- "The American dream and the gospel, are they mutually exclusive?"
I wanted to devote a bit of time to this because I have some very strong tensions in my spirit over this question. That said, here is a bit of random spewing...
- The American Dream is devoted to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.
- The Gospel is devoted to eternal life, community, and the pursuit of Christ-likeness.
- The American Dream is about a family of four living in a house with a white picket fence.
- The Gospel is about a family of one-more (and one-more after that) living in a transparent structure with endless bridges being built.
- The American Dream is about the accumulation of toys, the promotion of self, and consuming the next great opportunity to feel good.
- The Gospel is about the distribution of resources, the restoration of others. and being consumed by the next great opportunity to do good.
- The American dream is about what-comes-around-goes-around.
- The Gospel is about what-should-go-around-must-first-come-around-in-me.
- The American dream is about the American flag.
- The Gospel is about the whole world.
- The American dream is founded in biblical values... and somehow lost its way.
- The Gospel is founded in biblical values... and somehow follows the way of Jesus.
The problem is that we have accepted within the church a combination of the two. I believe that because it is so hard to live life with intangible goals (i.e. a "growing love" for God and others) that we have drifted to measuring things by tangibles instead. For instance, the idea that "bigger is better" and that "more attendance means more success" is one way this shows up. Or in conversations to the effect of, "If numbers are down, you're doing something wrong; if numbers are up, you're doing something right."
So if success equal large numbers, I guess Jesus occasionally.... failed?
- After this a lot of his disciples left. They no longer wanted to be associated with him. Then Jesus gave the Twelve their chance: "Do you also want to leave?" (John 6:66-67)
Maybe in order to e-x-p-a-n-d we need to be )))pruned(((.
The weird thing is that the church can actually become weakened when we focus on expansion and adding more to the establishment. Perhaps truly healthy numerical growth happens when we're less concerned with doing things perfectly (and without "failure") and more concerned with taking risks to communicate the Gospel regardless of personal confidence or skill... when we're comfortable with taking chances on things that haven't been perfectly calculated in the naive hope of bringing the Kingdom of Heaven to earth.
Maybe when we let God do the God thing (and take care of the outcome) as we do the people thing (and take care of responding to needs) we will actually live the kind of dependance that we teach about... maybe there's something to that.
Because of the American dream infiltrating the church, we so often believe that the better the building, the better the ministry. Maybe if we could get more people to wear a t-shirt with a Christian slogan on it instead of a Green Day logo we will have done our part. Perhaps if we coax more consumers to watch The Chronicles of Narnia in lieu of Harry Potter we will finally see the second coming of Jesus.
I know this sounds somewhat ridiculous... but on an unconscious level I wonder how true it actually is. I mean, have you been to a Christian bookstore lately?
I believe that many people are not living the dream God has for them to become who they really are. We wear a Christian mask while pursuing the American dream, maybe so we can feel justified in getting the next toy. I wonder if we actually think that as we covet a shinier car we can feel better about the fact that there are a bunch of Jesus fish logos plastered on its rear end.
Many of us treat Christianity as a part of our lives instead of the core of our lives. As a result, being a Christian becomes something we do instead of defining who we are. Much like the fourth of July can bring out a patriotic spirit in an American, so can attending a church service make us feel like we're on track with God... because we said the Lord's Prayer or raised our hands during a song?
Unfortunately, Christian leaders propogate this by focusing on the width of an organization instead of the depth of the people - measuring the height of attendance instead of the weight of spiritual maturity. If the congregation get a sense that at the end of the day the leaders were more concerned with the fact that they had a "successful service" because people showed up, the people will get the hint that maybe this is all that matters in Christianity. Just listen to the language - when people ask, "How did the service go?" and the numbers are the first thing to be reported... um, "Houston, we have a problem."
Ironically, I believe that deep down we see through this... we know Christianity is impossible and is not about us trying to live it out but about letting Jesus live in us and through us. Yet it's so much easier to live a half-dead, mediocre life in the suburbs where we tithe 10% (and get our tax receipt for it at the end of the year) than it to live a fully-dead-yet-alive, chaotic journey following the (alleged) madman that is Jesus Christ. At your core you will either serve your country or your God... your Caesar or your Christ... your American flag or your Christian flag.
So, yeah... I think they are mutually exclusive. We will occasionally reflect our culture as we pursue Jesus, but that's a lot different that occasionally reflecting Jesus as we pursue our culture.
- Then Jesus said to them, "Give to Caesar what is Caesar's and to God what is God's." And they were amazed at him. (Mark 12:17)