Friday, March 12, 2010

Crucifying the American Dream

I have a friend who says he feels like Gulliver, tied down by millions of tiny strings. One or two, or even twenty, might not be such a big deal. He can move around plenty. But all together, he feels stifled. He's asking the right questions, I think. "How do I start cutting strings?"
His self-reflection encourages and challenges me.

Over time, reflexively accumulating the expectations of what it means to grow up and create "a life" for your self, your family, and your future, we submit to strings upon strings. There comes a day many wake up and realize they're suffocating.

I think of the early retiree with lots of money saved up in the bank and plenty of time for boating and golfing. He is finally getting to do all the time what he never had much time for but most enjoyed while he was working. He is still wasting his life.

We're told to save, get our kids in the right schools and extracurriculars, get the right insurance, build equity, invest in college savings programs and retirement accounts, succeed in business. Our churches know these are priorities, so they tell us how to put the Bible's principles to work so we'll have successful marriages, jobs, families, businesses, lives.

It's the American dream. Laying up treasures on earth, I think.

I don't think this is the legacy we're meant to create. The American dream is a testimony of the indomitable human spirit and the triumph of man over adversity. It is a testament to man's iron will, the Protestant work ethic, etc. Because the hero of the American dream is us, it is not redemptive. It is not eternal. And so it is not even a good dream. It is mud pies compared to the holiday at sea.

In Haggai 1:4, the LORD rebukes the nation of Israel: "Is it a time for you yourselves to be living in your paneled houses, while this house remains a ruin?"

We don't have to rebuild the temple, of course. But the church in the West is full of Christians who have bought into with heart, mind, and soul the pursuit of erecting "houses" of worship of the human spirit. The American dream bids us build monuments to ourselves and our ingenuity and perseverance. And the dying servant-king bids us come and die. "Is it a time for you yourselves to be living in your tidy, safe, comfortable, successful, consumeristic, materialistic lives while the kingdom goes ignored?"
We construct temples to house our presence, short-shrifting laying up treasures in heaven, building for the kingdom, making way for the presence of the Spirit.

I think this is the cross of most American Christians. Whether we will take it up remains to be seen.


Mike Gastin said...

Jared, fantastic post and I love the quote from Haggai!

I'm a 43 year old business owner and I wrestle with this issue all the time. I want to do work that is eternal and of the Kingdom of heaven. But, I need to feed my family and help my employees do the same. How to reconcile the two and how much of my 'feeding my family' is really chasing the American Dream?

It's scary for me to look too closely at the answers.

Jared said...

Mike, but you're asking the questions, which is at least a million miles ahead of most everybody else.

I don't believe the answer is a bunch of jobless, homeless Christians living on a commune. I mean, for some it could be, but I think the answer is systematically evaluating how kingdom-vested and people-vested our time, talents, and energy are.

Keeping our kids and wife fed and clothed and healthy and educated is biblical.
Creating a legacy of our own comfort and self-gloried accomplishments is not.

So how do we do the former in such a way that glorifies Jesus?

Jerrad said...

Interesting approach to looking at the American Dream. I work with refugees from Iraq and I find myself torn on the idea of promoting this dream and the methods for trying to realize it. At a deeper personal level, I find myself challenged to consider how far am I willing to go to help these people...risk all that "I" have built up to date? Thanks for your message. - Jerrad in Chicago

Bird said...

Right on.

To be sure, the American Dream is a man-made edifice -- at least at its materialistic core.

kinleyw said...

I have been reading through the gospels, on my third trip now, and all I can say to this is...

He who ears to hear, let me hear.

Corey Burba said...

A really good book on this subject is "Life Work" by Darrow L. Miller. I read it recently and it was eye-opening!