Transfiguration and the Lost Art of Listening

I’m tired of feeling the compulsion to always have something to say, to always have a response, an opinion, a wise word. I wonder how much of this comes from the fact that I’m a pastor (a vocation unfortunately far too suited for those of us who like to hear ourselves chatter) or that I’m a writer – I mean, I live by words for goodness’ sake.

Of all the compliments a pastor (a human, for that matter) could receive, this has to be one of the best: “You listen good.” I don’t hear it nearly enough.

Peter was given to bursts of words, particularly when he was caught off guard or was flustered or eager or unsure of what else to do. Of course, his most famous moment was his self-assured declaration that, no matter what, he would never deny Jesus. A little quiet humility would have served Peter well there. I have been drawn to another moment, however. In Mark 9, Jesus took his inner trio (Peter, James and John) up to the top of a mountain to witness an event they would have to see to believe. Jesus began to burn white, glowing brilliantly, as Moses and Elijah, long dead, appeared next to him.

Stunned, Peter did what Peter usually did in such circumstances: he blurted out the first words that popped into his head. “Rabbi, this is a great moment. Let’s build three memorials – one for you, one for Moses, one for Elijah.” (Mark 9.5-6, Message)

Peter just couldn’t help himself.

The miraculous had happened. God had revealed himself in Jesus — with white-fire and mythic-like witnesses to accent Jesus’ self-revelation. But Peter had to say something. Worse, Peter felt compelled to come up with something to do, something to create, something to build – a memorial would be just the thing.

We do this all the time. God is speaking. Jesus is burning hot-white among us. And we can’t sit still. We can’t wait and ponder. We have to strategize and market and draw up a flow-chart that flings everyone into action. We have to talk, to spin ourselves in circles with all our words.

Are we tired of hearing ourselves jabber? I am. Are we tired of having more confidence in what we can manage that in what God is busy doing? I hope I am.

I want to see God. I want to hear God. I want to believe that Jesus’ words are more vital to my world than my own words. I want to believe – truly believe – that God’s voice, that God’s shining presence, is truly the center of the action.

After Peter had offered his two cents, a thundering voice spoke from the cloud. “This is my Son…Listen to him.” (Mark 9.7) Listen to him.

Actually, Peter, the Father said, this is not the time for you to say or do anything. This is the time to listen.

There is a time to act, and there is a time to wait. There is a time to speak, and there is a time to listen. My prayer is that I will know the difference.

Listening (hopefully) / Winn

Brothers K

A couple friends suggested a novel for a read over the holidays, The Brothers K by David James Duncan. I’m enjoying it. The voice Duncan has created for his narrator, the wide-eyed (and wide-mouthed) boy Kincaid Chance, reminds me a bit of Leif Enger’s narrator in Peace Like a River, Reuben Land. Both are the youngest sons in their troubled family. Both have great admiration for their father. Both are quick-witted, brutally honest and – more importantly – are not yet competely spoiled by cynicism and blunted hopes.

brothers_k.gifBrothers K doesn’t have the same richness as Peace Like a River; it doesn’t have that magical quality in a book where you feel like something far bigger is happening in the story than you are able to articulate or even understand – but K is still good reading. I’ll share a spot or two.

In one poignant moment after Kincaid’s folks blew up in a fierce argument over one of his dad’s vices which were unacceptable to his strick Adventist mother, his mom stormed off to her parent’s house with all the other kids. As the evening went on, dad began to binge, eventually drinking a six pack or two or three too many. Scared and angry, Kade (as his friends call him) went to bed confused by a theological dilemma. He had prayed to ask Jesus to keep his father from getting drunk, but he wondered if perhaps his prayer had gone unheeded because his father had been praying at the same time, asking Jesus to allow him just one single night to drink peacefully in his own home. How do such quandaries get worked out in the Divine scheme? Kade concluded this: “Prayer is mysterious, and God is even worse. I don’t completely understand it yet.” Sounds about right.

Another powerful scene was when young Kade went toe-to-toe with his father, a man who had succumbed to the disillusions and disappointments we all face as we make our way in this world. His father’s heart had gone dull and lifeless. And Kade couldn’t bare it. He couldn’t bare to see his father, his hero, simply wilt to grey and fade away. After a fiery conversation and an act of surprising violence (I won’t give it away), Kade said brave words to his father, words most every man will need to hear some time or another: “All I want is for you to fight, Papa. To fight to stay alive inside. No matter what.”

That line did me in. I could imagine my own sons saying it to me – I hope they never have to. But when I need to hear the truth, I hope some man is strong enough to give it to me.

Fight. Stay alive inside. Keep your heart open and free. No matter what. No. Matter. What.

peace / Winn

Christmas Loot

On Christmas day growing up, as soon as the packages were all rifled through, I couldn’t wait to get on the phone and call my pals and tell them all about my stash. Not much has changed.

Truthfully, giving and receiving gifts is a beautiful thing. Giving reminds us that we are not the center, that moving against our natural selfishness opens our heart to fresh joys. Receiving reminds us how futile our posture of self-sufficiency really is. Receving forces us to open our arms wide to the people and the world around us, to be open to hope and to surprises and to simple pleasures.

In honor to and in gratitude for all this, I’d like to rekindle my childhood tradition and share with you my five favorite gifts I received this year:

p1010603.JPG#1 A new handcrafted pottery mug from my wife Miska. I’m a sucker for mugs in general – but handmade, artisan, full of originality – I’m getting goose bumps just describing it.

#2 An olive green canvas messenger bag (again from Miska). I’ve been hauling around this beefy mahogony-colored leather bag that is actually pretty exquisite – but it’s thrown my shoulder into spasms and makes me look like an ol’ geezer. Now, I have a slightly more hipster bag to carry all my messages in.

cropped-galimoto.jpg#3 A Galimoto from my five year old son Wyatt. We took Wyatt and Seth to Ten Thousand Villages (a fantastic fair-traded store with all kinds of handmade items from artists all over the world). They have a “Little Village” for kids where volunteers help them pick out and wrap presents themselves. This was what Wyatt picked out for me – a dynamite little African toy. Of course, the fact that it was from my son and that he was so excited to give it to me – that was the best part.

p1010610.JPG#4: A dear friend gave Miska and me a hand-sewn blanket from India. This is a remarkable gift, a remarkable story. Sari Bari is a new venture that imports blankets sewn by women rescued from the slave trade. This allows them to build a business and earn a living as they restore their dignity. The blankets are made from the Indian sari and each has the name of a woman who is making a new life for herself sewn into it – and “each purchase participates in her freedom.” If that were not enough, the blanket is absolutely stunning.

#5 (and an honorable mention) Miska gave the three Collier men Conn p1010614.JPGand Hal Iggulden’s Dangerous Book for Boys. This is definitely boys only – no girls allowed. This book explains how to tan an animal skin and make a battery and build a treehouse. It narrates the golden age of piracy and a brief history of artillery. It provides the seven poems as well as the seven latin phrases every boy should know. It explains how to play poker and even makes a stab at how to understand girls. This is going to be fun. [and you will see the honorable mention in the corner – who doesn’t love a new pair of Gap socks?]

And my very favorite gift I gave this year was a new title banner for my wife’s blog. Each year Miska and I make each other a gift – it’s what I most look forward to. It gives me an opportunity to tell my wife that I see her and that I believe in her and that I love her more than she could imagine.

I hope each of you gave well and received well this season. Both are Gospel acts.

peace / Winn

Eat This Book

I’m reading Eugene Peterson’s Eat This Book: A Conversation in the Art of Spiritual Reading. It’s splendid.

eatthisbook.jpg One of my growing convictions is that we have made the Bible to be something it is not: a manual, a collection of moralisms, a melting pot of proverbial wisdom, a flat historical account. I see these tendencies in the way I grasp at Scripture. I see it in the way the Bible is often taught in the church. I see it among the liberals who supposedly abuse the Bible and among the conservatives who supposedly are Scripture’s guardians.

All of us face the temptation to make the Bible out to be something we can control and manage rather than a meeting place with Jesus Christ, a meal where we ingest the Living Word, however it comes to us, whatever is served.

As Peterson says, “It is entirely possible to come to the Bible in total sincerity, responding to the intellectual challenge it gives, or for the moral guidance it offers, or for the spiritual uplift it provides, and not in any way have to deal with a personally revealing God who has personal designs on you.”

peace / Winn

Creative Destruction

A while back, we got a new bedtime book at our house, 1,000 Things to Know About Animals. Giraffes and monkeys and cute little webbed feet penguins, our sons enjoy them all. However, the boys prefer the frightening creatures. Crocodiles with powerful jaws. Vampire bats with eerie eyes. Copperheads. Tarantulas. The more poisonous, the more hideous, the better.

The pictures and the fascination with all things gory prompted Seth, three at the time, to pose a troublesome question. “Why did God make scary stuff?” A conversation on the origin of evil…with a preschooler.

Growing older, however, doesn’t silence the question. A bridge collapses inMinnesota. A crisis escalates in Darfur. A region in the Middle East seems (again) like it might spiral into chaos. God, why all the “scary stuff”?

Scripture provides some clarity. God did not intend or create evil. A mutinous angel rebelled, choosing humanity and the earth as the fulcrum of his insurgency. Forced into the fray, we routinely choose the mutiny, against God. We often invite evil.

The result, however, was that evil did not remain merely in the isolated sphere of individual choices (either of angels or humans). Like a dirty needle pumping heroine into the bloodstream, this rebellion straight-lined evil into the created order. Our planet is now riddled with the foul stench. Disease. Greed. Ruin. Can anyone truthfully look at the human race and the mess we’ve made of our planet and believe our problem is merely cosmetic?

Evil is certainly not all we see in our world. Grace and beauty and kindness abound. However, everywhere we look, we see evil’s imprint. Loneliness. Deception. Abandoned children. Shattered marriages. Hungry nations. How can our sickness be healed? How can evil’s dark stain be removed?

Strangely, the Apostle Peter offers hope via a blistering, apocalyptic picture. The heavens will vaporize with an ear-splitting roar. Falling to the earth, fire will scorch the sky. The earth’s raw chemical elements will liquefy like wax dripping from a candle. “God is going to destroy everything like this…” says Peter.(II Peter 3:11)

But destruction is not the point. With God, destruction never holds center stage. God always moves toward redemption. The devastation will work to clear the brush, to remove all the malignant infection evil has cultivated. Destruction will offer a severe mercy. With power and fire and swift, final authority, God will reach into the bowels of the earth and wrench evil’s grip free, once and for all.

This cataclysmic work is not a final destruction, the earth done and finished. Far from it. The destruction breeds new life. It will be a (do we even have language for such a thing?) creative destruction. From the devastation, God will create again, refashioning the earth once considered ruined into the kind of world He wanted in the beginning. We will enjoy the wonder of “a new heaven and a new earth.”(II Peter 3:13)

On this new earth, there will be no disease, no sorrow. No one hungry. No one lonely. The lion will lay down with the lamb. Not a single hint of “scary stuff.”

peace / Winn

The Moon is Always Rising

God is up to something, always – this I believe. God is always redeeming, always bringing hope out of rubble, always forgiving what seems unforgivable, always speaking truth into lie, always mending what is broken, always restoring what has been taken, what has been lost, what we have foolishly given away.

God often does this mending and redeeming and restoring and forgiving in ways and times and places that do not meet up to our sense of how a mending, redeeming, restoring, forgiving God would work. But then, that’s to be expected isn’t, it? We are the ones who are broken and lost, after all, the ones who can rarely make much sense of anything at all.

But then – now and then – in moments that surprise us, God sends reminders of what he has been up to all along, that we are not alone, that we are not abandoned. That God is doing what God has always been doing – “putting the world to rights,” as N.T. Wright says. Laughter breaks through our tears. Unexpectedly, the music moves us and we find ourselves dancing. A story takes us into a true world we have neglected. A kiss. A Scripture. A friend. A whisper from God. A glimpse of the moon.

The moon is our monthly proof that darkness gives way to light, endings to new beginnings. — Starhawk

Strange Sightings and a Contest

So, numerous churches in our area appreciate the not-so-subtle power of the marquee. The whole medium is lost on me, but hey, I though the ipod would be a bust.

A friend at church told me about this one, and I had to go see it for myself. This was just too good.

The irony is endless.

For starters, I guess a church with “Freedom” in its name is bound (one might say, pre-ordained) to be at odds with ol’ Calvin.

And the pigs fly thing … my friend, that is too stellar.

The most ironic piece, however, was the message they had on the back side of this sign critiquing Calvin and all his cohorts:

I will leave any editorializing to you, but this had to be a case, as Miska said, where the right hand did not know what the left hand was doing.
However, this did give me an idea. I would love to see some of the best church signs from around the country. Snap some shots and email them to me.
I’ll pick a few to post here on the blog – and for the very best one, I’ll send you a free copy of my new book. We’ll say the contest ends in two weeks, November 30th. Send me some good ones.
peace / Winn

Audio Conversation and Free Music

I recently had an audio conversation with my friend, Nathan Elmore. Nathan guided our conversation toward reflections on faith, life, and my first two books. I’d love for you to download it and take a listen.(it’s the first file on the page)

As an added bonus,one of my all-time favorite indie artists, Tom Conlon, is allowing me to release two free singles with this interview. Enjoy!

Fenelon is Alive!

Well, sort of. My new book, Let God: The Transforming Wisdom of Francois Fenelon is out.

I am excited about this book because it is a collection of letters written by Fenelon to a number of friends, letters where he was answering their questions and offering them spiritual guidance for their life-journey. These letters connected with my own desire for wiser, elder, spiritual guides, and so I modernized them, wrote introductions to help us hear Fenelon’s wisdom in response to the sorts of questions we might ask today, and wrote an opening chapter encouraging us to recognize our need for spiritual guides in our life.

So, grab a copy. And, while you are at it — be sure to download a recent interview I’ve done talking about faith, life, and my first two books. Also, there is a special gift – two singles from one of my favorite indie artists, Tom Conlon.

I hope you like it.

peace / Winn

God.In Time

If God is real, why can’t we see him? If God is with us, why isn’t he saying anything?

Simple questions, so well tread that they run close to cliché. Still the questions dog us. Many of us can’t shake them free. Near his death, the apostle Peter faced a similar stinging question. Jesus had said he was going to come back to earth in a blaze of glory to once-and-for-all set this wreck of a world straight. However, several decades (at least) had passed since then, and…nothing. Not a single break in the clouds. Not the slightest sighting of an angel army or a radiant Messiah warrior on a brilliant white steed. Not a whisper of hope.

Rome still ruled. Liberation seemed no closer than before. Violence and poverty and despair were very much with them, growing even. As rebellion and disillusionment slithered in, their accusation took shape. “Where is this ‘coming’ he promised?” Their sarcasm was heavy. “Ever since our ancestors died, everything goes on as it has since the beginning of creation.” (II Peter 3.4)

Nothing had happened. Nothing was better. The world just kept rolling on…without God. Some began to view hope in Jesus as pure poppycock.

If this question was sprouting decades after Jesus’ resurrection, it is downright colossal today, almost two millennia later. There has been a lot of evil between there and here, a lot of hoping, a lot of hopes left empty. Every human decade has seen its disaster and its genocide, its famine and its plague.

If God is here, what in God’s name is he waiting for? It’s like Jan Eliason, a member of the UN envoy to Sudan, said in reference to the grim realities there: “Time is on nobody’s side.” In the world we see, evil appears to use the time quite nicely, but where is God?

Peter’s answer was salty. The problem wasn’t God’s delay. The problem wasn’t God’s silence or absence. God was always speaking; he had never stopped. His speaking brought the world into existence, and his speaking was now vigorously at work holding evil at bay until it would finally be cut-off. (II Peter 3:5-7) If it weren’t for God’s active presence, there would be nothing left of us. Evil would have consumed us long ago.

Our problem, Peter said, is that we forget the story. We forget how God is always working goodness. We forget that God is rich in patience and mercy. We forget that God has spoken the beginning and will be speaking the end – and he is speaking and working every moment in between.

We also forget that time is an entirely human internment. “With the Lord a day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years are like a day.” (II Peter 3:8). And God spends his days, his years, bringing us salvation. Time might not be on our side, but God is.

peace / Winn