Theophilus Dunkin; aka “Theo”
Theo, you are our metropolitan boy. You came to us amidst towering buildings, bustling roadways, and ambitious pursuits. I hopped the train to grad school every morning, while mom biked through four miles of city traffic down Damen Avenue to her nanny job. An automobile was nothing to us but a means of revenue for the city, and an opportunity to keep curse words fresh in our vocabulary.
We encountered the city, and drank deeply of its life. We sought all the live music we could; we picnicked under metallic canopy at Millenium Park while listening to jazz; we worshipped in historic, African-American gospel churches and dined in China town. We rubbed shoulders with big bankers and aspiring musicians. Though the skyscrapers loomed large over our heads, some days it felt like we could reach out and touch their tops.
Your name came to us from the book of Acts, the introduction. Acts makes up the second half of Luke’s sprawling account of Jesus’ life and the astounding events that followed. Luke was an ancient physician with a doctor’s vocabulary—his Greek is among the most challenging in the New Testament. This studied man addressed his volume to a fellow aristocrat named Theophilus. We know nothing about him. He is not mentioned anywhere else in the Bible. But Luke greets him as a superior. Judging by his name and the way Luke ascends to him, scholars suspect he was a high-ranking Roman official. Simply to comprehend Luke, he must have been bright. Luke’s accounts also reveal a global, multi-cultural interest in his reader. Rather than sticking to Jewish towns and Hebrew idioms, Luke intentionally traces the journey of Jesus’ message across the known ancient world, doing so in a language suitable for a cultured Roman who may have been world traveler himself.
However, there is also a more legendary interpretation. Perhaps Theophilus was no specific person at all. Perhaps Luke was subliminally speaking to all people in all places who might fit the description of this name. Theophilus means, “God lover”, or, “one who loves God”. In this way, Luke uses his introduction to express his longing to share the magnificent story of Jesus with anyone who yearns for God.
As you can see from these paragraphs, your name emerged from the extravagant nerdiness of my seminary endeavors. If this pains you later, I can only hope that your shortened name, “Theo”, will allow you to forgive us for indulging a name too powerful to resist.
Today, at just two years old, you already embody the urban, sophisticated roots of your name. You take the world by storm, and then pause to study it. You love people of all types. You shriek with delight when you see an acquaintance. You are neither shy nor laid back. You are active and curious. You are extremely intelligent. The library is one of your favorite places. You devour books. Mom grows weary of reading The Lorax over and over, while for you it is pure joy every time. Your vocabulary grew quickly and early, enabling you to memorably declare that you wanted a “non-organic burger” with near-perfect pronunciation at 18 months.
But you have also come to appreciate our new lives in a world that is far from urban. You live to be outside. Once, after an unseasonably warm February day near your second birthday, we asked if you wanted pray before dinner. You took our hands, bowed your heard, and prayed with all the solemnity of a toddler, “God, thank you for a day outside, Amen”.
You and your brother will get along just fine.
Jayber, you’re our child of the country. Of course, we know that the mid-sized university town of Cedar Falls, Iowa is hardly considered “country” by some standards. But having relocated from the heart of Chicago, its smallness and calm was jarring to our senses when we arrived.
You were born in a season not of ambition, but contentment. While Chicago was the place of our striving, Cedar Falls has become our settling down. Here we’ve learned that life’s great joys do not come from mountaintop experiences, but from small pleasures amidst daily routines—the peaking through of a seedling in our garden; mowing the lawn in the shadows of a setting sun; a funny look your brother had never made before; the fullness of life as fifteen college students clamor into our home on Tuesday nights for Bible study. We rarely ask questions about the future; instead we drink deeply of the present. Rather than grasping for the heights of the Hancock building, we reach down into the dirt to plant Swiss Chard.
This contentment was a shift for us. It is a feeling I have not had since my college days, nearly a decade ago. And the friend leading us to this contentment was a man by the name of Jayber Crowe.
Jayber is a fictional character from a novel written by Wendell Berry. The way I stumbled on to this book was as unexpected as the contentment that followed.
We’d been in Cedar Falls for a month. I visited the public library for the first time, and was instantly impressed. This small town continues to surprise me with great gifts, made all the more wonderful because I don’t expect them (where in the city I demanded every good thing and felt gypped if it wasn’t given promptly), and one of those gifts is the library. Your brother loves it there; we hope you will, too.
But on this first visit, I simply knew that I wanted to read a novel. I wandered the library stacks, pulled a dozen books off the shelf at random, and checked out eight of them. I got home and dug in immediately. Jayber Crowe was one of the first books I paged through. The cover description of the author immediately intrigued me. He was a Kentucky farmer. Seeing as I was now a resident of the rural lands of Iowa, I felt I could relate.
I had no idea the treat I was in for. Jayber Crowe immediately became my favorite book; Jayber one of my favorite characters; Wendell Berry one of my favorite authors; and Jayber, now, your name.
I could go on for hours about the glories of Wendell Berry and the exploits of Jayber and the other membership of Port William; but two themes will suffice to understand why we named you in his likeness.
The first theme is this: love of the land. Coming to Iowa was a reminder for me of the importance of the earth. Substance. Dirt. Fog. Food. Which, apparently, comes from the ground.
Chicago was a concrete jungle. Our local Winnemac Park was a much needed reprieve, but even there the ambulance sirens wailed constantly, paved paths marked your pre-determined walking route; and the landscaping was artificial and obviously man-made.
Not so on the outskirts of Cedar Falls. Here I rediscovered, or perhaps discovered for the first time, the wildness of creation. I have taken walks through thick forest patches here, wondering along the way if the trees and brooks might give way so that heaven itself bursts forth and knocks me on my back.
Iowa’s landscape is made all the more wondrous because it’s so common. There are no great mountains here; nor vast canyons. No roaring waterfalls to report. Just flat, simple woods. And farmland for miles. If you captured a picture, it would not make the cover of National Geographic or Travel Magazine. Yet its beauty is astonishing nonetheless. It is simplicity in abundance. It is joy come to life, rising from the ground, climbing skyward. The more I talk about it, the more I realize that my wonder is probably not caused by the landscape at all, but by the one who views it. I have been changed.
The second theme is neighborliness. Jayber Crowe decided that he would make a town his own. He made a resolution and decided to stay, not because he found the town compelling, but because he was compelled by an inward force.
The book chronicles Jayber’s adventures with familiar neighbors and friends. He is by no means a perfect man, perhaps not even an admirable one. But he is content. And in time, he learns to be faithful. Specifically, faithful to his neighbors. Faithful to those whom God has put around him.
For you, Jayber, we could wish nothing more. We hope you will love to dig in the dirt and exalt in the beauty of the earth. We hope you will work to sustain it, to cultivate it, to celebrate and embrace it.
We also hope your life will be marked by contentment with your neighbors simply because they are yours.
We look forward to making your acquaintance soon. We hope to be your most faithful neighbors, your loving family, the membership of your port, wherever that is, for years to come.