Year: 2021

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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