Saturday, April 21, 2012

Kicking at the darkness till it bleeds daylight

I have finished Brian J Walsh's wonderful Kicking at the Darkness: Bruce Cockburn and the Christian Imagination (Brazos Press 2011). It serves both as a great introduction to Cockburn's music - constantly sending me back to the CDs - and as an elucidation of Walsh's approach to worldviews (articulated elsewhere in his books with Richard Middleton).

What Walsh does particularly well is to help the listener get an over-view of the key recurring themes in Cockburn's music. He reminded me that we don't judge whether an artist is Christian on the basis of each creative product - I've lost count of the number of times Christians do this with U2 albums, tutting that a swear word there or an expression of doubt here signals the moment Bono lost his faith. A Christian artist looks at the world and reports what he's found in it in the light of his attempts to follow Jesus.

Cockburn has spent forty-plus years and 32 albums exploring the darkness and looking for glimmers of light and echoes of God within it. He has also wrestled with what the human calling is in 'the falling dark'; a call that is summed in the great phrase from Lovers in a Dangerous Time 'you've got to kick at the darkness till it bleeds daylight' (from where Walsh gets his title).

Walsh helpfully brings together common themes and images in the songs, shows how ideas have developed over the years and indicates that while Cockburn struggles with the label Christian (and who doesn't in this post-colonial, post-Christendom age?), he never ceases to be a witness to Jesus and his values in our messed up world.

This is a book well worth adding to your 'must read' lists. If you're a fan of Cockburn, it'll send you back to the songs with a fresh wonder; if you're not a Cockburn fan - where have you been, what have you been listening to? Read it, it'll make you want to work your way through the Canadian master's entire output.

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