Bruce Cockburn was one of the shapers of my life and faith and vocation. Since introduced to him in my University days at Queens I have allowed his music to inspire my faith, inform my worldview and challenge my activism in the world. His memoirs were almost like a detailed study of my own life.
For those who know Cockburn you don’t need me to tell you that his autobiography was going to be a well written piece of literature. It far exceeds the expectations of the average rock biog!
The musical part of the book is fascinating in that we are looking at a singer who has always struggled with the upfront nature of his vocation. Cockburn is a shy fellow who struggled with fame but at the same time had to consider the commercial side of his gifting. This is the portrait of an artist, not a pop star and it is intriguing and refreshing as a result. It is an educational read for my friends who are songwriters and performers.
Many of Cockburn’s fans will be not only familiar but drawn to his spiritual side and those kind of fans will be well satisfied here. Not growing up in a Christian subculture Cockburn’s faith is very much his own exploration and the book does catalogue it as an adventure where it is devoutly Christian when it finds its way into his life story but become perhaps more ambiguous but no less vital by the book’s end.
As well as being an artist and a spiritual Bruce Cockburn is also a social activist and has traveled the world seeking out the truth about central America, Africa, the middle east and the far east. It was Cockburn’s music that educated me about not only political situations but how as a Christian activist I should respond.
There are huge swathes of the book where Cockburn not only tells you about his personal reflections on these places but backs it up with meticulous information on politics economics and mainly America’s involvement in the world’s injustices. This is wonderful travelogue as well.
Perhaps most interesting of all is Cockburn’s absolute honesty. I told my psychotherapist friend Chris Fry that there would be much for him to chew on in Cockburn’s confessions and self critique. For a man so shy in public he is totally candid in his writing. We see into his head, his soul, his heart. He opens himself to the very marrow of his psyche.
Of course I read the book not as an artist or a psychotherapist but as a pastor. What fascinated me was that this is very honest study of a man who has journeyed with Jesus but has never been consistently engaged with a Church. That is a helpful study. Many of my friends of faith and not of faith would see the weaknesses of the Church. I would suggest that there are strengths! My job depends on it! As I read Rumours of Glory I surmised where in Cockburn’s life he has benefited or been hindered by that lack of Church shaping. You can draw your own conclusions.
My ultimate conclusion is best summed up in a Cockburn lyric. Another thing I enjoyed about the book was how he explained so many of the details of his songs; contexts of relationships, personal reflection and political thought. He then ends sections with the lyrics of the songs. I was drawn to one of my many favourite songs Mystery where Cockburn’s last verse goes:
“So all you stumblers who believe love rules
Believe love rules
Believe love rules
Come all you stumblers who believe love rules
Stand up and let it shine
Stand up and let it shine”
Whatever the honest failings of Cockburn’s stumblings after Jesus this is a man who has stood up and shone a light across many of the world’s dark corners. Fascinating stuff!