I grew up in a fifth-wheel trailer, a Kountry-Aire built by Amish and Mennonite craftsmen in a factory in Nappanee, Indiana. Until the sixth grade, my family lived on the road, a different city or village most every week of the year.
This nomadic life, nurtured within a family who knew how to love, provided me a gift: an experience of the diversity of land and place, the range of rascals and wide-country you uniquely encounter if you hitch up the rig every Friday night. Years later, I would discover how hungry I am to experience people and place and story.
From the third grade, I wanted to be a writer. My mom gave me a ragged-out brown Sanger typewriter, the kind traveling salesmen would tote around in the 40’s. I began my first literary work, an autobiography with the understated title, My Life. It was an eight-year-old’s sizzling narrative of dalliances, escapades and wild-living. Perhaps you’ve heard of it. I ran out of material after two paragraphs.
I’ve always been clumsy with hammers and power tools, but words have become those trusted friends slung on my utility belt. They’ve helped me make sense of my life and work, both as a writer and a pastor (and it’s impossible for me to untangle the two). Words help me see the world. They help me ask the questions I simply must ask. Words allow me to put flesh and bone on life – and on faith. As Flannery O’Connor said, “I write to discover what I know.”
I prefer writing that is particular, local, immediate. Good words are like good wine: the beauty’s in the details and when the stuff flows free, then joy and laughter are sure to follow. I’ve attempted to rouse joy and laughter in various venues. I’m a columnist. I’ve done a stint as a freelance magazine and book editor, and I’ve authored four books. I’ve written for the Washington Post, Christian Century, Radiant, Preaching Today, Soul Journey, Christianity Today, Relevant, In Touch, Our Daily Journal, Conversations and a few other places kind enough to take my words and do something with them.
If you want to cut to the core of who I am, I’d say this: I’m husband to the beautiful and graceful Miska Tolleson Collier. Miska is a spiritual director, a poet-mystic and the person I most respect in this world. I’m dad to Wyatt and Seth, two boys who have pulled strands of love out of me that I didn’t know existed. They already have fire in their bones, and I’m doing what I can to fan the flame. I’m friend to a few misty-eyed men and a few courageous women. I prefer what’s slow over what’s efficient. I’m suspicious of anyone who’s cock-sure. I’m weary of all the bullhorns. I’m partial to things that are worn and a bit ragged. I suspect that truth is best told slant. I believe in hope.
Our family is making a home in Charlottesville, Virginia, where we live in Christian community with a small band of sinners and saints, All Souls Charlottesville. My friends at All Souls allow me to marry and bury and to work with words in the pulpit most Sundays. I’m also the director of the Genesis Project and received a Ph.D. from the University of Virginia where my work centered on the intersection of literary fiction and religion. My dissertation was on the sacramental reality of Wendell Berry’s fictional town of Port William.
And one small bit of housekeeping. It’s important for me as a writer (as a human, really) to know who I’m talking to, who I’m writing to. It’s a little strange to toss words out into the wide web world and have no idea really where they’re going, where they’re landing. It’s difficult, in this dehumanized digital environment, to understand who I’m connecting with and to understand who it is that finds their way to this little corner. I’d prefer if we could all meet up in a coffee shop on say, the first Thursday of the month. We could swap stories, chat about books we’re reading, maybe gently poke fun at the guy who’s always got to order his latte with exquisite specifications (there’s always one). However, I haven’t figured out how to make that happen. In this anonymous forum, the best I can do is appeal to something Google calls its Analytic Advertising Features. I’m assured this does not take private information, and I will not sell or disperse whatever generic information results from said Analytical Advertising Features. The people who are supposed to know such things tell me that these features simply give me some clearer picture on the kind of folks who are showing up on my doorstep. Of course, you could always just knock and let me know you’re here, but short of that, we’re left with such goober-headed things as this. My vast legal crew (i.e. web searches) tell me it’s wise to make sure you know about all this and that I can also point you to instructions on how to opt out of sharing any information with me or any such person like me. However, me and my tribe (I can only speak for us – as for the big corporation types, I have no idea) are nice folks trying to work our craft amid a sea of insanity. We’re doing the best we can.