catapult magazine

catapult magazine

Vol 11, Num 9 :: 2012.04.27 — 2012.05.10


Glimpses of the good life

Here listed are three glimpses I have perceived in my own life on my way to trying to discover, understand, crystallize what the good life is. As with most realizations, these are only the beginnings of journeys will which take a lifetime and remain woefully incomplete. If my abrupt narrative makes it seem like they emerged quickly, they didn’t, and the fact that they might begin with books is only a testament to the ways that books plant seeds of imagination and so help us to see with new eyes, even as they’re ultimately unable to enact change.

As our human perspective is both limited and fragile, I imagine that we only ever glimpse the good life, so I call these my “three glimpses so far.”

Glimpse 1: Exit the Success Narrative

Beginning this shift in earnest was Shane Claiborne’s The Irresistible Revolution, a book that many readers have found transformative and I am one of them. There are so many different ways of describing what is being conveyed in this book — simplicity of lifestyle, solidarity with the poor, humility and peace as Christian life — but a broad impact I have personally felt has been to slowly feel the exit of our culture’s success narrative from my own life.

What The Irresistible Revolution highlights is that a Christian life probably looks quite different than it would without faith, which is an intimidating but also refreshing and inspiring suggestion. Although on the one hand Claiborne raises the bar for certain priorities in our lives, he simultaneously tramples over many of the priorities we are encouraged to cherish, those which I would place under the weighty umbrella of “traditional” success.

What traditional success entails is news to no one: job security and prospects, financial health, possibly a nuclear family, property, retirement plans, etc. In realizing that none of this is what I am called to pursue and that none of this (even if I may tap into one or two along the way) is ultimately what I should measure myself on, I have felt a massive burden lifted, and remembering this always gives me peace and gratitude. I am called to love God and love others — this is all. I’m broken and flawed, but if I try, it’s enough.

When I imagine the good life, we are all free of our broken success narrative.

Glimpse 2: Exit the Man Narrative

As with anything as subtle and deeply ingrained as gender identity, it’s excruciatingly difficult to even broadly perceive when I began to shrug off the man narrative in earnest. I didn’t grow up with strong expectations placed upon me to be a “man,” other than perhaps the (though not worth underestimating) latent homophobia in school, but it was only in college that I started to understand what gender even is, and that my own identity is profoundly formed and marked by gender.

Learning about gender theory has been an intellectually stimulating pursuit, but I would suggest for myself that at least as much has been a journey of personal flourishing (correction: stumbling start to a journey) on my way to finding the good life. Realizing that I don’t have to “be a man” is another burden lifted.

A complex a subject as this is almost better given no space than not enough, but nevertheless in brief: part of this shift is realizing that I don’t have to, in any number of contexts, take charge; make decisions; be competitive; be the one to help move that table (NB: females are able to move tables); demonstrate my heterosexuality; avoid moving by body certain ways; win bread (sounds hard!); and…these really just skim the surface. The wonderful thing about one’s masculinity being on trial is that once you plead guilty, you get off scot-free (that’s not quite true, but it feels like that sometimes). One other well-kept secret is that you can discover that there are twice the personal role models out there that you once thought there were!

The impact of a misogynistic society on women is hard to exaggerate, but men are victims, too. We are all entrapped by gender expectations. Shrugging off the man narrative comes highly recommended.

When I imagine the good life, we are all free of the imprisonment of gender norms.

Glimpse 3: Enter the Stability Narrative

This path is the one I’ve walked the least so far, but I’m gearing myself up! It was in reading Jonathan Wilson-Hartgrove’s absolutely wonderful The Wisdom of Stability that the idea of staying put in life really came home to me (forgive the pun). Committing to people and place is a theme underlying The Irresistible Revolution, but Wilson-Hartgrove fleshed it out and opened my imagination up to what stability means, what it can mean.

The Wisdom of Stability makes a truly convincing case for staying put — committing to a place and remaining there for periods in the decades rather than months or years. As with many Christian lifestyle suggestions that sound like restrictions, this one too is, counter-intuitively, massively freeing. It is in part in shrugging off the narrative of success that we are released — even given permission — to stick around. When our goals are moving closer to God and others around us, deeper into one place might perhaps be better than further into more places.

At my current stage of life, it will still be a few years before I can look for that place to remain in for a while, but I’ve found that in contrast to a lot of my peers who express a restlessness to leave and do something new, I’ve managed to start cultivating a restlessness to stay put. I anticipate eagerly that time when I can park myself for a few decades and grow deeper roots.

When I imagine the good life, it’s not racing, it’s stable.

The End Bit

Each of these brief glimpses is unavoidably personal and loaded with so many more assumptions and clarifications than I could even exaggerate about (and I know how to exaggerate), but hopefully in being personal, they are relatable.

It’s worth mentioning too that although these are presented as isolated thoughts, they are of course inextricably linked issues. To try to speak about vocation, gender and stability without referring to each other — and for that matter, so many other areas like creation care (required not just for the good life, but simply life) or government — is neither wise nor possible.

And, lastly, in case the selection of these three ideas seems odd, they are chosen particularly for their personal significance. These three glimpses have given me the most peace, joy and also hope for the good life to eventually arrive.  I’m a long way from the good life (even if, with all of you, I feel it coming over the horizon!), but a least for me these have meant a better life — which is good for now.

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