catapult magazine

catapult magazine

Vol 3, Num 17 :: 2004.10.22 — 2004.11.04


European dream

I just read a speech by the President and I don?t think I could be more impressed or excited about the future of humanity. Does that surprise you? Let me explain.

Here at Extended Grace, we talk a lot about the problems of this world. I preach a lot about the need to address social injustices and to live as a people of peace. And we take seriously our role in bringing about change. So we walk, we rally, we write, we talk, we pray. And we believe there can be a different way.

But it seems we really don?t know what it should look like. There?s much about the United States that is good and decent and we all know of other systems around the world that are much worse. So it seems this may be the best we humans are capable of?living in this gap between the American Dream and the Gospel Dream.

But as I read this Presidential address, I heard something new and exciting. Something that may even be as important as our next step of human evolution. And it comes from the President of the European Union.

The speech was given by the President of the EU, Romano Prodi. 25 countries are now part of this new economic, political and cultural entity of 453 million people. It is something the world has never seen before.

President Rodi explains the impetus behind the European Union:

The basic principle, the spark that set the process of integration in motion was the conquest of peace. And we should never forget that. For over half a century, the countries that threw themselves behind our project have enjoyed a long period of peace and concord. Today a conflict within our Union is unthinkable. And by force of example we are helping to bring peace to the rest of the continent, to neighboring regions and the world beyond. Europe?s aim is world peace.

Listen to the priority of values:

Throughout the world, the European Union must do its bit to ensure that every human being and every people can enjoy certain basic rights—the right to food, to housing, to health and security. But above all we must put all our strength and our traditions behind ensuring that people throughout the world have dignity and hope.

Isn?t this our dream as people of faith? That every person throughout the world would have dignity and hope? Isn?t this what the promised reign of the God is all about? So why isn?t it the dream of the United States? Why did our Presidential debates draw lines that say we can only help the poorest of our people by hurting the wealthiest? Why do we not share a common dream, a common goal regarding our country as a whole?

Jeffrey Rifkin has compared this vision to the American Dream?a dream that 1/3 of Americans say they no longer believe in. Excerpts from his book The European Dream appeared in Utne magazine this month. In it he describes two very different ways of seeing the world and the different consequences and opportunities they present.

The American Dream was born out of an age of individualism, the pursuit of private property and the glorification of market capitalism. The same relentless pursuit and exploitation began to take hold on Europe, but was eventually reined in in favor of democratic socialism. America now stands as the most devoutly Protestant people on Earth, the most committed to scientific pursuits, private property, capitalism and the nation-state.

For Americans freedom comes through autonomy, through not having to rely on anybody else. Freedom requires money because the more wealth one has, the more self-reliant one is. The more exclusive, the more secure. But for Europeans, freedom is found not in independence, but in interdependent relationships. Inclusivity brings security. The goal is belonging, not belongings.

And so the European Dream pursues sustainable development, quality of life, and interdependence. Preserving cultural identity and celebrating diversity is far more important than assimilation. Diplomacy is far more important than military force. And the long-term health of the EU is understood to be bound to the welfare of the whole planet.

This doesn?t mean that Europe has become utopia. Ethnic strife and religious intolerance does continue to flare up in pockets across Europe. But this model does represent a new vision for the future that is radically different from ours.

The United States once cast the vision for a future no one had imagined before. Today we still admire our own history and the country we have produced. We have been number one for a very long time and it?s hard to believe anyone could do it any better than us.

But today the European Union is casting a vision of the future that no one has imagined before. Within the next two months, the Union will sign a Constitution. And while many passages come from our own Declaration of Independence and Bill of Rights, other ideas are completely alien to our worldview.

For this constitution emphasizes a social market economy, protection of the environment, social justice, equality between men and women, solidarity between generations, and protection of children?s rights. It promises that everyone will have preventative healthcare, daily and weekly rest periods, an annual period of paid leave, maternity and paternity leave, and social and housing assistance. It forbids capital punishment and opposes genetically modified foods.

The EU is something new in human history. It?s approach to universalism makes it clear that it is focused not on A people or A nation, but on the human race and the planet we inhabit.

Luke 17:11-19 tells of the ten lepers who were healed. You can imagine the joy and the delight they must have felt. Freed from their disease, they no longer see the need for each other. So they go their separate ways. All except one who returns, who realizes that strength and healing take place in relationship, in community. When this Samaritan realized he had been healed, he did not just celebrate his good fortune; he returned to praise God and fall on his face before Jesus. And Jesus replies by saying ?Your faith has made you well.? In Greek the word is ?sozo? or whole.

Now one can be healed and not be made whole and one can be not healed and still be whole. In this story, you are the Samaritan in this story. You who have gathered here, you who have confessed your sins, who have called on God to have mercy, who have received God?s grace, who now worship with thanksgiving?hear Jesus? statement: “Your faith has made you whole.” It is in that promise that you and I can live a different way. And that is something to turn around and be grateful for!

Such gratitude doesn?t come naturally to a culture that believes it earns everything it receives. And gratitude may be the purest measure of one?s character and spiritual condition. The American people consider themselves very religious, and the Europeans don?t. But as I read about the European Dream and contrast it with the American Dream I have known so intimately, I have to wonder how much do we as a religious nation actually live the Gospel?

We are people of faith and people of faith care about the rest of this world. We seek our own wholeness to be sure, but we also know that we cannot experience wholeness without each other. The question we continue to ask as we proclaim the Gospel Dream is not, ?What do I believe?? but ?What differences does it make that I do believe??

I am excited by what I read coming out of Europe because it seems to me that they are leading the way in the next step of our human evolution, and we will have no choice but to follow—even if it?s in their wake.

Barbara Zielinski is the Mission Developer at Extended Grace in Grand Haven, Michigan.

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