Born of the USA

While on a run, my music service blasted out Springsteen’s “Born to Run”, Mellencamp’s “Pink Houses”, and Browne’s “The Pretender”. It inspired me to celebrate our nation’s birth by exegeting the greatest of American mediums: rock ‘n’ roll music–specifically by exegeting those three songs which provide a rich look into the American pursuits of life, liberty, and happiness. So in back-to-back-to-back fashion, we’ll cue up three Rock-a-Gesis’s in a row leading into the 4th of July. BOOM!

A note of warning: if you were drawn here in hopes of getting my opinion on the rightness of recent supreme court decisions or on the theology of marriage, you’re out of luck. Such opinions are currently repulsing readers across the inter-webs and are really counter-productive at this point (I have yet to meet someone who has had his opinion changed by the millions of editorials offered on the topics). If you really care what I think, buy me a cup of coffee and I’ll be a little more comfortable expressing my opinions eye-to-eye and in reflection of the Holy Presence that calls us to search for understanding in love. This post is about our reaction as a nation to events that potentially cause rift and tumult–like the aforementioned supreme court decision.

I first heard “Born in the USA” when I was 8 years old. I thought the song sucked. It really sounded like a poor attempt at an American anthem. Springsteen screamed the whole time, like he was mad or something. To an 8-year-old, one simply did not get mad at America. The keyboard sounded off… and played the same thing over and over and over again. The drums were obnoxious. And the lyrics… they were sad. Everybody who knew something about music (which in my world really just consisted of the VJs on MTV) talked about how great the song was. I thought they just didn’t get it. The song was about AMERICA, and therefore held up to a higher standard. This song was way short of being worthy of our great country.

31 years later, I see the ignorance of my ways. The song is a critique. Through the lyrics we are introduced to a Vietnam vet who struggles to find his way back into American society. He is a broken man struggling with a broken system that will not provide for him much support. What goes on behind the lyrics in the song add into its angst. Those lyrics are screamed with raspy anger. The drums are a bit obtrusive–they won’t let us listeners relax into the groove of the song. The keyboard riff sounds like it repeatedly fades flat in pitch. In its repetitiveness we await the moment when it will finally click into perfect pitch.

All this imperfect music comes together in a song that suggests it isn’t yet what it is supposed to be–like the true beauty of the song has yet to break through the dissonance. The music reflects the brokenness of the lyrics. There is a vision of something beautiful there, but it is not yet realized. I hear that unrealized hope in the lyrics. But it is not a hope lost. Despite the hardship and hurt, the vet screams out that he was “born in the USA” like it means something to him, like he still holds pride in that statement.

And there it all is: the dissonance, the brokenness, and the hope… they all come together to create a song that is beautiful in the way it breaks our hearts.

Here we sit in 2015, in an America divided. Over the past months we have questioned whether those who are charged with our protection are really working with our best interests in mind. We have seen lives lost due to racial hatred. Churches have been burned over the association of color. Condemnation and counter-condemnation have rung out over the passing of gay marriage into law, and it’s tearing people away from one another (even as some people now celebrate new unions). We don’t have it right yet. We’re like those flat keyboards. And we keep plugging on the same chords like, at some point, we will slide into perfect pitch.

And we scream with raspy-voiced hope. We scream because it’s urgent. We scream because we’re really close to being heard, but we’re not there yet. The beauty of this country is the beauty of “Born in the USA”: it’s full of brokenness, but amidst the dissonance there’s a realizable hope that things will be better than they are. That’s the hope born of the USA. May that hope be realized soon… In the meantime, may we continue our screams of hope.

For there is still a vision for the appointed time;
   it speaks of the end, and does not lie.
If it seems to tarry, wait for it;
   it will surely come, it will not delay.

[Habakkuk 2:3, NRSV]


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