Living the “American Dream” is defined these days as to “be rich in material things.” And our society is blessed with comforts and material things that are the envy of the world. However, the “American Dream” may also become the “American Nightmare”!! These may be the “best of times” but they are also“the worst of times” for our American Culture.
- Never has a culture experienced such comfort and riches or such massive poverty and lack of opportunity.
- Never has technology given us so many household conveniences, or such terrible instruments of destruction.
- Never have we been so able to communicate in so many different ways, and never felt so disconnected from others and so lonely.
- Never have we been so free and never have our prisons been so full.
- Never have we been so sophisticated about relationships, or so likely to suffer broken or miserable relationships.
- Never have we had so much self-knowledge and the desperation to search for “who we are.”
It unfortunately has always been true that the church has mirrored the culture and it is true today,. As a part of the church in this culture, we who are trying to be disciples of Jesus are struggling to establish our identity as his disciples and as his church. We are doing so and searching for “who we are” as Christians and for what is of ultimate importance for us to build our lives upon and meet our needs. As we search, all around us we are hearing the cultural message “look out for Number 1”, the message to “buy, buy, buy” to fulfill the needs of “number 1”. Yet, if we heed those messages we find less satisfaction, less joy, and less happiness than we were told we would have. People who have based their lives on “bottom-line living”—where the only thing that counts is the bottom-line tally—are finding themselves “bottoming out”. Gradually their devotion to a “god of more” just doesn’t seem like enough!
The “Me Generation” that leads our culture needs to discover that it is “not about me”! As Max Lucado writes: “We’ve been demanding our way and stamping our feet since infancy. Aren’t we all born with a default drive set on selfishness? I want a spouse who makes me happy and coworkers who always ask my opinion. I want weather that suits me and traffic that helps me and a government that serves me (but doesn’t cost me any taxes). It is all about me.” (Lucado, It’s Not About Me”) Italics mine.
There are some basic questions we should be asking ourselves:
- To what should we be committing our life?
- What is worthwhile and lasting?
- For what should we strive?
- What is worth giving our life for?
- How can the church change the culture rather than reflect it?
- What is my role in this change as a Christian?
Culture can be compared to a symphony orchestra. When all of the players play their parts to perfection, beautiful music is produced under the watchful eye of the Great Conductor—God. Each of us contributes our part to making that beautiful music and if you’ve ever been a part of a musical group you know what a pleasure that is. But if the symphony orchestra decides that “it is all about me” then the result is not beautiful music but a monstrous noise! Can you imagine an orchestra with an “It’s all about me” outlook held by each separate musician? Tubas blasting nonstop. Percussionists pounding on their drums to get attention. The cellist shoving the flutist off of the center stage chair. The trumpeter standing on top of the conductor’s platform tooting his horn. Sheet music disregarded. Conductor ignored. Would anyone want to be a part of this group? Who would enjoy contributing to a monstrous noise that makes people wish to hold their ears?
And yet, we as Christians are tempted to buy into the American Dream that is turning nightmarish. This dream of material success is based on the “Me Principle”.
Do we want to make beautiful music with our lives or just monstrous noise? Much of the American Nightmare is based on the “Me Principle.” When we buy into materialism as individuals and churches we help continue the nightmare. When we elect politicians that refuse to compromise and work for the common good, we help continue the nightmare. When we turn away from the problems of our society and turn inward for self-protection we help continue the nightmare. Is that what you want to do? Is that what I want to do?
We as individuals and as churches need to ask ourselves this question: “What kind of orchestra are we playing in—the one making beautiful music or the one making monstrous noise?