If you come from nothing, work hard, and manage to support yourself, maybe you are Living the American Dream. We’ve heard of this illusive dream. This America. But somewhere between belching out our light beer and clicking on pop-up ads, we’ve forgotten it.
People have almost died to get here. They’ve puked and starved their way across the high seas or piled in the back of trucks where they couldn’t breathe – because this is the land of opportunity, fortune, and safety. A beacon of hope to all.
But what is this dream, exactly?
Maybe someone makes a living creating adult films, because they sell and a man can support his family and lo-and-behold his kids get into a nice school and his wife doesn’t have to clean houses anymore.
But wait. Adult film? That’s not valuable to society. That’s spreading filth and trash to an already overly-sexed culture.
Or they grow up in a well-known family. They love fashion and beauty and a girl starts to think of herself as a brand. She surrounds herself with wealthy friends and gets photographed in exclusive places. She earns enough money to buy a NYC apartment and fancy shoes.
But wait. What did you actually do to earn that money? You’re famous but have no skill. That’s not fair, and you’re basically manipulating everyone.
So what is the American Dream, really? Is it making something of yourself? Supporting yourself from nothing? Providing for your family? Because suddenly THIS doesn’t actually count and THAT doesn’t count. You not only have to support yourself, but you also must do something unique and valuable (according to who?) and in a way that’s not offensive to anyone (according to who?) and not make too much money or earn too much fame or show off too much so other people won’t get jealous and throw stones at you.
This is an IMPOSSIBLE dream. A ridiculous pursuit of what is based upon the whims of society, who change their mind with the wind. This is in, that’s out. A one-hit wonder in the Fall, then a pariah by Spring.
We cannot base our dreams on this. This, my friends, is shifting sand.
One of the beautiful things about humans is our need to be inquisitive. To create, and wonder, and dream of something that does not currently exist. In a place like America, rich in natural resources and wealth so it’s possible to meet your basic needs, curiosity can be explored and even rewarded. Just imagine, sitting in your garage creating a machine that would change the world. Coming up with the idea for an information superhighway. A lab that can cure diseases. In this land, people forged new trails, hunkered down through harsh winters. Adapted. It’s also a place where inventions are encouraged, changes are supported, independence reigns.
We are a wildly creative, vibrant, and curious culture. We cannot lose this sense of wonder. We cannot sit idly by or take this freedom for granted. America allows people not only the freedom to express themselves, but in a way that’s unique and different.
We all reap the benefit of this culture of invention – lowered crime, reduced disease, air conditioned homes. And yet it’s a double-edged sword. We have to guard against the stifled cloud of judgment that can suffocate us. The idea that some dreams are not worthy because they are not approved by some overarching morality code.
So a man’s making adult films. A woman’s making money posting on Instagram. What do you fear? Are you worried about the degradation of our culture? The lowered moral code?
Don’t do this. Don’t trash the very society that allows us all opportunities and freedoms to be who we are.
I’m a Christian. I feel the presence of God in my daily life. He is a warm and merciful God, and also a God to be feared. But I also believe very strongly in freedom, to allow us all to explore our lives, and form our own pathways.
Jesus did not enter this world to force everyone to think the way he did. He worked on his craft as a carpenter, entering society from a very humble beginning. He gathered a small group of close friends, shared the love he knew, and walked for miles and miles and miles. He posed questions, used parables, and created a since of curiosity. Should they cast the first stone? Were they really blameless? How would the multitudes be fed? Was God really God? And lastly, did Jewish law sometimes stand in the way of God’s grace?
People gathered around him, this Jesus. Not out of obligation or guilt, but out of a sense of awe and wonder. Because he was a living, breathing, extension of the inner peace we all seek.
Do not chastise each other for living different dreams. Live your own life, and do your own great work, and walk in your own sandals for miles and miles and miles. We don’t need more box-checkers, or an army of morality police, chastising each other like religious zealots. We need more people to truly say “I don’t understand your life. Will you teach me?” Or even harder, “you’ve desecrated my ancestors or enslaved my people. Is there any way we start anew?” This is the way to freedom, to sit with each other. You, inside your dream and me, inside mine. To laugh with each other. To encourage each other in times of great trouble. We have to be a strong nation of encouragers, believers, dreamers. And in order to do so, we have to kill that sense of judgment. Strike it through its very heart and simply walk away with its carcass on the highway.
What is the American Dream? It’s living a full, rich life, doing the best you can, to the best of your ability, in a land that affords you freedoms to do so. Let’s celebrate it, and encourage it, and not push against it.
It’s a place worth living. It’s a country worth cherishing. It’s a type of love that is worthy of a dream.