Kick the Bucket List

Michael Metzger

If you’re still considering making a New Year’s resolution, try kicking the bucket list.

I’d never heard of a “bucket list” until the 1997 movie The Bucket List was released. And I confess I never saw the film. I do know the plot follows two men (played by Jack Nicholson and Morgan Freeman) who learn they are terminally ill. So they take a road trip hoping to fill their wish list of exotic things to do and places to visit before they die, or “kick the bucket.”

I sense many folks have bucket lists. I say this because friends often speak of exotic things they’ve done, and the mouth speaks from the abundance of the heart. Exotic adventures include climbing a mountain, flying in a hot air balloon, traveling to an exotic locale (or two), enjoying exquisite cuisine, and so on. There’s nothing necessarily wrong with these things, except that most of these folks aren’t dying, and they’re not old. Most of these folks can’t be, since 91 percent of Americans have a bucket list. The #1 thing these people want to do is travel (mostly to exotic locations).

A desire to travel to exotic locations is a fairly recent phenomenon. The English word travel comes from travail, meaning a journey fraught with danger. Until recently, Christians recognized we worship The Dangerous God. Our journey, or what used to be called a pilgrimage, is fraught with danger. One of the greatest dangers is God uncovering our hidden disordered loves. That can be embarrassing, even painful, since many of us imagine God as “safe.”

C. S. Lewis was one of many who recognized how modern Christians have exchanged The Dangerous God for a therapeutic god. In The Lion The Witch, & The Wardrobe, Susan is told: “Aslan is a lion—the Lion, the great Lion.” “Ooh!” said Susan, “I’d thought he was a man. Is he—quite safe? I shall feel rather nervous about meeting a lion.” “Safe?” said Mr. Beaver. “Who said anything about safe? ‘Course he isn’t safe. But he’s good.”

God is good. But he’s also dangerous. Bucket lists don’t recognize this since one daring and dangerous activity on many bucket lists is bungee-jumping. This makes most bucket list experiences less about forming our conscience and more about consumerism, what Pope John Paul II defined as a “web of false and superficial gratifications.”

Consumerism is a disordered love. God is love and we are made in his image. We are what we love. This includes loving how God created us to be consumers. We can’t live if we don’t consume—air, water, food, and so on. In fact, Jesus said if you don’t consume his flesh and blood, you have no life in you. But Augustine warned that we must properly order our loves. Ignorance is loving consumption too little. Idolatry is loving consumption too much. Idols blind us. Being blind to our consumerism is one evidence of idolatry.

So here’s a New Year’s resolution: Kick the bucket list. If you’re older, or nearing death, take a pilgrimage rather than play tourist. Learn to do what Jesus did. He poured out himself to death before he died. So did Paul, who was poured out as a drink offering before he died. Paul is alluding to the offerings of wine that had to accompany every sacrifice under the Old Covenant. An offering was not complete until the drink offering was given. Our lives are not complete until they have been completely poured out; that is, emptied.

But emptying our lives requires more than making a pilgrimage. It’s practicing the spiritual disciplines, best done under the guidance of a spiritual director. In practicing silence, solitude, and fasting, many have discovered how bucket lists turn the Seven Deadly Sins into glittering vices. Sloth, the fourth Deadly Sin, is one of those glittering vices.

Aquinas defined sloth as “sluggishness of the mind which neglects to begin good.” It’s a weariness (often later in life) with the notion of beginning something arduous, resisting the demands that come with loving God and neighbors. Sloth disorders our loves, causing us to find fulfilling a bucket list more attractive than doing the difficult work of seeking the wellbeing of our hometown, for example. Kicking the bucket list can rid our souls of sloth.

But there are additional benefits from kicking the bucket list. We come to recognize how, in eternity, we will be able to travel throughout the new heavens and new earth. Want to climb a mountain in Tibet? You can do it in eternity. And the travel fare is cheaper. Want to dine in a three-star Michelin restaurant? You can do it in eternity, in the marriage supper of the Lamb (Jesus), where we dine with Christ. The fare exceeds any Michelin restaurant.

Another benefit from kicking the bucket list is we begin to recognize how sloth is connected to the other Deadly Sins, such as avarice. Avarice is greed and the desire to amass earthly goods without limit. The traditional teachings compiled by the saints forbids avarice arising from a passion for riches and their attendant power. A bucket list is often nothing more than amassing without limit exotic experiences and riches on earth.

Sloth is also connected to the Deadly Sin of gluttony. According to the Church Fathers and many ancient saints, gluttony is eating or drinking inordinately, contrary to reason. It is a deadly sin, or vice, opposed to the virtue of temperance. A bucket list is often nothing more than amassing exotic dining experiences without limit.

I don’t think Jesus had a bucket list of exotic things to do and places to visit as he came to Jerusalem and the cross. Older faith traditions recognize this, teaching the virtue of dying well. It’s why I don’t have a bucket list, even though I’m closer in age to when I will pass away than when I was born. That’s the reason why, if you’re still pondering what might be a beneficial New Year’s resolution, I suggest you consider kicking the bucket list.


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