My cough drops come with messages. The wrappers are imprinted, not with a description of the product or promises of relief from the pain of the interminable cough of bronchitis or the embarrassment of coughing in the middle of the second movement of a symphony, but with messages of what the manufacturers think is encouragement, expressions of what I’ve come to think of as the American Myth.
They say, “Keep your chin up.” “March forward!” “Take charge and mean it.” “Don’t try harder. Do harder!” “Inspire envy!” “You can do it and you know it.” “Bet on yourself.” “Don’t give up on yourself.” “Nothing you can’t handle.” “Tough is your middle name.” These are not good messages to receive when you’re really sick with flu or bronchitis or even a bad cold. They seem to be encouraging us to go out and spread our germs no matter how awful we may feel.
Since I’m most likely to see these messages just before my pastor begins to speak, when I unwrap a precautionary cough drop so that I won’t start coughing just as he gets to the second major point of his sermon, I’ve been reflecting on the differences between the cough drop messages and the messages of the pastor and the scripture he preaches from. It seems to me that those differences sum up pretty well how far we are from the teachings of the gospel, the good news of God’s love.
The outward signs of success in the world’s terms are wealth, power, position, the admiration of family, friends, and colleagues, the respect of those subordinate to us, the envy of those whom we have surpassed, the fear of those who wish to wrong us, the enthusiastic support of those who wish to be like us. But “the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control” (Galatians 5:22-23). Not much peace or kindness or gentleness or generosity in “Inspire envy” or “take charge and mean it.”
Maybe we need to trade in the American Myth for the reality of the Spirit.