The Summer of our Souls

The day feels like a dream. Soft blue sky with feathers of high cloud. Birds and peepers calling from the pond. The great ocean of fragrant air drifts lazily over greening fields, and sun falls softly on skin.

For months, we have been on guard, shoulders hunched under thick clothes, defending the warmth inside. But today, it seems, the long-rumored miracle has occurred. The wounding winter is in full retreat.

On the fringes of my vision, the world whizzes by. We ride the airplane like a bobsled, my student and I, he in the front seat, focused on his work. Ahead, I can see little, but to the side, there are shimmering silos, rivers ablaze with sunlight that glides alongside as we pass.

The student is very good, as young as I am old. Around and around we go, down to the runway and back into the sky.

The eerie perfection of this morning, the skill of the pilot, the quiet sense that nothing could go wrong on such a day – I defend against this, just as I defend against winter.

Life teaches us the danger of this feeling. Moments of happiness are soon eclipsed by new troubles, and the shock of this is, at first, almost too much to bear. Better to keep up your guard. Better to defend against sorrow, even in times of apparent peace. Better to never be surprised.

But there is something heartbreaking in this, the knowledge that we are never quite safe, doomed by our mortality to the same humiliating end.

If Earth is home, then we are homeless. Spring comes to melt the snow but not our sorrows. We catch a faint scent, a fleeting glimpse, a fading echo of unspeakable beauty, but we find no lasting peace and no real answer to the ache of our longing.

There is no summer for our souls.

I have not given much thought to heaven because I so wanted to find a home on Earth. It has taken me many years to realize that my wounds and my longings are not unique and not the result of circumstances I might somehow change.

For me and for you, however strong or rich, however sick or poor, life will often be cold and lonely and dangerous. Our bodies, however elegant, do not last. Our families and friendships and communities are flawed in painful ways, and we have done our part to make them so.

We still haven’t found what we’re looking for because it is not here.

The offer of heaven is many things, among them proof that our souls are telling the truth. We feel homeless on Earth because Earth is not our home. We were made for a better country, made to be the kind of people who could learn to live in that country.

My own learning is very slow, but on this eerily perfect day, the fragrant air alive with birdsong, I remember who sends the spring – the dazzling One who whispers that he can heal me as surely as he heals the Earth.


He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.
-Revelation 21:4

All these people were still living by faith when they died. They did not receive the things promised; they only saw them and welcomed them from a distance, admitting that they were foreigners and strangers on Earth… They were longing for a better country—a heavenly one. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God, for he has prepared a city for them.
-Hebrews 11:13-16

In speaking of this desire for our own far off country, which we find in ourselves even now, I feel a certain shyness. I am almost committing an indecency. I am trying to rip open the inconsolable secret in each one of you—the secret which hurts so much that you take your revenge on it by calling it names like Nostalgia and Romanticism and Adolescence…

…The sense that in this universe we are treated as strangers, the longing to be acknowledged, to meet with some response, to bridge some chasm that yawns between us and reality, is part of our inconsolable secret.

…At present we are on the outside of the world, the wrong side of the door. We discern the freshness and purity of morning, but they do not make us fresh and pure. We cannot mingle with the splendours we see. But all the leaves of the New Testament are rustling with the rumour that it will not always be so. Some day, God willing, we shall get in.

C. S. Lewis, The Weight of Glory

Other People’s Children

I wasn’t the smartest kid on the farm, but I noticed something right away. Farmers were often permitted the astonishing privilege of feeding and cultivating plants – merely because they planted them.

In my youth and inexperience, it never occurred to me that neighbors might find these actions brash or unfair. There seemed a logical connection between planting and cultivating – between nativity and nurture.

But things were different then. Culture was largely focused on family, and family was a scandalously narrow thing: One man who wanted to be manly. One woman who liked being a woman. His fascination with her femininity. Her love for his masculinity. Their permanent union. Their desire for children.

Of course, we know better than all that. Gender means nothing now but also everything. Our concept of marriage is remarkably inclusive, though less commonly exclusive. Current ideas about family are infinitely broad but often sterile.


Let that word lie dead on the page.

Every ideology – whether democracy or CRT, monogamy or transsexuality – is one generation from extinction. Every ideology needs children to carry their ideas forward, even ideologies that abort children.

If our grandparents had lived in this brave new world, they might have become anything – with the possible exception of grandparents. We, the proud vanguards of new society, are really the offspring of old society. Of – dare I say it? – that old-fashioned menace known as heterosexuality. Our grandparents’ marriages were narrow, but their love was broad, bridging the mysterious gulf between male and female. And their love was fertile.

And that is the agricultural significance of this moment. If there are now (as I just read) 81 genders, that makes 6,561 possible combinations in a two-person marriage. That’s a dazzling array of infertility, layered atop a fanatical insistence upon the disposability of unborn children. If these ideas about sexuality and culture are to survive, they need far more children than their supporters will produce.

They need other people’s children.

It’s no coincidence that schools are increasingly focused on social (and not academic) conditioning. While many – and likely most – teachers serve from genuine concern for their students, there is increasing pressure upon the educational system to proselytize. From presentations by drag queens to salacious library books to privacy policies barricading parents from information about their minor children, schools at all levels perform a sort of conversion therapy, normalizing practices and values previously considered abnormal.

And it’s no coincidence that the school attacked last week was Christian, given the stubborn Christian confidence that gender is a good and clear gift of a competent and loving God. Schools, churches, and families that reproduce this confidence in their children represent a profound threat to an increasingly hateful and violent opposition.

In this bizarre moment of sexual confusion, traditional families are being used to serve an agricultural function, giving birth, food, and clothing to little bodies whose minds are to be properly filled by someone else.

Our children will eventually decide what is true and important for American culture, but – unlike the many generations before us – we are being told to surrender the idea that parents are best qualified to prepare them for this responsibility.

Let’s say no.

The New Evangelism

American culture is moving toward a state of equity, increasingly sensitive to personal injuries and supportive of personal freedoms. Within this culture, there is a shrinking minority that, in some sense, identifies with Jesus Christ. Within that group, there is a still smaller minority that wants to impose the ethical teachings of Jesus upon a secular culture.

This is, at least, the standard narrative regarding culture and Christianity.

In this telling of the story, it is culture that sets people free. Christianity is considered a private ritual and tolerated so long as it does not interfere with public affairs.

The success of this narrative is clear. The role of Christianity in America has never been smaller. When the name of Jesus is invoked in public, it does not typically refer to the historical person, but to a vague modern caricature, rather like Santa Claus.

While these changes are widely described as progress, the story has a few problems. In fact, life in America is not going so well.

Rather than an increase in personal freedoms, we see a strange decline. Our speech is no longer free. Censorship and false reporting are common. Our streets are less safe, and our conversations are less kind. Our leaders are less competent and less truthful, asserting new powers that contradict law and reason.

American culture speaks fondly of freedom but grows steadily less free.

This happens because, contrary to the narrative, our culture is not moving away from religion, but merely replacing one religion with another. American culture is an increasingly jealous and coercive ethical system, imposing itself on everyone within reach. What we call cancel culture is the new evangelism, with its gospel of condemnation, its altar call to submission, and its sacrament of human sacrifice. In the new religion, you might choose the winning side, but you will never be free.

America began with the Christian idea that “all men are created equal,” which provided a foundation for human dignity and freedom. We have descended to the assumption that men are not created and, quite possibly, not men.

If Christians exhibit a peculiar resistance to this culture, it is because culture exhibits a peculiar resistance to Christianity. It does not ignore Christ as a discarded myth but reviles him as an imminent threat.

A man who robs banks might be comprehensible as a non-Christian who at least has some fun. Not so, the doctor who spends his day snuffing out the lives of healthy children, or the angry crowds who celebrate this macabre event. Or the historian whose theories require the rewriting of history. Or the man or woman who thinks all 30 trillion cells in their own body must be mistaken.

The hallmark of contemporary American culture is not progress or even fun, but a shoddy mangling of beautiful things we don’t understand and cannot replace.

Our freedom from Christianity has left us prisoners, for it was our founders’ confidence in God’s authority over powerful men that set common men free – a confidence that even common men are not common. We traded one just and merciful king for an ocean of selfish and incompetent bosses, yet seem surprised by the disappointing result.

American culture is moving away from a state of equity, away from the idea that people have inherent value, and away from the confidence that anything can simply be true and honorable. To the advocates of this new religion, Jesus is no myth. He is an imminent threat, and their hatred for him is evident in their joyless mangling of the world he loves.

The Quiet Light of Christmas

The Christmas tree stands quietly in the corner, its little lights pushing back the darkness, a silent memorial to a not-quite-silent night. The father was afraid, the mother in great pain, and the baby probably howled as babies do. They made sounds of distress and confusion, though we sing of comfort and joy.

This is the shock of Christmas, which remains a comfort and a scandal 2,000 years later.

It is shocking because, according to the story, this baby had a choice – to lay himself in Joseph’s hard hands, to plant himself the smallest seed in Mary’s womb, to burst frail and naked into a cold dark world.

Might God come gently? Allow himself to be overlooked and rejected because he so loves the world? Many hope not, for a loving God is still God, and no God is wanted here. They are done with Jesus as almighty Rome was done with Jesus. But Rome is long gone, and Jesus remains.

The light of Christmas is still pushing back the darkness, even here in America, where darkness grows. Even to us, a child is born, and to us, a son is given, calling across the ages that God is with us in our distress and confusion, that he came gently to offer us comfort and joy.

Perhaps we will welcome the Christ-child this year, amazed by the love and humility of God. Perhaps we will turn away. But this much is certain. When America has returned to dust as Rome returned to dust, Jesus will remain.

A Shepherd’s Story

I am the last man on earth to be telling this story – a ragged man who smells of sheep and earth and campfire. I would not tell it, except that it happened to me.

An hour ago, we were in the fields, throwing sticks on the fire and trying to stay warm. An hour ago, I don’t think I believed in angels. Well, I am warm now, and I know more about angels than most any man alive.

I was watching the stars when it burst into view, a towering monster of light with blazing eyes and a voice like a trumpet. I was terrified until I noticed the expression on his face and realized I could understand his words.

He was glad – glad with some gigantic joy, and soon there were hundreds of them – hopping about like excited children, shouting, and singing like their hearts were on fire.

I was still shaking, but the joy on their beautiful faces broke my heart. Whatever they were telling us, it was shaking them, too.

When they left, we stared into the suddenly dark and silent sky, breathed air that stirred in their wake and smelled like springtime, and the sea, and some strange incense, all mixed together.

For a minute, no one said anything. I trembled, but I was no longer afraid, maybe not even surprised. Somehow, I think I knew there was such beauty in the world – there was a place for it in your soul, just waiting. But I never expected to see it, had almost forgotten it was there.

We will find him in Bethlehem, they said – just over those hills – and so we run with our own gigantic joy; run so far that my lungs are on fire, just as my heart is on fire.

And now, still panting, I step into the dark barn, duck under the cobwebbed timber, and stop. Lamplight flickers over the drafty room. A man leans against the wall, and a woman leans against him. In front of them, a rickety feed trough, and there the child lies.

If I had not seen the angels, I would not understand what I feel right now, the sparks shooting through my arms and face as I step carefully over the straw and kneel before the manger. I would think I had lost my senses, not awakened a new one.

But somehow, my heart knows you, child. It knew there was someone like you in the world, though it did not know that it knew. To meet you is a remembering. To kneel here is a coming home. My heart burns like an angel, like a moth rushing toward light. I am only a shepherd, but I know I was made for you.

I take one more look as we turn to leave, shake my head as I step into the night. How strange that this is the story of God and that I, who smell of sheep and earth, am the one telling it.

I would not tell it, but this is where the angels sang. We are ragged people, but it was to us the Christ-child came.


This story is a dramatization of events recorded in Luke 2.

Written for LIFE International, 2021.