I am attending the National Youth Workers Convention in Nashville, TN this weekend. At the general session last night three speakers were given 18 minutes to give a talk followed by 5 minutes of discussion with the people sitting around you. At this point everyone was given the opportunity to text questions to a number on the screen. The speaker then had 10 minutes where a moderator asked the speaker some of the questions that were texted. It had a Q feel to it with the addition of a cool use of texting and speaker feedback. The speakers were Shane Claiborne, Andrew Marin, and Tony Campolo. Andrew’s talk was about Christians reaching out to the Gay and Lesbian communities. I thought he did a great job telling his story and the story of what the Marin Foundation in Chicago is doing to reach out to a community that traditionally is not only neglected, but shunned and denegrated by the Christian community.
The talks by Shane Claiborne and Tony Campolo were also good, but I am having a difficult time digesting a theme that was in there talks and the talks of a few of the other presenters on Saturday morning. These speakers on Friday night and Mark Yaconelli on Saturday morning all made comments declaring that the American Dream is dead. They all said that the current market crash is going to force America to live differently and abandon the old ways of consumerism. Now, there is no argument from me that America has demonstrated horrible fiscal policy from a bloated government that runs a massive deficit every year down to the average household that has been spending way more than their incomes can support. The government views us as “consumers” instead of “citizens” as demonstrated by their solution to economic woes – Every gets a check in the mail with the directions to go spend it. To me, that’s like giving an alcoholic another bottle of Wild Irish Rose because we have to keep the liquor industry afloat. I believe that the church should be modeling Biblical spending principles, and that Christians should be tithing and saving and not reacting to the current situation with fear – like everyone seems to be doing. But, to say that the American Dream is dead is foolish.
After a discussion with some friends I realized that nobody has a clear definition for “The American Dream”. Tony Campolo defined the American Dream as “a desire to have a better life than your father had” and others simply defined it as “Comsumerism”. Based on their definition of The American Dream, maybe it is dead, and for good reason.
I have a different definition. I believe that the American Dream is to live in a place that fosters creativity and innovation and gives everyone the opportunity to bring their great ideas to fruition. My definition is one of creation and innovation – one inline with what a dream should be. Maybe my definition is off. The American Dream that the speakers were talking about is the ugly thing that many in American have turned the American Dream into – one of greed where wants and needs have been greatly confused. This economic downturn is a wakeup call for everyone. I believe that this country will innovate and create its way out of this hole. There will be some pain, but in the end we will be stronger. It’s time for new ideas to rise up and for Dreamers to create.
There was a comment that I really did like about this topic from Mark Yaconelli. He said that the era of purchasing whatever we want off credit cards – a practice that has contributed to isolating us from community – will be replaced with one where we start looking out for our neighbors.
Instead of “keeping up with the Jones’s”, hopefully we will start “looking out for the Jones’s”. This type of community is something I Dream about.
What is your definition of “The American Dream”?