Crown Heart World
“Everything should be made as simple as possible, but no simpler.” — Einstein.
I’m no Einstein, but I think he is right. I simplified my understanding of the Christian life down to a one page diagram of a tree planted by a stream. The imagery comes from Psalm 1. The idea to simplify came from a tragedy.
As a missionary to a tribe in remote Asia I experienced a wonderful breakthrough. I’ll tell the story later, but basically a miraculously good thing happened and was very helpful for proclaiming the Christian faith. Then a very tragic thing happened. I provided answers as best I could but I promised myself I would never again present a message without healthy and realistic disclaimers up front.
So how does one present hope without hype?
Good experiences and bad experiences need to be represented. That is basic. But the message of a way of life needs to include some degree of resolution to the tensions between good and bad experiences and our expectations that follow. What direction can one get from that resolution that still provides meaningful hope?
If one were to accept this message as true and valuable, how would they go about identifying with it? What happens externally vs internally? Also, what changes should follow in regard to priorities and practices in life?
What does it look like to live according to this hope without hype?
Lastly, what difference does all of this make? What are the results in someone’s life? What are the various forms of expected impact from their life? What is the pattern, over time, by which these results manifest?
My best efforts at studying and practicing and listening and observing have lead me to a concise set of diagrams. These form a picture of a life that is not weirdly conformist but organically personal and beautiful, even with its imperfections.
People are not meant to be like telephone poles, stiff and lifeless duplicates arranged neatly. The Christian life is meant to be like a tree planted by a stream, deeply rooted, standing tall and branching out with freshness to the leaves. And productivity? Yes, all in due season.
May I show you?
Life Like a Tree
“Tell me I’m a good man. Tell me I’ve lived a good life.” — Ryan
Saving Private Ryan’s opening and closing scenes are helpful. Ryan’s life was saved by the sacrifice of others. He wonders if he has lived his life well, especially as he moves toward the end.
Our lives now are moving toward a conclusion. We want to live without regrets (or at least as few as possible). When I imagine looking backward I know that what will matter will be the love that I have shared with others. Practically speaking that includes words and deeds over time, and all of that happening within the very real challenges of just making a living and coping with life. I am no different than anyone else. We all know that life is about love.
Our hope is a life of love, but we need a way to live that wisely, not just with sentimental hype.
The fruit of one’s life is produced from the branches. The branches are extended from a trunk that is deeply rooted. The roots draw up life from a source, up to the branches and into that fruit. That’s basically it for a fruit tree.
Source to roots to branches to fruit, season by season. That is also my simplest understanding of life. We are to drink in a source that will ultimately produce good fruit. The better we are rooted in connection to a good source the better we can branch out in words and deeds such that good fruit is produced in good season.
The Blessed Life is Like a Tree — Psalm 1
Blessed is the one
who does not walk in step with the wicked
or stand in the way that sinners take
or sit in the company of mockers,
but whose delight is in the law of the Lord,
and who meditates on his law day and night.
That person is like a tree planted by streams of water,
which yields its fruit in season
and whose leaf does not wither —
whatever they do prospers.
The fruit of love comes from a source that is also love. We want to understand where love comes from and how to connect to it. This will be our stream. Of all of the things that we learn and experience in life we want to draw up what is most valuable for producing fruit. The source of love produces the fruit of love.
Between the source and the fruit is the tree itself. The base identity of a tree is in the roots and trunk. This will represent our personal identity, both what is seen as central to who we are and what is below the surface.
Our hidden, rooted identity gives strength to our visible identity. That identity then branches out as we live our lives. We branch out to grow, but not just for growth’s own sake. We branch out such that our identity, a fruit tree in this metaphor, produces results: fruit.
Stream = ideas and experiences filtered to provide what we need to produce the fruit of love in our lives.
Roots = personal identity, both visible like a trunk and hidden like roots, connecting who we are with the source and the goal of the fruit we want to produce.
Branches = extending our lives in word and deed creating opportunities for producing fruit in due season.
Fruit = character and impact of the love we receive and process such that the fruit produced through us is also love.
Living the Cycle
I want to drink up wisdom from ideas and experiences in life that will make a difference in my life. To do that I need to commit myself, to be rooted in an identity that guides my life. As I drink up wisdom about love and meaning into my own life I grow in my desire to extend that outwardly. Branching out in life does not happen in straight lines. There are constant twists and turns, noticeably different seasons, but a cumulative effect.
As I intentionally grow up in character extending from my identity fed by the source, fruit produces itself. This is beautiful and good. I want this life. Blessed, like a tree planted by a stream, who leaves are fresh and growth keeps happening. Fruit is produced in due season.
Stream to roots to branches to fruit (repeating).
Now that we have an idea about the metaphor of the fruit tree by a stream, let’s fill in some details. I will occasionally restate the overall cycle of stream to roots to branches to fruit (& repeat). I will sometimes describe this cycle using other words for what those parts mean. This is not to complicate things, it is meant to expand our appreciation for how much nuance is hidden within the simplified cycle of thinking to being to doing to producing character and impact (repeat).
The repetition will sometimes feel helpful, at other times maybe tedious or even a bit confusing. But as we go I think the cycle will become more and more clear and meaningful. The goal is not for me to share a script, but a transferable vision of the ecosystem of a productive life as I understand it. It has already helped many people from all sorts of backgrounds. My hope is that it will help you and others as you consider it and adjust it to your own convictions and ways of expressing it.
Section 1: Stream
The stream will be our first major section. This is the most complex looking diagram, but that should be expected. The stream is how we process everything we know about life to try and sort out what truly matters. That’s a pretty big challenge! Once we hear how huge the task is the three symbols in five sequential columns doesn’t seem quite as big.
This section is where we get the title for the book: Crown Heart World. The Crown represents all of the questions about the transcendent. To speak more plainly, the Crown represents God. The Heart is our symbol for humanity. Remember our goal? We all want to live a life of love, such that if we look back on what has been produced through our life we see the impact and character of love. That is really what it means to be human. World is a catch all category for everything that exists besides God and humanity. Nature, visible and invisible to us. I use a circle to represent that, but it is good to remember that it is more than a globe.
Crown Heart World as a diagram of the stream of meaning in life uses those three symbols in five combinations.
- The first column of symbols represents our sense of what is good. The ideal world has God and humanity and everything else in harmony.
- The second column presents the painfully real disorder we all experience in life.
- The third column shows how God enters into the problem of the ideal and the real of the first two columns.
- The fourth column shows how we can respond to what God has done such that we have hope without hype, a sense of the ideal while keeping it real.
- The fifth and final column show the future hope of God’s promised completion of the project to reconcile the ideal and the real into a beautiful garden of shalom.
Those five columns simultaneous explain general human experiences and some very specific Christian teachings. The Story of the five columns begins in creation, twists into separation, collides in redemption, invites us into transformation and points to an ultimate completion. In other words, these three symbols in five columns tells the entire biblical story in a way that overlaps with our very real experiences.
“Make everything as simple as possible, but no simpler.”
Section 2: Roots
The second major section, following Crown Heart World, will be how we should respond to the stream of The Story. This is where we see our essential identity. A tree is distinct from a bush mainly because it has a clear trunk standing up. The trunk will represent a visible personal identity. This is who we declare we are, to ourselves, to God, and to everyone else.
A trunk can only stand up when it is supported by roots reaching down toward the source. The roots in the metaphor are where we explore the internal challenges of having genuine deep convictions about our identity. \
This part is deceptively simple. There are three main roots in the diagram, each representing very personal needs we all have and struggle to manage. When we work through this part it will help us to see how to deal with uncertainties and inconsistencies that concern every honest person.
Again, this diagram shows a life of hope, but we need to deal with reality. We need hope without hype.
Section 3: Branches
The third major section is about growing in how we relate to others. The branches of a tree extend from the rooted trunk. The DNA of the tree compels the tree toward outward growth. We will use this diagram to see the relationship to what we value and how we make changes in order to be able to manifest what we value.
The value we have is love, in character and impact. In order for the source to make it up through our rooted identity we need to branch out with some degree of efficiency. Some things need to stop growing, or even be pruned off, while other things need to be extended more and more.
This part is not complicated but it is challenging. The growth is not to become a tree, it is because trees are meant to grow. When someone’s identity is connected to the source, that source wants to flow through the rooted identity to extend that identity. Maturing in character and competency is what we do because of who we are. There are wise ways to increase healthy growth and this diagram is meant to help us see that as simply and reassuringly as possible.
The conclusion is a reflection on the nature of the fruit that is produce from a life like a tree planted by a stream. Here we will go into more details about the implications of this pattern of life Source-Roots-Branches-Fruit (repeat). I will also provide some stories of how this has been lived out, as well as some ideas for how to learn and apply the diagrams and their ideas.
Let’s dive into the stream of the Story!