Wednesday, June 24, 2009
The American Dream
Ultimately, all of the great American heroes were after one thing: The American Dream. George Washington sought freedom. Benjamin Franklin sought independence. Thomas Jefferson sought security. Alexander Hamilton sought financial freedom. Abraham Lincoln sought unity. Martin Luther King, Jr. sought equality. They all had a vision that together we can call the American Dream. The American dream was broad in its vision, and they all saw the United States as being a beacon for the whole world, an ideal for all the oppressed to hold to.
However, over time, the American dream evolved. It has been taken up by advertisers, real estate agents, television shows, and cigarette manufacturers. Rather than being a quality of life, it has taken on the characteristics of a particular kind of life—a life of a certain economic level, a certain kind of work, a certain level of materialism.
The freedom of the enlightenment idealists was originally an opportunity for everyone to reach to their highest moral and spiritual self. But our society has taken this freedom to be to partake in the lowest common denominator of pornography, greed, violence, covetousness and gluttony, while causing only a limited amount of harm to others.
The ideal of the American dream is that of equality, so that all are treated with fairness and justice, no matter what society or culture or race they are in. Now equality is meant to limit one’s choices to hundreds of channels on television, but if someone wants to live a different lifestyle, they are punished by having their children taken away from them.
The financial security envisioned is that of living according to one’s own means, at whatever level that means. But this has been transformed to greed, with even the poor wondering what they have done wrong to fail to obtain the riches promised them. The wealthy, meanwhile, must keep a serving class of minimum-wage workers (or below minimum wage) in order to maintain their wealth. The greed of the ruling culture is based on the poverty of the lower class.
The comfort of the idealists was equally realized in Thomas Jefferson, the inventor and (writer of Walden), the creator of the simple life. There was a variety of lifestyles which kept one at peace with one’s environment and society. But our society has taken comfort to be that of material comfort, with a minimum of physical effort for that life. This has turned into a culture of entitlement, where we don’t just hope for a materialist lifestyle, but expect it and think that we all deserve it.
Freedom of employment
To have work is to be able to be self-sustaining, to pay for one’s own life and family, whatever lifestyle that might be. But now, in order to obtain the lifestyle of greed, we must go the avenue of seeking the patronage and goals of one whose purpose in life is to make money, which he promises to share some sparse percentage of with the one whom he employs. We are trapped in a job ethic that we hate, but we cannot escape.
The democratic ideal that was originally held is rule by the people for the sake of the people. But somehow this has been translated to a plutocratic republic—where the only “people” who rule are the wealthy, for the sake of the wealthy. Then this ideal of government is imported to other nations when the “people” there don’t want this form of democracy, but a religious republic.
The Constitution says that the United States must “provide for the common defense”. Yet this “defense” has become a military complex and society that shapes the rest of the country in support of it’s world-wide mission to promote American welfare. The result of this is a constant fear of those who want to limit American influence to its own country, even if they have no violent intent.
Ideally, Thomas Jefferson wrote, the American dream is the freedom to pursue happiness. But the American dream today is not the pursuit of happiness, but the direct injection of it. All we want for our children is that they be “happy”. But happiness is found so much easier in an injection, mental health meds, alcohol, television or escapist novels. The harder to obtain, but more content-producing happiness of service, charity, peacemaking and working for God isn’t sought first or even primarily. They are small parts of our life that we gladly surrender when more direct happiness appears or is offered by our cable companies, drug dealers or health care specialists.
Our salvation is limited to what our society can give us. Our opportunities are limited to what we think we should have. Our choices are limited by what everyone thinks is best for us.
Yet there is another option, we are not limited to what our society offers us. Because Jesus offers us a different lifestyle.
Freedom in Jesus
Jesus offers us freedom from our own limitations. He offers us freedom from our own limited morality. He offers us freedom from a pointless existence of self-pleasuring, self-serving, self-pandering. Jesus offers us the power of God and the lifestyle that He himself lived in order to make a powerful change for good in this country, in the world. Jesus calls us to be more than human, to live according to the Spirit instead of the flesh.
Security in Jesus
Jesus offers us all the resources of God, without typical employment, without serving a society of greed. Rather, we can trust in God’s provision, trust in unseen defenses, trust in God’s ways to make a road of security for us and our family in the midst of that which the world fears.
Peace in Jesus
Jesus offers us a peace that is borne by the Spirit, not by a false security of missiles, diplomacy and economic sanctions. He offers us a peace that comes from within, a peace that we can transfer to others and help others live in.
Community in Jesus
Jesus offers us a people who is in the midst of creating a society based on the revolutionary ideals of Jesus, instead of the lowest common denominator. Jesus offers us people to live with, to share with, to work with, to pray with, to rejoice with and to support and minister to. Jesus offers us a full life, instead of the half-life of the American Dream.
Joy in Jesus
Jesus offers us joy—not just entertainment. Yes, this is joy in persecution, happiness amidst suffering. But this is the life of richness, the life of fullness, the life of God.
Why is the American Dream what the church seek, when Jesus says the kingdom of God is found through the loss of the American Dream?
Why is the American Dream the primary option offered to our children, when it fails us in so many ways?
Why is the American Dream the only real option offered to the poor, as if that is the true salvation offered by Jesus?
Where are the saints who sacrificed themselves for the poor?
Where are the godly who knew that one could either have God’s kingdom or the world’s?
Ultimately, it is because our church has accepted the American Dream as the true salvation.
Let’s not go the way of the standard church. Let’s not be content with half-lives any more.
Seek the community of Jesus