A couple of years ago, I learned that the word ambivalent means “having mixed feelings or contradictory ideas about something or someone.” I realized that I have been using the word wrong before that. Since then, it keeps coming to mind. I have contradictory ideas about The Myth of the American Dream. It is a great book. I exported my notes and comments on it, and I have 66 pages, 1/3 of the book that has a comment or underlined section.
The narrative structure spoke to me because while I have never met DL Mayfield, she puts voice to many things I have felt. I have been following her writing for years, her cover story at Christianity Today on Lynching, her Washington Post piece on the revolutionary nature of Mary’s Magnificant and too many more articles to list. The Myth of the American Dream, like following her on twitter or reading her work, is about putting out her pain and desire for the world to be different, more like the kingdom of God, on display to stir up something, anything in the reader.
The Myth of the American Dream I can’t think of apart from the coincidental trilogy of books I read along with it. Along with this book, and Good, White Racist is Having Nothing, Possessing Everything. It is a couple of years old, but it has a similar structure of telling the story of how ministry, as traditionally done, doesn’t work. Both books point out the weaknesses of unfettered capitalism, and individualistic consumerism contradicts with care for the other. They have different settings, Possessing Everything is about urban Indianapolis with mostly Black and Hispanic poor communities. Mayfield’s lives in suburban Portland, with refugee communities struggling to find a place in the midst of gentrifying liberalism. Both bring up education and the problems of white saviors and real introspection about how we can harm as we attempt to serve.
With both the writing was excellent and the focus on how traditional White Protestant ministry often seeks to do for or reconstruct communities to look like we think they should instead of how God sees them. I do not know how to write about this book because I have far too much to talk about. How do I summarize nearly 70 pages of notes and highlights? At the beginning of the book, she says, ‘this is a book about paying attention.’ And that is probably the best summary. The American Dream is about not paying attention to those who are not doing well—ignoring protests or poverty, or the systems that allow some of us to have much and many others to have almost nothing. It is not about who is working hardest. I can assure you that my work is not hard, but the ‘essential worker’ making minimum wage is working hard.