Glittering Vices is a book about sin and self-examination, but sin should never be the first or last word about us.
The Christian life begins and ends with love. Ultimately, what draws us from brokenness and bondage is the power of love—God’s love. Taking our inspiration from Henri Nouwen, we can say that our belovedness and blessedness form the essential context for confronting our brokenness.
When I wrote the first edition of Glittering Vices, I was coming straight from a philosophical study of Aquinas’ Summa Theologiae and the vices tradition. I found the primary source material conceptually rich but also—surprisingly—personal. I confess I did not expect to find these texts speaking to my own deep spiritual longings. I was not alone in this reaction, though. My students encouraged me to condense the course material into a book, because they found it was the most practical thing they’d studied yet in college.
They wanted to know: How should I live? What sorts of goods and what types of relationships should I commit to and center my life on? What patterns of thought and rhythms of desire have I fallen into that are thwarting that good life? How do I discern that? What would restoration and freedom feel like? How do I move forward into new practices and a new way of life?
My best description of this book is that it is a translation of ancient ideas from disciples and saints who have walked in wisdom before me, colored by my own experience. Glittering Vices is my attempt to make this material understandable and accessible to contemporary Christians and other students of the vices.
The implicit frame of the book is sanctification—that is, the ways the Holy Spirit operates in our lives to conform us more and more to the character of Jesus Christ. God is working for us, and with us, and in us.
When vices prompt self-examination and reflection, this is neither a guilt trip nor a recipe for despair. Rather, anything convicting that you find in these pages is an invitation to be set free.
In my original, more philosophical frame for the book, I was mentally pairing the deformation of our character through the vices with the reformation of our character through the virtues. That’s not entirely off course, but I prefer a different schema for thinking about the project now. The vices mark things we need to leave behind. That is our starting point. The virtues, by contrast, mark the end or goal; they give us a picture of the Christlike life in all of its fullness. What’s the bridge between the two then? The ancient philosophers would say “habituation in virtue.” Start practicing. Try harder.
A more adequate and effective response invokes “graced disciplines,” daily rhythms of discipleship that bridge a life held captive to vice and a life that shines with beautiful virtue. Character reform is not powered simply by our own efforts. It’s true that we must do something, and that we must be intentional about doing it. But what we often find is that something is also being done in us, and it’s not always what we anticipated or intended. In those moments, our efforts are, at their best, ways of opening our lives and submitting ourselves to the Spirit’s transforming work. Spiritual disciplines cover everything from resting, working, speaking, listening, shopping, spending, and giving, to recreation and celebration, feasting and fasting, worship, prayer, solitude, and silence. The Spirit’s goal is to reshape and enliven every inch and corner of your life and character.