All posts tagged “Bruce Cockburn

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Repaso: May 3, 2013


1. Ugly humanitarianism
Rachel Marie Stone (@Rachel_M_Stone) wrote an excellent piece on Madonna’s recent humanitarian debacle in Malawi:

If churches and mission agencies can learn anything from the Madonna-Malawi flap, I think it’s this: people in the poorest countries that rely heaviest on aid are human beings—quite often, very thoughtful human beings—with equally valuable and important places at the table of God’s mission in the world as anyone else. To refuse to engage with them as such, while demanding to be treated as more important, to assert that our agenda for them is superior to their own, is to deny their full humanity and equality before God and, often and unwittingly, to engage in a kind of benevolent oppression. Jesus was not known as one who dished out meals to prostitutes and other vulnerable sinners. He sat with them and ate with them. Doing mission, then, probably needs to look more like a shared meal than a soup kitchen, with none of us bound in gratitude except to God alone.

2. The secret faith of Washington
Joshua DuBois (@joshuadubois), the former director of faith-based initiatives at the White House, challenges myths about religion in DC (and lack thereof):

It’s a constant struggle to maintain a personal relationship with God in a place that is so relentlessly public, to wrestle with deep concepts of the eternal in an arena whose daily pulse is the here and now. It can be exhausting, and many of the people I spoke with said they failed at that intellectual and spiritual challenge more often than they succeeded. But still, thousands of believers in Washington keep at it most days—away from the cameras and well out of view.

3. Orthodoxy and secularism
Mary Eberstadt of the Ethics and Public Policy Center writes:

Small wonder, given the harrowing times recently, that news about a long-running property fight over a picturesque church in northern Virginia escaped most people’s notice. But the story of the struggle over the historic Falls Church is nonetheless worth a closer look. It’s one more telling example of a little-acknowledged truth: though religious traditionalism may be losing today’s political and legal battles, it remains poised to win the wider war over what Christianity will look like tomorrow.

4. Tools of the trade
The legendary singer-songwriter Bruce Cockburn (who recently agreed to this photo) has announced he’s donating his archives to McMaster University in Canada. Among the items are “notebooks, musical arrangements, gold records, letters, scrapbooks, nearly 1,000 recordings, and even three guitars.” Here’s what Cockburn had to say about the decision:

These are my tools, my rough drafts, my mementoes and my trophies. Together, they form the roadmap of my working life. I’m pleased they will have a safe and permanent home in a place where they may be useful to others.

5. “Spotlight” by LEAGUES
I’ve been enjoying You Belong Here by LEAGUES, which came out this week. Here’s the first music video from the album.


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Repaso: Byron Borger on Cockburn’s legacy; Ross Douthat on heresy; social entrepreneurship & faith; peacebuilding & the “war on drugs”; poverty & charity in the early church

1. Byron Borger talks Bruce Cockburn
You may recall that two months ago I posted a review of Brian Walsh’s Kicking at the Darkness: Bruce Cockburn and the Christian Imagination (Brazos). Bookseller Byron Borger has been praising the book for some time (and wrote a blurb on the back cover), but he has just now posted some extended reflections on the importance of Cockburn as an artist who grapples honestly with matters of faith:

One does not have to like every Cockburn song or album, let alone agree with every view he seems to express, to appreciate his exceptional gift as songwriter and musician and to be aided by his observations, rendered in song.  And one need not agree with every line in every Brian Walsh book to appreciate his preacherly gospel call to be faithful to the Biblical narrative, and to reject worldly accommodation to the idols of modernity.

2. CT’s interview with Ross Douthat
New York Times columnist Ross Douthat has a new book out called Bad Religion: How We Became a Nation of Heretics (Free Press). In it he argues that Christianity in the U.S. has a heresy problem and that we need to return to more traditional beliefs and expressions of faith. I haven’t read the book yet, but it’s generating a lot of buzz. Here’s a snippet from Christianity Today’s interview:

[T]he nature of heresy is not that it takes a Christian teaching and gets it completely wrong. Instead, it takes a Christian teaching and emphasizes it to the exclusion of anything that might counterbalance it. It isn’t wrong to suggest that there are biblical passages that state that God blesses his servants in this life as well as the next. There are biblical passages that suggest a link between a nation’s morality, a nation’s religious beliefs, and its historical fate. But Christian orthodoxy always counterbalances those emphases with other truths.

3. Social entrepreneurship and Christian faith
Though I wasn’t able to attend in person, I enjoyed watching a bit of the livestream of the Q DC event last week. I was especially inspired to see presentations from three Praxis Fellows — social entrepreneurs building high-impact organizations as embodiments of the gospel in all spheres of life. Dave Blanchard and Josh Kwan of Praxis have a piece in the Washington Post about their work:

We are inspired by Jesus’s example, and we started Praxis to help other Christians who are trying to restore society and culture so that a hurting world may be whole again. Praxis is an accelerator program for social entrepreneurs and innovators compelled by their faith to create new ventures that advance the common good.  Each year, we provide Praxis Fellows with the knowledge and networks needed to build world-class organizations that address key social issues.

4. Ten Stories from mewithoutYou
I’m really looking forward to the new album from mewithoutYou, due to release on May 15. I never cared for them as a band until last time with It’s All Crazy! It’s All False! It’s All A Dream! It’s Alright. We’ll see how this one feels, though, listening to it now on the other side of the country, far from the band’s native Pennsylvania.

5. Rhetoric and reality at the border
The Washington Office on Latin America has released a new report focused on security and migration at the border between the U.S. and Mexico, looking at the data rather than the partisan talking points. Here’s the executive summary and here’s the full report (both are PDFs).

6. Peacebuilding and the “war on drugs”
The MCC Latin America Advocacy Blog has a post on the connection between peacebuilding and the “war on drugs” and puts forward some good questions:

Addressing root causes; the need for a just peace, not just controlled peace; looking at the problem through a public health lens rather than a public security lens; doesn’t this sound like a discussion of conflict transformation and peacebuilding? Are there other contributions that a peacebuilding model can offer in this debate?  An emphasis on human relationships and an analysis of power dynamics? Working simultaneously at multiple levels from the community to the nation state? Striving for justpeace, “an adaptive process-structure of human relationships characterized by high justice and low violence” (Lederach)?

7. Philadelphia’s homeless feeding ban
My friend Paul Burkhart, who lives in Philadelphia, has some interesting (provocative?) thoughts on the city’s new ban on giving food to homeless people in public areas. He shifts our attention from hunger (which he says isn’t the big issue here) to dignity:

All humanity has dignity because it is made in the image of God. We all are well-aware by now (hopefully) that when it comes to our choices, we so often want things that are not good for us. We frequently want to engage in things that in the end rob us of this dignity as the highest of God’s creatures. How does God honor our dignity? I propose that it’s less about letting us do what we want, and more about acting for our good, sometimes even in spite of our choices.

8. Poverty and charity in the early church
The Gospel Coalition has shared this video featuring John Dickson from the Centre for Public Christianity and Macquarie University, produced as part of The Faith Effect from World Vision Australia:

Repaso is intended as a thought-provoking compilation of news and commentary from the past week related to the intersections of faith, development, justice and peace. As always, I welcome your thoughts on any of the links and ideas in this roundup!

[Photo credit: UK Study Tour blog; “Stairs in Canterbury Cathedral, Worn from Pilgrims crawling to pay homage to the murdered Thomas Becket”]

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Bruce Cockburn: Kicking at the darkness ’til it bleeds daylight

A little over five years ago when I was living in Cambodia, Tim Amstutz introduced me to the music of Bruce Cockburn (pronounced “co-burn”). Since then, I’ve gotten acquainted with several of Cockburn’s earlier records, and a couple of his newer ones. There’s no one who makes music quite like he does, it seems to me. He started out as a Canadian folk musician, and first made a name for himself in 1979 with his hit song “Wondering Where The Lions Are.” In the 80s, his music took a global and political turn. As Wikipedia puts it,

These concerns became more evident in 1984, with Cockburn’s second US radio hit, “If I Had a Rocket Launcher” (No. 88 in the US) from the Stealing Fire album. He had written the song a year earlier, following a visit to Guatemalan refugee camps in Mexico that were attacked before and after his visit by Guatemalan military helicopters. His political activism continues to the present. Cockburn has travelled to many countries (such as Mozambique and Iraq), played many benefit concerts, and written many songs on a variety of political subjects ranging from the International Monetary Fund to land mines. His internationalist bent is reflected in the many world music influences in his music, including reggae and Latin music.

Certainly this isn’t the kind of subject matter that appeals to everyone, but in my experience his music resonates with a great number of us in international development and similar lines of work. His music isn’t just political though; it’s also deeply informed by the Christian story. While his lyrics contain words not often heard in church, and while this can be unsettling, you can’t really begin to understand what makes Cockburn tick without considering the role faith plays in his life.

Brian Walsh, a university chaplain and professor of theology of culture in Toronto, wonderfully explores the intersections of these themes in Kicking at the Darkness: Bruce Cockburn and the Christian Imagination (Brazos). It definitely helps to be acquainted with Cockburn’s music before reading it, as it’s more about his lyrics and over-arching themes than it is a biography.

What I found most intriguing, and most helpful, was Walsh’s focus on Cockburn’s worldview, and the extent to which it’s informed by his Christian imagination. Worldview, Walsh says, “tell(s) us both what the world is and what it ought to be.” He continues:

Worldviews answer ultimate questions… Everyone, I’m suggesting, answers, usually implicitly and seldom explicitly, at least four such questions. All great myths, all foundational stories, can be interpreted as answering these kinds of questions. First, Where are we? What is the nature of the world in which we find ourselves? Second, Who are we? What does it mean to be human? Third, What’s wrong? What is the source of brokenness, violence, hatred, and evil in life? Fourth, What’s the remedy? How do we find a path through this brokenness to healing? Where is the resolution to the evil in which we find ourselves?

These four questions are the “interpretive window” through which Walsh explores Cockburn’s body of work, and in doing so he points to some clues for rediscovering our place in a world that is broken, but that will one day be made new.

The title of the book comes from a lyric in “Lovers in a Dangerous Time,” and it’s both poetic and profoundly instructive, I think, for Christians living in between the times: “gotta kick at the darkness ’til it bleeds daylight.”

I’m grateful that Cockburn has been kicking at the darkness for so long, and I hope he keeps kicking. Here’s a video of his song “Pacing the Cage,” another song for these times of darkness, but in hopeful anticipation of the age to come:

[Photo credit:]

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Repaso: Advent, lost books, screen-printing, journalistic ethics, Bruce Cockburn, LEGOs, theology & culture

1. Advent reflections from Paul Burkhart
Paul Burkhart, a friend of mine in Philadelphia, has a series of thoughtful posts on his blog for Advent. Here’s an excerpt from his most recent one:

In his Advent, Jesus does lots of miracles, but his miracles are particular in nature and function. None of his miracles are weird. You have no lasers coming out of people’s eyes, no shape-shifting, no invisibility, etc. What you have is a God that comes and ushers in the future world to come and brings it into the present. In other words, all of his miracles are restoring things to the way they will be and are intended to be; they are acts of justice. People were not meant to be blind, or die, or go hungry, or be handicapped, or be sick. And so he ushers in this future reality into the present by healing these things. The future world begins with a wedding feast with much wine, and so his messianic mission begins with turning water to wine at a wedding feast.

2. Ariel Dorfman’s lost library
NPR has an interview with novelist and activist Ariel Dorfman, who was forced to flee his home in Chile after the overthrow of President Allende in 1973. Going into exile he lost a lot, but here he reflects on the impact of losing his personal library.

3. Big Planet Apparel on The Lancast
My good friend Chris Newcomer is the guest on the latest episode of The Lancast, a podcast focused on interesting people in Lancaster, Pennsylvania. Chris is an entrepreneur and here he talks about how his company, Big Planet Apparel, came to be. You’re not likely to hear more laughter in a 34 minute interview anywhere else, and hopefully you’ll now know where to turn when you need to make t-shirts.

4. Misrepresenting “Africa” and “the poor”
In this TED Talk, reporter and researcher Leslie Dodson urges those who engage in storytelling about the poor (researchers, journalists, NGOs, etc) to do so ethically, not misrepresenting them through simplistic depictions or by robbing them of their dignity in the process (Thanks to Jennifer Rohde Williams for passing this along).

5. Photographs of homelessness around the world
Okay, here’s a chance to think critically about the ethics of photographing the homeless, based on what Leslie Dodson had to say in the video above. In this photo essay, I was struck by the prevailing “namelessness” of the poor. There were a handful of those in the US whose names were given, as well as the name of the recently deceased homeless man (not pictured) whose funeral two unnamed (but pictured) homeless women attended. What do you think of this namelessness in photos of the poor and homeless?

6. “Kicking at the Darkness”
Byron Borger has some brief comments on Kicking at the Darkness: Bruce Cockburn and the Christian Imagination, a new book by Brian J. Walsh that I’m eager to read. Here’s the blurb Byron wrote for the back cover of the book:

I’ve been listening to Cockburn for three decades and reading Walsh almost that long, and I can hardly imagine surviving these times, let alone believing that joy will find a way, without the artistry and insight of both.  This is an extraordinarily ambitious project, years in the making, and there is profound insight on every page.  Whether you are a seasoned Cockburn fan or not, this is a rewarding, provocative, experiment in criticism.  I recommend it with great enthusiasm and with immense gratitude.

7. The Year in LEGO
A cool collection of LEGO reenactments of key events of the past year, apparently submitted to The Guardian by various Flickr users (HT Chris Blattman and Gideon Strauss).

8. Coming together on theology and culture?
Tim Keller writes that a convergence may be happening within evangelicalism on a “third way” of considering the relationship between Christ and culture, beyond the “Two Kingdoms” and the “Transformationist” views. Here’s a great snippet on an important aspect of this third way:

While the mission of the institutional church is to preach the Word and produce disciples, the church must disciple Christians in such a way that they live justly and integrate their faith with their work. So the church doesn’t directly change culture, but it disciples and supports people who do.

Repaso is intended as a thought-provoking compilation of news and commentary from the past week related to the intersections of faith, development, justice and peace. As always, I welcome your thoughts on any of the links and ideas in this roundup!

[Photo credit: Clint McMahon via The Guardian]