It is not surprising to anyone who knows me that Bruce Springsteen has found his way into an Uplift, the only wonder, perhaps, is that it took a year. The connection is joy. “Christian Joy” specifically. The concept of Christian Joy is not easy to understand, let alone internalize. I’ve been thinking about it. Scripture says it resides in a believer regardless of earthly circumstances- unbearable pain, imprisonment, terminal illness, heartbreak. It is a way of being that flows from the inside out: trusting God in faith that there is a divine purpose in whatever befalls us. I have known a few folks with this lightness of being. One beloved, from my church, radiated an abiding Christ-centered joy over the 30 years I worshiped alongside her, despite a life filled with her share of physical pain and anguish. Most people who knew her would say the same. There have been one or two others, who I have witnessed manage persistent trials in their lives with persistent faith.
Paul writes this in Romans 5: “Therefore, since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have gained access into this grace in which we now stand. And we rejoice in the hope of the glory of God. Not only so, but we also rejoice in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope. And hope does not disappoint us, because God has poured out his love into our hearts by the Holy Spirit, whom he has given us.”
To rejoice in suffering is a hard concept to get our arms around, isn’t it? So, what does Bruce have to do with all this? A few Sundays ago, our pastor invited us to write down who or what brings us joy. You guessed it: “Bruce” is now in black marker on our communion tablecloth, along with dozens of persons, places and things that bring joy and happiness to others in the congregation. Nothing has brought me more uplift over the years than Bruce’s music. Unfettered and exuberant absolutely, but also unflinching in the face of the realities of life. Such as the song “Independence Day,” in which we meet a young man who finds himself and his father on opposite sides of a chasm that neither can cross.
From Independence Day:
“Now I don’t know what it always was with us,
we chose the words, and in the end we drew the lines
There was just no way this house could hold the two of us
I guess that we were just too much of the same kind.”
If that doesn’t raise the hairs on your arm, your teen homelife was very different than mine.
This elusive concept of “Christian Joy” came into focus during a recent visit to the “Bruce Springsteen Live” exhibit at the Grammy Museum in Los Angeles. Specifically, while watching concert footage from about 1978. Believe me when I tell you, these videos are not new to me! I’ve reveled in them hundreds of times over the years, but the revelation that day is how joy is at the center of everything. Bruce’s unbridled ebullience on stage- delivering earth-shaking, hip swaying, foot stomping rock and roll (as he’s apt to say), and we in the audience…who are transformed by the experience. Joy is contagious. It flows back and forth in a Springsteen show like a circulating fan. Our gift to Bruce, I think, is our belief in his mission; it is as important to us as it is to him. That frees him to bare his soul fully and soar to the most rarified levels of life-affirming, artistic self-expression- firing on all cylinders, rockin’ it, and for a few hours at least, transcending “the pain that living brings,” as he writes in the song My Beautiful Reward. Our reward is that we get to soar with him. And what a ride! “All aboard!” he’s fond of exhorting live.
The performer-audience energy exchange is a well-worn trope, I know, as is the rock show as religious experience. I’m not sure about all that but there is a communion shared among the Springsteen faithful, stomping our feet, waving our arms, and in the next moment, absorbing hard human truths that give our lives meaning. It’s a blessed mix of joy and angst, just like life. So I thought, maybe this is a doorway to understanding “Christian Joy.” Paul writes in Philippians 4: “In every circumstance, I have learned to be content.” Now this I understand. I can’t be certain that I will be joyful during my next season of testing, but I trust God to help me through it. And with that, I’m content. He’ll do the same for you if you let him. If you want to know what I’m on about when it comes to Bruce, check out the video link below. You really should. It lifts my spirits more than anything I know. Five minutes of wonderment. Take a look at the audience, take a look at Bruce, and let that joy wash over you. Until next time, stay safe, be brave and keep walking in the light.