The Prophetic Imagination of Bruce Springsteen

The Art House America blog just published an essay I wrote on The Prophetic Imagination of Bruce Springsteen, my attempt to treat Walter Brueggemann and Wendell Berry as conversation partners with Bruce Springsteen’s newest album.

The first time I heard Wrecking Ball, the new record from Bruce Springsteen, I was driving through the middle of Kentucky on winding country roads, windows down, stereo cranked all the way up, wind whistling through my hair. I was on my way to the Abbey of Gethsemani — where Thomas Merton lived for most of his life — two days after my 30th birthday, looking forward to the time away to read, write, and reflect. With books by Merton (a first-edition copy of his memoir, Seven Storey Mountain, loaned to me by my friend Ian), Walter Brueggemann, and Wendell Berry in my bag as companions for the weekend, I found myself listening to Springsteen’s lyrics through the lens of Brueggemann’s and Berry’s words.

Read the rest here.

And here are a couple of additional comments, my footnotes to the essay, if you will. Continue reading

God as deus ex machina

(This was first posted in October of last year on Matthew Paul Turner’s blog. I’m reposting it here as I try to consolidate most of my writing in one place)

Reading the first chapter of Peter Rollins’ new book, Insurrection – which comes out this week; read the first chapter here – and his exploration of the way the church often uses the idea of God as nothing more than a deus ex machina, I was reminded of news I heard recently about the current pastor of the church I grew up in.

This church, in its heyday, was one of the biggest churches in the fundamentalist Baptist world. There’s a university associated with it, past its prime, like the church, and in recent years the pastor of the church and the president of the school have been one and the same. When it came to the attention of the school’s board of directors earlier this year that a chapter of his master’s thesis, a book some students were required to buy for their classes, had ben plagiarized – his excuse that he thought the pastor whose book he “borrowed” from was dead or the book was out of print and so it was okay to use it without giving credit, did not, funnily enough, prove to be a satisfactory explanation to everyone, even after he published an updated version – he resigned from his position at the university, claiming it was something he had already planned on doing. God wanted him to focus on his work as the pastor of the church, he said, and he’d decided it was too much responsibility to do both.

A couple of months after this pastor’s big announcement, God changed his mind (you know how fickle he can be). Continue reading

Jeremiah Wright and Bad Religion

In “The Fate of Ideas: Moses,” an essay collected in Marilynne Robinson’s new book from Farrar, Straus, and Giroux, When I Was a Child I Read Books, she critiques a number of popular writers on religion, particularly the work of Bishop John Shelby Spong. Citing one argument he makes regarding the reasons behind the writing of the New Testament letters, she writes, “Not surprisingly, his hypothesis-which is all in the world it is or can be-makes his interpretation of these texts seem downright inevitable. To offer hypothesis as fact is not fair to the nonspecialist readership for which his book is clearly intended. In doing so he is typical rather than exceptional among popular writers.”

Those lines kept coming to mind as I read different reviews and excerpts of the new book from New York Times columnist Ross Douthat, Bad Religion: How We Became a Nation of Heretics. I first heard about the book via a column from Douthat summarizing his thesis and sketching out his arguments, where a couple of things caught my eye. Anyone familiar with the history of American religion will raise an eyebrow at several of the claims and reductions Douthat relies on for his arguments, but there’s one in particular that I want to focus on.

Continue reading