The Myth of the American Dream by D.L. Mayfield
For the past 3-4 years I have had a book on my heart to write. Not ever having done a writing project, and being deathly afraid of critiques, I took notes, blogged a bit, preached a series with the beginning ideas of the book, and generally avoided doing more.
I grew up in the 70s and 80s. My college years were the mid to late 80s. I grew up in a fundamentalist/Pentecostal church and went to a denominational school to study the Bible, theology, and missions. I also found the writing of Chuck Colson in the late 80s and was constantly challenged by his thinking. He wrote of a post-Christian America and how we needed to shift paradigms.
My thinking from that point on never “fit” with my upbringing… exactly. My formation early on happened in the Reagan years and being “pro-life” was IT. But in the late 80s, something changed. I began to SEE the poor. I studied thoroughly in Scriptures, making a years long study of the poor and marginalized.
In all of that, even as a pastor, I did not speak out nearly as much early on. By the time I was ready to… my denomination had radically shifted to an even harder “right wing” stance and I knew I was on my way out. Even without any sort of audience I still feared writing what needed to be said.
Enter D.L. Mayfield. From what I gather in her personal insights in her latest book The Myth of the American Dream I would guess she is about 10 years younger than me. And she writes with the ferocity I have felt.
The book I was going to write had a working title of “Living in Babylon.” It was about the cultural shifts and how ill-prepared the American conservative church was for this shift (a la Chuck Colson) and how we needed to prepare NOW for those shifts.
Mayfield has written that book. She has worked to bring down the curtain and expose, with fierce passion, the desperate situation we have in the American church.
Walter Brueggemann, an Old Testament scholar, calls the prophets “poets.” Mayfield gravitates to the term “poet” for her life. She’s right. AND she is a prophet. She raises the prophetic voice I need in my own life. She is the prophetic voice needed in this time.
This book goes directly at main pillars of American myth: Affluence, Autonomy, Safety, and Power. In each section she raises awareness how each of these “dreams” work well for the majority culture (which is white… spoiler alert) and is still a fantasy for people of color. In her work, she has spent years with immigrants, so a lot of the stories are with immigrant families.
The beauty of Mayfield’s work is she is not writing to simply “tear down America.” She is seeking the Kingdom of God…and quite often finds the principles of the Kingdom among the marginalized.
I could write another review of her book with just her quotes, but here are few to raise your body temperature a bit:
White evangelicals like myself are uniquely unprepared to engage in issues from an institutional or systemic perspective.
The myth of the American Dream comes in many forms, but its most basic iteration goes like this: anyone can make something of themselves if only they try hard enough.
The antidote to these myths is to consciously remember those who are not writing the history textbooks.
(This last one stood out because just in the last few weeks Attorney General Bill Barr was asked in an interview how history would look back on the Trump administration and he said, to paraphrase, history is written by the winners. So, pretty favorably.)
We need the voice of D.L. Mayfield. Her writing is passionate. She seeks the Kingdom of God and challenges what gets in the way. She is here to tear down strongholds and her words are taking no prisoners.
It is May 2020 when I write this and I can easily say this: This book is one of the best books I will read this year.
I wish I had her gutsiness. I am grateful she wrote the book I needed to write because this one is far superior.