Crown Heart World is a diagram with three main symbols in five columns. It is designed to express the connection of the biblical story with human experiences to give direction to life. The design is concise for the objectives, which are quite comprehensive, but it does take some concentrated effort to learn the symbols, their arrangements, and the basic significance.
I will focus here on how to learn it. I’ve written elsewhere on why it was developed and how it can be helpful. The concise summary is that Crown Heart World really helps keep the essential framework of a meaningful life in proportion so that we can process our experiences with wisdom that gives us hope without hype.
The first thing to focus on is set of three symbols. A crown represents whatever is ultimate. I am presenting the biblical narrative that God is not only the self-existent source of everything else that exists, he is also the authoritative reference point for what matters. The crown symbol represents God as King.
A heart represents humanity, whether as an individual or as the whole of humanity. Genesis opens with the affirmation that humanity is made in the image of God. Who is God and what is he like? That is summed up nicely in 1 John 4:8 “God is love”. Drawing a heart to represent humanity focuses on what being made in the image of God is all about.
Jesus emphasizes the importance of this understanding by stating that the totality of the Hebrew Scriptures, the Old Testament, can be summed up as God commanding humanity to love. Love God and love people is what God has to say. Love is who we are meant to be and what we are supposed to do. The heart is a great reminder of that.
A circle represents the world. What I mean by the world is everything that exists that is not God or humanity. This is more than the planet earth. This includes Nature, but it also includes the full range of spiritual beings, whether good or bad, known or merely hinted at. The circle is means the full set of the world in all of its meanings.
Crown~Heart~World is a triad. I will use several triads in my understanding of God. This shouldn’t be surprising in that God is triune, demonstrating unity and diversity in a beautiful integration. Triads are particularly good at expressing unity in diversity in their simplest form but with room to expand to express all varities of nuance. Primary colors are my favorite example of the practical nature of triads.
Red, yellow, and blue are the three primary colors. From those three essential colors we can get the full spectrum of colors. I am not very confident I could point to chartreuse on a color wheel, but I do know that it is derived from the three primary colors.
Crown, Heart, and World function in a similar way. Life as we know it, our good and bad experiences, our wise and foolish choices, is always a variation of God, humanity, and nature. Although we sometimes try to think in the abstract, life actually exists in embodied dimensions, part of this cosmos/world. Even when we try to reduce life to a binary of humanity and nature we come up short. Even atheists find themselves needing to use transcendent principles of oughtness. This triad is primary, and that is where we start in our story.
The Story of Crown, Heart, and World in 5 Columns
The first arrangement of our triad is simple enough. A crown sits atop a heart which stands over the world. God is the creator of all, but humanity is given a conspicuous role between God and creation. Genesis begins with a poetic description of this reality. There are many points where people are not unified in their interpretation of what is being said and what it means but there is a basic consensus. Genesis claims that God is the source of our world and its goodness, and humanity is blessed with the privelege of ruling wisely over it all. But that is not life as we know it, is it?
The second column arranges the symbols in a different order and makes some modifications. Just like school kids looking in the yearbook for pictures of themselves, it is natural for us to start with realizing that something has happened to humanity. Here we are depicted as an upside down heart. We also see two arrows pointing upward toward the place we have fallen from. But that place is not vacant.
Creation was intended to be under the rule of humanity but now we see humanity under the threat of a modified creation. The circle symbol has an X through it signifying that something is wrong. Genesis tells a story which is summed up in this image of the humanity capsizing from our position between God and creation and now being panicked.
Subsequently our view of God is blocked by the poisition of creation over us and by the sense of anxiety we experience. We all know that our hearts often feel upside-down and under water. We frequently feel in danger of drowning. We panic, but not for air like in the metaphor. What we are gasping and clawing for is love. Life is not the way it ought to be and we struggle. It is no wonder humanity asks “Where is God?”.
The crown symbol at the top of this second column is clouded out. When our hearts are upside down and suffocated by the world and our view of God is eclipsed. The symbol of a cloud with a question mark represents our experiences of wondering if there is a God, and if so why isn’t he more accessible.
The combined effect of the first and second columns is sufficient to express most of life experiences. From time to time we experience a type of bliss where everything feels aligned, like it ought to be. It is good.
By good I really mean whatever qualifies as good. Morning coffee is good. Laughing with friends while playing a game is good. Overlooking where you have just hiked through nature and feeling a transcendent gratitude is good. In other words good is just good even if someone does not realize that goodness is from God.
As a Christian I explain the flourishing of my non-Christian friends as a reminder of God’s intent in creation. My faith explains to me what is behind the goodness I see and hear about in others. This is important on a deep level but it is practical as well. I intuitively connect with other people regardless of their faith commitments over experiences of goodness. It helps me to have a shorthand framework to remind me what I believe is behind it all, even if others see it differently.
The second of column also expresses a universal human experience. Everyone experiences the pain of things being other than what we wish they were. I see these experiences as “the ought is not”. God’s connected order is disjointed and we rightly grieve the consequences. We can all empathize with human struggles. The big question is what do we do about it. Here is another triad, this one of three options to the problem of suffering represented in column 2.
- Suffering is a departure from the bliss we once had. Let’s try to go back to where the bliss was.
- Suffering is reality. Just deal with it.
- Suffering is real and cannot be resolved by going backward. A positive solution must be found.
The first option is wonderfully displayed in The Sound of Music. Children are frightened by a storm and their nanny urges them to overcome the bad with a focus on the good. She acknowledges a few bad things:
“When the dog bites, when the bee stings
When I’m feeling sad
I simply remember my favorite things
And then I don’t feel so bad!”
Her advice is to overwhelm the bad with good. She names more than five times as many good things to overcome the bad. It is a delightful strategy for small fears. It is a failed strategy for substantial threats. That is why some abandon the childishness of the first strategy and settle into the second strategy: cynicism.
Cynicism provides comfort. It is not a comfort from suffering, rather, it is the comfort of not being disappointed by the failed efforts to avoid suffering. Suffering is bad enough as it is. Why make it worse by wishing it wasn’t so?
As a child I enjoyed the “Favorite Things” strategy. But adolescence brought the brutality of lucidity. I could not unsee the breadth and depth of human angst. We strive until our striving fails in death. The best one can hope for is to be proud of one’s pluck. One teen way to express cynicism was by wearing shocking t-shirts from bands who provided the hymnody for our unbelief. We knew we were doomed and embraced it boldly. Many grow out of the style but not of the sentiment.
The third option to the conundrum of the out of sort “good and bad”/”ought is not” is to look for a solution that moves us forward. The problem is shown in the fact that we cannot directly perceive the transcendent answer if we are in existential crisis. How can we create space to seek for God? What Crown-Heart-World shows is that God takes the intitiative to create the space we need. God seeks us. That leads us to the third column.
Genesis is very quick to get to the problem of “good and bad”/”ought is not”. In the third chapter we are told that hope is going to come from God through humanity. The bible is the story of God seeking to resolve humanity’s ultimate problem in and through humanity. The scope of the problem is presented in epic and bizarre fashion in Genesis 3–11. The promise starts to take shape in Genesis 12. Abram is called by God to be a blessing to all nations. This calling changes his name to Abraham and changes the course of his life and of human history.
From Abraham’s story we end up with his descendents in Egypt. The story moves to Moses rescuing those people from slavery and becoming Israel, a kingdom of priests for all nations. Israel’s story is a long drama of partial successes and devestating failures. The promise of hope gets renewed over and over again, but the pain of “good and bad”/”ought is not” is also emphasized. The resolution of the problem has not come.
The curly spiral descending from the cloud with a question mark in column 2 represents this massive story. The spiraling arrow points to a heart that is upside right, like the symbol for humanity in the first column. This is our introduction to God with us, Immanuel. We know him as Jesus.
“God, who at various times and in various ways spoke in time past to the fathers by the prophets, has in these last days spoken to us by Son” — Hebrews 1:1,2
The reason he is represented by a heart instead of a crown is that Jesus is the second Adam, the new humanity. Jesus shows us how humanity was intended to live. He wisely distributes justice and mercy, he rules over creation, and is faithful to the Father. The New Testament expounds on this theme in Romans 5, 1 Corinthians 15, and elsewhere.
What matters for us here is seeing the connection between the original humanity that failed and the new humanity that overcomes. The first Adam was in a beautiful garden but chose to bring death through his unfaithfulness. The second Adam was in a dark and frightening garden but chose to bring life through his faithfulness.
The cross and the upside down heart are representative of the general problem of sin and separation in column 2 with the specifics of Jesus being rejected by the world. Jesus makes it clear that no one took his life from him, he laid it down by his own choice. He chooses to drink of the bitter cup of human failure. Although he did not know sin himself, he became sin for us. The cross and upside down heart represent the death of Christ for the sins of humanity in this world.
The final set from the third column in our diagram is an upside right heart and an arrow going up. The heart is marked with a cross inside. Jesus’ life showed us what being human ought to look like. The heart upside down shows us that Jesus experienced our shame where “the ought is not”.
This answers the question we were stuck on earlier, between choosing the naive optimism looking backward with nostalgia or the dark cynicism resigned to all that wrong. Jesus shows that his good overcomes our bad. We do not move backward, nor do we just quit. He has provided a way forward. In Jesus there is a way where “the ought that is not” can be what it ought to be again.
The arrow going up represents Jesus’ ascension. Like every symbol on this diagram we are simplifying things for the sake of perspective in relation to the whole. The main idea is that what Jesus did in his life, death, and resurrection inagurates a new creation. When Jesus was first seen after the resurrection he was mistaken for a gardener. Why? We are experiencing a new Genesis. That is what is pictured in the fourth column.
The fourth column begins with a cloud, similar to column 2, but a crown replaces the question mark. God is revealed in Jesus. We now can know more about who God is and what he is calling us to than ever before. But we are reminded in 1 Corinthians 13 that our view of God is not absolute. We see through a reflection. The image is foggy. The context for this passage is a reminder to be loving and humble. That is also the point of the symbol.
Below the crown in the cloud we see what looks familiar: creation divided with an large X in the place ordained for humanity. This is a reminder that we are living in what is sometimes called the already but not yet. Christ has already begun the New Creation in those who trust him, his church. However, the church is not complete until all of humanity is included. Jesus talked about this on many occassions. Each gospel account of his life ends with an exhortation for those who are his apprentices, his disciples, to go an invite others into the family of the new humanity in Jesus. When this has been done for all peoples everywhere, then the end goal will arrive.
And this good news of God’s kingdom will be preached throughout the whole world, a testimony to all people and all nations. Then, beloved, the end, the consummation of all things, will come. — Matthew 24:14
What does it look like when someone trusts in the good news of this Kingdom of Life? The bottom symbol of the 4th column really is the focus of the whole diagram. Here the heart is upside right, unlike column 2. The heart is also marked with a cross. This indicates people who identify with who Christ is and what he has done in his life, death, and resurrection. That is part of why he ascended at the end of column 3, so that he could begin to inhabit his people through his Spirit. His Spirit inhabits people who are joined together to form the new temple. Just like Israel was called to be a kingdom of priests for the nations, now the church is the temple where priestly connecting happens between God, humanity, and all of creation.
The arrows over the heart are another triad. The arrow pointing backward is faith. The church studies God’s story, looking back on God’s faithfulness, to strengthen our faith in who God is and what he has done. The arrow pointing forward is hope. The church worships the God of all hope by celebrating the ways in which we experiencing in part what we will one day experience fully. The arrow pointing upward is love. Our faith and hope, looking backward and forward, provides the stability we need to love a broken world the way Jesus did.
The final column is just like the first column except each symbol is marked by the cross. The story begins with a small human wedding in a garden and ends with a massive wedding in a garden city. The wedding supper of the Lamb is the permanent establishment of the order of God and humanity ruling wisely over a good and renewed creation.
Column 1 = Creation. We still sense how things ought to be.
Column 2 = Separation. We all experience ways in which “the ought is not”.
Column 3 = Redemption. God in Christ redeems humanity from death to life.
Column 4 = Transformation. Jesus’ Spirit indwells his people as new temples of reconciliation for all.
Column 5 = Completion. The good that God started will be brought to fullness.
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