In 1980, one of the biggest and most powerful organizations in the world thought it could use a little publicity.
It decided to launch an advertising campaign, hiring a copywriter by the name of Earl Carter, who came up with an idea that was so simple—yet so powerful and captivating—that the slogan instantly caught on.
It’s now the stuff of legends. In 1999, the publication Advertising Age named it one of the best advertising campaigns of the twentieth century. In fact, it is considered such an important part of American history that Carter’s concept sheet—the notepad containing that phrase—is preserved in the permanent collection of a museum. And it has endured. The big client ended up using the campaign and its slogan for over two decades.
Be All You Can Be
Earl Carter’s client was the US Army. And his slogan? “Be All You Can Be.”
That simple phrase resonates in ways all of us recognize. It could almost stand as the eleventh commandment for people of faith. There, in five short words, you have everything that God calls us to do, every aspiration he asks us to achieve, every expectation or desire or dream he might have for every one of us.
“There,” he says, as he breathes us into existence. “Now be all you can be.”
Well, sure. That’s easy for him to say. What about the rest of us? How do we go about actually fulfilling that? Looked at another way: how can we not only live up to our expectations (or God’s) but also make of our lives something out of the ordinary?
How do you live an extraordinary life? It may not be as hard as you think. And in reality, it’s not really a secret. Look no further than St. Matthew’s Gospel:
When the Pharisees heard that he had silenced the Sadducees, they gathered together, and one of them [a scholar of the law] tested him by asking, “Teacher, which commandment in the law is the greatest?” He said to him, “You shall love the Lord, your God, with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind. This is the greatest and the first commandment. The second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. The whole law and the prophets depend on these two commandments.” (Matthew 22:34-40)
Love God, Love Your Neighbor
There it is, hiding in plain sight: love the Lord, and love your neighbor. The fact is, actually fulfilling those mandates—“the two great commandments”—is a challenge. And it is so easy to become lax, complacent, indifferent. We take God for granted. We take one another for granted. We fumble. We fall. Face it: we sin.
It becomes even harder in the manic, frenetic age in which we live—when the distractions of email, texting, television, and multiple deadlines on all fronts make muddling through every day a chore. And let’s not even talk about praying; who has time for that? Can’t we just be good people, be kind to one another, and let it go at that?
Well, sure. If you want your life to be, you know, ordinary. But there is so much more that we can do and that we can be. “The ways of the Lord are not easy,” Pope Benedict told German pilgrims to the Vatican in 2005, “but we were not created for an easy life, but for great things, for goodness.” We were created for something extraordinary.
Nothing could matter more than becoming our best—for ourselves, for our neighbors and, above all, for God. No matter what we have to do, we have so much that we are called to be. And God’s challenge to us all couldn’t be simpler—or more daunting.
Go ahead, he says. I’ve given you life. Now be all you can be.
The Story We Tell
We are a storytelling people. It’s woven into our DNA. What started in caves around a fire now happens in living rooms around a TV screen or—increasingly—in Starbucks around a laptop or on buses and trains with a cell phone in our hands. We have this insatiable need to pass on what we have seen, what we have heard, what we have experienced, what we know. We want to tell stories.
When it comes to sharing the Christian message with the world, what story are we telling? Whether we realize it or not, the story we are commissioned to tell the world is a love story. The great Christian story—what has been called, famously, the greatest story ever told—is the story of God’s love for us, our love for him, and our shared love for one another in a world where, to be honest, love is often lacking.
Too many don’t realize that everything we are, everything we profess to believe, begins with love. And this is a sobering truth: a surprising number of people don’t believe they are loved or—more significantly—that they are lovable. In turn, they have a hard time loving. We live in a wounded world, with wounded people who have been shunned, ignored, kicked around, or just dismissed. So many of us have the bruises to show for it. That, sadly, is life. So it’s no small wonder that the Gospel message that resonates the most with so many, the one that bandages the bruises and makes them feel whole again, is one that reminds them that they are loved. To be reminded of that can be more than encouraging; it can be overwhelming. It might even be lifesaving. So as you go about being all you can be, tell the story of God’s love as you experience it.
This is a selection from The Busy Person’s Guide to an Extraordinary Life by Deacon Greg Kandra (The Word Among Us Press, 2020), available at www.wau.org/books.