Don't Miss This One (Tiny Letter #25 and the Devotion Baker)

I get by with a little help from my friends, and one of those friends that helps me get by is Preston Yancey. In the days of my own drying out, he said, "God wants good things for you too, you know." Those words have stuck with me more than just about any others. I suppose the Spirit still speaks. Preston is a Canon Theologian in the Anglican Church, which is to say he wears no dunce hat. He's written a wonderful new book, Out of the House of Bread: Satisfying Your Hunger for God with the Spiritual Disciplines, and it's available at Barnes & Noble, Amazon, or wherever fine books are sold. I've invited him to co-opt my Tiny Letter, to spend a few words walking us through one particular spiritual discipline.

And now, without further adieu, please welcome Preston Yancey.


How often do you ask Jesus what you have done well?

I wrote my latest book, Out of the House of Bread: Satisfying Your Hunger for God with the Spiritual Disciplines, after teaching a class for three semesters on spiritual practices and baking. Over the course of several weeks and several practices—several loaves of very good bread and some true disasters—we worked through and baked out different ways of approaching a life of devotion to God. At the end of each semester, I asked the cohort to reflect on what discipline had been the most significant and staying for them. Each time, people named a discipline like lectio divina, contemplating icons, or feasting. But they further named the Examen as the discipline that always stuck. While the others were appealing for seasons, useful at different times of life, the Examen felt like a continual work that could be--and should be--returned to often.

When I asked why so many people enjoyed the Examen, the answer was the same: "No one ever told me to ask Jesus what I had done well." In the church, we talk a lot about repentance, especially in the Lenten season, and we rightly should. We do ourselves and our God a disservice, however, if we don't orient ourselves in the direction of repentance with...

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Good Links (THIS {^} EDITION)

It's my firm belief that winter is giving way to spring. (If I write that enough, it will come true at some point; right?) The last winter weather blast is melting away. The courthouse roof is nearly snow free, and the Fayetteville folk are finally going about their merry ways without spinning rubber ruts into stoplight ice pockets. The slick sheen of ice patches can still be seen in the shadier spaces, but for the most part, we are thawing. This winter, we've been pounded by mother nature. She's seen fit to excuse the boys from fourteen days of school due to snow. This was, of course, just fine with the boys, until they discovered that they'd be in school well into who-knows-when. Everything has a tradeoff, I told them; they are learning the ways of give and take.

Speaking of give and take, today I'm giving you some good links for the taking. Take them. Own them. Enjoy them.


A few weeks back, my friend Bill Jensen sent me Mark Buchanan's book, Things Unseen. Jensen extolled his writing, said Buchanan was penning some really fine lines. I've begun reading the piece, and let me say--this feller can turn a phrase.  

In Things Unseen, he writes about the world around us, the groaning in our bones for heaven. "Better figure it out now; the world is booby-trapped." That's it, I think. I couldn't have said it better myself.


Are you familiar with the Facebook phenomenon otherwise known as "THIS {^}". If you are engaged in the internet world, there is no doubt you've run across this form of communication wherein an article is posted, tweeted, etc., without commentary save for one word, "This." My friend, Tim Willard, pens his commentary on the matter. Full of witty banter, and inside jokes re 90's action flicks and reformed theology, this must be read over your morning coffee.

Are you a fan of mythical creatures, of legends, of The Walking Dead? Then you'll love this post at Brain Pickings that explores Gabriela Giandelli's book Monsters and Legends. The illustrations in this post are incredible.

It's Lent. You're giving up coffee, right? Donuts? Liquor? Meat? Well whatever your personal sacrificial offerings might include, have you thought about adding a little something to the mix? How about donating all that spare change? My friend, Preston Yancey, is gathering a collective of people to chip in and help some good folks in Haiti. Consider his post?

I tell you, I like 'ol Micha Boyett.  Not only has she written a book that might just be the must-read work for every mother mired in the muck of mothering (alliteration anyone?), but she's also curating a lenten photograph series that's splendid. If you are an Instagram user, you'll want to check this out.

I returned from Ethiopia in January, awe-filled by the ways the Ethiopian church is reaching out to their orphans. They are a beautiful lot of people, our brothers and sisters in the Horn of Africa. Anyhow, I've been revisiting my posts on Ethiopia (especially this one about my friend Kabede), adoption, and adoption ethics. I hope you'll consider them, too.


I've been spinning the "Recovery" playlist like there's no tomorrow. It helps when the cravings for liquor come to roost. On that playlist is a fella by the name of Jon Bryant. This week, I started really digging into his music thanks to this tweet by Katie:

This week, I'd recommend you dig into his music, too.


Enjoy the song "David Livingstone," by Jon Bryant.

"You be Dave Livingstone, I'll be his African heart." What a killer line.

Good Links (Burning Down the House Edition)

Last night my friend Joel and I played Scrabble together. This was the opening word. Morose? Amber has been on a writing retreat for almost a week now, and the boys and I have managed not to burn the house down or otherwise flood it. This might not sound like a big deal, but yesterday I came home to discover that I had turned off neither the oven, nor the fire-breathing wall heater (from 1968), and the boys had left the bathwater running in the tub, said bathwater being near the rim and almost overflowing.

Women, leaving five boys alone in your home is a perilous idea--just saying.

Last night we went for pizza, and Titus was so tired from all the fun that he fell asleep at the table after eating. The other boys, on the other hand, claimed boundless energy. On the way home, they asked if they could pull an all-nighter and skip school, and as good of an idea as that seemed to a worn out daddy, I had to ask myself WWAD, or what would Amber do. I told them no, regrettably, and as a consolation gave them sugar drinks and sent them to bed. It seemed like a good idea in the moment.

Again, I reiterate--perilous.

Alas, all good things come to an end, and the bachelor pad week is drawing to a close. We have had the best time, but we miss our mama. (Come on home, lady!)

And speaking of things coming to an end, and misssing, and such, here are some links to round out the week. You won't want to miss them.


This week I finished reading Tim Kreider and Shawn Smucker's book, Refuse to Drown. The book chronicles one father's tough decision--would he turn in his child for a brutal triple murder that occurred in Manheim Township, Pennsylvania? As the father of three boys, this piece of straightforward story-telling was gripping, and made me wonder the lengths I'd go to protect my children. I'm not going to lie, more than once I misted up and felt a lump in the old throat. You can pick up a copy at Amazon, but be warned--this is heavy stuff.


1.  "The last time I thought about taking heroin was yesterday." This is the opening salvo of Russell Brand's amazing piece for the Guardian. If there's a must read piece for the week, this is it.

I leave him on the corner, a couple of rocks, a couple of $20 bags pressed into my sweaty palm. I get home, I pull out the foil, neatly torn. I break the bottom off a Martell miniature. I have cigarettes, using makes me need fags. I make a pipe for the rocks with the bottle. I lay a strip of foil on the counter to chase the brown. I pause to reflect and regret that I don't know how to fix, only smoke, feeling inferior even in the manner of my using. I see the foil scorch. I hear the crackle from which crack gets it's name. I feel the plastic fog hit the back of my yawning throat. Eyes up. Back relaxing, the bottle drops and the greedy bliss eats my pain. There is no girl, there is no tomorrow, there is nothing but the bilious kiss of the greedy bliss.

Even as I spin this beautifully dreaded web, I am reaching for my phone. I call someone: not a doctor or a sage, not a mystic or a physician, just a bloke like me, another alcoholic, who I know knows how I feel. The phone rings and I half hope he'll just let it ring out. It's 4am in London. He's asleep, he can't hear the phone, he won't pick up. I indicate left, heading to Santa Monica. The ringing stops, then the dry mouthed nocturnal mumble: "Hello. You all right mate?"

He picks up.

And for another day, thank God, I don't have to.

Make sure to check out the entire article at the Guardian.

2.  Preston Yancey wrote about a long exorcism, and it shook me up in the best way. Preston is a heck of a writer, and sometimes a story pulls you and and messes with you a bit. This is that kind of story.

What are we to do with the centuries of Christian tradition in which saints appear and Mary walks through chapels and consecrated Eucharistic Hosts bleed and limbs regrow and tongues are spoken?

3.  I stumbled across this video by my friend and fellow orphan-care advocate Kelley Nikondeha. Take a listen to her words. She has a something to say, and such a way of saying it.

And as good as this video is, this post at her place is almost better. You can tell when two people really love each other, can't you?

4. John Blase is at it again. He writes,

...In his awful incongruity
he was love perishing, pure gentleness in memory
and melody, Christmas in the wilderness.

What an amazing piece of poetry this week at his place. Check it out.

MUSIC VIDEOS (Because who doesn't miss the real MTV?)

Some of you know that I've been talking about addiction this week. I'm not going to retread it all here, but I can't seem to shake this song this week.

This one either.

Thanks for spending time at my place this week. Have a great weekend!

Good Links (The Prophetic Imaginative Edition)

Say hello to my friends Lamar and Scott. They are beautiful pair, no? These are just two of the talented and creative folks that allowed me to tag-along with them to Ethiopia last week. I hope to write more about the trip and the work of Help One Now in the coming days, but for now, I hope this photo suffices. Yes, I returned from Ethiopia and broke my blog fast. It was a good two month break, one in which I sorted some things out and got a few things straight. (We all need to do that from time to time; don't we?) And when I came back, lo and behold, the internet had kept on a-goin' without me. What's more, there's been some excellent content generated in the last week or so. Allow me to share some of my favorites with you.


Even though it's early in the year, Amber has taken to more intentional writing on her blog, and let me tell you the truth--she's on a roll. Yesterday, she shed her inhibitions and wrote, "Even in my youth, snorting powder off a stranger’s bathroom sink through a rolled-up dollar bill, I knew even then that God was about shaping me. I knew He would eventually make me His friend." You won't want to miss her piece, "To Love the Shape of Your Life."

Ah, the inimitable Preston Yancey! Yesterday, he came out swinging (at himself) on Deeper Story. He wrote "When This is my Best Life Now," an honest piece, one in which he threatened to write plainly about the questions that haunt. He threatens; he threatens; then he leaves us only with this:

"But I’ll tell you now, here, the current questions, the things that keep me up at night:

██████████████████ love ██████████████████████████████████

███████████████████████████████ God ████████████████████████████

█████ always ████

[Some content redacted to protect the author.]"

Thanks for the good words, Preston. This was, by a long shot, one of the cleverest pieces I've read in some time.

Who would I be if I didn't leave you with a little poetry? This week, Suzannah Paul pens "Playing for Keeps," a poem that tests the tension between unity and safe silence. She writes:

One-size-fits-few and yet we clip each others' wing to suit our style, curse the gifts another brings: a Trojan horse! a trick! a trap! Cast aspersions, try to flatten nuance, dulling spectrums, shrink to fit. Weary, wear, until we quit, but what if

Be sure to read the poem in its entirety at Suzannah's place.


Bless Mandy Steward (have you read her book yet? Why not?!?), who generously shared the following link with me. It's Walter Brueggemann on "prophetic imagination," poetry, and imagery. In the interview, Brueggemann claims, "the poetry keeps opening, and opening, and opening, whereas the doctrinal practice of the church is always to close, and close, and close until you are left with nothing that has any transformative power." An audacious claim?


This week, I'm taking the cheater's way out. On Monday, I put out a call for book recommendations. Many of you have responded with some great suggestions (see the comments). It's a good list. Feel free to add your picks, too!


I can't stop listening to this album by Robbie Seay. It traveled with me to Ethiopia, and in the evenings, while swinging in my hammock, I listened to it under the stars. More than once, I also used it to drown out the sounds of hyenas. It was a good traveling companion.


Lamar Stockton:


Do you feel like I've missed any great links from this week? Feel free to recommend your favorites in the comments below!

Good Links (The Community Edition)

I've been considering the power of confession and community these days. I suppose this is due in large part to the fact that, for the first time in 35 years, I broke down and visited an honest-to-God doctor of medicine whose particular field of expertise happens to be the inner workings of the human noggin. Some prefer to call these people "counselors," but I rather prefer to call them "noggin docs." It seems a more accurate descriptor. Come to find out, I've not dealt well with some of the issues relating to Titus' health, and I needed a bit of navigational assistance to get through some of those blacker waters. Without unpacking all of that here (because you really don't need to crawl into my noggin, and it'd be rather embarrassing anyhow), let me just say that I've found this kind of unpacking with a honest-to-God doctor to be most helpful.  I reckon I shouldn't have waited 35 years, and I think now that I'll not wait another 35 years to go back.

Anyhow, we discussed briefly the power of community, folks that can help hold your feet to the fire, or either throw you a lifeline depending on what you might need at the time. Community--that often misused, misunderstood word.  I realize now that Community is not all bread, wine, and jolly laughs around a common table. It's something else. Community shares loads, shares accounts, and--if it's really good--helps share responsibility. I've had that kind of community, and let me say it's sweet.

In any event, these things have set me to looking for community, or metaphors of community. This week, the internet served as one metaphor--so many good people sharing good words in spaces that were not their own. I reckon this is one aspect of community, the yielding of personal space for the sake of others.


It seems that all the rare-and-good people are releasing books 'round about the same time this year. Amber and I have extended a dinner invitation to a few of these books. "Come on in; take up space on my mantel," we've said. This week, we welcomed Emily Freeman's newest book into our home; in fact, we allowed her a piece of the prime Haines' household real estate.

photo (19)

Have you picked up your copy of A Million Little Ways: Uncover the Art You Were Made to Live? Grab a copy, explore all the ways you were created to create, even if you do not consider yourself an artist, musician, or writer.


I've said it before--I'm John Blase's number one fan. The Misery overtones are not lost on me, and just so you know, I've never once considered locking him in an Ozark bed and breakfast. In any event, this week he popped into A Deeper Church and wrote an incredible poem entitled "Vigilante." In part, he writes:

Now my eyes are tired and my beard gray in patches. But my nose has grown keen, able to smell the soul’s feet. So if you come leaping and dancing with the professed scent

of the Lord on your skin, know well I will be sniffing like wolves. I am not jaded. It is because love does not behave rudely, and the Lord told me to use the senses God gave me.

Suzannah Paul exemplified community this week, too, offering her space to Aaron Smith.  In "The Naked Ask," Smith discusses his need for a community of support. He writes,

This is me living in trusting you. Even though I doubt, I still ask. I do the work of asking because I believe that you provide, and often times it is through the hands, feet, and mouths of my fellow human beings. I ask, physically speaking the words because I believe you want to free me from the silence of shame as part of your healing in my life.

Do you know Addie Zierman? You should. She was once on fire, but that's another story altogether (an entire book, in fact). In any event, this week, she shared her space with Preston Yancey. In "One Small Change: Letting Go of the Plastic Jesus," Yancey uses his Old Testament chops to explore the idea of the strangers among us. You won't want to miss this one.


Perhaps this is a stretch, but I love the way Spotify creates a platform--a community, if you will--for musical artists. This week, I've been spinning various tunes, including Laura Marling's most recent offering Once I was an Eagle. She is the consummate poet, a dame with a fantastic sense of lyrical timing. Give a listen to "You Know," in which she croons, "bless all of those mothers who do all that they can just to take all of their faults out of the line."

This album may not be your cup of tea, but I'm guessing that more than one of you will dig it.


Enjoy a little more Marling, this time, live. She has a way about her. Doesn't she?