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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

A God Like Jesus

For decades I’ve had a fascination with Scotland. Perhaps it’s the depiction of William Wallace’s heroics in the movie Braveheart or the scenery of the Highlands. Maybe it’s because my dad once talked about the Scottish clan from which we trace our family history. I’ve thought often of the place and carried numerous perceptions about the people and the land. However, perceptions and reality are always different. I had to put my feet on that lush soil, hear the cadence of the language, and eat Scottish food in order to know what the place is truly like. To know anything true, we have to experience the reality—not merely read or think about it.

Two Sorrows

When I was younger, shame or guilt would often overwhelm me. The trigger could be an obvious area where I had failed, and I simply could not shake the gloom as I desperately sought forgiveness. Other times, I endured a suffocating fear that something was wrong or that I needed to confess something. I assumed this weighty guilt was the Spirit’s conviction as I sank deeper into despair.

Healing Hands

In his short story “The Hurt Man,” Wendell Berry recounts how Nancy Beechum welcomed a complete stranger into her home after he stumbled up the street, bloodied, with a crowd of fierce, angry men chasing him. Nancy opened her door and washed the clotted blood from his body. She pressed the white rags, now crimson, onto his cuts. The hurt man trembled as Nancy spoke gently to him: ”You’re going to be all right.”

A Laughing Faith

I remember where I was sitting in the cramped living room of our apartment when Miska told me she was pregnant with our first son, Wyatt. I must have sat mute for several moments because Miska asked, “Are you okay? What are you thinking?” In theory, I wanted to be a dad someday, but it had seemed like a distant possibility. But here it was . . . I was going to be a dad, and I was dumbstruck.

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.

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> christian living

Overcoming Evil

In his book Hitler’s Cross, Pastor Erwin Lutzer shares these heart-wrenching words from a man who lived in Germany during the Nazi Holocaust: “We heard stories of what was happening to the Jews, but we tried to distance ourselves from it, because, what could anyone do to stop it? A railroad track ran behind our small church and each Sunday morning we could hear the whistle in the distance and then the wheels coming over the tracks. . . . We knew the time the train was coming and when we heard the whistle blow we began singing hymns. By the time the train came past our church we were singing at the top of our voices. If we heard the screams, we sang more loudly and soon we heard them no more.”

No Floating

I was power-trimming weeds beneath a large tree in our backyard when I felt a painful, burning jab to the back of my skull. Turning, I noticed several hornets buzzing around me. Having been already stung by one, I fled the scene. Later that night I discovered I had bumped the hornets’ watermelon-sized nest with my head! A sting had snapped me out of my clueless state, one that could have resulted in me being swarmed and stung repeatedly.

Limited View

The spot began as a small discoloration on the baseboard adjacent to one of our bedroom doors. Unsure of what caused it, we dismissed it as an unidentified spill. After a lengthy stretch of rainy days, however, the three-inch spot had not only grown, but the baseboard on the opposite side of the door began to yellow as well. The bowing wood and the musty smell of damp carpet hastened our investigation, and we discovered that our original assessment had neglected to capture the full picture. Overflow from the rain had seeped into the doorframe of our back porch, resulting in damage that had now become plain to see.

> daily devotional

Unscripted

After walking into a sandwich shop, I sensed the Holy Spirit nudging me to reach out to the young man who took our order. Unsure of how to start, I gathered my food and followed my husband to the patio area. Shortly after we sat down, the same young man came outside to sweep the area. I set aside my fear and began an unscripted conversation. In this unexpected moment, God provided the opportunity for us to discuss how Jesus’ love and the power of the Holy Spirit could help the young man overcome the situations he was facing.

Like Yourself

Geel is a charming town in Belgium with a unique population—a significant percentage of the people there have a diagnosis of mental illness. Host families to these persons are given no details of their guests’ diagnoses. Instead, they welcome their guests into the community like anyone else. “I have seen coffee served in a cafe with as much deference to actively hallucinating psychotics as to anyone else,” one observer described. Not surprisingly, people with mental illness flourish in Geel.

He Will Supply

For many years Estelle and her husband worked as missionaries, relying on the financial generosity of others while they shared the love of God through their ministry. Money was often tight. On one occasion, Estelle went into her room to pray about their lack of funds. Opening her Bible, she read these words: “This same God who takes care of me will supply all your needs” (Philippians 4:19). In that moment, the verse felt like a promise to her from God.

> ethics

Imitate My Father

The idea of immigrants competing with locals for jobs is a political hot potato in many countries. Some citizens resent the newcomers because they perceive them as stealing jobs, competing for scarce services, and causing overcrowding. With unfamiliar customs and languages, the immigrants are sometimes accused of disturbing and even threatening the social fabric of the native born. So how should believers in Jesus respond to the aliens living in their midst?

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.”

> faith

Unscripted

After walking into a sandwich shop, I sensed the Holy Spirit nudging me to reach out to the young man who took our order. Unsure of how to start, I gathered my food and followed my husband to the patio area. Shortly after we sat down, the same young man came outside to sweep the area. I set aside my fear and began an unscripted conversation. In this unexpected moment, God provided the opportunity for us to discuss how Jesus’ love and the power of the Holy Spirit could help the young man overcome the situations he was facing.

Love Is No Accident

One rainy autumn day, my son’s vehicle left the road, went airborne at 70 mph (112 km), and found a lone tree beyond a drainage ditch. For the next hour, rescue workers toiled to pry him from his shredded car. By God’s grace, he survived.

Living Truth

Ever wanted to live like a monk? Thirty-four young adults did, accepting an offer from the Archbishop of Canterbury to embrace a countercultural, monastic way of life for ten months. From varied nations and denominations, the group formed a community that studied the Scriptures, prayed, and served together. At the end of their time, one participant stated, “We’ve spent time growing in intimacy with God, learning from Jesus and listening to the Holy Spirit.”

> health

Gaps

A battle rages where I live—a rivalry between two universities. The rivalry manifests itself primarily in athletic competition. My alma mater proudly displays the letter “S” as its logo. The S stands for State, as in Michigan State University. The other school brandishes a distinctive “M,” which represents the University of Michigan.

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.

> 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.