I listen to albums like most people watch movies.
So that I can listen without interruption, I set aside time to do this. Been doing it since I bought my first album in the eighties. It’s never wasted time. Sometimes I listen over and over and over. More often than not, I stop at the end and take the end of the album as the end of the listening and go do something else entirely with those notes still circling in my head, now more clear.
So when I wrote The God of the Mundane, I would listen to albums straight through while writing. A little Josh Ritter, some Gaslight Anthem. Dylan. Anything with a story to tell. But mostly I listened to Springsteen’s Darkness on the Edge of Town.
I honestly cannot remember if it was intentional or not.
Springsteen’s songs and his album, Nebraska had been favorites for years. But a few years ago, I starting listening to Born to Run and Darkness alot. I’d finish listening to them in chronological order and know I was listening to something profound. Born to Run, his breakout album, with all it’s passion and energy and youth and need to escape was perfect for sweaty summer nights. And then Darkness, that tour de force of understanding and taking the world as it is and packing some of those dreams away into the attic.
It was probably natural that I’d gravitate towards Darkness while writing a book about ordinary life and all the concerns of those who think it is not enough. Only the writings of Eugene Peterson were more influential.
So the question – why…how could a Springsteen album be so influential to a pastor writing a book?
Fast forward, Wendy.
All weekend I’ve been reading a new biography of Bruce, courtesy of the library. Once I got to the part where he started making albums I began listening to the albums as I’m reading about the recording and the touring for each one. When I got to the chapters dealing with the drawn out sessions of Darkness, I read the following – In the plangent “Racing (in the Street),” the triumph turns out to be the struggle itself, and the questing spirit that can fill the most mundane life with a kind of sanctification…”
Nearly every adult at some point stands neck deep in their own adulthood and has to reckon with the compromises it demands. Is this mundane life meaningful? Does God even care? And the internal fight between is this all there is? and should I want something more? can rage for years on end.
Springsteen is no believer. But his songs helped me see where people are. Something I honestly never cared to see while I was a pastor. I was too concerned with getting people to do something…anything to see the pain within. You worried about something so small as your work? Well, don’t waste your life then wondering and do something big for God.
Seriously. That’s no exaggeration.
It is very tempting for men and women to look back over their lives and wonder if it all mattered. The desk-job repeated every day. The diapers. The minivan over the sports car. Shoes over concert tickets. Home over happy hour. And it is just as easy to dismiss those concerns with so much coldness in the name of calling people to commitment.
And so I wrote the The God of the Mundane because I didn’t think pie-in-the-sky Christianity was any good at dealing with this. These aren’t people that need to work harder on their faith. They need an Object of Faith that cares about all the ordinary.
The “radical movement” is a call for escape – a baptized version of Born to Run. Maybe. Regardless, there are far too many voices telling everyone to do something else…be something else…live somewhere else.
But that’s just hollow talk to far too many –
She sits on the porch of her Daddy’s house
But all her pretty dreams are torn,
She stares off alone into the night
With the eyes of one who hates for just being born
They need a God who can infuse meaning in the middle of their mundane existence. They need a God for right where they are now.
The evangelical party line is that Jesus accepts people right where they are. But for the most part it’s a bait and switch. At least it was for me. I never really cared about where they were beyond wanting people to no longer be there. Whether they were unbelievers or just not doing well emotionally/spiritually, I was only prepared to diagnose the problem and move them on as quickly as possible.
Nothing to see here.
But there is much to see. And understand. And Springsteen helped me to stop and look around.