Recently, I read an editorial by David Brooks that captured my imagination. He was talking about the Bruce Springsteen phenomenon—specifically, the Springsteen’s appeal in Europe. According to Brooks, European crowds are wild about Springsteen. When he sings, “Born in the USA”, Europeans bounce to their feet, raise their hands, wave and chant, “I was born in the USA.”
Reflecting on Springsteen’s wide appeal, Brooks concludes that it is the particularity of Springsteen’s lyrics that accounts for his widespread and lasting appeal. He concludes,
“a more easily accessible Springsteen, removed from his soul roots, his childhood obsessions and the oft-repeated idiom of cars and highways, would have been diluted. Instead, he processed new issues in the language of his old tradition, and now you’ve got young adults filling stadiums, knowing every word to songs written 20 years before they were born, about places they’ll never see.”
It makes you appreciate the tremendous power of particularity. If your identity is formed by hard boundaries, if you come from a specific place, if you embody a distinct musical tradition…. you are going to have more depth and definition than you are if you grew up in the far-flung networks of pluralism and eclecticism, surfing from one spot to the next, sampling one style then the next, your identity formed by soft boundaries, or none at all.
Reading David Brooks and hearing the echoes of Springsteen beat in my head got me wondering about the landscapes of our lives—as individuals, as Christians, as members of the Live at Five community. I think of the landscape in which I was raised, the paracosm that shapes my reality, the ordered landscape of townships, sections and subsections that marks the former lands of the Northwest Territory; the Mississippi—the Father of Waters—dividing the cities where I spent my youth; the small neighborhood that was childhood home not only to my brother and me but to our parents as well; the safety, acceptance and love that permeated that community and the naïveté and narrowness too. What are the landscapes of your lives? How have they shaped your view of the world in which you live?
We dwell in several worlds at once. Our lives are like a Russian stacking doll. One of those dolls, one of those paracosms is the landscape of our lives as Christians—the words and stories that draw us closer to God; the practices that deepen our faith; the moments in the service that shake us to our very core or take us to a still place or show us a face of God we’ve not seen before; hymns or songs or even a note that speaks the words of God in ways our ears can hear. I work in a building where the words of Matthew 25: 35-36 are stenciled on the outside wall where everyone who enters sees them. Each day I’m reminded that following Jesus means feeding the hungry, clothing the naked, giving water to the thirsty, caring for the sick and visiting those in prison. Those words have become part of the landscape of my life as a Christian. Not long ago, I was talking with a friend. We were playing with the many different ways of following Jesus, the many different sides of his life. I found myself wondering, “What would the landscape of a Christian life look like if it focused on turning over the tables in the temple?” What does the landscape of your Christian life look like? What are the landmarks you look to? The stories you return to? The practices that sustain you?
What about us—the part of the Body of Christ we call Live at Five? What are the landscapes that shape our life as a community? What are the nuances of the traditions that shape us and nourish us still? What are the traditions that sustain us? The latitude lines that mark our common life? What are the stories we tell one another? The things we hold dear? In the month ahead our Live at Five council will be reflecting on questions like these as they begin to put together a mission statement for our community. Please join in this work. Reflect on the landscape of our common life. Sit in prayer with the Live at Five community. Listen for the Spirit at work among us. Look for the markers of our shared landscape. Together we will get a deeper, wider and more detailed picture of the landscape of our common life.