Springing up Moses

“Springsteen’s work and person invite analysis in terms of the biblical themes of exodus and promised land,” so wrote Kate McCarthy in “Deliver Me from Nowhere: Bruce Springsteen and the Myth of the American Promised Land” (conveniently in a Routledge title, God in the Details: American Religion in Popular Culture, second edition, 2011). Having just finished Bruce Feiler’s America’s Prophet (not Routledge), I am attuned to the exodus theme at the moment. Feeling an unaccountable, personal connection to the other Bruce (Springsteen), I have felt the sense of exile in his songs since I was a teenager. I had no idea who Springsteen was when “Born to Run” made it to the charts. Living in a nowhere town at the time (population less than 1000), I felt the burning need for a personal exodus that eventually landed me in the largest city in the country. But still the sense of exile remains.

Lest readers be too confused, it might be politic to point out that the biblical concept of exodus likely had its origins in the Exile. Without rehearsing too much history, the Babylonian Empire, under Nebuchadrezzar, conquered Jerusalem in either 587 or 586 BCE, leading to the deportation of a significant number of Judahites who would become, over a generation, the “Jews.” These people were exiles, forced to live under the watchful eye of a political overlord with whom they shared only the most basic of heritages. Their religions had grown apart over the centuries, and as the Jews began to think back on their homeland, the exodus came to mind. Archaeological evidence for an exodus of biblical proportions (literally) does not exist. Why, then, the story of the exodus? Did not the desire to return home involve crossing the desert, with a divinely appointed leader? One who carried the law (Torah) with him? When Ezra led returnees home in the fifth/fourth century, he had the Torah in hand. Like Moses, he led the people out of bondage under the Persian plan. Exile and exodus are twin children of oppressive regimes.

So, how do ancient desert wanderers come into the orbit of a very damp New Jersey, and in particular, it’s arguably most famous resident? Alienation is home. Very few teenagers don’t understand this. As we attempt to integrate them into adult life, something vital, essential, is left behind. Consider all the long-haired artists of the ‘60’s and ‘70’s who still perform, now shorn to conservative acceptability and sometimes churning out very conventional songs. The fire has gone out. It is difficult to escape exile when you carry it with you. That’s something I think Bruce understands. His look may have changed, but his message has not. America has always been a haven for exiles. Simply because an exile moves into a new setting, however, does not mean that the promised land has been reached. As McCarthy seems to be saying, and as I have often felt, the promised land disappoints. The seeking is what must persist. America may have its Moeses, but it will find, from atop Nebo, that the path is where your feet already are.

Look carefully at your prophets!

Where Would Jesus Park?

The walls of the Old City of Jerusalem may not go back to the time of King David, or even Jesus, but they have become one of the iconic symbols of a legitimate site of world culture. As a young man my first sight of those walls was almost enough to bring me to tears. I had read about Jerusalem since my earliest days after graduating from Dick and Jane, and to see the Holy City firsthand was the experience of a lifetime. Too bad it is some of the most hotly disputed real estate in the known universe. Sacred to the three major monotheistic faiths that seem dead set on destroying this or that portion of it, Jerusalem is unlike any other city on earth.

The problem, as any urbanite knows, is where to park. According to Matt Beynon Rees of the Global Post, Jerusalem’s city planning committee is considering literally undermining the sixteenth-century walls of the Old City to construct a parking lot. Just a few short years after U.S. troops drove heavy military machinery atop Nebuchadrezzar’s Babylon in order to satisfy Bush-family oil lust and personal revenge, once again one of the irreplaceable monuments of the past may come under the contractor’s gaze. I teach at Montclair State part-time, so, believe me, I know about parking headaches! There have been times when I thought I’d have to drive the fifty miles back home without stopping for class since every space on campus was full. Yet I wouldn’t suggest tugging down historic University Hall to make room for more cars.

The problem seems to be that in our disposable culture we’ve lost sight of what can never be replaced. Immediate urge takes precedence over what our ancestors left for us to ponder and marvel over. A great hue and cry went up when Yellowstone burned in 1988, a lament that the former beauty would never be restored in a lifetime. Damage to structures from centuries past may be repaired, but the wonder of their staying power will forever be lost. It cannot grow back like Yellowstone, no matter how long we wait. Yet, parking meters under the Wailing Wall might save locals from having to take a bus. Regardless of theological conviction or absence thereof, some sites are simply sacred to the human story. The human story, however, has become one of convenience. Where else might Jesus park his Holy Esprit without having to walk (not on water) to get to the temple?

Sure, it's a nice view, but where do we leave the car?