The American Dream Today
The term “American Dream” was first used by James Truslow Adams in 1931 in his book The Epic of America. There he described it as “a dream of social order in which each man and each woman shall be able to attain to the fullest stature of which they are innately capable.” But I’ve discovered that like many things in life, definitions change. A more current description of the American Dream is “an American social ideal that stresses egalitarianism and especially material prosperity.” I asked my blog readers for their own perspective on the term and got dozens of responses, such as this one from Kim Frey: Our grandparents probably viewed it as the ability to get out of poverty, to provide for loved ones, and to have a comfortable home, getting a strong basic education, having a good work ethic, and being content with what you have. . . . I think the idea of the American Dream has become much more materialistic in the past few decades . . . “Bigger, better, faster, and more” has defined it recently.
Kristen Welch, Raising Grateful Kids in an Entitled World: How One Family Learned That Saying No Can Lead to Life’s Biggest Yes, Tyndale House Publishers.
The Death of a Dream
A few years ago, I met Phil Vischer, the creator of VeggieTales. It was sort of surreal hearing the voice of Bob the Tomato in nonanimated form, but Phil is as likable as the characters he created. Phil started out with loose change and a God-idea called Big Idea, Inc. The company sold more than fifty million videos and grossed hundreds of millions of dollars, but it all ended with one lawsuit. As Phil himself said, “Fourteen years’ worth of work flashed before my eyes — the characters, the songs, the impact, the letters from kids all over the world. It all flashed before my eyes, then it all vanished.” Big Idea declared bankruptcy, and the dream died a painful death. That’s when Phil heard a sermon that saved his soul. If God gives you a dream, and the dream comes to life and God shows up in it, and then the dream dies, it may be that God wants to see what is more important to you — the dream or him.
Mark Batterson, All In: You Are One Decision Away From a Totally Different Life: Zondervan.
John Perkins’ Evolving Dreams
In his book, Dream with Me, noted civil rights leader John Perkins begins by describing his journey of life and faith, and how his own dreams changed as a result of knowing God:
I have always been a dreamer. It almost seems as if my life has gone back and forth between two worlds: the world that reflects reality around me and the world made by the dream I had of what life could be. My wife, Vera Mae, would always tell me to be careful because I would make people believe that the dream was already reality. When I was young, my dream was to get out of Mississippi and find a better life in California.
After coming to know Jesus Christ and doing ministry in prisons with young men who looked like me and spoke the same broken English, I began to dream again. I dreamed of going back to my home state of Mississippi and sharing the love and joy of Jesus Christ that I had discovered in California. I have continued to seek to live out that dream in my life—to fulfill the Great Commission—but I hope the dream world I long for now looks like the coming kingdom of God.
As much as we need to dream, we must also never forget what has happened in the past. We know how much farther we can go partly by seeing and marveling at how far God has already brought us. I have never stopped being amazed by God’s redemptive love and His willingness to allow us to participate in spreading that love. To think of what God has done for me—a poor, third-grade dropout from rural Mississippi—is truly amazing, and every day I have to recognize that all of what I have done and have been given is by God’s grace alone.
John M.Perkins, Dream with Me, Baker Publishing Group.
It’s very human to begin looking for something and then forget what you’re looking for. Tennessee Williams tells a story of someone who forgot — the story of Jacob Brodzky, a shy Russian Jew whose father owned a bookstore. The older Brodzky wanted his son to go to college.
The boy, on the other hand, desired nothing but to marry Lila, his childhood sweetheart — a French girl as effusive, vital, and ambitious as he was contemplative and retiring. A couple of months after young Brodzky went to college, his father fell ill and died. The son returned home, buried his father, and married his love. Then the couple moved into the apartment above the bookstore, and Brodzky took over its management.
The life of books fit him perfectly, but it cramped her. She wanted more adventure — and she found it, she thought, when she met an agent who praised her beautiful singing voice and enticed her to tour Europe with a vaudeville company.
Brodzky was devastated. At their parting, he reached into his pocket and handed her the key to the front door of the bookstore.
“You had better keep this,” he told her, “because you will want it some day. Your love is not so much less than mine that you can get away from it. You will come back sometime, and I will be waiting.”
She kissed him and left. To escape the pain he felt, Brodzky withdrew deep into his bookstore and took to reading as someone else might have taken to drink. He spoke little, did little, and could most times be found at the large desk near the rear of the shop, immersed in his books while he waited for his love to return.
Nearly 15 years after they parted, at Christmastime, she did return. But when Brodzky rose from the reading desk that had been his place of escape for all that time, he did not take the love of his life for more than an ordinary customer. “Do you want a book?” he asked.
That he didn’t recognize her startled her. But she gained possession of herself and replied, “I want a book, but I’ve forgotten the name of it.”
Then she told him a story of childhood sweethearts. A story of a newly married couple who lived in an apartment above a bookstore. A story of a young, ambitious wife who left to seek a career, who enjoyed great success but could never relinquish the key her husband gave her when they parted. She told him the story she thought would bring him to himself.
But his face showed no recognition. Gradually she realized that he had lost touch with his heart’s desire, that he no longer knew the purpose of his waiting and grieving, that now all he remembered was the waiting and grieving itself. “You remember it; you must remember it — the story of Lila and Jacob?”
After a long, bewildered pause, he said, “There is something familiar about the story, I think I have read it somewhere. It comes to me that it is something by Tolstoi.” Dropping the key, she fled the shop. And Brodzky returned to his desk, to his reading, unaware that the love he waited for had come and gone.
Tennessee Williams’s 1931 story “Something by Tolstoi” reminds me how easy it is to miss love when it comes. Either something so distracts us or we have so completely lost who we are and what we care about that we cannot recognize our heart’s desire.
Signs of the Times, June, 1993, p. 11
Two Thousand Daydreams A Day
Clever scientific studies involving beepers and diaries suggest that an average daydream is about fourteen seconds long and that we have about two thousand of them per day. In other words, we spend about half of our waking hours—one-third of our lives on earth—spinning fantasies. We daydream about the past: things we should have said or done, working through our victories and failures. We daydream about mundane stuff, such as imagining different ways of handling a conflict at work. But we also daydream in a much more intense, storylike way. We screen films with happy endings in our minds, where all our wishes—vain, aggressive, dirty—come true. And we screen little horror films, too, in which our worst fears are realized.
Jonathan Gottschall, The Storytelling Animal: How Stories Make Us Human, HMH Books.
Still Looking for inspiration?
Consider checking out our quotes page on dreams. Don’t forget, sometimes a great quote is an illustration in itself!
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