Amanda Gorman, Bruce Springsteen and Healing the Soul of the Nation
“It’s no secret. The middle has been a hard place to get to lately. Between red and blue. Between servant and citizen. Between our freedom and our fear. Now, fear has never been the best of who we are. And as for freedom, it’s not the property of just the fortunate few; it belongs to us all.”
So says Bruce Springsteen in his memorable Super Bowl Commercial. In bold relief, the commercial presents a national and personal vision that contrasts with the violent images of January 6, the divisiveness of white and Christian nationalism, three months of fake news regarding the election outcome, and the polarizing and demonizing of differing viewpoints. It calls us to find a creative and inclusive middle as a prelude to healing the soul of the nation.
Amanda Gorman describes a “chorus of champions,” embodied by two “ordinary” people living out their vocations with “extraordinary love.” Two champions, a warrior-educator and a health care professional, simply following the better angels of their nature. Simply trying to embody what Alfred North Whitehead describes as “the best for that impasse,” God’s aim relevant to the concrete limitations of the world in which we live. We honor them, the poet says, but they also honor us – caring for our wellbeing, sacrificing for the healing of communities, and calling us to share in their visions.
Superbowl poems and commercials have their limitations, and we can recognize these limitations without disparaging the vision toward which they aspire.
God is the ultimate realist, pragmatist, relativist, and idealist. God inspires us by the far horizons of truth, beauty, and goodness and invites us to embody the spiritual and moral arcs of history in our time and place. The embodiment of God’s aim in the concrete limitations of life requires holding the ideal and pragmatic in creative tension, looking toward the far horizon and yet embodying God’s vision one step at a time, especially in the maelstrom of political decision-making and the realities of a politically, racially, religiously, and economically pluralistic society.
Springsteen’s “The Middle” is the not the final goal of our political and personal efforts, but it is a starting place, provoking a radical change in our current political and inviting us to be part of a quest to heal the soul of the nation at this moment in history, committed to discerning best for our nation’s impasse at this moment in time. Challenging us to listen and share, to accept diverse positions, to look for penultimate solutions while gazing at the far horizon, and then to move forward toward a more perfect union step by step, decision by decision, following of the higher angels of our nature, toward the realization of that more perfect union of liberty and justice for all. Amanda Gorman recognizes that the nation – and dare we say, the world – is healed one action at a time. Her poem is a rallying cry to do ordinary things with extraordinary love, to do something beautiful for God wherever we find ourselves, as Mother (Saint) Teresa says. Alfred North Whitehead asserts that “every event on its finer side introduces God into the world.” In fact, “the world lives by its incarnation of God…[Accordingly] every act leaves the world with a deeper or fainter impress of God,” who “passes into his [sic.] next relation with the world with enlarged, or diminished, presentation of values.” (Religion in the Making, 149, 152). Commercials and poems are finite and limited, and so too, by the way, are our theologies and philosophies. Still, we must look for wisdom and guidance where we find it. Amanda Gorman and Bruce Springsteen remind us that ordinary people can be healers and that we can choose partnership and common ground over polarization and violence. Moment by moment and day by day and political policy by political policy, we can choose to go beyond ideology and self-interest to concern for the community, challenge to the nation, and loyalty to the planet. Discerning and embodying the best for that impasse personally and politically in the concreteness of history, we take our role as healing the soul of the nation and the planet. +++ Bruce Epperly is a Cape Cod pastor, professor, and author of over 60 books including “Process Theology and Politics,” “Love in a Time of Pandemic,” “Mystics in Action: 12 Saints for Today,” “Walking with Francis of Assisi: From Privilege to Activism,” and “God Online: A Mystic’s Guide to the Internet.”