Watch Springsteen’s convocation address at Boston College

Get up to speed at the end of this post.

If you don’t want to watch the entire thing, here are the highlights:

Context: (For more on Created and Called for Community at Messiah University click here).

Liberty University’s Falkirk Center meets all expectations at its “Get Louder” event

Yesterday, Liberty University’s Falkirk Center, the culture war wing of the largest Christian university in the world, held a 1-day conference titled “Get Louder: Faith Summit 2020.” Evangelical Trump supporters were encouraged to yell and scream more, fight more, and make sure that they were active on every social media platform. This is how the Kingdom of God will advance and Christian America will be saved because in the minds of the speakers, and probably most of those in attendance, there is little difference between the two. There was virtually nothing said about civility, humility, empathy, peace, compassion, the common good, or justice for people of color or the poor.

If there is any doubt that the Falkirk Center, with its angry and bitter political rhetoric and unswerving support of Donald Trump, represents Liberty University, those doubts were put to rest in the first fifteen minutes of the event. The day began with a video from the late Jerry Falwell Sr.:

This was followed by a welcome from Liberty University Provost Scott Hicks. Scott Lamb, Liberty’s Vice President for Communications, also welcomed the audience and praised the work of the Falkirk Center.

Falkirk Center director Ryan Helfenbein introduced the day’s festivities:

The first plenary speaker was former Arkansas governor and GOP presidential candidate Mike Huckabee. He started-off with a real “historical” whopper:

Much of Huckabee’s speech confused identity politics with “collectivism.” It was an ideological mess. The real socialist collectivists in America are no fan of identity politics.

And it wouldn’t be a Huckabee speech without some fearmongering:

Huckabee is disappointed with students on “evangelical campuses”:

Next came Ralph Reed, one of the primary architects of the Christian Right playbook. Reed sings one note:

The “Great Awakening” was ubiquitous at this event:

We’ve written about the “Black-Robed Brigade here.

Falkirk Center’s co-founder Charlie Kirk’s pastor spoke:

A general observation about the day:

And then Eric Metaxas showed-up:

I compared this session on the “Christian mind” to Bruce Springsteen’s convocation address last night at another Christian college–Jesuit-run Boston College:

Next-up, court evangelical Greg Locke:

Next-up, the anti-social justice crowd:

At the end of a long day Eric Metaxas came back for a solo speech:

Please read my recent Religion News Service piece in this context of these texts.

Springsteen’s new album was recorded live with the E Street Band. Here is the title track:

I blogged about this last night. Springsteen’s album is titled Letter to You . Here is the title track:

Rolling Stone has more:

“I love the emotional nature of Letter To You,” he said in a statement. “And I love the sound of the E Street Band playing completely live in the studio, in a way we’ve never done before, and with no overdubs. We made the album in only five days, and it turned out to be one of the greatest recording experiences I’ve ever had.”

In addition to nine new songs, the album also includes fresh recordings of three songs that predate Springsteen’s 1973 debut album, Greetings From Asbury Park, N.J.: “Janey Needs A Shooter,” “If I Was the Priest” and “Song for Orphans.” Assuming Springsteen keeps the lyrics from the early bootlegged versions, “If I Was the Priest” (covered by Hollies singer Allan Clarke in the Seventies) is a sacrilegious fantasy (“If Jesus was the sheriff and I was the priest/If my lady was an heiress and my mama was a thief”), while “Song for Orphans” is a Dylan-esque tale of “aimless quest-less renegade brats who live their lives in songs,” and “Janey” is a slightly twisted love song.

Read the rest here.

A new Springsteen album is almost here

It is titled “Letter to You.” There are also rumors that a song off the album will drop tomorrow.

Here is Jay Lustig at NJArts.net:

Though there has been no official announcement, it appears that the next Bruce Springsteen album will be titled Letter to You. The page shown above is from the Amazon UK website. Though it may be taken down by the time you read this, the web address is amazon.co.uk/dp/B08HGB71RT.

A similar page was also posted today on the site of the Wheeling, W.V. record store, Nail City Records, though it has now been taken down.

There have been heavy rumors of a new Springsteen album, on its way, over the last few weeks.

Amazon UK does not list a release date through Nail City had released the date as Oct. 23. One has to wonder if the timing of the release was chosen because of the proximity of Oct. 23 to Election Day, Nov. 3.

(Update: NJArts.net has learned other details about the album, including a track listing:

“One Minute You’re Here”
“Letter to You”
“Burnin Train”
“Janey Needs a Shooter”
“Last Man Standing”
“The Power of Prayer”
“House of a Thousand Guitars”
“Rainmaker”
“If I Was the Priest”
“Ghosts”
“Song for Orphans”
“I’ll See You in My Dreams”

Read the rest here.

Tomorrow Springsteen will give the convocation speech at Boston College. Check out BC’s Born to Run reading guide. It does a very nice job of connecting Springsteen and his music to the Jesuit tradition. Here is a taste:

Springsteen focuses on the influence of the Catholic Church in his early life – geographical, cultural, familial, personal. While Springsteen acknowledges that his connection to the Church changed as he grew older, he also emphasizes the importance of his personal relationship with God. Again, with his critical reflection, Springsteen is able to articulate his faith and his belief, and how those inform his most loving response to the world: “This was the world where I found the beginnings of my song. In Catholicism, there existed the poetry, danger and darkness that reflected my imagination and my inner self. I found a land of great and harsh beauty, of fantastic stories, of unimaginable punishment and infinite reward…as a young adult I tried to make sense of it. I tried to meet its challenge for the very reasons that there are souls to lose and a kingdom of love to be gained. I laid what I’d absorbed across the hardscrabble lives of my family, friends and neighbors. I turned it into something I could grapple with, understand, something I could even find faith in. As funny as it sounds, I have a “personal relationship with Jesus… I believe deeply in his love…” (p.17).

What does spirituality mean to you? How have you matured in your
relationship with God on your journey? In what ways do you hope to do
so over the next four years at Boston College? Who are the conversation
partners you will seek out during your time at Boston College to help you
consider your relationship with God, your relationship with others and
the world around you, and your relationship with yourself?

Is a new Springsteen album with the E Street band coming?

Bruce_Springsteen_and_the_E_Street_Band_1977

As Chris Jordan of the Asbury Park Press reports, there are some rumblings about a “coming storm.” Here is a taste of his piece:

A very big storm is coming.    

That’s the word from music producer Ron Aniello, who’s been working on Bruce Springsteen albums since the 2012 No. 1 hit “Wrecking Ball.”    

Aniello’s storm appeared in an Instagram Story video on his account with the cryptic title “It’s coming…” on Aug. 21. Could a new Springsteen and the E Street Band album be coming? Team Springsteen is mum on the subject, but there certainly are signs something big is about to happen.

Aniello has been working at the recording studio in the Colts Neck home of Springsteen during the  coronavirus outbreak, said Patti Scialfa, E Street Band member and Springsteen wife, to Rolling Stone. He’s been busy on a new Scialfa album and with Springsteen. 

“We’ve been sharing a studio, and Bruce has just been so prolific lately that it’s hard for me to get in there,” Scialfa said. “He’s always like, ‘I have to go do this thing and that thing.’ d” 

Read the rest here.

Fear and Frederick Jackson Turner: Night 4 of the GOP convention

Trump GOP convention 2

Well, it’s over. Last night Donald Trump, a president who lost the popular vote by 3 million and has never had his approval rating rise over 50%, used the White House–the “people’s house–for a political rally. Most of the sycophants in the crowd were not wearing masks and there was no social distancing.

Trump’s speech was filled with lies and misleading statements. His low energy reading of the teleprompter did not play to our hopes, it played to our fears. But this is now par for the course in the Trump administration. The president claimed that if Joe Biden gets elected, suicide, depression, drug and alcohol addiction and heart attacks would plague the country. (The only thing missing from this list is lower SAT scores). He suggested that if Joe Biden gets elected Black mobs will invade the white suburbs. Joe Biden will take your guns and abolish the police force. Be afraid. Be very, very afraid.

And most white evangelicals are on board. In fact, many of the court evangelicals were present at the speech.

Author Neal Gabler once said that “true religion…begins in doubt and continues in spiritual exploration. Debased religion begins in fear and terminates in certainty.” The great poet of the Jersey shore put it this way: “Fear’s a dangerous thing. It can turn your heart black you can trust. It’ll take a God-filled soul and fill it with devils and dust.”

Last night’s theme was “America: Land of Greatness.” But I don’t think court evangelical Franklin Graham got the message. Here is his opening prayer:

Graham talked about a nation in “trouble,” a nation “divided,” and a nation experiencing “injustice.” It was a good prayer. He turned to God, not Trump, for hope.

All week we have been hearing a lot about Trump as a man of empathy and compassion. He loves Black people. He loves women. He loves immigrants. Last night Trump claimed (again) that he has done more for the Black community than any president in American history (which is not true). But he failed to say anything about the plight of African Americans in this country. He ignored the family of Jacob Blake. It’s as if the real problems in America–death from coronavirus, racial unrest, and a struggling economy–do not exist in Trumpland.

I really don’t have much to say about last night that I haven’t written about many times before. Trump is a serial liar. Read NPR’s fact check here.

But near the end of the speech, Trump started riffing on the American past.

Our country wasn’t built by cancel culture, speech codes, and soul-crushing conformity. We are NOT a nation of timid spirits. We are a nation of fierce, proud, and independent American Patriots.

We are a nation of pilgrims, pioneers, adventurers, explorers and trailblazers who refused to be tied down, held back, or reined in. Americans have steel in their spines, grit in their souls, and fire in their hearts. There is no one like us on earth.

I want every child in America to know that you are part of the most exciting and incredible adventure in human history. No matter where your family comes from, no matter your background, in America, ANYONE CAN RISE. With hard work, devotion, and drive, you can reach any goal and achieve every ambition.

Our American Ancestors sailed across the perilous ocean to build a new life on a new continent. They braved the freezing winters, crossed the raging rivers, scaled the rocky peaks, trekked the dangerous forests, and worked from dawn till dusk. These pioneers didn’t have money, they didn’t have fame– but they had each other. They loved their families, they loved their country, and they loved their God!

When opportunity beckoned, they picked up their Bibles, packed up their belongings, climbed into covered wagons, and set out West for the next adventure. Ranchers and miners, cowboys and sheriffs, farmers and settlers — they pressed on past the Mississippi to stake a claim in the Wild Frontier.

Legends were born — Wyatt Earp, Annie Oakley, Davy Crockett, and Buffalo Bill.

Americans built their beautiful homesteads on the Open Range. Soon they had churches and communities, then towns, and with time, great centers of industry and commerce. That is who they were. Americans build the future, we don’t tear down the past!

We are the nation that won a revolution, toppled tyranny and fascism, and delivered millions into freedom. We laid down the railroads, built the great ships, raised up the skyscrapers, revolutionized industry, and sparked a new age of scientific discovery. We set the trends in art and music, radio and film, sport and literature — and we did it all with style, confidence and flair. Because THAT is who we are.

Whenever our way of life was threatened, our heroes answered the call.

From Yorktown to Gettysburg, from Normandy to Iwo Jima, American Patriots raced into cannon blasts, bullets and bayonets to rescue American Liberty.

But America didn’t stop there. We looked into the sky and kept pressing onward. We built a 6 million pound rocket, and launched it thousands of miles into space. We did it so that two brave patriots could stand tall and salute our wondrous American flag planted on the face of the Moon.

For America, nothing is impossible.

I need to figure out some way to use this speech in an American history class. There was nothing in the speech about westward-moving southerners trying to find new land to spread their slave culture. There was nothing in the speech about the death of Indians or the forced surrender of  native land. There was nothing in the speech about the limits of American self-interest.

Trump said that the settlement of the West resulted in the creation of “churches and communities.” This was followed, in Trump’s view of history, by “industry and commerce.” Then came railroads, ships, skyscrapers, and victory in World War II. And finally the moon landing. I am surprised he did not use a quote or two from Rudyard Kipling.

What we heard last night was an eighteenth-century “stages of civilization” view of history, a progressive and Whig history focused on the inevitable triumph of liberty and freedom for all white Americans, and a Frederick Jackson Turner-esque story of rugged individualism. I am going to bet that the speech was written by Stephen Miller, Trump’s nativist alt-Right staff member who has spent his short career in politics celebrating the superiority and conquest of the white race.

November 3 is coming soon.

Night two (Tuesday) at the DNC convention

Joe and Jill
Here are some of my tweets from last night with additional context.

My twitter followers seemed to be split 50-50 on this take:

Yes, the Democratic Party is putting aside their differences for a few months in order to remove Trump, but as I watch the convention and the surrounding news coverage there appears to be a lot of division behind the mask of party unity.  The progressives in the party did not like the fact that members of the GOP, especially John Kasich, took speaking slots away from people of color. Bernie Sanders told the convention that Biden was moving to the left. Kasich promised independents that Biden was staying in the center. Ocasio-Cortez, one of the most recognizable faces in the party, nominated Bernie Sanders. Julian Castro, in the midst of the convention, is saying that Biden’s election will hurt the Democratic Party’s support among Latinos. And a clear generational divide exists in the party.

Meanwhile, the GOP is likely to put on a unified front next week. None of the dissenters–George W. Bush, Jeb Bush, Mitt Romney, etc.–will be speaking, but apparently speaking slots have been reserved for Nick Sandman of Covington Catholic High School and the St. Louis couple who pulled their guns on Black Lives Matter protesters.

I have been thinking a lot about these connections lately, especially after reading Adrienne LaFrance’s piece at The Atlantic, Katelyn Beaty’s piece at RNS, and seeing court evangelicals like Jack Graham and Greg Laurie connecting post-COVID19 economic revival with spiritual revival and the opening of churches. I was struck by this quote from LaFrance’s piece:

[Qanon conspiracy theorist David] Hayes tells his followers that he thinks Q is an open-source intelligence operation, made possible by the internet and designed by patriots fighting corruption inside the intelligence community. His interpretation of Q is ultimately religious in nature, and centers on the idea of a Great Awakening. “I believe The Great Awakening has a double application,” Hayes wrote in a blog post in November 2019

“It speaks of an intellectual awakening—the awareness by the public to the truth that we’ve been enslaved in a corrupt political system. But the exposure of the unimaginable depravity of the elites will lead to an increased awareness of our own depravity. Self-awareness of sin is fertile ground for spiritual revival. I believe the long-prophesied spiritual awakening lies on the other side of the storm.”

I hope to write something about these connection soon. In the meantime, as my tweet indicated, I also hear a lot of “rise-up,” “awakening,” and “revival” language coming from the Democrats during this convention. It is not meant spiritually–at least in a Christian “revival” sense of the world–but it does seem to be tapping into some kind of renewal or revival of the American spirit. I realize that this is a pretty common political message, but it seems to take on a new meaning in light of all this talk of #GreatAwakening.

Watch:

It’s uncanny:

Schlossberg

I didn’t see any disagreements on this one:

In case you missed the bingo card.

City of Ruins:

When I wrote the above tweet I had no idea this video was coming:

Here is was responding to Jack Jenkins’s tweet about Jill Biden’s speech:

 

My review of the Monmouth County Historical Association’s Springsteen exhibit

Springsteen exhibit

Some of you may remember our interview with Melissa Ziobro, the Monmouth University history professor who curated a recent exhibit on Bruce Springsteen’s relationship with his hometown of Freehold, New Jersey.

Listen to Episode 60 of The Way of Improvement Leads Home Podcast.

This week New Jersey Studies: An Interdisciplinary Journal published my short review of the “Springsteen: His Hometown” exhibit. Read it here.

Trump’s new campaign ad in historical context

Have you seen Trump’s new campaign ad?

As Bruce Springsteen once said, “Fear’s a dangerous thing. It can turn your heart black, you can trust. It’ll take your God-filled soul and fill it with devils and dust.”

Fear has been a staple of American politics since the founding of the republic. In 1800, the Connecticut Courant, a Federalist newspaper that supported President John Adams in his reelection campaign against Thomas Jefferson, the founding father and religious skeptic from Virginia, the country would have to deal with a wave of murder, atheism, rape, adultery and robbery.

In the 1850s, the anti-Catholic and anti-immigrant American Party, commonly known as the “Know-Nothing Party,” was infamous for its American-flag banner emblazoned with the words “Native Americans: Beware of False Influence.”

nativist flag

In modern America, campaign ads keep us in a constant state of fear–and not always from right-wing sources either. I still get a shiver up my spine when I watch “Daisy Girl,” the 1964 Lyndon Johnson campaign advertisement. Watch:

And here is Richard Nixon in 1968, another “law and order” president:

Political fear is so dangerous because it usually stems from legitimate concerns shared by a significant portion of the voting population. For example, there are groups who want to defund the police. Television and social media make it easier for politicians to define our fears for us. They take these legitimate concerns, as political theorist Corey Robin puts it, and transforms them “into imminent threats.”

Jason Bivins, another scholar of fear, has noted that “moral panics” tend to “rely on presumptions more than facts; they dramatize and sensationalize so as to keep audiences in a state of continual alertness.” For example, Joe Biden does not want to defund the police. Nor do most Democrats. Yet Trump has managed to convince his followers that Biden and the Democratic Party are imminent threats to the country because of their supposed views on this issue.

Many of the people who will be scared by this new Trump ad are evangelical Christians. I wrote about their fear in Believe Me: The Evangelical Road to Donald Trump.

David Brooks interviews Bruce Springsteen

bruce-springsteen-on-broadway-photo-by-rob-demartin

In February 2018, I spoke to New York Times columnist David Brooks at the Walter Kerr Theater in New York City. We were both there to see “Springsteen on Broadway.” You can read about our very, very brief encounter here.

I thought about that moment as I read Brooks’s interview with Bruce Springsteen, published today at The Atlantic.

Here is a taste:

Brooks: There is a question I’ve always wanted to ask you. You’ve spent so much of your life writing about working-class men and, in particular, working-class men who were victims of deindustrialization, who used to work in the factories and mills that were closed, whether in Asbury Park or Freehold or Youngstown or throughout the Midwest. But a lot of those guys didn’t turn out to share your politics. They became Donald Trump supporters. What’s your explanation for that?

Springsteen: There’s a long history of working people being misled by a long list of demagogues, from George Wallace and Jesse Helms to fake religious leaders like Jerry Falwell to our president.

The Democrats haven’t really made the preservation of the middle and working class enough of a priority. And they’ve been stymied in bringing more change by the Republican Party. In the age of Roosevelt, Republicans represented business; Democrats represented labor. And when I was a kid, the first and only political question ever asked in my house was “Mom, what are we, Democrats or Republicans?” And she answered, “We are Democrats because they’re for the working people.” (I have a sneaking suspicion my mom went Republican towards the end of her cognizant life, but she never said anything about it!)

In addition, there is a core and often true sense of victimization that has been brought on by the lightning pace of deindustrialization and technological advancement that’s been incredibly traumatic for an enormous amount of working people across the nation. The feeling of being tossed aside, left behind by history, is something our president naturally tapped into.

There is resentment of elites, of specialists, of cosmopolitan coast dwellers, some of it merited. It is due to attitudes among some that discount the value and sacrifice so many working people have made for their country. When the wars are being fought, they are there.  When the job is dirty and rough, they are there. But the president cynically taps into primal resentments and plays on patriotism for purely his political gain.

There is a desire for a figure who will once again turn back the clock to full factories, high wages, and for some, the social status that comes with being white—that is a difficult elixir, prejudices and all, for folks who are in dire straits to resist. Our president didn’t deliver on the factories or the jobs returning from overseas or much else for our working class. The only thing he delivered on was resentment, division, and the talent for getting our countrymen at each other’s throats. He made good on that, and that is how he thrives.  

Read the entire interview here.

Song of the Day

American Skin (41 Shots):

For those unfamilar with the history behind this song, click here.

(41 shots)
(41 shots)
(41 shots)
(41 shots)

41 shots, and we’ll take that ride
‘Cross the bloody river to the other side
41 shots, cut through the night
You’re kneeling over his body in the vestibule
Praying for his life

Is it a gun, is it a knife
Is it a wallet, this is your life
It ain’t no secret (it ain’t no secret)
It ain’t no secret (it ain’t no secret)
No secret my friend
You can get killed just for living in your American skin

(41 shots)
(41 shots)
(41 shots)
(41 shots)

41 shots, Lena gets her son ready for school
She says, “On these streets, Charles
You’ve got to understand the rules
If an officer stops you, promise me you’ll always be polite
And that you’ll never ever run away
Promise Mama you’ll keep your hands in sight”

Is it a gun (is it a gun), is it a knife (is it a knife)
Is it a wallet (is it a wallet), this is your life (this is your life)
It ain’t no secret (it ain’t no secret)
It ain’t no secret (it ain’t no secret)
No secret my friend
You can get killed just for living in your American skin

(41 shots)
(41 shots)
(41 shots)
(41 shots)

Is it a gun (is it a gun), is it a knife (is it a knife)
Is it in your heart (is it in your heart), is it in your eyes (is it in your eyes)
It ain’t no secret (it ain’t no secret)
It ain’t no secret (it ain’t no secret)
It ain’t no secret (it ain’t no secret)

41 shots, and we’ll take that ride
‘Cross this bloody river to the other side
41 shots, I got my boots caked with this mud
We’re baptized in these waters (baptized in these waters)
And in each other’s blood (and in each other’s blood)

Is it a gun (is it a gun), is it a knife (is it a knife)
Is it a wallet (is it a wallet), this is your life (this is your life)
It ain’t no secret (it ain’t no secret)
It ain’t no secret (it ain’t no secret)
No secret my friend
You can get killed just for living in
You can get killed just for living in
You can get killed just for living in your American skin

41 shots
41 shots
41 shots
41 shots

41 shots
41 shots
41 shots
41 shots

41 shots (you can get killed just for living in)
41 shots (you can get killed just for living in)
41 shots (you can get killed just for living in)
41 shots (you can get killed just for living in)

41 shots (you can get killed just for living in)
41 shots (you can get killed just for living in)
41 shots (you can get killed just for living in)
41 shots (you can get killed just for living in)