By Mark Rodgers

The 2018 Grammys recorded one of its lowest ratings in years, 19.8 million viewers, down 24% compared to the 2017 Grammy Awards. The 2018 Super Bowl will be the most-watched television event of 2018, with over 110 million viewers tuning in.

The 2018 Grammys may have been one of the most political ever, with artists making statements about racism, sexism, equal pay, victimization, Dreamers, suicide and, of course, Donald Trump. God was mentioned, with Kesha’s “Praying” the most compelling, but in general, He was watching and not on the stage.

The 2018 Super Bowl was a snapshot of America, of Boston and Philadelphia, of Belmont and Fishtown. It celebrated our diversity, while showcasing our strengths. Its few political moments fell flat, and although the Martin Luther King speech was inspiring, the Dodge ad was rightly criticized for its tone deaf context. Eagles Pederson and Foles’ acknowledgement of God, however, did not feel out of place, and in the context of Toyota’s ad about religious diversity, ironically felt very American. Even Justin Timberlake got in the game with a halftime show that seemed to celebrate rather than violate our sensibilities.

It feels like a pivot. And it’s time for our creative class to consider whether the culture would be better served by content that draws us together, rather than pulls us apart.

We all know that the players on the field in Minneapolis came from families and communities that represent the racial, social and economic diversity that is America. They are actors in a story that sports uniquely can tell.

Madeleine L’Engle said, “Stories make us more alive, more human, more courageous, more loving.” They also can make us more faithful.

Much of the work at Clapham is to explore where stories can show us a way forward together, especially stories that speak to our souls.

This past weekend we opened the stage adaptation of Babette’s Feast in Portland, ME.  It was written by a Dane in English for Americans. It is a story of us, of the other, of hospitality and of grace.  And it makes its viewers more human.

I was reflecting on the power of story as I watched the President’s State of the Union speech.  What was it about the speech that felt … grown up?  Hopeful?  Even inclusive?  It wasn’t his words, it was the stories of the people that spoke louder than them.

It felt like a pivot.

We have been in a dark place, but as Martin Luther King said the night before he was assassinated, “We maintain hope for a brighter morning, even during our darkest nights … that a new day is on the horizon! I know, somehow, that only when it is dark enough can you see the stars.”

There is a groaning in our national soul. For something better, for something healing. We want to call out our better angels. We want to celebrate acceptance and tolerance as well as our families and faith. We want to pursue the common good as well as our individual endeavors. We want to do better as a nation. We want to pivot.

I am hopeful. I’ve been accused of naïveté, but I would rather live life believing that we can lower the sharp elbows and smooth the rough edges to, God willing, not just shake hands but hold them.  

In the same speech, King prophetically proclaimed, “Like anybody, I would like to live a long life. Longevity has its place. But I’m not concerned about that now. I just want to do God’s will. And He’s allowed me to go up to the mountain. And I’ve looked over. And I’ve seen the Promised Land. I may not get there with you. But I want you to know tonight, that we, as a people, will get to the promised land!”

Heaven and Earth. He was, of course, alluding to both. I believe that our better angels, following God’s lead, can take us there.