Dear Winn – 8 December 2016

Dear Winn:
Its a little before 6am here, and its 3°. Most of my younger life I dreamed of, as that line from Harry Nilsson’s song so pointedly put it, “going where the weather suits my clothes.” Now, here in my forty-ninth year, I realize that dream has come true. My weather app tells me that by 7am it will be 0° and from there the newly risen sun will be burdened with warming us up a bit, today’s high of 12°. I share such weather statistics with my parents when I call and they ask if its cold here. There is always a minuscule pause on their end, and in that stillness I think they still wonder where on earth their son has gone to live.
I was glad when you too said you had decided to use Mary Oliver’s new book – Upstream – as your Advent reading material. I have learned over the years that for me, reading a book of some sort helps give shape to this season. Without a book my soul gets unwieldy, and that’s no good. This book doesn’t have to be distinctly Christian. In fact, I prefer that it not be. I love worldly, earthy books that my Christian imagination can get all mixed up in and roll around in the sheets, sorta like the Incarnation.
And I have also learned that if I’ll just be patient around the end of November, the right book will usually present itself. Not always, but usually. Winn, as soon as I read this line near the start – Attention is the beginning of devotion – I knew the right book had found me, one more time. I just adore Mary’s hypethral theology. She is so rooted in the world. And that’s what I believe this season to be so much about – God rooting himself in this world. I don’t agree with everything Mary writes, but I find myself agreeing with more than I disagree. It seems to me in that tipping of the scales lies kinship.
I was reading “Emerson: An Introduction” and this line arrested me: Soon after Ellen Tucker’s death he left the pulpit. I know you know a little of the story of my leaving the pulpit. It wasn’t due to the death of someone I loved but rather someone I’d been. And as hard and as painful as it is, and God knows it is, the only way for new things to be born is for old things to die. That’s kinda where my head’s been these early days of Advent, Winn – on the old things that had to die in order for something or someone else to take their place. The adolescent stance is to see those old things as bad or less-than, but that’s just silly. Those old things were the seeds, seeds which remain in the soft grip of memory, seeds of which I will be forever grateful.
Winn, I believe just about anything’s possible, but chances are good that if I hadn’t left the pulpit I would never have met you. I would have never met Brennan Manning (lord, he was an absolute piece of work, and I miss him dearly). I would never have started writing poetry, or at least started writing it in the frame of mind in which I did. I would never have grown a ponytail. I cannot recall a single Southern Baptist pastor I knew who had a beard much less a ponytail, ever. I would never have met star-brilliant writers like Kent Haruf and Pam Houston, and James Smith. I would never have met and then grieved a lady named Kara Tippetts. I would never have stumbled upon an AM radio station in Denver that spun my kind of music, and befriended its good dj Rick Crandall. If I hadn’t left the pulpit I would have possibly never finally found myself where the weather suits my clothes.             
That’s kinda where my head’s been, seeing myself standing in a room full of people much like that final scene in It’s A Wonderful Life, looking around at the eyes gathered, with a goofy George Bailey look on my face thinking “How on earth did I get here?” And then that old familiar pain: I remember that something has to die in order for something to be born.

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  1. Simply Darlene on December 8, 2016 at 3:32 pm

    For me, the most mysterious and all at once telling sentence from today’s piece is, “lord, he was an absolute piece of work, and I miss him dearly.” Thank you sir, for how you share your heart, because in doing so, you always talk to a craggled piece of mine.

    And for the record, it’s a freeze-yer-eyeballs-wide-open sorta cold in the wild woods of eastern Washington today. As I took the 11-week-old pup out for the 59th time before 7am, I heard a branch snap and clank its way down to frozen pine needles and land in crunchy underbrush.


    • thebeautifuldue on December 9, 2016 at 1:31 pm

      Thanks so much. I appreciate you reading along. And stay warm!

  2. Dr Lynn Schriner on December 8, 2016 at 4:14 pm

    Oh Lord this is awesome…
    I laughed out loud and my heart swelled a bit..early for the heart swell, but swell it did.

  3. Marilyn on December 9, 2016 at 1:08 pm

    “hypethral”…..had to look that one up, so thank you for the new word. As usual, so many lines here describe thoughts, but I didn’t recognize my own feelings until I read them. As I came to the end, the face of a friend popped into my thoughts and I know I need to go now and recommend to him that he reads you. He, too, has a ponytail, but that’s not why.

    • thebeautifuldue on December 9, 2016 at 1:32 pm

      Many thanks, Marilyn. May I quote you re: recognizing your own feelings?

      • Marilyn on December 9, 2016 at 1:55 pm

        Yes, John. Of course.

  4. Deb Carriger Richards on December 9, 2016 at 1:39 pm

    My first husband was a Southern Baptist pastor who had a full beard from before the time I knew him until his death in 1986. He, too, left the pulpit. It’s a shame you never knew each other.

    • thebeautifuldue on December 9, 2016 at 1:44 pm

      Deb, thank you so much. He sounds like a man I would have enjoyed meeting.

  5. Bridget Manley on December 12, 2016 at 3:26 pm

    I have this quote by Charles Du Bois on my bulletin board: “The important thing is this: to be able at any moment to sacrifice what we are for what we could become.”
    I am also looking at change. I have to remind myself, too, that what is old is not bad or less-than. In fact, I’m darn proud of the person I was, the person who brought me here. And I’ll always be grateful for that.

    • thebeautifuldue on December 14, 2016 at 4:49 am

      Love that quote, Bridget! And yes, be darn proud.

  6. paula jones on December 12, 2016 at 3:42 pm

    Every now and then a person reads something that resonates so strongly with their soul that it takes their breath away––and this does so with me. From your “Without a book my soul gets unwieldy, and that’s no good . . . I love worldly, earthy books that my Christian imagination can get all mixed up in and roll around in the sheets, sorta like the Incarnation” (YES!) to the story of your death and resurrection (which is a painful and joyful pattern of life that we only learn with age), you have reminded me that in spite of the state of the world these days, life really is beautiful. Thank you. I too am a ‘recovering’ Southern Baptist (Ms. WMU if ever there was one). I’m not sure if I left the SBC or if the SBC left me, but I eventually ended up pastoring in the UMC for a period of years––and then another ‘seed’ germinated and I left the UMC for God-only-knew what. I went from pastoring a church of nearly 1000 members to being a family member of about 75 ‘misfit’ believers who live the life instead of talk about it. No, it’s not perfect, but it is REAL and I thank God that there are still places where we can question and doubt and give and take and laugh and cry together. Realistically, I know there are other seeds germinating that I am not aware of, but I hope I’m learning to expectantly wait for a resurrection every time I die. gain, THANK YOU.

    • paula jones on December 13, 2016 at 12:26 am

      “Each day, we wake slightly altered, and the person we were yesterday is dead,” John Updike wrote, “so why … be afraid of death, when death comes all the time?”

    • thebeautifuldue on December 14, 2016 at 4:51 am

      Thank you, Paula. Misfits, huh? Something tells me I’d fit right in:)

  7. Gregg Griffin on January 14, 2017 at 3:43 am

    A lifelong friend and I are reading your journey. We are both 56 so it’s been a long and eventful journey. His son sent it to him, and then he to me. It’s nice to know someone who knows you almost as well as you know yourself. As for Southern Baptist Pastors….I am one. My best friend is a Deacon. We both have a beard, though I keep mine trimmed. I would have a pony tail if it would not drive certain members of my congregation insane….but I love them and they love me so will refrain. Perhaps when and If I retire…Thanks for the glimpse you give us into your life! I find it thought provoking and often relate very closely.

    • thebeautifuldue on January 14, 2017 at 2:15 pm

      Thanks for your comment, Gregg. Keep doing your good work!

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