D.L. Mayfield – The Fantasy of the American Dream
A review of
The myth of the American dream:
Wealth, autonomy, security and power considerations
Hardcover: IVP Books, 2020
Buy Now: (Amazon) (Kindle)
Reviewed by Cara Meredith
"On the way to the goal. Do you need anything? "
I stared at the screen for a second before answering. My neighbor's text was not about actually needing something at the moment, but about neighbors being neighbors. It was really about the fact that the two of us (and the crowd of other people in the group text) actually saw, did and were who we should be with each other all the time.
A pandemic was needed for some of us, including me, to realize that being a good neighbor is not just a matter of choice, but a matter of survival. For others of us, this knowledge is woven into the DNA of our existence: whether lived or learned, there are considerations of privileges and power as well as a deep knowledge of humanity and how unjust systems affect our most vulnerable neighbors. There are also people like the author D.L. Mayfield, who exudes both one and a kind of life and learned experience. The way she, a white Cisgender woman, lives with her family alongside poor and marginalized immigrant communities in Portland, Oregon, recognizes the privilege and power that has always been hers. As such, their latest release, The myth of the American dream: reflections on wealth, autonomy, security and power is an immersive and sacred collection of essays that ask readers to see, serve, and love our neighbors like ourselves.
Mayfield invited early on: “This is a book about attention. It's about being fully alive, not just about the glories of the electric green moss that stubbornly grows between the cracks in the pavement, but also about the systems, structures, and guidelines that cloud our imagination for a world that is really hope and has good news and beauty for everyone. "(7). I think about how wildly each of our realities has changed in such a short time: large or small, I can easily see these surface level obstacles – or a version of what Mayfield might call the electric green moss the pavement that me ask, be careful – because it's closest to me. There is something more: As soon as I start looking beyond the cracks on the sidewalk to the larger systems, structures and guidelines, I can no longer Not See how these larger systems, structures, and policies benefit some, but not all.
As Mayfield writes: “… if a system works for you, but not for everyone, how can we continue to consider this system fair? Once we understand that we have benefited from the same system that has struck others, how can a follower of Christ accept this reality as part of God's plan? "(163). After all, it is almost impossible to ignore unjust systems if nearly 7 million Americans Application for unemployment benefits in one week; when the effects of a global pandemic disproportionately affect the lives of black and brown; and when Uncle Sam leads the world in the world Total number of deaths due to the corona virus. Suddenly the American dream no longer seems so bright and shiny, which is perhaps the whole point of Mayfield's essay collection: the values of American ideology – "an ideology that must subsume, consume, remain silent to thrive" (145 ) – are no longer useful (and neither were they at all). Then what does it mean to rewrite who we are in relation to God and with each other? And what does it mean to hold onto hope when hope feels as good as lost?
Perhaps we will begin by listening to the poets and prophets among us, those who keep the signs, and asking the rest of us to see and long for another world (158). Maybe we'll start with Mayfield ourselves and lean against haunting words that were written years before the thought of a pandemic:
“I have little idea what life in exile could really be like. I have little vision for a world in which faith thrives, even when church buildings fall into disuse, condominiums, or cafes. But I know that: the world is changing and we don't have to be afraid. We may have to look elsewhere for where to go. We may have to start learning, praying and singing and living in exile from those whom we have denied access to for far too long ”(140).
Though Mayfield writes about the immigrant communities in which she lives, works, and serves, her words speak a kind of prophecy about the readers: in the confusion of heavy news cycles and six feet of distance when hourly and local foreclosure signs appear, companies are getting on day by day , although the world doesn't look like the day before, we don't have to be afraid. Instead, we claim the God who sees. With a nod to the theologian Willie Jennings, we also rid ourselves of "… a sick imagination that focuses on understanding its place in the world and the suffering that it demands from others" (150). We are confronting a world that has been kind to some of us but not to all of us, a world that values values such as wealth, security, autonomy and power over everything. Up to this point, Mayfield speaks her truest reality as a white, cisgender, Christian woman. Through this lens she looks at the world, including the privilege she always had under the roof of white supremacy. Here she recognizes how individualism has grown in her classic savior complex (65), and at the same time states that the more she came into contact with … people who did not grow up exactly like me, the more the lenses of my Christian worldview began become visible ”(152). And by knowing herself deeply (and the implications of her own inclination to the myths of the American dream), she invites the reader to do the same.
But what about hope? As a writer, I was trained to use a kind of sandwich method when writing book reviews: for every three positive points, I add a bit of criticism, even if I loved the book completely. I am wrong on the side of optimism, the hope in me, who wants to celebrate and honor the hard work required to write a book – which is why I giggle when I think of the post-it note that I do some Days later, I wrote Mayfield's book: "Don't you have a little hope?" I was desperate for a glimmer of hope, the grief of the pandemic had settled in my house. All I wanted was a teaspoon of sunshine manna in my privileged, wandering desert, but what I got was a haunted and necessary dose of reality – the privilege that has always been mine when I benefit from broken fragments of the American dream .
The irony, of course, is that your book is absolutely a book of hope, even if some of us have to practice noticing a new kind of hope. Because when hope is reinterpreted under the same conditions and in a God "who gives good gifts freely and creates a hierarchical relationship to reciprocity" (52), hope itself becomes a little rougher and more beautiful than it was the day before.
As this review comes to an end, another text comes from my neighbor – and again I pause and pause, thankful not only for the fact that neighbors are neighbors, but also for how D.L. Mayfield's words ring in my ears. Although she certainly wasn't going to publish a book in the middle of a pandemic, I can't help but see how her message to learn to break free from the myth of the American dream, love others, and love God more means more than ever.