Thursday, March 22, 2012

Getting to the politics of Easter with the Boss

In keeping with tradition (well, doing what I've done for the past few months...) here is the piece that  wrote for the church magazine's Easter edition. I shall blog at greater length about both the albums featured here.

When the papers are awash with stories about how the Christian faith is being driven to the side lines of our culture, it is heartening to switch on the radio and hear that God has taken up residence in the charts. From Katy Perry asking who she is living for and declaring that she will be taking the road less travelled in a song awash with the South Baptist imagery of her childhood to the boss, Bruce Springsteen, whose latest album, Wrecking Ball, is full of Christian imagery.

Now 63 Springsteen sings with a world weary wisdom born of drinking deeply at the well of American protest – especially Woodie Guthrie – and the Catholic faith of his New Jersey upbringing. He also sings with a passionate anger about what is happening to the world and in particular what is happening to the ordinary working people of his country in a time of recession and economic hardship. But his anger is shot through with a hope that can only be accounted for by the Christian story still firing his imagination.

So the track, We are Alive, which closes the record, begins with the line

There is a cross up yonder up on calvary hill

It alerts us to the fact that what follows might be linked to the suffering of Christ. And that is indeed the case. But the suffering he calls our attention to is that of people who have walked the way of the cross and paid the highest price for it – the dead of the civil rights movement, the unsung heroes in the struggle for justice. And the chorus, washed in the tones and rhythms of slave spirituals, declares

we are alive
oh, and though we lie alone here in the dark
our souls will rise to carry the fire and light the spark
to fight shoulder to shoulder and heart to heart

Here’s a lot missing from Bruce’s Easter meditation, but he alerts his listener to the fact that the struggle for justice and equity in our world is rooted in something deeper and richer than a merely political ideology. It is rooted in God. And we are reminded that even though we die, we will rise in Christ; there is a future and it’s radiant with God’s justice and love.

Earlier in the year, 77 year old Leonard Cohen (it’s true what they say, you know, that pop music is wasted on the young!) released a long anticipated and truly wonderful album called Old Ideas. And among the old ideas that Cohen was reviving and redrawing to our attention was that of the incarnation and cross of Christ

Show me the place, help me roll away the stone
Show me the place, I can’t move this thing alone
Show me the place where the word became a man
Show me the place where the suffering began

Four lines that nail the story of Jesus that are being played on tens of thousands of iPhones and CD players across the planet.

Easter is the rumour that God is committed to the world he made, so committed that he came to rescue it from the mess that we have made of it. Easter is the call of God for us to be caught up in the cross and resurrection of Jesus, to become part of the band of story tellers who declare that God has triumphed over evil and death, that new life is possible, that justice is coming, that all things will be made new.

And we need to be telling that story wherever we go, to our friends and work colleagues, to our neighbours and people we meet at the gym, to those we stand next to on the terraces and those who share our taste in music.

Cohen captures the hope that Jesus brings in the song that opens Old Ideas, Going Home. It’s a song that opens with the conceit that God might be using Cohen to get his message out to the world and then reminds us what that message is about

going home without my sorrow
going home sometime tomorrow
to where it’s better than before
going home without my burden
going home behind the curtain
going home without the costume that I wore

That’s the best exposition, in six lines of poetry, of 2 Corinthians 4-5, a glorious declaration of our hope, that is based on the events of the first Easter, the cross and resurrection of our Lord Jesus.

Across the charts – not to mention in fiction of all kinds and a range of movies – the rumour of God keeps breaking out. Let’s be alert to it so that when we’re talking with our friends and neighbours we are able to help them make the connections between the pop culture they consume and the God who is calling them to new life.

And if we listen carefully, we hear God calling us to get on board with his mission of working for justice and peace, of pointing to the future where there’ll be no pain or crying and seeking to bring as much of it into the present as we can.

Jesus is risen. The tomb is empty. Death, darkness and the devil are defeated. Creation is made new. And we have tasted that it’s real. So happy Easter – pass it on…


Jude said...

Just seen this on a friends FB page. I have always been a bit sceptical about the defence of "if only one person is saved it's worth it" about aggressive evangelism. This isn't conclusive but it's interesting.

simon said...

That looks really interesting. I shall take it away with me. Thanks