Casualties of the American Dream

Pioneer Woman Collecting Cattle Dung, Kansas, c.1880Every dream has its price.

Some of the costs are obvious, while others sneak up on you, gradually.

In the name of progress, as Henry would say. That would be the Henry of Henry and the Great Society, which I highly encourage you and your families to read online. (simply follow the above link)

Just what is the American Dream about these days?  Material prosperity is a thin reflection masking a sorry fact–the bigger your house/car/TV, the more hours you’ll slave paying them off so that you can upgrade to even bigger homes, bigger cars and bigger HDTVs.

Is this truly “the American Dream”? Having “House Beautiful” and Pioneer Woman Getting Water from a Well Near Her Log Cabin, Carolinanever being on the premises to enjoy it? How about working two jobs just to sustain this poor substitute of “what really matters”?

Henry’s story tells it all. How contented he was before progress swept him along its mad rush nowhere…forever erasing life as he’d known it before electricity, plumbing, paved roads and cars, telephones and TV dinners.

If you’ve ever wanted to plant yourself in the lives of your grandparents, get a taste of the “good ole days” by reading Henry’s story. What must it have been like to upgrade and go “electric”, to be done with “outhouses”, wells, draft horse farming–to buy into the promise of having “more time” as a result, but in the end, having no time at all. It all sounds so good–time-saving appliances, tractors and cars, the world at your very fingertips via radio, television and telephones…and it benefited Henry’s wife and children right out of his life.

What really arrested my attention near the end of the book, was this statement:

“Society’s way of life…killed him with kindness; liberated him into slavery; prospered him into poverty; freed him into bondage. They reduced him to a tool of his tools; a beast of burden in his own carefully created harness.”

Hopefully I haven’t ruined the book for you, because it is a must read. I actually borrowed Farmer John’s copy, completely intrigued by his comment that it was the only book, other than the Bible, that he’d ever read to his congregation in its entirety, from the pulpit! Great essay potential for your children at the very least.

There’s more to life and it’s. not. worth. missing. So slow down and enjoy it. Or can you? Slow down?

12 thoughts on “Casualties of the American Dream”

  1. I am one of those people who want the simple things in life. I do want a new house though, but not some monster house that would take years to clean, but definitely one that is not in the ghetto or hood, no leaks, no cold walls, etc.

    Other than that, I am happy with my old 1996 blazer and Pontiac, when hubby gets it running again. I don’t have a fancy cell phone, I don’t even text much to all of my friends chagrin. I still have a home phone which is my primary phone. I buy things in clearance, Goodwill and rummage sales.

    What I do wish, though, is just a tad more money. Just so I could visit my mom and sisters. My niece is two today and I have never met her! That is the hardest thing.

    Leticia’s last blog post..A porn industry bailout? It’s laughable…

  2. What fine critique. I love the pictures, I have some from my Mom’s day of a similar look that these would fit right in with for sure.

    A lot of the experiences mentioned of the days gone by like the draft horses, no electric services, no running water (other than foot running from the pump to the house), and outdoor toilet, etc. were a part of your Mom’s life along with her brothers and sisters.

  3. Your poetess daughter has a real way with words. Sometimes the words just fly into your heart and you MUST get them written down before you lose them. Thanks for including the wonderful poem. Be sure she keeps her copy in a safe place. Words, rightly said, become paper bread to those who respond to them.

    Hi Sister Ruth, I remember that cold path to the outhouse. I remember once a week baths and then not much more water than to cover the bottom of the tub. I remember getting up at 4:30 to help milk the cows (with a machine, thankfully). I remember helping weed the beans. Good memories now that they are memories!

  4. Leticia, I understand what you’re saying, I feel it in my heart the same way. I have family on the West Coast that we rarely get to see, and only if they do the traveling. Sometimes I think how nice it would be to not have to let money get in the way. I do know where you’re coming from, it doesn’t seem that long ago that I was living in a small trailer house, wishing for a place to grow roots. I think we all long deep down for a return to simplicity, some of us are just trying hard and busily to create simplicity…and achieving the opposite.

    Aunt Ruth, you’re right, you guys did experience “progress” firsthand! Since I was kind of an afterthought, born later in mom’s life, I always think of her generation as younger than they really are. I do remember visiting my paternal grandparents’ home and having to use the outhouse (they had relatively new indoor plumbing but didn’t trust it–so we still had to use the outhouse!!!)…I was sure shuddery every time I entered that dark old outhouse!

    You know, mom, I’d forgotten about that poem, so was super glad I’d posted it here on the blog way back when. I still need to grab my oldest and show it to her. Wonder if she remembers it? She used to write songs and poems to Jesus all the time. :) Are you feeling better tonight? Seems like forever since I’ve heard your voice!

    MaryAnn, exactly!! And it hits too close to home sometimes!

    Mary’s last blog post..Casualties of the American Dream

  5. We highly recommend “Henry & the Great Society” to all who yearn for the simple life. We recommend families read it aloud to their children annually. Reading it a chapter or two each evening before bedtime, then discussing its ramifications has proved life changing to many. The story is convincing and convicting. I read it in two long sessions to a rapt audience of families who sat quietly pondering its message. It had a profound effect on our congregation.

    Because the book contains so much scriptural based truth and illustrates so much of the principle “for whatsoever a man soweth, that shall he also reap,” (Galatians 6:7) it’s an accurate but tragic commentary on our times, though the setting is many decades ago. How far we’ve come as a society since Henry’s day – how far we’ve drifted from God’s ways to become a nation of debtors, self-sold into the bondage of materialism – affected and infected by the “spirit of the age.” Christians who read it, find themselves identifying aspects of their lives with Henry and his struggles – and the reflection isn’t becoming. It brings us up short to see the reality of the cost of following the world, even unconsciously, and losing our families along the way.

    I recently wrote a tract entitled “150 Years of Progress.” It was specifically aimed to coincide with several local town celebrations that were noting that milestone. In it, I noted the technological progress of 150 years, but pointedly reminded the reader of the subsequent drift downward and away from the ways of God. Henry’s story was the background context that prepared me to write. The tract could be adapted to fit most any such historical celebration. We were able to pass out several thousand of them along parade routes to those who gathered for those celebrations.

    Americans are richer than 97% of the rest of the world, yet for the most part, have never learned the secret of contentment. The more they have, the more they want. It is a self-destructive cycle as played out in the story of Henry.

    “For we brought nothing into this world, and it is certain we can carry nothing out. And having food and raiment let us be therewith content. But they that will be rich fall into temptation and a snare, and into many foolish and hurtful lusts, which drown men in destruction and perdition. For the love of money is the root of all evil: which while some coveted after, they have erred from the faith, and pierced themselves through with many sorrows.” (I Timothy 6:7-10)

  6. Another verse for that materialism problem is ‘Man’s happiness consists not in the abundance of things which he possesses’. I think of that a lot.

  7. Sure glad you shared your thoughts about Henry, John. We really felt badly for the poor guy, and I know it’s something my oldest still brings up from time to time, when we discuss money or debt. And that tract you wrote was really good. My husband doesn’t normally pick things up like that to read, but I had it sitting out on one of our end tables and it grabbed his interest! 😉 I can see how Henry’s story influenced it now.

    Thanks for sharing these verses, you two! They’re perfect reminders for all of us.

  8. I think that the gist of your post makes a very valid point. I’ve often thought through the whole “why don’t we have more time with all of our technology and devices” question, and it always come back to the same answer. We don’t have more time because we can wring more time out of the day with our devices.

    If we looked what was accomplished in times past in a day, we’d see that it took longer to do wash, but that you could talk with your family while you did it. It took longer to plant crop and work the land, but you did it with family. Your days were full, but they were full in a different way.

    Things can get done faster today, but that doesn’t mean that we redeem the time to relax, we find things to fill it. And most of these things isolate, rather than build relationships.

    And we wonder why families go in different ways.

  9. Exactly! With all our “free time” we “isolate” rather than build relationships. That’s one reason I am not bringing Wii into our house, or Xbox or other addictive computer games of which there are so many I can’t even keep them all straight. I hopefully learned this lesson in childhood by playing too many Nintendo games with my nephews…always after the next level up.

    Having internet access is isolating enough…

  10. As wise as I can presume, the term “american dream” is valid NOT only for those, who live within USA. It’s a kind of metaphor, which means smth like: “there were a guy, who had nothing, but then he came to USA, and within 4 years he become of the most reach guys in the world”. Practically, this “dream” does not mean, that you have to leave all the things that you love to do and start working days-and-nights. To my mind, it just doesn’t worth it. Ok, you will be a perfect employee and in 10 years you will have a car/house/whatever-you-want. But you will loose 10 years of your life. And you will never have the possibility to buy those years for all the money u’ll earn.

  11. Exactly. I don’t think anyone after the “American Dream” thinks the workload will stick and take over their life…but the cycle of debt and more debt, and getting sucked into the credit card trap…it can happen overnight. And then you’re stuck. Not worth it to me either.

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