“Our journey is driven by longing….Longing has to do with God, because what humans long for most is a relationship with the Divine. We may not be conscious of it, but we long to know God, in whatever context or guise that might mean to the individual….Only God can fill that hole.” Bruce Cockburn, Rumours of Glory, p. 106.
I wasn’t expecting a statement of Christian faith from Bruce Cockburn’s new memoir. I have watched over the years as Bruce has moved from being very outspoken about his Christian beliefs to being very critical of the organized church. Increasingly he seemed to equate American right-wing Christianity with all Christians. On stage he would say “I’m a Christian, but I’m not one of those.”
He has also struggles (as perhaps all of us do) between what he wanted to do and what he knew he should do. As the Apostle Paul put it in Romans 7:19: “For I do not do the good I want to do, but the evil I do not want to do – this I keep on doing.” Bruce has been aware of that tension throughout his career, it has from time to time shown up in his music and the impression I get from Rumours of Glory so far is that he has not resolved it. (I have not finished the book yet, sadly I have a life that interferes with my reading.) I get the impression he may no longer call himself a Christian because of the acts of others. This is a little sad – Bono, of the band U2, has been quoted as saying he is reluctant to call himself a Christian because he has read the Bible knows what a Christian is supposed to be, and he doesn’t live up to those expectations (then again none of us does entirely – which is where grace enters the equation).
I worked in downtown Ottawa in the early 1970s across the street from St. George’s Anglican Church, where Bruce was a congregant, and I remember occasionally seeing him going into the church, I presumed just to chat with the rector, the Reverend Patrick Playfair. Shortly after Bruce had moved to Toronto I asked him about church, specifically whether he was attending one. The answer was no. He told me he had tried, but couldn’t find any pastor in Toronto who equaled Pat.
Or as he says in the memoir, “The eighties for me were also a time of struggle over what it meant to be a Christian. I never found a church in Toronto where I found the collective spirit the way I had at St. George’s in Ottawa.” (p. 315)
When Bruce told me his church-going dilemma I understood, though I disagreed with him. Pat Playfair was a man of deep faith and somewhat of a character, to say the least. He and I crossed paths a few times during his time at St. George’s Anglican. I remember one lunch, just three or four of us in the room. I have no memory as to why I was having lunch at St. George’s and who else was there, but I do remember Patrick arguing that it said in the Bible that Anglicans would be the first ones into Heaven upon the return of Jesus Christ.
Now, I may not be the most knowledgeable theologian, but I know the Anglican Church was formed about 1500 years after the last books of the Bible were written. So I asked Pat for proof. “It says in the Bible, ‘the dead in Christ will rise first’ and that describes the Anglican Church. You won’t find a deader group of Christians.” I suspect that was a large part of Patrick’s appeal to Bruce, he had a sense of humour coupled with a desire for justice and bringing people closer to God.
It appears Bruce, like many of us, got hung up on imperfect humanity and lost his focus on Jesus. By doing that he’s missed the point of the Christian faith.
Once I finish the book I may have more to add about Rumours of Glory, but for now this is it. Tomorrow we return to our regularly scheduled programming.