Aspire to Live Quietly

Last month, Catherine, Karen, and I got to see Canadian comedian Red Green live in Ames, Iowa on his “This Could Be It” tour (http://www.redgreen.com/). Red Green hosts the popular “redneck” Canadian TV show that bears his name. (That’s our daughter in the picture, with Red on the left.)

As the name of the tour indicates, this could be Red’s final tour. Between the ravages of old age and not being able to cross the border, who knows what could happen? So at the end of his show, Red left us with his long-range parting thoughts. In lieu of giving each of us a present, here were some wishes he says he wanted to give us, in notes taken by Catherine:

“I wish you a simple life – a job you like – a job where maybe you barely scrape by, but you can do it forever. Joke around a lot. Cut yourself some slack. If you can’t be the best at something, give up, and the sooner the better! I wish you some confidence, but not too much. Being quiet is good, too. Stay yourself.

“I wish you low-maintenance friends; hopefully, you can tell the difference between intensive care, and intensive need. I wish you humility. I wish you two special people: yourself, and a best friend, someone who cares about you (one of you is going to have to lower their standards!). Sleep better, and sit down more. I wish you no regrets, or at least, no reparations!” And finally, Red gave us his classic line for ending his TV show: “Keep your stick on the ice!”

As I listened, I was reminded of Paul’s words in his first letter to the Thessalonians (4:11-12). After urging his audience to continue their love for one another, he also urges them “to aspire to live quietly, to mind your own affairs, and to work with your hands, as we directed you, so that you may behave properly toward outsiders, and be dependent on nobody.”

“Aspire to live quietly”? That sounds like a contradiction. Who makes that the ambition they shoot for in life? Paul definitely sounds counter-cultural here. This is no prima donna, “all about me” approach to life. For our culture, attracting attention is an absolutely essential skill if we want to get anywhere in life. The only other path to success is via a divinely-engineered, sovereignly-bestowed miracle.

Paul’s advice goes against the grain of what it takes to be an author. If you want to be published or if you want to get read online, you need to go get tens of thousands of followers on your speaking circuit and on the social media platforms. Aggressive self-promotion does not come easily for everybody, especially not if we instinctively follow Paul’s advice in this passage.

But Paul’s advice can help us concentrate on pleasing, not the crowds, but that “audience of One,” the only One who counts. At Thessalonika, Paul’s advice also would help believers earn major credibility with the watching world. The Greco-Roman world was as self-centered as we are, and to see a bunch of people living productively and unselfishly would have grabbed people’s attention for Jesus in a powerful, albeit counter-intuitive way.

Red Green’s advice to live a simple, uncomplicated life is faintly reminiscent of Paul’s. But Red Green does not pretend to offer any reasons why, although he implies that the reward is less unnecessary pain. Paul is motivated entirely on what brings glory to Jesus.  If living such a life spares us unnecessary pain, that's just a bonus.