The American Dream as Personal Salvation

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Throughout the world there are many obvious aspects of culture that affect religion. This is evident in any critical analysis of countries and religions worldwide and a contributor to the diversity and functionality of people groups. What happens when it affects societies and the church as a whole, and is the evangelical church in American willing to examine its own “folk culture” to see what has been added to the gospel in pursuit of the “american dream?”  

As I’ve been studying Ministry to Sexually Exploited and Trafficked Children, my heart has been even more deeply burdened for the brokenness of this world which abuses the most vulnerable for financial gain, and perverted power.

Sadly, it begins here in the land of the brave and the home of the free.  

This extends from using children in slavery, to the self absorbed organizational and political powers that still believe any race or gender should be given power or control over another. Why did it take a graduate course to hear and learn about the enormity and depth of this problem which should be at the forefront of american society? After two hundred-twenty-nine years since the writing of our constitution why are we still fighting to be a republic and witness freedom for all? It’s an imbalance of power in a country that still claims to be predominantly “Christian.”

The issues begin with the heart. Our hearts should be compassionately leading the way in peace and reconciliation. The “American Dream” appears to have become a dream of personal gain. The American Dream for many Christians seems to have become deeply rooted in a personal salvation experience.

We who are followers of the Nazarene have been called as “friends” to walk beside a man who gave up ultimate power to show us The Way to ultimate love. He said the one who “loses” his (or her) life will gain it and proved it by giving up his own life for us. It is a different calling than the “take back,” “me first” rhetoric that is spoken today.  There is a total lack of attention given to modern day slavery that far exceeds the 1800’s still deeply rooted in our country through pornography, patriarchal, and cultural exploitation. Where is the voice that cries out against the serious issues of injustice and basic human rights instead of inflammatory political jargon that only stirs up strife?

A personal salvation experience that says “I say the prayer, I get saved, I now go to heaven” isn’t found anywhere in the bible, or spoken in any way by Jesus. Instead, we see people coming to an awareness of the needs of their own sin and selfishness and bringing that freedom and passion to others for the sake of their families and communities. This is the norm in the majority of the world where communities stay in tact for generations. The early church risked their lives to share the gospel of Good News with the “other.”

Now we have the american dream well established in the church – not only do we get to live in prosperity and relative safety within our own home with our property, cars, possessions, family, and “church” cared for first, we also get to live this great life for an eternity because I confessed Jesus as my Savior, and hold to certain doctrinal truths and political ideologies. 

 

Could we have exchanged the law of love for “laws” of tithing 10% to the local church, how many bible scriptures we can quote, membership to our chosen denomination, faithfulness to Christ equated with regular church attendance?  All good principals, but often treated as laws.  Live by one law, then live by them all. Are we more worried safety from the “other” within my own home, church, community, and nation, than embracing the “other” for the sake of Christ? To live is Christ to die is gain. 

We have developed our own folk culture. One of the first things an educated missionary will do is study the culture, ideologies, and how a people group has come to believe the things they do, because their beliefs are the foundation for how they act. As we study the people groups we are involved with, we also have to examine our own closely held beliefs. It is always easier to see the misconceptions of others because our views are not what we are thinking about, but the grid and perceptions we think with.

My views have changed 180% over the majority of issues in the last 20 years because I have sought to see through the eyes of Christ despite my own desperately broken lenses. It’s not that I now think I am right – quite the contrary – I am willing to say that outside the Lordship of Jesus Christ and the historically and widely accepted truths of the doctrinal creeds – I may be quite utterly wrong.

If you had asked me fifteen years ago you would have heard quite a different story. You would have heard a self-righteous, arrogant, know-it-all, spewing my doctrinal truths, completely assured if was ever required to,  I would DIE for Christ. My kids were raised waiting for the “End Times,” to come, and told that to deny Christ with a gun to their head would mean hell for eternity. I now consider that emotional abuse and certainly NOT a gospel of Good News. I like to think that I would still die for Christ, but I’m not so afraid of hell anymore. Instead I am passionately trusting the God who loves me – more in love with Jesus than in fear of flames. I used to worry that I would be asked to choose between a confession of belief over my child, and scared to death that I may someday be forced to watch my child die that I may be “faithful” to Christ.

No greater love – If I was ever called upon to deny Christ to save the lives of my grandchildren or children, I like to believe I would risk hell instead. That is the greater love. Yet, in risking, I trust in the Amazing love of an Amazing God.

There is no fear in love. Perfect love casts out fear.

So where is our love being revealed in our culture today? Is it evident on social media and in sociopolitical and religious debates? Or are we still living a personal salvation in grasping our american dream ideology?

I would rather err on the side of grace and love and follow in the steps of the God-Man who came to earth, owned nothing for himself, and died to model that love –for all people, at all times, in all places, cultures and communities…than to hold up my shield of 57 years of white, female, middle class, educated, american, cultural folk perceptions.

Maybe I am completely wrong. 

Confessions of a Recovering Complementarian (Sort of – part 1)

He had broad shoulders and piercing blue eyes. My heart skipped a beat when I looked into those eyes, gazing gently from the landing above. From his wavy hair to his fur lined boots, he radiated warmth as he smiled and nodded in my direction.

I did meet him again, and yet again – and then one Valentine’s Day we stood before a Justice of the Peace and said “I do.”

We were best friends, even more so because we had started our lives together with a dose of reality. I was in the process of a divorce, and had a two and a half year old wee one. The wee one wasn’t a problem for Dave, whose love was large enough for both of us, easily. There was a kindness about him – a gentleness.

levi and dave sleeping (2)

Our family quickly enlarged to three children, and we were blissfully happy in a relationship that was based upon gender equality. It never entered our minds it could be wrong, or should be different. Desiring a new start from our pre-marriage crowd, we moved to New England.

We met Jesus there – at least the version of Jesus that was provided to us. That was when the problems began.

It didn’t take long before our happy marriage, our mutual respect, and our friendship was put to the test. We were both young – still early twenties. I was really easy going, and head-over-heals in love. Dave was incredibly caring, fun, and full of confidence, when we met and married. (Throw in a touch of male, twenty-something arrogance and ego for the full picture, a healthy dose of insecurity for me.)

We believed there was nothing that we couldn’t face together, nothing we couldn’t agree upon. But, within weeks of being introduced to Jesus, and claiming Him as our own, we were told we were in an unscriptural marriage. Marriage was for life and I had divorced and broken that covenant. Done deal. No turning back.  Not only that, but I was the “guilty party” according to the naysayers.

We made it through that sticky mess; my level headed husband, combined with a lot of God’s grace, prevented my frantic suggestions of divorce to spare us all from hell, from becoming a reality.  We found a new church home – still in the same group – but this one accepted divorce, if it happened before conversion.

Phew, I was safe.

We needed a new car and Dave and I had been shopping around. That was when the first mini-vans had just been introduced and we enjoyed test driving them together. We discussed car options for our growing family as we laughed, plotted, and ultimately just grabbed a burger knowing that the burger, not the car was in our price range.  It was something we had done when we were dating – looked at cars, homes, furniture, and other Sunday afternoon fantasies.

So, we shared with others a bit of our love story at church one night – we talked about looking at cars together. It was a fun memory, a test drive of a brand new car, when the car broke down just a few blocks from the dealer!  But the memory didn’t matter to law-makers, only the law did. The joy of the moment was robbed when we were quickly told that our relationship was out of order. I shouldn’t be part of making decisions about cars, it was Dave’s responsibility to make decisions. 

It wasn’t long before the strong Patriarchal views were chipping away at our love and mutual respect.

My strong husband no longer appeared quite so strong in my eyes. He wasn’t a biblical leader – a spiritual head.  I was no longer easy going or “submissive” as I tried to push him into a role that he didn’t want, or agree with. His happiness waned as he witnessed me tormented because who I was, wasn’t biblically right. The more I tried to be someone I wasn’t, the more I failed, the more miserable I became, and the more I blamed him for not being the spiritual head. If he would take over, I could step down. If he would only lead in prayer… if he would only lead in devotions… if he would only lead in child discipline…if he would only lead in discipleship…if he would only lead in budgeting, if he would only lead

Our once happy marriage was a cycle of blame and regret. Isn’t that what happened in the garden? Didn’t Jesus redeem us from that?

The joy of leading bible studies for my children became a burden as I became convinced it was his job to train them up, not mine. Discipline became law, because it was his responsibility as the leader. When we lost a child and when constant difficulties prevailed, it was because our home was “out of order.” We were cursed.

 I was too much, and he wasn’t enough. Who we were, who we were created to be, was simply wrong. 

We tried to lose ourselves, our personalities, our God given gifts and talents – who we are, into a theological jumble of hierarchy.  He got angrier, I got more frustrated. He retreated, I pursued.

I wish I could say this was just the story of our marriage, but it wasn’t. We know it to be true in so many marriages from our past, and into our present. Struggling, pain filled, and confused couples, hurting to be restored. Often, they don’t even know where to begin. 

Then grace happened; the music of our marriage slowly began to be heard. I am the high notes and Dave is the low notes. Low notes are usually not played as often, but when they are, they are rich, and full, and command a presence.

Lenten Longins Sam cello

What was once a burden to lead or be led has become the symphony of our lives, as we again harmonize decisions, ideas, passions, viewpoints – all with the same respect that Jesus revealed to us when He walked this earth –  loving on women, slaves, men, tax collectors – everyone equally.

 The gospels reveal the intrinsic worth of all people, and you can’t really believe that all people have value if you deem one gender more valuable in thoughts, knowledge, gifts, or leadership abilities, than you do the other. You can’t have balance if one gender is considered too emotional, weak, or good only for the services that are below the capabilities of the other.

The life of Jesus reflected things differently.

Some say it’s a gray area, and yet others have scriptural proofs for both egalitarian and complementarian views. I have been passionate about both sides – seeing both sides as black and white – at that time.

One came from a place of have to, and one springs new from a place of want to. 

Now I see Jesus in all His passions, and with that sight comes the freedom to focus on how He treated women, how he radically tossed aside the cultural musts and must nots of His time to teach women, heal women, hang out with women, and above all, love women.

He set the example of submitting one to another as he washed his betrayer’s feet. 

He set the example of lifting up the lowliest when he chatted to the Samaritan woman, alone, at the well, drawing her into a place of safety and comfort.

He set the example when he told Martha that Mary was doing the best thing when she sat at his feet – a place reserved previously only for students – only for men.

He set the example when he wrote in the sand the words that set an adulterous woman free, and threw male hypocrisy back at her accusers. 

Dave always set that example too. 

Now I am free to love and be loved. I am free to use my gifts. I am free to lead, and free to relinquish leadership to our mutual decisions and benefits as we play to the music of our lives.  Dave is pretty happy over the changes that brought us back to who we were created to be. He knows he’s enough. I know I’m not too much.

The women he fell in love with – he’s the man with the piercing blue eyes. Back to love; back to two individuals seeking our God as one.

Boy-Girl-Cute-Couple-Holding-Hands-Wallpapers

The new and improved, image bearing, spirit filled, Jesus living, version of our symphony, is being played beautifully again – richer, deeper, and fuller than ever before. 

I hope your symphony will find it’s voice again too.

Jamie