To Be a Nation

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[Note: The following is a reprint of the weekend edition of the Braver Angels Newsletter, originally published April 18, 2021. To receive the newsletter in your inbox, sign up here]

This is a sacred time.

What would it mean for us to be a nation? What will it take for us to become one?

We are nation now of course. At least technically. As Americans we share an economy, a government and a history.

But do we share an identity? Do we share a common foundation of values? Do we look towards a mutual horizon of human aspiration? Or are we unknowable to each other and therefore beyond the embracing arms of understanding and reconciliation?

The high drama of 2020 would seem to be behind us. Though cases continue to rise in certain parts of the country there is reason to be hopeful that deaths related to Covid-19 will continue to fall as vaccinations spread. While unemployment remains higher than it was in the months before the pandemic the overall numbers of unemployed Americans continues to diminish. There are things to be thankful for at this moment in American life. It is good to acknowledge them.

Yet America waits with baited breath as we look towards the future. It is a future as uncertain today as it was six months ago.

It is not merely apprehension over new episodes of police shootings of unarmed Black men. It is not mere fear of riots in the streets, and the potential for more if the trial of Derek Chauvin produce a verdict widely viewed as a miscarriage of justice.

It is not simply fear over the implications of record shattering public debt, the possibility of a stock market crash, or our anxious waiting for the day that we can all take these masks off again.

For all of these problems there is a deeper uncertainty underlying the anxiety of the American people. It is a recognition of the fact that, while it seems likely that our culture wars could go on forever, it is equally evident that an America utterly consumed by her culture wars cannot do so.  

Are we on our way to meeting the great challenges of voter confidence, systemic injustice, climate change, immigration reform, media bias, gun violence, or any other major national problem that may concern you beyond the taming of Covid-19?

Or is it more likely that the furies that drive us will leave us broken and divided in a nation that no longer bears the promise of fulsome human dignity and prosperity to the generations we leave it to?

I for one still believe that the American people, in our heart of hearts, yearn for the day wherein we may each of us believe in the integrity of our institutions because we trust in the intentions of one another. I believe that the American people hope for the day when we can have faith in our neighbors; a day when none of us feel targeted by society by virtue of the color of our skin, or deliberately starved of social dignity simply because of what we believe…even when we believe with the best of intentions.

That day will not come before we have unearthed the ground upon which we may grow our shared identity as Americans. That day will not come before we have uttered an understanding of the deeper we yet may share. That day will not come until we have learned to understand one another, and have learned to learn from one another. But when that day comes, we will truly be a nation.

This is the work of Braver Angels. This is the cause that moves us forward.

We have a couple of unique podcasts for you that expand the conversation over the work of bridge-building and the means by which we may bring people together.

First, Braver Angels music ambassador Alma Cook joins Braver Angels CMO

Ciaran O’Connor for conversation with two veterans of stage: Anthony Moseley and Dr. Marcus Robinson. Together they run the Collaboraction Theatre Company in Chicago, which weds dramatic art to dialogue and social change. Hear about their unique methods hear on The Braver Angels Podcast:

Can Theatre Bridge the Divide? A Conversation with Collaboraction Theatre Company
“What theatre and music allows us to do is to slip away for a moment and dis-armor, and reveal the soft belly of the animal we call ‘my self.'” -Dr. Marcus Robinson

Meanwhile, in case you missed it, Braver Angels director of debate and public discourse April Lawson welcomed Sarah Anderson, author of The Space Between Us: How Jesus Teaches Us to Live Together When Politics and Religion Pull Us Apart, to a conversation that shines light on how the gospel teachings empower her to be a forces of human connection across divides.

This is a sincere and spiritual conversation. You may find it illuminating:

Depolarization and Faith: How Faith Can Help Us Reach Across the Divide
“…we have a tendency of doing one of two things when it comes to peace. We have a tendency of thinking we can ‘force’ peace…make everybody think the way that we want them to think…or we can ‘keep’ peace and pretend that the differences aren’t that big of a deal. Jesus says to ‘make’ peace…we’ve got to find a third way…a narrow way, if you want to talk about scripture.” – Sarah Anderson

Dialogue and debate are not the only means by which we may reach one another in interactions that deepen our understanding of each others humanity. If you are available this coming Wednesday the 21st at 8pm EST we invite you to join a conversation with Lexi Hudson (founder of Civic Renaissance), Philippa Hughes (founder of Curiosity Connects) and April Lawson exploring the ways in which art may transcend our divides.

I suspect it will be a beautiful conversation. Register below:

America’s Public Forum: Can Art, Philosophy and Beauty Heal Our Divides?
Where do you see America as heading? Are you hopeful for the time ahead? How do you see Braver Angels role in shaping a better American future?

I’d love to hear from you. I can’t always respond to each of your emails. But I am always grateful to know what you think about the challenges facing our movement and the country we strive to serve.

Until next week,

-John Wood, Jr.

National Ambassador

Braver Angels

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