News and the Good News

Lists and Bucket Lists

January 22, 2019. Very few us could get through the day, accomplishing what we need to, without making lists. Lists are indispensable for daily living but also, wise people remind us, for becoming better human beings. Scholars remind us that all cultures have these lists. So theologian David Ford writes “Every culture has a repertoire of wise sayings to help guide behavior.” This is from the gem of a little book called The Shape of Living (p.92). He then draws our attention to the list of classical Christian virtues, the cautionary list of Seven Deadly Sins, and a list of nine qualities that are called the gift of the Spirit from Paul’s letter to the Galatians. And I will come back to this in a minute.

What I hear spoken of more often than these, however, is the Bucket List. Someone asked me early in this New Year what was on my bucket list. If you don’t know what a bucket list is, it’s a relatively recent phrase that refers to those things that one most wants to do before kicking the bucket, before dying.  Now, most of us in the early days of the New Year are thinking of ways to get better, to be better persons. So, we make a list of resolutions: we want to watch what we eat, watch what we spend, pay attention to others and help others more.

It seems to me—and I don't think I'm being out of line here—that making up a bucket list takes us in another direction. Bucket lists focus not on what we can give to the world, but what we can get from it. There is a strong consumerist drive that’s hard to miss. See the Eiffel Tower, visit Antarctica, eat at this restaurant or go to Broadway. It’s true that the world is to be enjoyed. And many of us need more recreation, more healthy diversions from work, not less.

But there are lists that have stood the test of time, and that can do real work in the world if we let them. The gifts of the spirit are love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. If we think of bucket in the usual way—a bucket that contains something we want to carry—then filling our bucket with these things, and asking God to fill it when it is dry, might be wiser and even a greater joy than things we put on that other bucket list.