A Recurrent Theme
Oh yeah I know, I know. The title at least got you to stop for just a second for a couple of reasons didn’t it? The number one reason is of course because you know me, and so you might be just a little worried as to whether or not I have finally gone off the deep end (a distinct possibility). After all, the blog is about my cracked up life right? And as a result, you might be thinking that perhaps someone should come check on me. After all, depression does run in my family, but also the American family I might add, and I do write about it—a lot. Or at least you can say I’m very “authentic” in that I am indeed an “open book” about what I’m thinking and feeling at any given moment. And by golly, if you’re going to read anyone who claims to actually aspire to be a decent writer and not someone who just compiles information in complete sentences, then real is what you should damn well get!
The second reason that you lingered around perhaps is because well…the great philosopher and crooner John Cougar Mellencamp himself penned these lines years ago in the song Jack and Dianne, and like me, I bet you just loved that song didn’t you? I mean who didn’t? I can remember when I first listened to the song and got past “does his best James Dean” and “dribble off those Bobbie Brooks slacks and let me do as I please” and then got to the chorus; I said “Yea, I get it”, and then just moved on each hundred times I listened in. I then got a little older and it stuck some more, so I gave it a brief meditation or two beyond mere reminiscence and again moved on. Fast forward to the year 2017 at age 52, it’s now kind of my theme song. But let me explain.
You know there is one thing I’m learning in life that seems to be more and more undeniable: it’s that most people really don’t like the truth. They don’t like to hear it from you directed toward them to be sure, but they don’t really like to hear your own truth about yourself either–especially if it’s negative in nature. After all it’s the American way you know to keep your “poker face”. We got to be positive all the time, MAKE IT HAPPEN, keep moving forward, and keep “pushing up the hill”. All good stuff to be sure. However, did you ever wonder why it seemed so much more effortless and somewhat natural to say that for most of your life, but then all of a sudden, when you reach middle age and beyond, it becomes MUCH more difficult—that is, if like me you have not yet achieved your part of the ever delusional American Dream. I mean think about it. We all hear the great stories of those who rose from dire straights to get their piece of it, and now they are filling up concert halls, writing New York Times bestsellers, have built multiple streams of income or who are shall we say “financially secure”. Or better yet, perhaps they are just stinking filthy rich. And I’m no hater. Heck no. Man I applaud that stuff. Hell, I even pray for it for myself and for others, and still try to “be all I can be”, take my fat butt to the gym at least 3 times a week, try to watch what I eat at least 85% of the time, know when to say “when”, and even continue to learn and grow as best I can. It’s much harder now to be sure, but there really doesn’t seem to be much alternative quite frankly if we are still going to be residing on planet America.
Buying Into the Dream
However, I can remember when I first started trying to really be single-minded and focused (since I am by nature the ADHD poster child), and started really trying to get a good education, prioritize my plans and goals, and actually tried to organize my life around some sort of mission statement and purpose in search of my own version of an American Dream. I’d read about those who made a bunch of money in business and then used their wealth and influence later on to help the poor or something noble like that and this really motivated me. I worked really hard and aspired to be like this, and I even listened to those I loved tell me I was just the type of guy that could actually make that happen. And I’ll have to say, it’s quite an aphrodisiac, and it got me up everyday to try again and again. Then I hit my forties, and it was like a speed bump that I could see was just ahead. And like good speed bumps should do, it definitely slowed my game down. I began to see my mortality a little more up close and personal, and realized all too well that I was in no way invincible, and in fact was very volatile in a variety of ways that made me quite unsure of my footing in the world. And then 50 came and hit me like a sonic boom! And while I would read stories and hear about all the guys my age who were still in their supposed prime of their masculinity and strength, and who still made their lady swoon and seemed to have life by the proverbial cajones, it became clear to me that my gene pool may not be so kind. For sure, I knew what to do about what I could control (when I felt like it), but the scary part was all the new challenges that began to multiply like Gremlins all around me, that I in fact could not control in the least.
I had even desired to be a spiritual director of sorts: someone who could lead others on the narrow path with Jesus. Someone who could not only point the way, but navigate through it victorious on the other side. Yet it seemed that at least every other day, I had more questions than answers, and the thought of leading others seemed at best a fruitless prospect and perhaps even a laughable notion. I awoke everyday however realizing that even though I sometimes lacked what others needed from my life spiritually, nonetheless I had to keep striving to “make it” (whatever that means) in the natural world: a world that gave me only morsels of its anticipated success, but yet kept constantly the real entree at just an arm’s length.
After all, success inside this American Dream is tricky is it not? It seems that’s what we’re all striving for in America isn’t it? It’s our birthright, and to some they think it’s actually their God-given right. Everything we do is for the purpose of getting ahead, building a nest egg and forever plodding onward in that great quandary called “the pursuit of happiness”, yet most of us are never really finding it. And to be sure there is only so much room at the top. Now to be sure, those with wealth, if their head and heart is in the right place, can have a possible advantage toward this path, even though the Bible tells us that the pathway to heaven for the rich man is filled with all kinds of toils and snares and “eyes of the needle”. Nonetheless, that doesn’t seem to keep any of us who call ourselves followers of the way from desiring it also for ourselves. In fact, we say we’d like both, but again very few of us are competent to juggle the two. In fact, we’re not juggling it very well even in our futile quest for it, and we are indeed finding rightly so that if that elusive pursuit is all there is, then John is right, and the thrill of living is indeed gone.
Time to Get a New Dream
I think lately that I’ve come to the conclusion that God often allows us to work through this opaque looking glass for a very distinct reason: So we will realize that it is abysmally far from the way, the truth and life that He offers us. In fact, Ted Dekker reminds us in his groundbreaking book The Slumber of Christianity echoed from the wisdom of Solomon himself, that eternity is bound up in the heart of man, and that man’s real reward will be in heaven, NOT on earth. And in fact, he reminds us that this earth will mostly only yield disappointment, especially when this temporal existence becomes our sole preoccupation. And to be truthful here, I must say this is a hard lesson for us to learn. We are by nature habitual creatures that continue to be sidetracked by repetitive quests for the attainment of perishable fools gold rather than the imperishable promise of abundant and even eternal life that we can’t see with our earthly eyes. The reason is because the pursuit of the eternal is not always tangible or palpable in the way that we would have it, or that has been described by those who peddle in gospel particulars on any given Sunday. It is nonetheless real, but it is otherworldly real, and that’s a world we haven’t given much time to exploring in, until often times the natural world stops us dead in our tracks for its abrupt contemplation as the final curtain calls.
And so, the reason Mr. Mellencamp speaks as he does, and why we especially resonate with the song in our later years as to its unadulterated truthfulness, is because we realize that if this is all we now have in our bag of tricks, we are indeed magicians caught with our pants down when it matters most. I for one am now coming to the stark realization, though I would be mocked as credulous by the intelligentsia of our increasingly Brave New World, that when Jesus says that He is the way, the truth and the life, that He was actually serving up real gold for those who would mine for it and make it their primary vocation. Perhaps the man who found treasure in a field no one else knew about and sold everything in order to purchase that field was onto something. And perhaps if you are finding that the thrill of living is indeed gone for you, then like me, perhaps it’s time to liquidate and buy a field.
 Dekker, Ted. The Slumber of Christianity: Awakening a Passion for Heaven on Earth. Nashville, TN: T. Nelson, 2005. Kindle.