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.


The Anatomy of a Tantrum

This past weekend, we had a Christmas party for the youth at the church I work at. Lots of food, games, ugly Christmas sweater contests, Christmas songs, a White Elephant gift exchange… All the makings of a wonderful party. And it really was a great time. But there was something I noticed in the wake of the White Elephant gift exchange. People were pissed. Like go-in-the-corner-and-pout, throw-things-at-other-people-because-they-got-the-present-that-I-wanted pissed. This said something loud and clear to me.

We’ve completely lost what Christmas means. And this is NOT going to be a “he’s the reason for the season” post because God knows we have enough of that [stuff] around. If we didn’t happen to live in a country where Christianity was normative for so long, we’d be celebrating Hanukkah, Kwanzaa, the Winter solstice or any other of the many holidays that are celebrated worldwide.

So when we hear all of this Fox News “War on Christmas”, how-dare-anyone-wish-me-happy-holidays [stuff] going on in the adult realm of things, it’s not hard to see where these kids get it. Not indicting any particular kid or parent, just painting in broad strokes here. But it’s basic psychology that kids pattern behavior off the adults they witness. So when kids are literally beating each other because they didn’t get what they wanted out of a gift exchange at church, it has to make you wonder if we’ve lost our way completely.

SO… in place of entitlement and belligerence this holiday season, I’m proposing something a little different. Humility and gratitude. Christmas is a time when God goes so entirely outside of the box and, in such a game-changing act of humility, would dare to become human in order to suffer with us. This took place long ago and still has power to impact anyone, regardless of nationality or birthplace.

The most important thing to remember, nobody is “taking the Christ out of Christmas” for antagonistic or malicious reasons. They’re merely mentioning other December celebrations as a way of including everyone in the festivities.

And that’s okay.


[The ideas for this post were prompted by my own reflection on my experience this past Friday, while also coming across a great post from Rachel Held Evans. Check it out for a slightly different approach to what I’m talking about here]

What To Do About Extended Adolescence?

I’m not going to call John Mayer a prophet, but there is something of a quarter-life crisis that’s spreading throughout the youth of America. A lot of people in this age-range are going to school longer, delaying marriage and family, job-hopping and apartment-swapping. They’re moving back home after they get their degree to save money, traveling to faraway places to work and taking some general “me” time to decide what their future looks like. They’re looking for their “dare to be great” situation. But what is behind this phenomenon? Is it an individual or a cultural phenomenon? Or perhaps more importantly, how is this going to affect the generations ahead?

Some of the newest research in adolescent studies has said that adolescence now lasts from 11 years old to 29 years old. This is a far cry from the industrialized childhood of even just 80 years ago. When kids were on the farm, they became an adult when they were old enough to do the work. Then after the second World War, teens left the factory jobs and started going to high school and youth culture was born. Now with a bad job market, higher educational requirements, and the glorification of what can only be called the “frat boy” persona, there doesn’t seem to be any urgency to do things like “grow up” and “take responsibility”.

Early adolescent theorists describe adolescence as a time of “storm and stress” in a person’s life. Then it was thought that this storm would last only a few years — say from age 12 to about 17. But what do you do when that storm now spans 18 years? The storm and stress is a childhood unto itself. That can’t be good. At the same time, questions about the so-called “helicopter” parents play a role as well. They’re called this because these are parents that are always hovering over their child as a helicopter over… well, whatever helicopters hover over.

At the end of all of this, I have two sources and three questions:


  • Check out Robert Epstein’s book Teen 2.0. It’s an incredibly in-depth analysis of this phenomenon and offers a unique way forward.
  • There is a conference on this called Extended Adolescence Symposium. Click on the link to check out the information and support a great cause.


  • What role does individual responsibility play in extended adolescence?
  • If you serve in ministry, how do you help parents who seem to show these co-dependent tendencies?
  • What role do you think our predominantly consumer society plays in this?

I hope you can engage with some of these questions and share some experience you’ve had surrounding this prolonged adolescence.


Church in the Present Tense: Theology

Sorry these posts have been so sporadic. It may have been a bad idea for such an A.D.D. reader as myself to commit to blogging through an entire book. But I’m having fun engaging the different chapters so here goes with the second section: theology

In the second section of Church in the Present Tense, Jason Clark and Kevin Corcoran deal with the theological issues of emerging Christianities. Clark deals with consumer liturgies in chapter 3 whereas Corcoran deals with an emerging eschatology in chapter 4.

Consumer Liturgies

I think Jason’s chapter on consumerism as a detrimentally developing tradition is a really provocative thought. He writes that consumerism attempts to answer those really deep questions of our existence. What is a good life? Well, a good life is having nice things, of course. The feedback loop that consumerism gives us places our salvation in having the next best thing. Having all of the nice things and experiences that a consumer-centered economy has to offer, in a way, saves us from the worst fate imaginable: boredom. With echoes of Neil Postman, Clark explores how we amuse ourselves to the point of numbness to real and valid engagement with the world around us.

While I was reading Jason’s chapter, I couldn’t help but think of echoes of Pete Ward’s Liquid Church. In this short work, Ward says that in our modern society, the most the church can hope to be for people is either a place of heritage or a place of refuge. Church is important because it either a) connects us with our past or b) shelters us from all of the big, bad, “secular” wolves out there. Otherwise, for many people, church is largely irrelevant as a third space for people, which gets back to what Jason explores throughout the rest of his chapter. He comes out by saying that people are yearning for a third space in their lives. A space that isn’t work, and isn’t home, but a place that offers fulfillment of relationship. People aren’t looking for heritage or refuge, so these third spaces are almost never church.

Jason then heads into an ideation of church that leads us into the exchange of stories that seeks to downplay the self-creation that is endlessly promoted in consumer culture, as a way of leading into a search for the true story of life centered around Jesus with and for others. He juxtaposes consumer culture with true community and fellowship found in Christ. The liturgies of consumerism aren’t going to be thwarted by people from the outside coming in. It starts with the people already in the church putting aside the perverted liturgy of consumerism and offering a way forward in mission with the broader community to make the community a better place.

Farewell, Kevin Corcoran

I only title his chapter with a farewell to be a bit facetious about Kevin’s chapter on eschatology. He espouses similar ideas to that of Rob Bell’s new book as ideas that are appealing to the emerging communities. At one point he even explicitly states the essentials of Bell’s thesis that, in the end, love will win and all of humanity will be reconciled to God.

He takes Christ’s announcement of “The Kingdom of Heaven is at hand” to explore the already/not yet dichotomy of the coming Kingdom. It’s here and now. Unfolding right before our very eyes. In no way is the fully consummated or revealed at this point. But we participate in this coming with every action we do. When we act with good intentions to help our neighbor, we help bring about the kingdom. When we participate in destructive activities, we actively prohibit the kingdom coming to fruition. But either way… we’re the participants.

For Corcoran, the coming kingdom is characterized by compassion and justice. There needs to be simultaneously both present in order for the kingdom to be realized. One without the other produces hollow sentiments that, at the least, are not productive. In God’s kingdom, both are abundantly present. In the earthly kingdom, that balance is a little bit harder to come by. The Christians who tend to be attracted by emerging sensibilities are attracted to the tension held by justice and compassion. Scores of people want to help participate in the coming kingdom (even though most certainly would not use that language). Creation yearns for the time when justice and peace meet. But it’s only in the full actualization of God’s  kingdom that it happens. It’s a good thing when people wish to come together and defend the oppressed and work to re-gain what has been lost.

As Kevin notes, there are scores of people who still yearn to participate in this work of justice and peace. And as he, rightly, concludes: “That is a good thing. A very good thing.”


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