that wondering, I prayed for America, too. America the wasteland.



Who are we? What is America?

America--land of insanity, of gun rights and rage, of itchy trigger fingers.

America--land of politicians with their soothing words signifying nothing, the genetically-modified weeds growing among God's wheat.

America--where a good run up in the stock market or consumer confidence or the coming #BLACKFRIDAYDEALS or positive cattle futures or any news of prosperity numbs our collective consciousness to death, death, death, death.

America--where we pay lip service to the life of the unborn but shell out big bucks to preserve the capacity for one man to commit mass murder and infanticide.

America--where rifles spit bullets into the Body of Christ. On a Sunday. In November. Blackest of days, again.

America--you are heartless, and where is the soul when there is no heart, beating?


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A Good and Proper Slaughtering

John, Winn, and I have been talking about the human experience, about writing, and about recording the things that are real, sans fluff. This is a passing attempt. (Warning: this gets gory.)


The straight-run matured into a veritable flock--ten hens and eleven hackled and cocky roosters. Ratios being what they were (one rooster for every hen, with only one hen to spare), and cocks being what they are (territorial and full of the stuff of life) our lady birds were receiving quite a bit of attention (hint, hint; wink, wink; nudge, nudge). One might say the free range at the Haines Homestead had become bawdy, prurient, or lewd.


If you are not well-versed on animal husbandry, and I count myself as no expert, you might know that over-sexed hens tend to skittishness, fits of anxiety, and perhaps self-doubt.  What's more, the over-sexing roosters tend to chest puffing, fight picking, and plucking plugs out of their brothers' feathers. On a smaller scale (one to one, or some such ratio) this sexing and fighting becomes a quasi-comical metaphor of sorts. At the ratio of ten to eleven, it creates nothing short of a farmyard ruckus.

Last week, the roosters matured to a braise-worthy size. The season of harvest had come. A good-and-proper slaughtering being necessary and appropriate, I sharpened the reaper's blade and hung the noose from the Cypress tree overlooking the pond.

(This is where things get gruesome. You've been warned.)


Experts explain that the most humane way to dispatch a chicken is to hang it by its feet allowing it to relax into a near sleep. This induction of sleep and the ensuing dispatching is often made easier by the use "killing cones," in which a chicken is placed upside down, head and neck extending through an opening in the bottom, wings compressed against the metal sides, and legs protruding from the top. A gentle kill--so these same experts tell you--involves a deep, quick slice against the jugular, opening the blood spigot. The heart quickens, pulling and pulsing blood from the meat, through the neck, and onto the ground. The pain is minimal--again, per the experts--and the cock-sure soul wakes in the land of eternal morning, of endless cock-a-doodle-doos and capitulating lady birds.

All this said, I had no killing cone for this good-and-proper slaughtering, and I didn't intend to spend my spare change on such a device for the sake of ten birds. And so, crafty gentleman farmer that I am, I strung the young roos by their feet, allowed them to relax to the point of sleep, turned their necks, and made the cuts. The blood spigot opened, sure enough, and the stream ran red down the side of the cypress, pooling at its base. Within minutes, green-backed flies congregated in the pool, one on top of another, hundreds of living sequins winking at each other in the sunlight. (Hint, hint; wink, wink; nudge nudge.)

Life and death pulse along an infinite loop.

In the last seconds of a chicken's life, there is a final shudder, the quickening of breath in the breast, the spasmodic and violent flapping of the wings. There is a last lifting of the neck toward the sky, a searching for the sun. It is intimate, primal, perhaps holy. Mindfulness turns the moment to both sorrow and gratitude, toward other juxtapositions I haven't quite sorted, might not ever sort.

Roos plucked, processed, and packed, the meat now lines my freezer. Meat aside, the killing floor by the old cypress welcomed me into the experience of life, into the fragility of it, into the undulations of nature's sexing, birthing, and dying. This world is fierce, violent, and sometimes lacking in mercy (such as we define it).

This, I suppose, is the point: if the world were all daisies, roses, and unicorn flatulence, I'm not sure faith would be a necessary thing. A fairytale life, a life celebrating only love, joy, peace and mercy is just that--a fairytale. Sex, birth, violence, killing, provision, death, and the fear of dying--these things beg imperative questions.

What is life and its end?

What is the last gasp, the craning of the neck?

What does it mean to kill and to die?

What does it mean to find provision through death?

How does the heart find gratitude in sacrifice?

[tweetherder]How does it feel to be alive?[/tweetherder]


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Grandma's Passing

My grandmother slipped behind the veil last week. Slow, groggy, feeling a little too tired, she laid down for a ten-minute nap and woke in eternity. My parents said she went with a smile on her face. She was 95. As my friend Karen said this morning, "weddings, births, and funerals tend to turn people toward reflection." Yesterday, a few handfuls of celebrants gathered at Moore's Funeral Chapel, and we reflected on the passing of a saint. She was a woman who used her 95 years well. By all accounts she was a student of scripture, a spiritual mother, a living prayer.

Yesterday I had the opportunity to share a poem at her funeral. Today, I'm sharing it here.


For Grandma Upon Her Passing.

At 95 we thought she might live forever, suspended between nature and eternity, the passages caused by old age or accident, whichever God gifted first. Brow folded over brow, wisdom lines tracing trenches until her 90th birthday, then no more. (One can acquire only what wisdom is acquirable.) Thin-skinned hands, veins light purple the color of queens who seem to outshine the lot of us. Affections turned toward home, toward husband, and children, and children's children, to mother and father, to friends who visit in late afternoon memories. In well-worn age, the world's weights became helium balloons, releasable, laughable, floating things. Memories, family, faith, hope-- these are the anchors of age.

95 and we thought she might live forever. Perhaps she did.

IMG_4733-600x600 Image by Amber Haines.


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[tweetherder]A short poem to those who've labored with the dying.[/tweetherder] Yours is the kingdom of heaven.


doula (/do͞olə/) (noun): a woman who is trained to assist another woman during childbirth and who may provide support to the family after the baby is born.


I’ve known doulas of new mothers, who’ve labored with; through whispered doubts and the burning spring of new life weeping into this world, they've served.

Their reward is this: to taste the miracle of innocence born.

I’ve known doulas of the dying, too, who’ve carried spirits from world’s womb, who’ve spoken stories of hope for dimming eyes and waning smiles.

Their reward is this: to taste the miracle of innocence reborn.


In the most recent Tiny Letter (my once-a-month, insider newsletter delivered straight to your email), I'm discussing the Lenten season, the darkness of my heart, and the discipline of quiet reflection. If you sign up today, you'll receive a FREE DOWNLOAD of the song "Train Wreck." It's a song I wrote about pain, loss, and the love of God.

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On the Occasion of Mourning Death (Gather You Fires, Part II)

This week, my community lost a life too soon. I am sorry for his passing. (This is part of the Collective Poems.)


On the Occasion of Mourning Death (Gather You Fires, Part II)

The memory of the frailest soul lost burns like a tiny sun, and we together carry many tiny suns, are warmed by many tiny suns.

Gather you sun-bearers by the funeral pyre; gather again– awakened in the collective– rare though we gather, here as we gather, together in memory; We are.

We are nothing if not for remembering the way face reflects joy immeasurable, or soul reflects God uncontainable, or death reflects hope interminable.

We are nothing if not for carrying the legacy of that joy, stretching the legacy of that joy, remembering the legacy of that joy.

We are nothing if not for marking ourselves with ashes, for remembering that, as the poet said, lights are again and again. Memories are unsnuffable things if we let them be.

So gather you fires best– awake in the collective– together in sorrow, together in feasting, in communion wine— and there find that memories are more than ashes. And by this, even the fallen are at last part of the brilliant, unforgettable constellation.