Among a Row of Houses

Book Club Update: Our life is in upheaval this month, as we move from Clemson to Charlottesville, VA. Thus, the book club will resume next month. Sorry (again) for the delay on Peterson’s The Jesus Way.

I’m aware that I have written little here of the seismic shift that we are about to experience: uprooting our family and life from the people and the spiritual community we love in Clemson to set off on the adventure of rooting ourselves in a new place, with people we will grow to love in Charlottesville, Virginia. I’m not sure why all the quiet. Perhaps, in part, a desire to stay present here and now, making the most of the short time we have had. Perhaps, in part, a result of the emotional complexity of the whole affair, unsure how to give justice to two competing truths (we deeply love this community and we know deep in our bones that we must move into another community) without it sounding like some hollow junior high breakup (Let’s just be friends…).

Well, here is the God-honest truth: we do deeply love this community, and we know deep in our bones that God has another mission for us, another community where we are to give ourselves away.

Tonight, our church gave us the gift of gathering at the Hayes’ home, everyone bringing food, and all of us sitting around the room as various people shared their well-wishes for Miska, me, and Nathan (my pastor-partner @ dcf who is also moving away) and Amie. It was beautiful. There were tears. There was laughter (mostly at my expense, but I hold no grudges : )

The evening reminded me of the rich truth that love (true love) never exists in abstraction. Love is not an ideal or an ideology; it is an action. Love shares another’s pain. Love hurts when another faces sorrow. Love laughs and cries and hopes and believes (I think St. Paul said something similar). Love shares meals and watches kids. Loves gives money and time and dreams. Love hugs and pushes. Sometimes, love hurts. But love does not – ever – simply theorize. Love acts. Love moves. Love lives.

Recently, a friend passed along a New Yorker article (which I was happy to receive because my subscription ran out) by literary critic Adam Gopnik. In the piece, Gopnik sifted through the “troubling genius of G.K. Chesterton,” on the occasion of the 100th anniversary of The Man who was Thursday. Explaining G.K.’s intense reaction to homogenization (particularly the modernistic and industrial sort) and strong passion for localism, Gopnik commented on some of Chesterton’s pithy lines to draw this conclusion:

[Chesterton believed that] we cannot have a clear picture in white light of abstraction, but only of a row of houses at a certain time of day…

A certain place. On a certain street. In a certain moment. These particularities are required to yield the clear vision. But we have to sit and wait and watch. We have to give ourselves. And we have to give ourselves time. And we have to give ourselves this time with others, listening and laughing and working and dreaming, all in the way and in the name of love.

So, in Clemson and in dcf, we have (at least partially, I hope) lived among a row of houses at certain times of the day. And oh, how I will miss this street and these sunsets, these coffees and conversations and walks and prayers. And I hope and pray that we will again live among a row of houses, different though they will be — because one row never replaces another.

Book Club | July.08

First, a confession: I did not finish Peterson’s The Jesus Way. So, that will be next month’s choice. If you are like me and didn’t get it done, you still have time. It’s a good one.

This month’s read then was Leif Enger’s So Brave, Young, and Handsome. As I’ve said, I held eager anticipation for this book. Enger’s Peace Like a River would probably land on my top ten novel list. It was stunning, simple, imaginative, earthy. Amazing prose. Vivid characters. And a line here and there that truly stopped me cold.

So Brave, Young, and Handsome was a fine story. For me, not meteoric like Enger’s first, but still, pretty fantastic. Enger has a way of catching a dialect – and sticking with it consistently – that moves you into the world and the lives he has created.

There was a point in the book, perhaps midway, where the dialogue almost annoyed me; but I can’t say quite why. I think the narrative felt a bit too tidy for me at the moment – not enough grit. And somehow the smooth, folksy cadence of the language (mixed with my need for a little more bite) made it feel a tad sentimental. But I simply needed to hold on. Hood’s story was grit enough to go around – there was real tragedy to be found there. I also felt that Enger made a fabulous move in how he brought Glendon’s tale to a close. Enger could have chosen a different, easier path. But he didn’t. It seems he told the story the way it came, not the way we might want it to come. I respect that.

Two things I like about Enger (and these can actually be found in both of his novels):

[1] I see Enger wrestling with masculine themes through many of his characters. He gives the good, the bad, and the ugly about the many roads a man can take on road to becoming (or leaving behind) his true self. Becket, plagued with self-doubt, knew little his identity, but he took the hard path in order to discover who he was, what he was made of. Glendon fought his demons and wrestled for redemption – particularly redemption that was for the good of another. Hood wrangled between being a child and a man – an interesting character study could be found there. As a man myself, I appreciate Enger’s wide-hearted exploration into the masculine soul.

[2] Enger is a romantic. He has high ideals; and while he won’t pretend that all his characters live up to them, somehow his stories always leave you hoping for what is deep and true. Enger’s romanticism is earthy yet mysterious at the same time. Enger described Grace as a woman “who believed romance was no mere ingredient but the very stone floor on which all life makes its fretful dance.” Though written of Grace, I think Enger described himself too in these words. And I like that. Alot.

Invitation: Be an Insider and Get a Free Book

So, I’ve made an arrangement with my publisher – and I’m pretty excited. I get to share, with a few of you, my new book – two months before it is available to the public.

I have four galley copies of Holy Curiosity that I can give away this week. Galley copies are the pre-publication manuscript of a book. The galley will have the full text in it’s almost-completely edited form. This is the copy that goes out to various media types and publishing types and sometimes to other writers or celebs who are considering endorsing it. It’s the copy I’m looking at today making final edits.

So, when you get your hands on this little baby, you are truly an insider. It will excite you so much, you are almost certain to levitate.

If you receive a copy, this is what you are agreeing to:

[1] Read through the manuscript by August 15th

[2] Post your thoughts on the book here on my blog and on Holy Curiosity’s Facebook group (and on your blog as well, if you have one)

In return, you will get to read Holy Curiosity before everyone else – and, best of all, my publisher will send you a free copy of of the book when it releases in October.

If you are interested, then shoot me a quick email by Tuesday night (July 8th @ 12 p.m. EST) answering this question: What intrigues you about exploring the sorts of questions Jesus asked the friends and strangers he encountered?

I will pick 4 entries, and Baker will send you the galley. And then a copy fresh off the presses in October!

[also, here is an endorsement that came in from Leonard Sweet for Holy Curiosity. He was obviously quite generous, and I am very thankful]

Winn Collier is one of the few young authors writing today who is as comfortable around Thomas Aquinas as the Simpsons, Soren Kierkegaard as Anne Lamott, Martin Luther as N. T. Wright. With a curiosity that embraces the great and the grating, Collier takes the reader on a joyous journey of discovery: each of us is part of God’s answer to each of Jesus’ questions. {Leonard Sweet}


Miska turned 35 on Friday. I kept looking at her all weekend, truly mesmerized by her. She has this natural, earthy beauty, this rich soul, this very mysterious way – well, I’m head over heels, as you can tell.

Miska had a bold birthday request: for the two of us to get tattoos (along with our friends, Jules and Corey, though Corey had to bail on us). About five years ago, Miska had a small butterfly tattooed on her lower back, symbolizing for her the new life and beauty God was crafting in her as she moved into her thirties. It is feminine and has such rich meaning, perfect really. For her 35th, she hoped for us to have this experience together, something intimate and bonding, something symbolic.

I probably wouldn’t be classified as the typical tattoo type (okay, we can just do away with “probably”), but I actually might have a little more street cred that you think. Anyway, a while back, we had talked about both of us getting wedding band tattoos, a symbol of permanent love, the commitment of marriage, the way God has joined our souls together.

We didn’t do it, though, and I think the main reason I didn’t was because of my fear of how other people would react (and we all know where this is heading – that’s no reason at all). Tattoos are not an issue in the culture I live or among the people I serve. However, I know there are some who feel (and some with stories and painful experiences to back them up) that tattoos are only for rebellious people who hate God and get stoned and ride the country in a Harley gang and want naked women and skulls plastered on their body. In case you are still wondering, my tattoo had nothing to do with any of that (well, other than the Harley part).

My little ring band tells the world that I am deeply in love with my wife, that the love God has give me for this amazing woman is truly embedded into my person. The ring is also simple, earthy. You might not know this about me, but I’m at least a tad bit granola – and this band just feels raw and masculine, like I could be out in the woods tracking bears and teaching my sons how to navigate the stars and building my family a house from raw timber with my bare hands. I like that; it’s me.

So, there I sat with Lew Hands (yeah, cool, huh?), my tattoo artist, as he carved a little ink into my finger. Multiple people told me man, that’s gonna hurt. It really wasn’t that bad; but then again, I’m tough. I have a tattoo.

A Couple Pounds of Curiosity

Yesterday, the DHL carrier handed it to me in our driveway: the final layout manuscript for Holy Curiosity. It’s a lot of paper, a pile that represents three and half years of sweat and passion and frustration. This book asked a lot of me. I gave what I had; I hope it was enough. I’m excited about it either way.

I was outside with the boys when it arrived. “Daddy, you’re a good writer of books,” Wyatt said. Nothing more I need to hear…

Wright Hits Colbert

I still plan to share a tale or two of my time with N.T. Wright. Til then, I pass along Wright’s appearance on the Colbert Report last Thursday night. He talks about his recent book (and, perhaps more notably, our selection last month for our book club) Surprised by Hope.

His rift on Sean Hannity toward the beginning is pretty hilarious as well.

Father Joe

A couple years back, I read Englishman Tony Hendra’s autobiographical story of his long, formative relationship with Father Joe. The book (creatively titled Father Joe) commenced with fourteen-year-old Hendra’s affair with a married women. When the women’s husband discovered his wife and the neighborhood kid mid-passion, it was obvious to pretty much everyone that Hendra needed guidance.

Whisked away to Quarr Abbey (a Benedectine monastery on the Isle of Wright), Tony Hendra met and began a life-changing relationship with the elder, flat-footed, knobby-kneed priest, Joseph Warrilow. Warrilow was kind and firm and wise; and when Tony first met him, he said he “felt on the brink of learning an entirely new set of possible responses to the world.” Hendra’s days and conversations with Warrilow changed who he was and guided him through a tumultuous life. In fact, their relationship spanned nearly fifty years.

I was mesmerized by the story. It was more than the story, though; it was how this tale spoke to my own longing for elder spiritual guides. I believe we all long for our own Father Joe. We long for women or men who will see who we are – as well as who we are not. We long for wiser guides to point the way, older friends who are unflustered by our angst and chaos, entirely unimpressed with our masks and our pretenses and our false selves. We want assurance that we are not alone and that the world does not ultimately depend on us – we know we are too small for that.

Sunday is Father’s day, and when I think about what I want to give my sons – it is the sort of things Father Joe gave Hendra. Over the years (many years), Father Joe walked alongside. He told Tony the truth, even when it was tough. He surprised Tony with his easy forgiveness and generous grace (one thing Father Joe never did was shame or condemn, even when Tony was way out of line). Father Joe helped Tony become more of himself, his alive, free self.

That’s the kind of dad I want to be.


In the morning, we are taking the boys for their first adventure to Disney World. It will be a hoot. You may not hear from me next week, though. I’m going to be plugged in with the family.

The Book Club {June.08}

Here we gather for the first round of our book club. A few of us locals met up at Jittery Joes for first thoughts before we brought the discussion to the blog. The faithful present were Liz Rand, Jeromie Rand, Juli Kalbaugh and myself – quite a funky crew, if I may say so (and I may – it’s my blog).

Mainly I want to hear your thoughts. So, my question is – simply: Where do you go as you read? What did you like /not like?

Here are a few first thoughts from me:

The Man Who Was Thursday While this is on Miska’s list of all-time favorites, I will say it didn’t quite carry that level of sparkle for me. I did enjoy it, though. After I got in sync with G.K’s rhythm and tone and got to know Gabriel Syme a bit, I found his wit and sarchasm downright hilarious. One of my favorite sections was the opening dialogue of chapter ten where he spars with his companions about how he planned to introduce himself to the deadly Marquis.

Chesterton’s ability to connect to the human emotions and essence in all of us is, I think, one of his strong suits. I particularly connected with his line here: Through all this ordeal his root horror had been isolation, and there are no words to express the abyss between isolation and having one ally.

Early on, I fell prey to the temptation to attempt to find Chesterton’s asserted point of view (his political philosophy, his moral philosophy, his vision of the world) embedded in the convoluted twists and turns of the plot and characters. I was chagrined as I read his letter that was included as an appendix reminding readers that we ought read titles as well as we read text. This was a nightmare, after all. Much of this story was neither the world as it was nor the world as Chesterton presumed it should be.

Have any of you read C.S. Lewis’ That Hideous Strength? Did anyone else make any aesthetic or emotive connections between these two novels?

Surprised by Hope Now, this book captured me. It offered a convergence of multiple convictions that have been growing in me for the last year or two – only it took them further and encouraged them toward coherence.

Wright’s central thesis rejecting the notion of Heaven as our final home (particularly with the fuzzy assumption that heaven means some kind of ethereal state in a realm totally separated from the world God placed us in) is, in my opinion, right on target (for those who didn’t read the book: the Biblical vision is that after waiting in Heaven for resurrection, a new earth that has been joined to heaven is the good place all the redeemed will finally arrive). But I found his next point even more on target – the idea that God’s intention has never been to evacuate as many people as possible from this world but is, quite the opposite, to redeem and restore this creation that he named good at the beginning.

In other words – and contrary to much popularized theology and to a whole franchise of Christian fiction – God has precisely not said, “Scrap this planet and my intention for my image bearers (humans) to fill the earth with my glory. The Fall ruined it all.” Rather, God has said, “Satan and his lies and evil will not take what is mine, what I have named good. I will redeem it, every stitch of it. I will re-create it.” And, in the person of Jesus, in his resurrection from death, that is precisely what God began to do. The physical, bodily resurrection of Jesus is the prototype (the “first fruits,” Paul would say) of what God is going to do to all creation, all the earth, every human who will surrender to God’s intent to “make all things new.”

So, as Wright would say, “the Church has work to do.” Every place where sin and ruin has left its mark (which is to say, everywhere) is a place where the people of God should, in the name of Jesus, join God’s work of redemption. Every place of poverty. Every place of ugliness. Every smidgen of shame and abuse. All of these places are places where God’s redemption intends to break free. And this new creation is what we invite those far from God to receive, to enter. We invite them to be united to Jesus, to his death and resurrection. We invite them to be made new and then, in turn, to become themselves agents of God’s newness.

These lines will get much play from me: The church, because it is the family that believes in hope for new creation, should be the place in every town and village where new creativity bursts forth for the whole community, pointing to the hope that, like all beauty, always comes as a surprise.

Next Reads:

So, if you want to join the next round, we have two choices for you. Pick one or both:

[Fiction] So Brave, Young and Handsome, Leif Enger

Enger wrote Peace Like a River, one of my top ten novels. This should be great.

[Theology] The Jesus Way: A Conversation on the Ways That Jesus is the Way, Eugene Peterson

It’s Eugene Peterson. For me, nothing more need be said. Eugene is probably the writer/pastor/theologian who has influenced me most. This is the third volume in his intended 5 volume spiritual theology series.

The Book Club for Locals

So, for us locals who have joined in on the revelry with the book club, this Sunday @ 2 @ Jittery Joes will be our time to chat. Then, we’ll post our thoughts here for the rest of the club to join in the fray. How does that sound? A little coffee. A little Chesterton. And for those who got ambitious and did both, a little Wright. Should be fun.

Also, I just posted a random assortment of Things I Didn’t Know over at Relevant. (I know, I know, how does Relevant have the bandwidth to store such a huge list? You’re funny, you got me…)

Kind Words for Holy Curiosity

What??? Three days, three posts? I’m getting a little carried away.

Lots happening, though.

Recently, I received a gracious endorsement for Holy Curiosity from Phyllis Tickle, a woman I immensely admire. She is a wise, artistic voice who, in addition to her own profound writing, has offered the church a great gift with her collection of The Divine Hours.

Winn Collier has once more produced a very loving, gentle, enticing book of practical, but substantial theology. That is a rare feat, and in this case, also a very grace-filled one. {Phyllis Tickle}

I’m humbled and a little giddy that Phyllis and a few others would endorse and encourage my writing. I’ll pass others along as they come, so you can share in my joy.

One more thing – if you do Facebook, I recently started a new group for the book. Just jump into the groups section and search for “Holy Curiosity” (creative, I know).