There is an American Sycamore in my backyard. Its canopy was raised in the early years of its growth so that all its energy was directed upward. It is an adult now, a hulking beast of a tree whose lowest arms shoot from its body thick as tree stumps. Its broad leaves are like small veined fans, and they catch the wind and swoosh what might be praise if you listen closely. This is my Father’s house. I am a child in something brilliant.
In the early evening I sat under the arms of that tree with a newish piece of spiritual literature. It was a preacher’s book, straightforward and without nuance. The metaphors were stripped to the bare minimum and otherwise, only instruction remained. “This is how we must now live!” it exclaimed. It lumbered along, offering wisdom—no doubt—without art and beauty. The work sought less to persuade and more to instruct me in the ways of quitting stupidity.
The book in itself had been well received, and don't get me wrong, it contains more than few good words. I remember, though, its release day, the way the machine spun up. (You know the machine; the one that demands content, content, content from them and dollars, dollars, dollars from us.) There was an effective marketing campaign, and the author made all the conference rounds. I’m sure it sold one-bazillion copies.
The veil was thin—the author was the guru and I was the student. There was no “us-ness,” in the pages. Instead, the author was reaching down to me, instructing me on the ways in which I could act better, or be better, or live more up to the Christian standard.
This brings me to the meat of the matter—I’m reading a great deal of dichotomized, us-and-them literature these days. We are the preachers and you are the congregants. We have the message, and you need to hear it. We start the movement, and you need to join it. The ease of social networking and mass marketing amplifies these messages.
Here is the irony, which is not lost on me: from time to time, I’m a part of this same dichotomizing machine. From time to time, I use the same dividing tactics in my writing. From time to time, I might claim that the yous need my language. I am, after all, only human. I have not learned the simple praise of the sycamores just yet.
Author, preacher, mega-conference speaker: engage me with the us-ness of your humanity. I am weary of being force-fed answers. Engage me with art and metaphor. Engage me with good metaphor, mediocre metaphor, or bad metaphor; I’ll take whatever you have to give. Lead me to the water and let me drink; stop strapping me to the waterboard and suffocating me with Truth.
I’ve been reading Home Behind the Sun: Connect With God in the Brilliance of the Everyday, by Timothy Willard and Jason Locy. I would be remiss if I did not tell you that Tim and I are friends, that we shared a memorable moment trout fishing on a firefly flecked evening that framed the spring-fed waters of the Spavinaw. Even still, and with as much unbiased fervor as I can muster, let me tell you something: this book is different. There is an us-ness in the pages.
When Tim and Jason released Home, the marketing machine spun up to a dull whisper. One evening the book wasn’t there. The next it was. It was that simple. There was very little fanfare, and aside from the glowing reviews from astute preview readers; Willard’s and Locy’s sermons were not trumpeted in the temples to whet our appetites. This, I think, was the most appropriate way to release Home.
Home reminds us that the beauty of God can be found in the everyday life of the working class, the proletariat. God is for us the people. He is found by the mechanic in the garage, the father who dallied about with women for years before finding grace, the NFL player who found comfort in his child’s death. God is found in a winter’s sunrise, in the cup of coffee at the local truck stop diner, in the meadows of Yosemite. God is manifest in the extension of forgiveness to our neighbor, in the dancing of our children. God is here, in this one world, amidst us. He is delivering messages of his Brilliance.
The Brilliance exists for us, for we-the-people. It is outside of marketing machines, and us-versus-them ministry. It is outside the mega-movements, the corporate structures, the Jesus machine. It is outside of the academy and the pseudo-academy. It is a message that exists outside of digital platforms and marketing machines. It is in the coffee shops, the garage, the bedroom. The Brilliance transmits a populist message—Christ is for the normal, everday, working-class Christian.
Engaging the Brilliance is a form of analog resistance.
Now, do not get me wrong. I hope Willard and Locy ride the speaker circuit. I hope they make use of the machine, the digital frameworks, the mega-church podiums. I hope that their words gather the momentum worthy of them. After all, the machine itself is not bad. It is a good and worthy tool, especially if the author or preacher has a God-word to delivery. (Simply put, the machine simply is.)
I hope, though, that as they make the rounds, the blog tours, as their book is reviewed, that Home continues to point to an eternal truth.
God created this world in its Brilliance. He created the sycamore, the Spavinaw, the family for us. God created this world for the people. And we-the-people are capable of deciphering this brilliance if we’ll open our eyes and take a gander. We the people are capable because God made himself “with us,” Emmanuel.