The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I (Jesus) came that they may have life and have it abundantly. – John 10:10
Constantly I’m drawn to this verse and to books that unpack what it is to live abundantly. Whether they are books about integrating faith and scholarship, going on pilgrimage, walking with others in discipleship, or enjoying sabbath rest, I love to read about the full life God provides his creations. Sometimes this includes extraordinary events, but more often it is life that is flourishing with the ordinary. A life that includes friends, family, meals, quiet, nature, work, as well as an awareness of weaknesses and brokenness. Mostly routine stuff. But more than routine, these activities help to root each of us more deeply into our places. What a life!
However, every day I’m also accosted with another definition of life as I scroll though the internet. I am particularly struck with the Life section of USA Today. Articles focus on the highest paid actors, the latest celebrity pairing, movie rankings, and the latest drama in the lives of music divas. These articles are nothing like the life explored in the other books. In a way, these articles are almost anti-life. Instead of rooting readers into their own places of life, these stories steal away attention from authentic lives as they focus on a few lives that are for the most part made up. Entertainment, maybe, but not life.
First, many of these stories are about the crises involved in creating false worlds, particularly those of television and movies. Don’t get me wrong, I would be one of the first to defend the need for a myriad of stories in our lives – and even imaginary ventures to other worlds. I don’t think I would have gotten through elementary school without the likes of Jo March or Harriet the Spy. The books I read and even some of the television shows I watched encouraged and challenged me. However, they were not life. I also had the boundaries of parents and teachers, my failings, and daily routines to keep me going. When the latest gossip or news from the entertainment industries in Hollywood or New York city is listed under the heading of life, what are we saying about the lives of everyone else? In a way they are stolen.
Second, many of these are trumped up crises – or voyeurism into the failings of those whose lives we can’t even imagine. Are the shenanigans on the reality shows really worthy of endless critique and angst? What about the on-again / off-again rehab stints of several celebrities? On these pages, the extraordinary moments are turning into the ordinary and these types of crises – real or fake – are being shown as the essence of life. If this is the case, then a person who is not involved in such drama is not really living.
Eventually, these stories can reframe what constitutes life. Since we can not be movie stars, we will need to spend our time watching their movies and lives. Or critiquing them. Maybe we start to think that we have to wait to live a full life until we are also enmeshed in similar crises. Or maybe we hear that we will never live a full life because these crises will never enter our world. It is difficult to measure ourselves against this vision of life. I know that most people aren’t intentionally designing their lives after the life section of newspapers, but at some level it slowly infiltrates our individual and societal beliefs.
I would love to re-write these life pages. Do an exposé of a couple married 15 years, with their struggles and their joys – including reading to their children every night. Highlight the student with an average GPA at high school. Showcase the wedding of a young couple that took place in a plainly decorated church and was followed by a two day honeymoon to a state park. In such a section people would be encouraged to see their lives abundantly and know that they can live in such a way. It’s not only available to a select few.
What stories would you want included in a life section that doesn’t seek to hold up celebrities, but to celebrate all.