The American Dream

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(Originally posted Jan 4, 2007 on randehle.com) What is the American dream? While the term may mean very different things to different people, it usually conjures up images of material success: home, car, family, financial security, independence. For many, The Dream is associated with immigration and what America offered: religious freedom, economic prosperity, limitless opportunity. For most, perhaps, the dream is centered on freedom of some sort – religious, financial, geographic, etc.

I wonder, though, if the American dream lines up with God’s dream for his people? Certainly freedom is a central aspect of Biblical truth, but perhaps not the type of freedom we hold so dearly in this country.

Sadly, I think, the church in America – under the burden of freedom – has bought into the American dream … and in so doing has become drunk on its own success. In a big country where bigger is better, the church has enjoyed an extended period of growth both locally and nationally; we have more churches and bigger churches. At the same time, we have promoted – sometimes actively, sometimes passively – the American dream. We explain church growth in terms of God’s blessing and equate personal faithfulness with the same: if the church is growing, it must be because God is pleased; if a family experiences material “blessing” (i.e., lots of stuff), then God must be pleased. The same theology says that hard times show God’s displeasure.

I don’t think that’s true, though, and there’s a lot of evidence in scripture to back me up. Just look at Joseph’s life – beaten up by his brothers, sold into slavery, thrown in jail for a rape he didn’t commit…hardly a “blessed” life! Yet he himself acknowledged to his brothers that “God intended it for good to accomplish what is now being done, the saving of many lives.” (Genesis 50:20) Job’s counselors came to him with a similar message, yet listen to God’s rebuke: “I am angry with you and your two friends, because you have not spoken of me what is right, as my servant Job has.” (Job 42:7)

God has been working in my wife’s and my hearts in this area; we see him striking down much of what we have grown up with in the American Evangelical church. It’s not that what we grew up with was wrong; but it seems to me that somehow, over the past couple centuries, the line between “Christian” and “American” has been worn thin. Unfortunately, it has been “American” values that have gained prominence over “Christian” values, rather than vice versa.

This week my wife started reading a new book, This Beautiful Mess, by Pastor Rick McKinley of the Imago Dei community in Portland, Oregon. In at least one of the chapters, Rick talks about some of these kinds things, and the message is very much at the core of what Imago Dei is about as a body. My wife and I are wondering where and how God will lead us in this new adventure of faith, of striving after the true freedom he offers rather than the false freedoms of financial security, independence, and material things.

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