My friend and colleague Kristen Johnson has co-authored a wonderful new book entitled The Justice Calling: Where Passion Meets Perserverance (with Bethany Hoang). The book has been endorsed by a broad array of great folks – Mark Labberton, Brenda Salter McNeill, Nicholas Wolterstorff, Dan Allender, and more. What I love, particularly as someone passionate about forming young Christians with theological and biblical resources for sustainable ministry, is that Kristen and Bethany root our calling to justice in the big story of Scripture. We live in an urgent moment, and it has perhaps never been more important to have a mind for justice considering  brutal racial violence, a dysfunctional criminal justice system, sinister and  predatorial international child kidnappers like Boko Haram, a worldwide refugee crisis, and so much more. Please read this excerpt and then click the link below to buy this important book. 


Mala was trafficked into one of the most brutal brothels that International Justice Mission (IJM) had ever encountered. The lead trafficker was powerful, wealthy, and deeply connected to a wide network of other traffickers in the underground world of profit for rape. He stopped at nothing to keep the girls in his brothel under his power. Mala and the other girls worked around the clock, raped by ten to twenty men every day.  

What hope could we possibly hold on to for Mala? Where do we even begin to look for hope in the face of what she suffers?

And what about Mala’s trafficker? What hope could we possibly hold for him?

Why can we hope in the midst of brutal injustice? Because the story is not over yet. Because we serve a God who in Christ has entered into this broken world and conquered sin and evil, who reigns with justice and righteousness, and who will not rest until his kingdom has finally and fully come to this earth. 

This is not a cheap hope; our hope is often broken, bloodstained, and costly as was Christ’s sacrifice on the tree at Golgotha. This is not a trite hope; in the midst of hope we still need to acknowledge and lament the places in this world that fall short of God’s kingdom vision.

One of the central ways that God forms us into a people of persevering hope is through worship. Worship nourishes and forms us through the work of the Holy Spirit. Through worship we can be shaped into people who share God’s kingdom vision. The Eucharist is perhaps the component of worship that most deeply forms us into people who live with persevering hope.

In the communion liturgy of the church that I (Kristen) worship in, we describe the Lord’s Supper as a feast of remembrance, communion, and hope. Through this meal, God helps us to remember what Christ has done by offering himself in our place as the Passover Lamb so we might be freed from our slavery to sin and become God’s holy people, living the way of justice and righteousness. God enables us to commune with God and one another, receiving the reconciliation that Jesus Christ made possible so that we can live as beloved children of God, united with God and one another.

And God shapes us into people of hope as we receive a glimpse of the abundant feasts all will enjoy and of the fully reconciled relationships that all will experience in the new age, when all will be set right. As we are sent back into the world after receiving the Eucharist together, we do so with Spirit-shaped kingdom vision for who we are and what creation as a whole is to be. God uses this vision to strengthen us to move into this world and its messy and broken places; to be formed into the people of God by the Spirit is to be formed into a justice-seeking people.


Excerpt from, The Justice Calling: Where Passion Meets Perseverance, written by Bethany Hanke Hoang (@bethanyhoang) and Kristen Deede Johnson (@kdjtheologian).

 To download a free sample chapter, visit







Entering the Fifth Mansion: Transformed for Union

Enter union.

Don’t just think about it. Don’t just theologize about it. Experience it.

If St. Teresa was living today, she might say this very thing. If she could scan the bookshelves and see the many books written on union with God, she might say, “Oh, how wonderful. But are you experiencing it?!”

If you’ve been following this blog series (see links below), you realize that Teresa will not let you (and me!) off the hook. From that First Mansion – the addiction treatment center of the soul! – to this Fifth Mansion, she has invited us to remove every obstacle to union. We’ve come to realize that even our thinking about God and about union gets in the way of union. Our spiritual control-and-security strategies get in the way of union.

Oh friends! How could I describe the riches, the treasures and delights to be found inside the fifth dwelling? There is no way of knowing how to talk about such things, and I almost think it would be better to remain silent.

And yet, she is not silent. She tells us that the experience of union is not some dreamy state. No, we are wide awake – to God, to life, to love. The distractions that stir up a frenzy in our minds melt away. The soul is awake. The feeling of alertness and connection is so profound that “the soul can never forget…she never doubts…God was in her and she was in God.

It’s important to remember again that for Teresa, this is not some “emotional high.” This experience transcends mere emotion. If fact, for Teresa, our emotional reactions can become just as much an obstacle as our distracted minds. We need to learn to discern. We must listen beneath transitory emotions for the whisper of the Spirit. Just about anything can become a cheap substitute for real union and communion with God…even our “feelings” of closeness to God.

With that in mind, she paints a picture of the process through which union occurs. It is a cruciform process, imagined through the journey of a silkworm. Transformation, in other words, doesn’t occur without death. Now, the hungry silkworm doesn’t know this at the outset. Like many of us living outside of the castle, the silkworm’s world is an all-you-can-eat buffet. The silkworm is a crawling consumer. Transformation is not on its mind. But ever so subtly, a new vocation emerges from within, as “imaginal cells” begin to whisper within – You were made for something more! A battle ensues in the being of the crawling creature, as its more dominant cells scream – No, you were made to crawl and consume! It’s a battle for a larger life, a more noble vocation.

But transformation will not come easy. It is not available on the buffet line. No, transformation will require death. Does this creature realize it is preparing for its death as it spins the crysalis? Do we prepare for our own cruciform journeys? (This is where I’d love to riff on silkworms and Lent, but that’s for another blog post!) What we do know is that transformation does happen. What goes in crawling comes out flying. We cannot control the speed of this process. We cannot quicken its outcome. We can create space in our hearts and lives for it, and surrender to it. Yes, we are the silkworm, Teresa says.

As I write this, I’m remembering when my girls were young and we lived in Orlando, FL. They’d carefully cut a branch with a crysalis on it from the milkweed in our backyard, and transfer it to a container on our porch where we’d await the transformation. I remember one sunny day when my girls cam4392052093_43b5d8d17be running in to wake me up. “Daddy, daddy…it’s a monarch butterfly!” The beautiful creature had emerged, its wings outstretched before the hot sun, sitting in a posture of praise.

For St. Teresa, we can’t plot or strategize our way to union. It’s not offered on a spiritual buffet. There isn’t a 3-step formula. No, it’s realized…in and through our dying – to our attachments, our false selves, our smaller versions of God, our control strategies, our cheap union-substitutes. And it doesn’t generally happen in our preferred timing. Teresa says, “No matter how hard we try, we can’t get it on our own.” She says that the King brings us into his wine cellar. We wander around looking, but God enters in. We need only make ourselves available in surrender.

Now, you’d think she would end there, with an image of a butterfly, wings spread before its Maker. But she doesn’t. The Fifth Mansion ends with a call to action. But this time, we’re not acting out of a moralistic impulse. Our acting is isn’t inauthentic or arrogant. No it emerges out of love. It is the self-giving love of one transformed.

It is our participation in the Trinitarian dance of eternal giving and receiving, the dance of love. As our desires are aligned with God’s, we can’t help but participate in this Trinitarian choreography. After all, it’s our deepest memory, what we’ve known all along that we were made for. Union and mission go hand-in-hand.

And so, perhaps you’re thinking what I’m thinking – “This is it, right Teresa? The end of the road? The heights of the interior castle?”

Not so fast.

The journey is not yet done. Teresa will invite us into still-deeper union and communion in the coming mansions. It’s almost too good to imagine.


Now Available! Chuck’s new book – Wholeheartedness: Busyness, Exhaustion, and the Divided Life

Catch up on the series, and join a significant group of people all over who are reading along and processing the journey with the book resources listed below.

Blog Post 1 – Introduction – (Re)Union

Blog Post 2 – Out of Illusions, Into the Depths

Blog Post 3 – Entering the Journey | St. Teresa’s First Mansion

Blog Post 4 – Resources for the Journey | The Second Mansion

Blog Post 5 – Entering the Third Mansion | Facing our Control Strategies

Blog Post 6 – Entering the Fourth Mansion | Grace is Always Flowing

Interior Castle, St. Teresa of Avila translated by Mirabai Starr (I love Starr’s translation of Teresa, John, Lady Julian, etc. She is a fresh new translator of these classic works. Her introduction alone is worth the price of the book.)

Entering the Castle Caroline Myss (this book is the cheapest investment in your own therapy you’ll ever experience, though the emotional and spiritual investment may be costly!)

Into the Silent Land Martin Laird (this is best accessible introduction to the purpose and practice of contemplative prayer I know. Laird is an Augustinian priest teaching early Christian studies at Villanova U.)