Archive for Bruce Springsteen

Advent Calendar Day 24: The Ghost of Tom Joad

Posted in Music, Religion with tags , , , , , on December 25, 2012 by bradellison

So here we are, on the night before the day.  It’s cold, maybe, up in the hills outside of town, and lonely for the handful of roughnecks sitting around a campfire passing a bottle, hoping no sheep stray tonight.  The streets are crowded, the inns are crowded, the bars are going to be crowded too, and tempers fray some and there’s quiet grumbling about invasive bureaucracy out of earshot of any occupying troops, who are doubtless doing their own grumbling about being stuck out here in one of farthest-flung and least-hospitable backwaters in the Empire, far from the sights and sounds and smells of home.  Even a woman about to give birth right there in an innkeeper’s courtyard can’t get a room or a bed on a night like this.  In Bethlehem tonight, everyone is a stranger, even if your bloodline runs right through the great warrior-bard himself, and the descendants of the Conquering Lion of the Tribe of Judah make do with what they have, which is a feeding trough out of the way.  This night, the world isn’t much different than it was in the Hoovervilles John Steinbeck painted in The Grapes of Wrath, and it isn’t much different than it is right now.

This is where the miracle happens, and that’s not by chance.  No, this universe is a chaotic one as far as anyone can see, unfolding as it seems according to a series of rules we’ve only just begun to try and understand, but by my faith this is also a universe given shape by stories, and this is one of the dramatic climaxes of the story of stories.  If the Storyteller were a hack, this occasion would be marked by explosions and pomp and elephants and circumstance and marble backdrops and excess; a Cecil B. DeMille spectacle.

God knows there’s a time and a place for that kind of thing.  He also knows there’s a time for smaller and more intimate glories.

This story’s climax has a young couple holding their newborn son close.  A handful of ranchers seeing something beyond them, something too wonderful for understanding, in the face of an infant.  A young mother storing these things in her heart.  These are the kinds of moments John Steinbeck had a mastery of, simple joys and simple hardships of simple people.  Like any master, he came close to capturing the fire with which the Almighty imbues the thing itself.

Maybe there’ll come a time when this mother has to weep for this child, when the holders of temporal power become too scared to do anything but rip him open.  Maybe, as she stands there on Skull Hill watching the blood drip from his body and into the dead earth, she thinks back to the night she first held him in her arms.  Likely she doesn’t understand, because how can she, how can anyone?  But she endures, because she’s a tough woman from tough stock, born to toil and hardship, and she knows at least part of how special her boy is.  And three days later, maybe it won’t be that overwhelming a surprise when she sees his tomb standing empty.

Steinbeck surely had the Galilean carpenter and his mother in mind when he wrote Tom Joad and his mother, saying their goodbyes in the California night.

“Then I’ll be all around in the dark – I’ll be ever’where—wherever you look. Wherever they’s a fight so hungry people can eat, I’ll be there. Wherever they’s a cop beatin’ up a guy, I’ll be there… I’ll be in the way guys yell when they’re mad an’—I’ll be in the way kids laugh when they’re hungry and they know supper’s ready. An’ when our folk eat the stuff they raise an’ live in the houses they build—why, I’ll be there.”

Hear the Word of the Lord God, oh Israel, because this promise is made by the life and death and resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth, as well.  So if you want to look for the Nazarene today, if you want to catch a glimpse of the King and Kings, Lord of Lords, Fruit of the Seed of David, Conquering Lion of the Tribe of Judah,then you’d best look for him in places like these, because you’ll find him, with his callused hands and his scarred wrists, standing right beside the ghost of old Tom Joad.

Advent Calendar Day 10: Eyes On the Prize

Posted in Music, Religion with tags , , , on December 11, 2012 by bradellison

Let’s get heavy again.

Keep it in mind, brothers, that Jesus’ story doesn’t end with him still in that manger.  There’s liberation and radicalism and blood and prisons and whips and lynchings and slavery and destruction to come after.  Jesus’ story isn’t ended even yet.  Won’t be, until every hill and mountain’s made low and every valley exhalted.  Celebrate the birth, not of the infant, but of the man.

In the time he walked the earth, Jesus preached a total inversion of the natural order.   Preached the triumph of the meek, and the downfall of the proud.  Preached the beatitude of the humble and the downfall of the wealthy.  Preached loving your enemies, preached repaying evil with good, preached the casting aside of blades and greeting your enemies with open arms.

it is very, very important that we remember this, because the Christianity that exists in this world has been proven to adapt itself to the shape of this world, turning away from the shape of the world to come.  How can you tell the difference?  At street level.  If you see two sides to a thing, and one side’s in uniforms and the other’s in rags, or one side’s got power and the other side hasn’t, one side has more than enough and the other side less, if one side has a bloody face and the other side has bloody knuckles, well, you can tell right there in that moment which side Jesus would be standing on.

He told us himself, in fact that he was standing on that side.  “I was naked, I was hungry, I was in prison.  As you did to the least of them, you did to me.”  If that thought doesn’t send at least a small flash of righteous horror down from your lizard brain and out through your spine, I put it to you that you haven’t been paying enough attention.  Jesus paid in blood and bone so that he’d be bound into it wherever blood and bone are paid, and he rose up again afterwards so that all the other sufferers could rise up too.

Rise with him.  Never stop asking Charles Monroe Sheldon’s question, and don’t let fear nor sloth nor greed blunt the honesty with which you answer it, and act accordingly.

Advent Calendar Day 4: Jesus Christ

Posted in Music, Religion with tags , , , , , on December 5, 2012 by bradellison

Great American bard Woodie Guthrie was a tireless voice in the wilderness his whole life, crying out for the poor and the oppressed and preaching against fascists, plutocrats, and anyone else he saw doing the oppressing.  He also helped lay the foundation for modern American folk music, invented the concept album, and established a powerful musical legacy that endures to this day, and will endure when we who read these words today are to dust returned.  He walked the dusty roads between Oklahoma and California, learning the songs of the folk who survived the Dust Bowl, and he sang what he saw.

When Guthrie turned his hand to explaining what Jesus meant to him, he borrowed the tune from a ballad about another murdered outlaw, the guerilla terrorist turned bandit Jesse James.  Another man who took the side of the poor over the side of the downpressor man (so the legend goes, anyway), and was betrayed by a comrade.

As for the words, Woodie Guthrie told the story the way it felt to him.  As a communist in Depression-era America, Guthrie saw Jesus in a certain context.  I don’t doubt that, if Guthrie ever tried visualizing what those old-time Israelites must have looked like in the days of the Roman occupation, his mind’s eye took inspiration from the Okies he knew travelling those lonesome western highways.  I don’t think this instinct could have possibly led him too far astray from the mark.  The Christ of the Gospels is a Christ of dusty travel, lonesome spaces, weary companions, and hard-biting loneliness sometimes, a man of a hard time in a hard land full of hard and hard-worn people.  Certainly, the final verse rings with prophetic truth.

This song was made in New York City
Of rich mans, and preachers, and slaves
If Jesus was to preach what like he preached in Galilee,
They would lay poor Jesus in His grave.

Don’t doubt it.