Baptizing the American Dream (Jan 2012)

By Matt Dabbs

By Scott Simpson

I do not choose to be a common man; it is my right to be uncommon if I can.

I seek opportunity, not security. I do not wish to be a kept citizen, humbled and dulled by having the state look after me. I want to take the calculated risk, to dream and to build, to fail and to succeed.

I refuse to barter incentive for a dole. I prefer the challenges of life to a guaranteed existence, the thrill of fulfillment to the stale calm of Utopia. I will not trade freedom for beneficence, or dignity for a handout.

It is my heritage to think and to act for myself, to enjoy the benefits of my creations, and to face the world boldly and say: With God’s help, this I have done. –From the final pages of Success: The Glen Bland Method

I received the above quote from a Christian brother — a mature follower of Christ who sent this along with the admonition, “This is good for each one of us to adopt. I think you will like it.”

Why would he think I would like this? What exactly did he think would happen that would be “good” because of my adoption of this credo? And why would he think I needed something like this… as opposed to something like, the Beatitudes, or something from First John?

Could it be the current financial crisis? Could it be the current politicized debate over the “whys” of how much money has been lost on Wall Street? Could it be fear over the direction of the current president? The branding of him as a “socialist?” The “minority perspective” of this new commander-in-chief?

Could it be that my good, Christian friend and occasional mentor wasn’t thinking about Christ at all when he hit send, despite the obligatory “God’s help” near the end of the message? Could it be he was thinking of a baptized version of the American Dream?

Now, I’d love to simply chalk it up to differing political beliefs and say, “let’s not let that come between brothers in the Kingdom…” but then, WHICH Kingdom are we brothers IN? The quote above demonstrates several “concessions” that I see consistently across the current face of American Christianity. Jesus has told us without exception that we can’t serve two masters — God and Money. I know that we all do, to some extent, but “baptizing” our tendencies toward the money-god is akin to placing the Idol in the temple of Yahweh and saying, “Won’t God be proud!” Then again, maybe “baptizing” is too strong a word for what’s happening. Let’s unpack Mr. Bland’s quote and see how it might differ from Kingdom ideology.

“I do not choose to be a common man, it is my right to be uncommon if I can.

Contrast this idea with the beautiful description of the attitude of Christ which Paul says we need to have ourselves…

“Who, being in very nature God,
did not consider equality with God something to be grasped,
but made himself nothing,
taking the very nature of a servant,
being made in human likeness.
And being found in appearance as a man,
he humbled himself
and became obedient to death—
even death on a cross!”~ Philippians 2:6-8

It’s the “common man” whom Jesus spent his time with. It’s the common man whom Jesus defined as “Poor in Spirit.” It’s the common man, humbled in his own sin, of whom Jesus said, “He who has been forgiven much, loves much.” Jesus became the common man, born in a barn, raised in backwards Nazareth, no place to lay his head, despised and rejected. What is uncommon about Jesus is his capacity to embrace “commonality” in spite of his status as having been “ … with God in the beginning. Through him (Jesus) all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made. John 1:2b-3

This “Word becoming flesh” thing was a serious miscalculation. This was not a move up. The son of God got “snookered,” as my grandpa’s coffee buddies used to say.

“I seek opportunity, not security. I do not wish to be a kept citizen, humbled and dulled by having the state look after me. I want to take the calculated risk, to dream and to build, to fail and to succeed.

Now, I could give my “A-men” to this… as it relates to the “state.” I don’t wish to gain my security from the “state.” I don’t long to have the “state” look after me… I don’t mind risk, dreaming, building, failing or succeeding… BUT… let’s be honest. The values driving this statement of “non-reliance” on the state have little to do with the Kingdom value of full reliance on God. The value that is consistently upheld in American society is self-reliance. “I want to take the calculated risk…” Who’s taking the risk? Who’s doing the calculating? I am. This “calculating I” sounds frighteningly reminiscent of the great minds that gave us the Credit Default Swap.

“I refuse to barter incentive for a dole. I prefer the challenges of life to a guaranteed existence, the thrill of fulfillment to the stale calm of Utopia. I will not trade freedom for beneficence, nor dignity for a handout.”

There is, in these stated preferences, the implication that many among us prefer the “dole,” that there are plenty in our midst who desire no challenge, that many are waiting around for a “stale calm Utopia,” and that most of these people are ready and willing to trade their freedom and dignity for a “handout.”

Maybe. It’s possible.

But what do we do with those who never had anything to barter with? What of those whose challenges have overwhelmed them or who have literally never tasted fulfillment? What of those born into slavery? Birthed into an existence devoid of dignity? What about “the least of these?” Can we, as people of the Kingdom, stand back and call the least of these to embrace their challenges … because we won’t give them any guarantees? Shall we keep them from the stale calm of Utopia… so they can somehow learn … fulfillment? Do we do them the favor of preserving their “dignity” and their “freedom” by refusing to give them anything … without payment?

What is most troubling is not that we believe this—most of us don’t—but rather that we don’t believe that this is really at the core of the Dream we are trying so desperately to baptize. There is an orderly, evaluative aura about the capitalist myth. Things make sense—those who work, eat… and sometimes even get fat. Those who don’t work, die. The world stays orderly, and as long as I am at the top of the order, I want to keep it that way.

But what do we do with our God who, when at the top of the order of the cosmos, came down to the bottom to die for those who couldn’t help themselves? What do we do with the God of the ultimate undeserved “handout?”

“It is my heritage to think and to act for myself, to enjoy the benefits of my creations, and to face the world boldly and say: With God’s help, this I have done.”

In the end, it becomes clear. The “heritage” is very specific. What is valued is action taken “for myself,” action that leads to my enjoyment of “my own creations.” Remember what the serpent said, just after the “…your eyes will be opened…” part? He said, “…and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.” As our addiction to everything that our capitalist American society brings us deepens, so does our sense of “knowing” what’s best and what’s not. So does our sense of being “masters of our own destiny.” This is not surprising. We’ve been told of this from the very beginning, from Genesis through the prophets and right up through the Sermon on the Mount. What is troubling in this time of deep American financial crisis is that we have forgotten that we’ve been set free from this worry. Sure, we are in it, but not of it.

If our citizenship in the Kingdom of God teaches us anything, it is that the answer lies not in figuring out better financial solutions for ourselves so we can continue enjoying our own success, and then baptizing it all with a prayer and a tithe, the answer lies in the way of Jesus.

Can we see this? Can we see how radical the Kingdom is? Can we allow our own baptism to truly end life as we knew it, and reshape everything? Can we take on the gospel dynamic that says death actually leads to resurrection? That giving is actually better than receiving? That love has nothing to do with keeping things fair and everything to do with grace? If we get this, it means we won’t have a home in America anymore. It means we won’t fit into the free market system anymore. We’ll frustrate the cogs of the capitalist way of life. We’ll reveal the nightmare that is the flip side of the American Dream. We’ll be taken, ripped off, put out of the marketplace… maybe even left for dead… just like our King.

He chose to be a common man, relinquishing His right to claim equality with God.

He sought to serve, abandoning security. As King, He humbled Himself submitting to death at the hands of worldly empires. Bypassing mere risk, He aimed for certain execution, showing that, to die is to live.

Refusing to barter, He claimed the last would be first. He chose the challenge of self-sacrifice, the fulfillment of His father’s long-told story. Trading His dignity to become sin for us, He delivered freedom to all… for free!

It is my heritage to think and to act as He did, to benefit His good creation, to face the world humbly, as He did, and say: Any good you see in me, this, God has done.

As you can see, I rewrote my friend’s forward. I don’t think I will send it back to him though– I’m not sure how he’d take it. I care about our relationship—a lot. I don’t want things to digress into a hopeless polemic where he digs in his heels and I dig in mine. But I’m worried about these concessions we’re making. We’re called to be salt and light, but sometimes we’re so tasteless and dim. What do I do?

Sometimes Christians are the toughest ones to talk to about Christ.

categoria commentoNo Comments dataDecember 12th, 2013
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This author published 1598 posts in this site.
Matt is the preaching minister at the Auburn Church of Christ in Auburn, Alabama. He and Missy have been married 12 years and are raising two wonderful boys, Jonah and Elijah. Matt is passionate about reaching and discipling young adults, small groups, and teaching. Matt is currently the editor and co-owner of Wineskins.org.

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