Courage in the Ordinary

Tish Harrison Warren

As I reflect on my time as editor of The Well, I am struck by how many wonderful pieces we have published over the years. For ten weeks, The Well will share some of my favorites from the past in a TBT (Throw-Back Thursday) series. Enjoy! — Marcia

When I first met Tish, The Well had just finished its first year. I was eager for good writing and Tish, early in her career as a writer, began sending articles in. Her work was always well received, but this piece went viral and remains our most-read piece at The Well. Tish’s confession — “What I need courage for is the ordinary, the daily every-dayness of life" — resonated deeply with our audience and with me.

Everydayness is my problem. It’s easy to think about what you would do in wartime, or if a hurricane blows through, or if you spent a month in Paris, or if your guy wins the election, or if you won the lottery or bought that thing you really wanted. It’s a lot more difficult to figure out how you’re going to get through today without despair. —Rod Dreher 
I was nearly 22 years old and had just returned to my college town from a part of Africa that had missed the last three centuries. As I walked to church in my weathered, worn-in Chaco’s, I bumped into our new associate pastor and introduced myself. He smiled warmly and said, “Oh, you. I’ve heard about you. You’re the radical who wants to give your life away for Jesus.” It was meant as a compliment and I took it as one, but it also felt like a lot of pressure because, in a new way, I was torturously uncertain about what being a radical and living for Jesus was supposed to mean for me. Here I was, back in America, needing a job and health insurance, toying with dating this law student intellectual (who wasn’t all that radical), and unsure about how to be faithful to Jesus in an ordinary life. I’m not sure I even knew if that was possible. 
I am from the Shane Claiborne generation and my story is that of many young evangelicals. I grew up relatively wealthy in a relatively wealthy evangelical church. Jesus captured my heart and my imagination when I was a kid. I was the girl wearing WWJD bracelets and praying with her friends before theater rehearsal. It did not take long before I began asking questions about how the gospel impacted racial reconciliation and poverty. I began to yearn for something more than a comfortable Christianity focused on saving souls and being generally respectable Republican Texans. 
I entered college restless with questions and spent my twenties reading Marx and St. Francis, being discipled in the work of Rich Mullins, Ron Sider, and Tony Campolo, learning about New Monasticism (though it wasn’t named that yet), and falling in love with Peter Maurin and Dorothy Day. My senior year of college, I invited everyone at our big student evangelical gathering to join me in protesting the School of the Americas.
I spent a little while in two different intentional Christian communities, hanging out with homeless teenagers, and going to a church called “Scum of the Earth” (really). I gave away a bunch of clothes, went barefoot, and wanted to be among the “least of these.” At a gathering of Christian communities, I slept in a cornfield and spent a week using composting toilets, learning to make my own cleaning supplies, and discussing Christian anarchy while listening to mewithoutyou. I went to Christian Community Development Association conferences, headed up a tutoring program for impoverished, immigrant children, and interned at some churches trying to bridge the gap between wealthier evangelicals and the poor. I was certainly not as radical as many Christian radicals — a lot of folks are doing more good than I could ever hope to and, besides, I’ve never had dreadlocks — but I did have some “ordinary radical” street cred. 
Now, I’m a thirty-something with two kids living a more or less ordinary life. And what I’m slowly realizing is that, for me, being in the house all day with a baby and a two-year-old is a lot more scary and a lot harder than being in a war-torn African village. What I need courage for is the ordinary, the daily every-dayness of life. Caring for a homeless kid is a lot more thrilling to me than listening well to the people in my home. Giving away clothes and seeking out edgy Christian communities requires less of me than being kind to my husband on an average Wednesday morning or calling my mother back when I don’t feel like it. 
Soon after college, one of my best friends who is brilliant and brave and godly had a nervous breakdown. He was passionate about the poor and wanted to change at least a little bit of the world. He was trained as an educator and intentionally went to one of the poorest, most crime-ridden schools in our state and worked every day trying to make a difference in the lives of students who had been failed by nearly everyone and everything — from their parents to the educational system. After his “episode,” he had to go back to his hometown and live a small, ordinary life as he recovered, working as a waiter living in an upper-middle class neighborhood. When he’d landed back home, weary and discouraged, we talked about what had gone wrong. We had gone to a top college where people achieved big things. They wrote books and started non-profits. We were told again and again that we’d be world-changers. We were part of a young, Christian movement that encouraged us to live bold, meaningful lives of discipleship, which baptized this world-changing impetus as the way to really follow after Jesus. We were challenged to impact and serve the world in radical ways, but we never learned how to be an average person living an average life in a beautiful way. 
A prominent New Monasticism community house had a sign on the wall that famously read “Everyone wants a revolution. No one wants to do the dishes.” My life is really rich in dirty dishes (and diapers) these days and really short in revolutions. I go to a church full of older people who live pretty normal, middle-class lives in nice, middle-class houses. But I have really come to appreciate this community, to see their lifetimes of sturdy faithfulness to Jesus, their commitment to prayer, and the tangible, beautiful generosity that they show those around them in unnoticed, unimpressive, unmarketable, unrevolutionary ways. And each week, we average sinners and boring saints gather around ordinary bread and wine and Christ himself is there with us. 
And here is the embarrassing truth: I still believe in and long for a revolution. I still think I can make a difference beyond just my front door. I still want to live radically for Jesus and be part of him changing the world. I still think mediocrity is dull, and I still fret about settling. 
But I’ve come to the point where I’m not sure anymore just what God counts as radical. And I suspect that for me, getting up and doing the dishes when I’m short on sleep and patience is far more costly and necessitates more of a revolution in my heart than some of the more outwardly risky ways I’ve lived in the past. And so this is what I need now: the courage to face an ordinary day — an afternoon with a colicky baby where I’m probably going to snap at my two-year old and get annoyed with my noisy neighbor — without despair, the bravery it takes to believe that a small life is still a meaningful life, and the grace to know that even when I’ve done nothing that is powerful or bold or even interesting that the Lord notices me and is fond of me and that that is enough. 
I’ve read a lot of really good discussions lately about the recent emphasis on "radical" Christianity (see one at an InterVarsity blog and one at Christianity Today). This Radical Christian movement is responsible for a lot of good, and I’m grateful that I’ve been irrevocably shaped by it for some fifteen years. When we fearfully cling to the status quo and the comfortable, we must be challenged by the call of a life-altering, comfort-afflicting Jesus. But for those of us — and there are a lot of us — who are drawn to an edgy, sizzling spirituality, we need to embrace radical ordinariness and to be grounded in the challenge of the stable mundaneness of the well-lived Christian life. 
In our wedding ceremony, my pastor warned my husband that every so often, I would bound into the room, anxiety etched on my face, certain we’d settled for mediocrity because we weren’t “giving our lives away” living in outer Mongolia. We laughed. All my radical friends laughed. And he was right. We’ve had that conversation many, many times. But I’m starting to learn that, whether in Mongolia or Tennessee, the kind of “giving my life away” that counts starts with how I get up on a gray Tuesday morning. It never sells books. It won’t be remembered. But it’s what makes a life. And who knows? Maybe, at the end of days, a hurried prayer for an enemy, a passing kindness to a neighbor, or budget planning on a boring Thursday will be the revolution stories of God making all things new. 

Find other articles from this series at Marcia's Picks.


Tish Harrison Warren is a priest in the Anglican Church in North America. After eight years with InterVarsity Graduate and Faculty Ministries, she now serves as Co-Associate Rector at Church of the Ascension in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. She writes regularly for The Well, CT Women (formerly her.meneutics), and Christianity Today. Her work has also appeared in Comment Magazine, Christ and Pop Culture, Art House America, and elsewhere. She is author of Liturgy of the Ordinary: Sacred Practices in Everyday Life (IVP). She and her husband Jonathan have two young daughters.


Great article, thanks for writing...I dabbled in urban ministry in that same part of town where your mentors at college worked and lived. I never went 'radical' as they call it. What I struggle with is that we middle class Christians are trying to offer a 'hand up' to the poor so that they can become.... middle class boring Christians.. then they will struggle with being boring and suburban too. So we are all destined to struggle with our place but Jesus is where ever we are and we can love well in that place.

Mar 27, 2015 5:45AM by Anonymous

I understand --I really understand as evidenced by the fact it took me 25 minutes to read this post with my children constantly interrupting.

Jan 9, 2015 5:36PM by palousemom

Hi Tish,
I guess every fiber in MY being recoils at the thought of living an "ordinary" life. Having come to Christ in my late 30's, I don't see the church as living any different than the world in many cases. I was hoping for encouragement or exhortation from my reformed church to live for Christ and to work out my salvation with fear and trembling, and so far the exhortation has been "to be content" with Christ. The admonishment was to not “work” but Rest in Christ's finished work. As if all work is bad, instead of work that is motivated by pride or personal worth. I'm aware of Christ's finished work, but I guess I rail against the idea that I should "rest" in everything and not "do" anything. Why are we so opposed to doing? I also recognize that you, yourself are not saying, do nothing. And I think everything we do has value to the kingdom. But, I wonder how much we are missing out on, when we are exhorting our people to not be anxious and to rest in their vocation and situation. Can it be both....and. Some may not be called to do that at all and it may just cause them more angst to tell them that they are drinking the cool aid of "significance" by wanting to cast off everything and travel to far off lands for the sake of the gospel. The exhortation of the New Testament is to Go, to make disciples, and to baptize. The disciples are chastised for not going and for watching for Jesus return. I think , if they had immediately ran off to preach the Gospel, the other disciples might have called them works based and admonished them for working to earn merit or favor instead of them being compelled to go and grateful. I heard your interview on the White Horse Inn and it caused me great angst, mostly because I love that show, but apparently I have a hole in my theology if I don't want to Plow my field for the Glory of God. I think we're also taking a lot of liberties in presuming that people who seem content, actually are. Evangelicalism is like the Dems and GOP in that we are a house divided about what it means to work. I think we definitely have it wrong in thinking everybody is called to a radical sacrifice, but let's not forget that many have been called to radically sacrifice in Christian History and the testimony of radically faithful sacrifice and evangelism would not be so radical if more people were willing to submit to the spirit and served where their hearts led them instead of serving where they find themselves. All this to say, praise God for those called to radically submit to his grace in the mundane every day and Praise God for those willing to obey the spirit and sacrifice everything for Kingdom. May our message be contentment in the finished work of Christ in obedience in all things, callings and missions. Not to earn merit, but out of gratitude to a God who sacrificed his son, for his Glory and our benefit. May the Lord bless you for being obedient to the calling on your life and for finding comfort in the obedience that comes from finding yourself in the will of God. May we all find that same comfort, even if it's on the point of a spear for some.

Oct 16, 2013 8:53AM by Anonymous

Hi Tish, excellent article! I'd like to add a small perspective from perhaps the other side of the fence too. I live in the bush and we've built a school for children of child soldiers. So it could like the technical Radical Christianity. However--I'm right with you that it's our so often our reactions to difficult challenges in life rather than our geographical situation that is the toughest. I have to do dishes. I have to figure how to wash my clothes and deal with little kids who get grumpy for not clear reasons or teachers who seem preoccupied with their own lives. I think we're all in it together and your article is very important that it brings out that the geographical location really has almost nothing to do with it. I admire your attitude and back it 100%. Keep shinin gurl!!

Sep 30, 2013 6:05AM by Anonymous

Hi Tish,
Well written and shared. I have a similar story having left the States when I was 19 due to the influences on me of the 'Jesus Revolution' in the early '70's. I am now 61 and it has been a wild ride in many exotic lands, but I have learned that it those seemingly 'little' and ordinary moments that become so significant. That was Jesus' preferred method of teaching - through stories of the common life - bread, wine, fig trees, birds, and farming.
Let me know if you ever want to network or do any drama (mime/storytelling) projects.
All the best,
Peter van Gorder

Sep 26, 2013 3:48AM by Anonymous


In the fifties, long before my "radical, world-wandering exploits", which (I might add) have not yet ended, either, though "mediocrity" might well be the watchword some would see upon my coat of armor.. my mother was grieved and distraught about the conditions in China. She was weeping to HER mother saying; "Mother, children in China are starving!" (which was true enough and an awful testimony to man's coldness, since we know now that it was so Mao Tse Tung could obtain arms),. to which Grandmother quipped, "Never you MIND about THOSE children! You get in there and cook for your OWN children!

Well I don't know too much about the "spirituality" of my mom nor of Grandmother, but after that, my Mom kinda bucked right UP and she managed to get us all through the "painful" years (all first 25 of 'em at least). Somehow, we learned John 3:16 and the Hundreth Psalm, and maybe a few other ones to boot, along the way.

One thing I DO know my mother believed in: She believed 'em because she DID 'em. She told me "It is better to give than to receive!" and she DID it TOO! God was good to her and she was determined to SHARE it. And since of course you can't "out-give" God, He just heaped it back on her, Ha! She also told me "The first shall be last and the last first. She was no hypocrite on those things. She didn't smoke, NEVER! And she taught us to sing, which has been a veritable staple of my career.

It doesn't call those old normal every-day folks "saints" for nothing. They started out as little guys and you thought you were just "ministering" (hee-hee) to them, what with smelly diapers and broken kites and skint knees and worse! But then, AFTER, you found out that you had "ministered to the saints". "Presbyterians" might say , "Well, heck, they were saints all along, so you can be glad you DID!"

I think I'd gravitate a little in the direction of the OTHER camp and say, "They ended up BEING saints BECAUSE you ministered to them!" If you give them the best you've got, and mix it in with a little love and prayer (yes, and try to drag them to church too, if --that is-- you go yourself) they'll usually end up outshining you! Every ONE of us did! All five, in one way or another.. but maybe NOT in the ways that really count, if you know what I mean. Rey Hudson

Sep 25, 2013 11:31AM by Anonymous

Hi, ...whether in Africa, India, or Austin Texas, God has put each of us in a space
not too small to grow. Though some may go through the fire sooner than the rest of us in our hot dusty huts, life still has it's struggles, that not only have to be overcome, but resolute in some purposeful way, and I think you did a great job for your young years Tish! I'm a mother of 7, still at the sink w/ my thots meandering to & fro.
This is an issue in appreciation of what it takes to be kind, & gentle everyday with the ones we live with,..a known war zone at moments. Wisdom and virtues are learned everywhere, by being humble with the ones we're most familiar with. Who know's where God will take us from here, once we get some of the basics down pat? Look how Moses, and Joseph took years to learn what God put them through? The life we now have as Christians may soon change, according to Revelations, & end time events foretold in our Bible manuals. Things for us may also get a lot more rougher than what we do at the kitchen sink everyday, so these virtues will definitely see most through the days ahead! Thank God for Mommies! (& Dad's) We need all the encouragement we can get to keep raising our hopes of the future as they drift in & out of our lives, & who in deed will win the world for Christ! Love being the greatest, as the battles get hotter,..kindness will see us all through! -Bravo Christian Parents, much love & prayers!

Sep 25, 2013 9:35AM by Anonymous

Just to clarify the comment I wrote I meant to say that I am going to teach 2 days a week for this scholl year.

Sep 25, 2013 2:42AM by Anonymous

I am a missionary (non denominational) and a mother of 11 from 34 to 16.
My life is been full of the ordinarieness you talk about, cleaning, cooking, taking care of babies, teaching teenagers, of course witnessing and doing missionary work, but the most time of my life is been invested in the insignificant things of life, nevertheless all the time invested in my kids is been worth it, still on it, I been in India, Russia, Bangladesh, Latvia, China, Africa and different countries in Europe, I live with my husband great adventures as missionaries, we fought for our dreams and we saw them fullfill many times. I am a teacher and work most of my life for the mission and teached my kids. Next week I am going to a teacher for couple of days in an academy and I have this strange feeling like Am I going to loose my freedom? is going to tight me up and condition my mission work? well anyway Jesus in my heart is going to shine and I have no doubt that whatever I do is going to bring good fruti because after all He is the main one and He´s going to shine throught. María

Sep 25, 2013 2:40AM by Anonymous

This is a great post! I am now a middle-aged mom, and I have done my share of diapers and dishes! Many people might consider me still a radical, since we have chosen to live in the inner city for the past 24 years, and we have adopted a couple of (awesome) kids, but I very often feel ordinary. I still long to go do something exciting! But now I am taking care of my father as I continue raising my kids.

One unexpected but thrilling thing has happened in our lives; our oldest son has become a radical! He has gone to an orphanage in Zambia several times, and wants to go back, and take more people with him.

All that time I spent nurturing him, thinking I was just doing mundane, ordinary things, I was actually nurturing a passionate radical for God's Kingdom. I have two more kids at home, and I am excited to see how God will stir their hearts.

And then, in seven years, they will all be grown up and I can throw myself back into a more radical lifestyle, God willing.

I hope that is encouraging. Keep on writing!

Sep 13, 2013 12:17PM by

Well, for what it's worth I think radical is simply surrendering your will for your life and living out God's plan instead. It wound me up a wife and a mother of 7 awesome children. And then my husband got radical and said the Lord told him to sell everything and go to all 50 states in an rv as missionaries, so we did. And then I became a pastors wife (same husband, lol!). And it's sometimes thrilling, but mostly it takes courage to live for Him, the way He wants us to. And everybody's radical should be different because it's in the total surrender that we freefall into His arms and He laughs and delights with us and shows us the beauty of the ordinary. And we get to experience the fellowship of his sufferings sometimes. Radical is walking by faith and not by sight and who wants to wait on the Lord when it's so hard and people start to dismiss you and discount you and oh my, did Jesus ever experience this too? You are on to something my dear, and it is beautiful disguised as boring and mundane and may we all have eyes to see Jesus in all of life, not just the mountaintops. And may we lead others to our Lord because of our deep abiding love in Him, the lover of our souls who knows just what we need isn't always what we like, but He loves us anyway. For in Him we live and move and have our being. Enjoy your babies Tish, they will mold you and shape you far more than you will them, and yes, it will be radical but you won't know it until later. Blessings upon you sister, keep being radical for Jesus wherever you find yourself. :)

Sep 8, 2013 10:57PM by

I love this response! So true! Very well said!

Sep 15, 2013 9:47PM by

Africa, no part of Africa, "missed" the last three centuries. I can't even begin to imagine what you mean by that phrase. Might you mean industrialization or economic development?

Sep 8, 2013 6:19PM by

Hi Tish,

Thank you for this article. Heard about it through the White Horse Inn podcast on Sunday. The conversation that you've started about the true, holy value of an ordinary life lived for Christ may do for ordinary Christianity what Susan Cain's 2012 book on introversion (Quiet). In both cases, the real value of something ignored or held in low esteem is finally being recognized.


Sep 4, 2013 11:21PM by

I liked the end of your post the best. But I do hope you quit longing for "revolution" though. The Lutheran doctrine of vocation is really what you are talking here. Gene Edward Vieth has some done some outstanding stuff on this.

Also I recommend checking out Rev. Jonathon Fisk's book " 7 Christian Rules". Chapter 7 is quite insightful when it points out that Satan is who we emulate when we hope to be the hero or the one who pulls him/herself up by his boot straps for he was the first self-reliant revolutionary. We as American fall for this deception constantly.

Something else to think about, is this. God works through all Christians in our so-called "ordinary" vocations as we love our neighbors whom He puts in our lives because God has first loved us through the life, death, and resurrection of His Son, Jesus Christ. See 1 John 4:10-11. Remember God prepared these good works for us to do in advance just as He saved us by grace through faith. This is a gift from God. We didn't come to Him, nor could we. See Ephesians 2:8-10. Christian vocation is a wonderful example of living under the cross of Christ and not seeking self-glory, which is so easy for each of us to do since we are sinners who are curved inward on ourselves.

Blessings in Christ,
Matt in Indiana

Sep 3, 2013 3:52PM by

Excellent piece. Two quotes came immediately to mind.

The first from Dorothy of Kansas: “If I ever go looking for my heart's desire again, I won't look any further than my own back yard. Because if it isn't there, I never really lost it to begin with.”

The second from Thomas Fleming (Chronicles Magazine): "To an observant eye, the world is peopled with ordinary men making strenuous, even heroic efforts to get through the day without cheating their customers or betraying their wives."

Sep 3, 2013 10:12AM by

This post reminds me of St. Theresa of Liseau - the little flower. She talks about her "little way", the way of doing everything you do for Christ - mopping the floors, responding to the critical friend, making dinner. Her biography is a gracious reminder that we are God's Hands, Feet, and Voice no matter where we are.

Jul 19, 2013 11:03AM by

Thanks for reminding me to enjoy the ordinary things. Lately I have found myself "tired," but I don't really think it's tiredness, but more like not being content and receiving God's joy. Thank you for reminding me that God is pleased with me serving in small ways.

Jul 18, 2013 12:49PM by

Beautiful piece.

Jul 17, 2013 2:11PM by

Yeah. I graduated college and returned from living in Africa for six months too, and your words are so pertinent to me. I am almost crying as I read because I know this struggle is so real for so many of us. The struggle to love the every day. The radical calls constantly but the ordinary whispers, and I've prayed God would make me content to be here, to do what's hard, staying put when I want to fly to at least five other countries where it seems people need me more. But God has me here right now. And He has made me love it here. He has shown me purpose here, to encourage and love those around me who are also struggling in this funny middle place. It makes me think of the many ordinary Christians who lived lives of obscurity over the past 2000 years, and how God was pleased in their simple obedience to Him, and that was, as you say, enough. It certainly was enough for our Lord. Thanks for sharing.

Jul 15, 2013 9:51PM by

Thank you for this post. It made me think. This is what I have been thinking.

What is radical? If the definition of radical involves a comparison with ordinary than the definition is flawed because ordinary and radical are then defined by society and their definitions are culturally defined and therefore change over time. Radical is seeking and finding what God wants one to do and then doing it. Perhaps a better definition is that radical is seeking what God wants one to be / become and then being / becoming that. I find doing, becoming, being what God wants is exceedingly difficult no matter where I am or what I am.

(Note: wants in the phrase what God wants, seems somehow inappropriate - too weak and too strong at the same time.)
Jul 14, 2013 11:44PM by

Radical means root. It is a word that describes a condition, not an action. For the grammarian, it is an adjective, not an adverb. It describes a thing not an action. To be radical in this sense is to be submitted to Christ to the root of being. For some, this may result in a life given conspicuously to battling the injustices of the fallen world. To others, it may mean being a mouthpiece for the gospel, reaching into the larger world. For others, it may take the form of a simple servant's life. What was the reason Brother Lawrence's testimony was so moving? because he showed that the most obscure life has transcendant meaning, because of the God Who lives in that servant's heart. Young zealots today have stumbled on the same block that the religious liberals of earlier decades had stumbled, leading to their social gospel, that somehow serving the poor, the unfortunate, shedding God's love and the message of redemption, is somehow more noble than sharing that same promise of eternal life with the middle class, the successful, the close-to-home. As the Puritan's discovered, every life has meaning, every task has meaning, every calling has meaning, when it is given to Christ. The mundane life of the servant of the living God is of inestimable value. NOT because of the greatness of the work done, but because of the Greatness of the God Who owns and consecrates that life.

Jul 15, 2013 6:55AM by

Tish, Adam Borneman from GCTS. You may not remember me, but we did cross paths every so often. I came across your piece when Rod Dreher cited it in a recent article.

Anyway, this is excellent. I serve a small church in Birmingham and many of the younger folks are constantly undergoing a "radical" crisis. There is so much 1st world guilt that it gets in the way of basic spiritual discipline and and simple daily obedience to Jesus. Discipleship is pretty boring and mundane most of the time, and frankly, it just doesn't feel righteous enough. And of course the folks who end up serving in the most consistent, simple, and quiet ways are the people in their 70's and 80's. You've put into words so beautifully what I've tried to convey over and over again to a handful of folks at our church. Please keep writing along these lines. Its very helpful.



Jul 12, 2013 3:40PM by

I think this is kind of a ridiculous piece. The author is able to live such a 'ordinary' life, precisely because of the violences that visit others. Trying to equate lives lived under threat of violence and excessive vulnerability with the 'ordinary' difficulties that come with being housed, employed, and primarily comfortable is just absurd. There's no need to try to make this courageous except that the author clearly feels guilty about the life she's leading. But perhaps instead of trying, then, to make her 'ordinary' life look more courageous than it is she should just be honest about the fact that her 'radicalism' and her desires for ordinary didn't mesh. She wanted a normal comfortable life. Just say that and stop trying to make it seem more admirable than it is.

Jul 12, 2013 10:38AM by

Hmmm....your comments are thought-provoking. I think the real issue here, stated simply, is whether a person's life has meaning to Christ if it is not an evidently world-changing life. I could not respond to that misperception briefly, but let me affirm that you have a point, just not exactly an appropriate counter-point to this article. While you and the authoress may not be "talking apples and oranges", you might be talking, say, oranges and tangerines. Her real issue, whether she understands it completely or not, seems to be needing to know her life counts in a meaningful way, in the context of serving Christ. Unless, as you suggest, she is merely struggling with internal conflict because she is guilty of living in such a way that she is in contradiction with what she professes to believe and desire. I think you misunderstand her real struggle. You think she is living as a hypocrite, she seems to fear living a "mediocre", ie, cosmically meaningless, life. A good deal of parsing is called for here...this generation has somehow been raised to believe that every individual has been called to live as a practical savior of the world. Of course they are going to discover that that role has already been taken.
Do not give up your sensitivity to the injustices of this world. They are real and we all have a duty in our lives to fight injustice. That said, we also must admit that God has given every indication that man's inhumanity to man will not cease until this world is rolled up like a gravecloth. The battle that you perceive is real, but remember, "we wrestle not with flesh and blood."

Jul 15, 2013 6:45AM by

Without psychologizing the author's intentions, I have to agree with the original poster that this piece rubs me the wrong way and seems fundamentally misguided, dangerously close to justifying a comfortable existence. Simply wanting to be radical is, of course, a contentless proposition, but I do think it's intellectually and spiritually dishonest to elevate "quiet, ordinary Christian disciplines" over world-changing.

I wasn't surprised to read this piece, however, and almost considered not responding to it. I'm continually disappointed and alienated by the posts at the Well, many of which seem to be aimed at encouraging women scholars to accept their "ordinary roles" as wives and mothers, in nice Christian churches, finding some sort of peace with fundamentally racist, classist, and sexist institutions. Our world is overpopulated and facing ecological disaster. The anthropocene is an era where, as a non-Christian (but raised evangelical) acquaintance of mine recently said, "one is almost tempted to believe that the book of Revelation was about climate change." As Christians, we cannot fool ourselves that just by tithing and spending time in contemplative prayer we are somehow living up to the challenge of the gospel. I have no patience for the touristy, white-evangelical model of "radicalism" but there are other models--including some of the ones the author sounds like she may have experienced--that are at least trying to push beyond that. While anyone who spends time around "radical" communities knows that they are flawed, that doesn't make it okay to self-congratulatorily live a comfortable life. I'm not trying to say the author is doing this, but I would hope that as women intellectuals we would be actually applying our critical skills toward radically questioning the institutions and norms we have been handed, rather than trying to find peace with them. How can it be that having one's own children is seen as a neutral decision in a world of such limited resources? How can we as women scholars really think that leaving the classroom, where we have the chance to teach hundreds of young people who may not have other advantages, to stay at home and raise nice Christian children, is a justifiable decision? Of course individuals may make this decision on a personal level--that's between them and God--but as a Church and as intellectuals we have to also think big picture, and ask about what kinds of systemic inequalities and injustices we are contributing to.

What I do agree with 100% is the author's statement that we don't know how revolutionary prayer may be. That is, of course, the wild card, and I've certainly met many prayer warriors who lived otherwise unassuming lives. In my experience, however, growth in the radical and world-shifting nature of one's prayers tends to go hand in hand with rejection of middle-class American mores. In other words, if we really open ourselves up to the Spirit's transformation, I would hope that at least some of us would be doing something a little more communal, yes, even revolutionary, then being stay-at-home mothers in suburban churches, or investment bankers, or university administrators, or professors at nice, comfortable colleges whose students are taking on crushing debt. At least, that it what I would hope, although my despair at finding this in Christian academic circles increases over time. Of course it's barely present among non-Christians, so it's not like we're worse than the world, which I suppose should give us some bare comfort.

Jun 11, 2014 10:49PM by Anonymous

The author's is a voice of maturity. Passion is no substitute. A wise friend once said to me, "God knows you'd die for him. What he wants is for you to live for him every day." I didn't know exactly what it meant then, but I certainly do now. My eyes were filled with the glory of fantasies of adventures for Christ, giving it all for him, living the exciting life in every moment. But the real test of Christian maturity is in dirty diapers.

The test is in the moment you roll over at 2:30 am when the baby cries, and you know your wife will get up if you don't, but you strain to pull yourself up anyway because love.

It's in the self-sacrifice (denying oneself, Jesus calls it) of one day at a time, consistency living each day in Christ. Without stopping. For everyone else. That's maturity.

The life on the edge, the heroic, has a certain satisfaction that is, in the end, self-gratifying. Selling books has the same. As an author, it's something of which I'm well aware. I find, diapers are more reliable for growth in Christian maturity. There is no crowd. Still critics, as you've shown. But no glory. Just Christ. What can be more radical than that?

At the end of the day, I'll take diapers.

-John-Peter Demsick

The Well

Jul 14, 2013 12:29AM by

A late comment: this seems like an official "The Well" reply to those who offered criticisms, and, if so, it comes across as a bit harsh. Your feedback here plays up the false dualism that middle-class suburban existence is "average" and "mundane" while places like "Africa" and "Mongolia" are exciting and for thrill-seeking young U.S. Americans who have yet to settle down. This might not have been the intention, but it certainly reads that way.

As someone from "underdeveloped Appalachia" (referring to the author's own reply below), I can safely pronounce that the ordinary and mundane exist in those places that many people apparently don't like to be ("Africa," "Mongolia," "Appalachia.") Digging wells in Uganda is incredibly mundane, repetitive, and everyday, just as changing diapers can be. In fact, diapers exist in Africa, too. No need to say those in Africa, Mongolia, and Appalachia are being "heroic" with crowds of people cheering them on, whereas those with infants aren't. I've never cheered for a well-digger or a diaper-changer on either continent, but I respect that both activities require sacrifice and can (although by no means necessarily) contribute to Christian maturity. And sometimes the same person does both.

I'd like to recall us back to Dietrich Bonhoeffer's remarkable little work, "Life Together." He talks a lot about the everyday and mundane as a Christian calling. Yet he's also living this out among a group of rebel Christians in Nazi Germany. So. You can in fact do both--be a radical in the everyday without succumbing to the pull of the sin-riddled status quo. Change diapers. Make sandwiches for the homeless. Keep learning about systems of global injustice. And take your young tots to Appalachia and build us a dang well already :)

Jun 12, 2014 11:06AM by Anonymous

Just a clarification note from The Well that the comment you are referring to was posted by a reader, not The Well.

Jun 12, 2014 11:13AM by Marcia_Bosscher

Good clarification, and a bit of a relief. Thank you!

The actual content still stands, though. I'll add here that it applies to the original blog post, too, which may not have been clear above.

Jun 12, 2014 11:21AM by Anonymous

20 plus years, four kids, a dog, a couple of cats and several goldfish in, I'm with you. Now tethered close to home by a medically complex, disabled child, I often long to be able to have greater, more far-reaching impact on the world, where I can be daily propelled by those obvious and concrete contributions to the kingdom. When I read pieces like this my thoughts inevitably sift down to wondering if we're just trying to make ourselves feel better by believing there is beauty and glory for God in the minutia of a mundane day. Then I remember all the years Jesus spent as a carpenter, and I think of the years Moses spent in insignificant exile between his life in Egypt and his return to lead the exodus. God doesn't really need heroes, does he; but only faithful men and women ready to heed whatever call, grand or mundane, he may choose to place on their lives.

Jul 12, 2013 7:50AM by

This is taken somewhat out of context, but I often come back to Jesus' words in Matthew 10:26 when thinking about the mundaneness of ordinary Christian living: "for nothing is covered that will not be revealed, or hidden that will not be known." No one will write a book about how I did those dishes or changed that diaper and it will inspire no one to follow Jesus in super radical ways (though it might make my wife happy). But God sees and God remembers.

Jul 11, 2013 3:19AM by

So wonderfully and eloquently stated, and sorry I've missed attending your blog in the past. Even for someone living and helping people in one of the poorest countries in the world, it really boils down to the actions that we take and thoughts that we have, on a day-to-day basis, that I find to be the most worshipful - and hardest to do!

Jul 11, 2013 1:10AM by

Excellent!! Very helpful!!

Jul 10, 2013 1:57PM by

I really, really appreciate this post. As someone who thought she'd be in the inner city or overseas at this point in her life, I've struggled with whether I've settled. I find myself not wanting to write my friends living a "radical" life overseas because mine is full of first-world choices and first-world problems and I can feel guilty about all of it. Thank you for reminding me that God can use me in the mundane, and that He will nudge and move in the big and little of life. (And can you move to WA, not TX? :))

Jul 10, 2013 12:38PM by

I admire your desire to make a difference. But nowhere in your story did I ever hear you say you waited to hear what God wants you to do. All the doing in the world is fruitless if it it isn't the specific thing your father has in mind for you. Don't try so hard. Listen for your father's voice and you'll find peace in whatever he leads you into, whether its "mundane" or "revolutionary"--- in fact, you'll probably find that just following God's leading for you will be pretty revolutionary to most other people. I know that for me, when I stopped striving and started listening, it was very revolutionary. Please don't interpret any of this as condemnation-- it's not. I've just been there and I know what changed my world.

Jul 10, 2013 12:23PM by

You would enjoy Gene Edward's little book entitled, "Your Lord is a Blue Collar Worker". It brilliantly captures the first 30 years of the carpenter from Nazareth. I actually heard him speak the message in a church many years ago in Vero Beach, Florida. While all were deeply touched, I particularly remember women, (especially housewives) weeping as redemption/holiness/profound meaning was brought into their ordinary, everyday lives.

Jul 10, 2013 11:12AM by

GREAT thoughts here... thank you for sharing something that's obviously close to your heart. I wrote a similar post last year, about seeing God in the ordinary things (, called, "What is That in Thine Hand?" based on Exodus 4... your post reminded me of it and really brought home in a new way these truths God was teaching me last year and is teaching me again now. Thanks again!

Jul 10, 2013 10:24AM by

beautifully written! so challenging and convicting for me as i learn to follow jesus well being at home with a one year old.

Jul 10, 2013 10:17AM by

This is rich and important. Thank you so much for writing this. Thank you for your honesty and transparency. I needed this today.

Jul 10, 2013 8:07AM by

Thank you. The pressure to achieve what the world deems radical is certainly present for the 20-something Christian, but I am striving to stay focused on my audience of One - God himself. I'm encouraged by your words.

-Arielle Benjamin

Jul 10, 2013 7:36AM by

I only just now saw this. It is good. Hope y'all are settling in well in Austin.


Jul 9, 2013 10:25PM by

I was you in the 70's, confident that my faith would propel me to do great things for God; just sure I would succeed in giving my life away in ways that conventional Christianity decried. I could not have been more wrong. I felt for the longest time that I "settled" for my life in Brentwood when I wanted to be in Uganda. But somewhere along the line I learned that I could have deep conversations in the grocery store with elderly ladies and other young mothers desperate for adult conversation or simply contact with another human being. I learned to look for the presence of the Holy Spirit in the most unexpected places and to be overwhelmed by His faithfulness to me when I struggled to parent three children under four and then an unexpected fourth. Somewhere I also learned to see myself for the legalistic Pharisee I had become -- one who was far too comfortable being "right" than being broken. Why is it that so many former hippies stray into this deadly territory? Why does our radicalism so readily cloak itself in the trappings of mediocrity? I ponder this and more. And yet. I am thankful that the Lord has broken me and freed me from myself over and over again. He has taught me to pray. And to cast my cares on Him. And then to pray some more. And to learn to be a daily repenter. I may never do the great things I once dreamed of for God, but my heart is full of his indelible grace and mercy, both of which I do not, nor will ever deserve. I am also painfully and gloriously aware that He loves me and that He uses me to bless others in spite of myself. Perhaps if I had scaled those heights to which I once aspired, I would have become an insufferable and arrogant woman instead of the broken, forgiven and repentant Pharisee clinging to the hem of His garment. All I know is that God has been good to me, really really good, and that He will do the same for you. Every day that you live. I believe it. I really do. So embrace the dirty dishes or forget them and go gather fireflies in the dusk with your little ones. It may be the best worship there is. That and laughter. Blessings, dear one. I hear your heart. But He heard you long before you even formed the thoughts. He was moving over you then. And He is moving over you now. Walk forward into His grace. Dishes, diapers, or fireflies. It's all grace.

Jul 9, 2013 8:03PM by

Beautiful answer!

Jul 10, 2013 6:41AM by

Beautiful essay. We live in Austin. Where are you planning to go to church when you get here?

Jul 9, 2013 7:10PM by

So good! Thank you. Agree totally! Blessings to you.... thanks again, sharing this one.

Jul 9, 2013 3:09PM by

Thank you, this is exactly how I feel. I actually went to college with Shane Claiborne and the Simple Way gang and am constantly "comparing myself" to them and other friends who are overseas doing "more amazing" stuff for Jesus while I'm stuck in suburbia.

Jul 9, 2013 3:01PM by

Thanks for sharing your experience in the ranks of us former-radical, currently ordinary, but never giving-up Jesus followers puzzling out what that means in this phase of life. I loved this and quoted you on my blog:

Jul 9, 2013 2:41PM by

Thanks so much for writing this. It resonates with thoughts I have had for years about something being a little wrong with our (evangelicalism's) overstated way of implying that every single Christian can and should be a [revolutionary] world changer--usually understood in ways that imply fame and/or greatness. I am also wondering about some particular emphases of the WAYS in which we are for the poor and "against" the rich. Don't want to justify any wrong or deny the denial of self, but not every way of denying the self is necessarily right (witness certain forms of asceticism and Paul's criticism in Colossians).

Jul 9, 2013 12:47PM by

Oi. Yes. This is a constant struggle in my head, which translates to a near-continuous "serious discussion" with my husband that never really resolves and only leaves me feeling more confused and frustrated. We're new in the city we feel called to but unsure of where to put down our "everyday" roots - should it be the "abandoned places of the empire" or in the middle-class suburb where my in-law's live? Constant struggle. Thanks for this. It helps tremendously. Just to know someone else is fighting it out helps.

Jul 9, 2013 11:56AM by

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