Tuesday, January 30, 2007

Carpe Diem and Abundant Living

I used this concept as an illustration in our Wednesday worship last week, and I wanted to develop it a bit more -- as always, this isn't a fully worked out idea, but stuff I'm throwing up on the wall to see if it sticks:

When I was in High School and college, the catchphrase Carpe Diem ("seize the day") had regained traction among my peers. We studied Thoreau and the British Romantic poets. The film Dead Poets Society gave us mental images of what it meant to seize the day -- savor every moment of excitement and emotion that you can out of life. In a classic scene of the film, the teacher, Mr. Keating takes his class to look at a trophy case with an 50 year old class photo -- he uses it as an object lesson:

They're not that different from you, are they? Same haircuts. Full of hormones, just like you. Invincible, just like you feel. The world is their oyster. They believe they're destined for great things, just like many of you, their eyes are full of hope, just like you. Did they wait until it was too late to make from their lives even one iota of what they were capable? Because, you see gentlemen, these boys are now fertilizing daffodils. But if you listen real close, you can hear them whisper their legacy to you. Go on, lean in. Listen, you hear it? - - Carpe - - hear it? - - Carpe, carpe diem, seize the day boys, make your lives extraordinary.

Seize the day, for tomorrow you may die. Thoreau said he went to the woods because he wanted to "live deep and suck out all the marrow of life,"

In the 90's, Christians began to pick up on this concept to explain the abundance of life in Christ. Tony Campolo came out with his book Carpe Diem, in which he argues for our seizing all we can out of life by living for Christ. In the same vein, singer songwriter Carolyn Arends' song "Seize the Day" topped the Christian Charts. This was about the same time that John Piper was going full bore on his Christian Hedonism concept.

Seems like there's a convergence here, right? I might call it a redemption of a concept. The problem with the romantic notion of Carpe Diem is that it simply falls flat. Seizing all you can out of every moment -- finding the deep reality of life if you will -- will only take you too far. When Thoreau went to the woods, he was only a couple of miles away from his parents; he had someplace to fall back to when his experiment went awry. Paul Johnson, in his book Intellectuals, tells how British Romantic Poet Percy Shelley kept seizing the day at the cost of emotionally wrecking the lives of nearly everyone he came in touch with. The concept of Carpe Diem alone does not satisfy.

But the Christian, perhaps, ought to view the concept through a different lens. Indeed, Jesus gave us lots of Carpe Diem-esque statements: "I have come that they may have life and have it to the full." (John 10:10); "...seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own." (Matthew6:33-44).

The difference lies in this -- the romantic notion of Carpe Diem is about consuming all you can -- the Christian notion is about subjecting yourself to Christ and finding yourself filled. Jesus tells the woman at the well "...whoever drinks the water I give him will never thirst. Indeed the water I give him will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life." Then when she makes the request for this water, Jesus confronts her with her own sinfulness (a call to repentence) and then issues the call to worship in spirit and in truth. Worship is many things, but one key thing is the recognition that God is the object of worship. Worship is not about consuming an experience, like we would consume a movie or a theatrical performance -- worship is about coming before the living God in subjection -- and strangely He fills us and heals us and sanctifies us and sends us. When we kneel, he heals.

This is the secret of Paul's incredible capacity to endure suffering: "I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry; whether living in plenty or in want. I can do everything through him who gives me strength." (Philippians 4:12-13). The romantic notion of Carpe Diem will wither and fade at the first hint of suffering -- but the Christian notion of being subject to Christ as our fulfillment -- that gives strength to endure suffering and pain.

Just thinking aloud -- I look forward to your thoughts.

Soli Deo Gloria