I’m sitting at Starbucks thinking about our shift from the USA of past centuries to our USA of today.
The “Land of Opportunity” is where people used to come in hopes of – you guessed it – opportunity. It meant that a person’s efforts had reasonable chance of improving their condition; that with persistence, someone applying the old-school ethic of hard work could rise from poverty in a country that blurred classes of people and disregarded bloodlines. It inspired the “I can make something of myself” resolve and both immigrants and native-born applied their sweat to do just that. Opportunity never guaranteed their success, but it removed enough barriers to give them a reasonable hope that they could overcome the remainder on their own. (It also meant that they could fail.)
Sitting at Starbucks reminds me that, over the years, we’ve moved from opportunity to options; LOTS of options. But we’ve gone beyond that as well. “Land of Guarantees” isn’t a phrase that’s been popularized yet, but it seems to better represent our new expectations of country. We’re seeking a life with no hurts, no disappointments, no losses. We spend money on technologies and medicines to defend us from theft, injury, illness and defect. We pay for intangible “just in case ___” scenarios, securing insurances and extended warranties to compensate us when that frontline of tech and med fails. We forge political platforms, legislation and even new societal norms to prevent others from offending us; and, increasingly, we demand anything and everything necessary to insulate us from the cold realities of this present world from anyone that stands between us and it.
Is this what happened to our national pride?
No, I didn’t just spew a random question. Think about it.
Most people (I didn’t say all) got a fighting chance in the “Land of Opportunity.” We were proud of what we were imperfectly striving to become and we cherished the principles more than the material outcomes that followed. A “Land of Guarantees,” however, has no choice but to inevitably let us down. We’re simply demanding more than can be given in this world (and there is no end to our accumulating demands in sight). Is it this new, unrealistic expectation that makes the U.S. a “lesser” country than it used to be? Not altogether, but in many ways, yes.
As a pastor, I should probably touch on the spiritual side of all this. We’re now critiquing God in much the same way we’ve been critiquing our country and for much the same reasons. If he fails to grant us a material life that’s at least 90 percent as we wish it to be, well… it seems like he’s failed us.
Let’s be honest: the idea that we live in a time and place when we can even conceive of living in a material paradise says a lot that’s positive about the state of our country AND the graciousness of our God. Don’t miss it. Let’s forge toward the better while appreciating what we have. And by the way, if it’s paradise on earth you want; let’s strive together for a relational paradise, not a material one.
Steve Strombom is lead pastor at Enumclaw Nazarene Church.