Engraved, Deeply Etched

Here is a quote on character that I spent time working with and using for some personal assessment.

(Character) does require a conviction of a truth made sacred, abiding as an authoritative presence within consciousness and life, reinforced by habits institutionalized within a moral community. Character, therefore, resists expedience; it defies hasty acquisition. This is undoubtedly why Soren Kierkegaard spoke of character as “engraved, deeply etched.” (James Hunter, The Death of Character, p. 19)

This stirring quote explains why I believe the church is one of the few institutions left in our society that can be about the mission of  virtue formation. Let me unpack the phrases of that quote to show why.

ONE: Convictions of truth
In our time we have few convictions of normative, abiding truth. We have truthiness. We have little truths. We have personal truths. We have no grand, beautiful, sweeping moral narrative anymore. We are left with opinions and preferences and tastes about truth. The Church of Christ still believes in truth.

TWO: Truth made sacred
Sacred – holy, high, transcendent, a good and beautiful reality that actually abides with us. The Church is itself a sacred reality that speaks of sacred realities and manifests sacred realities.

THREE: Reinforced by habits
Virtue, character, morality – these are hard gained and slowly formed. An old book had the title, Habits of the Heart. Virtue is the result of good deeds practiced over and over until they become persistent and near automatic responses.

FOUR: Institutionalized within a moral community
How many moral communities can you think of these days? How many moral communities are there where we actually have a shared morality? One of the disturbing facts about the United States is that we have NO moral consensus on anything. All you have to do is ask a typical class of high school or college students if there are any moral absolutes.

The Church is a family, a community, and an organization. We are a spiritual institution with patterns, norms, and ways and means of moral and spiritual life together. Our Living Word staff has a covenant of relational norms we put into practice.

It is as I do life together with my spiritual friends (some deep, others close, many more acquaintances) that the soul of interior character is formed within me.

FIVE: Character resists expedience and hasty acquisition
Long, slow, deep, and difficult. A long journey in the same direction. That is how a moral framework of virtue is established in one’s life. The Church is a place where the march of long years is done together with others.

SIX: Engraved, deeply etched
This moral framework is engraved, etched, and imprinted on us. There are hands, invisible hands, doing the writing on heart, mind, and soul. Above all, Christ is the Divine Engraver. The Spirit writes on us the image of Christ. The words, the will, and the ways of God are inscribed on our hearts.

This is one more reason why I love the Church as the community of faith and formation, and why I have devoted my life to be used by God for his vision to be fleshed out among us. I hope you love the Church as well. I pray you love what God is doing inside you as you are inside the community of faith.

Pastor Brian


Brian Rice