Ed Friedman before he died almost finished a book published by his children posthumously called "The Failure of Nerve." He accurately identified a dynamic of our society in which safety has become such a popular issue that nobody wants to take risks anymore. It's gotten bigger than just that, he notes. People make lots of money making people feel safe. We've become a nation of anxious people run by those who will calm our anxiety without letting us face it, for that is what we prefer. We're run, therefore, by the most anxious people rather than the least.
I saw an example of that on the news recently. Mayor Bloomberg of New York said of the car bomber that was thwarted (and I paraphrase,) "This is New York. If you go around worrying about what the next threat is it will paralyze this town. What do you want us to do, close the streets, close the subways?" That's not a failure of nerve, that's a call to have nerve. It was good to hear him say it.
On the other hand, Frank Graham has made a name for himself for voicing anti-Muslim rhetoric. If you just change the name of the god invoked he sounds eerily like those against whom he spouts. Here is someone who is capitalizing on our fear. Are extremist Muslims dangerous? Yes, of course they are. But are extremist Christians dangerous, too? Yes, of course they are. Why why throw stones to hide your hands? Both extremist positions are expressing anxiety without naming it or facing it, and giving people excuses to live out of their small selves rather than their larger (to use Christian terminology) redeemed selves.
Jesus calls us to love our enemies and do good to those who hate us. Friedman was a Jew, but he explains Jesus' words beautifully. It takes nerve to love one's enemies, it's just cowardly to spit at them from behind the wall.
Recently there has been documented an increasing movement on the part of parents to refuse to vaccinate children. That's not nerve, that's stupidity. The only losers there are the children who merely become repositories for deseases that have been largely contained. Nerve is the courage to do what's right, not what one happens to want.