Book Review (sort of): Wild in the Hollow, by Amber C. Haines

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I don’t know if it’s because Amber C. Haines is a poet, or because reading this book is a little like breaking open a pomegranate and exposing ripe seeds clustered in their hollows, the red of their juices lingering as stains on your fingers after you bring out the fruit—but this memoir, Wild in the Hollow, calls for something other than the typical way I do a book review. Instead, I’m sharing twelve found poems taken from Amber’s words (including page references to the book).

What is a found poem? The Academy of American Poets defines it:

Found poems take existing texts and refashion them, reorder them, and present them as poems. The literary equivalent of a collage, found poetry is often made from newspaper articles, street signs, graffiti, speeches, letters, or even other poems.

A pure found poem consists exclusively of outside texts: the words of the poem remain as they were found, with few additions or omissions. Decisions of form, such as where to break a line, are left to the poet.

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1. From pages 49-51:
It didn’t take me long to see how different I was in the church

So tidy and clean
the church so aware of how it looked.

No one talked about brokenness. I did my best
to look good enough for the keeping, but—

How broken I was. How I didn’t fit. It seemed the rest
of the church had healed up good. Either that

or no one knew how to grieve
the stories, the rumbles of despair. Most days I thought

I would drown. Fresh in the memory of wild back roads
I walked in and asked, “Will you love me now?”

—–

2. From page 54:
My mamaw

She rocked in her chair.
She told me secrets. We became
so close in our brokenness, spoke
in secret language before she slipped away
into her real life. Her confessions
unified us, her perfect love for me
cast out fear.

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3. From page 54:
So much hammered doctrine

was an effort to control,
to harness the Holy Spirit so we could feel
better about ourselves—
a measuring stick superimposed into
the very hand of God.

—–

4. From page 56:
What is Scripture?

What is Scripture if
it doesn’t pour in,
transform,
and then
flow out from the depths,
especially
as love?

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5. From page 57:
I wish I had known

The depravity of man is only
the realization of the hollow,
the need. Depravity
should only imply that we
can be filled
with God.

—–

6. From page 58:
Mercy

Isn’t it sometimes
God’s mercy
that we crash?

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7. From page 111:
Friendship Beginning

a long, silent pause
like an orchestra
before the music begins

like a cellist holding position
with the bow hovering
just above the strings

—–

8. From page 141:
A Word of Truth

Do not forget
that the Spirit of God
indwells you.

And just like that,
the ash blew over, and I began
to burn.

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9. From page 173:
Repentance

a sorrow
a recognized need
a change of mind, the turning point
a place of release
a place to go

—–

10. From page 173:
After Repentance

obedience
moving forward
into righteousness, peace, joy
propelling the kingdom of God

—–

11. From page 186:
Good News

Isn’t brokenness
the fertile ground for the seed
of hope? We are weak ones, but
this is not bad news.

—–

12. From page 197:
In this one moment

I have seen my children
run naked and wild. I have seen them
without a drop of shame.

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Tim Keller’s Reality Checks

For The High Calling book club on
Every Good Endeavor: Connecting Your Work to God’s Work
by Timothy Keller
Join us this week as Tim Watson leads us in discussing Part Two: Problems with Work.

TheHighCalling.org Christian Blog Network

I have a few problems. These problems came out when I read Part Two of Tim Keller’s Every Good Endeavor. The chapter titles?

Chapter Five: Work Becomes Fruitless
Chapter Six: Work Becomes Pointless
Chapter Seven: Work Becomes Selfish
Chapter Eight: Work Reveals Our Idols

Let’s just go through my Keller-revealed problems (and the corresponding truths) one by one, shall we?

1. I’m human.

Tell me I can’t do everything, or I can’t do something as perfectly as I imagined or planned, and I can get cranky. Downright nasty, even.

I like to operate from a position of strength. I like to think I have a capacity both broad and deep enough to tackle multiple projects and pursuits, each with excellence. I want to read a book a week; wash and hang-dry cloth diapers; make every meal from scratch; create an eighth-grade poetry curriculum for home school; support and attend every church event; and play tennis without ever double-faulting.

But I have bought frozen pizzas (not even on sale), used disposable diapers (gasp!), and skipped Bible study mornings. I never did get around to planning that poetry class. And I always, always double-fault.

Have I let this make me feel a failure? I have, but I shouldn’t have.

In all our work, we will be able to envision far more than we accomplish, both because of a lack of ability and because of resistance in the environment around us.

– Keller, page 90

Reality . . . check.

2. Difficult ≠ Wrong (and Easy ≠ Right).

When things get hard and the road bumpy, sometimes I wonder if I should’ve turned onto a different road.

Reality . . . check.

Just because you cannot realize your highest aspirations in work does not mean you have chosen wrongly, or are not called to your profession, or that you should spend your life looking for the perfect career that is devoid of frustration. . . . You should expect to be regularly frustrated in your work even though you may be in exactly the right vocation. (page 94)

The easy way is not always (or not even usually) the right way. I suspect the apostle Paul and those Old Testament prophets would agree.

3. My Work ≠ Me.

I have confused my work with my identity. Satan tempted Jesus in the wilderness by challenging His identity and trying to make Him believe If you can’t do this, you’re not You. The flip side of this kind of temptation: Prove yourself. If you want to prove who you really are, accomplish this (and that, and that).

Reality . . . check. Check. Check.

We either get our name—our defining essence, security, worth, and uniqueness—from what God has done for us (Revelation 2:17), or we make a name through what we can do for ourselves. (page 115)

4. I’ve had pride and forgotten grace.

Often, when I accomplish a task or fill a role successfully, I start to think I am my own sustenance and power.

Reality . . .

You worked with talents you did not earn; they were given to you. . . . Everything you have is a matter of grace. (page 124)

CHECK.

5. I’ve taken on tasks based on guilt.

If guilt is the extent of your motivation, you can be sure it will wear off before long. (page 125)

Enough said. Check.

6. Accepting God’s love and grace makes me more selfless.

I’ve said before that Every Good Endeavor boils down to selflessness. It’s my favorite theme in the book and pops up again and again. And Keller says that the way to be selfless is to receive God’s love and grace. At first this may seem counterintuitive, but it does make sense.

If you see Jesus . . . as a Savior doing these things [saving people through identification and mediation] for you personally, then you will see how valuable you are to him. . . . And ironically, when you see how much you are loved, your work will become far less selfish. (page 127, emphasis mine)

This is God’s reality. This is my reality.

Check.

On Realistic Caricatures, Charlotte, and God

For The High Calling book club (led by Cheryl Smith this week):
Booked: Literature in the Soul of Me
by Karen Swallow Prior
This week we’re discussing chapters 4-6. Join us!

TheHighCalling.org Christian Blog Network

I couldn’t believe what I read.

“You must never set up a wooden Asherah pole beside the altar you build for the Lord your God.”
(Deuteronomy 16:21)

They needed a command for that? Of all kinds of idolatry, that one has got to be the worst. To put an Asherah pole right beside the altar for the Lord?! Such insolence! How audacious!

Those guys I read about in the Bible are grossly idolatrous. It’s ludicrous. I thought of when, under Aaron’s leadership, they melt all their earrings to make a golden calf and then declare it worthy of worship, even saying it led them out of Egypt. Then when Moses calls Aaron on it, Aaron raises his palms, shrugs his shoulders, and says they just threw in the gold and, whaddya know, “out came this calf!” I read a story like this and think, Really?

I thought of King Jeroboam who, similarly, made one golden calf to put in Bethel and another to put in Dan. He, too, told the people these golden bovines are the gods who delivered them out of Egypt.

But most of all I thought of the verse above. How could anyone insult God to His face by worshiping Him on one hand, and on the other hand and at the same time, worship an idol or do something God doesn’t want?

These thoughts came in the space of two or three seconds. I wonder if the Holy Spirit was setting me up, in a way. Because after thinking of Aaron, and Jeroboam, and all those unbelievably idolatrous Israelites, I thought of me.

How many times, and in how many ways, have I done the equivalent of setting up an Asherah pole right next to the altar of God? Have I claimed to love Him above all and, at the same time, desired the love, affirmation, and companionship of people to the point of idolatry? Have I claimed growing intimacy with God as my deepest desire, and yet nurtured greed (which is idolatry)?

What seemed ridiculously ludicrous was actually a lot like reality. What seemed like an unreal exaggeration was a lot like me.

Karen Swallow Prior says about Charles Dickens’ characters in Great Expectations:

They are, paradoxically, realistic caricatures. Dickens’ characters are fanciful and at the same time just like someone you probably know. . . . Wemmick might be said to be the quintessential modern man, and, with closer examination of a character that on the surface seems utterly riduculous, we realize that perhaps he is not so ridiculous after all.

—Prior, pages 59-60.

Caricatures are defined by exaggerated features, yet those exaggerations make the caricature recognizable.

When I read of people whose actions seem ridiculously off-course, I should recognize when they are “just like someone [I] probably know”—just like me. I need the constant realization that God has shown His grace to me, most of all.

And then I can move forward in the hope of that very grace. Last week we talked about Charlotte’s Web in chapter 2:

As she weaves words about Wilbur in her web, Wilbur tries to live up to the meaning of the words. . . . [T]he power of giving something its proper name, in turn, empowers it to become the name it is called.

—Prior, page 42

To me, this sounds a lot like many parts of the Bible. For example, I’ve heard it taught countless times that the biblical meaning of “justified” is “declared righteous.” Here’s another example from Ephesians:

For you were once darkness, but now you are light in the Lord. Live as children of light.

(Ephesians 5:8)

At the same time God says I already am light, He also calls me to live like it. God calls us what we are still becoming. There’s no exaggeration in that.

Dragonfly Prophet

Through the kitchen window I see
a dragonfly girded with blue
stopping for breath
on an aspen branch.

Dragonflies never walk, they only
fly (my son once told me). Never
had I seen
a dragonfly

in our backyard. Startled, I think
this one lives west, over the ridge;
it’s fleeing
from the heat

and smoke of fire that makes it fly
and flee away from its normal
home to take
temporary

refuge, a rest, in our yard. Blue
just like our pre-wildfire sky,
the dragonfly
is like

a voice in the wilderness,
a messenger preparing the way,
for the flames
are at hand.

We follow the dragonfly and flee
the fire coming down our mountain.
Like the confessors
who flocked to the Jordan,

I repent. And I know, along with
the kingdom of God,
forgiveness
is at hand.

To Repent Is To Prepare

John is the messenger sent to prepare
the Lord’s way. What does it mean
to prepare the way of Jesus?

John’s voice cries out. He cries out
in the wilderness—the dry, barren, difficult
place of isolation, heat, thirst. This
is the place John chooses to prepare
the way of Jesus. Why the wilderness?

This is what John cries out: “Make ready
the way of the Lord! Make the Lord’s paths straight!”

If I heard John cry out these words,
would I have known what he meant?
Would I have known how to get things ready
for the Lord?

Would I have repented of my sins?

I get things ready for the way of the Lord
by repenting of my sins. To repent is to prepare
the way of Jesus. Confession paves
a path for the Lord to come onto—as if my life
is part of the route Jesus wants to travel,
and repentance opens wide that path for Him
to accomplish His purposes in me—through me.
He wants to walk on the way that is me,
and my turning from sins opens wide
His paths, removes blockades and detours,
makes His paths straight and smooth.

Jesus, I repent of my sins and surrender my life to You. Let me be an open highway, that You may freely travel to do what You purpose to do in me and through me. Amen.

(Reflections on Mark 1:1-5)