Posts tagged with: Stephen Grabill

FLOW_EXILEIn the various discussions surrounding the Acton Institute’s film series, For the Life of the World: Letters to the Exiles, a common response has been to call into question the basic notion of Christians existing in a state of “exile.”

The general complaint is that it’s somehow hyperbolic, given the privileged position of the modern West in the scope of human history. From here, things typically descend into detailed historical debates about the realities of America vs. the Middle East vs. the Roman Empire vs. Babylonian rule, and so on.

But as Russell Moore now helpfully points out, such a critique assumes a false definition of “exile” that most simply misses the point.

Exile has nothing to do with some temporal decline from this earthly rule to that — in our case, from some nostalgic memory of a “Christian nation” to the present “post-Christian” dysphoria. “The political and cultural climate of America does not make us exiles,” Moore reminds us, and such a perspective “just continues the triumphalist rhetoric of the last generation.”

Indeed, Christians have never been “at home” in America: (more…)

Blog author: jsunde
Thursday, April 16, 2015

In the latest video blog from For the Life of the World, Evan Koons recites Rainer Maria Rilke’s powerful poem, “Go to the Limits of your Longing” from Book of Hours.

“In this poem is the whole of what it means to live for the life of the world,” Koons explains. “God speaks to each of us as he makes us.”

The poem offers a compelling complement to the conclusion of the series, in which Stephen Grabill reminds us that the “church maintains the hope of the not yet by living the kingdom now.” We are the “lived memory of God’s purposes in the world,” he says. “The church is called to be the very embodiment of the kingdom to come.” (more…)

“This is useless. This is gratuitous. This is wonder.” –Evan Koons

When we consider the full realm of Christian stewardship, our minds immediately turn to areas like business, finance, ministry, the arts, education, and so on — the places where we “get things done.”

But while each of these is indeed an important area of focus, for the Christian, stewardship also involves creating the space to stop and simply behold our God. Yes, we are called to be active and diligent and fruitful in acts of service and discipleship, but at the core, what is driving the work of our hands? Do we take the time to simply delight in our God, to behold the beauty of his creation, to reflect on his goodness, to fear him deeply and profoundly, to open our hearts and eyes and ears to the whispers of the Holy Spirit?

In For the Life of the World: Letters to the Exiles, they call this space the Economy of Wonder, and over at the FLOW blog, Evan Koons has been leaning on heavyweights like Peter Kreeft and Hans Urs von Balthasar to remind us of its importance. In a society where everything is weighed and rewarded and justified according to its pragmatic use, how do we relish in God’s divine mystery? (more…)

lanterns1Given the many warnings about the “crisis of Christianity,” the inevitable rise of secularization, and the decline of our public witness (etc.), it may not be all that surprising that the most popular verse of 2014 focuses on the key tension the underlies it all.

According to data compiled by YouVersion, the popular Bible app, that verse is none other than Romans 12:2: “Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.”

This peculiar position has confounded Christians since the beginning, and serves as the primary focus in Acton’s new film series, For the Life of the World: Letters to the Exiles. How are we to be in the world but not of it? How are we to live and engage and create and exchange in our current state of exile? Beyond simply getting a free ticket to heaven, what is our salvation actually for in the here and now?

We can respond to this in a variety of ways, and as Evan Koons notes early on in the series, the more common tendency is to resort to three faulty strategies: fortification (“hunker down!”), domination (“fight, fight, fight!”), or accommodation (“meh, whatevs”).

Each stems from its own set of errors, but all tie in some way to an undue divorce or clumsy conflation of the “sacred” and the “secular.” We embrace one to the detriment of the other, falling prey to our own humanistic imaginations, and in the end, leaning on the very “ways of the world” we are seeking to avoid. We hide; we coerce; we blend in. We embrace God’s message even as we ignore his method.

Yet God has called us to a more mysterious obedience: to hear and heed his voice, to conform to his will and purposes, and in turn, to serve and spread the love of God in all areas. To seek the good of our neighbors, the flourishing of our cities, and the prospering of the nations across all spheres and through all “modes of operation”: our work, families, education, creativity, political involvement, and so on. (more…)

Untitled4“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was with God in the beginning. Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made.“ -John 1:1-3

In Episode 5 of For the Life of the World, Evan Koons wonders about the purpose of knowledge. “Is it about power?” he asks. “Man’s conquest of nature? …a means for securing a healthy nest egg for retirement?”

As he eventually discovers, knowledge is about far more than what it can do for us. “Knowledge is a gift,” Evan concludes, “and like all gifts in God’s oikonomia, it points us outside of ourselves. Certainly knowledge helps us to do more, but more importantly, it helps us to be more.”

As Stephen Grabill puts it elsewhere in the episode, “knowledge sees beyond scarcity and reveals abundance,” because, at its most basic level, it’s really about uncovering the source of all abundance — better seeing, knowing, and understanding our Creator — and sowing seeds of light and life in the world around us. (Some economists are beginning to notice this at a broader level.) (more…)

Blog author: jsunde
Thursday, November 6, 2014

cutting-roomCan something as simple as a shoe build civilization?

I recently had the pleasure of touring the Red Wing Shoe Museum in Red Wing, Minnesota, home of the Red Wing Shoe Company, and the answer became quite clear.

Founded in 1905, Red Wing Shoes has from the very beginning focused on producing boots and shoes for those who “work on their feet.” At a time when blacksmiths, carpenters, lumberjacks, and farmers had few options for footwear, founder Charles Beckman grew frustrated with the status quo, and responded by building “purpose-built” footwear to meet the needs of manual laborers.

Their slogan: “Work is our work.”

The company quickly gained a reputation for high-quality shoes and boots, and still maintains its status as a premier shoemaker for specific trades, supplying footwear for everyone from snake handlers to skyscraper builders to oil rig workers to restaurant chefs. Although most of us wouldn’t think to look at the feet of those who provide such services, the company continues to quietly empower labor of all kinds across the world. (more…)

Word is continuing to spread about For the Life of the World: Letters to the Exiles, the latest film series from the Acton Institute, which seeks to expand the Christian imagination when it comes to whole-life stewardship and cultural engagement.

With screenings and appearances at places like Q Nashville, Flourish San Diego, Acton U, Trinity Evangelical Divinity School, and Regent University, to name just a few, Christians from a variety of backgrounds and perspectives are getting a taste of the series and responding with enthusiastic praise.

Andy Crouch offers the following:

Daniel Melvill Jones calls it “outstanding for its cohesive use of creativity and imagination”:

Every episode features at least one visual illustration that later becomes an analogy for the teaching. A Rube Goldberg machine that attempts to cook Evan’s breakfast backfires and become an example of the banality of utilitarian work. A ruined paper lantern that lands in Evan’s front yard is later used as a moving visual illustration of how our lives in the world are offered up to God as a prayer. A punk motorcyclist arrives on Evan’s front porch and uses puppets to tell a illustrating the importance of a believers call to hospitality…

…Anyone who watches the series will be introduced or reminded of these doctrines, but Evan is not content to let such truths sit dormant on the view’s mental shelf. He brings them home by closing every episode with a “letter to exiles”, a hand written monologue. In these letters encourages us with the reminder that we carry these truths into our lives as the redeemed children of God, not through our own power but through the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.


mourn-work-woundI recently wrote about “wounding work,” a term Lester DeKoster assigns to work that, while meaningful and fruitful, is “cross bearing, self-denying, and life-sacrificing” in deep and profound ways. Take the recent reflections of a former Methodist minister, who, upon shifting from ministry into blue-collar work at a factory, struggled to find meaning and purpose.

“I am not challenged at all in this work,” he writes, “and I want something more.”

Although DeKoster helps us recognize that meaning and purpose do reside in such work, and that our day-to-day labor is not exempt from the sacrifice and obedience bound up in the Christian life, the pain for those of us in the midst of all this is likely to persist, even if for a season.

On this, Evan Koons continues the discussion over at the FLOW blog: “To stress that all work is about gift-giving, to marvel at its vast community of relationships, or allude to the suffering one share’s with Christ by remaining in said environments, doesn’t make the experience any more pleasant.”

What, then, are we to do amid such suffering? How ought we to respond, whether as wounded workers ourselves, or as those who simply serve and disciple alongside those who suffer? As Koons explains, there is no quick-and-easy cookie-cutter “solution,” spiritually, economically, or otherwise, and going down the paths to peace that Christ does provide will inevitably involve those same familiar features of our fallen world.


sea sandI’ve recently discussed the temptations of self-willed religion and the risks of disobedience, cautioning against self-chosen service and sacrifice. Over at the FLOW blog, Evan Koons highlights the power in doing the opposite.

Quoting Stephen Grabill, director of programs at Acton, Koons notes that when submit our lives to Christ and obey God’s direct and divine calling, he “reverses the barrenness, isolation, and brokenness” in our lives, and thus, the world around us.

When God told Abraham his descendants would outnumber the sands on the seashore, he wasn’t just saying they would be many, he was saying they would be majestic. Each one would reveal the beautiful and wondrously creative nature of God. Every tiny and seemingly insignificant grain would stand as a colossal reminder of what our obedience to God Almighty really creates and what it truly reveals: magnificent LIFE. And the more you magnify it the more and more wonder and beauty it proclaims. (more…)

allisgift1 - Copy (2)“All that exists is God’s gift to man, and it all exists to make God known to man, to make man’s life communion with God…God blesses everything He creates, and, in biblical language, this means that He makes all creation the sign and means of His presence and wisdom, love and revelation.” -Alexander Schmemann, from For the Life of the World

In Episode 1 of For the Life of the World, a new series from the Acton Institute, Evan Koons discovers the concept of oikonomia, or, “God’s plan for his whole household of creation,” realizing that the more specific areas and “modes of operation” that God has designed us to work within (families, businesses, governments, institutions) are meant to harmonize with each other.

To illustrate the idea, Koons compares God’s economy to music. Pointing to a xylophone, he notes that a xylophone has its own particular mode of operation — its own rules, its own economy. It works differently than, say, a ukulele or a trombone or an upright bass. Yet played together in proper harmony, each of these instruments coordinate their unique patterns and modes of operation to create something unified yet varied, rich and beautiful.

But Koons doesn’t stop here, eventually moving on to ask the even bigger question: “What is the actual song, anyway?”

The answer, we learn, is gift. We were created to be gift-givers, “crafted in God’s own image, with his own breath, crowned with glory and honor.” And “in that same abundance,” Koons continues, “he blessed us, and he said go, explore my world. Unwrap the gift of my creation. Bless the world with your own gifts.” (more…)