The American Dream

It’s called the American Dream, because you have to be asleep to believe it.

– George Carlin, Owners of This Country

The American Dream is a bizarre paradox that holds the weight of American success. It works, sometimes. It allows the forlorn to hope, the dejected to dream, the downhearted to act, and the achievers to stress. The American Dream insists that the status quo is indeed not enough, that there is more, and that if you don’t get that more you’ve failed yourself and your society.

But what is that more? When have you attained it?

The answer to the second question is simple: You can’t. You can’t attain it, because you can’t define it. And you can’t define it, because as soon as you’ve defined the American Dream you’ve lost it.

So we fight a blind battle, searching and lusting for something more, something else, something better… We obtain the better, we get the more, but only to find another better and another more lies just down the road.

We try to make something of ourselves, something great, something big. A name, or recognition. Something, anything. Anything that will leave our own unique mark on the planet; anything that will allow us to feel like we haven’t wasted our life. We don’t know who we are, so we attempt to follow those who, in our minds, have achieved the American Dream. Perhaps becoming the next American Idol? Thousands upon thousands of people were shown last week on national TV attempting to be just that. The catch? Most of them can’t sing. Have they failed in the American Dream? Or a better question…Can you win the American Dream? No. No, you can’t.

I imagine if you walked up to previous American Idols and asked them if they’ve succeeded in life, completed all their goals, and feel completely content with where their life is at they’ll answer “no.” There’s always something on the horizon, something new and better. A carrot dangling on a stick just inches out of reach, and no matter how far you go it’s never far enough, the carrot’s still there, still just out of reach.

Ephesians 2:8-10

For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God, not of works, lest anyone should boast. For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand that we should walk in them.

Success has become the postmodern Law. Much like what the Biblical Old Testament Law gave many of the Israelites, success gives us purpose and motivation. Most of us, like the Old Testament spiritual leaders with the Law, define ourselves by our success compared to that of others.

But just like Israel did with the Law, we again miss the point. In a society where self-help books have their own section in Borders and Joel Osteen can get millions to watch him speak, where supermodels starve themselves and still need to be photoshopped, and where our millionaire stars check themselves into rehabs; we’ve obviously never been able to beat the American Dream.

But maybe, just maybe, we’re not supposed to.

The Bible Joel Osteen Doesn’t Talk About.

American Christianity has become overrun with sissies. The stuff Paul wrote would never make it into a Sunday morning sermon for fear of offending the same people who spend more time boycotting The Da Vinci Code and Harry Potter than they do helping their neighbor. In fact, some of the stuff Paul wrote didn’t even make it into our common English translations…Excuse me?

So, in order to prove that this politically correct, tame, and emotionless sissiness is not where we started, I’d like to show a few examples of honest, point-blank, and truly offensive (and oh-so-awesome) material found from the very book and people this faith came from.

Let’s start with Paul. First we’ve got the censored Philippians 3:8, which you’ve probably seen like one of these:

Yet indeed I also count all things loss for the excellence of the knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord, for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and count them as rubbish, that I may gain Christ (NKJV)

Not only those things, but I think that all things are worth nothing compared with the greatness of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. Because of him, I have lost all those things, and now I know they are worthless trash. This allows me to have Christ (NCV)

What is more, I consider everything a loss compared to the surpassing greatness of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things. I consider them rubbish, that I may gain Christ (NIV)


Paul said it. He didn’t count them as “rubbish” or “worthless trash,” he counted them as the Greek “skubala,” or correctly translated–“shit.”

Then we’ve got one of my all-time favorite verses, Galations 5:12. To give a little context, I’ll include verse 11 as well (and I’ll be skipping the NKJV as, in my opinion, it’s fairly weak):

My brothers and sisters, I do not teach that a man must be circumcised. If I teach circumcision, why am I still being attacked? If I still taught circumcision, my preaching about the cross would not be a problem. I wish the people who are bothering you would castrate themselves! (NCV)

Brothers, if I am still preaching circumcision, why am I still being persecuted? In that case the offense of the cross has been abolished. As for those agitators, I wish they would go the whole way and emasculate themselves! (NIV)

Now as Real Live Preacher points out, this pretty much means, “I wish those who are troubling you would cut their own balls off.” Try saying that in church and see what happens.

Both John the Baptist and Jesus used the common phrase, “brood of vipers” when addressing a group of people. According to a Wikipedia article, “In Matthew and Luke, the word used for brood implies illegitimacy, and so scholars, such as Malina and Rohrbaugh, consider a more literal translation to be snake bastards.”

Now, regardless of whether that’s the most accurate translation or not, take a look at what Jesus said here:

“You snakes! You brood of vipers! How will you escape being condemned to hell? Therefore I am sending you prophets and wise men and teachers. Some of them you will kill and crucify; others you will flog in your synagogues and pursue from town to town. And so upon you will come all the righteous blood that has been shed on earth, from the blood of righteous Abel to the blood of Zechariah son of Berekiah, whom you murdered between the temple and the altar. I tell you the truth, all this will come upon this generation. (Matthew 23:33-36, NIV)

I’m pretty sure that wasn’t taken positively. And of course, we can’t forget the whole flipping tables episode.

So, with that said, if you’ll excuse me, I’m off to go put on some Tool. Wait…actually, it’s already playing.

To Dream of Never-Ending Things…

What if we actually cared?

What if “thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself” was more than a catchphrase?

What if we really tried to love our neighbors as ourselves?

What if we learned to love ourselves?

What if we desired to change what isn’t right?

What if we took the unjust and fixed it?

What if passion became the norm?

What if hate didn’t exist?

What if everybody lived each day like their last?

What if everybody lived each moment as their last?

What if we believed in ourselves even when nobody else did?

What if failure wasn’t feared?

What if time wasn’t an issue?

What if we were willing to sacrifice?

What if we kept trying?

What if we followed what we believed?

What if we dreamed the impossible, but tried anyway?

A New Kind of Justice

As I established in Justice, everybody cries for justice, but nobody seems to want real justice. We cheer when Saddam Hussein is captured then fight million dollar battles when the RIAA cracks down. We bitch and whine when things aren’t fair for us, and we at least pretend to want things fair for others. Or we pretend as long as we don’t have to do anything about them, anyway–at least until life is perfect for us.

That’s not justice. Yet, we still cry for it.

Around 2000 years ago, this carpenter showed up claiming to be sent by God. Nobody really knew what He was doing, but the general consensus seemed to be that He was the Messiah, here to kick Rome’s ass.

In short, this guy was finally bringing the justice that Israel had been crying for. Finally, He was bringing the justice they deserved. The dream, the prophecy, the fall of Rome that kept them living was finally coming true.

But it didn’t.

He didn’t save them from the Romans; He just said some bizarre things then got himself killed. What kind of Justice is that?

Or maybe, if anybody listened to what He actually said, somebody would’ve realized that this guy didn’t come to fulfill their sense of justice at all.

I mean, come on…”Turn the other cheek”? What’s up with that? That’s not just.

“If anyone wants to sue you and take away your tunic, let him have your cloak also.” That’s not just.

“And whoever compels you to go one mile, go with him two.” I say whoever compels you to go one mile, jump on his back and ride the rest of the way. THAT’S justice.

Matthew 5:43-44

“You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, love your enemies, bless those who curse you, do good to those who hate you, and pray for those who spitefully use you and persecute you…”

If that’s God’s sense of justice, He has to have the crappiest sense of justice I’ve ever heard.

Unless the same, and more, has already been done for us.

Because let’s face it, if true justice was given, we’d be damned in an instant. God, of course, knew this. Jesus knew that for true justice to happen (and it would happen), somebody had to pay. Somebody was going to pay. Jesus was willing to pay.

He was willing to sacrifice the fairness that was due to Him. He was willing to forfeit all of that, and He did.

I wonder, what would happen if we were willing to forget about the fairness due to us?

Note to self: Apparently emangelists (email + evangelists = a term I just made up) are just as crappy as televangelists.

Everybody hates chain mail. You know, “Forward this to at least 10 people in the next 48 hours or you’ll get hit by a flying piano and die.” But that’s not all that bad (though still annoying). I mean they’re easy to spot–if I see five “Fwd:” things in the subject line then I know that it’s probably safe to delete.

But that’s old-school. There’s a new type of chain mail on the block, and this elite string of forwards does not try to manipulate the general public through cute fake images or promises of grandeur superstition, rather, the fashionable religious guilt trip. Here is an excerpt from an actual email I once received:

This is an easy test, you score 100 or zero. It’s your choice If you aren’t ashamed to do this, please follow the directions. Jesus said, “If you are ashamed of me, I will be ashamed of you before my Father.”

Not ashamed pass this on . . . only if you mean it. Yes, I do Love God. He is my source of existence and Savior. He keeps me functioning each and every day. Without Him, I am nothing, but with Him I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me. Phil 4:13

This is the simplest test. If you Love God, and are not ashamed of all the marvelous things he has done for you. Send this to ten people you love and the person who sent it to you!

Damn, I’d better hurry up and forward this thing before God takes out the lightning…

Rock on

As the lights dim and the low rumble of the crowd hushes to a mere whisper, I feel the audience’s excitement as they wait for the first band to walk on stage. I observe a dozen or so off in one corner waiting anxiously to get a pit going. Hanging out back are a few punks (in all the glory of the word) clad in black t-shirts and bearing pink hair. I eye the frontline warriors, immovable at the edge of the stage, staring bug-eyed for a first glimpse of the long awaited idol. At first sight of the band a cry erupts from the front and rapidly progresses to the back, and soon the whole room shakes with the roar of ecstatic fans. As the first note sounds, the roar increases to an unbelievable volume, literally blasting anybody within fifty yards of the building. The sound-master cranks up the volume as the frontman belts with passion the first line of a song that will always be remembered by those present. The room explodes.

The energy contained by the pit’s dozen rises to the strength of an army, eventually boiling over into those nearby. Those in back watch the scene eagerly, loving every second of it. Soon enough they’re into it as well, leaving behind any prior feelings of reserve. Meanwhile, the frontline warriors scream a scream that challenges that of the vocalist’s own. The band feeds off the crowd’s fuel and throws it back to the fans with twice the power. Energy is literally bouncing off the walls and pounding against my chest. The energy empowering this room is felt and shared by all.

This is what it’s all about. Why else come to a live performance?

You don’t go to a live concert purely to watch a band play, because if that’s all you wanted than you wasted your money. Just go online and download a few videos, or if you really want you can buy a DVD at your local supermarket. It’s much cheaper. No, people go to a concert to experience the mutual exchange of passion and energy–something you cannot feel by merely listening to the album. With a CD you can hear the words and feel the music, but you simply cannot experience such an exchange of energy if you’re sitting by yourself.

But too little do we reserve this energy and passion for U2 concerts. God called us to gather together, and He said this for a reason. One of the greatest things that can be experienced when we are gathered together is a certain passion and energy that is usually unique to a crowd setting. But when I go to most churches, everybody’s just sitting around, singing quietly. Don’t get me wrong, there’s a time for this too (even in a concert), but whatever happened to true, hard-core rocking out?

So to those about to rock, I salute you.

A dangerous statement.

Censorship is a distracting issue with which we should not even have to worry. Near the community in which I grew up in Norther Illinois, seventeen-year-olds cannot legally buy the Rage Against the Machine record. I wonder how much of it has to do with the people in power not wanting the virginal ears of seventeen-year-olds to hear the word (expletive) and how much they do not want them to hear, “Landlords and power whores on my people they took turns,” which is far more dangerous of a statement.

–Tom Morello (Rage Against the Machine guitarist and Harvard graduate)
From Rock Stars on God by Doug Van Pelt

“Which is far more dangerous of a statement.”

It really makes me wonder, how often do Christians get so caught up in specific words that they miss the whole point? And why are many of them more offended by the Da Vinci Dode or a synonym for poop than they are by the fact that thousands of nonbelievers in Africa are currently dying of hunger and AIDS?

Lets look at a different type of scenario. Take one of my all-time favorite Creed songs, What’s this life for. Here’s the basic jist of it:

Hurray for a child
That makes it through
If there’s any way
Because the answer lies in you
They’re laid to rest
Before they know just what to do
Their souls are lost
Because they could never find
What’s this life for
I see your soul, it’s kind of gray
I see your heart, you look away
You see my wrist, I know your pain
I know your purpose on your plane
Don’t say a last prayer
Because you could never find
What’s this life for
But they ain’t here anymore
Don’t have to settle no goddamn score
Cause we all live
Under the reign of one king

There have been whole debates on this song, some even going as far as to question Stapp’s faith (google it). But that’s just messed up. I mean, were they even listening?

This song was written after a friend of both Scott Stapp and Mark Tremonti committed suicide. It’s been said (though I haven’t been able to verify it) that the last thing he said before killing himself was, “Now who’s gonna settle the goddamn score?”

This song responds to that by saying, “Don’t have to settle no goddamn score, ’cause we all live under the reign of one king.” It morns the loss of “souls” that acted before realizing exactly “what’s this life for.” For me, the whole point of this song is that the damn score was settled on the cross 2000 years ago.

Honestly, that’s more profound than most of the Christian music I hear on the radio. With or without the “swearing,” it’s also much more dangerous–but that’s a good thing.

Religion and why I hate it.

I hate religion. Religion is why thousands died on September 11th. Religion is what started countless wars. Religion causes pain, suffering, and is usually pure bullshit.

Christianity, at its core, isn’t about that. Many Christians try to make it that, but they’re missing the point. It isn’t about how many free car washes you can do. It isn’t about tithing. It isn’t about baptism. It isn’t about being a missionary. It isn’t about getting people saved.

It’s about a relationship.

I don’t want to be dedicated to a religion. Religion imprisons.

Jesus, however, is a different question entirely.

If people could only get that. If people could only live by that. They may not be as dedicated to their religion as others–but they’ll be more dedicated to their God than anyone else will ever be able to claim.

And isn’t that the point?