A friend explained to me yesterday why she, a born-and-bred Catholic, is faithfully attending adult education classes at her UCC church, asking hard questions, giving the pastor blunt answers, and otherwise being a rabble-rouser. “I want to know what I believe before I die,” she said. “I don’t want simply to fall back on what I was taught.”
My in-laws call the list of things they want to do before they die their “bucket list.” I admire anyone who thinks through what might bring their life fulfillment and then sets out to achieve those things before they “kick the bucket.” I like the intention of a bucket list, how death helps us put life in perspective and encourages us to manifest dreams, live our values, and seek out significance. The majority of people who hire me as a writing coach give some version of this explanation: “I’m not a writer, I don’t know why I’m writing this, but I have to create something of this story before I die.” Our mortality goads us into hard but meaningful labor. I like working with people who have death at their backs. The stakes are high.
My friend’s bucket item strikes me as particularly rich. Christianity gives the impression of being a set of doctrines that believers must claim and adhere to, but in fact the opposite is true. Reciting a creed or falling back on what we were taught or accepting without question any of the church’s teachings is simply not a life of faith. But engaging whole-heartedly in meaningful questions, and staking your actions on your beliefs, is. “Who do you say that I am?” Christ asked the disciples, and continues to ask each of us.
We answer with our lives. Some people find Christianity a gruesome religion, but I like how Jesus’ story puts death at our backs, and so makes our seeking significant. What’s in your bucket?
–Elizabeth Jarrett Andrew