A Lawyer's Journey

Jace Yarbrough, the Constitution, and human flourishing

By Chelsea Rose Moore

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Jace Yarbrough ‘09 grew up with the perception that the Christian faith was anti-intellectual. In his home, salvation was designed to rescue others from a future in hell. Christians were meant to support themselves with a job and spend their free time doing one thing: evangelizing. Nothing else had value.  

As Yarbrough grew older, he realized this was not only a narrow view of Christianity, but it was not a sustainable way to live. He read Being Human: The Nature of Spiritual Experience by Ranald Macaulay and Jerram Barrs, and came to the realization that being human meant being made in the image of God himself. There was nothing inherently bad about his body or his humanness – in fact, they were something good. God himself became flesh, stayed flesh, and rose with the same but perfected body Christians are also promised. Jace read Abraham Kuyper, who said there is no inch of creation over which Christ doesn’t say, “mine.”

"Recognizing these precious truths was deeply freeing to me" Jace says. If God wanted His children to enjoy the fruits of His creation, then Christianity encouraged him to wonder at his humanness and at the world. It gave him freedom to read difficult texts and grapple with their meaning. It allowed him to ask hard questions, to think abstractly, and to discover beauty and truth.

 

Early formation

Yarbrough grew up in a small town in Texas. He met his future wife, Elizabeth, as a junior in high school. He was smitten with her from the first time he met her, and when he told his father about her, his dad said he would be grounded if he did not get her phone number. Thanks to his father’s encouragement, he got her number – and they were married a few years later, the summer after his sophomore year in college.

He attended The University of Texas at Austin and received two Bachelor’s degrees; in Political Science and Government, and in Electrical and Electronics Engineering. He chose electrical engineering simply because the average pay upon graduating was at the top of the list. At the time, he did not understand that education is about more than securing a job - it’s about living life well.

He pursued his two degrees in four years while simultaneously working jobs in a research lab and as a physics tutor. One of his final college requirements was to take a government course. He was frustrated with the course because it conflicted with his work schedule, but the class studied the constitutional debates and the Federalist Papers, and sparked a fresh curiosity in him. He soon found he only wanted to think about the paper he was writing for this new class.

During this time, he began thinking deeply about life in a way he never had before. He joined a small group with people who had taught with Francis Schaeffer. He began reading one of Paul Johnson’s history books. He became frustrated with his church and the lack of liturgy and “texture,” and became sorely aware of the absence of “history and heritage.”

All the while, he was discovering a newfound interest that culminated in a couple of questions: How does society formulate its customs and habits? And how does a culture pass these customs from generation to generation? These issues hit at the heart of constitutionalism – yet a vocation in the legal profession was never something he imagined himself pursuing.

In the Old Testament, 1 Kings 19:12 says, “…Then a great and powerful wind tore the mountains apart and shattered the rocks before the Lord, but the Lord was not in the wind. After the wind there was an earthquake, but the Lord was not in the earthquake. After the earthquake came a fire, but the Lord was not in the fire. And after the fire came a gentle whisper.” Yarbrough pointed to this verse when describing his calling into law: it came rather quietly, through gentle whispers and soft nudges.

 

The Constitution: passing on wisdom

 Jace with John Jay Institute founder Alan Crippen

Jace with John Jay Institute founder Alan Crippen

After graduating from college, he studied at the John Jay Institute, which he credits with providing a vocabulary for expressing his experiences and giving him a direction, or a nudge, toward the legal profession.

The John Jay Institute was the most formative experience of my life, hands down.
— Jace Yarbrough

“The John Jay Institute was the most formative experience of my life, hands down,” he said, “I owe my need of friendship, so much of my current joy, and my worldview to my experience there. I was longing for a sense of community and connection, both to the past and the future, but also to the folks around me. The Institute was all of those things and more.”

At the Institute, he came to “…the recognition that I – and we – have a duty and a responsibility to those who have come before us, to treasure and honor the things they have done right.”

One of the things that makes humans special is that they have figured out how to pass knowledge from generation to generation, he said. The Constitution is a mechanism, or a vehicle, by which wisdom is passed on to future generations. Government exists to secure freedom, and the Constitution allows American society to be both ordered and dynamic. “The beautiful thing about our Constitution is to allow everyone to have a voice, to voice their perception of the good life. It’s a process of public discourse. It’s a necessary vehicle.” While everyone has their own version of the good life, the Constitution allows differing voices, communities, and cultures to be heard – and to have an impact. Through the Constitution, there is a passing on, or a sharing of “the sweetest and best things in life.” He believes Christians should see the Constitution as a vehicle that allows them to offer their version of the good life to others.

Joining the military was something he felt called to do. He enlisted in the Air Force, and, while waiting for his orders, Jace decided to try something different. He began searching for teaching jobs and found a school in Honduras with a music teacher opening, perfect for Elizabeth, and a position for himself teaching AP Calculus, Physics, and Western Civilization at Academia Los Pinares, a private school serving the country’s wealthiest residents. Together he and Elizabeth spent a year teaching and sharing experiences in Tegucigalpa, Honduras. While there, he received a letter telling him to report to Maxwell Air Force Base in Montgomery, Alabama. He spent a couple of years in Georgia as a Developmental Engineer and in Washington D.C. as Flight Commander with the United States Air Force.

His time in the Air Force taught him the importance of following well. He pointed out that today’s culture celebrates the trailblazers and the leaders, and promotes a mantra of following your heart. But he believes good followers are what make companies successful. The Air Force’s catchphrase of “dynamic followership” impressed him deeply, and he hopes that American society will begin to praise “the kind of skills and virtues that are required to follow well.”

 

The law: a high calling

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He is currently pursuing his J.D. at Stanford University Law School in California, with a projected graduation date of June 2018. After graduating, he’ll be moving back to Dallas, Texas to work at a law firm as a brand-new associate. He and his wife Elizabeth have been married for 10 years and have two children, a four-year-old boy and a three-year-old girl. They are expecting their third child in November.

He appreciates that the legal profession is completely dependent on trust between those in need of legal services and the person providing the services. If either party does not come through for the other, there can be deep consequences. He enjoys being relied on in this way, and relying on others in the same way. He loves the openness between parties that can arise after “you’ve proven yourself to someone,” and enjoys the exercise of walking into a tense situation and “doing it right by them.” He believes the legal profession is a high calling, and one in which he takes tremendous amounts of joy.

The Constitution is a mechanism, or a vehicle, by which wisdom is passed on to future generations.

Jace describes the typical American life – drive to work, come home, eat dinner, go to bed, and repeat, Groundhog Day-style –  as something that can lull people into a state of complacency and dullness. But litigations are often a time in people’s lives where they wake from their zombie-like state and start living more fully. He enjoys being able to walk alongside people in their darkest hours and offer advice, from economic to family advice. “This is where life happens,” he explains.

Although suffering and pain can awaken people, he points out that pain is not the only method to bring people to this place of awakening. Participating in old institutions and traditions, like marriage and parenting, can serve the same purpose, as they offer us moments of piercing joy that cut deeply. These moments can be almost melancholic; they are mixed with pain and intense joy; they are both unexpected and unpredictable. It is upon reaching this state that humans can then recognize their need – that bittersweet ache or longing – for something beyond this world.  Perhaps C.S. Lewis summed it up best, when he wrote: “If I find in myself desires which nothing in this world can satisfy, the only logical explanation is that I was made for another world.”