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

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

Roasting For Good

I love coffee. I like the aroma, the texture, the act of grinding beans and the sound of my pot sputteriung and spewing as black liquid goodness drains down into my stainless steel carafe. Now, I’m no coffee snob, evidenced by how my friend Nathan (who most certainly is a coffee snob) rolls his eyes and turns up his nose whenever he catches a whiff of me pouring the latest International Delights flavored creamer (Caramel Hazelnut Swirl, Vanilla Toffee Caramel, Southern Butter Pecan – the more words the better) in my steaming cup. Frankly, it feels therapeutic to get that out in the open. I’ve been outed – Yes, world, I pour flavored creamers in my coffee…and I like it!

But I like coffee numerous other ways too – that’s the point. I like it hot and cold, flavored and unflavored. I’ll drink from a pot that’s been sitting on the burner all day, black-tar stains singed at the bottom. I’ll even drink coffee with Splenda.
This is not to say that I believe all coffee is created equal. It most certainly is not. Some coffee is high quality, and some coffee…not so much. More importantly, some coffee companies takes unjust advantage of the farmers while some coffee companies build equitable partnerships.
Recently, I’ve made a new friend, and I’d like to introduce you to his company. About eight months ago, Scott Hackman and several partners started a new business, something they call a “missional venture,” a for-profit company that seeks to make a superior product and then use their leverage for just causes within their sphere of business. One Village Coffee has quickly built a reputation as a boutique roaster providing premium coffee and a vibrant social ethic.

With each of One Village’s roasts, you are not only receiving excellent coffee at a modest price, you are also helping to do good in the world. While all their coffee is (at a minimum) fair trade, for their Kenyan roast, they pay the famers close to double the standard fair trade price. With other roasts, they support the Mama Project, a group serving as vocal advocates for malnourished children in Honduras. The focus of this campaign is to give back $1 per bag to support one child in one village for one year during the Mama Project’s 2008 deworming initiative.
And now, for the next several weeks, One Village Coffee is partnering with our blog to help care for children in Cairo, Egypt, through the work of Stephen’s Children, a group that has begun over 60 schools in the middle of the urban garbage dumps where these children live. With each bag of their Smart Blend coffee we purchase, $1 will go directly to help send one of the kids to a Stephen’s Children camp where most will recieve their first bath, along with food and rehabilitating education on how to cope with (and protect one another from further) sexual abuse.
One Village intends to be a storyteller, telling the narratives of people and places that are forgotten, neglected, and oppressed. And they intend to do business well, using their enterprise to fund good causes. There are many noble causes. There are many coffee companies working to promote justice. This is one, and I love what they are doing.
Why don’t you hit this link (look on the bottom left hand corner for “Relevant Magazine Choice”) and consider some early Christmas shopping. Fantastic coffee. Great price. A just cause.
…and it doesn’t need any flavored creamer added. It’s good straight.
peace / Winn

Fiction as a Spiritual Discipline

My wife is the most voracious reader I know. Fiction is her first love. The good stuff – Jane Eyre and The Great Gatsby, Madeleine L’Engle, Buechner, all things Dickens. Recently, when she rifled through War and Peace, I began to feel a little intimidated.

Eugene Peterson says that pastors should read fiction as part of their spiritual regimen (wonderful advice I was never once offered in seminary). I think every Christian should heed this wisdom. Listening to the story. Being captured by the narrative. Discerning truth as we are tugged through the plot. “Every good story is a retelling of the gospel,” says Chesterton. If that’s true – and I believe it is – then we need to read more good stories. God knows, we need as much of the gospel as we can get.

Here is a quick hit on four novels that have told me much truth:

East of Eden, John Steinbeck
The Chosen, Chaim Potok
‘Til We Have Faces, C.S. Lewis
Peace Like a River, Leif Enger

peace / Winn

From Genesis to Einstein

Thanks for all the thoughtful comments, particularly the past week. I’ve loved looking over all the fiction works that have embodied grace and told us bits of truth. We’ve compiled quite a reading list. It might be interesting to have a blog book club, perhaps picking a title every so often (not necessarily fiction) we could read together and then plan to converse about it on the blog. Of course, it could be a little too Oprah-like, but let me know if you think it’s a good idea – or not.

Madeleine L’Engle has a great lecture she offered at a Veritas Forum on “Searching for Truth Through Fantasy.” Take a listen.

I continue to mull over a couple themes from the last few weeks: the importance of art and the necessity of immersing ourselves in stories. I believe these artistic, creative expressions are much more than peripheral niceties tacked on to the more beefy stuff of faith. We need the arts; they are (at least to some degree) necessary because they help us read the Bible better. For most of modern history in the western world, scientific rationalism and naturalism have reigned with an iron fist. Under this regime, truth has often been equated only with facts that could be dissected, formulas that could be proven, or phenomenon that could be observed.

Many of us have learned to read the Bible in this milieu. So we have often assumed (or perhaps insisted) that the Bible’s purpose and concern centered on addressing our perceived need for a steady stream of rational, observable facts. Of course, many times the Bible does give us historical data or a straightforward, verifiable proposition. However, presuming the Bible always intends to provide such things pushes us to a small, myopic place where we totally miss far different themes and entirely other sorts of questions.

For example: this misguided presumption has, I believe, heavily influenced the way we approach the very first portion of Scripture, the early pages of Genesis. I’ve had this growing suspicion that something is amiss with the way some of us typically approach this text. Governed by scientific empiricism and the critical questions it raises, many of us have insisted that Genesis’ creation narrative was most concerned with the process of creation: exactly how the earth’s basic elements were formed and precisely how long this formation took. The whole conversation might conjure the image of a manufacturing process or a lab tech mixing formulas.

However, the Biblical word “create” (bara in Hebrew) paints a much different picture. Contrary to some popular views, create (Gen 1:1) does not immediately imply the act of making something ex nihilo (out of nothing). Rather, create refers to how one takes disordered elements and crafts something useful out of them, like a woodworker taking a piece of bare timber and carving a beautiful figure from the unformed wood mass. In fact, Genesis 1 seems little concerned with the question of how exactly God formed the first original mass of material (the Biblical notion of God creating ex nihilo is easy enough to locate in the New Testament, but it just doesn’t seem to be Genesis’ prime concern).

In fact, when the actual creation week narrative starts off, the text explicitly tells us that God did not begin with nothing. Rather, he began with a strange mess of something, a dark, chaotic, empty, useless, unformed mass. We could say he began with ugliness. However, as the six days of creation unfolded, God took those bare elements and created a world of stunning beauty.

This aesthetic concern influenced even the way the Genesis author crafted the book. The days of the creation account seem to me like recurring brush strokes, a passionate painter fully immersed in the glory of his work. Noting Genesis’ artistic nature, Bruce Waltke has referred to the Biblical book as “ideological art.”

So, I’m wondering if the question Genesis first wants to ponder is not: How did our world come to be? but (maybe) rather, Why is our world beautiful? And the arts are far more helpful than science at helping us pay attention to that question.

Frankly, this second question touches me in deeper places than the first question ever could. I don’t sense a deep need to know the exact processes or timelines by which God chose to speak this world into existence. However, I look around at our mess, my mess — our violence and despair, all the wretched ugly scars in my world. And I desperately want to know if there is a God strong enough, powerful enough, loving enough (yes, creative enough) to make it beautiful again.

The Gospel –and, I believe, Genesis – answers a loud, thundering “yes!”

The most beautiful emotion we can experience is the mysterious. It is the fundamental emotion that stands at the cradle of all true art and science. He to whom this emotion is a stranger, who can no longer wonder and stand rapt in awe, is as good as dead, a snuffed-out candle. To sense that behind anything that can be experienced there is something that our minds cannot grasp, whose beauty and sublimity reaches us only indirectly: this is religiousness. [Albert Einstein]

peace / Winn