Bruce Almighty: “Jesus and his teachings inform every song…”

A writer over at Christianity Today has been listening to a lot of Bruce Springsteen — and his new album — and finds unmistakable religious themes:

As far as I know, Springsteen does not claim to be a Christian. He grew up in the Catholic Church, left it in his teens, and never looked back. But Springsteen understands mess; the kind of mess that I was in, the relational conundrums that can trace their roots to unresolved dreams, the power of choices that set us off down a path from which it is often difficult to retreat, the gap between the people we would like to be and the people we often are. In spite of this, his songs offer an unbroken testimony to those who face adversity and strive to overcome it. And, increasingly, his work is characterized by a buoyant hope that can only be seen as rooted in the person of Jesus Christ. If you doubt that claim, you need to listen to his latest album Wrecking Ball, an album in which Jesus and his teachings inform virtually every song…

…This is Springsteen’s extravagant gift; finding the spark of uniqueness and worth in particular human lives and holding those lives up as a mirror for us to see the reflection of ourselves, of the time and place in which we live. He does it on Wrecking Ball time and time again…

…The vision finds its fulfillment in “Land of Hope and Dreams,” the kind of arena-rattling anthem that Springsteen hasn’t written in a while. This is an old song, one that he has been performing for well over a decade in his concerts, but it is fitting that it appears at the end of Wrecking Ball, the eventual victor in the usual Springsteen tug-of-war between despair and transcendent hope.

Read more. And check out the lyrics to the song:

This train…
Carries saints and sinners
This train…
Carries losers and winners
This train…
Carries whores and gamblers
This train…
Carries lost souls

I said this train…
Dreams will not be thwarted
This train…
Faith will be rewarded

Below, a performance of “Land of Hope and Dreams” in New York from a couple years ago.

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  1. Andrew Greeley wrote of the Springsteen/ Catholic connection 23 years ago.

  2. We have Springsteen tickets for his April show here in Albany, I can’t wait. Thanks for this post, which I will be sharing.

  3. I’ve been a big fan for a long time but this album leaves me cold. There are religious references, no doubt, but in a shallow manner, and referring more to despair than Christian hope.

    The first cut, We Take Care of Our Own, is a sardonic anthem asking “where are the hearts that run over with mercy/” The title is not a celebration of generosity but an indictment of its absence. While I grant that more is always needed I am more impressed and inspired with the giving spirit of people I know that with their selfishness. It makes me want to take back the food and cash donations I have brought with me to Springsteen concerts over the years.

    Four of the songs are accusatory, making politically popular references to “fat cats” living “fat and easy up on Banker’s Hill.” Not much love and forgiveness here, rather, “if I had me a gun, I’d find the bastards and shoot’em on sight.”

    “Rocky Ground,” which uses a Gospel choir and contains the most obvious religious references, still seems to me to be pointing fingers; “Rise up shepherd, your flock has roamed far from the hill,” and “Where you once had faith now there’s only doubt.”

    Land of Hope and Dreams is a Bruce song written in an earlier time, with a spirit that doesn’t fit the vengeful Woody Guthrie/Joe Hill theme of the album. I would have liked more songs of hope and dreams.

  4. I think the first post I read at the first version of this blog was about Springsteen. So I guess you have Bruce to thank for my readership!

  5. Irish Spectre says:

    Every time I see one of these articles that try to designate this guy as some kind of guitar playing mystic or something, I think about one of his biggest hits, “I’m on Fire,” and I have a hard time squaring that circle. Maybe it’s just me, but I say this phenomena is just one piece of evidence amidst a mountain of it of the dumbing down of American culture.

  6. It looks like he is wearing a Miraculous Medal in the picture.

  7. Suburbanbanshee says:

    More to the point, you can’t have a song with the lyrics “This train is [laundry list]” without it being a reference to the gospel song, “This train is bound for glory.”

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