Last week, I attended my very first Bruce Springsteen concert. Until recently, I would have only considered myself a casual listener of his music, but I have since become a full convert to the Cult of Bruce. I have come to a place where I fully understand the kinds of people who would drive hundreds of miles to see a Springsteen concert even though they have already seen him three times on the same tour. When people have asked me how I liked the concert, the best answer I have been able to give is this: "It's like Bruce was backstage with the rest of the E Street Band and said, 'Hey guys, Rob's out there tonight. We've got to make him happy." He delivered. The first three songs in the setlist were among my three favorite songs from the Springsteen catalogue. He played for two and-a-half hours, and I never found myself in any way wanting the show to end.
I've always been moved by great music. There are very few things that I would rather do than attend a good concert. It does something to my soul. As I stood in the middle of a crowd of thousands of Springsteen fans pumping their fists and singing along with their eyes closed, I took a few deep breaths. For those two hours, all was right with the world. Bruce had come to Dallas and breathed into my soul.
I believe that this is one of the primary roles of the church. The church should be a place that allows people to come and to exhale and nurse their wounds and experience something that gives them a glimpse of hope and beauty. When a person leaves on a Sunday morning, they should not primarily feel as though they have been informed so much as inspired.
Honestly, I think this is the true meaning (or at least one of the true meanings) behind the common church-goer complaint, "I'm just not being fed." For a long time, I had such a negative attitude toward someone who would say this. I assumed that these were people who were attending the church with the same attitude with which they interact with the food court at the mall. When they stop serving what you want and how you want it, you're shopping somewhere else. I felt that this complaint was a spiritual-sounding way of articulating the emotion of being an unsatisfied customer. However, I think there's at least some legitimacy to this complaint (at least some times). I think what people are saying--although they often don't really know how to say it like this--is that they aren't being inspired. They attend a church service that is entertaining and flashy and well-done, but they leave with no greater sense of hope or restoration. They haven't had an experience. I think this is why it's so difficult for many of us to feel comfortable inviting skeptics and people who are spiritually curious to our church services. It's a lot of information and a lot of style, but at no point has anyone's soul been refreshed.
I read a book last summer called The Shaping Of Things To Come by Michael Frost and Alan Hirsch. This is one of the best books I have ever read about the role of the church in a Postmodern world. In this book, Hirsch and Frost devote an entire chapter to this very concept. They tell us that one of the church's roles in society is to whisper into the souls of people. When I attend a weekend church service, it shouldn't be like attending a seminar; it should feel like my batteries are recharging. When I gather with others in the name of Jesus, I should feel as though I am plugging in to a power source that is bigger than myself. I should be moved.
Then, as members of the church, our role is to enter into the worlds of the people in our lives with this same purpose. This idea flies directly in the face of the notion that my responsibility is to confront non-Christians without the intention of befriending them (or, perhaps worse, befriending them solely to attempt to convert them). This idea of breathing into the soul is the call to simply enter the life of someone and be a constant presence of Jesus in their world. We don't introduce people to Jesus by wearing down their resistance or by arguing until they can't stand being around us. We show people who Jesus is by being a voice of hope and life. Hirsch and Frost say this:
"To whisper into the souls of not-yet-Christians, we need to lie in the grass under a starry sky with them. We need to wander with them through an art gallery." (102)
To continue with the Springsteen-centric theme of this entry, there is a line in the song "Badlands" that says, "It ain't no sin to be glad you're alive." I think the role of the church is remind people that this statement is true. I think it's our job to find the people in this world who have given up and breathe life into their broken souls. This isn't a sales technique. This is who we're called to be. We are to be a people who say to the citizens of this world, "There is a God who has created you, and the fact that you are alive is a beautiful thing."
In case you wanted this (you probably didn't), here's the setlist from the Springsteen concert in Dallas on April 13, 2008:
Tenth Avenue Freeze-out
Reason to Believe
Prove It All Night
Because the Night
She's the One
Livin' in the Future
The Promised Land
Girls in Their Summer Clothes
Last to Die
Long Walk Home
* * *
Meeting Across the River
Born to Run
Glory Days (with Jon Bon Jovi)
Dancing in the Dark