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Harrisonburg: The conflict between the American Dream and living in Jesus

Story by Laura Lehman Amstutz

“It is impossible to follow Christ while fulfilling the demands of the American dream,” said Leonard Dow, pastor at Oxford Circle Mennonite Church in Philadelphia, Pa. He addressed students, faculty and staff at Eastern Mennonite Seminary in Spiritual life Week services, Sept. 23-25.

“All upward mobility is resistant to the way of Christ,” said Dow in the opening chapel service. He described his upbringing in North Philadelphia and the temptations he faced to follow the values of the television show, “The Jeffersons,” and keep “moving on up” in society.

Using a translation of John 1:14 from “The Message” by Eugene Peterson, Dow described how this is exactly opposite to the way of Christ: “‘The message’ says, ‘The Word became flesh and moved into the neighborhood.'” He described Christ’s downward mobility and the way Christ continually reached out to the disenfranchised around him.

“Jesus’ call to discipleship is not about being a little bit Christ-like,” Dow said. “Jesus called us individually and as a body to be living Christs.”

In a special chapel titled “The Selfless Way of Christ- the Temptation to be Relevant,” Dow preached from Luke 4:1-14, the temptation of Jesus in the wilderness. He described Jesus being tempted to turn rocks into bread as an enticement to be relevant, to do something productive.

“The world would have us believe that achievements are the most important aspect of who we are,” said Dow. “But not in God’s eyes.

“There is a temptation to run our churches like a business,” he continued, “because we want to be relevant and be able to measure our success.”

“Our primary goal is not to be relevant,” said Dow. “Our goal is to be significant.”

Dow concluded the series by speaking on “The Selfless Way of Christ – the Temptation of Excess,” focusing on the temptation to be powerful and the temptation to be spectacular.

“We like the spectacular,” said Dow. “We desire God to be spectacular but we lose sight of God in the ordinary. We need God to dwell with us in the ordinary.”

Dow also cited the temptation to seek power.

“We say to Christ, ‘I want to be more like you, except the difficult parts,'” Dow said. “As followers of Jesus, I want you to allow the Lord to reign in your lives. It isn’t enough to imitate Jesus or to be inspired by Jesus. To confess Jesus we are to be living Christs here and now, in our time.”

Dow is a 1987 graduate of Eastern Mennonite University. His chapel messages are available online as podcasts at

Spiritual Life Week is an annual event at Eastern Mennonite Seminary. In addition to hearing a guest speaker, students and faculty participate in a Wednesday afternoon retreat to discuss the theme for the week.

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