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Winn Collier

Winn Collier

Winn’s home is Charlottesville, Virginia, where he lives with his wife Miska, the woman he describes as “the most interesting woman alive” and their two sons, Wyatt and Seth. Winn likes friendship, fair-trade coffee, smart movies, books worth reading, honest music, mountains, questions, walking in the woods, and doing just about anything with Miska or his boys. Winn dislikes pretense, fear, injustice—and that he doesn’t live anywhere near a Planet Smoothie. Winn writes for magazines and is the author of three books: Restless Faith: Hanging on to a God Just out of Reach, Let God: The Transforming Wisdom of Francois Fenelon, and most recently, Holy Curiosity: Encountering Jesus’ Provocative Questions. Winn serves his spiritual community, All Souls Charlottesville, as pastor.

Articles by Winn Collier

The Grand Project of Salvation

The Swedish writer Fredrick Backman’s 2012 debut novel A Man Called Ove is the tale of a man who sees no reason to live. After the death of his wife (the one person who brought him laughter, intimacy, and joy) and after losing his job, Ove plots his suicide. But then he’s drawn into the larger story around him: There’s a pregnant woman who needs his support, a neighbor in conflict with authorities who are trying to force him into a nursing home, and a young man estranged from his father. Ove discovers reasons to live as he moves beyond himself and toward others.

A Home for All

During the 2016 Olympics in Rio, one of the brightest stories was the International Olympic Committee’s decision to field the first-ever team of Refugee Olympic Athletes, a team of athletes who have no country. Thomas Bach, president of the IOC, explained the decision: “Having no national team to belong to, having no flag to march behind, having no national anthem to be played, these refugee athletes will be welcomed to the Olympic Games with the Olympic flag and with the Olympic Anthem. They will have a home together with all the other 11,000 athletes.” Ten Olympians comprised the squad—refugees from South Sudan, Ethiopia, Democratic Republic of Congo, and Syria.

Passing By

During a political election year, a tow truck driver was called to assist a woman who was stranded with a broken-down vehicle. But the truck driver, upon seeing a bumper sticker on the car for a candidate he disliked, informed the motorist that he wouldn’t help her and drove away. His actions remind me how we sometimes choose to ignore those who need our help.

The Holy Other

Each Sunday my local church begins our service with a call to worship—a song declaring that we gather to proclaim God’s goodness and beauty. As we sing, we’re also affirming that we live as citizens of His kingdom. Although during most of the worship we encourage people to choose their own posture, in this opening song we always ask our people to stand. We want to open the service conscious of standing in God’s presence, reverently honoring the One who’s other than us.

The Other Way

Photographer Oliver Curtis’ exhibit Volte-face (“about turn”) interacts with iconic landmarks—only his images capture what’s found in the opposite direction. So, when he arrived at Stonehenge, he turned 180 degrees before taking his pictures, capturing images that are typically ignored. Curtis says the photos “send [our] gaze elsewhere and . . . favor the incidental over the monumental.”

The Kingdom We Long For

I remember the way grief hung so heavy the morning after news broke of the deadliest mass shooting in US history in 2016.

Our Real and Present God

In 2005, two researchers coined “moral therapeutic deism” (MTD) as a description for the prevailing religious views of younger Americans. MTD is a constellation of beliefs that can be summed up this way: God exists and provides a moral way of ordering your life so that you can fulfill the ultimate goal of your life—to be happy and feel good about yourself. Although God is mostly removed and uninvolved in your life, He will welcome you to heaven when you die if you’ve been good.

Into the Dark Unknown

At the outset of World War II, a man—who would eventually rescue 669 children from Nazi slaughter—helped two Jewish boys secure passage on a train escaping Czechoslovakia. After the war, the boys received a final letter from their parents who had died in a concentration camp.

The First Day—Again

Imagine you’re a Jewish child, nourished from a young age by the words of the Torah. You can recite the Torah’s opening lines describing how, just before the dawn of God’s magnificent acts of creation, darkness covered the deep and the Spirit of God hovered over the waters (Genesis 1:2). Those mysterious words signaled that something stunning was about to happen. God was doing something new. You’d hear the story of that first day of creation, the inauguration of God’s creation week when He said, “Let there be light”—and light flooded the earth (John 20:3). Adam and Eve in the garden, beginning the great adventure of human life. What stunning possibilities, what hope! You would know well this story—the story of how God’s new world began to flourish.

The Skeptic

Not long after the fall of the Iron Curtain, I traveled to Ukraine with a Christian ministry. One evening, I met with two college students who peppered me with questions about faith and God. I was struck by their open and earnest searching, because they had lived for years under a communist regime in which God and religion were outlawed. They weren’t looking for easy answers, but simply wanted to figure out what they believed.

Only the Beginning

We introduced our sons to the TV series Lost in which marooned passengers from a crashed jetliner try to survive on a mysterious island. It didn’t take long for our boys to start to groan at the end of each episode, aware of how masterful the writers were at creating cliffhangers. There appears to be no ending, only a series of new beginnings.

Breaking Toward Freedom

Inky the octopus saw his chance and broke for freedom. In 2014, fishermen found Inky, a small octopus (roughly the size of a volleyball) trapped in a crayfish pot and severely injured. The fishermen delivered Inky to New Zealand’s National Aquarium. Though Inky seemed to adjust to his new home, one of the curators observed how they needed to “keep Inky amused” or he’d get bored.

God’s Masterpiece

When asked which author he would choose to write his life’s story, author and activist Wendell Berry answered: “A horrible thought. Nobody. As the only person who ever has lived my life, I know that most of it can never be documented, is beyond writing and beyond words.”

Extravagant Love

Every year during Holy Week (the week leading up to Easter), many churches follow Jesus’ example during the Last Supper by washing one another’s feet. Jesus washed His disciples’ feet and told them to imitate what He had done. Washing feet is a prayerful and powerful act, but it can also upset our sense of pride, personal space, and privacy. It can be truly unsettling.

Confident Hope

It’s truly difficult to sit beside someone who’s grieving or in despair, a person who has taken one hit after another and has lost all hope. Whenever we surrender hope, our life slowly ebbs from us. We may continue to put one foot in front of the other, but we can no longer see the beauty around us. We no longer find joy in our life or in relationship with others. We see only gloom, and we find it nearly impossible to move toward light and love.

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> christian living

Upending

A backyard bash was underway when a man carrying a gun approached and demanded money from the partygoers. The partiers would have handed their money to the bandit, but no one had any cash! So they offered what they did have—a drink. Surprisingly, the crook accepted and joined their party. An unexpected response changed everything.

Running the Race

In 2005 Dean Karnazes ran 350 miles in eighty hours—setting the world record for distance running without sleep. Ten years later, Rob Young, nicknamed the “Marathon Man,” broke the record by covering nearly 374 miles in eighty-eight hours. Young, who had endured abuse by his father as a child, said he ran with two goals in mind: to test the limits of human endurance and to help the world become a better place for kids.

Is This Heaven?

In the fantasy-drama Field of Dreams, Ray Kinsella heard a mysterious voice whispering from his cornfield: “If you build it, he will come.” In time, Ray realized the voice was calling him to build a baseball field among his rows of cornstalks. When he built the ball field, major-league baseball players from the past miraculously emerged from the remaining cornstalks to play ball.

> daily devotional

God’s Masterpiece

While watching top athletes compete in a global event, my family and I marveled at their incredible feats. But as a relatively sedentary person, I was equally awestruck by their training regimens. In interview after interview, athletes would share how they woke up early every morning and did nothing but work out for hours on end. Every calorie would be counted, every movement analyzed for maximum efficiency. But they didn’t talk about their training as if it were a hardship—something negative. No, they described it with pride and passion because they recognized the privilege of being one of the few athletes in the world capable of competing at the very highest level.

Eternal Perspective

Tricia Mingerink’s young adult Christian fantasy series The Blades of Acktar contains a scene where the protagonist is forced to watch friends and family martyred for their faith. A fearful person, she was struck by the peace with which each martyr faced death. In a moment of clarity, she realized that these believers were not bound by their immediate circumstances. The fear borne out of her exclusive focus on the present melted away as she embraced a perspective of eternity in God’s presence.

Shameless Persistence

After 45 years of talking with God, I still find prayer to be an enigma. At times, I’ve felt as if I stopped praying too soon. If I had persevered, would the outcome have been different?

> ethics

rotten fruit

There’s a “quick sale” area in my local supermarket where fruit is offered at a huge discount. If not sold quickly, the fully ripened edibles will become soft, flabby, and infected with fungus.

judgment of justice

An acquaintance of mine, who is highly intelligent and has a philosophical bent, also carries antipathy toward God and religion. He enjoys being provocative, recently quoting the second-century philosopher Epicurus who said: “There is no such thing as justice in the abstract; it is merely a compact between men.”

if My people

I was speaking with three friends about the lamentable condition of our country. They mentioned the continued practice of abortion, the rise of homosexual marriage, and the debt crisis. One friend cited 2 Chronicles 7:14, and said that our nation’s problems will only be solved when our country turns to God. I said that would be difficult to pull off, as our nation believes in the separation of church and state. We cannot compel Muslims, Buddhists, or atheists to worship Yahweh. Nor would we want to. Life goes badly—both for those inside and outside the church—whenever Christianity becomes the religion of the state.

> faith

Entering into God’s Rest

My son and I spent a few days with friends at their home in the beautiful northern region of New England in the US. Our visit followed my ninth consecutive year of fruitful but intense ministry in East Africa. Depleted and in need of recharging, I was grateful for the physical rest my friends’ hospitality provided.

You Have a Choice

You mean, I can choose to believe in Jesus?” my young Nepali friend asked in surprise as I was giving her a ride to the grocery store. She was an international student at the same university I was attending and had been coming for several months to a weekly Bible study. As we were discussing her thoughts regarding the study, she suddenly became shocked by the realization that she could choose what to believe. She had grown up in a culture where faith was something she was born into, with no choice given to her.

Philip Flunked

In college, I had the, ahem, joy of taking a class about the history of the English language. The professor would ramble on and on about his life and all kinds of odd facts during his lectures. We listened intently, however, because his tests were famously difficult. He didn’t simply ask us to recall facts, he required us to think differently. The questions were designed to ensure that we could apply our knowledge in unique ways.

> health

Hope for Today

Someone close to me recommitted his life to God, began taking his wife and young daughter to church, and was seeking to follow Jesus faithfully. Within weeks, however, his world began to fall apart. His daughter was admitted to the hospital with a chest infection, his business partner refused to pay him, and his wife asked for some time apart. He looked drained and weary when I offered to pray for him, saying he’d rather not have any help from God. From the moment he’d chosen to serve the Lord again, he said it felt as if a huge target had been placed on his back and the Enemy was having a field day.

Something More Powerful

When France’s ministry of health realized that 17.8 percent of French women smoked while pregnant, they came up with a plan. For a trial period of thirty-six months, seventeen French hospitals paid women up to 300 euros to stop smoking during their pregnancies. Of the 612 participants, 22.5 percent of the women gave up their cigarettes.

Real Rest

During the long, harsh Alaskan winter, Denali National Park rangers rely on teams of sled dogs to help them patrol the vast, snowy wilderness. Dogsled patrols can last up to 6 weeks, and the dogs are always raring to go.

> relationships

Covenant Relationship

Two different friends from different spheres of my life—one a man, one a woman—told me about their unfaithful spouses during the same week. Both felt betrayed and angry. They wondered if they would ever feel whole again.

Gifts from God

Police were sent to a home in response to a report of domestic child abuse. When they arrived at the house, they found a scared four-year-old girl with a black eye, swollen cheek, and bruises covering a majority of her tiny frame. The officers were devastated when they asked her to say her name and she meekly replied, “Idiot.”

The Grand Project of Salvation

The Swedish writer Fredrick Backman’s 2012 debut novel A Man Called Ove is the tale of a man who sees no reason to live. After the death of his wife (the one person who brought him laughter, intimacy, and joy) and after losing his job, Ove plots his suicide. But then he’s drawn into the larger story around him: There’s a pregnant woman who needs his support, a neighbor in conflict with authorities who are trying to force him into a nursing home, and a young man estranged from his father. Ove discovers reasons to live as he moves beyond himself and toward others.