The American Nightmare

I’ve been thinking a lot about my own greed and materialism lately. I know I’ve written about these things before, but I think I need a constant reminder of where I’m at and what I’m working for. Who I’m working for, really. The realization that I came to recently was twofold:

1) I have never been so generous with anyone that I gave something that was over and above what I thought I could afford. Sure, I’ll give money to charities here or there. Let’s say I put $20 in a bell ringer’s can. What does that matter? Is that generous? I hardly feel it. It’s not that the person on the other end doesn’t appreciate that extra $20. It’s that I didn’t feel the giving. It didn’t hurt me. It didn’t take anything real from me. It didn’t take something I would have preferred to keep for myself. There was no sacrifice involved. And for those reasons, I’m coming to the conclusion that it was never generosity in the first place. It was me trying to convince myself that I’m a good person by not being completely stingy.

2) I am tired of spending so much time and effort chasing the American Dream. Comfort, security, happiness, contentedness. I spend so much time chasing after them. Why do I go to work during the day? What do I think about at night? What do I spend my time talking about with my friends? Usually the answers to those questions are somehow related to the things I’ve listed above. It could be money, or the latest cool toy, or gadget, or game, or music, or movie. It’s all designed to pad our coffins, so we don’t feel like we’re dying. But we really are. It’s not an American Dream. It’s a nightmare. I don’t want to worship at that idol any more. It’s boring, and it’s safe.

I’m not diluted enough to think that I can conquer this in one fell swoop. I’m not “finished” simply by realizing this. This can only be the beginning. When I realized all this, I also realized that I needed to go somewhere for a little while where I could learn more of the truth about these things, and where I could work out this stuff in myself.

A couple weeks ago I was invited to be a part of a small, independent group of men going to Pascagoula, MS to be a part of the hurricane relief effort. I talked with Steph about it, and prayed about it, and got some pretty quick answers, so I’m going. Eight others are going with me. We leave tomorrow morning at 5am and get back this Saturday. It’s not entirely certain what we’ll be doing each day, but it involves sheet rock, insulation, hammers and crow bars. The folks down there have been flooded out of their homes, and many have no insurance, and no way to get back in. Their walls and floors are rotted and unsafe. There are widows who have no family or money. Their American Dream has crumbled before their eyes, and they had only a few days warning. I need to see that first hand, and try to help. I know I can’t fix the problem, but I think the reality of the problem can begin to fix me.

See you in a few days.

10 Comments

  1. Dave
    Posted December 3, 2005 at 3:26 pm | Permalink

    …It’s that I didn’t feel the giving. It didn’t hurt me. It didn’t take anything real from me. It didn’t take something I would have preferred to keep for myself. There was no sacrifice involved…

    Josh, this is a unique but very misled notion of giving. I would go so far as to call it sick. I think you should really try to give to the extent which you propose, but feel good about it. When I give or help others, I do what I call “self-othering.” I say that another person’s happiness is my happiness. Then I give all that I can, and I feel excellent.

  2. Posted December 3, 2005 at 3:33 pm | Permalink

    I should be clear here. I’m not saying that every time you give to someone, you have to make it a big sacrifice. But if, when giving, you never give that way, I think something may be wrong. What does it mean when you give to someone, but don’t love them? And how can you love someone without sacrificing for them?

  3. Dave
    Posted December 3, 2005 at 4:03 pm | Permalink

    Whoa, now we’re dragging love into this? You need to reconstruct your argument if you think love demands pain. Also, I find all this talk of ‘sacrifice’ very uncomfortable because of the religious connotations. You say you want to make a painful sacrifice in order to give something of yourself to others and show love? I smell hubris.

  4. Dave
    Posted December 3, 2005 at 4:30 pm | Permalink

    Josh, I am being rash. I commend you for being one of my most selfless and generous friends. You are not livng the American Nightmare!

  5. Emily P
    Posted December 4, 2005 at 12:01 pm | Permalink

    Josh, I commend you for responding to God’s leading and conviction in your life. When God convicts of something specific and then provides a way to (at least) start to deal with it, then you know God is truly in the situation and your life. It seems to me that your conviction and then the opportunity to go to MS is no mere coincidence but God’s leading. Love you.

  6. Dave
    Posted December 4, 2005 at 8:29 pm | Permalink

    It seems to me that your conviction and then the opportunity to go to MS is no mere coincidence but God’s leading.

    I read that and thought “what! Josh is going to Microsoft?! No!” Then I remembed that God wouldn’t lead anyone to Microsoft.

  7. Gos
    Posted December 5, 2005 at 5:10 pm | Permalink

    Whew. I was debating whether or not it was ok to make a Microsoft joke here or not. I ended up chickening out, but I’m glad someone came through.

  8. Posted December 6, 2005 at 2:36 pm | Permalink

    Josh, thanks for your thoughts here and your willingness to act in a concrete way on your reflections.

    I don’t know what else to say that won’t sound trite or condescending or redudant, so let me simply say thank you and I appreciate your sharing this.

  9. MOM
    Posted December 21, 2005 at 6:29 pm | Permalink

    I think when you said “I’m not diluted enough” you meant “deluded” as in believing a delusion. Or was your mind actually thinned down by mixing it with water? Was that what you sacrificed in Mississippi?
    Actually, personal sacrifice in doing what is best for another person is the definition of agape love. A further complication to the problem of “feeling good” about doing this is that what is best for someone is not often what they want done for them.

  10. Posted December 21, 2005 at 10:27 pm | Permalink

    Hehehe… yes, “deluded” is precisely what I meant. Thank you.