What Is a Sacred America?

In this June 2, 2009 photo, the Statue of Liberty is seen in New York harbor. The crown is set to open July 4 after being closed since shortly after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks. (AP Photo/Richard Drew)
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The following is excerpted from Sacred America, Sacred World by Stephen Dinan, published by Hampton Roads Publishing.


A very great vision is needed, and the man who has it must follow it
as the eagle seeks the deepest blue of the sky.
—Crazy Horse


In our current era, America has developed a mixed reputation: innovative, idealistic, and bold on the one hand; wasteful, arrogant, and self-interested on the other. When we add the term “sacred” in front of “America,” many people who are committed to positive change might fear a kind of righteousness that blinds us to our shadows, inflates our sense of self-worth, and rails against whatever is not “sacred.”

I have just the opposite in mind. For me, sacred is a term that recognizes the dignity, divinity, and wholeness in literally everyone and everything. It binds us together in the mystery of life and links us into a single human family. In a truly sacred world, no one is ultimately our enemy. A sacred worldview recognizes that we are all children of divinity, albeit children who forget our shared parentage and squabble over inconsequential matters.

We then connect the term “sacred” to America. America means many things to the world, ranging from a shining city on the hill that flies the flag of freedom to a feared military empire. At our current stage of development, we are a complex mixture of high ideals and selfish motives, great generosity and shocking apathy. We achieve breathtaking things that few believed possible but then are often triumphant about our greatness in a way that blinds us to our shadow.

Much can be said about the current state of America’s character, but perhaps the most central is that America has a pioneering spirit, always experimenting to find something that works better, never resting solely on our past, constantly seeking the newest frontier.

We are not a country that stagnates for long; America is a roaring engine for evolution, which is evident in everything from our go-go startup culture to exhilarating breakthroughs in entertainment.

It is that spirit of innovation, adventure, and possibility that needs to inform this exploration of what happens when “sacred” and “America” come together. Sacred America is more than part of a book title. It’s a call for us to reach for our highest destiny as a country. We are called to explore new frontiers politically, economically, and even spiritually, not just in service to our own citizens, but in service to the world. Our experiment in building a free and democratic society can help to break the shackles of others who remain fettered. The story of America aims us toward a truly noble future, one in which we help finally put to rest the horrors of the past millennia, from slavery to hunger to war.

A sacred vision for America is thus one in which America is helping to advance the next stage of planetary evolution out of a sense of compassion, service, and dedication while modeling the changes that are needed first within our own borders. As the most influential superpower, America’s leadership will be essential to successfully address our collective challenges. We can choose to be a champion of breakthroughs, leading the way to new global solutions. Or we can resist, focus only on our interests, and become seen as a self-centered empire builder, which may precipitate our decline, like self-enamored empires of the past.

If we choose wisely, we can help midwife a new kind of peaceful and prosperous planetary culture unparalleled in history. To do so, though, many shifts will be required in how we see ourselves and our role in the world. We’ll need new approaches to public problem solving and reformed structures of government, better systems of education and deeper forms of community, innovative approaches to diplomacy and integrative models of healing, sustainable businesses and lower-impact lifestyles. The list of shifts is vast, but I believe they can be synthesized into a new dream of what America can still become, along with specific strategies to make such a dream real.

A new and improved American Dream can put in motion deep shifts not only in our social and political systems, but also in the growth of our citizens. Without a more educated, enlightened, creative, and healthy citizenry, political and economic reforms will flounder. Reforms that fail to address the maturation of our citizens will likely fail. That’s why the evolution of America cannot be separated from the evolution of our citizens, which in turn requires a vision that inspires us to grow still further.

And so we start the next phase of our journey into a truly sacred America (and ultimately, a sacred world) with a vision, which is like a homing device we place in our future that magnetically draws us forward. When we envision the future with vivid detail, we begin to activate that vision in others and attract the resources necessary to bring it into being. The suffragettes envisioned a future in which women were the political equals of men, despite all the historical evidence to the contrary. Those who abolished slavery knew that a freer future for African Americans was possible, again despite hundreds of years of the opposite. Those visions helped them weather the setbacks of the day and move our country forward.

Standing in today’s America and looking forward into a 7.0 future, I vividly see us contributing to the creation of a world that has evolved beyond war. Some day, children will read in their history books of millions dying in vast battles over territory. They will open their eyes wide, asking their parents, “Did people really used to do that to each other?” As part of creating that future, I envision America evolving from the greatest military power in the world into the greatest peacemaking power. We will lead the way in training the peace leaders of tomorrow—the facilitators, social engineers, artists, psychologists, healers, and teachers who will be on the front lines, defusing conflicts before they metastasize into wars and healing wounds before they fester.

I see a future in which America has dramatically shifted from consumer wastefulness to become a model for sustainability, powered by clean energy and efficient use of resources. I see us taking full responsibility for our contribution to climate change, for cleaning up our extraordinary land and beautiful seas, and for preserving pristine (and vital) ecosystems. I see us becoming a powerhouse of green innovations, catching up with countries like Germany to play a leadership role in the new “green collar economy”1 that creates abundance, opportunity, and jobs while easing our impact on the planet. I see thriving communities built on these new technologies that are sustainable, livable, and whole.

In America’s future, I also see us leading the way in health care, reforming hospitals to integrate holistic approaches to health and teaching effective methods of self-healing, as well as creating sophisticated education and media programs that shift our habits around lifestyle, nutrition, and exercise.

I also envision an America in which we have better balanced the vital dynamism of free markets with the wisdom of social and environmental safeguards, ensuring that the companies that deliver great products and improve our world are the engine that drives not just our economy, but the entire world’s. I see America embracing reforms that ensure corporations are even more accountable and transparent in a way that lets markets reward the best not only in serving us products but in serving all the stakeholders in our society. And I see us putting the incentives and safeguards in place to ensure an economy that truly has opportunity for all.

In this future vision, America will have taken seriously the importance of healing our history with Indigenous people and African Americans. I see a climate of respect, dignity, and honoring, as well as fair and equal treatment within our systems of justice, which will increasingly focus on restoration rather than retribution, cutting our prison populations to a fraction of their current size.

I see this shift in our justice systems freeing resources for empowering more of our young citizens with quality education that prepares them to be responsible, creative, and contributing members of society. I see an education system that takes seriously the need for social and emotional-intelligence education as well as training in the skills to become a good marriage partner and family member.

Finally, I see America leading the way in the emergence of new, vibrant structures of democratic participation on a global scale, with governing bodies that ensure the global rule of wisdom rather than war. This will be part of a shift from a paradigm of global dominance to one of collaboration, in which America’s leadership does not derive from overpowering others but from honoring all voices in creating a cohesive and peaceful global community. That vision is achievable if we choose to make it so. Making that vision real is the foundation of this entire book.



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