"Your life is too important to be guided by anything less than what matters most."

Matthew Croasmun

What should we hope for? How should we live? How do we flourish? Matthew Croasmun is here to respond to these and other questions and reflect on the different answers that have informed various faiths and cultures. He has led students through these findings in one of Yale University’s most popular courses and has recently written a book, Life Worth Living, to help you respond to these questions in the context of your own life... to live a life EVER FORWARD!

Follow Chase @chase_chewning


In this episode, you will learn...

  • The Importance of Questions: Matthew emphasizes the role of questions in life's journey and self-discovery and he highlights that questions are not just about finding answers but also about stimulating thought and fostering curiosity. 

  • The Role of Religious Traditions: Matthew explains how religious traditions and their ancient wisdom can help individuals find purpose and authenticity in life. 

  • Community and Connection: The episode highlights the significance of community in our quest for a meaningful life. Matthew suggests that listening to others' stories, being curious about their experiences, and showing humility can help us understand our fellow humans better and find common ground.

  • The Power of Humility, Courage, and Integrity: The podcast underscores the value of humility, courage, and integrity in living a meaningful life. It emphasizes that humility is the foundation for curiosity and learning, courage allows us to act on our beliefs and values, and integrity ensures that we stay true to ourselves and our principles.


Episode resources:

EFR 750: Life Worth Living: How to Ask the Right Questions, Decipher the Role of Religious Traditions, and Act Out of Integrity with Matthew Croasmun

What should we hope for? How should we live? How do we flourish? Matthew Croasmun is here to respond to these and other questions and reflect on the different answers that have informed various faiths and cultures. He has led students through these findings in one of Yale University’s most popular courses and has recently written a book, Life Worth Living, to help you respond to these questions in the context of your own life... to live a life EVER FORWARD!

Follow Chase @chase_chewning


In this episode, you will learn...

  • The Importance of Questions: Matthew emphasizes the role of questions in life's journey and self-discovery and he highlights that questions are not just about finding answers but also about stimulating thought and fostering curiosity. 

  • The Role of Religious Traditions: Matthew explains how religious traditions and their ancient wisdom can help individuals find purpose and authenticity in life. 

  • Community and Connection: The episode highlights the significance of community in our quest for a meaningful life. Matthew suggests that listening to others' stories, being curious about their experiences, and showing humility can help us understand our fellow humans better and find common ground.

  • The Power of Humility, Courage, and Integrity: The podcast underscores the value of humility, courage, and integrity in living a meaningful life. It emphasizes that humility is the foundation for curiosity and learning, courage allows us to act on our beliefs and values, and integrity ensures that we stay true to ourselves and our principles.


Episode resources:


Transcript generated by Podium.page Help us spread the word by tweeting about us at @podiumdotpage and including us in your shownotes! https://podium.page

0:00:01 - Speaker 1 Matthew, welcome to the show. Thank you so much for being here today on Ever Forward Radio. You know, immediately when I came across your work in the book Life Worth Living, this kind of tagline just drew me in and I think meshes so well, pairs so well with the message of living a life, everford, and how we can learn here on the show, episode by episode, to move forward every day in a unique component of our well-being. And the tagline is your life is too important to be guided by anything less than what matters most. And I think, out of the gate, that is probably the most important question we could unpack here today, but it's probably the one that people struggle the most with. So how would you help someone unpack that statement, because it's pretty damn heavy.

0:00:56 - Speaker 2 Yeah, your life matters. Your life is too important to be guided by anything less than what matters most. I mean, really, in many ways the whole book is trying to unpack this really big question like what does matter most and how can we figure that out? And one of our key strategies in the book, and one of the key strategies that we take up with our students, is to break it down. It's too much to tackle all at once, and I think sometimes when we try to take on the question all at once, we can be overwhelmed and sort of give up. That's super common and, honestly, probably sometimes that's just how it has to be, Like sometimes, not every moment is the moment when you have time to pause and reach through all the big questions of your life.

But even when it is time, sometimes, if we try to take the whole thing on at once, we can end up sort of giving up on the quest altogether. The other thing that can happen is we can end up just sort of I don't know going with our gut or our intuitions, which can be helpful, but we want to hopefully be a bit more thoughtful about these things and a bit more considered. And so really I think our big advice and what we try to walk people through in the book is we got to break this thing down, you know, and really like chapter by chapter. We're going through some smaller questions. We're going to do some big ones, but some smaller questions of like you know, who do we answer to?

What were we responsible to for the shape of our lives? What does a good life feel like? What's the role of suffering in a good life? What should we do when we fail to live the kindness of lives that we feel responsible to live as a whole? Bunch more. But those slightly smaller questions at least give us a little bit of leverage and an opportunity to fight through some of that sense of overwhelm, over-whelmedness, and get us into a space where we're able to wrestle with these smaller questions a little bit ourselves and maybe start to listen to one another and some ancient or modern wisdom that might come to us from various sources.

0:03:12 - Speaker 1 For me, I think, when we look at defining a life worth living and then ultimately, you know, creating it and maintaining it and embodying it, it kind of comes down to two camps. And I'm curious your take on these. We have clarity, that we know what our life's purpose is, we already have meaning and it's just a matter of making sure that we keep that meaning and we keep honoring it, we keep working towards it, we keep maintaining it, we're adherent. Or the other camp is, when we ask ourselves that question, we're like damn, I don't really know, or I have confusion, or I am just very much not 100% clear, like somebody else might be. So then we're on the quest to find it. In your opinion, and as you kind of break down in the book here and you're working your class, which one do you think people struggle most with and why? Or do you even agree with those two camps?

0:04:11 - Speaker 2 So let me show my understanding of the two camps. So one is the sort of like I've got it, I think I have a sense of it and my real struggle is trying to figure out how to stay on the direction that I think is most important. And the other one is like I don't even know exactly where I should be aiming. Exactly. Exactly, I mean, if it's not a cop out. I think you're right. I think different ones of us sort of fall in different places and it might even be like in different moments in our lives. Those are sort of those different challenges present themselves to us.

I think like one of the one of the. Maybe there's a third possibility that we think a lot about in the book, which is a sort of default sense, maybe, that we think we know the answers and we're just trying to stay on the path, but we've never really thought very hard about what that path is and why it's worth staying on in the first place. So here I'm not so much thinking about like oh, I've got a, you know, a well thought out sort of philosophy of life or I've got a religious tradition that I'm invested in, but more kind of like the default postures that many of us take that. I mean many of my students who walk in my Yale classroom right Like they've been on a track for a good long while just to end up in my classroom. They've been trying to figure out, you know, they've been trying to figure out how to get into the best college so that they can get the best jobs, so they can make some money, so they can give themselves and their kids.

0:05:34 - Speaker 1 Well, I think they're enrolled in.

0:05:35 - Speaker 2 Yale and attending your class. So I think they're probably doing something right to get there, exactly, exactly, yeah. And so they're asking these questions. And or the point is like maybe they're not asking these questions because they're just like charging down the line and you kind of you almost have to interrupt that process to say, well, hold on a second right. Who said that? You know, getting into the college of your dreams is gonna make give you everything that's most worth wanting out of life? Maybe what matters most isn't on the other side of an Ivy League education and that's and I think you know whether or not we're like on the Ivy League track or whatever. I think there are a bunch of default tracks that we can end up running on, where we maybe think we're in your first category, but maybe we need to be brought into that second place of being more open, to ask some broader questions about what's really worth chasing after in life.

0:06:42 - Speaker 1 Is the path to finding meaning in life and, in your words, a life worth living. Is it more difficult? Do you think excuse me once, maybe we realize how in default mode we were, because I have to imagine the person that has that realization kind of feels like what have I been doing with my life? What do I believe in? I didn't know that I was saying yes to these things, no to these things. What is the meaning of life from here? So it's not even just oh, I'm curious about keeping and maintaining meaning in my life. It's that up until now, I didn't even know what life I was living.

0:07:22 - Speaker 2 Yeah, yeah. So I mean this is why you know I think it's the very first chapter of the book is entitled this Book Might Wreck your Life. I mean, we're not trying to wreck anyone's life, but if you took these questions seriously, that might be part of what ends up happening is, there's a version of your life that can get wrecked. But the hope is, the thought is that that was something like an illusion and we even have this in our language. We'll talk about, like going through a process of being disillusioned, and that's a really uncomfortable process. That can be a really unsettling experience.

But I think most of us would say, well, yeah, I know, if we have some illusions that we're invested in, we'd rather have them, those illusions, sort of dispelled if we want to live lives that are actually in line with the world as it truly is. But for sure, I mean in my own life I mean I was a Yale undergraduate at some point I was 100% like. I was like in the rat race, like trying to get as far as I could as fast as I could, and it was a real experience of disruption and it was pretty unsettling to sort of have that suddenly, suddenly questioned.

0:08:50 - Speaker 1 I had this down, I wanted to bring it up. You kind of beat me to it there. A quote from the book in your lecture is that this class just might ruin your life, and I think that's an important disclaimer, because when we think I'm in pursuit of my life's purpose or I'm in pursuit of whatever a higher calling meaning, we don't often think that we're gonna get leveled. But especially, like we're talking about here, when we realize how in default we have been living and I'm raising my hand here as well this was probably the biggest realization I had a few years ago. I was living what I consider to be a meaningful life and I was maintaining it and I was always trying to level up.

But once I really questioned everything, even the things that I held to be very meaningful to me, just for the sake of questioning them, I realized how still in default I was living and even though I felt like I had meaning and purpose in my life, I realized how much of it was still attached to other people's meaning and purpose and how much of it was not fully 100% my own, coming from within. And I think and I would love to get your take on this when it comes to us finding and then keeping meaning in our life. It has to be 100% inherent. It has to come from our own discoveries, from our own volition, or else we're probably gonna waver over the years. Would you agree or disagree?

0:10:22 - Speaker 2 Well, I think what you just articulated in many ways like is a really powerful vision of what it is that makes life worth living. Namely, maybe we would want to subscribe to a vision of life where, like, a good life is an authentic life, it's one that comes, as you say, deeply from within. It has to do with us and our own particular individuality and it's not a sort of copycat of somebody else. I think that's a really that can be a really powerful vision of life, and it's one, I think, that we encounter a lot in our world and I think it can be one that can disrupt sort of default visions of life of the sort of rat race vision of life. At the same time, I think that vision itself I mean, this is kind of the point of the book is like, I mean, there's no, I think there's value also in questioning some components of that vision as well.

Right, I think certainly many religious traditions would want to suggest to us that, yeah, the sort of discovery of true life, of the good life, of flourishing life, does have something to do with what's been deeply implanted within us. But I think a lot of religious traditions would also want to suggest that flourishing life has to do with decentering ourselves, and maybe it's not just about my desires, even my deepest and truest and most carefully sort of discern desires. Maybe there's something in the sort of capital O outside God, the universe, whatever it might be that presumably has some deep resonance with something deep inside of me, because almost every sort of vision of God sort of on offer suggests that God has something deeply to do with us, sort of internally. Oh, yeah, yeah. But it might be that to find the good life we need to dare to sort of look beyond ourselves, and the answers may not always be within. So but yeah, does that make sense?

I mean, I think the sort of authentic vision of life that you just articulated, I think is itself a vision of life that I think many will find really compelling. But I think there are many human beings on this planet right now, and certainly many of our ancestors, who would have thought very differently about that and might have even raised some questions for us. Because I do think we moderns are pretty, by and large, like as a group. We're inclined to go in just the direction that you've articulated, but I think some of our forebears would be concerned that that might put too much weight on ourselves as people who are gonna be able to discern and decide and figure all of this out for ourselves, and they would want us to say no, no, look beyond, look to the natural world, look to again, to divinity, to spirituality, to God, god's self.

0:13:39 - Speaker 1 And to bring up religion here, I've heard you describe yourself I mean I think it's a fair professional title as a Christian theologian and my background being raised Southern Baptist and grew up in a Christian household and community and school and all of this I definitely hold a lot of those truths still, core values, fundamental beliefs, and so I have a lot of history here in Christian theology, and so I'm curious, because it's an area that I have questioned on and off again over the years, in terms of just what am I, what really do I want to extract, what really do I want to hold true, and what, in terms of meaning, is just something that I was told that I need to believe, or told that I need to have faith in order to believe, versus what do I truly believe and what matters most to me and what is my meaning in life? My question here for you, as we're looking through the lens of religion do you think that religion positively influences us in our pursuit of a life worth living, or is it a bias?

0:14:56 - Speaker 2 Hmm, well, I think that's a powerful way to phrase it, and I think that certainly, religious visions of life can become for us those sort of unthinking default, sort of those unthinking default visions of life that maybe we need to pause and consider more carefully. For me, my own Christian faith, has been through those kinds of moments of revision of just like oh, wait a minute, like why do we say that this is true? What?

0:15:40 - Speaker 1 does it mean Moments of revision? I love that little phrase right there. I hope the listener picks up on that.

0:15:44 - Speaker 2 What does it mean that when we say that Bible is true, yeah, well, to me that's absolutely necessary, right? We go through these sorts of cycles of considering, like what's been given to us, and we, in many cases, I think we actually it's not so much like a rebellion from the tradition that we find ourselves in, but an actual deepening of investment in that tradition in order to ask some profound questions. I mean, actually, a student of mine last spring wrote this brilliant, brilliant paper. We ask our students at the end of the class to write a vision, a paper describing their own vision of a good life, and one of my students wrote her final paper as a meditation on something that her grandmother had said to her at the Passover Seder table. So in a Jewish home a family dynamic.

0:16:43 - Speaker 1 Right the grandmother singer grandchildren argue, right.

0:16:50 - Speaker 2 Yes yeah, this is when I see you and your cousin sitting at the Passover Seder arguing with one another. I know that I've done my job right, yeah, and and so this is sort of thought that it's both things right. It's both coming to the table, still being a part of the tradition, but also Wrestling with it, even like getting into a good, good argument every once in a while with it or about it. And of course that's deeply invested, or that's deeply sort of like, already in the heart of the Jewish tradition, which sort of I mean the word Israel, right, like the one who wrestles, the one who sees, sees God, the one who wrestles with God. But but I think that's just true of what it means.

I think to be a sort of Dynamic participant in a real in, certainly in a religious tradition, maybe in any tradition, is to both be someone who shows up to the table but also shows up ready to, ready to wrestle, ready to ask hard questions and sort of and and dig deep. And so you know I mean the old Yaroslav Pelican, a scholar of Church history here at Yale many years ago. He distinguished between what he called tradition and traditionalism. He said tradition is the living faith of the dead, right, the sort of living faith of those who've come before us. Traditionalism, on the other hand, he said, is the dead faith of the living. He obviously not a fan of traditionalism, right, but instead commending to us a sort of living version of tradition and I think, I think I find there's something pretty insightful there and what he has to say.

0:18:44 - Speaker 1 You know, I think that's a very important concept. Whether we're looking at finding meaning in our religion or in our traditions or just in general, I think half the battle, if not majority, requires the requirement to To have us keep showing up, not for the sake of showing up, but to be an active participant to your point there. I think we have to be an active participant in our greatest life's pursuits, especially when we're in a comfortable environment, because that's when I think we run the most potential of losing meaning, because we're just showing up for the sake of showing up, we're just going through the motions and we think that we have it all figured out, we think that we're playing the role necessary to live a happy, fulfilling life. But if we're not active in that role and, to your point, asking questions, then I think what I'm trying to say here is that a meaningful life is not a finish line. It is the constant showing up to the race and in pursuit of the finish line that actually never really comes.

0:19:56 - Speaker 2 Yeah, and you know, the more we talk about questions though I mean that really that again, for me personally, in my own Religious life, in my life of faith, my life of faith has everything to do with questions. The kind of religious community that I want to be a part of is one that's not afraid of questions, that maybe even sees questions like right at the center of like what a religious community Can be and can hold and can help us wrestle with. And that is that, that thought that when we think about questions, often we we think that what comes after a question is an answer. And I've been thinking a lot, especially since some conversations I had with some folks this summer, that maybe instead of questions and answers, we should be thinking about questions and responses. Right, we wrestle with a question and then we respond in some sort of way. Right, because an answer can feel like well, I've given my answer and now I'm done. Right, but a response is both Something that doesn't just happen in our minds or with our mouths.

A response is something we live and we embody, and necessarily we're like Trying out a response and we're gonna learn some right and we're gonna try out a different response, right, we're gonna continue responding in all kinds of different ways, and so I'm really, like I said recently, I've been really interested in sort of reframing a lot of this.

Yeah, not, yeah, questions don't demand answers, questions demand responses and then responses, I think, inevitably lead to more, more questions, more responses. And I think we all, as we work that out, not just for ourselves, but in dialogue with other people, especially other people that don't see things the same way that we do that's the great joy that I mean, that's what I love about teaching and sitting around a seminar table with all kinds of different people Taking up big, big questions of life. But I think that's true whether we're in a school situation or just like live in our lives Wrestling with the big questions of life, responding in lots of creative ways, and Doing that in the community, in communities where we're responding not just to the questions but to one another. That that is part of that, like good life on the way to the good life.

0:22:07 - Speaker 1 Yes, yes, and Not to get too deep and theological and into the religions of the world and stuff, because I definitely am not an expert but, like I said, kind of growing up Christian, growing up in a classical Christian school, and just my own personal explorations of great thought leaders, religious leaders who many people might Go to and assume that they have it figured out, that they, they are the meaning for life, and especially if you subscribe or believe in that particular religion.

But when we really at least the ones that come to mind for me now, when we look at these religious leaders and we look at these figureheads and theologians who we think give us answers and who we think give us the meaning to life, the path to the meaning of life, when we look at their works, they actually are giving way more questions than, to your point, just statements, just answers. They're giving full, embodied responses and especially, I think, to a lot of the teachings of Jesus. I Can't really think, maybe, of a few, of just a just a statement like this is it? This is the end. Anytime he was questioned and all you know the scripture, you know more often than not it's a question. It's a question for the audience, for the believer, for the nonbeliever.

0:23:27 - Speaker 2 Yeah, I mean Jesus says and in Mark, chapter 4. I was just reading this with my students. We had spent some time with Confucius and now we're spending some time with the teachings of Jesus. And right there in one of his like, it's like the parable about parables.

Very, first of all, let's just know Jesus does a lot of his teaching in parables, right, exactly, which is not even a question. It's just like it's just a puzzle, right, it's just a mystery. And in fact, when his Disciples come and ask him about one of these parables, he explains to them, basically says I teach in parables so that I confuse people, like the goal is actually To like, present people with puzzles. And I think part of I mean I think there are reasons that have particularly to do with the Christian tradition and the claims that Jesus is making about himself, sort of, if you can puzzle, if you can leave people puzzled, maybe like the disciples, in that case They'll come back to right, they'll enter a dialogue and relationship with him, because he thinks that he believes a relationship with him is so is so important.

0:24:27 - Speaker 1 Terrible. He would have thought the original clickbait. But even more broadly, it does.

0:24:34 - Speaker 2 Yeah, no, 100%. That's the original clickbait. Yeah, and, but. But there are also these like puzzles that open up imaginative worlds for us to think inside of, rather than like closed answers that are just you know, my where, the highway, sort of you know, I don't know, religious wisdom brought from, brought down from on high. I mean, a lot of, a lot of Confucius's Statements come across this way. It's one of the things I love about reading the Anilex, the Anilex of Confucius, with students Is that they're often just these little puzzling statements. Some of them have question marks at the end of them, at least in English translation. But even the ones that don't, even the ones that end with a period, are still kind of questions because they're giving you this sort of puzzle to think through, right and and there's again. There's sort of opening up this imaginative world rather than closing the door on and and just sort of Wiping our hands and being like, okay, I've got, I've got it figured out. I think the moment we've got it figured out, we don't have it figured out.

0:25:45 - Speaker 1 Amen to that, amen to that in in a life worth living, there's a role that happiness plays that I think is pretty unique. And I love how you all describe how being happy quote here because I think when many people Assume what a meaningful life looks like in a life worth living, we assume that you're gonna be happy. And Nowadays, in pursuit of this, you talk about how we've gone from happy being a right, like everybody has the right to be happy. Everybody has a right to be happy in their pursuit of a meaningful life. It's gone from an invitation to a burden, to a demand. Why do you think this is? How has happiness been, you know, kind of Morphed in the pursuit of a life worth living?

0:26:34 - Speaker 2 That's really good. You know, I mean, one person whose work I think about on this is Is the philosopher Barry Schwartz. I think it's he, I think it's him who wrote this book paradox of choice. He, he writes as, at least as he tells it in his TED talk or one of his TED talks he, he, he says it all began when he went to go buy a pair of jeans.

I went to go buy a pair of blue jeans and he walked into the gap and he said I want a new pair of jeans. And they said, well, do you want boot cut straight cut? You know slim cut, you know a thousand different cuts. What kind of fly do you want? What kind of wash? And he answers them at first sort of despairingly.

He says I want the kind of jeans that used to be the only kind of, and they just like laugh at him because that's like you know such an old man thing to ask for. And eventually he says like look, he spent like an hour in the store. He tried on tons and tons of jeans and he walked out with jeans that felt better than any pair of jeans He'd ever owned. But he says he felt worse about it and he was trying to understand like why he felt worse and he wrote a whole book about it. But essentially the like the, his takeaway is that back when he thought there was only one kind of jeans, he went to the store. He bought a pair of jeans. They're a little tight here, a little loose there.

0:27:57 - Speaker 1 They dragged on the floor or whatever it was.

0:28:00 - Speaker 2 What can you do? Not his fault, but once there's seemingly unlimited options, if he gets anything less than the perfect pair of jeans, it must be his fault. And and, and I think there's something like that that's going on with our lives more generally, that the more and more sort of like we've, the more and more we imagine ourselves as sort of like masters of our own lives, with like unlimited sort of choices in front of us. And then you know again, if you think like several hundred years ago, that's not like. Oh, you have like the right to pursue happiness. Sounds great, I'd love to pursue happiness. But now you have the right to pursue happiness and at least, we're told, you have every possible tool at your disposable disposal to achieve happiness. Mm-hmm, and if you don't, if you don't achieve perfect happiness, you have no one to blame, but by yourself.

Yeah and that can make us just feel awful and it can really make this sort of all of a sudden. It went from an invitation, just as you said, to up to a burden and and suddenly, in plus of course, we have all this social media constantly showing us only the happiest, shiniest parts of other people's lives. So it looks like everybody else is doing this is succeeding.

0:29:25 - Speaker 1 Everyone else is with the meeting. Everyone else has a life worth living. Very why can't I be?

0:29:31 - Speaker 2 happy? Um, exactly yeah. Everybody else is full smiles and the whole family's lined up and matching clothes for the perfect, for the perfect photo, with just the right amount of bokeh, a little blurred background, you know. Anyway, everything's just perfect. And I don't. You know, I live my own life. I see my life, you know, 24 hours a day, I guess, minus whatever time I'm asleep, and I see all the ugly parts, even if there are parts of my life that maybe look like they might match up to that. Those are only the highlights, anyway, right, it's all of this sort of we have.

We're constantly invited to draw unfair comparisons between our lives and the lives of other people. In the midst of With all within this context of feeling like we have this responsibility to achieve perfect happiness. We have all the tools at our disposal, at least we're told, and again, I think that's actually part of the lie, right? And we, with such good reason, we tell young people you can achieve anything if you set your mind to it. And I don't know about you, but I'm not a hundred percent sure that that's true. I mean, I, I think you can try hard and that's probably a good thing in life.

But there are some real. There are other people in the world and the things that they do, the Situations that they set up. I just have to live in that world and I'm not a shirt. I'm not sure that. Maybe we I don't know if we should be telling you people that they can accomplish anything they set their mind to that's. That's part of this sort of false expectation that we're like masters of the universe anyway. So with all, yeah, so you've got the sense that, like that, we should be happy, that it's entirely up to us to be happy, and we're surrounded by a whole bunch of people that seem to be happier than we are. Oh, that can be. That can be. That can be crushing. I.

0:31:28 - Speaker 1 I want to say that I personally believe the ultimate responsibility for Finding and maintaining a life worth living comes down to us, because no one is.

You know, no matter how much our friends or family love us, no one is going to literally just walk by and go. Hey, here's all the quiet here, all the questions you need to be asking to live a happy, meaningful life here, all the answers here, here is everything. You might have some help along the way, but in order to really grab hold of it and to keep it and to really know why you are in pursuit of this meaningful life, has to be your own responsibility. But I do believe in pursuit of that and, especially in some situations, to maintain it Because, like we've been talking about, this doesn't come easy. It isn't just a finish line and you cross it and you're done and you got it. It is a constant dynamic experience. I'm curious, in your opinion, what role does community, what role do others play, and what roles should maybe we be looking out for to help invite others into our life and in the pursuit of a life worth living for us to be mindful of?

0:32:37 - Speaker 2 Yeah, well, first of all, let me just underscore something you just said there, because I really agree with it. Right, there is. There's what we call in the book the only you responsibility right.

There's a responsibility that each of us has for our own lives that nobody else has. You can't give it away, even if you tried to right. Each one of us is responsible for our own lives. But to connect that's what I was saying before I do think there's there's limits on our. I think we have. We have freedom, but we have limited freedom. Anyway, we could get further into that conversation and one of the ways that I think we can experience our limited freedom or our bounded freedom, our conditioned freedom maybe that's a little less, a little less restrictive we can experience the goodness of that actually is in community right, where we means the old Barack Obama line, right. You know, hey guys, he got in trouble. So maybe this, maybe this will get me in trouble with with some members of your audience.

0:33:41 - Speaker 1 But right, this is from Barack. Okay, so if there's this from, this is from a while.

0:33:48 - Speaker 2 But you know, he said like hey, you know, you say you built, you know I built this, built this business, or I built this thing. You didn't build that. And what he meant was you didn't build the roads that got your products from point A to point B. You didn't, you know, you didn't. Yeah, you didn't maintain the airports. That, you didn't, you know whatever.

0:34:07 - Speaker 1 Anyone that said I achieved all of this by myself is a bullface liar. There's no way. There's absolutely no way.

0:34:15 - Speaker 2 There's a lot of your own sweat equity for damn sure. So all to say like if you had a community.

Yeah, exactly so. We all have communities, and that's those aren't just limitations on our lives, those are capacitating communities. They give us capacities to do things, and this is what traditions do as well, and usually traditions come to us through communities. But I you know your question was about community and you know this is I again I have Christian reasons for being invested in community, but I also see much broader reasons to be invested in community as well. At the end of the day, I think it maybe comes down to your, a lot of your, your first category. It can also be in the second category, right, the first category of like helping us maintain a vision against a vision of life and keep in pursuit of that against the flow of some kind of current. That's usually, I think.

Usually, once we find the truth, we find ourselves swimming upstream, at least in some respect, and it really is a community to sort of help you not feel crazy while you're doing that, right To say, hey, I'm gonna, you know, I'm gonna bound my boundaries on my working hours because I, that's the kind of parent I want to be. I want to be the kind of parent who's present to my, to my daughter, at the end of the work day. My wife and I keep a our whole family. We keep a 24-hour Sabbath, from Friday sundown to Saturday sundown. We're not as intense about it or we don't observe it in the same way as our Orthodox Jewish neighbors do, but it helps that we're like embedded within this community, even though we're not a part of that community, but we're like, even just like, on the margins of this community that we live in the midst of. That's helpful. Of course, it also is really helpful that we have members of our own religious community that like observe Sabbath and help us take care of that.

But I invite my colleagues, my work colleagues, into that. They have to be in certain. If they're gonna, if I'm gonna be in a sort of work environment with folks, I mean I invite my students into that. Hey, you gotta know, if you email me between sundown on Friday and sundown on Saturday, you're not gonna get a response.

This is something I hold for me.

I'm not gonna demand that you hold to that, but you have to understand these are limits that I've placed in my life to participate in the kind of community that I want to participate in, because participating in this community helps me live the values that are so meaningful and important to me and I think are really the some of the substance of what matters, what matters most.

And I just personally, I have like zero hope for myself at least trying to like hold to what matters most without the support of other people. Maybe there are more heroic moral figures than me who can, who can sort of make more progress on their own, but at least for me it takes other people reminding me, other people setting examples for me that I can aspire to all, all of these things. I think whatever we think is, it'd be very, very few visions of the good life that would be best lived alone. I think we're almost always going to find that the support of a community, the inspiration of a community, just the rhythms of life of a community, are going to be really, really important to finding our way, I love your component here about inviting others in on your journey to a life worth living.

0:37:52 - Speaker 1 I think many people and I probably have been there for sure. If I, if I get real in pursuit of finding meaning in our life or even keeping a meaningful life, we think that means we have to shut out a lot of other people. We have to shut out a lot of the other world. Now, to some degree, I will say that, yes, you do need to kind of put blinders on sometimes. You do need to you know get very clear on your values and what it's going to take and you know make time and space for your meaningful life.

But one of the biggest mistakes I think I've ever made, and I see others make, is keeping that too long by doing just what you said you know letting others know what we are doing, so to not shut them out but to invite them in. I think there is profound value, particularly through curiosity, when we do that, because I'd be willing to bet Matt that when you share that, whether it's an auto reply in an email or you know directly in conversation with somebody, when it comes up about when you're not available, it sparks curiosity and I think if someone is struggling to find meaning in their life and to keep that meaning, it might be because you're not seeing what else is out there. You're not keeping curiosity at the forefront and you know, like to kind of go back to what we're saying earlier. This plays an important role in the dynamic aspect we talked about earlier and if you're wondering, well, how do I play a dynamic participant in you know, a life worth living, be more curious, put yourself in a position to stay and be more curious.

0:39:33 - Speaker 2 I believe yeah, well, and I think what you just spoke to, I think, reminds me of two lines from Confucius.

One, well, one is like just like a broader theme in Confucius, where he's constantly encouraging us be really careful about who, who your friends are right if we want to think about who we need to block out and who we need to invite in. You know, I think especially sometimes we do need to put the blinders on when we're surrounded by folks who are just swimming in a different direction than we're trying to go. Confucius, therefore, is really insistent that we be really, really thoughtful, and of course, he's not alone. Among the ancients, aristotle spent a lot of time thinking about friendship, think carefully about the kinds of friendships that we invest ourselves in, but at the same time, you don't want your life to just become an echo chamber, right? And that's where what you said about curiosity really reminds me of Confucius saying that you know he never met someone, he he could not teach, but he also never met someone from whom he could not learn something, and that sort of that posture, that intellectual humility, which, hopefully, is just part of like humility more broadly in our lives.

But I love it yeah, that humility hopefully shows up, just as you said, as curiosity, right? I think that's what keeps this a dynamic process for for us, and one that's demanding dynamic response from us, rather than just like I'm all, I'm all done, because the moment we think we're all, yeah, we're just gonna fall back asleep, like, fall into like a you know, a truly that we're gonna have to like have another wake-up moment, you know, a few years later, whenever we're like ready, ready to hear it it reminds me of this, this quote from Epictetus.

0:41:27 - Speaker 1 I'm a big Stoic philosopher fan and he goes if you wish to improve, be content to appear clueless or stupid and extraneous matters. Don't wish to seem knowledgeable, and so if you're struggling, I will. Maybe I'm not a curious person by nature. Adopting this persona of a curious person or even, like Epictetus says, a clueless or even stupid person, is going to drop those walls tremendously and put you in very unique places, have very unique conversations that otherwise you probably would not have had, and now you're able to lean into others meaningful lives and extract meaning for your own sake, I think, because no doubt you're going to be a sponge you have to have to walk away with, if you keep that in mind, with something new that you can add to your life worth living yeah, I think that's, I think that's quite right and I think, like in part, I just think about, like, good conversations I have with people that I meet.

0:42:36 - Speaker 2 Um, I remember like at some point reflecting in my life, you know when I, when I meet really interesting people, you know how I know that they're really interesting. How's that? Because they, they ask me a bunch of questions. Yep, yeah, exactly, yeah like the smartest people I know are not like when they're not trying to tell me everything I'm going to tell you exactly yeah, they're not trying to tell you everything.

They know they're probing, they're probing, absolutely, they're trying to learn something, right they're. They're being, they're being curious, right? And then it's sort of like, oh wait, the people I admire when I first met them, their posture was as someone who was curious and learning. Wait, oh wait, shoot you know.

0:43:17 - Speaker 1 I mean there's a sort of like it's a testament to how they got there. Most likely, Because, if you think about it, 100%. That's probably not a habit that they recently adopted. How do you think they got to this level of being a person that we look up to and we're hopeful to extract wisdom from? This is just a compounding habit. This isn't anything new. They keep asking questions, they keep probing, they keep extracting for their own meaning, but also giving meaning back to people around them.

0:43:44 - Speaker 2 Yeah, and I just I mean I find that for what's worth. I think we can practice at this. I think learning to be a good listener of other people's stories and sort of falling in love with human beings and the stories of people's lives, I mean I find myself listening to the Moth Radio Hour. I mean it was like a season in my life where I was listening to the Moth, which is just like basically just a bunch of people on stage telling personal stories. There's a season in my life where I would listen to the Moth and I would be in tears at the end of almost every story. But I think there's actually something really important going on inside of me in that process Because I was sort of like, because I was falling in love with humanity.

It was like falling. It was like, oh my goodness, people are amazing. I don't know if you have this moment From time to time. I'm just overwhelmed with like you get to know one human being and they are like a bottomless mystery, every single human being that we share this planet with is a bottomless mystery.

0:44:56 - Speaker 1 And there are billions of them. Matt, welcome to the reason why I have a podcast. This is exactly why I do this. If we're pushing seven years now, I am fascinated and blown away by you, every single individual, by every you that comes on here. This is the through line.

0:45:13 - Speaker 2 Well, and so I just think that I think, cultivating that posture towards other people, and then, you like, walk, if we can walk through our lives just sort of with that, all of our fellow human beings, our fellow inhabitants of this planet, then I just think that change is so, so much, and that sort of humility I mean for me, if I had to boil my vision of a life worth living down.

I was challenged to do this a couple years ago by a friend of mine who teaches, actually teaches life worth living at the high school level. He asked me to speak to his class and he asked me to boil down my vision to three words, which is really challenging, and the three words, if I thought a lot about it, were humility, courage and integrity. But that humility, I think, is so important, it has to be, to me at least, it has to be foundational to say I don't know everything, I'm curious, even when I think I have some. I'm starting to get a sense of where what matters most might be. I got to hold that with open hands. I could be wrong, and yet the courage then balances that out in certain ways, like kind of like. Well, I don't, because you could, at least to me, intellectual humility alone could turn into a sort of shoulder shrug and giving up Like I don't know what we can ever know.

So for me it has to be counterbalanced by some sort of courage that says whatever I do think I know I'm going to try to act on courageously as a response that maybe is again open to revision further down. And probably that means if I act with courage I'm probably going to get some things wrong. I'm going to have to ask for forgiveness and say I'm sorry, and that's just the reality of the messiness of life. But that's a good sign. And then, as those two things come together, hopefully that third word for me of integrity, of I'm trying to be the same person everywhere. I hope that I give the same answer, you know, I hope that I represent the same values, no matter who I'm in conversation with. And I'm drawing from a deep well of who I really am, rather than sort of putting mask on one after another to sort of tell people what I think they want to hear or what's going to do.

0:47:45 - Speaker 1 That's powerful, that's powerful.

0:47:46 - Speaker 2 But anyway, all to say, like for me humility really is the sort of starting spot and I think a lot of that for me comes from this sort of posture of awe towards other people and their stories.

0:48:02 - Speaker 1 I want to ask one more question before the final question, matt, and what's the best way to say this? When in pursuit of a life worth living, when moving forward, ever forward in life, I think many of us, all of us, might come to this realization that what we want isn't really worth having, or it might not hold the same weight we thought it did in terms of a meaningful life. We'll just flat out say that some things are not worth wanting. How, then, do we objectively look at the worthiness of what we want, the worthiness of our desires?

0:48:51 - Speaker 2 Oh well, I mean. So first of all, again, I just want to underscore what you just said, because I think it's so important and I'm not sure that we always get as far as your question has already gotten right, which is to say like not everything we want is worth wanting. That can be a bit of a bummer to hear, but I think it's really important to wrestle that possibility.

In my own life, that thing that I really really wanted really really badly was fame, and early in life I was a musician, I was gonna become a famous musician and then at some point I realized like I was more interested in being famous than in being good, and I was certainly more interested in being famous than in being morally good. But I mean, I was even more interested in being famous than in having the music be any good right. It was just one of those moments of like oh my goodness, I don't think fame is worth wanting. It's certainly not worth wanting as like a centerpiece of my life. But you asked, like how do we discern what is worth wanting as we sort of like move beyond our desires?

0:50:03 - Speaker 1 Yeah, how do we objectively look at the worthiness of our desires? Yeah, how can we even know that?

0:50:11 - Speaker 2 Yeah Well and this is where probably my the fact that I'm a theologian probably has a lot to do with my response to this question Like to me, like I have to get leverage from the outside, we might be able to try to work this out in what we would call sorry, use some technical language and sort of well, we don't have to use technical. We could do this in like interpersonal ways. Right, we could try to do that with a community. We could invite other people to sort of give us some input. I get worried that we tend to. I worry that that won't always work, because we tend to surround ourselves with people who probably have similar blind spots to the ones that we have ourselves.

0:50:51 - Speaker 1 Right, right yeah.

0:50:52 - Speaker 2 And for me I hope it's not. You know, I hope it doesn't leave too many people on the outside of this answer, but for me, as a theologian, this is really where the spiritual, where the religious, where the theological comes in. I need a perspective from what I call, you know, the capital O. Outside I need someone who's got a bigger perspective than mine. And so for me, when you ask this question, at least personally, I have to go to processes, practices of prayer, of really trying to listen and discern the voice of God, doing that in community, inviting other people to sort of listen together with me and try to, I try to access God's perspective. Maybe that's available within my religious tradition, within the Bible, within the traditions of my faith community. I do think, at the end of the day, you know somewhere, it's somewhere outside the self that we're gonna be able to get leverage on our own desires.

0:52:03 - Speaker 1 I agree absolutely.

0:52:04 - Speaker 2 Otherwise, I think we're kind of stuck inside yeah.

0:52:09 - Speaker 1 Great answer. I enjoyed that, thank you. So, as we kind of round out here I know we're a little over time you good for one more question, Yep? Okay, my final question that I ask everybody, and in sharing with you kind of the mission of EverFord Radio, what it means to live a life ever forward. I wanna always get my guest perspective. So I wanna ask you, Matt, when you hear those two words ever forward, what does that mean to you, Particularly when looking at you know, through the lens of your work and how to live a life worth living, what does it mean to live a life ever forward?

0:52:41 - Speaker 2 Well, I think, it means to quote, I think, congregationalist slogan. I'm not a Congregationalist, but they said there's a big UCC marketing campaign that was all built around. Never put a period where God has placed a comma.

0:53:02 - Speaker 1 And so when I think about sort of always, moving forward or ever forward.

0:53:08 - Speaker 2 I think about letting the questions elicit from us responses rather than answers, letting the questions spawn more questions and leaving our responses, even our answers, when we feel that we have them, leaving those open to revision, right to coming back to again and again and being ready to come back and question again and again, trusting that there's greater insight on the other side of our questions and of our curiosity of one another.

0:53:52 - Speaker 1 Like I say, there's never a right or a wrong answer to that question, but they're always greatly appreciated. Thank you, matt. Thank you Well, I will have your information, of course. The book Life Worth Living, down in the show notes for everybody to check out. If you resonate with the show and if you believe in moving forward and learning how to keep continuously moving forward, then you absolutely will enjoy this book, because I know I did so. Matt, thank you again for your time and thank you for this work.

0:54:19 - Speaker 2 Thank you.