Poverty or Riches: Deconstruction of the American Dream

I wonder if it is a possibility that anyone is worse off than us now.
Dare I compare our sorry plight to the “children in Africa”? My references to the “children of Africa” are not out of pettiness, but, of which I will refer to frequently in this post is a reference to anyone who is financially poorer than me. But is financial need not one of many of life’s problems of which we have to solve?

In many ways we are different: I live on a different continent. I live in a country that is comfortably defined as First World, compared to their Third World developing countries. I am receiving a college education, while they are likely to have never attended elementary school. Yet, in some ways we are similar, like how I have spent the past hour sorting through a carton of feijoas searching and eating the rotten ones, they likely do this daily and have been for everyday of their lives. Yet at the same time, we are essentially different because at the same time I was typing an essay on the role of the B.N.Z building in the development of New Zealand architectural history on a laptop with sticky fingers.

Here is the fundamental difference between these: they have no incline of the American Dream. 

They don’t seek to become successful in this world. It is a total paradigm change when you are transformed from hunter-gatherer to business man. The disappearance of the worry of surviving through to the next day, turn to seeking to create something of yourself. Almost at once, it seems that anything in the world is able to be accomplished and within our reach. We know that only a few reach the top of this pyramid, but somehow we think we are one of those. There is something really emotive about helping the children in Africa on television, but I wonder if it is all worth it. Smiling constantly while we are glued to our television screens, I wonder who the poor ones are. I wonder if the children in Africa are ever seeking fame and riches when they are suffering to feed their families. But no, their entire mindset is built around surviving, and if sponsorship money would survive them to the next day easier then perhaps that is worthy to them.
There is a moment in 30 Rock, where Jack Donaghy takes his baseball team that he is coaching into his office at 30 Rockfeller Place. Tracy Morgan as part of his community service for one of his crimes is assigned to coaching this team, but Jack soons takes over.

Jack: …What are your dreams?
Boy 1: When I grow up, I’m gonna do vending machine maintenance.
Boy 2: I’m gonna get shot by a cop and sue the city.
Boy 3: I’m gonna be a talkative doorman, with a drinking problem.
Tracy: That’s right. You shoot for the stars.
Jack: No, no, no, no, no. Those are not the dreams of winners.

Jack Donaghy, disappointed at the lack of enthusiasm of these kids, brings them into his office to show them the extents of what success entails: his office complete with the bathroom door that looks like a wall. The kids come in, visibly awed, the first of which remarks:

“Some day, I’ll have an office like this. To clean.”

The point I reference this humourous scene was the entire paradigm change that happens as you move from poverty to royalty. The children from an under-priviliged background – they didn’t know how to react. They don’t have the pressures as many Asians have to succeed academically, to make something of the blessings that have been given to them.  The reality is, I’m beginning only to realise how I have been driven into from a young age of the importance of passing high school and marrying young and working 9-5 to pay off a house in suburbs. In what is basically the American Dream, we are born into the social constructs that will hopefully help us achieve all of these.

They don’t have the pressures of society to conform one single way. But when we have all these tools and we have these goals to fulfil that no African child would ever dream of – the combination of these demands of us arguably more cunning and diplomacy that impoverished Africans would ever require in life. Therefore, there may not be as much pressure upon us in our world, but certainly a different set of pressures. John Steinbeck in his novel, “The Winter of Our Discontent” addresses the issues of poverty and riches, near the end of the novel, a scene which I thought was fantastic:

“And they to me. Ellen, only last night, asked, “Daddy, when will we be rich?” But I did not say to her what I know: “We will be rich soon, and you who handle poverty badly will handle riches equally badly.” And that is true. In poverty she is envious. In riches she may be a snob. Money does not change the sickness only the symptoms.

In many ways it illustrates exactly what I believe: money cannot solve anything. It may appease some of the stresses of life in poverty – but if it is not coupled with the gospel essentially, it is a false doctrine. There is a easy-believism in money in our culture, that proclaims that money would solve everything. In this fashion we give money so easily to the informercials that pop up throughout the day to feed the poor, because it makes us feel good ourselves about the situation. Though, this contribution to the developing nations is noble, in cutting down the gap between the opulent and the impoverished – but ultimately untrue in the Western world where we still struggle fundamentally with notion identity and meaning.

This is because money cannot give identity and meaning, only Christ can. 

“But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for God’s own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who has called you out of darkness into his marvelous light; for you once were not a people, but now you are the people of God; you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy.” 1 Peter 2:9-10

I won’t focus on any of the many tags that Peter is addressing here, except for Christians as a chosen race. It is of course a reference to the church and the whole collection of God’s people around the world. This chosen race is not according to the colour of their skin, but is of all colours and cultures. What Paul argues her is that God gives us our identity, and this not built into our color or culture, but objectively – our chosenness.

There is a tendency, I believe, to think that Christians are the white race – but they are the chosen race. There is a tendency to think that Christians are the black race – but they are the chosen race. We are the black chosen and the white chosen and the yellow chosen and the red chosen. Out from all the races we have been chosen—one at a time, not on the basis of belonging to any group. To give merely money to such peoples, we are surely denying them the knowledge of them being chosen. Being human, I think it is arrogant to profess to know who is the elect and which ones aren’t. Furthermore, to deny people knowledge of their identity, and in the place giving a illegitimate identity based in material possessions in heretical. Our identity and meaning is found in Christ, and anyone who should come to the table shall surely be given Living Water, that they may thirst no more – the Bread of Life, that they may hunger no more.“So your first identity is that you are chosen. God chose you. Not because of your race—or for any other qualification—God chose you. Who am I? I am chosen. I do not know why. It was nothing in me of value above other humans. I did not earn it or merit it, or meet any conditions to get it. It happened before I was born. I stand in awe of it. I tremble with joy at it. I bow and accept it. I long to be faithful to its purpose. I am chosen.” –  John Piper
What the Gospel is capable of doing is drawing together a multitude of different people, and unite them in the worship of God. Whereas, the limits of what a social gospel is capable of is soliciting praise of unrealistic dreams and greed. Treating the symptoms of the human condition, but only if we administer the blood of Christ to the fatal wound of depravity can we truly change the world. 

About JN
what happened to dignity / never see it on MTV.

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