The Radical Life

by matthew warner

Forgive me if this seems like a depressing subject. It’s actually the opposite.

I remember when I was in college, a short twelve years ago. I was consumed with myself. It’s a natural, although selfish, mindset for anyone at that stage in life. What should be my major? What classes should I take? What clubs should I join? What am I going to do after I graduate? What are my responsibilities? Am I fulfilling them? Where will I go? What does the rest of my life look like? Who will I spend it with?

The future was a big question mark that consumed my daily energy and thought. And that’s only once I managed to move past the other more pressing questions. Like how do I look? What does everyone else think of me? Is so-and-so really my friend?

It’s not that questions like these don’t matter for you. But I’ve learned they don’t matter that much. At least not when we put them into the right context…

The context of death. Your death, to be specific.

“No one can confidently say that he will still be living tomorrow.” – Euripides

Now, you can choose to be depressed about that. Or, you can let it sweeten every moment of this adventure that you are alive until then.

But the subject of your death is not only a reminder to cherish the time you have here. More importantly, it’s a reminder that your time here is finite.

Whether it happens by the end of this sentence or in 100 years, your life here will end. And it will have been short. Just ask anybody who’s died. And guess what? All of those questions I mentioned above? The answers to those won’t really matter anymore.

And you won’t be the one asking yourself questions, either. The One who made you will be. You know, the Guy who has a very important plan and purpose for your life? The Guy who offers you freedom from all of your useless worries and small stresses for the simple cost of everything? The Guy who demands faithfulness, not success? Yeah. That guy.

The Guy who, when you die, will ask you things like, “what did you do for the least of mine?” And “did you do it with love?” “How did you spend the time I gave you on Earth?”

In other words, did you spend your life for God and others as if each moment were your last? Or did you spend it selfishly, taking your days for granted, assuming you’d have time for that other stuff later?

At any moment now your last moment and this moment will be the same moment. This is a fact of life that nobody escapes. The good news is that in every moment up until then, you are being offered eternity. The deal is — you trade your current, short, often painful, difficult life where you end as dust in exchange for a life of eternal joy. It’s a killer deal. But it’s a limited time offer.

Oh, and it just so happens that this “deal” is not only the ticket to peace and joy in the next life, it’s also the secret to peace and joy in this life. Make the deal. However long God gives you in this first adventure, embrace and be thankful for every bit of it. Live it to the fullest. Don’t waste another moment of it doing anything other than something for God.

“To the well-organized mind, death is but the next great adventure.” – Albus Dumbledore

Live every moment of this life for God and others and you’ll be very well organized for the next great adventure — whenever God wants that to begin.

Each of us is connected to every other human that has ever lived. We share a common biology, creator and experience that deeply bonds us in solidarity with one another.

Likewise, one of the neat things about being a Christian is our unique connection with all of the other Christians who have ever lived. We share a common relationship — one that bridges time and space, life and death — with the same Divine Person: Jesus.

And this connectedness has been made most practically tangible for us and been passed down to us by way of that most familiar of historical conduits: Tradition. And, in particular, the Tradition of Jesus’ and His Apostles.

That’s why it is so comforting to look back at what the first Christians did to practice their faith and to find the familiar Mass our family is blessed to participate in every Sunday. It’s quite the connection indeed, and it’s amazing to think about the billions of folks who have done this very same thing for 2000 years and will continue to do so until the end.

The following video recounts a letter from St. Justin Martyr to the Emperor Antoninus Pius in 155 AD explaining what Christians back then (only a generation or two after the Apostles) did to worship. Cool stuff.

People are often unreasonable, irrational, and self-centered. Forgive them anyway.

If you are kind, people may accuse you of selfish, ulterior motives. Be kind anyway.

If you are successful, you will win some unfaithful friends and some genuine enemies. Succeed anyway.

If you are honest and sincere people may deceive you. Be honest and sincere anyway.

What you spend years creating, others could destroy overnight. Create anyway.

If you find serenity and happiness, some may be jealous. Be happy anyway.

The good you do today will often be forgotten. Do good anyway.

Give the best you have…and it will never be enough. Give your best anyway.

In the final analysis, it is between you and God. It was never between you and them anyway.

— from Mother Teresa’s wall (adapted from Kent Keith)

 

Deep down, we usually know what the right thing to do is. But if we simply don’t want to do it, we won’t have any trouble coming up with an endless list of lame excuses to justify not doing it. In fact, some of the excuses may even seem like really good ones.

Do the right thing anyway. It will make all the difference.

dogoodanyway

It’s never been all that radical to break the commandments (i.e. to sin). Anybody can do so without much effort at all.

What is rebellious is to keep the commandments, despite the ease of breaking them. Breaking them is far too tame. If you want to be wild, novel and noteworthy — keep them. You’ll get to experience life more deeply than most and you’ll be free of the crippling vices that keep so many from reaching their true potential.

Consider a wine glass that you take on a trip around the world and back. There would be nothing noteworthy about having broken the glass along the way. But there is something special about bringing it all the way back home in one piece (even if you had to piece it back together along the way).

Be radical:

“Break the convention. Keep the commandments.” – G.K. Chesterton

Speaking of breaking conventions, we should do more of it still. For while it is never good to break commandments, it is often very good to break conventions: those human habits we develop over time that we forget can be changed at any moment. These are things like how we work, what our daily schedule looks like, how we form community, what we do for entertainment, how we spend our idle time, how the political process works, the way we solve social ills and how we form our children. Such conventions can be cultural ruts we get stuck in for so long that we lose the ability to even imagine how things might be different (and hopefully better).

These conventions are what need breaking every now and again. Not only for the sake of human flourishing, but to stoke the fire inside of us. To stir us on to participate in that courageous, creative process along side the Creator. It’s the beginning of figuring out how we can work differently, live more intentionally and love more radically.

Let’s break the conventions and conform them to the commandments — not the other way around.

A few years ago I did some rough calculations:

There are about 25.5 million teenagers in the USA (ages 13-19). On average, each teen spends 87 hours per year looking for or at pornography online. That means U.S. teens spend about 2.2 billion man-hours on pornography per year.

There are about 230 million adults in the USA (ages 20 and up). On average, each one spends 40 hours looking at pornography. That means US adults spend an estimated 9.2 billion man-hours on pornography per year.

So, all together, US adults and teens spend 11.4 billion man-hours per year on internet pornography alone.

We also spend over $13.3 billion on pornography in the United States every year.

Here area a few other things we could do with that same time and money:

With that same amount of time (man-hours) we could…

  1. Build the Empire State building…1,628 times.
  2. Visit every single one of the 1.5 million U.S. nursing home residents, every single day of the year, for 20 hours a day…and still have free time left over.
  3. Visit every single one of the 2 million prisoners in the United States, every single day, two visitors at a time, for 8 hours.
  4. Have every single person in the U.S. spend an extra 36 hours in prayer.
  5. Spend 3 extra hours per week with each and every one of the 75 million teens and children in the United States.

With that same amount of money we could…

  1. Provide, prepare and serve 7 billion school lunches. That’s enough to feed over 38 million students every school day of the year.
  2. Pay for 1.9 million four-year college degrees.
  3. Build 190,000 Habitat for Humanity homes…in Orange County, CA. Or we could build 7.25 million of them in India.
  4. Give $13.3 million to one thousand different charities each.
  5. Feed 1 billion people a meal…70 times.

And this says nothing of all of the other negative side effects that would be avoided if we could give up our porn.

How many marriages are stressed by it? How many families broken? How many addictions formed? How many marital unions defiled, nullified and deeply scarred? How many abusers made callous to the dignity of the human person? How many brains are re-wired to objectify rather than dignify? How many innocents are spoiled? And how many young, struggling people are drawn into an industry that lets us degrade them for our own entertainment and pleasure? And subjects them to a lifestyle that very often kills them (the life expectancy of a porn star/stripper is 37 years)?

We thought the days of the Coliseum were long gone. They’re really not. Its walls may have crumbled, but they’ve been resurrected around dark, shadowy clubs and private web portals where we reduce our fellow human beings to objects of our own entertainment at the expense of their pain and destruction.

The mask of the party and the barrier of computer screens dangerously deceives us into thinking nobody is getting hurt. But not only are we hurting all of the people we objectify and take advantage of, and not only are we hurting all the people we could have been helping with that time/money instead, but we’re also hurting ourselves. Rewiring our brains into lesser versions of ourselves that compete directly with the radically satisfying life we were created to live.

All because we can’t give up the comparatively dull, distracting, destructive indulgence of our porn.

(The best talk I’ve ever heard on the vice of porn and the virtue of purity is called Detox, by Jason Evert. Whether you struggle with this or not, you should get it and share it.)

Do you ever just get tired?

Do you ever get worn out by the day-to-day give-and-take in your life?

Do you grow weary of your work and the monotony of the daily grind?

Do you ever feel like you’re being asked to give too much? Are you never quite able to tackle your long list of todos?

At the end of each day, do you find yourself absolutely and completely spent?

If you said yes to any of these, you might be suffering from being a real, live human being. And you might be guilty of actually living your life to the fullest. Congratulations.

Modern Man wastes both his innocence and his guilt. His innocence is squandered by sin, which brings the guilt (and rightly so). But then he goes and squanders the guilt, too, by trying to cure it, forget it or die in it.

Genuine guilt is not a psychological complex in need of curing or forgetting. Neither should it be cause for chronic depression. Guilt is an opportunity for profit. It’s your soul offering a correction of course, like those lane bumper thingies at the bowling alley. It’s there to help you learn and profit from your mistake.

Even when we have a healthy acknowledgement of guilt, it’s easy to spend too much time lamenting our failures or sins and not enough time profiting from them. The greatest saints, on the other hand — often having most wildly lost their innocence — are the ones who learned to profit most from their guilt…from their sin.

Our initial reaction to sin – a first step – must be contrition. But it is there, in such remorse, that also begins the profit. It is there where God draws close and works his greatest miracles. It is there that we learn a wisdom and humility that innocence will never teach to imperfect creatures like us.

“Sin is more profitable than innocence. Innocence had made me arrogant, sin made me humble.” – St. Ambrose

Fasting is not just an excuse to live a healthier life or kick some bad habits. Fasting can be a profound act of love and a powerful spiritual weapon. Here are some reasons I love it.

First, some demons can only be cast out by prayer and fasting. (Mk 9:28)

Have something tough going on in your life? Or something you’ve struggled with for years but can’t seem to overcome? Maybe you’ve prayed about it over and over again and it doesn’t seem to be getting better? Prayerfully fast.

Second, it gives us solidarity with strangers. 

Fasting gives us a teeny, tiny glimpse of how billions of less fortunate people on this planet live every day. It helps us to feel for them so we don’t forget them.

Third, it sets you free to live your best life.

Jesus definitely loved a good party. But when he needed to prepare for the biggest mission of his life (i.e. the beginning of his public ministry), he fasted. During Lent, of course, fasting prepares us for the biggest party of the year. And your own fasting at any time will prepare you for the next big thing in your life.

Fasting is a means of penance, it helps you master your instincts and it wrenches you free from your vices. Once you have the power to say no to your carnal appetites, you are more free to say yes to God’s will in your life. Fasting is a path to genuine freedom.

Fourth, it helps you recognize God’s voice.

Fasting helps you tell your will from God’s will in your life. It distinguishes your voice from God’s voice. See, when you do some serious fasting, that whining-bellyaching voice in your head…that one is yours. The other one, that’s God’s. His is the still, small voice you hadn’t noticed before.

Fifth, it reminds you of the truth about yourself.

The truth is that we are weak. We are limited and in need of a limitless one. We are created, dependent upon a creator.

If we get into the bad habit of automatically quenching our every thirst, satisfying our every urge, we begin to forget that we are mortal. Let’s face it, we can continually stuff ourselves with the finest foods, yet we will still end up hungry again and again. It is good for us to instead periodically embrace that physical hunger and let it drive us toward something more lasting (Jn 6:48-51).

The truth is, we’re dust — and to dust we shall return. And not only are we made of dust, but so is most of the stuff we spend our time chasing every day. All of our money, possessions and earthly accomplishments are not important in themselves. They are all fleeting. They are all, ultimately, dust.

We can spend the rest of our lives chasing more dust, or we can spend it chasing the One who breathes life into dust? Think fast.

mother-teresa-prayingWhen we are stressed or feel overly burdened in life it’s usually because we’ve gotten our priorities out of order. Here are 7 of my favorite Mother Teresa quotes that will help. When read in this order, they are guaranteed to bring order and peace back to your life. Give them a try.

Step 1: Slow down.

“I think the world today is upside down. Everybody seems to be in such a terrible rush, anxious for greater development and greater riches and so on. There is much suffering because there is so very little love in homes and in family life. We have no time for our children, we have no time for each other; there is no time to enjoy each other. In the home begins the disruption of the peace of the world.”

Step 2: Make some room.

“If you are discouraged it is a sign of pride because it shows you trust in your own power. Your self-sufficiency, your selfishness and your intellectual pride will inhibit His coming to live in your heart because God cannot fill what is already full. It is as simple as that.”

Step 3: Open your eyes.

“Each one of them is Jesus in disguise.”

Step 4: Put great love into the small things.

“In this life we cannot do great things. We can only do small things with great love.”

Step 5: Do not tire.

“Do not think that love, in order to be genuine, has to be extraordinary. What we need is to love without getting tired.”

Step 6: Remember – it’s faithfulness, not success.

“God doesn’t ask that we succeed in everything, but that we are faithful. However beautiful our work may be, let us not become attached to it. Always remain prepared to give it up, without losing your peace.”

Step 7: Leave the rest to Jesus.

“Be humble and you will never be disturbed. It is very difficult in practice because we all want to see the result of our work. Leave it to Jesus.”

Radical tip: Give yourself 5-minutes each morning to read these again. It will change your life.

the best way to drink alcohol

If you want to be a good Christian, you should drink carelessly.

“In so far as drinking is really a sin it is not because drinking is wild, but because drinking is tame; not in so far as it is anarchy, but in so far as it is slavery.

Probably the worst way to drink is to drink medicinally. Certainly the safest way to drink is to drink carelessly; that is, without caring much for anything, and especially not caring for the drink. In such things to be careless is to be sane: for neither drunkards nor Moslems can be careless about drink.” – G. K. Chesterton, Wine when it is Red.

Chesterton gets it right where both our culture-of-excess and the puritans go wrong. The former is a slave to drink, the latter is enslaved by their reaction to it.

Our temptation, then, is to instead engage in moderation. All things in moderation, they say. Yet most things that we are to be “moderate” in were not meant to be moderated. Not directly anyway.

It’s like the fool in love worrying about the looking foolish part. Or, upon hearing exciting news, moderating exactly how high you will jump. The very moderation of the thing spoils the heart of it. The mechanics of life begin to spoil the spirit of it.

The common wisdom to “drink responsibly” really reads like a prescription. Feeling stressed? Need to unwind? Take 4 beers, some water before bed and a Tylenol in the morning. Do not mix with liquor or operate heavy machinery.

This is the worst kind of drinking. An abuse of the drink. Not because it is too wild, but because it is too tame. Not because it is careless, but because it is too careful. Not because it is anarchy, but because it is slavery.

Some rules for drinking:

“The sound rule in the matter would appear to be like many other sound rules – a paradox. Drink because you are happy, but never because you are miserable. Never drink when you are wretched without it, or you will be like the grey-faced gin-drinker in the slum; but drink when you would be happy without it, and you will be like the laughing peasant of Italy. Never drink because you need it, for this is rational drinking, and the way to death and hell. But drink because you do not need it, for this is irrational drinking, and the ancient health of the world.” – G. K. Chesterton

He also said “We should thank God for beer and burgundy by not drinking too much of them.” But we should do so because we don’t need it and because we’re happy without it. And we should most certainly do so with good company and glad hearts.

The virtue of temperance is the key. But such virtue is not practiced in the excess of license, nor is it promoted in the restriction of a measured cup. It lives in the fulfillment of the legitimate desires of a healthy, disciplined soul set free to live as it should. Set free to live carelessly.

(Thanks to my friend Kevin for sharing this Chertertonian wisdom with me over a careless beer.)