This is number fourteen in a series of fourteen. In the past fifty years our imagination about what it means to be God’s people has been shaped by imported models and by a variety of traditions, but those traditions themselves have been conditioned by the preachers, leaders, books and churches that have dominated the media, mostly American “success” stories and mega-churches.

We are now in the place of recognizing the limits of an imported imagination of ecclesial life, creating a significant vacuum and much anxiety. There are also hopeful signs that the work of theology, and of mission, in place — in THIS place — and the interaction of these two, is being taken with new seriousness by Canadian believers. Thus this series of posts on the work of Canadian authors and kingdom leaders.

My last post considered “Kingdom Culture, by Phil Wagler. This time we’ll look at Kicking at the Darkness: Bruce Cockburn and the Christian Imagination, by Brian Walsh.

When you’re lovers in a dangerous time
Sometimes you’re made to feel as if your love’s a crime –
But nothing worth having comes without some kind of fight –
Got to kick at the darkness ’til it bleeds daylight
When you’re lovers in a dangerous time
Lovers in a dangerous time
And we’re lovers in a dangerous time
Lovers in a dangerous time..

From the publisher,

“For forty years, singer and songwriter Bruce Cockburn has been writing beautifully evocative music. Bestselling author and respected theologian Brian Walsh has followed Cockburn’s work for years and has written and spoken often on his art. In this creative theological and cultural engagement, Walsh reveals the imaginative depth and uncompromising honesty of the artist’s Christian spirituality. Cockburn offers hope in the midst of doubt, struggle, failure, and anger; indeed, the sentiment of “kicking at the darkness” is at the heart of his spirituality. This book engages the rich imagery of Cockburn’s lyrics as a catalyst for shaping and igniting a renewed Christian imagination.”Cockburn cover

Culture is a particular “text.” To bring God into the conversation we have to take the text of Scripture and use it as a lens to read this other “text.” If we fail to do this work, in the fear that this involvement will somehow taint us, we are not guaranteeing our safety or purity. Rather, failure to engage with the cultural texts around us only ensures that they will impact us subversively – without our awareness and then leaving us highly vulnerable. Cultural exegesis is thus a “deconstructive” project and a way to begin “seeing our seeing.” Human societies are always cultural projects, and we are embedded and influenced in ways that quickly become transparent to us. In order to live as communities faithful to the gospel we have to become aware of the cultural texts we live within so that we can resist where necessary, and affirm where possible. The gift of the artist is to illumine these cultural texts and make them accessible. Brian Walsh writes,

“Consider a song like ‘The Gift’ from the 1988 album, Big Circumstance. Those early themes of a radically temporal world suffused with grace return in lines like ‘everything is motion / to the motion be true’ and the chorus:

The gift
keeps moving–
never know
where it’s going to land
you must stand
back and let it
keep changing hands.

“The gift of creation, and all the gifts that can be received as the good fruit of creation, must be received and not controlled. As in ‘Starwheel,’ there is wise counsel here against any autonomous attempt to grasp this world. If life comes to us from the generous hands of grace, then it must be received and passe don with just such grace. No wonder Cockburn will later sing, ‘I believe it’s a sing to try and make things last forever / Everything that exists in time runs out of time some day / got to let go of the things that keep you tethered / Take your place with grace then be on your way.’

“A world rooted in grace is fundamentally sacred in character. And so, in the second verse of “The Gift,” Cockburn sings,

in this cold commodity culture
where you lay your money down
it’s hard to even notice
that all this earth is hallowed ground
harder still to feel it
basic as a breath
love is stronger than darkness
love is stronger than death

“If we are to engage this world with grace and receive our lives as generous gift, then the sacredness of all things, the hallowedness of this earth, must be something that we feel so deeply and so integrally that it is as basic as the very air we breathe. This is a sacramental view of the world that insists that reality ‘bears witness to its own gratuitous givenness’ before it becomes an object of human control and manipulation.” (Walsh, 68-70)

A 2009 Interview on Q – Cockburn.

Next: Honorable mention to a book I don’t have, by Juliet Benner…