A New American Dream?

“What is ‘an American’? Do we have something important in common, as Americans, or is it just that we all happen to live inside the same boundaries?… We talk a lot about our special rights and freedoms, but are there also special responsibilities that come with being an American? If so, responsibilities to whom?” – David Foster Wallace in Consider the Lobster and Other Essays

As Americans, we put a lot of emphasis on personal freedom. Living in Arizona for 11 months has made me realize this all the more. They love their freedom down here. They don’t want any constraint. People want the freedom to do whatever they damn well please, regardless of the consequences to everyone else. For instance: It is legal for anyone over 21 to carry a concealed weapon without a permit — that’s just the freedoms we’re entitled to as Americans!

It’s gotten to the point where anything that hinders the dominant culture’s freedom in any kind of way is an affront to their American citizenship. I say dominant culture because this freedom does not extend to the GLBT community to marry or really any other minority culture. As long as your white and male and have never been accused of being anything else, you’re free to pursue your highest ambition — and carry a concealed 9mm without a permit to boot! Here’s what we need to realize.

When we are “free” to join the rat race of ambition in America, we’re not really free at all. It’s at that very point when we’re most enslaved.

I think we would be better served to create spaces where people can exist outside of the rat race. Where your material possessions, job title, or social status doesn’t matter, but you’re freed to just be a person, to be you.

Mother Teresa used to say that the physical poverty of the East was nothing compared to the psychological poverty of the West. 

Physical poverty can be addressed. It can be seen. Psychological poverty, spiritual poverty, is much more slippery.

When we put our freedom above the freedom of our neighbor, we’re in deep psychological poverty. But what if we had spaces where we could be free of that? Where we could be free from our relentless pursuit of the “American dream” — or our highest ambition? What if we had spaces and times during our week where we could give all of that up and enjoy a glass of wine with friends? Or what if we could go out into nature and enjoy the beauty of a lake, forest, ocean,or  mountain?

It’s in the beauty around us that we find the grace to survive. And it’s in that grace we live. That’s my vision for a faith community: a group of people that doesn’t exist for the pursuit of some higher pleasure — be it heaven, eternal life, an experience of ecstasy, or an escape from the weekday rat race.

But what if a faith community — or what if a renewed America — was the place where we could check that crap at the door and learn how to be happy living in the moment with the people we love?

That’s a freedom worth fighting for.

Cheers,
Eric 

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Comments

  1. I agree with what you’re saying here, Eric, but I need some clarification. What does a group of people or community of faith exist for, then? Is it what you say at the end there, that a faith community exists for living in the moment with people we love? I’d like a community like that. Just wanted to get your thoughts a little deeper.

    • Thanks for the reply, Adam. I think, more so than the living in the moment thing, that a faith community exists as a time and space away from the pursuit of the “American dream” — whatever that is. I think the American, capitalistic way of thinking says that we’re free to try to be better than our neighbor, whereas the Christian way frees us to love our neighbor. Can’t be both.

      So my hope for faith communities would that they would create space to check all the metaphors of ascending and descending status positions (corporate ladder, rat race, etc.) talk and simply be a space where people can be loved for who they are, not what they accomplish. Make sense?

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