Authors Tim Willard and Jason Locy met in 2004 while collaborating on a project for the Catalyst Conference. Over the course of the next several years, they became fast friends. Their conversations originally revolved around a mutual passion for music (especially Pearl Jam) and evolved into deeper talks about faith and cultural issues. Jason’s work in the world of design and branding and Tim’s job in the church provided a natural canvas for the dialogue that would eventually lead them into an exciting writing venture. Late-night discussions at a local pub with friends seemed to revolve around the issues of practicing genuine faith in today’s world. It was in these moments, Tim and Jason could no longer escape the reality that society seemed to be influencing the church instead of the church influencing society.
Veneer: Living Deeply in a Surface Society was born from those conversations. The book examines the reality that our lives are full of scars and insecurities we have been convinced we must hide, in favor of a more glamorous covering that we hope the world finds more acceptable. The authors point out that this veneer (or culture’s idea of what our lives should be) is persistently sold to us; “No one can escape the 5,000 ads that inundate us each day.” They go on to explain, “In the consumer world run by marketers, we find it hard to locate the truth.” (Click on the book cover image to purchase Veneer from Amazon.com)
This is the modern tragedy. We have forgotten that like the stress-lines and fractures of antique wood, these imperfections in our lives are actually what make us beautiful. A rich life is more than a “wall-post” existence and deep relationships much more than trends, status updates or group invitations. But, neither are possible until we allow ourselves to be fully known, transparent…imperfections and all. Only then will we come to experience the life we are meant to live.
Willard and Locy use a powerful story about David to illustrate their point: when the King of Israel is scolded by his mortified wife for dancing naked in celebration of God’s faithfulness, he reprimands her saying, “I don’t care about man’s approval”. The authors go on to explain how the Creator’s idea of humanity is not only much different from the world’s…it is also far more rewarding. Stripping our veneer is an inside-out movement. Real life can only begin when we dare to shred away our veneer and walk boldly into a life of freedom, honesty and rare beauty.
Veneer offers a poignant and timely message for Christians who are weary with the emptiness and shallow promises of practicing a faith that bows down to edicts of the 21st century rat-race. They affirm, “When we pursue things that God pursues, when our passions align with his, we become people after God’s heart.” Veneer truly leads us to pursue an uncommon way of life.
You can read more about the authors at http://endveneer.com/.
Jason and Tim were kind enough to answer a few questions about their new book. You will enjoy our conversation about church, culture, the “gospel of self” and their new book, Veneer. Here are “Five Good Answers” with Tim Willard and Jason Locy:
Matt: How did you first start noticing and thinking deeply about the problem of veneer?
T&J: When we first started talking, and the ideas for the book were forming, a lot of stuff culturally was happening.
Enron was still in the news for false accounting practices that inflated the value of their stocks. Bernie Madoff was making headlines for bilking investors of millions. McMansions were popping up throughout suburbia and credit card offers were flooding our mailboxes.
So, you have all of that happening while, in the church world, the relevance movement was in full swing as churches were trying to look more and more like culture. This seemed odd to us since, when we looked at culture, it all seemed so upside down. We couldn’t escape the reality that society seemed to be influencing the church instead of the church influencing society.
Our late night trips to the pub always seemed to come back to the questions of what culture looked like and how that was affecting us as humans, as Christians, and the church in general. Over time we sought counsel and read and came to the realization that these societal issues were by-products of our human condition. And we wanted a different way, for the world, Christians, and the church to act.
So the idea for Veneer was born.
Matt: What does it mean to live a “veneered” life?
We talk about this idea of the “language of culture.” Which is a way to say, “What does culture celebrate and find acceptable??” So, as people, we look to the broader culture and try to adapt to what we see everyone else doing. The language of culture gives us various ways by which we can veneer as we try to mimic the world of celebrity, buy in to the promise of consumption, and place our trust in the hope of progress. Eventually, most of us live our lives covered in this language because we’re afraid or embarrassed about what lies beneath.
The real question though is what does this language communicate to others? What does it say about us as individuals? Does it deliver on its promises? And those are the questions we try to poke at in the book.
So, to live a veneered life is to live a life that focuses on the self and how others perceive the self.
Matt: What does it mean that even Christians apply veneer to their lives? Why do you say that’s especially heinous?
T&J:Veneer works to hide our life-scars and our insecurities and all the things we think people wouldn’t accept. Further, veneer broadcasts to the world that “Hey, I have it altogether.” As Christians, the idea of veneer goes against our core beliefs. One of our foundational beliefs is that we are broken, that we don’t have everything altogether and that we need Christ, he gives us our identity. If this is true and if the acceptance of this compelled us to follow Christ, then why do we try so hard to live as if we aren’t broken?
There is a great quote by Brennan Manning in his book The Importance of Being Foolish. He says the crisis of American spirituality is that the battle between wanting things of the flesh and surrendering to the Spirit is too much for Christians. Too often the flesh wins, and because of this, we lose sight of the fact that we are children of God. “It is not that I am afraid to tell you who I am; I truly cannot tell you because I don’t know myself who I am. God calls me by name, and I do not answer because I do not know my name.”
At the core, this is the big problem with veneer–we have identity in Christ but we let the pressure of society keep us from truly embracing that identity.
Matt: Why isn’t the church immune to the “gospel of self”?
T&J: Because we’re human. And that means we love when culture tickles our ears with words that pump up our egos. But perhaps the church is even more exposed than we think. We have all the good intentions in the world to reach the world with the Gospel. And those intentions often drive us to adopt what the worlds says is acceptable and cool. Even more, we see that the world defines success in a certain way and we strive towards that end. What happens is this weird amalgamation where the church becomes more influence by the world than the reverse.
Matt: How does a veneered life reveal the deep human thirst for relationships?
T&J: We veneer because want to fit into a world that says in order to do so means that we must act and look a certain way. And so we comply. Why? Because we want to be known by others. We want to fit in. No one wants to be the weird one off in the corner.
Our veneer exposes us deeply relational beings. From the moment we enter the world we are thrust into relationships; many times those relationships fracture and even break. We experience betrayal and hurt and discover that sometimes wearing a veneer is the easiest road to acceptance.
The book works to point readers to the author of relationships–God. It is in him that we find true meaning and worth. When we live centered on our relationship with God, our earthly relationships begin to make more sense. The fractures and brokenness, we notice, can actually take on a beauty of their own. And we love that–how redemption can work in and through our relationships.