Tuesday, May 02, 2006

Bruce Springsteen and Apocalypse? Some of you might remember my earlier post on Bruce Springsteen, which recalled that he had told the New York Times last year, “I realized as time passed, that my music is filled with Catholic imagery.” Since then, I hope that you have listened to Springsteen's new album, We Shall Overcome: The Seeger Sessions, and even been moved by his renditions of such songs as "Jacob's Ladder" and "Oh, Mary Don't You Weep." I've just read an article in the Asbury Park Press ("The Jersey Shore's Biggest and Best News Source!") by Michael Riley, who, besides being a staff writer is an ordained Baptist minister. He observed a recent rehearsal show at Asbury Park's Convention Hall and noticed how Springsteen sequenced songs to construct a narrative. Springsteen followed "How Can a Poor Man Stand Such Times and Live?" - as if to answer the question in the song's title - with "Jacob's Ladder," a song that reminds us, in Riley's words, that God "has not forgotten nor forsaken Jacob or us." The "way up" is a gift of God's grace but also requires our effort: "Every rung takes us higher," Springsteen sings again and again. Rev Riley says that we are reminded that we can hope for a new heavens and a new earth, and this is what gives us the strength needed for "answering God's call, accepting his gifts and working for the justice and mercy he requires of his children." At the close of the concert, Springsteen and his bandmate Mark Thompson alternated lyrics in a muted performance of "When the Saints Go Marching In," "Some say this world of trouble, is the only one we need/But I'm waiting for that morning, When the new world is revealed." Here's a longer excerpt from Michael Riley, staff writer and Baptist minister, linking together the unlikely topics of Springsteen and apocalypse with two repeated words from the Gospel song, "Keep Your Eyes on the Prize." "Hold on," Springsteen sings again and again, and in doing so, he moves his traveling chautauqua/tent-revival show into the world of apocalyptic literature. Most of us hear the word apocalypse and think of the visions conjured up in the last half of the Book of Daniel and in the Revelation of John: visions of world-ending battles, blood-soaked bodies stretching for miles. The skies darken and redden, filled with fierce armies of angels doing battle against monsters and dragons, while the stars fall and the world ends. It is theology as science fiction. But those images almost miss the point of apocalyptic literature. Apocalyptic literature is written during times of hardship and persecution of those who see themselves as God's people. The fantastic and befuddling images are code, meant to keep the true message out of the hands of the powers that be, those with the whips and chains. And the true message is simply and inevitably this: The world seems to be spinning out of control. Justice is a myth, and life is filled with sin and pain misery. But God still is in charge of history, he still loves his children and is working even now to deliver them from evil and bring them home. Apocalyptic literature is a tract for hard times, and the message at the heart of it is simply: "Hold on." And that is the message Springsteen and the Seeger Sessions Band are evidently going to bring night after night on the current tour, which will make stops in New York and New Jersey in late June.

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