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Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Pope Francis and the World Cup


"Stephen Colbert and the Ancient Pulpit of Satire" video: Ethan Richardson

Guest post by Don Berg: Evolution of Bruce Cockburn lyrics Part 12: Stealing Fire

Stealing Fire (1984)

During the 1980’s unspeakable horrors were being perpetrated upon the common people of Central America. Most Americans new only of the “communist threat” from south of our border and voted for more money to arm the oppressive military regimes of the region. Bruce experienced first hand the conditions that this money helped to create. He did not sing explicitly much about his faith in these times, but make no mistake. his faith was the driving force behind what he did sing about. He hints at this in the song “Maybe the Poet,” along with an obvious Biblical allusion to Galatians 3:28: “There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.”

Maybe the Poet

Maybe the voice of the spirit
In which case you'd better hear it

Male female slave or free
Peaceful or disorderly
Maybe you and he will not agree
But you need him to show you new ways to see

Don't let the system fool you
All it wants to do is rule you
Pay attention to the poet
You need him and you know it

While Cockburn was visiting a Guatemalan refugee camp on the Southern border of Mexico, the refugees were strafed by military helicopters. Like the psalmist, Bruce is filled with rage, and in the moment sees no alternative but to strike back in righteous anger. Many have discussed whether or not he is advocating violence or merely expressing his rage and despair. Bruce has been quoted to say that Rocket Launcher "is not a call to arms; this is a cry."

If I Had a Rocket Launcher

Here comes the helicopter
Second time today
Everybody scatters
And hopes it goes away
How many kids they've murdered
Only God can say
If I had a rocket launcher
If I had a rocket launcher
If I had a rocket launcher
I'd make somebody pay

I don't believe in guarded borders
And I don't believe in hate
I don't believe in generals
Or their stinking torture states
And when I talk with the survivors
Of things too sickening to relate
If I had a rocket launcher
If I had a rocket launcher
If I had a rocket launcher
I would retaliate

On the Rio Lacantun
100,000 wait
To fall down from starvation
Or some less humane fate
Cry for Guatemala
With a corpse in every gate
If I had a rocket launcher
If I had a rocket launcher
If I had a rocket launcher
I would not hesitate

I want to raise every voice
At least I've got to try
Every time I think about it
Water rises to my eyes
Situation desperate
Echoes of the victims' cry
If I had a rocket launcher
If I had a rocket launcher
If I had a rocket launcher
Some son of a bitch would die

I have made a couple of connections between Bruce Cockburn and U2 already in these blogs, as they both make frequent Christian spiritual allusions and have a largely secular audience. There is a direct connection between the two. In the context of the darkness of those days in Latin America Cockburn sings:

Lovers in a Dangerous Time

When you're lovers in a dangerous time
Sometimes you're made to feel as if your love's a crime
Nothing worth having comes without some kind of fight
Got to kick at the darkness till it bleeds daylight

This last line is quoted (and attributed to Bruce Cockburn in the lyric sheet) by U2. The song is God Part II. That song is a response to the Jon Lennon song “God”, in which Lennon sings that he does not believe in the many manifestations of God, but instead believes only in himself and Yoko. Bono’s version describes ironic stanzas, each contrasting what he doesn’t believe in to the Love that he does believe. It is worth noting that in Bono’s lyrics love is frequently a metaphor for Jesus. Here is the stanza that references Cockburn:

God Part II (U2)

I don't believe in the '60s
In the golden age of pop
You glorify the past
When the future dries up
I heard a singer on the radio
Late last night
Says he's gonna kick the darkness
Till it bleeds daylight
I believe in love

I feel like I'm falling
Like I'm spinning on a wheel
It always stops beside a name
A presence I can feel
I believe in love

Guest post by Don Berg: Evolution of Bruce Cockburn lyrics Part 11: The Trouble With Normal

by Don Berg
The Trouble With Normal (1983)

I remember hearing this album for the first time. I was still just developing as a Cockburn fan and was accompanying my good friend Joel to the recored store to buy his copy of this just-released album. When we got home we pulled out the vinyl, placed it on the turntable, and I had my first ever listen to newly released Cockburn... and I hated it. I couldn’t get past the stylistic change to his music and he even talked on on of the tracks. It wasn’t until I bought the album myself years later when I was filling out my Cockburn collection, that I gave it the 2nd, 3rd and 4th listen that it seems that it takes for me to appreciate a new Cockburn album. I will be honest, you have to look hard and read between the lines to find spirituality and theology in this album That in itself could be the evolution of his work, but there is more there than appears on the surface. This album came out during the height of the moral majority and the Reagan years. Bruce was working to distance himself from this brand of Christianity. He offers this critique of putting our faith in a supply-side God.

Candy Man’s Gone

In the bar, in the senate, in the alley, in the study
Pimping dreams of riches for everybody
'Something for nothing, new lamps for old
And the streets will be platinum, never mind gold'
Well, hey, pass it on
Misplaced your faith and the candy man's gone
I hate to tell you but the candy man's gone

Bruce is still calling out to the arrows of light to come and pierce his soul, but it doesn’t bring peace, but rather a prophetic vision to critique the “system of the world’s events.”

Civilization and It’s Discontents

So many people so lost you feel sorry
But too much pathos just makes you angry
And even though I know who loves me I'm not that much less lost

Black outline, sliding gray scale
Subtle variations of dark to pale
Pearl sky raining light like hail, come on and pierce me
Raining light like a vision of the holy grail, come on and pierce me

Civilization and its discontents
When all's been said and all the money spent
Trying to beat the system of the world's events
Gets you nowhere.

Bruce returns to the theme of a broken, but beautiful world; a broken, confused, but still beautiful humanity. About this time Cockburn had begun to make visits to Central and South America as a guest of Oxfam. He was awakened to the issues of oppression and injustice there. One day he was staring out over the ocean, the waves crashing in reminded him of jet fighters. His mind began to wander over the conditions under which the people there lived. How could such beauty happen to such beautiful people. As he continues to ponder the beauty of this broken world, he glances down to see the waves washing over his now sodden shoes, and he realizes he has a song.

Planet of the Clowns

Stare into the moonlight
Silver fingers press my eyes
Probing in my heart with longing

These footprints by the sea's edge
Disappearing grain by grain
Lose their form but keep their substance

As the waves roar on the beach like a squadron of F16's
Ebb and flow like the better days they say this world has seen

Government by outrage
Hunger camps and shanty towns
Dignity and love still holding

This bluegreen ball in black space
Filled with beauty even now
battered and abused and lovely

And the waves roar on the beach like a squadron of F16's
Ebb and flow like the better days they say this world has seen

Each one in our own heart
Desperate to know where we stand
Planet of the clowns in wet shoes

Wednesday, July 09, 2014

Guest post by Don Berg: Evolution of Bruce Cockburn lyrics Part 10: Inner City Front

Inner City Front (1981)

Bruce once sang “Oh Jesus, don’t let Toronto take my love away.” Now Bruce stares at us on the album cover with a hardened urban expression while sitting in a Toronto bar or cafe. The album represents the “inner city” realities of his new life after losing his marriage and maybe his faith. With commitment (covenant) broken he has trouble experiencing love through the numbness and pain. The evident pain in his life is reflected in such lyrics as this taken from songs with titles to match (You Pay Your Money and Take Your Chance, All’s Quiet on the Inner City Front, and Loner):

The numb and confused
The battered and bruised
The counters of cost
And the star-crossed
You pay your money and you take your chance
When you're dealing with love and romance

Sometimes, sometimes, doesn't the light seem to move so far away?

A thousand question marks over my head

Days of striving, nights of novocaine
Never going to bring them freedom from their pain

I'm a loner
With a loner's point of view
When I was a torn jacket hanging on the barbed wire
You cut me free
And sewed me up and here I am

The song “Justice” foreshadows the work that Cockburn will do for world relief and political change in settings of extreme injustice. He begins by critiquing ideologies beginning with his own as the source of violence perpetrated on the other. The third stanza provides his answer: accept this post-modern critique, accept the other with hospitality, then listen for the quiet voice of God to transcend ideology.


What's been done in the name of Jesus?
What's been done in the name of Buddha?
What's been done in the name of Islam?
What's been done in the name of man?
What's been done in the name of liberation?
And in the name of civilization?
And in the name of race?
And in the name of peace?
Loves to see
Justice done
On somebody else

Can you tell me how much bleeding
It takes to fill a word with meaning?
And how much, how much death
It takes to give a slogan breath?
And how much, how much, how much flame
Gives light to a name
For the hollow darkness
In which nations dress?
Loves to see
Justice done
On somebody else

Everybody's seen the things they've seen
We all have to live with what we've been
When they say charity begins at home
They're not just talking about a toilet and a telephone
Got to search the silence of the soul's wild places
For a voice that can cross the spaces
These definitions that we love create --
These names for heaven, hero, tribe and state
Loves to see
Justice done
On somebody else

Cockburn returns to an image of creation. But this time the creation is not celebrated, but broken. The Earth itself is broken, and we are the culprits. Before he looked up to God and found his answer, but now he calls out to the Lord to “spit on our eyes so that we can see.” The third verse contains no answer as it returns to the original theme of brokenness without healing. Our “Trial comes before truth's revealed.” Faith is the answer, but will it be enough?

Broken Wheel
Way out on the rim of the galaxy
The gifts of the Lord lie torn
Into whose charge the gifts were given
Have made it a curse for so many to be born
This is my trouble --
These were my fathers
So how am I supposed to feel?
Way out on the rim of the broken wheel

Water of life is going to flow again
Changed from the blood of heroes and knaves
The word mercy's going to have a new meaning
When we are judged by the children of our slaves
No adult of sound mind
Can be an innocent bystander
Trial comes before truth's revealed
Out here on the rim of the broken wheel

Guest post by Don Berg: Evolution of Bruce Cockburn lyrics Part 9: Humans

Humans (1980)

This was the first album of Bruce Cockburn that I ever really listened to. Like every album of Bruce’s I have ever listened to, it took several listens before I had decided whether it was really worth listening to. Now it is one of my all time favorite albums. This album signals a transition in Cockburn’s music, in his personal life, and of course in his theology. We saw that in his previous three albums the beauty of nature pointed him towards God, even saying that “The earth is bread, the sun is wine.” In Humans, he sees himself as a grim traveller no longer satisfied with his answers of before.

Grim Travellers
Grim travellers in dawn skies
See the beauty -- makes you cry inside
Makes you angry and you don't know why
Grim travellers in dawn skies

Down on the plain of 10,000 smokestacks
Trucks butt each other to establish dominance
The newspaper next to me leans over and says matter-of-factly
'Sacred mountains towers above meadows' - uh huh - and above us

Grim travellers in dawn skies
I see the beauty -- makes me cry inside
It makes me angry and I don't know why
We're grim travellers in dawn skies

The newspaper leans over and gives him a glib answer of the hope he sang about but one short year before and he responds with a sarcastic “uh huh.” His pain cannot be assuaged by pat answers. His prior theology has come up short. Song after song speaks to his pain and disillusionment. He even sings “I'd like to put a bullet through the world.” He sang in the song “Gavin’s wood pile” that “there’s no human answer here,” but his human world has crashed in around him. A recurring theme in his music is the divine spark/fallen nature within each of us. Humans were created in the image of God, but to Cockburn that is now merely a “rumour of glory.”

Rumours of Glory

You see the extremes
Of what humans can be?
In that distance some tension's born
Energy surging like a storm
You plunge your hand in
And draw it back scorched
Beneath it's shining like
Gold but better

Rumours of glory

The lighter songs of this album were written on tour, while the darker songs were written later back home in Ontario. What has happened in between to cause all of this pain?. We get the answer to this in the song “What about the Bond.” His marriage has fallen apart.

What About the Bond

What about the the bond?
What about the mystical unity?
What about the bond
Sealed in the loving presence of the Father?

Of the institutions
That should give a frame to work in
Got to find our own solutions

I used to hear this song as a guilt trip upon his wife, but then saw it as a man struggling with not just his belief system about marriage, but also his legalistic belief system. The following song , “Fascist Architecture,” speaks of the facades we build up between each other, but also of the belief systems that are based on the Law, rather than grace and love. Hope finally breaks through in this song as he accepts God’s grace and love and is “OK.”

Fascist Architecture
Fascist architecture of my own design
Too long been keeping my love confined
You tore me out of myself alive

Those fingers drawing out blood like sweat
While the magnificent facades crumble and burn
The billion facets of brilliant love
The billion facets of freedom turning in the light

Bloody nose and burning eyes
Raised in laughter to the skies
I've been in trouble but I'm ok
Been through the wringer but I'm ok
Walls are falling and I'm ok
Under the mercy and I'm ok

Gonna tell my old lady
Gonna tell my little girl
There isn't anything in the world
That can lock up my love again

Finally, the album ends with this song of healing love:

The Rose Above the Sun
Something jewelled slips away
Round the next bend with a splash
Laughing at the hands I hold out
Only air within their grasp
All you can do is praise the razor
For the fineness of the slash

'Til the Rose above the sky
And the light behind the sun
Takes all

Gutless arrogance and rage
Burn apart the best of tries
You carry the weight of inherited sorrow
From your first day till you die
Toward that hilltop where the road
Forever becomes one with the sky

'Til the Rose above the sky
And the light behind the sun
Takes all

Guest post by Don Berg: Evolution of Bruce Cockburn lyrics Part 8: Dancing in the Dragon's Jaws

Don Berg
Dancing in the Dragon's Jaws (1979)

I have a friend who has a sister who was a poet laureate and has become a somewhat well known author, who when hearing this album, back when I was college, said upon hearing the song “Creation Dream”, “this is some serious poetry.” I may not know a lot about serious poetry, but I do love imagery, metaphor and symbolism. This is one reason why I like the music of Bruce Cockburn so much. In the Genesis account, God solemnly speaks the world into existence. Is there room in our theology for a creation account filled with a holy liturgical song and dance?

Creation Dream
Centred on silence
Counting on nothing
I saw you standing on the sea
And everything was
Dark except for
Sparks the wind struck from your hair
Sparks that turned to
Wings around you
Angel voices mixed with seabird cries
Fields of motion
Surging outward
Questions that contain their own replies...

You were dancing
I saw you dancing
Throwing your arms toward the sky
Fingers opening
Like flares
Stars were shooting everywhere
Lines of power
Bursting outward
Along the channels of your song
Mercury waves flashed
Under your feet
Shots of silver in the shell-pink dawn...

In the song, “Hills of Morning,” Bruce paints an allegorical picture of Jesus that preaches the Gospel of Mark and John in one song. A world in crisis, filled with ordinary people, living ordinary lives encounter the playful, glittering joker.

Hills of Morning
Underneath the mask of the sulphur sky
A bunch of us were busy waiting,
Watching the people looking ill-at-ease,
Watching the fraying rope get closer to breaking

Women and men moved back and forth
In between effect and cause
And just beyond the range of normal sight
This glittering joker was dancing in the dragon's jaws

We discover that this joker, who turns the wisdom of this world on it’s head, is dancing with death. The chorus informs us that this joker is in fact the creator God, hovering over the deep, pronouncing “let there be light.” Whose breath brings life, who through Bruce, calls us to dance with him bringing light to this hanging-by-a-thread world:

Let me be a little of your breath
Moving over the face of the deep --
I want to be a particle of your light
Flowing over the hills of morning

I carry a wound within me. Cockburn sings about this wound in “Northern Lights.” I have been cut by the beauty of the Sierras and have seen the northern lights, and felt the love of God. He weaves these together in:

Northern Lights
Ahead where there should be the thickness of night
Stars are pinned on a shimmering curtain of light

Sky full of rippling cliffs and chasms
That shine like signs on the road to heaven...

I've been cut by the beauty of jagged mountains
And cut by the love that flows like a fountain from God.

So I carry these scars, precious and rare,
And tonight I feel like I'm made of air...

Bono has this scar too. He sings it in his Magnificat:

Magnificent (U2)
Only love
Only love can leave such a markBut only love
Only love can heal such a scar

Justified till we die
You and I will magnify
Oh, the magnificent

Only love
Only love can leave such a mark
But only love
Only love unites our hearts

(BTW: I love the way the images of this video match the imagery of “Dancing in the Dragons jaws”-- a dancer lifting the shroud from a similar place where the people were waiting for the glittering joker.

Finally, I couldn’t write about this album without referencing Cockburn’s biggest hit of all time. It starts with another dream. The lions of this dream are not the good lions of Narnia, they are the bad lions of Rome. They are a fitting conclusion to Bruce’s trilogy of “Evangelical” albums, for between this album and the next, the lions come with a vengeance, and his world falls apart at the seams. Will the ecstasy of this song be enough to weather the storm?

Wondering Where the Lions Are
I had another dream about lions at the door
They weren't half as frightening as they were before
But I'm thinking about eternity
Some kind of ecstasy got a hold on me....

I got my mind on eternity
Some kind of ecstasy got a hold on me
And I'm wondering where the lions are...
I'm wondering where the lions are...