Spirit Alive: What Does Being Better Off Really Mean?

Spirit Alive is a twice a month blog that looks at different aspects of mission and ministry throughout the Oregon-Idaho Annual Conference of the United Methodist Church and beyond.
February 14, 2017

Food for the Soul:

Reinventing the American Dream

As Lent approaches, many Christians will contemplate what they should give up during this season as a part of their spirit practice. Others, focus more on what spiritual discipline to add to life in order to draw nearer to God. But another way to think about life not only during, but also beyond the Season of Lent is to consider this question: How much is really enough?
I continue to have the privilege of reading amazing books written by contemporary writers who are helping the rest of us better understand and come to grips with the emerging future.
One of these excellent and insightful books is called The New Better Off: Reinventing the American Dream. It is written by Courtney Martin.
As the jacket cover states: "For the first time in history, the majority of American parents do not believe that their kids will be better off than they were. While some may see this as sad, Courtney E. Martin reads it as a provocation: better off based on whose standards? Americans today are constructing a completely different framework for 'the good life,' using new metrics that TED speaker, author, and columnist Martin has termed collectively the 'New Better Off.'"
I find Martin's book to be an encouraging, insightful, and wise book that we can all learn from. Let me share a few things she says in her book:
"It's up to us to reclaim the best of what previous generations did that made this country so unique and beautiful-- as well as to own up to the destructive legacies that we're a part of, to expose them to the light, and to figure out how to fix them. It's up to us to be humble, to be brave, to be accountable to our own dreams, no one else. It's up to us to be iconoclastic, to be together, to stay awake."
"...The average American family earns slightly less than it did in 2000. So it begs the question: many of us may be earning less money, but are we doing worse? I don't mean financially worse, but emotionally, physically, spiritually, communally, existentially worse. I mean the kind of worse that matters most when you're lying on your deathbed and looking back. We all see the benefit of building up our savings, but how do you know when your focus on doing so has become overzealous? How do you catch yourself when the pursuit of a bigger paycheck distracts you from the people you love and the activities that give you the most joy or meaning? How do you know when you're simply earning enough?"
"Ritual is the container for our confusion. It's the prompt for our reflection. It is the necessary moment when we hold our humanity up to the light and examine it, forgive, give thanks, give up, get witnessed, stand awed, admit confusion, make promises, and love out loud and in front of people in sometimes powerfully embarrassing ways. And more and more, we're doing all this not dictated by tradition but inspired by it, not in obedience to authorities but in organic craving for acknowledgement, not in fear but in love."
"Am I living with integrity? Do my values and my actions align? Am I who I believe myself to be? Our daily lives are structured to provide us with a million reminders of the small stuff-- the overdue parking ticket and the dishes in the sink and the meaning we attach to both that makes them larger than paper and water and ceramics. We sweat it all. We produce. We achieve. We churn. We pass out. We wake up and begin again. And then, every once in a great while, in the average adult life, there will be this little break in the already scheduled program....It seems to me that the only way we can plan for these moments, or at least approximations of them, is by being in community and by creating structure within that community that invites the big questions to come out of the shadowy hiding places in our over-scheduled, self-important lives."
Martin's entire book is filled with wonderful insights such as these. I'd highly recommend this great resource to you. And if you'd like to hear what she has to say, check out one of her Ted Talks at:
Let us walk in the light of God's love,
Spirit Alive is a twice a month blog and email by Rev. Lowell Greathouse, Mission and Ministry Coordinator for the Oregon-Idaho Conference. It seeks to identify where the spirit is alive in our congregations and communities. Check out past editions, or subscribe to the email list.


Lowell Greathouse
Lowell Greathouse is the Mission and Ministry Coordinator for the Oregon-Idaho Conference of the United Methodist Church. He looks for places to find where the spirit is alive and help them grow in vitality and fruitfulness. Share with him at lowell@umoi.org