If goodness lead him not, yet weariness
May toss him to My breast.

-George Herbert

Tuesday, June 15, 2010


Sometimes it's just tiring being an American. Americans seem to me like a people determined to commit psychic suicide. When you cling to illusions with all your might, it kills something inside you. And when you're killing yourself, it makes it a lot easier to kill other things, too: the livelihood of your employees, for instance, or an ecosystem; even the economic health of the global community. I think part of the reason for the absolutely ferocious brand of patriotism favored by so many Americans is that it helps us to ignore our fundamental unhappiness; and especially, for a nation besotted with its status as #1, to ignore the fact that Western Europeans are consistently ranked as the happiest people in the world. Even though they're "socialists". I guess when the personal ego is shattered, one invests all the angry energy one has left inflating the collective ego as a sort of last defense against non-entity. So please don't waste another breath trying to convince me that the world's fattest nation, the world's biggest market for illegal narcotics, the country with the highest per capita prison population on Earth, enjoys the world's best way of life! We've been perpetually at war for the last 65 years! Our health care system is ranked 39th in the world! Millions of Americans are one illness away from bankruptcy! Nearly every woman I know over the age of forty is on anti-depressants or in therapy, and the men are just too out of touch with their feelings to know they need them, too!

Have you noticed the things people here now do for a living? Do you know, or have you ever known, a little girl or boy who wanted to grow up to become a procurement specialist? Or a customer service representative? How about a communications director? Or a quality control supervisor? An insurance underwriter? (Look at any of the job sites on the internet and you will find page after page of this sort of thing.) No, I would wager my life that there has never been a single child in the history of the planet who dreamed of spending the coveted power and freedom of adulthood on any of these pursuits. And that is because these jobs, at which people spend precious years of their lives, have absolutely no meaning or purpose apart from the capitalist imperative of creating wealth for richest 2% of the population. They are dream-killers, soul-killers. No goods are produced, no craft practiced and mastered, no one edified, enlightened or inspired, no fundamental human need provided for by this sort of work. It is a human rights violation to ask anyone to do it. Digging a ditch would be more satisfying, if a ditch were needed and would benefit one's community.

My question is, why have the churches been standing idly by, in this most religious of nations in the West, as every bit of beauty is drained from our communal life, as culture becomes an elitist museum, as the search for a life of meaning becomes an entirely private affair? The feeble ethic the churches preach has, until very recently, focused almost exclusively on condemning lapses of that docile obedience which both State and Corporate elites count upon to enrich themselves as they deplete us; an obedience completely alien to the figure of Jesus as he is portrayed in the gospels. And how can we accept and cooperate in our own depletion, impoverishment, and dehumanization unless we can be convinced to swallow - hook, line and sinker - the peculiar delusion of the American mind; namely, that we, as the greatest of nations, are forever and inevitably making progress?

Always needing to make progress is tiring. But even more tiring is the effort to maintain the appropriate enthusiasm as we progress over the edge of a precipice.


  1. I do believe there is so much truth to what you are saying, it seems that generally speaking we "Americans" are spiritually dead, and emotionally/physically numb to the fact that we are. I would suggest that as a nation, both female and males, honest emotion has become extinct. (While I do not oppose feminism, it has not always been represented well and is partially to blame for this.) We do not see our emotions as the God-given dashboard that they were meant to be - the church, again - generally speaking, included. However I would probably point to the more traditional church as having encouraged that culture, not the contemporary.

    I am curious to hear more from you about how the 'relevant' church is not doing it's part. If I understand you correctly, I would have to say this has not been my experience. I see at least some contemporary church's speaking truths, more open to embracing emotions, slowing down life, living simply and purposefully, counseling, recovery, etc - but few are listening or in a place where they can truly hear or believe they need it... which leads me back to our culture of running from our emotions. I 'blame' the individuals, not the church as a whole. It's not their job to hit people on the head and yell "STOP what you're doing". Shame and guilt will not lead to a place of healing where life is lived fully. To me, it seems the church's job is to create a safe place, so that when they get 'tired' , realize their way isn't working and are ready to listen, the church will be there to instruct and love them counter culturally. I do not see them as being idle, I see them as patiently waiting...

  2. Thanks for your comment. It's funny, I edited my post even before I read your remarks because I wasn't quite comfortable with what I wrote. I agree with you that there is an emerging awareness in some of the churches that is more supportive and nurturing. This is a really positive development. I also agree that moralism and guilt are not going to lead to wholeness. In fact, I like everything you've said.

    What I meant by what I originally posted is that, on the one hand, churches have inculcated a too-private moral vision, which focused on sexual purity etc., but, until recently, have had little to say about war, corporate exploitation, the loss of meaningful work and the concomitant deadening of the emotions. On the other hand, in a futile effort to slow shrinking membership, some churches of a more liberal stripe (and I say this as a liberal) have assumed that newer is automatically better, and have "dumbed down" their liturgies and hymns, have built ugly structures for worship, etc., which I see as part of the deadening process. But perhaps that's merely a matter of taste. More to the point, the supernatural element of religion has been downplayed in a lot of mainstream protestantism in favor of a sort of moral activism which is not bad in itself....just lacking in depth from my point of view. I feel as if we need more prayer and reflection and less but more focused activity....always remembering the good news that we are infinitely loved and valued by God whether the world or even the church finds us "useful".

  3. Agreed. I recently had a conversation with our women's group about women's retreats. We were in the middle of one, and she had somewhat complained to the group that initially she was dragging her feet to put one together - I would assume because of getting sucked up in the expectations of activity. I suggested that instead of planning a retreat full of activities, why not just set up the facility and maybe food, and educate people on a true retreat and how to be still... So many in our culture do not know how to do this, let alone be intentional about planning a time. I personally took an extra day of retreat and could see the envy in several peoples eyes... I think there is a movement in this direction, but it is often the quieter more contemplative types - therefore it doesn't 'sell' as well.

  4. To quote Frederick Beuchener: Think of the Church Invisible (a la M. Luther) and the Church Visible as two circles. The optimist says they are concentric; the pessimist, that they don't even touch; the realist, they occasionally overlap.

    I found you by way of the MadPriest, but of course, he could be wrong.

  5. And, I should confess, I am so very OVER "church". But that's where I work. It's tough, sometimes.