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’ve discovered 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 toted 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 jig saws, but words have become those trusted tools 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. 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. I’m a columnist, and I’ve done a stint as a freelance magazine and book editor. I’ve authored four books (creative non-fiction and fiction), and currently I’m working on the authorized biography of Eugene Peterson. 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 and yoga teacher, a poet-mystic and the person I most respect in this world. I’m dad to Wyatt and Seth, the two who’ve pulled strands of love out of me that I didn’t know existed. They 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 think truth is best told slant. I believe in hope.
A Pastor for twenty-five years, it was my joy to be the founding pastor of All Souls Charlottesville. I currently serve at Western Theological Seminary as Director of The Eugene Peterson Center & Associate Professor of Pastoral Theology and Christian Imagination. I’m also the director of the Genesis Project. I 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 vision imbedded into Wendell Berry’s fictional town of Port William.
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. 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 orders his latte with exquisite specifications. However, in lieu of that, I’m left with something Google calls 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, but I do want to point you to instructions on how to opt out of sharing any information with me if that is what you prefer.