The death of Clarence Clemons last weekend brought a week of playing the East Street Band while driving the weekly 1,000 kilometres of rural Irish roads. Driving the N77 between Durrow and Abbeyleix one morning, the thought suddenly occurred that Bruce Springsteen probably knew more about the pastoral care of ordinary people than many/most/all of the clergy. He understands working class life, the grind of a blue collar existence; he sings about the stuff that people feel, the crap stuff as well as the good stuff.
It was ‘Dancing in the Dark’, a song that used to seem like pure pop that brought home the point. The inspiration the narrator seeks, the fire that needs a spark, arises from an overwhelming sense of ennui and alienation:
I get up in the evening
and I ain’t got nothing to say
I come home in the morning
I go to bed feeling the same way
I ain’t nothing but tired
Man I’m just tired and bored with myself
Hey there baby, I could use just a little help . . .
. . . You can’t start a fire
Message keeps getting clearer
radio’s on and I’m moving ’round the place
I check my look in the mirror
I wanna change my clothes, my hair, my face
Man, I ain’t getting nowhere
I’m just living in a dump like this
There’s something happening somewhere
baby, I just know that there is . . .
. . . You sit around getting older
there’s a joke here somewhere and it’s on me
I’ll shake this world off my shoulders
come on, baby, this laugh’s on me
When did you last hear a preacher talking about how it felt when life was rubbish? Listen to Springsteen’s lyrics and there is a profound sense of humanity. Yet imagine the response if one suggested that reading lines of Bruce Springsteen might be more useful than half-baked pastoral psychology.
It wouldn’t just be Bruce Springsteen I would add to the syllabus.
RTE radio’s John Creedon would be added to the communication course. Hosting a weeknight programme between 8.30 and 9.50 pm, he has built a following at a time when most broadcasters would not wish to be on air. Creedon is a good pastor; he listens to people and responds with gentleness. When angry texts and emails are sent to him, he doesn’t avoid them but tries to deal with the issues raised. He is very different from churches which avoid or seek to suppress awkward questions.
Listening to the evening news, and the declining fortunes of the Greek economy, a third new element I would introduce is a course on preaching by David McWilliams, partly because he is a significantly better speaker than any speaker I have heard in any church, with the exception of Desmond Tutu, but mainly because he can take the Bible and point to chapter and verse of the Christian response to the economic crisis, something entirely beyond our grey and voiceless bishops.
Of course, the church would not contemplate learning lessons from such people; only a maverick would make such silly suggestions.