What do you think of when you hear the phrase “American Dream”?
It usually means that if a person works hard and keeps their nose clean, they will achieve anything they want. Much of the nation’s history, and the theology that has arisen from the church in America, stems from this belief.
An often-unspoken reality of this dream is that it has not always been available to everyone in the U.S.
For various ethnic minorities who came to America willingly or unwillingly, for women who were treated as second-class citizens, and for other groups, the American Dream has not always been something good or attainable.
This realization has caused me to ask, “What if a person’s life is not as good as it could be due to how my personal desires and actions affect them?”
An example of this question in action is found in the life of King Solomon who started out as a good and godly ruler, but his aspirations for grandeur began to negatively affect the people he ruled.
In 1 Kings 5:13-16 and 1 Kings 9:15-23, we read that over a 20-year span Solomon forced various people groups to participate in multiple building projects that seemed to occur for the specific purpose of adding to his reputation and stature as king.
The first was the Temple, which took seven years to build, then the king’s palace, which was almost as huge and as palatial as the Temple. Rebuilding several cities that had previously been destroyed during military conflicts under King David would follow.
Aside from the plans that God gave Solomon’s father, King David, for the building of the Temple, it seemed everything else Solomon built was based on what he thought would improve Israel’s standing among other nations and lead to potential partnerships with other nations that would benefit his kingdom.
This was reflected in how the Queen of Sheba responded when she visited him. She was thoroughly impressed with not only Solomon’s wisdom but also with the physical stature of his construction projects.
History tells us that other leaders were even more impressed with the construction of his throne, which apparently was the first of its kind to move via a pulley system.
While these actions do not negate the good that Solomon did in God’s name and for his nation, they do shed light on the fact that Solomon used people who did not necessarily want to be involved to build his kingdom.
Even in doing the Lord’s work and trying to improve the standing of Israel, Solomon made choices that negatively affected people that had not done anything to him.
In the end, it was decisions like these that led to a divided kingdom and people actively plotting to overthrow him.
When I think about the American Dream, I cannot help but remember that, among other things, our nation was formed in protest to this type of leadership and these types of forced labor practices.
This brings us back to my original question: What should I do when I realize that I am the person making someone else’s life hard?
Is the appropriate response to ignore their pain and continue to live into “my right” to experience life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness?
If God’s desire is that I should fashion my life according to Jesus’ example, then the so-called American Dream should not be my first concern.
Being a successful American does not equate to being a good Christian.
Being a good Christian requires that I see beyond myself and the hopes of my nation or political tribe. That is what Jesus meant when he insisted that we love God and love others as ourselves.
In loving others as we love ourselves, we begin to understand that we do not only travel through life with people who are like us and are from our tribe.
Instead, God invites us to be in relationship with people who are different from us and those we feel most comfortable with. In setting our comfort aside, we get a glimpse of what God’s future kingdom will look like.
Editor’s note: This article is part of a series this week for the United Nations International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination (March 21). The previous articles in the series are:
What a Day It Would Be If We Did It | Starlette Thomas
Beyond Symbolic Posturing about Eliminating Racial Discrimination | Wendell Griffen
The Micro and Macro Faces of Racism | Chris Smith
White Nationalist Christianity Distorts Gospel, Perpetuates Injustice | Miguel De La Torre
A pastor, author and educator living in St. Louis, Missouri, he is the author of several books, including The Gospel According to Broadway and Taking Apart Bootstrap Theology: Gospel of Generosity and Justice.