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The ‘Boss,’ the pope and a church in Lebanon

A scene from Jeep brand’s 2021 Super Bowl NFL football spot depicting Lebanon, Kansas. The town purported to be the middle of America, and finding the figurative middle of America is what will help the country heal.
Rob DeMartin, Jeep brand via Associated Press

It sounds like a setup for a joke, but last weekend the unlikely combination of the ‘Boss,’ the pope and a church in Lebanon may have connected the dots for a solution to the crisis of contention and contempt that is crippling the country.

During a Super Bowl where the play was less than competitive and the majority of commercials less than inspired, the “Boss” Bruce Springsteen came to the rescue — not with his singing but with a message for America. In a commercial for Jeep, Springsteen’s distinctive voice called on the country to meet at a church in the middle — literally.

There is a tiny chapel in Lebanon. Well, Lebanon, Kansas, that is purported to sit exactly on the geographical center of the United States of America.

The Boss begins, “All are more than welcome to come meet here in the middle. 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. Whoever you are, wherever you’re from, it’s what connects us, and we need that connection. We need the middle.”

The call was not to the mediocre middle, nor to some sort of national group hug. The call was to the kind of courage that forged the nation, that brought people from around the world to this country to unite around the common principles of freedom from oppression and the freedom to pursue the possibility of big dreams and in a big land. It was also a call to recognize the interconnectedness and interdependence we have as residents of local communities and citizens of our country. “Out of many, one” is not just a nice slogan; it is a call to higher ground.

Half a world away in Rome, Pope Francis had convened, as is tradition, all of the ambassadors to the Holy See. This annual assembly provides the pope the opportunity to share what he believes lies ahead in the new year as it relates to the Holy See and the nations who have formal diplomatic ties. Pope Francis met the ambassadors in the Hall of Benediction in St. Peter’s Basilica.

It wasn’t surprising to any of the ambassadors that Pope Francis spent considerable time reflecting on and recounting the ills and negative impact of the current pandemic.

The pope also shared a series of issues, including crises relating to health, environment, economics, refugees and terrorism. He spoke also of a crisis in our politics. “The democratic process,” he said, “calls for pursuing the path of inclusive, peaceful, constructive and respectful dialogue among all the components of civil society in every city and nation.”

Not content to leave the issue as purely political, the pontiff surprisingly declared an even more troubling trend, “the crisis of human relationships, as the expression of a general anthropological crisis, dealing with the very conception of the human person and his or her transcendent dignity.” The possibilities of every human and human relationship begins with the recognition of the divine dignity found in others.

He then issued what he believes is the antidote to all the calamities of the day, saying, “I am convinced that fraternity is the true cure for the pandemic and the many evils that have affected us. Along with vaccines, fraternity and hope are, as it were, the medicine we need in today’s world.”

I have yet to hear a single cable news commentator suggest that sisterhood and brotherhood could really cure the many crises the country faces.

The physical disconnection from the pandemic has produced potentially dire consequences for humanity. Emotional and empathetic distance have been brewing in our deteriorating civil society for decades. Pope Francis emphasized, “Even as we seek ways to protect human lives from the spread of the virus, we cannot view the spiritual and moral dimension of the human person as less important than physical health.”

It is only in rediscovering the sorority of sisterhood and the fraternity of brotherhood that we will reconnect to the common good of community and the global neighborhood of humanity.

Which leads us back to the Boss and the little church in Lebanon: “We just have to remember the very soil we stand on is common ground, so we can get there,” Springsteen said. “We can make it to the mountaintop through the desert, and we will cross this divide. Our light has always found its way through the darkness. And there’s hope on the road up ahead.” The ad then ends with a powerful dedication: “To the ReUnited States of America.”

Perhaps the messages from the Boss, the pope and the church in Lebanon, Kansas, can remind us of the simple and essential need to treat each other with true fraternity. As is usually the case, most problems in life or organizations are people problems — relationship problems. Curing the current crisis of relationships through fraternity, compassion and interconnectedness is a quest worthy of our most noble effort.

The verb “crown” means to invest with regal dignity and power. The realization of our national plea for God to “crown thy good with brotherhood” and sisterhood from “sea to shining sea” will represent the highest achievement of humanity and the best of this country we call America.

Being a nation worthy to receive such a crowning investiture of goodness and true greatness will likely begin in the middle of the nation: physically, figuratively, emotionally and politically. In the middle we will discover the essence of who we are and what we can, individually and collectively, become.

Crowned with brotherhood and sisterhood, we can restore regal dignity to the nation and ultimate power to a united people.