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The not-so-dreamy American dream

Eight anti-depressants and $5,000 worth of debt later, my grandmother found herself in a hospital bed. Pulling back the curtain that shielded her from the busy ER, I found her staring blankly at a wall. At this point I thought of a good MasterCard commercial: one ambulance trip – $800, three nights in the psych ward – $3200, realizing that credit cards drove you to suicide … priceless.

How does a 60-year-old woman go from living a fulfilling life to wanting to end it all to stop the bill collector’s calls? How does a well to do American family find itself floundering in debt?

The answers to these questions came as I heard my grandmother explain how she thought love was something you could purchase. How she had tried so hard to please everyone with a thin piece of plastic. How even if she had cash in her pocket, she would still purchase with her Visa.

What has money done to us as Americans? What has the pursuit of the American dream done to our personalities, to our relationships, to our willingness to even live?

I could pose questions all day, but it’s their answers I really want. So I am looking to the greedy CEO’s, to the corporate masters, for answers to why my grandmother decided to try to end her life. I’m looking to celebrities, to the advertising companies who bombard us with over 3,000 ads a day.

I think many of us say, “Money can’t buy me happiness,” but I’m not sure we truly believe that. We fill those holes in our heart with retail therapy and the King of Prussia mall becomes our therapist. Christmas shopping becomes a competition, and our hearts sink a little when no money falls out of that birthday card from Aunt Suzy.

Rural soccer moms take out second mortgages to pay for that Louis Vuitton bag, while blue-collar dads promise their wives that everything will be alright after they park a BMW in the garage of their $500,000 home for three.

I guess I’m just overwhelmed by what money has done to us all, especially fellow followers of Jesus Christ. As Christians in a world of 24kt WWJD bracelets, it’s sometimes hard to believe that our Savior was homeless. It’s also hard to believe that early Christians met in homes for church, not sanctuaries worth millions.

Inevitably, people will say, “Who are you to talk, aren’t you spending $80,000 for an education?” Honestly, I think that critique is legitimate. There are many days when I have to think through this, where I have to check myself before becoming too cynical.

At times it’s hard for me to justify spending $80,000 on a college education, yet I think ignorance is part of the problem. I hope that my college investment will go towards living a life of honest, simple living, to educating others about the pervasiveness and dangers of the American dream, and finally towards pointing others to the humble, homeless Savior, Jesus Christ.

When I pushed my grandmother’s hair back to give her a kiss on her forehead, I assured her that I loved her. I promised her that next month my love wouldn’t show up on her Visa bill.

I’ll finish with a quote from The Brothers Karamazov by Fyodor Dostoevsky, “What can become of him if he is in such bondage to the habit of satisfying the innumerable desires he has created for himself? He is isolated, and what concern has he with the rest of humanity? They have succeeded in accumulating a greater mass of objects, but the joy in the world has grown less.”

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