The Myth of the American Dream: Reflections on Affluence, Autonomy, Safety, and Power, By D. L. Mayfield
The Myth of the American Dream
  • Length: 216 pages
  • Dimensions: 5.5 × 8.5 in
  • Published: May 05, 2020
  • Imprint: IVP
  • Item Code: 4598
  • ISBN: 9780830845989

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>2020 ECPA Top Shelf Book Cover Award

Publishers Weekly starred review.

Affluence, autonomy, safety, and power. These are the central values of the American dream. But are they compatible with Jesus' command to love our neighbor as ourselves?

In essays grouped around these four values, D. L. Mayfield asks us to pay attention to the ways they shape our own choices, and the ways those choices affect our neighbors. Where did these values come from? How have they failed those on the edges of our society? And how can we disentangle ourselves from our culture's headlong pursuit of these values and live faithful lives of service to God and our neighbors?

"Simply excellent! A wonderful mix of captivating personal experiences, biblical teaching, and probing structural analysis. Mayfield gently draws us in as she candidly shares her doubts and struggles, and she vigorously challenges us with her powerful summons to see and change systemic injustice. Unless the evangelical world begins to understand the fundamental critique of this book and truly repent and change, we do not deserve to continue to exist. A must-read."

Ron Sider, distinguished professor emeritus of theology, holistic ministry, and public policy, Palmer Seminary at Eastern University, author of Rich Christians in an Age of Hunger

"In my work with immigrants to the US, I find most came in search of some combination of safety from persecution, opportunity to escape poverty, and freedom from oppression—all motivations consistent with the human flourishing that characterizes God's kingdom. In the US, however, these good desires that define many immigrants' 'American dream' have too often metastasized as we have turned safety, affluence, power, and autonomy into idols to be sought at all costs, even when—sometimes subconsciously—these pursuits have excluded others. D. L. Mayfield's beautifully written and provocative The Myth of the American Dream makes a compelling case that God's dream for the world is much grander than our culturally ingrained idols."

Matthew Soerens, coauthor of Welcoming the Stranger, US director of church mobilization for World Relief

"Three pages into The Myth of the American Dream I was reminded that D. L. Mayfield is an unapologetic truth teller devoted to loving her neighbors. She has a prophetic voice, and like all prophets, she speaks the truth while reminding us God loves us. That is why we are invited not to a life of charity but of solidarity and advocacy with those on the margins. In her book, we learn ethics matter, integrity matters, and we cannot say we love our neighbors while supporting an empire that exploits and discards them. With humility and honesty, she guides our imaginations toward a powerful vision of a life lived according to the economy of God, one of justice and flourishing for all."

Karen González, World Relief, author of The God Who Sees

"The American dream, a common developed theology, tucked deep inside the myth of America's founding, saturates every system in America from politics to education to the church. This so-called dream is perhaps the most widespread and deepest held religion in our country. D. L. Mayfield examines the myth and exposes it in wonderful juxtaposition to the real Jesus of the Gospels, who is good news to the poor and disenfranchised. I wish every American, regardless of how much they believe themselves to have separated themselves from the national religion of Americanism, would read The Myth of the American Dream. This may be the most important book you read for some time, and it is especially urgent that you read it now!"

Randy Woodley, author and speaker, distinguished professor of faith and culture at Portland Seminary

"D. L. Mayfield is one of our most important contemplative writers. Her meditation on the myths we live and the better story Jesus offers is hearty soul food for all who hunger for justice. Eat this book. And like any good meal, share it with those you love."

Jonathan Wilson-Hartgrove, author of Revolution of Values

"This book is most welcome as both a challenge and an inspiration to live out our lives as Christians first and Americans second. The conflation of the US church's spiritual identity with our political identity and the persistent pursuit of affluence, autonomy, safety, and power have become toxic to our followership with Jesus Christ and incapacitated our ability to live out and express to a watching and waiting world what the gospel is all about. This book doesn't just startle us out of our misaligned pursuit of the American dream but also points us to a better way of how we can love God and love our neighbors in tangible ways that demonstrate to a broken world that Jesus indeed calls us to an upside-down kingdom. I'm grateful for D. L.'s ongoing commitment to her neighbors and for her experiences that she weaves into this timely and important book that ultimately points us to a better way of hope, community, and healing."

Jenny Yang, vice president of advocacy and policy, World Relief, coauthor of Welcoming the Stranger

"Christians looking for a list of things to do to address privilege, affluence, and white supremacy should not read this book because D. L. Mayfield does not offer pithy, easy answers. This is not a self-help book for dealing with guilt. She offers us her failures and questions, challenges us to consider how our lives and faith have been shaped and misshapen by the myth of the American dream, and invites us to interrogate our beliefs and lives. What a needed invitation."

Kathy Khang, author of Raise Your Voice

"D. L. Mayfield is a fierce truth-teller, and The Myth of the American Dream is proof of that. This book confronts us with the demons of white supremacy, our own demons, and asks what we're going to do about them. This book reminds us that our lives are more than our own and that we are required to ask how to be better partners to one another in community. This is a book the white American church needs right now."

Kaitlin B. Curtice, author of Glory Happening and Native: Identity, Belonging, and Rediscovering God

"This trenchant Christian critique of American exceptionalism provides an essential, passionate interpretation of the ideals of egalitarianism."

Publishers Weekly, starred review

"In this latest work, Mayfield explores four basic values of the American dream through a series of short essays: affluence, autonomy, safety, and power. . . . The author succeeds in beginning the conversation of widening American Christianity to include those traditionally excluded."

Library Journal, Ray Arnett, May 2020

Read an Excerpt


Introduction: The Myth of the American Dream

Part One: Affluence
1. The Walls of Rome
2. Who Is My Neighbor?
3. Getting Curious
4. Low, Low Prices
5. How Not to Be a Millionaire
6. Lament for the Land
7. True Generosity

Part Two: Autonomy
8. Liberty
9. The Names We Give
10. Fresh Paint
11. What Is Education For?
12. Paying Attention to My Neighbors
13. The Hospitality of Exiles

Part Three: Safety
14. The Odds
15. Mary, or We Can Never Be Safe
16. The Ship of the Doomed
17. Good Seeds
18. Waking Up Sad
19. The Happiest Place on Earth

Part Four: Power
20. Empire
21. Billboards
22. The Pioneer Mind
23. Signposts
24. Monuments and Memorials
25. Learning from Exiles

Epilogue: How to Live in Empire


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D. L. Mayfield

D. L. Mayfield is a writer and activist who has spent over a decade working with refugee communities in the United States. Her work has been published in McSweeney's, The Washington Post, Christianity Today, Christian Century, Sojourners, Vox, and the Englewood Review of Books. She is also the author of Assimilate or Go Home: Notes from a Failed Missionary on Rediscovering Faith. She lives in Portland, Oregon, with her husband and two children.