Springsteen’s Challenging Christianity

I was listening to Bruce Springsteen’s “Land of Hopes and Dreams” yesterday while raking leaves, and I realized that it may be my favorite of his many, many great songs.

Structurally, I’ve considered “Jungleland” my hands-down favorite ever since that first delicious solitary night in a Fulton farmhouse when, discovering Springsteen for the first time, late as usual, I let the “Born to Run” album swell the walls and rattle the windows of that isolated old homestead. I always appreciated the diverse musicianship and the constant, meaningful changes in stress and tempo, and the poetic urban narrative.  Still do, every time I hear it.

But with “Land of Hopes and Dreams,” I find a song that itself is a marvelous blend of simple chord changes and complex blends of vocals and instruments, but whose decidedly Christian message is raw and challenging. “This train carries saints & sinners / This train carries losers & winners / This train carries whores & gamblers / This train carries lost souls.”  Is there a message anywhere in any canon that more succinctly and poignantly describes the fundamental message of Christ and of the Apostle Paul when they talk about the primacy and the power of unqualified love?  Maybe, but none that moves me in quite the same way. And the obvious contrast to the supposedly Christian folk song, “This Train” simply reinforces the message. “This train is bound for glory, if you ride it you must be holy,” the song declares.

Wrong.  That’s not at all the message. Not of Christianity, with which I am most familiar, nor of any of the great religions at their core.

There is no shortage of commentary on Springsteen’s genius as a songwriter, his diversity as a thinker, his dedication to “the common man,” but above them all, for me, this song demonstrates the depth of his heart, the strength of his spirit and, taking him out of the equation altogether, the ultimate challenge of the message of love – that we don’t just love life’s winners and heroes; we also love the humblest losers, “the lost souls.” And, musically, what a beautiful, earnest expression of that message.