It doesn’t take a genius to see that something is drastically wrong at the very heart of our daily living. After reading Brad over at The Broken Messenger blogging about the American Dream and how it is destroying us through our materialism and outright stinginess toward tithing, I have to wonder if the cure we Christians are offering is just a Band-Aid pasted over something gangrenous.
Though I want to charge ahead in this post, let’s first consider Brad’s lament:
We blend the definitions between “need” and “desire” such that they are indistinguishable so that we can justify not giving to the Body of Christ our time and or money; yet somehow we find the means to set aside regular portions of our wages and time in our lives for our dreams – all with the expectation that once the allotted time has passed, we will reap the rewards for our patience and self sacrifices. But in the same manner that we pursue our earthly dreams, Jesus has asks us to abandon them along with everything else. He asks that we sacrifice all for a little while, for inconceivable and imperishable riches later.
With all respect to Brad, there is a far deeper problem here. Not only do we suffer from the very things Brad so rightly accuses, but we cannot NOT suffer from them because of the way we’ve setup our societal structures.
I’ve blogged about this many times before, most recently in part in my business series, but it bears repeating. I own a large farm tractor. I bought it when we moved to our property with the idea of having a small farm. All my neighbors own farm tractors, too, in various sizes, capabilities, and vintages. There are five families that live on about sixty acres of land. We all have need for a tractor, but do each of us have to have one that is strictly ours?
With our island mentality of existence, each man must have his own self-sufficient world supplied with things that keep him isolated. A man must have his own tractor because he rarely interacts with his neighbor at all, so it makes borrowing an issue.
It goes beyond sharing commonly used items, too. If fifty acres of wheat need harvesting, he, his wife, and his 2.1 children can’t do it by themselves if they try to do it by inexpensive hand labor—they need the machinery that will enable them to work alone. The machinery costs money—a lot of money. Now they’ve got to work even harder to make more money to afford the expensive machines, the fuel to power them, and their upkeep. Maybe the wife takes an outside job now. And the kids wind up latchkey kids because he’s moonlighting at night and there’s that overlap when both he and his wife are gone. It’s all too common and the reason is that there is no community left that will come to his side to eliminate his need for the expensive equipment in the first place.
What if instead of going bankrupt trying to buy a $75,000 combine, all his neighbors came over and helped harvest the wheat using little more than a horse-drawn scythe or two? Inexpensive and communal, too. The labor is divided. Repeat that pattern over a number of families and many hands make for easier work.
Sure, that may work for organic farm communities, hardcore Amish-types, and the like, but what about the VP of Operations at the soap making company? Well, what about him? What are we Christians failing to work through when it comes to problems like this?
Brad’s issue over the American Dream and how it afflicts us Christians will NEVER go away no matter how hard we try unless we jettison our self-sufficiency. If you aren’t part of a community that strategically works to see that no one gets left behind in the grinding wheel of modern life, then each one of us has to have a complete set of stuff to be self-sufficient enough to live. Even Saint Francis could not have been Saint Francis unless some person out there included him in the life of a community. Yes, a few people can drop out altogether and live like hermits, but all of us can’t do that. The only answer is for Christians to start abandoning the pie-in-the-sky idea that we will somehow stop with the self-sufficiency and the requisite materialism that naturally attends it without covering each other’s backs!
Initially we put our parents into nursing homes when they were aged not because we have hard hearts, but because no one would be there to support us in our support of them. Pull the right stick out of the Kerplunk game and all the marbles will fall. Name a problem in our society and I bet you can trace it back to our misguided belief in self-sufficiency.
Ever wonder why there are a hundred different types of breakfast cereal in the grocery store? Self-sufficiency breeds self-centeredness. Self-centeredness naturally evolves into the concept that I am the master of my own kingdom. As a king, I need something that sets me apart from the commoner. They may eat cornflakes, but I need the organic muesli with non-GMO, freeze-dried ollaliberries added. The common becomes despised because I require something better. Whining for “better” promotes greed. Need I say more?
Folks, being more holy won’t fix this. We’ve tried that route and failed miserably. Nor will attempting to live a simpler life get us out from under the burden that reinforces the very complexity we try to avoid. The brick wall awaits and we’re going ninety even with the brakes on. The system is broken at a fundamental level: We lack real, connected community and our need to overcome that lack results in our becoming self-sufficient. If I don’t need you, I need everything that is not you that might replace you. And soon enough, the thing that replaces you is viewed as more essential than you are. Is it any surprise then that we live in such an angry society? If I don’t need you, then all you are doing is competing against me. There’s that Darwinian ethic again—seems to crop up everywhere.
Our self-imposed isolation is destroying us on the inside and driving us to lengths that dishonor God. But a Christian community founded upon the ideals that no one is ignored and that your problem is my problem will not succumb to isolation, self-sufficiency, and materialism. It will naturally avoid living out a disconnected, stingy, ungrateful life before God.
Trying to undo entrenched societal structures that diminish our potential for the Lord takes brave men and women. Any of them still out there?