“The American Dream”

This is a topic that I personally have a very difficult time with.  I do love this country and I feel blessed to live here.  I want good for myself and others.  This idea of the American Dream, however, in the many ways it is lived out and defined, seems unbiblical to me.  That is just the way that I see it.

Society tells me to work hard.  To compete.  To win.  To take care of Number One.  To get to the top.  Success is key.  This success is measured by how much money you make, what car you drive, how big your house is, how nice your clothes are…the list goes on.

Now, don’t get me wrong.  I am not trying to judge.  I like nice things as much as the next girl.  I love putting on my pretty dresses.  I think if you really want something you should work hard to obtain it.  I love buying scads of books.  My fiance and I went to register for wedding gifts recently.  I certainly looked forward to it; a whole day searching for all the things we will share in our life together.  Sure, by the end of the day we were somewhat crabby from picking things out (decisiveness is not a strong point for either of us) and my still healing ankle was clearly objecting.  Yet, it was great.  All those nice things sitting there on those lists – it does make me smile.  It isn’t bad to desire a nice life.  But a nice life mostly includes other people.

We have become so thing oriented.  Should I feel guilty for being excited about my bridal registry?  No, that is not the point.  Guilt is never positive.  We will actually need most of the items and our friends and family will be itching to oblige.

I just don’t want objects and status to be my focus.  My interest should be other people.  Not just in a “keeping up with the Jones’s ” way.  I should be concerned with the well-being of others.  The American Dream does not push this idea.  Do your duty, work hard, accrue nice trappings, build up your white picket fence, pop out your 2.5 children, compete with your neighbor on landscaping, and try not to let relationships get in the way of “progress”.

Technology is a great testament to the genius of the human mind.  It has come such a long way in such a short span of time.  It is very helpful.  It is a marvel that we have used ingenuity to build up: So make sure you have a flat screen, a smart phone, a desktop computer (or two), a laptop computer (or two), two or three game consoles…

I am exhausted.  I am tired of feeling like this world wants me to go go go and get get get.

Again, I want to explain that I am not attacking you for your desire to be a gamer or for owning nice possessions.  If you enjoy killing zombies and your standing KitchenAid mixer – trust me, I understand.  More power to you for knowing what you like.  I just want to remind us all that there is more.  People are astounding machines.  I like to spend time with one of those.  The Ultimate 3D Experience indeed.

I think it is wonderful to have a form of ambition, to want to do well.  To have a goal and strive to make it there.  I’m not pushing laziness or boredom.  I am not telling you that if you are in a career or field in which you feel very competent that you shouldn’t try to get as far as you can and do well.  I also know we are not all called to inhabit a monk’s cell.  I am aware.  I’m not trying to keep you from doing something you love.

It’s just that I feel sometimes we forget to relate.  We have all these wonders of social media and networking, so many venues in which to connect, and yet…and yet…

Do we connect?  Really connect?  I know that it is hard to truly connect with people.  I have a hard time with it myself.  I don’t trust anyone easily.  I want to do better.  I want to know people.  To hear their stories.  To see the lines on their face that show the years in their lives.  I want connection.

As a Christian I am called to be in the world, but not of the world.  What exactly does that look like?  Many Christians have their ideas of how to live this out.  Me?  I think it means that it is okay that I’m an oddball.  That I take the road less traveled.  I have no idea what to do with my life.  I do not have a path for a particular career laid out in front of me.  I don’t feel the decision of what to do with my life should solely be based on the size of the paycheck.

Now, I don’t want to be irresponsible with money or time.  That means I do want to find some way to pay my bills and feel like I am contributing.  It also means I don’t want to become a work-a-holic and miss opportunities to love people and spend time with them.  I’m still figuring it all out, but I am trying so hard to find out how to live my life as me in this land of the American Dream ideal.

I love the items on my bridal registry.  I do.  However, if nary a soul bought me anything and I hadn’t the money, I would simply go without.

Do not love the world or anything in the world.  If anyone loves the world, love for the Father is not in them.  For everything in the world—the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life—comes not from the Father but from the world.  The world and its desires pass away, but whoever does the will of God lives forever. – 1 John 2:15-17

Pride in possessions – I don’t want that.  Pride and lust in many forms are not positive things because ultimately they have a negative effect on other people.  I do not want to hurt people, to cause problems for people, to ignore people.  I would like to think that I value people more than possessions and power.  You – you my reader – are important.  You serve a purpose.  I want my focus to be loving you.  Helping you.  Hoping for you.  I am not perfect.  I live in this society, I’ve grown up with ideas about working and money and all the pretty things.  I never felt good enough to have all that.  It was something I couldn’t reach, but something I was told I should push for.

My faith declares that God finds favor with me.  Success in His eyes is when I show love to other people; when I do something simple.  Smiling at a stranger.  Holding a baby.  Hugging one of the older members of the church who is having a hard time.  Washing dishes.  Praying and thinking positive things for a friend.  Being willing to be open to my fiance.

This world is a mess.  This society has skewed views of success, happiness, beauty, connection, love.  And yet…and yet…

The people in his world?  They are worthy of my help and my love.

I’ll be looking out for Number Two, and Three, and Four…

Loving God and loving other people: That is my dream.

My heart

I mentioned in my first blog post that September the 30th was to be my confirmation into the Charismatic Episcopal Church.  The church I have been attending for a little over a year is, I believe, the church home that God called me to.  I feel that I can be myself there, which is something I have had a hard time with in churches in the past.  I don’t blame those churches of course; all in all it was about finding the place where I was meant to be.

We recently moved into a new building, which was a very exciting event in the life of the church.  The building we moved out of had been the home base of the church for fifteen years.  Our new building is very nice and a bit larger so we can do much more with our ministry.  The 30th was the day picked for the Bishop to come and consecrate the new building.  It was also the day that many of us were to be confirmed or reaffirmed.

I love our church.  I love that we are liturgical and yet also allow for the Holy Spirit to move.  During my confirmation, the Bishop laid his hand on my head and prayed over me, then also prophesied over me.  For those of you for which this is not a common occurrence, I want to explain that he was not engaging in some sort of fortune telling hocus pocus as many supposed “prophets” do.  The best way I know to explain it (and the way I personally understand it), is that the Bishop prays for me and gets a sense about me, and God gives him words to help me find out who I am in Him.  It isn’t fortune telling.  It is almost more “present” telling.  Also, as I have free will, I can readily ignore everything he says and choose not to live up to anything or try to follow God.

Each person received a recording of their prophecy, and I decided I wanted to type mine up and share it, along with my thoughts about it.

“…The Lord has given you the heart of Mary, the sister of Martha.  I mentioned a word earlier in the sermon that God is raising up helpless lovers of Jesus.  Song of Solomon talks about being lovesick, and the helpless are those who realize they can do nothing apart from Him.  And God wants you to know that he has shaped you and brought you and is bringing you to a place where you’re understanding your own helplessness apart from God.  But a helpless person can do all things through Christ who strengthens them.  That’s gonna flow out of a Mary place, a place for your helpless love of Jesus – that the passion of your life is gonna be a worshiper.  God’s gonna take you down the path, the extravagant path, of being a worshiper of God; and your heart is gonna be all about worshiping and about sitting at the feet of Jesus and doing that one thing.  During this season that we’re in we’ve just come through this month of Elul and we’re in the days of Av all the way up to the 19th of October.  Jewish people all over the world recite Psalm 27 twice a day and the heart of Psalm 27 is: This one thing I’ve asked, that I shall seek; that I shall dwell in the house of the Lord all the days of my life and behold the beauty of the Lord.  And this is what is going to characterize your life: you’re gonna have a vision of the beauty of God.  Your heart is going to be to seek Him and to sit before Him and to lay before Him and you’re going to be a worshiper of God and behold the beauty of the Lord.  And that’s gonna be your life is beholding the beauty of the Lord and describing and relating the beauty of God to people.”

The thing that struck me the most as the Bishop spoke was his description of me as someone with the heart of Mary.  For those of you who are not savvy in regards to Bible stories, I’ll share with you the story of Mary and Martha from the book of Luke:

As Jesus and his disciples were on their way, he came to a village where a woman named Martha opened her home to him.  She had a sister called Mary, who sat at the Lord’s feet listening to what he said.  But Martha was distracted by all the preparations that had to be made.  She came to him and asked, “Lord, don’t you care that my sister has left me to do the work by myself? Tell her to help me!”  “Martha, Martha,” the Lord answered, “you are worried and upset about many things, but few things are needed—or indeed only one.  Mary has chosen what is better, and it will not be taken away from her.

It was surprising at first to hear that I work from a Mary-like place.  I have often had trouble with this particular story.  I always felt I identified more with Martha.  I grew up in the South, and was taught from a young age the importance of a work ethic.  In fact, I thought that work ethic and religion were all tied up together.  I thought to be a “good Christian” you had to strive and work yourself to the bone.  Which sounds much less like grace and more like works to me, but I digress.  Not only that, but I spend a great deal of my time making plans and worrying about what is happening next.  I live in a state of anxiety, though I know this is neither healthy nor helpful.

I claim to love God and trust Him, which is true, and yet it is much more complicated in practice.  I say I trust Him, but then I become anxious when I have to make a phone call to the bank, or make a trip out to buy groceries, or when I am applying for school or jobs.  I want to rely on God to get me through things or to provide for me, and yet at the same time I want to be in control.  I know being in control of your own life sounds freeing, but it really isn’t.  It is scary and exhausting.

I realize worry is just part of life.  We all have something we focus on and are concerned about.  We all make plans and preparations and run around the house trying to make it spic and span.  I do not think that work is a problem; but I do see how distraction can cause a disconnect between the Lord and me.

I yearn for relationship with Christ.  I enjoy beauty.  As I have mentioned before I love to paint.  To write.  To sing.  To read beautiful stories and poetry.  I enjoy praying and reading the Scriptures because that to me is a way to experience the beauty in this world.  So, in truth, I am not so far from Mary as I used to think.

My opinion is that I operate with a Mary heart but a Martha mind.  My desire is that I can change my pattern of thinking and focus on Christ.  I want to have both a head and a heart that work together and choose what is better.  Listening to Jesus and following Him.

You will notice Jesus never said that the work Martha was doing was wrong or bad.  He only revealed her distraction and worry.  Her actions were what seemed right.  She was making a house ready for guests.  She was being the good little homemaker.  But her focus was not in the right place.  Her focus should have been the heart of Jesus.  She needed to feel her helplessness and be okay with it.  She wanted Mary to get up off of her butt and help.  Her feet were sore.  She was cranky.  I might have done the exact same thing.  Yet, Jesus was telling her that Mary had the right idea all along.  Seek Him first.  Do not be anxious.  Do not judge.  Sit at the feet of Jesus, accept that you aren’t in charge of everything, and see what He has to say to you.  I am no theologian or Bible scholar, but I would venture to say that Martha’s heart was probably not much different than Mary’s.  She just had to recognize it.

I do have a Mary heart.  I want to seek the Lord.  I want to experience His beauty.  I can do nothing without Him (except maybe worry and fret).  I want to worship Him and share love and beauty with the world.  I think that this blog is one way in which I can do that.  Come, friends, put down that broom for awhile.  Let the email wait to be checked.  Take a day off.  Come sit with me at the feet of Jesus.  The lessons are worth it.  Grace is beautiful.