Preaching The Bruce Springsteen Gospel

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Jeffrey Symynkywicz

Author Jeffrey Symynkywicz. hide caption

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Bruce Springsteen (300)

Author Jeffrey Symynkywicz says that the music of Bruce Springsteen (above) provides community like a church, but not in quite the same way. Jim Dyson/Getty Images Entertainment hide caption

itoggle caption Jim Dyson/Getty Images Entertainment

When Jeffrey Symynkywicz preaches at his Unitarian Universalist church, he's often accompanied by music, but it's not the music you might expect. The minister has been a fan of Bruce Springsteen since the beginning of his career, and now he's managed to combine his theological training with his love of Springsteen's music. His new book is titled The Gospel According to Bruce Springsteen: Rock and Redemption from Asbury Park to Magic.

In an interview, host Liane Hansen takes Symynkywicz through a few choice Springsteen songs, including the last song on Born to Run, "Jungle Land." Symynkywicz says it's an ethics song about perceived powers and the powers that be. Ultimately, he says, "Jungle Land" gives the sense that the bad guys have won — until that famous last scream from Springsteen.

"That scream is the exhaustion and the pain of living life in this world," Symynkywicz says. "In that scream is a defiance that it's not going to be the last word."

In his years of fandom and research, Symynkywicz has found a few themes in Springsteen. Most of all, he says, Springsteen conveys hope in his songs.

"Springsteen isn't much of a romantic in his music," he says. "He presents life as it is — life in all its grit and all its pain."

Excerpt: 'The Gospel According To Bruce Springsteen'

  • The Gospel According to Bruce Springsteen
  • By Jeffrey B. Symynkywicz
  • Hardcover, 197 pages
  • List price: $16.95
The Gospel According to Bruce Springsteen book cover
Courtesy of Westminster John Knox Press

Bruce's Ten Suggestions for Spiritual Living

1. The world has gone awry. The world according to Bruce is often portrayed as a gritty, conflicted, sometimes dark and sinister place. It differs for the particular characters involved in each song, of course, but the darkness is always there on the edge of things or not very far beneath the surface.

2. There is a power within the souls of men and women to transcend the world and to achieve real victories in spite of the world. For every homeless loser who has left his wife and kids high and dry back in Baltimore, there is that good man or good woman who works endlessly at a thankless job to meet his or her responsibilities. People have within them the power to choose to be true to themselves and what really matters.

3. The world is as it is. There is both great pain and great joy in life, Springsteen affirms. Once we have accepted that the pain is part of the deal, then we are free to experience genuine joy when it comes our way.

4. Life without connections is empty and dangerous. Springsteen sings of a stark array of misfits, criminals and losers. But there is always compassion in the portraits he presents, and we sense that the line between winners and losers is a narrow one and that what differentiates the former from the latter are the connections they have with other people.

5. Our stories symbolize something deeper. The great lie of our contemporary, celebrity-crazed culture is that only the rich and famous have stories worth telling. There are almost no celebrities featured in Springsteen's songs. His stories are our stories, and the wisdom (as well as the folly) they contain is ours, too.

6. Life is embodied. Sexuality is intrinsically neither good nor evil, Springsteen implies; here, as in all human ventures, only good soil will produce worthy fruit.

7. It's all about change. If we cling to the past, it withers and dies. If we let it go gracefully and move on to the next stage of our lives, the gifts of the past can continue to bless us.

8. There is no guarantee of success. Sometimes life teaches us lessons about humility and silence and emptiness and pain and unanswered prayers. At those times, we know that our true treasure is the power of our own integrity, and our reward lies in keeping faith with those other decent, down-to-earth, hardworking people everywhere.

9. Hope is resilient. The men and women in Springsteen's songs may win or they may lose, but they seldom abandon all hope. Despair is seldom, if ever, given the final word. It is hope that carries us human ones on the sacred vector toward life's divine possibilities.

10. There is always something more. If Bruce is luminous in his work — shining a light of perception on the horizontal dimension of this earthly life — so he is numinous as well — casting this life we lead in the brilliance of an almost mystic glow; shedding the radiance of discernment on that vertical beam which crashes through the linear plane of existence and points it toward that which is higher, deeper, somehow transcendent.

Excerpted from The Gospel According to Bruce Springsteen by Jeffrey B. Symynkywicz. Reprinted by arrangement with Westminster John Knox Press. © 2008.

Scripture quotations from the New Revised Standard Version of the Bible are copyright © 1989 by the Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the U.S.A. and are used by permission.

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Born to Run [30th Anniversary Edition]

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Album
Born to Run [30th Anniversary Edition]
Artist
Bruce Springsteen
Label
Sony
Released
2005

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