David Platt’s book, Radical, begs the question of how to be Christian in America or perhaps in other words, how to be American in Christ.
I think this might be the most difficult thing to Christians and church leaders to reconcile. Can we separate the call of Christ and the incredibly strong pull of the American Dream?
A thought came to me the other day that following Jesus has brought me to the brink – it brought into light all my inadequacies, weaknesses, fears of failure, disappointing people, compromising my kids’ future, all of it. I am at times, seized with terror about what it means to be a Christian, not just believe in Jesus and his work on the cross, but in the daily mundane decisions to submit my life to him. What kind of bed should I buy? Where should I live? What school should I go to? How much do we give? How much do we save? Where do the kids go to school? And on and on we go about trying to be faithful. And it’s not easy. In some ways, these are some of the more difficult questions of discipleship.
But the other night I saw on TV, the Winter X Games where young men and women defied gravity and overcame a totally different set of fears snowboarding and skiing doing stunts and tricks that clearly required a hardshell helmet.
Then it occurred to me that the American Dream often encourages people to overcome their fears for things that don’t matter. To perform a front flip in a snowmobile – something that had never been done in history – I concede must be incredibly difficult, but in light of the neighborhood, of this week even means very little. That we would run away from the intimacy in our marriages in favor of meeting sales quotas for a heavily taxed salary to pay for a house that is entirely too big for a family that can’t weather the storm but would save our face in a board meeting. Most of our lives are still stuck in what Thoreau called “quiet desperation.” We escape into addictions, hobbies, distractions, and even extreme lifestyles all the while refusing to face our greatest fears – knowing ourselves. No helmet required.
Platt is quick to point out that even most churches waste a lot of their resources, preoccupations, and time into activities that have nothing to do with the pursuit of the Christ-like life. Which means, if I might be so bold, that we cannot even reconcile the paradox of being Christian in America today. I walk around with a firm sense of my hypocrisy realizing that I can’t be radical without this awareness. Reconciliation begins when you have a sense of the cost of complacency and are willing to do the hard work of investing time in the ordinary fears of the everyday.