The Radical Life

by matthew warner

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.)

It’s an impressive thing to command a boardroom of executives. But it’s still far better to engage a bored room of toddlers.

It’s also much more needed.

The proper raising of children (which involves both mothers and fathers) will solve more ailments of our time than any government program, school system or equal opportunity ever will. It will also bring more joy, satisfaction, meaning and purpose to anyone who is so blessed to be called to such a vocation.

So many moms feel inadequate if they don’t have a successful career or a college degree or some other achievement to go along with their title of “mom.” All of those other things are great. They truly are. And it’s wonderful if anyone is blessed to achieve them. They may even make someone a better mom.

So by all means pursue them if you are called, but remember that no amount of other titles will ever be “enough” for your child, other than that of “mom.” (This applies uniquely to fathers, too. More on fatherhood soon.)

I’m in constant awe of my wife. She has the most prestigious job there is (mother) and she continually sacrifices her own interests for those of her husband and the tiny souls we’ve been entrusted with. Every single one of us are called to such sacrifice.

When you begin to live in this way, shoving all of your selfish interests aside — when you get your own selfish ambitions out of the way — you begin to see the simple and miraculous life God planned for you.

That life looks a little different for each of us. But I’m not sure if there’s anything more glorious than the life of a mother.

“A mother cannot claim the honor of having built Notre Dame Cathedral. She need not. She has built something more magnificent than any cathedral—a dwelling for an immortal soul, the tiny perfection of her baby’s body. The angels have not been blessed with such a grace…God joins forces with mothers in performing this act of creation. What on God’s good earth is more glorious than this—to be a mother?” – Cardinal Mindzenty

We so greatly value people who are able to maximize their productivity and accomplish so much with so little. Well, motherhood is the epitome of both.

The mother produces the most from the least. From nothing (and all by God’s grace), she helps bring forth something unlike any product: A human person. An eternal being. She produces not just things, but producers. She grows not just things to love, but lovers. What’s more glorious than that?

One of the biggest traps we fall in to is measuring ourselves by what other people do and think. It’s so hard not to do.

Social media is constantly flaunting the best of other people’s lives while taunting us with temptation to do the same. Of course, it’s not a bad thing to share your life with others. But when we constantly share it in a way that is immediately measured by what other people think (comments, likes, shares, RTs, etc.) we begin to value everything we have and do in terms of what other people think about them.

It’s too easy to end up mis-using the blessings in our lives as a means to impress others. Or a tool to communicate our success to outsiders. Or a means of getting attention, earning respect, being affirmed, or a cause for praise that fluffs our self-esteem and quiets our insecurities.

We end up valuing everything in our life based upon what it means to others — rather than what it means to us. Whether they will like it vs. whether we like it. Whether it’s meaningful to others vs. whether it’s meaningful to me. Whether others think it’s right vs. whether God does.

Let’s be honest, from the outside looking in, my life looks pretty ordinary. My car, my house, my job, my front door, my computer, my clothes, my friends and family. The average onlooker wouldn’t see anything out of the ordinary. So if I judge my life by the perspective of outsiders looking in, I will feel pretty ordinary.

What a tragedy to trade reality for such a dull perspective! But when you constantly worry about how outsiders see your life, you’ll end up struggling just not to feel ordinary.

Rather, look anew at your seemingly ordinary life. Instead, think less of what others think, and see the gifts you’ve been given from the perspective of what they mean to *you*. Every single ordinary looking thing in your life is there to aid you on a very specific and important mission. A mission to serve an important purpose that nobody else on the planet can serve except for you. They are not ordinary…for you.

Never stop marveling at how you got them. Be thankful for them. Recognize how special they are.

Then all of a sudden your front door doesn’t seem so ordinary, no matter how ordinarily it’s been made. For through that ordinary looking door passes daily the precious souls of the ones you love. It provides shelter to the same. It marks the boundary of a warm, safe place called home. Not just any home, but *your* home. The home you’re building. There’s nothing ordinary about that door…to you.

Then all of a sudden your plain, old boring car that looks like a million other cars out there doesn’t seem so ordinary any more. For it carries you and your family to your daily destinies. Through its ordinary windows are seen the extraordinary fields and trees and lights and beauty of a world that lines our roads.

That ordinary dinner that you make all the time, the one that tastes like what anyone might get at any other dinner table, is not so ordinary any more. For specifically by it, and by no other meal, the ones you love get the energy they need to move and grow. And specifically by that very meal you come together to pray, to be thankful, to love and share with one another. That is no ordinary meal…to you.

Your life may seem ordinary to other people, that’s fine. But don’t let it be ordinary…to you.

We’re off to a new year, which means new beginnings! New beginnings are essential to the Christian life. At any moment, no matter how badly we’ve messed up or what bad habits we’ve acquired, we can choose to start anew.

And there will be some new things around here this new year!

First, I’ve committed myself to write more. So you’re going to see a lot more blog posts (don’t worry, the email list will still only get one email a week or so). Second, my family and I have been working toward some exciting (perhaps even *radical*) new lifestyle choices. More to come on that soon. And finally, I’m going to share with you some really neat Radical Life projects I’ve been working on.

One such project is an eBooklet. It’s called Messy and Foolish: How to make a mess, be a fool and change the world. I’ll try to get it to you in the next few weeks. It will be a quick, easy read and totally free. I think you’ll really like it, so hang out for that.

Another involves a series of really simple, individual *programs* (for lack of a better word) that will help a person do things like be more productive, humble, holy, careless, generous and much (much) more. I’ll announce how that is going to work early this year when I launch the first one.

I’m so thankful

I’m so thankful for every one of you who read The Radical Life. It’s been truly astonishing how quickly this group has grown and we are only just getting started.

If you need any help on your new year’s resolutions, here are some ideas (with accompanying posts):

I hope those help you get off to a great new beginning this year!

- Matt