Living Deeply in a Surface Society


Tim Willard

EDITOR’S NOTE: I met Tim Willard several  years ago and have always enjoyed hearing about different types of writing projects that he was working on. When he told me about this book, I got excited and thought it would spark an important discussion.

Finally, Veneer: Living Deeply in a Surface Society by Tim Willard and Jason Locy is here … and I have a few books to give away, thanks to Zondervan.

I sent Tim and Jason some questions about their book, so without further ado, here it is (Be sure to see how to win a copy of the book below).


Question: You leave no part of culture untouched in unveiling how every societal segment – Hollywood, politicians, rock stars, spiritual leaders, and every day people on social media outlets among others–creates a veneer. Why do you think people feel the need to create a false identity?

Jason & Tim: At our core we are social animals, ask David Brooks. We desire to be connected with one another but the language of culture—consumption, celebrity, technological progress—has shaped individual perceptions of acceptability. If you want to fit in with our culture you must look and act a certain way. The advertising world inundates us with images of photoshopped perfection and we fall for it. But this is the surface level answer. Everyone, to some degree, notices and even accepts our cultural language to certain extent.

Digging deeper, however, we find that many of us struggle with inadequacies resulting from the pains and scars of life. Rather than expose ourselves at our most vulnerable we seek a false self; one that will be accepted by our culture, one that we can live with, one that makes us feel better about ourselves. We hide behind a false self because we, in fact, don’t even know who are to begin with.

Question: In Veneer, you talk about how we fragment ourselves “when we focus our lives on an outward expression – consumption – seeking to produce inward meaning.” How do you suggest we find more unity with our body and soul?

Jason & Tim: Work from the inside, out. Richard Foster, in his book Freedom of Simplicity, talks about working from a Divine Center. In our society we often live this axiom in reverse; seeking to accumulate things and even personal status and power in order to establish personal worth. We are not saying it’s bad to hone your craft or strive for excellence in your effort to bring glory to God, but we do think that we get caught up in the chase for outward things too much.

So, recalibrating our spiritual lives is a first step toward working from that Divine center. Where is God on your priority list? How often do you take time out of your day or week to cultivate your inner self by way of quiet reflection and prayer?

But we must also begin to view our selves as composite wholes instead of fragmented compartments. I have physical needs, like eating, so I satisfy them. I have spiritual needs, like solitude, which I often neglect. As long as I keep one healthy then I’m doing alright. Wrong. We need to view our “whole bodies” our soma as a connected whole. What we allow ourselves to become on the outside directly affects who we are on the inside and vice versa.

Practically speaking then, we need to work at integrating our outward and inner life, but working from a Divine center as our starting point.

Question: You present the idea of something you refer to as “the language of God.” How does the veneer created by the language of our culture keep us from speaking “the language of God”?

Jason & Tim: It’s antithetical to the language of God. The world says, “Promote yourself. Be your best self, now. Get what you can. Look like a sex symbol. Build your platform. Pursue personal fame.”

The language of God, however, says, “Serve others. Sacrifice yourself. Give what you can. Don’t focus on outward appearance. Use your vision for the good of others. Pursue God.”

How can we say that we love Jesus when we love ourselves? How can we do all we can, as Christians, to make the church relevant when relevance means speaking the language of culture? The veneer created by the language of culture hides our true selves; the selves the Jesus gave his life for. Our pain and scars and blemishes that we hide with the sheen of cultural perfection was reclaimed. The language of culture will make us into Barbie’s and Ken’s. The language of God will make us into new creatures. They don’t even compare.

Question: I liked how you distinguished the difference between experience and encounter when talking about God, whether or not we have an experience with Him or an encounter with Him. Share about the differences between the two as you see it and why it matters.

Jason & Tim: Experience, specifically in the church, is very popular today. Some churches even keep an experience architect or creative director on their staff. Their job? Create a worship experience. We (Tim and Jason) love a great experience as much as the next person, but do we really need to be manipulating worship experiences?

Experiences, to a large degree, are focused on the emotions of an individual. Tweak an individual’s emotions and you will affect a group dynamic that is intense. But the problem is that it’s all fabricated. Somehow we think that we need to create ambiance for the Creator of the Universe. Seems a bit silly. When you look at it, experience can be extremely self-serving, feeding the need to feel more and more. And that is what our culture says we should do; move from feeling to feeling.

Sadly, we think that the world wants to experience the same thing they experience at a concert or movie or theme park when they go to church. Shouldn’t the church gathering offer something of the total other?

Encounter, on the other hand, entails confrontation and surprise. It leaves room for natural whimsy of the moment. What if we came to church without expecting some manufactured emotion? How interesting would it be to experiment with stripping our services down to bare bones. What would happen if we began to listen more in our worship services? Would we spend more time confessing? Would we be confronted with God in all his fearsome glory?

Question: You offer up some great ideas on how we can strip away our veneer and authentically present who we really are. If you had to pick one to start with, which one would you suggest and why?

Jason & Tim: Honesty in our relationships. When we make honesty a priority in our relationships we no longer need to veneer ourselves. “Authenticity” gets a lot of press these days and it might be easy to just write off this answer. But consider the definitions. Authenticity refers to something being genuine–faithfully resembling an original. Honesty means to be free of deceit and untruthfulness–to be morally correct and virtuous. When we first free ourselves of deceit in our relationships then we can be genuine. And, for Christians, the great thing about “resembling the original” is the fact that we view Christ as our archetype. He’s the original.

So let’s be honest with one another and with God and see what a life free of deceit—free of veneer—looks like.

Question: Lastly, did you think about how you would be dating your book by writing about Facebook when Google+ is all the rage now?

Jason & Tim: We tried dating our book but it broke up with us.

Me: Smart alecks! :)


INTERACT … And Win! If you would like to be entered in a random drawing to win 1 of 2 books I’m giving away, please comment below on this question by Friday, July 29 …

What are some veneers in our culture that have drawn you in — and how are you trying to avoid them?

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