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

Strange Redemption

For several weeks, I’ve been buried in the first three chapters of Genesis. It truly is the ultimate story: aching beauty, tragic deception, carnage and ruin. However, I find strange glimmers of hope in places I would not suspect, hints of redemption imbedded in the very place where the devestation is the most severe. Here are a few, with only first thoughts. I’d like to leave the commentary to you.

// Adam and Eve ate, and their world immediately shattered, a fissure rippled through creation. Their soul must have taken a harsh jolt. Immediately, they hid and began to snatch leaves in a frantic attempt to cover themselves – and God’s first action was to come to where they were, to pursue them with a question, “Where are you?” God would not leave them in their hiding.

// Adam and Eve’s fig-clothes were sad attempts at modesty. Worse, they were the very symbols of their rebellion, of how they gave God the finger. Yet God met them in this dire place they had made for themselves – and gave them better clothes. God would not leave them naked.

// Strangest to me, the more I look at what has classically been called “the curse,” I see mercy (a severe mercy, to be sure) even there. God actually did not speak a curse to Adam or to Eve. God only used the word “curse” against the ground and the serpent. It’s as though God would not use such language against his own image. What God did level against our father and mother seems to me to be -not a curse- but a redemptive judgment. God’s judgement infected Adam and Eve’s primary roles, their primary place of strength and competency (Adam working the elements of the earth and Eve nurturing life and relationships in her world). Was this hardship and struggle necessary for Adam and Eve to realize (in stark contrast to the lie that led them to their destructive choice) that no, they were not God, that no, they could not manage life on their own, that yes, they actually would be dependent on God for life and purpose and relationship and joy. God would not leave them in their delusion.

Pascal said that two things pierce our heart: beauty and pain. God’s first choice had been to flood Eve and Adam with beauty. And he had. Beauty everywhere, in everything. But they did not listen to the beauty. Perhaps, now, they would listen to pain. A strange redemption.

peace (even if it’s strange),


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