A friend told me that he had been at the Church of Ireland General Synod.
I had forgotten such things even took place. I could no longer name the bishops who sit on the platform, splendid in their purple. I doubt I would recognize more than a handful of the clergy.
It all seems now to be so utterly irrelevant, totally unconnected with the realities of the lives of ordinary people.
There seemed more sincerity in the words of Bruce Springsteen at his concerts two weeks ago than there is in the pronouncements of bishops who enjoy substantial salaries and free houses.
Springsteen sang of the loss of friends and a search for meaning:
Flock of angels lift me somehowSomewhere high and hard and loud Somewhere deep into the heart of the crowd I’m the last man standing now I’m the last man standing now
There is an understanding of working class life that pervades his songs. He sings about the grind of a blue collar existence. He sings about the stuff that people feel, the crap stuff as well as the good stuff.
When did you last hear a preacher talking about how it felt when life was rubbish? How would the preacher know? How would someone who has had a college education, and a secure job and a middle class lifestyle understand the overwhelming sense of ennui and alienation that is sometimes part of everyday reality for working class people?
Listen to Springsteen’s lyrics and there is a profound sense of humanity, a sense of understanding the ordinariness and the powerlessness.
In the 1975 song Jungleland, there is a description of the indifference felt toward the death of a working class twenty-something, killed in a gang fight. No-one cares about the death of the sort of person who would be described by RTE news as ‘known to Gardai.’
“No one watches when the ambulance pulls away
Or as the girl shuts out the bedroom light”.
Springsteen expresses frustration at those who might say something about the sort of society in which we live, but do nothing about it. There is an expression of anger at those who could articulate the feelings of the alienated, at those who could try to connect the powerless with the powerful, at those whose words might have the potential to change the reality of people whose lives are otherwise trapped in violent desperation, but retain a detached indifference.
In the closing lines of Jungleland, Springsteen sings:
“And the poets down here don’t write nothing at all
they just stand back and let it all be
and in the quick of a knife, they reach for their moment
and try to make an honest stand
but they wind up wounded, not even dead
tonight in Jungleland.”
Indifference followed by a half-hearted response, which does come at a cost, but not the cost experienced by many of the young men, and it is nearly always the young men, who are trapped in the ‘death waltz between what’s flesh and what’s fantasy.’
Reality and hope are so different that there seems an inevitable outcome for those out on the street.
Once, long ago, there was the temptation to send my worn copy of the album Born to Run to those responsible for training people for ordination and to suggest it might have insights to offer, that there were songs that connected with working class people in a way that the church failed to do. Of course, such a suggestion would have been met with laughter.
Living now in a community where life is closer to Jungleland than it is to the rarefied atmosphere of bishops’ houses, there is the inescapable conclusion that the moment for the church is long past.