Year: 2021

Renovation of the Heart

“We live from our heart.”

        From that first line of Renovation of the Heart (Navpress, 2002), the late Dallas Willard drills deep into our spiritual core and the need for spiritual formation through Christ. Clearly, this book rolls out of a well-lived life—studious, devotional, and humble. Willard obviously thought deep and long about character, personality, destiny, societies, and cultures. But mostly he thought about God.

       This book is so clear, gentle, and well organized. It’s like Willard discovered a big stack of unkempt theological firewood, then began to stack it neatly. Not too neatly, but just enough to help readers think as they read. Willard makes us full partners in arriving at discernments of truth. Now, what follows is not a review, but rather a rock skipping across the pond of this book.

       First, Willard understood how evil germinates in the human heart. That’s why too many people, including children, live along various fronts of “withdrawal and assault” from those who should care for them. That alienation and brutality eventually leads to the slaughter of millions from “enlightened” thinkers, leaders, and governments.

       Jesus, the eternal Son, is the largest figure in all of history because His life reversed the corruption that invaded all people in all times and places. We were designed to love and to be loved by God. When we refuse it—when we seek or find love in any other place, thing, idea, event, or person—we miss our purpose and end up imprisoned to sin. We all live under government. The only question is, who’s government—His or ours?

       While reading this book, I often thought of Paul Batalden’s great slice of wisdom: “Every system is perfectly designed to get the results it gets.” When we live in anger, weariness, lust, fear, “assault and withdrawal,” and other human conditions, it is because we have perfectly designed our lives to get them. The only answer is to forsake our own way and seek the King and His Kingdom. 

        First, as a foundational issue, Willard sees six basic aspects in our lives:

1.    Thought (images, concepts, judgments, inferences)

2.    Feeling (sensation, emotion)[1]

3.    Choice (will, decision, character)

4.    Body (action, interaction with the physical world)

5.    Social context (personal and structural relations to others)

6.    Soul (the factor that integrates all the above to form one life)

       Willard doesn’t present those aspects as contradictory to the triad view of human life—body, soul, and spirit. He simply lays them out as the crucial zones of life.

       Sadly, most people do not even understand that construct. As a result, they are lost. And, as Willard explains, “Something that is lost is…not where it is supposed to be, and therefore it is not integrated into the life of the one to whom it belongs and to whom it is lost. Think of what it means when the keys to your house or car are lost. They are useless to you, no matter how much you need them and desire to have them and no matter what fine keys they may be. And when we are lost to God, we are not where we are supposed to be in his world and hence are not caught up into his life. The ultimately lost person is the person who cannot want God. Who cannot want God to be God… Wanting God to be God is very different from wanting God to help me.” 

Right there is the crisis point of all life. Who owns us? On that, Willard comes down the track like a freight train:

       “Christian spiritual formation rests on this indispensable foundation of death to self and cannot proceed except insofar as that foundation is being firmly laid and sustained…Covetousness is self-idolatry, for it makes my desires paramount. It means I would take what I want if I could.”

       And that is why, “What we call ‘civilization’ is a smoldering heap of violence constantly on the verge of bursting into flame.” 

 Transformation of the Mind and Body

Willard, author (The Divine Conspiracy and other books), professor, and director of the University of Southern California’s School of Philosophy, was a true scholar. So, he understandably cared about clear thinking. He writes, “Bluntly, to serve God well we must think straight; and crooked thinking, unintentional or not, always favors evil. And when the crooked thinking gets elevated into group orthodoxy, whether religious or secular, there is always, quite literally, ‘hell to pay.’ That is, hell will take its portion, as it has repeatedly done in the horrors of world history.” 

       And he also focuses on the transformation of the human body. “For good or for evil, the body lies right at the center of the spiritual life …our body is a good thing. God made it for good. That is why the way of Jesus Christ is so relentlessly incarnational. The body should be cherished and properly cared for, not as our master, however, but as a servant of God.

       “Incarnation is not just an essential fact about Jesus: that ‘Christ is come in the flesh.’ Rather, he came in the flesh, a real human body, in order that he might bring redemption and deliverance to our bodies… This present life is to be caught up now in the eternal life of God. But of course ‘the life I now live in the flesh’ is inseparable from the mortal body I now have. So it too must become holy, must ‘come over’ to Christ’s side.”

Social Dimensions

The geniuine tragedy of human life sweeps in when damaged people get together. Toxic thinking, the centrality of feelings, corrupt choices, ignorance of the body, and disintegrating souls produce societies that abuse and destroy people. Especially children.

       “The spiritual malformation of children is the inevitable result. Their little souls, bodies, and minds cannot but absorb the reality of assault and withdrawal in the climate where their parents or other adults are constantly engaged in them. And of course they are soon in the line of fire themselves… in such a context you can almost see the children shrivel.

       “Their only hope of survival is to become hardened… Hardened, lonely little souls, ready for addiction, aggression, isolation, self-destructive behavior, and for some, even extreme violence, go out to mingle their madness with one another and nightmarish school grounds and ‘communities.’ They turn to their bodies for self-gratification and to control others, or for isolation and self-destruction.

       “The wonder is not that they sometimes destroy one another, but that the adults who produce them and live with them can, with apparent sincerity, ask ‘Why?’ Do they really not know? Can they really not see the poison in the social realm?”

       Willard also laments western society’s inept responses… “sickeningly shallow solutions to the human problem, such as ‘education’ or ‘diversity’ or ‘tolerance…’ they do not come close to the root of the human problem.”

The Covenant Community 

Finally, Willard turns to Romans 12:9-21 for a comprehensive list of what gatherings of covenant communities, local churches should look like:

1.    Letting love be completely real

2.    Abhorring what is evil 

3.    Clinging to what is good

4.    Being devoted to one another in family-like love 

5.    Outdoing one another in giving honor

6.    Serving the Lord with ardent spirit and all diligence

7.    Rejoicing in hope

8.    Being patient in troubles

9.    Being devoted constantly to prayer

10. Contributing to the needs of the saints

11. Pursuing (running after) hospitality

12. Blessing persecutors instead of cursing them 

13. Being joyful with those who are rejoicing and being sorrowful with those in sorrow

14. Living in harmony with one another

15. Not being haughty, but fitting in with the “lowly” in human terms

16. Not seeing yourself as wise

17. Never repaying evil for evil

18. Having due regard for what everyone takes to be right 

19. Being at peace with everyone, so far as it depends on you

20. Never taking revenge, but leaving that to whatever God may decide 

21. Providing for needy enemies

22. Not being overwhelmed by evil, but overwhelming evil with good

Willard says, “Just think for a moment what it would be like to be a part of a group of disciples in which this list was the conscious, shared intention, and where it was actually lived out…”

Transforming the Soul

This chapter, one of the book’s best, gets to the most crucial issue: the health of the human soul. He writes, “The soul is that aspect of your whole being that correlates, integrates, and enlivens everything going on the various dimensions of the self… And the person with the ‘well-kept heart,’ the soul will be itself properly ordered under God and in harmony with reality…. For such a person, the human spirit will be in correct relationship to God. With his assisting grace, it will bring the soul into subjection to God and the mind (thoughts, feelings) into subjection to the soul. The social context and the body will then come into subjection to thoughts and feelings that are in agreement with truth and with God’s intent and purposes for us.”

       One of the best paragraphs in the book: “… The Psalm 1 man delights in the law that God has given. Note, he delights in it (verse 2 ). He loves it, is thrilled by it, can’t keep his mind off of it. He thinks it is beautiful, strong, wise, an incredible gift of God’s mercy and grace. He therefore dwells upon it day and night, turning it over and over in his mind and speaking it to himself…The result is a flourishing life.”

       “… Our soul is like an inner stream of water, which gives strength, direction, and harmony to every other element of our life. When that stream is as it should be, we are constantly refreshed and exuberant in all we do, because our soul itself is then profusely rooted in the vastness of God and his Kingdom, including nature; and all else within us is enlivened and directed by that stream.” 


[1]  According to Willard, “a great part of the disaster of contemporary life lies in the fact that it is organized around feelings. People nearly always act on their feelings… the will is then left at the mercy of circumstances that evoke feelings.” 

Your Voice

Your voice, as distinct as a fingerprint, gives you the chief instrument you will use throughout your life to engage and perhaps change the world. It does so through formal language symbols, as well as grunts and groans, laughter, singing, sighing, crying, coughs, whistles, and whispers.

         That’s why your voice (oral, written, artistic, or praying) is one of the greatest treasures in your life. It allows you to send your unique message to your family, community, place of worship, nation, the world, history, and to God. How you use your voice is a very big deal. 

         My brother, Vernon, a retired Sheriff, says, “The right to remain silent is one of our most precious freedoms. Everyone should try it.” My friend Glen Roachelle once said something similar to me, “You don’t have to condemn anything. Just be silent.” I’ve found those twin words of counsel to be excellent guides for living.

The Creative Voice 

God spoke the whole universe into existence (see Psalm 33:6, Hebrews 11:3, other scriptures). That is how He creates. Because we humans are fashioned in His image, we too possess creative vocal power. Our words live. Like seeds, they create new life when they fall into receptive soil. 

         So, whether your message, your song, is delivered as a solo or as a member of the trio or choir, you can walk through the world releasing words that create, encourage, and bless. Think of it, when you speak a confident and smiling “Good morning” to your spouse and children, you just designed the environment of their whole day. And you can do that at the gym, your workplace, restaurants, and every other place in your daily path.   

         So, if you hold the historic power to create such fine results, why would you allow others to draft your voice into the army of their reactions? Just because others choose to speak for or against current events doesn’t mean I need to speak about them. My voice does not belong to our national echo chamber. 

         When I venture into Facebook or other sites in the public square, I don’t stand up for America, Trump, Biden, Christianity, or my mom. Why? Because wisdom says every “yes” is also a “no.” Therefore, if I take the time to speak or write about Dr Fauci, I have to say “no” to my own voice and vocation. Jesus said He only spoke what He heard His Father speak. That means He had to say “no” to many other people and purposes—even good ones.

Your Signature Sound

But it goes deeper than that. Your signature sound comes through life experiences that excavate deep caverns in your heart. When specific (and often painful) things hit you—the fatality car wreck, a promotion, the birth of your child, a miscarriage, that award, or bankruptcy—they dig new spaces in your life. Forever after, when air pushes up through the subterranean formations of your life (like the collapsed mineshaft of a longstanding dream), it creates vocal sounds unlike any other human on earth. 

         That’s why we usually know after one syllable or sigh if we can trust the one speaking—we hear a tone, a resonance, that delivers critically important reconnaissance. Just by the sound that came booming (or creeping) up out of his or her underground zone. After working with James Earl Jones in the 1990s, I learned the truth of his famous voice. It rumbles out of the bedrock integrity of his life.

Caring for Your Voice

A well-known singer explained to me the great care she must maintain over her vocal capacities. Specifically, she must prepare sufficiently, pace herself, get enough hydration and sleep, cool down after a performance, and find proper rest and recovery time. Like an athlete, she spends more time training and protecting than playing on the field. 

         When she told me that, I had to question if I value and respect my voice enough to focus on caring for it as she does. I also had to ask why I think I have the time and strength to criticize others, indulge controversy, or engage trivial matters.

         I know some people have a prophetic or activist gift. They speak out as they do because God created them that way. I salute them. But I also know the centrifuge of our times pull many others away from their creative purpose. It spins them out into the orbit of things they cannot possibly create, repair, or even influence.

         But, closer to home, we all have the great honor of dropping words into the human hearts we encounter each day. That is a very high and noble calling. Might be worth working in that realm for the new year coming up. 

Joy Beyond the Walls of the World

Although we are multi-dimensional beings, most people only understand their body and personality. But the largest part, our spirit, our temple, is our least understood and most ignored dimension. Why is that? I think it goes something like this:

         A newborn baby only knows the breast. In time, other perceptions—voice, temperature, noise, pain, balance, motion, taste, smells, faces, language—awaken that young life. Soon, all five senses help integrate the child into her family and society.

         Sometime later, an awareness of the Holy arrives. 

         Perhaps it appears when the child first gazes into the night canopy of the cosmos. Later, the human heart hears a whispered invitation to step up to that holy realm. Now he or she will rise toward union with the Creator.

         But civilization seems to resist our response to the invitation. Well, of course it does. The foreheads of many cultural “experts”—like journalists, politicians, scientists, entertainers, and authors—appear permanently furrowed by darkness, cynicism, guilt, and fear; that’s why their voices scold and their touches injure. 

         Why do we even pay attention to them? Since we don’t know them personally; we have no idea what they know, believe, honor, embrace, or reject. So, why do we call them into our homes and invite them to open their thoughts?

         Psst, hey, you…the experts don’t know. Appearing on The View or The Five does not verify wisdom. 

Eucatastrophe

Many years ago, as I mowed several acres of grass with a tractor and bush hog, I suddenly realized my wallet had slipped out of my back pocket. Panic! My driver’s license, cash, and credit cards were gone. Probably chewed up by the bush hog. 

         For quite a long time, I walked slowly over the ground I’d already mowed, looking for shredded leather and paper. Nothing.

         As a last resort, I prayed. Earnestly. 

         Then I climbed back on the tractor to finish the mowing. A half hour later, when I saw a big rock in my path, I stopped the tractor and jumped down to move it. When I did, my right foot landed on my wallet! I will not live long enough to understand what happened. I hadn’t come near that spot earlier.  

         Aside from the joy of finding what was lost, that moment reaffirmed the creature’s connection with his Creator. I asked Him for my wallet. He wasn’t too busy. 

         J. R. R. Tolkien added the Greek prefix “Eu” (connoting “good”) to “catastrophe,” (from its rare meaning of “end of the story”) to coin the word, “eucatastrophe.” He defined it as “a sudden and favorable resolution of events,” or “Joy beyond the walls of the world…”[1]

         Think of the times when the shadow of loss darkened. Then, after standing face-to-face with “the end,” full joy suddenly invaded your life. Although you didn’t deserve it, pure delight rushed in from outside your familiar world. Finding my wallet was such a moment. 

The Audacity of Joy

Joy is not a response; it is a deliberate dance before Heaven and earth. Your whole being—body, soul, and spirit—chooses to celebrate. Audaciously. You don’t wait for circumstances to launch or approve your joy. You just do it; at noon or midnight, in full health or dying, and adorned by wealth or poverty. Be joyful. Hell or high water. 

            The Bible speaks of “Jesus, the author and perfecter of faith, who for the joy set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame…”[2]

         Jesus knew He was destined for a barbaric death. But He also saw the eucatastrophe behind and beyond the end. His joy was not a response to the cross, but rather a bold declaration throughout the universe that He would win by crushing (not avoiding) the cross. As the author and perfecter of faith, Jesus pulled joy from somewhere beyond the walls of the world. Even in death.

         And as His sons and daughters, we can do that too.  Go ahead. Practice joy. Every day. Go past the borders of your experience to tap into the new and future world. Then bring its power and freshness back into your circumstances. You may find others are also waiting for the new world and its joy.


[1]  Verlyn Flieger & Douglas A. Anderson, Tolkien on Fairy-Stories (Glasgow: HarperCollins, UK edition, 2014)

[2] Hebrews 12:2 taken from the NEW AMERICAN STANDARD (NAS): Scripture taken from the NEW AMERICAN STANDARD BIBLE®, copyright© 1960, 1962, 1963, 1968, 1971, 1972, 1973, 1975, 1977, 1995 by The Lockman Foundation. Used by permission.

More Than A Story

In November 2001, Jason Chinn drove out of Saratoga Springs, New York, headed west. Hauling all his earthly possessions, he settled into a 28-hour drive to Colorado to marry his lovely Erin. When his old Toyota died east of Buffalo, he ditched it like a bag of snakes and jumped back on the road in a rented car. 

         As a man on a mission, he drove straight through to Colorado Springs. Eight states. No meals, motels, or roadside naps. Just bathrooms, burgers, and fuel. If you knew Erin, you’d understand. 

         I love my nephew’s story. It confirms our Jack and Mary Chinn family culture—we love our mates. We see them as God’s gift, not just to us as individuals, but to our unfurling estate. We know grand passion because we know grand purposes—marriage, family, nation, faith. It’s all threaded through our walk with God. 

         It also reveals life in focus. How long since you knew that kind of single-mindedness; you know, the unrelenting, damn-the-torpedoes, “get-outta-my-way-Sheriff,” or pointing the car west and moving like a bullet?

The Real Story

Have you noticed we all now live in the grip of “the story?” As an editor, publisher, and writer, I understand and love that (it pays the bills). But I’m also concerned about it. 

         Over the past few decades, too many stories have become polluted by the big lie of ME! Insisting that our life experiences, whatever they are, dignify us, the personal story has turned into a tacky float in a long parade of human exhibitionism.

         Any story of enduring value connects us to a higher purpose and pulse. A circular drama that begins and ends in my navel is not only soul-deadening but eye-rolling dull. We need more than our vaccine philosophy, sexuality, religious opinions, political preferences, or self-promotion if we hope to tell a story that inspires others.

         Face it; people may want to hear your story, but they are looking for more than you in it. They want to see through you to the magnificent drama behind all of life. They all want to learn something about their own origins, purpose, and destiny. If they don’t connect with that in your tale, they move along. 

Can We Get Beyond the Templates?

Stories have formed personal, familial, tribal, even national identities for millennia. They pulled people around dinner tables, campfires, road trips, bars, and churches, and opened windows on life’s possibilities. 

         As a publisher and editor of many books, I’ve never heard the same story twice from those who lived it. They are all original. Yet every published, filmed, or staged story seems to conform to the templates formed by media empires. And too many original stories have been hammered into clichéd narratives about contemporary issues. 

         TV coverage of tornado stories, for example, seems to feature the Sunday morning church service following Tuesday’s tornado. Parishioners remind the reporter that the church is people, not this pile of bricks. As we watch a B-roll of teddy bears and hymnals in the weeds, uprooted trees, and splintered pews, the voice-over questions the very idea of a loving God. Not just a stale and tiring angle, but gouge-your-eyes-out-with-a-fork bor-ring.

         What would happen if they let those who survived the tornado tell their own story? Perhaps they would tell one that spins, pops, jumps, and surprises.  

Just Live!

Now, you do have a story. Everyone does. 

         But here’s a secret: living precedes story. A real story does not come by planning; it sneaks up on you. Jason Chinn did not storyboard his cross-country trip. Like him, we all stumble into great stories. 

         That’s because our life (body, soul, spirit) is a true mystery. Somewhat like a murmuration of starlings—it swells, shrinks, oozes, and balloons far beyond the boundaries of our physical self or even our consciousness. 

         Live that life! Live as The Message Bible interprets Romans 12:1— “Take your everyday, ordinary life—your sleeping, eating, going-to-work, and walking-around life—and place it before God as an offering…”

         Do that, and who knows? Somewhere down the road, you may share what happened that night with a stranger on a plane. And he or she will cry like a rainstorm or laugh till a lung pops out. 

         When that happens, call me! 

Losing the Label

The old scientist told us he spent his early years studying beetles. 

But that all blew apart one summer when he retreated to his cabin, high in the mountains of Scotland, to work on his beetle collection (he didn’t explain how one does that). There, on a lazy summer afternoon, he spread his cases of beetle specimens on tables and sawhorses in the grassy clearing near his cabin. 

Then, as he bent over to work on a particular display, puffing his pipe, an eagle swooped down and shrieked; its enormous shadow darkened his field of sight. In that seismic moment, when he looked up at the majestic wingspan, he knocked his specimen cases to the ground. Beetles popped out of their spaces and were instantly “gone with the wind.”

He told us he never looked down again. He devoted the rest of his life to eagles.

My Eagle

I understand. I’ve been known as a “Christian” since one Sunday morning in my 12th year when I “accepted Jesus” in an emotionally intense service. Later, when our family drove down to my grandparents’ farm for lunch, my Grandma smiled, pulled me into her apron, and said, “Gonna be a little worker for Jesus, aren’t you?” 

But I did not want to work for Jesus. I wanted to be a boy. And I knew God didn’t need me. But, like a beetle pinned to velvet, over time I fell into squirming and then soul-deadening conformity with my religious culture.  

Then one day, without warning or permission, The Eagle dropped from the sky and screeched over my beetle boards. From that moment, I started losing my identity as a “Christian.”  

Why?

The Christian label implies the search is over, that it’s all been established and stuffed; Christianity has become the taxidermy of the Christ. That label also isolates Christians from those who are not. But the main problem is the exchange of institution over family. 

Is Christianity a Family?

When the Bible references the relationship between God and His people, it speaks the language of family—father, mother, son, daughter, brother, sister. 

But while Christian culture uses those terms, family is simply not its first language. I mean, my dad never pleaded with me to become a Chinn. Nor did he ever explain the rules of being one. I never made a decision to accept Dad. 

And although Jack Chinn died, he is still here. I see him every day in my mirror; I hear his voice every time I speak. In an astounding mystery, now I am him. In a very real sense, my brothers and I and our tribes now comprise his body in the earth. Over the years, Dad has been formed in each of us. He will be with us forever.

     Shouldn’t a relationship with God be at least as natural and familial as that?

      Look; I don’t have a Chinn “worldview.” My memories of Dad and the documents of his life—his war diary, letters, hometown newspaper articles, taped messages, etc. —do not form a grid through which I measure other people or perspectives. 

       Furthermore, if I must proclaim my parentage to everyone I meet— “Excuse me, sir; I’m Jack Chinn’s son. Could I share what my father said?”—the village will soon and correctly consider me nuts. 

High Flight

There’s nothing wrong with people choosing to become Christian (or Muslim, socialist, vegetarian, or Texan). But the cerebral or conventional approaches to faith are dead beetles compared to His life being birthed in us (Galatians 4:19).

You don’t have to groan, grovel, or grunt your way into the Lord’s family. We are all free to be fully human. You can soar up into a high-altitude life, confident in your paternity, and knowing you can live far above the claustrophobia of religion, politics, self-preservation, fear, and futility.        

      Settle it once and forever; like an eagle, you were created for the updrafts of grand adventures. Ironically, that life was best described 80 years ago, not by a theologian, but by a military pilot, John Gillespie Magee, Jr. Read his poem, High Flight, as a sketch of soaring in full confidence into the Presence of God:

Oh! I have slipped the surly bonds of Earth
And danced the skies on laughter-silvered wings;
Sunward I’ve climbed, and joined the tumbling mirth
Of sun-split clouds, — and done a hundred things
You have not dreamed of — wheeled and soared and swung
High in the sunlit silence. Hovering there,
I’ve chased the shouting wind along, and flung
My eager craft through footless halls of air . . .

Up, up the long, delirious burning blue
I’ve topped the wind-swept heights with easy grace
Where never lark, or ever eagle flew —
And, while with silent, lifting mind I’ve trod
The high untrespassed sanctity of space,
Put out my hand, and touched the face of God.

A Sunday Kind of Love

When my parents met, Mom melted into the full embrace of Jack Chinn’s courteous, gentle, and protective presence. Those qualities were not empty or misleading enticements. They revealed a true and complete man, one raised by good parents, not coyotes.

         Dad was a gentle warrior. In 1942, he joined the great American roar at enemies that threatened the world. But his boys never saw anything but care and kindness toward our mother. Dad never allowed Mom to enter a zone of danger, or even mild discomfort. 

         I thought of my parents when I recently heard (for the first time) an old song, “A Sunday Kind of Love.” Recorded by Dinah Washington, Etta James, Ella Fitzgerald, and others over the years, the lyrics spoke of needing strong arms to enfold, someone to care, and one who would show the way.

         So, what was a “Sunday kind of love?” 

         It was/is simply love at its best—sparkling clean, unhooked from the sweaty demands of labor, joining the community in worship, and moving in the rhythms of rest. That love cares enough to clean up, wise up, and show up; who knows, your future spouse may be sitting behind you. A Sunday kind of love made people giddy with possibilities.   

         That era was not perfect, but those “church people” knew and produced social stability. Let’s face it; one of society’s major purposes is to confirm men in their proper roles. When that does not happen, they careen into vicious cycles of unemployment, abandonment, drugs, alcohol, and kaleidoscopic violence. Aimless males will tear the place apart; ask any cop, judge, ER doctor, K-12 teacher, or prison guard.

         Look; that Sunday-Kind-of-Love societal pattern worked. And its highest validation came through the people it produced. There’s a reason we call them the “greatest generation.”

Two Roads

So, what happened? Did we forget the marvelous story of what creates a great generation? Or did we just change our minds about how to get there?

         The 20th century and the first two decades of the 21st have provided a clear look at the two roads that pass through western culture. 

         Millions traveled the old road, the one constructed over millennia with classic virtues. But it slowly fell out of favor and funding. And without proper maintenance, it dropped into disrepair. About the same time, new studies from universities, think tanks, and government agencies suggested new and cool materials that would take us… somewhere. Faster.

         So, we built the new road, a superhighway fabricated from that new stuff—bytes, clicks, and dopamine hits. And we created the gadgets to manage it. But it seems we missed some details; we didn’t think through the possibilities and inevitabilities. 

         Wendell Berry once made his commencement audience face stubborn facts: “The civil rights movement has not given us better communities. The women’s movement has not given us better marriages or better households. The environment movement has not changed our parasitic relationship to nature… we are left with theory and the bureaucracy and the meddling that come with theory.”[1]

         Berry did not degrade any of those movements, but he did warn that ideals and programmatic approaches carry consequences. 

         More than that, he disputed a materialist vision of society, one that insists humans can design a better way of life all by themselves. Just as doctors have to face the side effects, so do those who care about society, culture, and history. Berry effectively reminded his young audience they will never build better trees from lumber bought at Home Depot. 

A Whole New Way

I’m not advocating going back to the old Sunday-Kind-of-Love road. We can’t and shouldn’t. That road was never designed to last. It was only a shadow of a whole new way of life which comes from the Designer of it all. And it brings everyone—male, female, young, old, rich, poor, impaired, whole, and from every tribe, tongue, and nation on earth—into safety, rest, and love at its best. 

         That new way is not traditional, nostalgic, romantic, American, or religious. It flows out from a higher domain, a realm led by a generous and magnificent King. That’s why Jesus taught his disciples to pray, “Thy Kingdom Come. Thy will be done, on earth as it is in Heaven.” 

         But too often the futility of our times leads people to keep begging “the Big Guy upstairs” to bless our mess. And all the while He just invites us to follow Him out of our chaos and craziness, on up to the higher ground of His place, the realm of Love at its best. Everywhere, over everything, for everyone, and forever.


[1] Wendell Berry, Commencement Address (College of the Atlantic, Bar Harbor, Maine, 1989)

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