Archive for category: Guest Posts

Are you Israel or Pharaoh?

In 2016, I met Steve Wiens, a pastor in Minneapolis. I knew I liked Steve from the beginning. I didn’t know that Steve would become one of the rarest gems of the human experience—a friend.

In his new book Whole: Restoring What’s Broken in Me, You, and the Entire World, Steve invites us to stop reading the scriptures. Instead, Steve invites us to experience the scriptures. Experiencing the scripture changes our paradigm, it allows us to imagine the many ways God dances in our modern context. It provides a mirror, showing us when we are the villain, when we are the exiled, when we are the oppressed, and when we are the oppressor. It shows us what shalom might mean, what it might require.

Today, I’m sharing an excerpt from Steve’s book Whole, an excerpt that touches on experiencing the scriptures in light of the racial tensions in modern America. It’s an important read. Come along?

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I am Pharaoh“Oh no,” Dee said, sitting across the table from me at Breaking Bread Café in North Minneapolis.

“What?” I asked cautiously. I had been talking to her about the Exodus as a broad theological concept that I was interested in writing and preaching about.

“I always get nervous when white pastors use the Exodus narrative and act as though they’re the children of Israel instead of the Egyptians.”

Dee and I are both church planters in our denomination who are learning what it means to see to the shalom of Minneapolis. Dee is one of the best preachers I’ve ever heard. She’s prophetic, wise, funny, and passionate, and she’s more than six feet tall. She’s a powerful presence, and she’s becoming a good friend.

And Dee is black.

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A Tiny Introduction: Christie Purifoy

From time to time, I introduce my Tiny Letter community to a fellow writer. This month, I’m introducing Christie Purifoy, one of the most talented, descriptive writers I know. Take a peek at this month’s Tiny Letter, and consider signing up and reading along.

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You Can Go Home Again

Almost four years ago, I came home with my family to an old, red-brick farmhouse on a Pennsylvania hill. It is called Maplehurst, and it is a beautiful, maddening place.

The paint peels, the weeds grow, the bricks crumble. The children bicker, the chickens escape, and beetles never will stop eating the roses.

People come to stay for one night or a year of nights, neighbors gather, the woodstove in the kitchen crackles and steams, and God abides with us. We have come home.

I recently wrote a book about the first year we lived at Maplehurst, and I found myself tripping over a hundred clichés.

As a writer, I abhor a cliché. They are like those gel-coated pills, designed to go down easy. They are meant to comfort but only by bypassing thought.

Home is where the heart is

Home is with my people

There’s no place like home

This world is not our home

Such lovely, lyrical words, but are they even true?

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Beginnings: A Guest Post by Steve Wiens

I bumped into the writings of Steve Wiens by some fortuitous, serendipitous, happy accident. If memory serves (and it sometimes does), a friend of a friend of a friend suggested that Steve send his new book my way. Steve followed that unction, and I’m glad he did. When I received his book, cracked the spine, and read the first words, I knew Steve’s work was something special.

I’m happy to welcome Steve Wiens to the blog today. I hope you’ll enjoy his words, and if you do, I hope you’ll visit his site and order his new book, Beginnings: The First Seven Days of the Rest of Your Life.

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Beginnings, a guest post by Steve Wiens

B85541_Beginnings_FINALI suppose it might be considered a cliché to say that my first book discovered me; that it fluttered down to me in a bright burst of color and flame, beckoning and irresistible. But it did.

It came to me as a question, but one with a smirk and a wink. It was a delicious question, the kind that invites you to leave Bag End with only a walking stick and a stomach hungry for adventure.

I was stuck, but I was only beginning to realize it, and it was a sickening kind of feeling when I finally did. My life seemed to be drifting away from me, like someone was using a pair of bellows all wrong, extracting breath from me instead of adding it.

The question thundered around me, accompanied by random flashes of lightning, and I was dazzled enough to turn aside to see what it was before it rolled by.

What if the creative act of God described so richly in the Genesis poem was not simply an event in time, but a process that is reflected in all beginnings that follow?

What if new beginnings were lurking around every corner, inside every whisper, and even stitched into every ending? What if they hovered above us, and filled in the fault lines beneath us? What if being stuck wasn’t the inevitable destination?

What if the world, right here and now, is crying out once again, and what if the God who hears is responding, and sending, and moving, and acting?

So I wrote and wrote and wrote, and with three boys under the age of six, it was mostly done by magic tricks and stopping time. The more I wrote, the more I believed. It came in torrents, flooding me, until it didn’t. Then it trickled in: a paragraph, a sentence, a word. But it came all the way out, and I’m about to let it go into the world.

Beginnings is my manifesto of hope, that the creative activity of God is not finished, not even close. Beginnings is my defiant shout that even when we are lost in the inky blackness, there can emerge out of that swampland something glorious, something eternal, something covered in the goodness of God.

What follows are the first words I used to translate the fluttering reality in which I now am grounded. I hope it leaves you hungry for more.

“THE ACHE HAD probably been creeping up on me, but I didn’t notice it until that night, sitting on the deck behind my suburban house looking out onto my suburban life. Isaac was two, and the twins were six months old. I was a pastor at a large church, I had been married for fourteen years, and my twenty-year high school reunion had come and gone.

I didn’t go to that reunion. I didn’t have the energy for the awkwardness, the sizing up, and the plastic cups of stale beer to chase down our stale memories.

But the ache that had been whispering through my body rattled to a clumsy stop on that night, in those suburbs, on that deck.

I had been looking at pictures of my friends who went to the reunion: my old girlfriend, the guys I used to go all night skiing with on those blisteringly cold nights in Minnesota, my soccer team. And I remembered all the beginnings.

I remembered moving from Southern California to Belgium the summer before seventh grade. I remembered the sour, un-American body odor of the team of men who moved our old furniture into our new house. That smell was the baptism of our new life in Europe.

I remembered my friend Colin who lived across the street in a two-story white brick house in Waterloo with black shutters, like they all were. I remembered the in-ground trampoline in his back yard, on which we spent hours and hours, jumping our way into adolescence. I remembered his mother’s unbearably loud voice, as it boomed around their house like a grenade and made us run for cover.

I remembered falling treacherously in love with Tammi the moment I saw her, coming down those stairs in the fall of my ninth grade year. She liked me back, and then she didn’t like me. I was devastated. That’s when I started listening to the Cure and Depeche Mode, bands who were created for teenagers like me who don’t know how to express the frightening chaos brewing beneath our skin, bubbling and boiling.

I remembered Mr. Tobin, my tenth grade English teacher. Every student should have a Mr. Tobin. He got to know each of us and selected books based on what he thought we’d like. The first book he gave me was Trinity, by Leon Uris. I remember staying up late into the night reading about Conor Larkin, the main character, who was everything I wanted to be but feared I wasn’t: brave and passionate and rough edged. Almost thirty years have passed since I met Mr. Tobin, and I credit my deep love for reading to his deep love for teaching.

I remembered kissing Angie under a starry summer night on that dock that jutted out into Lake Como, the thrill of that moment reflecting off the lake and making everything luminous that summer before our senior year. I can still see the picture of us at the homecoming game: she was beautiful, holding my hand under the dark October sky. I had a ridiculous acid-washed denim jacket on, with only the bottom button fastened in the chilly air. There was a grin on my face and my eyes were sparkling. I was seventeen.

I remembered driving around in Matt’s Bronco for hours, finishing off the beer that Carl’s older brother bought us. We must have burned hundreds of gallons of gas on those cold winter nights; we were irresponsible, irrepressible and immortal.

I remembered deciding to go to college in a sleepy little town in southern Minnesota, instead of up north, where most of my closest friends from high school had chosen to go. I remembered trying to explain it to them, in the awkward way that high school guys do. I don’t remember much of that summer before college. I only remember the familiar sensation that comes with every new beginning: the thrill of reinventing yourself running parallel with the fear of the unknown—the twin tracks that lead to everything else.

But on that night, on that deck, in those suburbs, the continual forward movement seemed to have stopped. The tracks had run out. I used to be in motion, rattling forward toward a destination that kept morphing. But on that stationary deck, I had become solid and stable, and stuck.

There would be no new beginnings.

My life should have felt full and rich, but instead it felt empty and dark. There was only the slow work of playing out the reality of the decisions that had already come and gone. I was a pastor. I was a father. I was a husband. I didn’t regret any of those things. I loved my kids and my wife and my job. But the finality of it all was a relentless crashing—wave after wave, under those stars, in those suburbs, on that night. It felt vacant, like staring into nothingness.

It was empty and full at the same time. Empty of beginnings, full of endings.

As I sat there motionless with the emptiness closing in around me, there was something else hovering above me in the darkness, but I couldn’t see it.

If I could have seen it, it would have looked like a beginning.”

* * *

SW-5

Steve Wiens lives near Minneapolis, Minnesota with his wife Mary and their three young boys. Steve blogs at www.stevewiens.com and he publishes a weekly podcast called This Good Word.

Steve is the author of Beginnings: The First Seven Days of the Rest of Your Life. You can order Beginnings here: Amazon | Books-A-Million | IndieBound | Barnes and Noble.

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On the Poetry of the Workplace (A Guest Post by Glynn Young)

In April, I began exploring the reason for poetry. I’ve invited a few guests to enter the conversation in hopes that we might find a collective answer to the question, “why poetry?” (Read all “why poetry?” guest posts, here.) Today, I’ve asked Glynn Young to stop in and share his answer. Glynn is leading some wonderful conversations about poetry in the workplace at places like Tweetspeak Poetry, The High Calling, and his own blog. In addition, he’s recently released Poetry at Work, a book well worth any working stiff’s time.

Without further adieu, please welcome Glynn Young.

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I was educated in public schools, and it was in public schools that I was first introduced to poetry. Elementary education was a basic overview of all subjects, with a focus on whatever subject or theme our teachers were interested in at the moment. Middle school and high school had a focus on fiction; since this was the South, the Really Deep South, William Faulkner reigned supreme even years after his death. So we studied fiction, with an occasional cursory nod in the direction of poetry and essays.

The seeds for my love of poetry were planted in high school; and the love of poetry began in a discovery that I loved British literature. William Shakespeare. Charles Dickens. Thomas Hardy. John Milton. George Eliot.

And then T.S. Eliot. T.S. Eliot was the key that unlocked the poetry door. I read “The Hollow Men,” and something changed forever.

We are the hollow men
We are the stuffed men
Leaning together
Headpiece filled with straw. Alas!…

In college, I started in pre-med but abandoned it (too much chemistry) for journalism. And literature. I took the English classes the English majors took – two semesters of British literature, from Beowulf and Piers Plowman to (again) T.S. Eliot. Along the way, my classes had a significant immersion in the Romantics – Wordsworth, Keats, Shelley, Coleridge, and Byron (I survived tests consisting of nothing more than single lines or fragments of lines of poems – and had to identify the poet and the poem) (consider going through 30 or 40 lines like that in under an hour) (#IHatedPoetry).

A few years later, I found myself working as a speechwriter. A friend suggested I read three poets for a broad understanding of how language–and spoken language–could really work. He recommended Wallace Stevens, Dylan Thomas, and no surprise, T.S. Eliot. I read the collected poems of all three. I became a serious speechwriter.

From that point on, poetry became a regular part of what I read. As a result, I wrote better speeches. My perspective changed. I began to look at problems differently. I often found myself running against the corporate herd (and trampled more than once). But that different perspective helped rescue two different companies, both of which believed they had hit a reputational dead end. Poetry shaped and framed that different perspective. Poetry and faith together were that different perspective.

About three years ago, I was sitting in yet another recurring weekly meeting, listening to the recurring weekly conversation, my attention drifting to something more interesting, when I caught something unexpected. I was hearing something in the repetition and in the conversation. And what I was hearing was poetry. Not necessarily good poetry, but poetry nonetheless. I looked around to see if others had noticed, but they had the same weekly recurring faces.

I began to pay closer attention to all of the forms of corporate work life–the interview, the performance review, the PowerPoint presentation, the reorganization and downsizing, the vision statement, the cubicle and other work spaces, unemployment, and even retirement. Wherever I looked, I found poetry.

Some well known business writers, like David Whyte and Clare Morgan, have long advocated for what poetry can bring to business. I love their books, but they see poetry as something from the outside of work brought inside and applied. I was startled to realize that poetry didn’t have to be brought in from the outside; it was, and is, inherent in the work we do.

Poetry is already there. To realize it, to grasp it, is to understand something powerful about who we are and what we do with a considerable part of lives.

We don’t work. We write poetry.

Glynn Young is the author of two novels and the recently published non-fiction book Poetry at Work. He blogs at Faith, Fiction, Friends, and is an editor at Tweetspeak Poetry.

*photo by takomabibalot, Creative Commons via Flickr.

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On Stranger Hospitality And the Outsider

“Hospitality means primarily the creation of free space where the stranger can enter and become a friend instead of an enemy. Hospitality is not to change people, but to offer them space where change can take place. It is not to bring men and women over to our side, but to offer freedom not disturbed by dividing lines.”

Henri J.M. Nouwen, Reaching Out: The Three Movements of the Spiritual Life

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According to dictionary.com, “hospitality,” is “the friendly and generous reception and entertainment of guests, visitors, or strangers.” Did you catch that last word? Strangers. The definition begs an interesting question: if the purpose of hospitality is to create a space of invitation, of welcome, why exercise it only among those whom already feel invited and welcomed? Is the fullest expression of hospitality the invitation of close friends and relatives to a dinner party, or is it something broader?

Join me today at Allume, where I take a look at hospitality and the outsider.

*Photo by Kulwant Singh, Creative Commons via Flickr.

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